Is There a Nutmeg in the House?: Essays on Practical Cooking with More than 150 Recipes

Overview

The sequel to her much-acclaimed An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, Is There a Nutmeg in the House? gathers a selection of Elizabeth David's writings, spanning four decades. Insisting that food need not be complicated to be delicious, she emphasizes the practical aspects of cooking and eating. More than 150 recipes from many countries are included, all bearing David's unmistakable personal touch. Always elegant and witty, her writing conveys her sense of season and place, as well as her passionate interest in food,...
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Overview

The sequel to her much-acclaimed An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, Is There a Nutmeg in the House? gathers a selection of Elizabeth David's writings, spanning four decades. Insisting that food need not be complicated to be delicious, she emphasizes the practical aspects of cooking and eating. More than 150 recipes from many countries are included, all bearing David's unmistakable personal touch. Always elegant and witty, her writing conveys her sense of season and place, as well as her passionate interest in food, its history, its myriad personalities, and its role in civilized society.

Author Biography: Elizabeth David (1913-1992) published eight books during her lifetime, from the evocative Book of Mediterranean Food to the masterly English Bread and Yeast Cookery.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Elizabeth David was one of the 20th century's most influential writers about food. With her no-nonsense approach to cooking and her insistence on fresh ingredients and authentic recipes, she influenced generations of cooks, including Alice Waters and Diana Kennedy.

This sequel to An Omelet and a Glass of Wine features essays and reviews on practical cooking that have not appeared in previous collections, along with 150 recipes. If you haven't discovered the work of the late Elizabeth David yet, you'll find this collection a very tasty introduction. If you already know and love her work, you'll be very thankful to have one more book.

Whether David is writing about Mediterranean food, which she loves, or a classic English dish like raspberry cream, you can count on her for a perfect-pitch approach to the recipe. She writes beautifully, and she's funny, too. Here she is complaining about the mania of the French for packing olives with herbes de Provence: "It's quite difficult to overpower the flavour of those little black olives, but rosemary does the trick. Sure, rosemary is for remembrance. I'd just rather it weren't for the remembrance of those little spiky leaves stuck in my throat."

Is There a Nutmeg in the House? contains charming essays on David's likes and dislikes, including tirades against the bouillon cube and the "utterly useless" garlic press, a lovely piece on her "dream kitchen," and many ice cream recipes, initially prepared for Harvest of the Cold Month but ultimately not used in that book. Some of the essays reflect David's keen interest in early cookery books; "Relishes of the Renaissance," with recipes adapted from an Italian cookery book published in 1570, is one good example.

James Beard once wrote about David: "She is to me probably the greatest food writer we have, a purist and a perfectionist, intolerant of mediocrity and totally honest, yet not above breaking with tradition to get at what she feels is the essential nature of a dish.... She may throw you a bit at first because she does not write a recipe in the detailed, spelled-out style to which we are accustomed. Instead she gives her readers just as much guidance as she feels is necessary, regarding them not as children to be led by the hand but intelligent cooks capable of figuring things out for themselves." (Ginger Curwen)

Publishers Weekly
An Englishwoman who traipsed through Africa and the Mediterranean countries in the early 1940s, David (1913-1992) opened up a world of flavors and techniques that must have seemed seductively exotic to a postwar Great Britain still struggling with food rationing. She was perhaps best known for French Provincial Cooking, but was also the author of food essays in such publications as Vogue, the London Sunday Times and Gourmet, some of which were eventually published in the highly regarded collection An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. This volume is a compilation of essays and recipes that didn't make it into the first, chosen by editor and longtime associate Jill Norman. The title essay succinctly sums up David's demand for cultural and gastronomic accuracy in cooking, as well as shows off her exacting writing. In it she bemoans the passing of the 18th-century tradition of carrying one's own nutmeg box and grater. She asserts that in fine London restaurants, she must ask for nutmeg to grate on her pasta and spinach dishes, a spice she considers as integral to Italian cooking as "Parmesan cheese and oregano and for that matter salt." A labor of love, the result is yet another evocative and entertaining exploration of cooking and the time, place and personalities that shaped it. (Nov.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
David was one of the preeminent voices in 20th-century food writing. Her recipes read like narratives that recited more the spirit than the letter of the law, and she addressed her subject with opinionated wit. She was certainly prolific, but given her authority, it is difficult to imagine that there have remained works of hers unpublished. Yet there have. A sequel to her 1984 An Omelet and a Glass of Wine, this collection of essays and more than 150 recipes, compiled by David's long-time associate Jill Norman, brings some new work to light. There are 12 sections, from "Stocks and Soups" to "Ice Creams and Sorbets." Within each, topics run the gamut: making stocks, leaf salads, poached eggs and cr me br l e and treatises on the dream kitchen, perfumed toothpicks, and why garlic presses are "utterly useless." Certain English references might momentarily give some U.S. readers pause, but that's nothing compared with the bounty of great culinary and social and cultural material in this book. Anyway, no cookbook collection is grand enough to pass up a volume by David. Highly recommended. Wendy Miller, Lexington P.L., KY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670030330
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/29/2001
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.45 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Kitchens and Their Cooks

