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I love our school gardening club.  The garden is just the right size, the children are enthusiastic (they even like weeding!), and most of the stuff we grow is edible – perfect!  My favourite part of the garden is the three small raised beds where we grow vegetables.  Last year we ‘grew the world’ – each bed represented a different part of the world and we planted vegetables that are used in the cooking of North and South America, Europe and Asia.  This year we’ve gone with an Olympic theme and are planting the beds with a gold, silver and bronze vegetables and edible flowers – well roughly gold, silver and bronze, they’re not colours that are widely represented in the vegetable world.

So, in the gold bed we have a pumpkin, a yellow patty pan squash, calendula, carrots and nasturtiums.  In the silver bed (you might need a bit of imagination here) there’s white ribbed Swiss chard (and any suggestions on how to get the children to eat this would be warmly welcomed!), leeks, spring onions and white love-in-a-mist.  The bronze bed will be full of deep reds – red salad bowl and red iceberg lettuce, bull’s blood beet and dark red sunflowers.

Most of the vegetables we grow in the school garden end up in the school kitchen, which is great.  But it’s nice to have something for the gardening club members to try once in a while – after all their hard work in the garden, they’ve earned a treat.  Last week I had two cakes made using garden herbs for them to try – chocolate and basil cake, and lemon verbena cupcakes.  We all tasted a small piece of both cakes and there was a vote to pick the favourite – and the winner is … lemon verbena cupcakes.  In fact everyone preferred these.  I think it was down to the chocolate truffle icing on the chocolate cake – it was just too heavy a topping with the rich, moist cake.  So next time I’ll try something lighter, and maybe the chocolate and basil cake will make it onto the blog yet.

In the meantime here’s the recipe I used for the cupcakes.  Lemon verbena is such a lovely herb to grow.  It is best in a pot (certainly here in Yorkshire), because it needs to be kept frost-free during the winter.  But in summer it makes a small bush with leaves that have a fantastic lemon sherbet fragrance.  If you don’t already grow this herb, I’d recommend it without hesitation.  On the other hand, if you don’t feel the need to grow lemon verbena, you could use grated lemon zest to add extra flavour to these cupcakes instead.

This is also my entry for the June ‘Herbs on Saturday’ challenge.  Click over to Karen’s fantastic blog at Lavender and Lovage, (only when you’ve finished reading here of course!), to check out the other great entries in this months challenge, and while you’re there you could browse through some of the great recipe ideas that Karen has posted.

Lemon verbena cupcakes

1/2 cup fresh lemon verbena leaves

125g caster sugar

125g unsalted butter, softened

2 large eggs

2 tbsp lemon juice

125g self raising flour

For the icing –

100g unsalted butter, softened

1tsp vanilla extract

200g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 190oC, 375 F, Gas 5.  Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.

Wash the lemon verbena leaves, and have a good look for aphids – the tender young growth can be a bit of a magnet for them.  Put the sugar and lemon verbena leaves into the bowl of a food processor and process until the leaves are finely chopped, and you have lovely looking green sugar that has a delicate lemon fragrance.

Beat the butter in a mixing bowl until smooth, then add the sugar and beat until you have a light and fluffy mixture.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each one is added.  Mix in the lemon juice, then sift the flour into the bowl and gently fold it in until just incorporated – don’t be tempted to over mix it at this stage.

Divide the mixture between the prepared muffin cases and bake the cakes for 15-20 minutes – until they are lightly golden brown and the tops spring back when you press very gently.

Allow to cool completely on a rack before icing.

To make the icing, beat the butter until it is nice and soft then add the vanilla extract and a little of the icing sugar.  Mix well, and keep adding more icing sugar until it’s all incorporated.  Spread over the cooled cupcakes.

Then you just need to spend a couple of hours working in the garden to earn your cupcake!