Sunday, May 9, 2010

Market diary, and a cake

Decisions, decisions: a supermarket egg and one from Jess' flock.

Developing a regional diet involves planning and adjusting to new rhythms—or so I hear. As Anri pointed out, real life has a bad habit of getting in the way of our goals and I didn't make many changes last week. Never mind: this project is about taking responsibility, not feeling guilty (a useful distinction made by Alisa Smith and James Mackinnon in their book Plenty).

Let's try instead for small changes in routine that might lead to big changes in diet. Rather than stopping by the supermarket after school on a weekday, my new plan is to buy as much as possible at the Stellenbosch Fresh Goods market, plan a weekly menu around those purchases, and then fill in the gaps at the supermarket on Monday.

My best market tip: arrive early if you intend to do a proper shop. Vendors are more likely to indulge cotton-brained interrogations (Where's this from? Wellington? Is that, like, within 250 kilometres of Stellenbosch? What do you mean by free-range?) and you’ll avoid the well-heeled masses.

The extremely helpful gentleman at the By Nature stand (083 658 3998; told me exactly where all his dried fruits, nuts and grains were from. Shame I’m geographically incompetent—next time, I’ll pack a map (or a South African roommate). In any case, the peaches, figs, raisins and almonds (60 rand for 500g) are all grown and processed nearby; he also said that clients wanting bulk packaging could call ahead of time.

Two wedges of Anura Farms Forest Hill Brie and Camembert were a steal at 30 rand—the vendor told me that they were produced about 20 km away, and said the cows are free-range (I'm not sure if there are set standards or certification for "free-range" here; this may involve a little extra legwork on our part).

I haven't quite adjusted to the season reversal—autumn in May keeps tricking me into thinking that Halloween is just around the corner—so the gleaming stalks of pinkish green rhubarb from Talbough were a fantastic surprise. Done and done.

Another friendly vendor at Oded's Kitchen (based in Mowbray; had little trouble talking me into buying some quince chutney—not 100% regional, but the quinces were from Franshoek, and he said Oded's felt very strongly about using organic local products wherever possible. He was also something of a quince historian, so those of you wanting to know more about this mysterious (to me, at least) fruit should feel free to ask.

The real highlight was finding free-range butter; the kind lady from Klipfontein also sells eggs and butter from her neighbour's farm. Truly, there are few things lovelier than pale butter wrapped in thin parchment and bound with a single knot of string. I don't know if your food ever talks to you, but this beauty was singing Orange Almond Gâteau de Mamy to me all morning.

So this is what it's all about: meeting people, feeling closer to your food and making cake.

Almond Cake with Roasted Rhubarb
Gâteau de Mamy adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini; roasted rhubarb from Orangette.

Everything in the cake except for the sugar was regional. I could have used lime zest instead (try the brand new Jem & Jess organic lime stall, or call 083 677 9007) but I wanted something to complement the tart rhubarb. If you plan cleverly and prepare the rhubarb first, you can bake both at the same time and save a little power.

For the cake:
25g finely ground almonds
55g cake flour (Eureka)
7g baking powder
Pinch of salt
150g sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1 tsp orange zest (or lemon; optional)
125g butter, melted

1 20 or 25cm round cake tin, buttered and lined with parchment

Set oven rack to the lowest third, and preheat to 180C. Beat together the eggs and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour to the egg mixture and stir until combined; add the butter and stir until combined (don't worry if it looks like an oily mess at first: it will come together). Pour into the cake tin and bake for 25 - 35 minutes (depending on the size of your tin - a skewer or knife inserted in the middle should come out quite clean). If the top looks as though it is browning too much while baking, cover it with aluminum foil. Cool completely on a rack.

For the rhubarb:
900g rhubarb
100g sugar
125ml white wine
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (or 1 vanilla pod, split)

Set oven rack to the lowest third, and preheat to 180C. Clean and trim the rhubarb, then cut it into pieces about 5cm long. Place in a dutch oven or other heavy ovenproof dish and add sugar, white wine and vanilla paste/pod. Stir. Bake for 30 minutes or so, stirring it halfway to ensure even baking. Serve warm or cool, dolloped over the cake. Refrigerate any leftovers.