The old brick-floored kitchen of the Sussex manor-house where I grew up with my three sisters is not a place I look back on with nostalgia. The cook and the kitchen staff had a hard enough time without small children running in and out getting under their feet, so if we were unwelcome there, that was understandable. Every day there were four separate sets of meals to prepare. For the dining-room, there was breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. For the nursery, lunch and supper (breakfast and tea were made by Nanny and the nursery-maid); for the schoolroom, lunch, tea and a supper tray for the governess; for the servantsí hall, breakfast, lunch, tea and supper. Everything was cooked on a coal-burning range, vegetables were prepared in the scullery, and throughout the day a massive black iron kettle was kept with water on the simmer for the cups of tea to be administered to any outdoor staff, such as the gardener bringing fruit and vegetables, or a stable boy who might drop in. There would also be a succession of van drivers delivering groceries and household stores from the town seven miles away, the baker and the butcher bringing bread and meat from the village three miles down the road, the postman with parcels, a telegraph boy with telegrams from the village post office. All would be offered tea, biscuits, bread and cheese, cake.

How, I wonder now, did anything at all in the way of formal meals get cooked in that kitchen, busy as it was all morning and afternoon with non-cooking activities? The answer, I think, is that, picturesque though it may all sound, most of the food which emerged from it was really very basic. We ate a lot of mutton and beef plainly cooked, with plain vegetables. The boiled potatoes were usually put through a device called a ricer so that they came up to the nursery in dry, flaky mounds. Vegetable marrows were yellow, boiled and watery. There were green turnip tops, spinach, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips. I hated them all. Puddings weren't much better. Junket was slippery and slimy, jam roly-poly greasy, something called ground rice pudding dry and stodgy, tapioca the most revolting of all, invented apparently solely to torment children. The obligatory mugs of milk at breakfast and tea time were a penance, although hardly one to be blamed on the cook or any of the kitchen staff.

Presumably my mother, in league with Nanny, decreed those mugs of hated milk, and also chose to ignore the odious puddings and vegetables dished up for her daughters. Yet, as each of us in turn grew old enough to be promoted to grown-up tea, we discovered a rather different world. True to English country house usage at the time, tea at five oíclock was presided over by my mother sitting at the head of a long table, the silver hot water urn set over a spirit lamp and the silver teapot in front of her. There was a jug of milk, of course, but that was for visitors, because once we were out of the nursery my mother, who was nothing if not inconsistent, considered that it was wrong to put milk, not to mention sugar, into her fine China tea. Lemon, yes, but nothing else. I can't answer for my sisters, but I at least was more than thankful for release from the odious tea-time milk. Five o'clock food was nice too.

I don't remember anything spectacular, but there was always a spread of simple wholesome things, like thin bread and butter, scones, home-made jelly--crab apple, quince or blackberry--cucumber sandwiches, a sponge cake. For special visitors there was usually a cake with a delicious orange-flavoured icing, one which must have been a house speciality, passed on from cook to cook. At any rate, I have memories of it all through my childhood and school holidays.

