Adding warm spices to fruit and vegetables enhances both. Freshly grated nutmeg on wilted spinach or silverbeet, ground cinnamon on poached rhubarb, ginger with pears and cloves with baked apples are essential combinations. They are good, too, with savoury dishes, however a favourite is in cakes or slices.
In the 1970s and '80s, trips to Sydney included visits to Somerset Cottage, the herb farm of Rosemary and John Hemphill in Dural outside Sydney. Their son, Ian "Herbie" Hemphill, opened Herbie's Spices in Rozelle in the 1990s, another travel attraction. Canberrans are fortunate to have access to Herbie's Spices in a number of delicatessens and supermarkets here.
Ian Hemphill in Spice Notes (Pan Macmillan Australia, 2000) describes in aromatic detail the origins, processing, storage and uses of spices grown and used in every country and cuisine. He explains the difference between nutmeg and mace and cautions that their volatile oils contain small amounts of narcotic and poisonous elements so should be consumed sparingly.
Hemphill describes the dextrous tradition in Sri Lanka of cinnamon peelers at work, and his explanations will have you observing cinnamon quills with interest.
A slice of Sri Lankan Love Cake was shared with me by Kitchen Gardeners from Holt, Neil and Dimity Manton in 1998. It was homemade to a recipe from Charmaine Solomon, who was born and grew up on the island of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). It contained cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices.
Recently I bought a piece of Sri Lankan Love Cake at Mountain Creek Wholefoods in Griffith. It was made by naturopath and cook Shalini Warusevitane, by coincidence a contributor to these pages in 2001. Though born and raised in Canberra, she lived in Sri Lanka in 2016. Hers is a family recipe adapted by her Sri Lankan mum, Lakshmi Warusevitane, with whom she makes it for sale at Mountain Creek and at Choku Bai Jo in Lyneham.
The ingredients are cashews, semolina, eggs, butter, honey, cardamom, nutmeg, Ceylon cinnamon, clove powder, lemon zest, rose essence and almond essence. Shalini says to naturally preserve the aroma, keep it out of the fridge and store in an airtight wrapping in a dry cupboard.
To celebrate their fifth anniversary, Canberra City Farm invited ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury, former MLA Caroline Le Couteur and new MLA Emma Davidson to morning tea. Fortunately a gentle breeze blew out the candles on the cake, because human blowing is not on the agenda during COVID times.
A delicious taste was an Armenian nutmeg cake made by Dr Fiona Tito Wheatland, and she has shared the recipe which came from her friend Sandy Hand in the 1990s. I told my friend and former neighbour Henry Fox, now resident in Potts Point, Sydney. He has a similar recipe given to him some years ago by a colleague at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. So Henry made one to show us and also shared the recipe.
The choice is yours.
Fiona's Armenian nutmeg cake
- 2 cups self raising flour
- 2 cups lightly packed brown sugar
- 125g butter
- 300g sour cream
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 egg, beaten
Mix flour and brown sugar. Rub in the butter. Press half of the mixture into a baking tray. Mix the sour cream with nutmeg and beaten egg into the remaining half of the mixture. Pour this onto the base and top with walnuts. Bake at 170 degrees until it is browned and firm.
Henry's Armenian nut cake
- 125ml milk
- 200g brown sugar
- 375g self-raising flour
- 150g butter, diced
- 1/2 tsp bicarb soda
- 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
- 150g walnuts, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Lightly grease a 22-centimetre springform cake tin and line with non-stick baking paper.
Put the sugar, flour and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Process to a fine crumb. Press 250 grams of the mixture over the base of the tin.
Add the nutmeg, soda, eggs, milk and vanilla to the remaining mixture and process to make a moist dough. Pour over the base and sprinkle with the walnuts.
Bake for about 55 minutes or until a fine skewer, when inserted, comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and cool in the tin. Serve with tinned fruit - black cherries are good, and thick cream.
Henry used sour cherries and double cream and ate the cake with strong black coffee.
Tip: Any type of nuts can be used. Buttermilk can be substituted for the milk.
Note: Nuts are an essential healthy pantry item. Once opened, store them in the fridge as they will last longer and remain fresh.