We last met Fiona Spencer 16 years ago (Kitchen Garden, August 16, 2006) when she and her husband David Spencer had just returned from four years living in Geneva where he was ambassador. The couple had just moved into their new home in Forrest.
Earlier this month Fiona took a red lacquer Japanese bowl filled with her home-grown limes to the host of a sewing group. I received an email from the host, a mutual friend, to say it looked so exquisite she wished she had photographed it. So The Canberra Times photographer Elesa Kurtz and I visited Fiona and the photo was taken.
Fiona is a magnificent cook, having trained in France and Switzerland 30 years ago on an earlier posting with her husband. Her father was a great gardener and her mother an adventurous cook so produce from the home garden is an important component of many dishes.
In raised terrace beds surrounding the house is a fuyu persimmon tree (netted to stop thrips from spreading to other plants), a hazelnut tree, a finger lime which last year yielded 400 fruits but a scant crop this season, There is an asparagus patch, stems cut below the ground to keep them white for the kitchen. Figs, though large and juicy, cropped later than usual.
A citrus orchard is being expanded from the heavily laden lime tree, a dwarf lemon, bronze fennel to attract bees and a large rhubarb plant. The Spencers now have nine grandchildren so some young plants are being grown from school activities.
Their son, Nick Spencer, is a vigneron with a winery which was established in 2017, crafting wines from Gundagai, The Hilltops and Tumbarumba in southern NSW. Nick has successfully completed his sixth vintage under his eponymous label, Nick Spencer Wines. He says it is the best vintage he has been involved in for some time. Nick's wines are listed in some of the best restaurants around Australia and recently made James Halliday's top 10 best new wineries in Australia. Locally, they are available from Ainslie Cellars, Plonk and Vintage Cellars or online.
A glass of the rose would go very well with either of the delicious recipes Fiona has shared. The super ricotta cake is moist and she has been making it for years, while the lime and polenta biscuits recipe came to Fiona from a friend - they can be made with lemons instead of limes and are among the best biscuits I have ever eaten.
100g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
50g fine polenta
150g self-raising flour
100g caster sugar
zest and juice of 4 limes
1. Preheat oven to 180C fan forced. Line two biscuit trays with baking paper.
2. Place cubed butter, polenta, self-raising flour, half of the lime zest and sugar into a food processor and pulse to combine then gradually add approx 75ml of the lime juice and pulse again to bring mixture together into a ball.
3. Divide into approximately 30 pieces, roll into balls, flatten slightly and place on trays leaving 5cm between each.
4. Make a dent in the centre of each biscuit with the end of a wooden spoon. Divide the remaining zest between them and push into the dent.
5. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until turning golden. Cool on wire racks.
250g ground almonds
65g plain flour
juice and finely grated zest of 6 limes
300g fresh ricotta
225g soft unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
6 medium eggs, separated
1. Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and line a 26cm spring form tin.
2. Place ricotta into a bowl, add lime juice and stir to combine. Using a hand held mixer in a large bowl, beat butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy then add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add ricotta and lime juice mixture then stir well to combine. Fold through ground almonds, flour and lime zest.
3. Whisk egg whites until firm peaks form. Fold one-third of the whisked whites through ricotta mixture, then add remaining whites and fold through gently until combined. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and bake at 180C for 35-40 min or until cake tester withdraws clean. The top and sides of the cake will be quite dark. After 15 mins remove from cake tin, cool on a wire rack.
4. Turn upside down to serve and sprinkle with icing sugar. Fiona, elegantly, place a sprig of lime leaves and a lime on top.
Note: will keep in an airtight container for several days and freezes well.
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