Today it is still a source of wonderment to me that anyone contrived to cook such faultless and delicate cakes in the oven of that old coal range, and for that matter how a cook could with one hand, so to speak, produce the abominable vegetables and repulsive puddings of our nursery days and with the other the refined cakes and beautiful jams and jellies. Looking back, I suppose that the simple explanation is that our nursery food must have been left to the kitchen maid, while the cook herself made the preserves and the cakes.

The orange cake wasn't the only good one I remember. There was a cherry cake and a chocolate cake--my mother was all her life a great chocolate fancier--and on one unhappily memorable occasion the family's golden retriever found his way into the larder and was discovered gobbling down the remnants of what had been an entire chocolate cake, fresh from the oven. Who had left the larder door open? Recriminations and arguments raged for days, the younger children were, as always, suspected, and the kitchen regions were more strictly than ever out of bounds to us.

Frankly, then, the kitchen of my childhood and the food it produced left few glowing memories. Another matter altogether is the illicit cooking that went on in the nursery. A sort of sticky fudge, which we called "stuff it" now sounds like some addictive drug was one of Nanny's specialities. She cooked it over the nursery fire and gave it to us in spoonfuls out of saucers or soap dishes. Then there were mushrooms, gathered in a field close to the house--as children we knew very well where to look for the best ones--and carried back to the nursery for breakfast.

Nanny cooked them in the good, thick cream which we had in abundance, and no mushrooms since have ever tasted quite so magical. In high summer there was the best treat of all, big fat red gooseberries, red currants and raspberries from the garden which Nanny used to throw into a saucepan with sugar, heat quickly over the nursery fire, and give to us then and there. This hot fruit salad somehow embodied the very essence of summer, and as everyone knows, the summers of childhood are longer and sunnier than those of later life.

When I was eighteen I left home and joined the Oxford Repertory Company as a student, sweeping the stage, making the tea (somebody had to show me how), occasionally taking small parts, understudying the bigger ones, and scouring the town for unlikely props such as the famous hatbox in Emlyn Williams' Night Must Fall (it contains a severed head, or so the audience is led to believe). I lived in digs in various parts of Oxford, including the Banbury Road, Beaumont Street, and I forget where else, but in the two years I stayed there it was scarcely possible to cook. Anyway, digs seldom included anything you could rightly call a kitchen.

I suppose I was over twenty when I moved to London to work in the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. After a spell in an aunt's house in Chester Gate I rented rooms--not a real flat--in a big house on Primrose Hill. I had an immensely large living-room with huge, high windows, a rather cramped bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen improvised out of what was really a landing. There I installed a gas cooker, one of those old food safes with perforated metal sides which nowadays you see only in junk shops, and eventually a biggish refrigerator, bought with a generous twenty-first birthday cheque from an uncle. What a funny way to spend all that money, friends said. I thought then, and I think now, that it was a perfectly rational way to spend it. I couldn't see that a refrigerator was anything but a necessity, even if the immediate use I put it to wasn't very laudable. Ready-cooked food was what I filled it with, although as things turned out, not for long.

It was opening an account at Selfridges that went to my head. I had only to pick up the telephone for roast chickens, smoked salmon, butter, fruit, cheese, cream, eggs, coffee to be delivered next day. It wasn't until the monthly accounts seemed to be adding up to much more than I could afford that it dawned on me that having a roast chicken always handy in the fridge was a rather extravagant way of entertaining friends. And that anyway, bought food, although an improvement on the horrors of nursery and school meals, and the post-rehearsal high teas with tinned fruit salad at the Cadena Café in Oxford, was not exactly comparable with the fine cooking I had recently sampled in the Paris household I'd lived in for nearly two years while at the Sorbonne. (This food I described in French Provincial Cooking, published in 1960, so I will not repeat the description here.)

There had also been the six months with an aristocratic Munich family who employed an Austrian cook, where I had encountered many delicious and unfamiliar things such as sweet buttery bread for Sunday breakfast, a marvellous chocolate confection called Mohr im Hemd or moor in a nightshirt, a rich chocolate and almond cake covered in thick, soft white cream, venison with a mysterious wild red berry sauce, apricot and plum dumplings like tiny, very superior doughnuts...Would I ever be able to cook such things for myself?

