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Dundee Cake

This is my mum’s recipe. They’re not the same when I make them, but I suppose that’s only to be expected. She’s much neater with the almonds.


Makes 4 x 6in. (2lb in each)  or 2 x 8in.

1 lb butter

1 lb caster sugar

1lb 6ozs plain flour

Pinch salt

2 tsp. mixed spice

Grated rind of both 1 lemon and 1 orange

10 eggs

3lb 8ozs mixed fruit

3-4 tbsp brandy or simiar

2ozs chopped nuts

4ozs cherries

Blanched whole almonds for decoration


Put fruit into a bowl and drizzle with brandy overnight to plump up and moisten.  Next day add rinds, nuts and cherries.

Cream fat and sugar, then add eggs and flour/salt/spice (sieved together) alternatively (so no curdling).

Mix in the fruit mixture and put into tins lined with baking parchment.  Smooth top with wet hand or spoon and decorate with blanched almonds.

Depending on your oven, bake at about 170c for approx. 2 hours but check with a skewer after 1.5 hours.



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Leckerli are strange biscuits from Herbert’s maternal home town of Basel in Switzerland.

To the untrained tongue, they can initially seem to most resemble shoe leather, but with a strangely addictive quality that means you’ll polish off a whole packet before you know it. They are perhaps the cousin on the German Pffernusse or Liebkuchen, but flatter and chewier, with little nubs of hazelnut and candied peel.

In any case, it’s impossible to get them in the UK without paying £25 on Ebay for a paltry bag, so there’s no choice but to bake them. I’d love to say that this is a recipe passed on from H’s family, but they’re not the most avid cooks. I had to cobble it together from various websites. The home-made ones are softer than that shop-bought ones, and much less of an acquired taste.



1. Put 225g honey, 150g caster sugar, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 clove and a pinch nutmeg in a saucepan and heat until melted together. Remove the clove.

2. Mix in 100g chopped mixed peel, 50g chopped hazelnuts, 100g ground almonds and the grated zest of a lemon.

3. Transfer to a mixer unless you have strong Swiss arms. Add 300g plain flour, 1tsp baking powder and a splash of kirsch, and then mix together to form a very stiff dough.

4. Roll this out onto a piece of baking parchment, so that it’s about 1/2 cm thick. Place on a baking sheet, cover and leave to rise overnight.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 220C or until golden brown. Keep a careful eye on them because they can burn quickly.

6. Ice immediately with a thin layer of runny icing sugar (about 75g mixed with 2 tbsp water).

7. Cool. Trim off the edges, and cut into rectangular biscuits about 2 x 4cm in size.



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Nursery Food

The first week I knew I was pregnant, I munched my way through a range of salads and slow carbs that would make Gillian McKeith weep.

Three weeks later, however, it’s all very different. Monumentally nauseous, I spend much of my day feeling sick and hungry at the same time (an entirely new sensation), and on a quest to discover exactly what it is that my body will consent to eat today. This is less obvious than you’d think; it’s never a simple case of fancying something. It’s more a process of eliminating foodstuffs that actively repulse me, and then, finally, settling for something that I feel I may be able to swallow without too much horror.

I am not this sort of eater. Usually, I’m a restless, inquisitive diner, keen on bright flavours, variety and spice. I have always, always cooked everything from scratch, and mostly in season too.

At the moment, the world has been strangely turned on its head. Vegetables appal me. I can’t contemplate strong flavours. And, quite randomly, my palate will reject flavours that comforted me a few hours before. Sometimes mid-meal. Yesterday, I had to scrape all the cheese off my jacket potato because it was suddenly overwhelming. I am even able to feel sick over a concept, such as the idea of making the bed.

Herbert adapted to this state of affairs quicker than I did. I sulked and lamented, and tried to force myself to eat nutritious meals that were destined for the bin as soon as they were cooked. He put on his tolerant face, walked me down to the local Budgens (where I never shop) and took me from aisle to aisle so that I could  pick out the things I could face eating.

My palate, it seems, has turned strangely nostalgic: cornflakes, Petits Filous, fig rolls, tinned pineapple and garibaldi biscuits. I would never normally dream of buying any of these things. But unexpectedly, my cook’s brain has been overthrown in a violent revolution by my inner child. And my inner child is infuriatingly fickle. I had to rush out and buy fishfingers last week, and yet now I can’t even contemplate the rest of the box.

The dish that I turn to again and again, though, is this zero-nutrition wonder: spaghetti, butter, cheese (which may be on its way out) and black pepper. It’s what I ate every morning for breakfast when I was at primary school, and it’s now my go-to meal when all else fails. When I was a kid, my mum used to snip salami into it, too, but that would be a step too far right now. And don’t even try to suggest a side salad.


