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Donald Friede, MFK Fisher’s third husband, left an unpublished memento of his life with Mary Frances, in which he describes the menus she cooked at home, for family and friends.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.


ChrisB said...

June reading this I can just imagine the aroma. I leave the making of ginger cake to my brother who tends to cook them in batches. They moisten after a couple of days and are delicious. This weather is so depressing lets hope it improves soon. I would rather have cold and crisp rather than all the wind and rain.

lindy said...

I am a fool for ginger, this cake sounds perfect, and perfectly seasonal too, now that our incredible spring-like extended fall seems to have finally vanished in 2 inches of snow, and 20F temps.

Your rule of leftovers has many corollaries (sp?). There is a (very haute cuisine) American one common to hamburger joint dining, where the group orders more french fries (a/k/a "chips"), so as not to waste the ketchup puddle remaining on a plate when the first order of fries is gone.

June said...

Hi Lindy
Couldn't cut the cake as it is to be a gift, but it certainly feels light and is comfortingly sticky on the top.

How true about the chips - then you have to get more ketchup, yes? I'm sure I have an anxiety dream that goes like that!

I am following your Root Beer posts with a perplexed expression on my face that comes from sheer incomprehension. I feel very left out!

Susan in Italy said...

The cake sounds spicy-delicious! DO let us know what you end up doing with the muscovado sugar!

June said...

Hi Susan
This cake is SO easy and worked out so well that I think I may just make another one - problem solved!
Gingerbread/cake has, it appears, become terribly fashionable here - a famous cake person was interviewed yesterday talking about her version, which had treacle instead of syrup, and her coup de grace was to 'Gild the gingerbread' by decorating it with whole almonds wrapped in gold. Would look great I think.

Anonymous said...

Hi June,

You can make your own ginger apparently. Just simmer some in simple syrup (until it looks like it's supposed to look). (Assuming you can buy fresh ginger where you live, of course)!

But anyway, I think I missed the point. This is about leftovers and beautiful writing, not ginger, yes?


Welshcakes Limoncello said...

June, the picture of that cake has cheered me up on a rainy day in Sicily! I love the writings of MFK Fisher, by the way. I am cheered to learn that I am not the only one who ends up with half-packets of stuff at the back of the cupboard, too! I can't get preserved ginger in syrup here but I used to cook a John Tovey dish in which you put some on lmab cutlets [and surprisingly, it worked well]. I now use dried apricots instead and that works, too.

June said...

Hi Summer & WL

I didn't know you could do that Summer - I thought the ginger I can buy was a root not a stem - must give it a go.

And there you have it WL - make your own! I am so absolutely thrilled to hear that you have rotten weather in Sicily, although I bet your rotten weather isn't as rotten as our rotten weather! Flood warnings out throughout half of Wales tonight.

John Tovey --ahhh, I was brought up in the Lake District, ahh the cream, ahh the cake..,

Anonymous said...

Hi June,

I have seen this on cooking shows (not actually tried it myself), but slice the ginger root so that it looks more or less like the candied ginger. i.e. They sliced it diagonally across the root,in one quarter inch slices (approximately).

Is it too late to make stir up pudding (will it ripen in time?)

And, how is "Bleak House" going? Another long book I have been meaning to read. Maybe I'll see if the library has it on cd. (I like this fairly new way of reading).


June said...

Hi Summer

Not too late to make a pudding - stir, make a wish, put in a cool dark corner, it will be fine.

Thank you for ginger tips. Definitely worth a go.

Bleak House - great for winter evenings, contains the first detective in literature. Very episodic because of the way Dickens wrote, and therefore great for reading aloud. Cast of hundreds and plot as byzantine as the theme - Chancery. From my Lady Deadlock to Jo the crossing sweeper - an illuminating panorama of society.

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