At about that time I saw in Selfridges (a store which played a big part in my youth) a towering pile of copies of a book called Recipes of All Nations by a Countess Morphy. It was a thick book, priced at 2s 6d, or 3s 6d for a version with a thumb index. Bound in shiny covers in a choice of colours, yellow, pale blue or red, the book seemed amazing value for money. One day I carried a copy home with me on the bus and began reading it. It was fascinating--it still is--but Countess Morphy, whose "all nations" did indeed extend across the five continents, threw little light on such matters as quantities, timing, temperatures and other technical details. Still, with the help of Mrs Hilda Leyel's The Gentle Art of Cookery, given to me by my mother, I began to teach myself to cook nice food. Mrs Leyel's book, it has to be said, was appealing in its imaginative approach to cooking, but almost as notably deficient in technical instruction as Countess Morphy's. Had I known how huge was the gap between the urge to cook and the instruction necessary to achieve satisfactory results, perhaps I wouldn't have embarked on so perilous a course of action. As things were, I blundered on, not much daunted by mistakes.

As demonstrated by Nanny's surreptitious nursery cooking, what you can cook on a stove in a passage or on a staircase landing, or over a gas ring or small open fire, is fairly surprising. Granted, the will to do it, plus a spirit of enterprise and a little imagination, are necessary elements in learning to cook. You have to have a healthy appetite, too, and not worry too much over the failures or shortcomings of your kitchen and its equipment.

During the war years in Egypt, when I ran a reference library for the British Ministry of Information, I lived in a ground floor flat located in a car park for the vehicles used by one of the secret service organisations whose offices, in a nearby building, were known to every cab driver in Cairo as The Secret House. My cook, a Sudanese called Suleiman, performed minor miracles with two Primus stoves and an oven which was little more than a tin box perched on top of them. His souffl&eacutes were never less than successful, and with the aid of a portable charcoal grill carried across the road to the Nile bank opposite (the kitchen was so small it didnít even have a window, and if he had used charcoal heíd have been asphyxiated), he produced perfectly good lamb kebabs. The rice pilaff I named after him and the recipe for it which I published in my first book in 1950, became part of quite a few people's lives at that time. When something was lacking in my kitchen, which was just about every time anyone came to dinner, Suleiman would borrow it from some grander establishment. All Cairo cooks did likewise. Thus a dinner guest was quite likely to recognise his own plates, cutlery or serving dishes on my table. Nobody commented on this familiar custom.

In Cairo and Alexandria, ice was easy to come by--although I never thought, in those days, to ask where it came from, I now know that there were flourishing ice factories in Egypt--and so from an old hand-cranked churn on loan for the evening, Suleiman would produce delectable ice-creams. At that time, Groppi's, the famous Cairo café, was well known for its ices, although those at Baudrot's in Alexandria were even better, and many of the hospitable local families employed cooks who made fine ices, so there was plenty of competition. All the same, it would have been hard to beat Suleiman's home-made mish-mish or apricot ice-cream. The only drawback was the cranking of the churn, which made so much noise that it tended to bring dinner-table conversation to a standstill.

My Cairo kitchen, absurdly inadequate though it was, is one I remember with some affection. I couldn't now contemplate cooking in such a hole in the wall, nor indeed did I then, except on rare occasions when I took it into my head to show Suliman how to cook something I had learned in France or Greece before the war, but all the same some memorable food came out of that kitchen, including one year even a Christmas pudding. This pudding Suleiman, too hastily briefed by me, very understandably supposed was a main course to be served after the soup, and bore it in flaming according to my instructions. Crestfallen, he took it away, but brought it back again at the appropriate moment, in undiminished style, once more drenched in rum and distinctly more alcoholic than was quite orthodox.

