Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Meditation on Leftovers

Donald Friede, MFK Fisher’s third husband, left an unpublished memento of his life with Mary Frances, in which he describes the menus she cooked at home, for family and friends. He writes with rich gastronomical enjoyment of the fresh and simple ingredients, expertly assembled into delicious meals. But it is the leftovers which spur the imagination “which come to the table twice as delicious, if that were possible, as they were in their original form. They are more tasted into being than cooked. To my mind they are the perfect example of the triumph of an imaginative palate over the precise pages of a cookbook.”

And how often have I looked into the fridge and mused on the possibilities of half an aubergine, some cold potatoes, a lonely sausage and a tub of crème fraiche?

But just as often, and the subject of this consideration, I go out of my way to purchase a rarely needed ingredient for one particular recipe or dish and then wonder what to do with the rest of the bottle, or jar, or packet. That’s how the yellow split peas end up at the back of the cupboard, with half a bottle of pomegranate syrup, some wasabi and a packet of ground rice.

When I made my Christmas Puddings most of the ingredients were already around – a recipe for leftovers if ever there was one - but preserved stem ginger in syrup was also on the list, and I had to purchase that specially. I only needed four pieces, so the rest of the jar immediately became…leftovers.

Now a jar of preserved anything in syrup is a liability. It sits in the cupboard, stickily sidling up to everything else and pressing itself against the pristine tin of smoked paprika and the good basmati rice. Wherever you don’t want it is where it will smooch itself, planting ginger kisses as it goes. Unfortunately, apart from guzzling the stuff straight from the jar, (a definite seasonal thought), or having a go at coating chunks in chocolate (a really good idea now I come to think of it) there isn’t much call for preserved ginger in syrup in my repertoire.

So, imagine my delight when, leafing through Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries in front of the roaring fire I came across his recipe for Double Ginger Cake. On a miserable December day, with the rain coming down in stair rods and a gale blowing around the house, this is the most soul enhancing thing to make, perfuming the house with the scent of warm spice and buttery syrup, and using up a few more ginger lumps from the jar. It doesn’t need an electric mixer either, and there is something rather nice about doing the mixing and stirring by hand. As it will be best after it has matured for a while it will make an ideal pre-Christmas present for the flat full of hungry youth I will be visiting next week.

The only problem is this; June’s Law of Leftovers decrees that in any recipe using up leftovers there will always be one ingredient that you don’t have and have to acquire specially, which thereby becomes…a leftover! Now I have more dark muscovado sugar than I actually need, but I’m sure I’ll think of something.

Nigel Slater’s Double Ginger Cake


Self-raising flour 250g

Ground ginger 2 level tsp

Ground cinnamon ½ tsp

Bicarbonate of soda 1 level tsp

A pinch of salt

Golden syrup 200g

Syrup from the ginger jar 2 tbsp

Butter 125g

Stem ginger in syrup 3 lumps

Sultanas 2 heaped tbsp

Dark muscovado sugar 125g

Large eggs 2

Milk 240ml


Line the bottom of a 20cm square cake tin with baking parchment or greaseproof paper.

Set oven to 180ºC

Sift flour with ginger, cinnamon, bicarbonate and salt.

Put golden and ginger syrups and butter into a small pan and warm over a gentle heat. Dice ginger finely, add to pan with sultanas and sugar.

Let mixture bubble for a minute, stirring occasionally to stop fruit sticking.

Break eggs into a bowl, beat gently to break them up and add the milk.

Remove syrup mixture from heat and pour into flour, stirring firmly with a large metal spoon. Mix in the milk and eggs. The mixture should be batter- like, with no trace of flour.

Pour into lined cake tin and bake for thirty-five to forty minutes. Cake is done when a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

Wrap in greaseproof and tinfoil and try to leave for a few days before you eat it.

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