Our school gardening club season is nearly at an end. Being fair-weather gardeners, we like to take a break over the winter months. This summer we’ve grown salads, flowers, herbs and vegetables . There are still parsnips and swedes waiting to be harvested, but most of the crops have done their growing, been picked or pulled, and either taken home by the gardening club members or used in the school kitchen. Yesterday we spent a good hour or so weeding, brushing up the leaves that had fallen around the raised beds, and pulling up the tomato plants. As we were working, ladybirds began crawling about on the edges of the raised beds and the steps between them. There must have been 20 or more of them – a lot to see all at once after a summer of very few of these insects.
There were ladybird larvae too. Odd looking creatures with no clues as to the pretty insects they turn in to.
The adult ladybirds had unusual patterns – not the usual seven black spots on red. When I got home I looked them up, only to discover that they could well be harlequin ladybirds… the invasive species that’s relatively new here and seen as a potential threat to our native ladybird species. These big, mean ladybirds have huge appetites and eat aphids in large quantities. When the aphids are getting to be a bit thin on the ground, these invaders aren’t averse to eating native ladybirds to keep them going. I’ve not seen harlequin ladybirds before, so to suddenly find them in such numbers is a worry.
After we’d admired the ladybirds (before we knew what kind of ladybirds they were), we started work on the tomatoes, collecting the fruit before pulling up the plants and adding them to the compost heap. A long time ago, during a gap year after university, I worked in the packing shed at a tomato farm in Australia – long hours sorting tomatoes into boxes ready for market. The tomatoes were boxed up according to how ripe they were. So, the ripe, red fruit went all together in one box, green fruit in another and in between there were three other, subtly different, shades of green/red to be sorted into separate boxes. It took a few hours on the first day to learn precisely which tomato should be in which box. But we did learn and by the second day of packing tomatoes, the more experienced women working there were no longer picking out stray fruit and putting them in the correct boxes.
The tomatoes from the school garden were probably in all those five shades of tomato ripeness, but to make things easy we sorted them into just two categories – green and red. The ripe, red fruit were taken away to be turned into soup. The green tomatoes looked like they might be more of a challenge to turn into something edible. I wanted to come up with a something that I could make for our last gardening club meeting in a couple of weeks’ time, and something a group of five to eleven year olds would be likely to try… cake seemed like a good solution, but green tomato cake? As usual, even the most quirky sounding idea has already been tried and tested. Search ‘green tomato loaf’ online and you end up with a whole variety of recipes. I took the best features from three different recipes, combined them and came up with this recipe. A not too sweet cake with plenty of flavour from the spices. The green tomatoes don’t add much in the way of flavour but, like the carrots in a carrot cake, give the loaf moisture and a good texture.
As well as tomatoes, this very good cake contains walnuts… which just happen to be the one ingredient in October’s One Ingredient challenge. The challenge is jointly hosted by Laura at How to Cook Good Food and Nazima who writes at Franglais Kitchen. This month is Laura’s turn to host, and there’s already a long list of recipes using walnuts to be found over on her blog.
Spiced green tomato cake
200g coarsely grated green tomatoes
225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
150g light brown soft sugar
½ cup rapeseed oil
½ Greek yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 180oC, 350oF, gas 4. Line an 8”x4” loaf tin with baking parchment.
Put the grated tomatoes into a colander or sieve and leave over a bowl or sink to drain while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. Add the salt, cinnamon and nutmeg and stir to combine everything.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, oil, yoghurt and vanilla extract until you have an even mixture. Add the egg mix to the dry ingredients and stir gently, when the flour is almost completely mixed in, add the raisins and walnuts and continue to stir until everything is combined, taking care not to over mix.
Pour the cake mix into the prepared tin and bake for about 1 hour – check after 45 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Leave the cake to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before serving.
I added drizzle of lime icing (about 1/2 tbsp icing sugar to 2 tbsp) to top off the cake, but you can leave it plain or use a cream cheese icing similar to carrot cake… or whatever takes your fancy. Enjoy with a good cup of coffee.