After the war, when I returned to a drastically rationed and chilly England, my first kitchen was in a furnished flat in Kensington. It was one of those in which the table was also the cover of the bath. There was a gas cooker, a very small Electrolux fridge--a blessing which I certainly appreciated, given that such things were then in very short supply--and a sink. There wasn't much room for equipment, but I didn't have much because most of my belongings, including my big, old fridge, had been destroyed in a store which had been hit by a bomb. Still, with such ingredients as I could find, rationed and unrationed, I cooked a lot. In those days there weren't many London restaurants one wanted to go to or indeed could afford, and I was thankful to have learned a little about cooking foods such as lentils and beans which werenít either rationed or totally unobtainable. Rice, alas, was one of the latter commodities, and was not to return for another year. Lemons were still scarce, but after a long absence tomatoes reappeared, and the Italian shops in Soho began to sell real spaghetti and olive oil. Butter, eggs and milk remained on ration for many years, but there was bootleg cream and butter from Ireland, and eggs from a farm in Wales. We all learned to make the best of what we could get.

As for that squalid kitchen/bathroom arrangement, it did at least keep clutter at bay. If you have to clear your kitchen table every morning before you can have a bath, you do tend to put things back in their proper places. I hate clutter in the kitchen. Not that that means I don't live with it. There are some people, and I have to recognise that I'm one of them, who if they had a kitchen the size of the Albert Hall would still contrive to be surrounded by clutter. But as long as I have plenty of cupboards, spacious wooden draining-boards, a deep, roomy sink--porcelain, none of your tinny stainless steel--and a wooden, not a plastic, plate rack which takes serving dishes as well as plates and cups and saucers, oh, and of course a large fridge (actually I have two), I suppose I donít have any excuse for clutter. I am not advising anyone to follow my example. It's not a good one.

--Smallbone of Devizes' catalogue, Summer 1989

--From Is There A Nutmeg In the House? by Elizabeth David, Copyright © October 2001, Viking Press, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission. END

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Recipe

TOMATO CONSOMMÉ

This is simple, cheap and delicate.

Ingredients are a small parsnip, cut into 4 pieces, 2 carrots, sliced, a clove of garlic, 2 sticks of celery, a generous sprig of fresh tarragon or approximately a teaspoon of good, dried tarragon leaves, a few saffron threads, one 400 g (14 oz) can of Italian or Spanish peeled tomatoes or 750 g (1-1/2 lb) of very ripe and juicy, fresh Mediterranean tomatoes, 900 ml (1-1/2 pints) of water, 600 ml (1 pint) of chicken stock, seasonings of salt and sugar. For clarifying the consommé, 3 egg whites. For the final flavourings, 1 teaspoon of Madeira.

Put all the ingredients except the chicken stock, egg whites and Madeira into a capacious saucepan. If you are using fresh tomatoes -- but don't bother unless it is the height of the season and you have really sweet and wonderfully ripe ones -- chop them roughly, skins and all. Season only very moderately, say one teaspoon each of salt and sugar to start with. You can always add more later. Add the water. Simmer in the open pan for about 40 minutes. Line a colander with a dampened doubled muslin cloth and strain the broth. Don't press the vegetables, just let the thin liquid run through.

Return the broth to the rinsed pan. Add the chicken stock. Bring to simmering point. Beat the egg whites for a couple of minutes. As soon as they start to froth pour them into the simmering broth. Cover the pan. Simmer very gently, until the whites have solidified and formed a crust and are thoroughly cooked. By this time, all the particles and impurities in the broth will have risen to the top and will be adhering to the crust. Leave to cool a little. Filter through a piece of dampened muslin placed in a colander, over a deep soup tureen or bowl. The consommé should be as clear as glass and a beautiful amber colour.

When you heat the consommé for serving -- and not before -- add the teaspoon of Madeira, and a little more seasoning if necessary. Serve in big cups. There should be enough for 5 helpings.

