With the winter solstice we have the end of the shortest day and the coming of light to lift the spirit. However the chill in the air might tempt the kitchen gardener to think of warming spirits in the glass.
My muscat grape vine is bare so we have no wine grapes at the moment, the fruit for damson or sloe gin should be steeping, cherry brandy might be old hat but rhubarb or plum vodka are a new tipples and winter warmers. Australian gin distilleries use botanicals including Australian native plants.
There has always been a cumquat tree in a north-west facing spot in my gardens. The current one is 22 years old and still produces fruit despite not being repotted due to the terracotta container having an inwards curved top. On a number of occasions I have made cumquat brandy/brandied cumquats, same recipe, named depending on the way you serve them.
Simply wash 24 cumquats well, dry and prick in several places with a darning needle. Place in a preserving jar or jars with two cups of sugar and let stand overnight. Next day cover fruit with 750ml brandy, close the lid and leave in the kitchen, shaking jar (or jars) gently every few days until the sugar has dissolved. Then store in a cool,dark place for at least two months.
For some, a single malt Scotch whisky, made from malted barley, is the drop of choice. Some of us would prefer our whisky to come in a cake.
At the 2019 Neighbour Day in my suburb a woman, Jessica, and her young daughter brought along cupcakes made to a recipe for Cockeyed Cake from The I Hate to Cook Book (1960) by Peg Bracken. The author says it takes only five minutes to mix and those gathered in our playground reserve agreed the taste was dark, rich, moist and chocolatey.
By coincidence, a friend who is a keen walker on the ridges and hills of Canberra, belongs to a group where cake is baked for the end of the walk. The favourite cake he has baked many times is the Hootenholler Whisky Cake (recipe follows), also from The I Hate to Cook Book which is so popular that an anniversary edition was published in 2010.
Bracken, who has a great sense of humour, says you can always suggest bringing this rakish named cake to a function because it lasts for six months or "practically forever" wrapped in aluminium foil and stored in the fridge. "It gets better if you buck it up once in a while by stabbing it with an ice pick and injecting a little more whisky with an eye dropper."
Meanwhile, in response to our 'what food or drink do you crave' Autumnal Yates seeds giveaway (Kitchen Garden 23 April), Jane Wingfield of Waramanga said, "I love Dundee cake, rich fruit and lots of almonds in and on top. I made one for an Easter family visit, ate some there on Bribie Island but miss it here at home in Canberra. I should have made two." Her recipe comes from the 1949 Radiation (gas) Cookery Book which belonged to her mother but Jane uses electricity.
Dundee cake was originally made in the 19th century by the marmalade company Keiller's so among ingredients were three tablespoons of marmalade. There are many versions and adding a tablespoon of malt whisky adds to its Scottish origins.
Hootenholler whisky cake
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 beaten eggs
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
500g seedless raisins
2 cups chopped pecans
1/4 cup bourbon whisky
1 - First take the whisky out of the cupboard, and have a small noggin for medicinal purposes.
2 - Now, cream the butter with the sugar and add the beaten eggs. Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg and add it to the butter mixture. Then add the milk. Now put the bicarb soda into the molasses and mix it up and add that. Then add the raisins, nuts and whisky.
3 - Pour it into a greased and floured loaf tin and bake it at 150C for two hours.