What were your cravings – or anti-cravings? Share them in the comments below and I’ll try not to dry-heave as I read them. 


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Lettuce & Peas

I accept that it’s the done thing to suggest that you’re not afraid of hard work, but we are.

We both hate DIY with a passion. I have no idea how it came to be considered a leisure activity, and even less idea how we all conspired to believe that we have to live in show homes. I say this as a person who even wants the insides of her cupboards to be stylish. I have been suckered in more than most.

In reality, it’s just an advanced way of creating more work for ourselves. Is it middle class guilt? Probably. We come from parents who worked on their feet, on shop floors and building sites. We – desk cats, both of us – are self-conscious about how soft we’ve become. We feel like we ought to justify it somehow, lest we appear lazy.

Well, the last three weekends, we have made amends. Our small back garden, which came into our hands neat and tidy – if populated by plastic flowers and and array of gnomes – had come to resemble a post-apocalyptic landscape over the few years we’ve owned it. In an initial burst of enthusiasm, we dug up the twee pond and fake well, and dismantled the range of ugly brick beds.

But then…well, we did nothing, other than to add more crap to it, and watch it get covered in bindweed. For four years. Herbert would nip outside and mow the sorry-looking grass once a year, and I would do my best to distract anyone who tried to look at it.

But no longer. It has been reformed, with the help of a truckload of old scaffolding planks and a terrifying number of plants. We have a deck, so that you no longer rick your ankle when you try to step outside the back door! We have a washing line! We have THREE trees (and apple, a greengage and a fig, all of which lost their fruit in transit), and a herb bed! We have garden seating! It is no longer frightening to be there!

And every part of this new wonderland was put into place in a spirit of resentful, self-pitying fury. Because it was horrible: dirty, back-breaking, spider-infested, hot and seemingly endless. I, for one, will be sticking to the desk job, and ensuring that I earn enough money to pay someone else to do the hard work in future.

Despite this, I managed to put a chicken in the oven last Saturday while H toiled on, and we ate on the deck  it with good bread, home-made mayonnaise and my summer favourite, lettuce and peas. I’d like to say it made it all worthwhile, but particular sentiment might yet require a few more weeks of hindsight.


Lettuce & Peas 

Over a low heat, fry a small, finely chopped onion in 1 tbsp olive oil.

Add 1 cup frozen peas (or fresh ones if they’re really fresh, i.e. you grew them), and then 1/2 a shredded lettuce (something like a butterhead or soft lettuce works best).

When the peas & lettuce begin to soften, add 1 cup chicken stock or Marigold bouillon. Bring to a simmer, and cook until the peas are ready. Season, and either add 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint or basil, or a drizzle of basil oil.


Basil Oil

(This is great for using up tired-looking basil. Be warned – it doesn’t keep for long).

Blitz 1 cup basil leaves with 1/2 cup olive oil (or more if you want a thinner consistency).

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Barbecued Asparagus

The first holiday I took with Herbert was to Spain, to stay in my Aunt’s villa near Alicante.

Actually, there was a horrible week on a canal barge in Brecon with Herbert’s friends, but we prefer not to speak of that. We had to start drinking at ten every morning just to keep the cold out. And one of our party got so drunk one night that he took a dump on the cabin steps. As I said, it doesn’t count.

In sunny Spain, everything was perfect. We had warmth, privacy, cheap rosado and a roof terrace with a barbecue. We also had a Twingo that my Grandad rented for us, and an adopted ‘stray’ cat that we named Cloudy, but who actually turned out to be the extremely greedy pet of the people next door. It was a veritable utopia.

It was during this holiday that we ‘invented’ barbecued asparagus. I say ‘invented’ because I’m aware that we probably weren’t the first people to do such a thing, but we did so without anyone else suggesting it. Personally, I’d been bought up to treat asparagus with a little more reverence. My Grandad only managed to grow about five spears a year, and they would be carefully boiled and served up for table of eight to fight over.

In Spain, the sheer abundance of the asparagus let us get all rock’n’roll with it. Hot off the grill, we’d dip it in mayonnaise (Hellman’s) and take it in turns to feed it to each other, stalk by stalk. Those were the days before our sex life needed re-booting.

Nowadays, I’m afraid to say we don’t have the patience for co-feeding. But in May and June, we like nothing better than to take our little barbecue down to the beach for wine, asparagus and a good sunset. Even I can’t fail to relax under such circumstances.