Notes:

  1. An unorthodox, but uncommonly successful way of clarifying the consommé is to transfer the saucepan, covered, to a low oven as soon as you have added the egg whites. You can leave it for an hour or more. The first time I saw someone doing this -- it was a Moroccan cook with whom I worked briefly in Marrakesh -- I was aghast. And when I saw how well the system worked, amazed. It has to be remembered that unless your egg whites are cooked into a solid crust, your consommé will never be truly clear and clean. The oven method is a good way of achieving this aim without over-reduction of the consommé and attendant loss of its delicate flavours.
  2. Alternatives to chicken stock are beef, veal or pork stock. Or, for a fish broth, a concentrated fish fumet. A non-alternative, I'll repeat that, a non-alternative is a bouillon cube. Water is a preferable one.
  3. Please don't be tempted to double the prescribed dose of Madeira. (You won't taste anything but the wine.) If you have no Madeira, use white vermouth, or manzanilla or any decent sherry.
  4. To serve with the consommé it is a good idea to have some little croutons or slices of good bread, sprinkled with olive oil, spread with grated Gruyère or Parmesan and baked in the oven.
--Unpublished, pre-1975.

DUCK BAKED IN CIDER

Rub a 3 kg (6 lb) duck thoroughly with about 125 g (¼ lb) of coarse salt; leave it with its salt in a deep dish for 24 hours, turning it once or twice and rubbing the salt well in. To cook it, wash off the salt with cold water.

In a deep baking dish or enameled tin with a cover (such as a self-basting roasting pan) put a couple of carrots, an unpeeled onion, a clove of garlic, a bouquet of herbs, and the giblets, but not the liver of the duck. Place the duck on top of the vegetables, pour over about 450 ml (3/4 pint) of dry vintage cider, and then fill up with water barely to cover the duck. Put the lid on the pan, stand this pan in a tin of water, cook in a very slow oven (150° C/300° F gas mark 2) for just about 2 hours.

If to be served hot, take the cover off the pan during the final 15 minutes cooking, so that the skin of the duck is baked a beautiful pale golden-brown. If to be served cold, which is perhaps even better, leave it to cool for half an hour or so in its cooking liquid before taking it out.

The flavour of this duck is so good that only the simplest of salads is required to go with it.

The stock, strained, with fat removed, makes a splendid basis for mushroom or lentil soup, or for onion soup.

--Unpublished, 1960s.

LEMON AND BROWN SUGAR CAKE

As an alternative to the rich and leaden fruit cake of Victorian tradition I think this one might prove popular. It has a most refreshing flavour and attractive texture. There is nothing in the least troublesome about it, even to a reluctant cake maker like myself.

Ingredients are 250 g (1/2 lb) of plain white flour, 125 g (1/4 lb) of butter, 125 g (1/4 lb) of Demerara cane sugar, 125 g (1/4 lb) of seedless raisins, the grated peel and strained juice of one large lemon, 125 ml (4 fl oz) of warm milk, 2 eggs, 1 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. To bake the cake, a 17-18 cm (6-1/2–7 in) round English cake tin, 8 cm (3 in) deep. (I use a non-stick tin.)

Crumble the softened butter into the flour until all is in fine crumbs. Add the grated lemon peel, the sugar, and the raisins. Sift in the bicarbonate. Beat the eggs in the warm milk. Add the strained lemon juice. Quickly incorporate this into the main mixture and pour into the tin. Give the tin a tap or two against the side of the table to eliminate air pockets. Transfer immediately to the preheated oven (190° C/375° F gas mark 5). Bake for about 50 minutes until the cake is well risen and a skewer inverted right to the bottom of the cake comes out quite clean. Leave to cool for a few minutes before turning it out of the tin.

Notes:

  1. The Demerara sugar is important. Barbados is too treacly for this cake.
  2. The raisins I have been using of recent years are the little reddish ones, seedless, from Afghanistan. They need no soaking, no treatment at all. Just add them straight into the cake mixture. They are to be found in wholefood shops.
  3. It is important to put the cake into the oven as soon as you have added the eggs, milk, and lemon juice mixture. This is because the lemon juice and bicarbonate start reacting directly they come into contact. If the cake is kept waiting, the rising action of the acid and the alkali is partially lost and the cake will rise badly.
  4. Under the name of Shooting Cake, the recipe on which mine is based appeared in Ulster Fare, a little book published by the Ulster Women's Institute in 1944. I was struck by the composition of the cake -- the Demerara sugar, the lemon juice replacing the acid or cream of tartar necessary to activate the bicarbonate and the grated peel instead of the more usual spices.
--Unpublished, December 1978

Copyright © The Estate of Elizabeth David, 2000

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