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Piri Piri Chicken

I’d like to say that I grew acquainted with Piri Piri Chicken during a long, sultury holiday in Portugal, but that is sadly not the case. Instead, it was a small cafe in Gillingham that inflamed my desire.

By day it served fry-ups to the local ne’er do wells, and by night, the owner’s father fired up the char grill to cook the hot, tender and aromatic chicken. The value of this was entirely lost on the residents of Gillingham: the place was mostly empty bar me and Herbert, and the occasional gaggle of Portuguese expats drinking coffee and herding enormous quantities of children late into the evening.

The owner was always drunk. Often, he could barely speak, so instead he would smile and you and sway ever so slightly as you seated yourself. We always ordered the same thing – a whole chicken between us, a salad of soft lettuce, tomato, cucumber and onion and a bowl of rustling fries for twelve quid. It was never less than perfect.

In addition, it seemed churlish not to order a carafe of their rough, fizzy red wine. For a long time, I assumed this was a Portuguese speciality – after all, this was the nation that brought us Mateus rosé. But no: when I asked the owner one night about the wine, he grinned for a moment as his drunken mouth tried to form words, and then told us that the wine was fizzy because he couldn’t work out how to get it out of the barrel without running it through the coke machine.

We drank it all the same. And kept on eating that delicious chicken. One night, a fight broke out between two of the customers, who were so drunk that they could only paw at each other, comically. The owner watched on, no more capable of coherent movement than they were. In the end, Herbert had to usher them both gently to their seats like fractious toddlers.

We ended up moving into a house just round the corner from the restaurant. I’m not sure why we did it; what seemed from a distance to be local colour felt menacing and sinister when it was raging on outside our front door. As we made hasty arrangements to move out again, we both wondered aloud if our judgement had been skewed by the Piri Piri place. Good chicken, sadly, isn’t enough.

Last night, we held the first barbecue of the year and reunited ourselves with our beloved Piri Piri. This isn’t the feeble, stringy stuff of Nando’s, but rich and robust, and hot enough to make your nose run. Next time, though, I may have to buy a Soda Stream to see if I can’t reproduce that wine.


I cooked my Piri Piri Chicken after seeing this blog post over at Food Stories – I can honestly say it’s the best recipe I’ve tried. Thanks to Helen for a wonderful dose of inspiration!

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Blackcurrant Vodka

 This week, I made a pint of blackcurrant vodka after trying a similar one at a Polish restaurant. It is – and I do not use the term lightly – ambrosial. So much so, that H has entirely abandoned his ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ approach to alcohol, and has taken to chugging the stuff like it’s Ribena.


Blackcurrant Vodka Recipe

Take a very clean Kilner jar, and fill with 1/3 blackcurrants (preferably frozen, because it breaks down the skins a little), 1/3 caster sugar and top up with vodka. Shake regularly for the next day or so, until all the sugar is dissolved. It will be ready to drink after a week, or sooner if you’re desperate. Strain off the berries (for heaven’s sake wear an apron), bottle and keep in the freezer.

Sloe Gin, Spiced Rum and Blackcurrant Vodka | Elizabeth Herbert

Love the idea of making blackcurrant vodka? Take a look at my e-book, Sloe Gin, Spiced Rum and Blackcurrant Vodka, which contains all you need to know about making your own delicious liqueurs from fruit, flower and spices.

Recipes include vanilla vodka, mojito rum and lavender whisky – and there are serving suggestions (delicious cocktails) and ideas for developing your own unique spirits, too. If you’re on Amazon Prime, you can even borrow it for free!


Baked Custard with Blackcurrants

Serves 6-8

This is how I used up the steeped blackcurrants – utterly delicious. The recipe is based on the one in Guy Watson and Jane Baxter’s Riverford Farm Cookbook.


400ml double cream

200ml full cream milk

1/2 vanilla pod

9 medium egg yolks

70g caster sugar

200g blackcurrants or other fruit.



1. Put the cream and milk in a pan. Split the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape the seeds into the cream mix, adding the pod as well. Bring to just below boiling point, and then take off the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.

2. Beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the cream mix (vanilla pod removed), and mix well.

3. Place in a 9″ ovenproof dish, and place that in a larger baking tin containing about an inch of boiling water. Bake at 140C/gas mark 1 for about 50 minutes, until the custard is set.

4. Leave custard to cool to room temperature. When ready to serve, pile the fruit on top.

Sign up to my Sloe Gin, Spiced Rum and Blackcurrant Vodka mailing list for a free recipe sheet containing more ideas for using up boozy fruit. 

 Available now on Amazon.

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