Sugar-free, grain-free fruit cake

Sugar-free grain-free fruit cakeJoolz and I have been working on a sugar-free, grain-free fruit cake recipe for a while, to add to our repertoire on our refined sugar-free, grain-free diet.  This recipe, adapted from an extraordinarily delicious Mrs. Beeton cake, has eventually emerged as being the yummiest.  Yes, it is free of added sugar, but does have loads and loads of dried and fresh fruit, so by no means unsweet or entirely sugar-free.  It contains no grain.  We have fiddled around with a bit more of this and a little less of that, and this seems to work best for us.  This one looks a little darker than it was in reality.  It is a small cake and was demolished within two days.  We were holding back.  Please feel free to enjoy the recipe and improve.

Ingredients for one large cake or two small cakes:

  • 300g sultanas
  • 300g raisins
  • 70g currants
  • 115g chopped prunes
  • 115g chopped mixed nuts
  • 100g flaked almonds

Combine all the above in a big bowl, add a dessert spoon of almond flour and mix to coat each piece of fruit with flour.

  • 225g organic, unsalted butter
  • 4 large organic free range eggs
  • 1 whole orange, chopped and blitzed with a stick blender, including skin
  • 200ml double cream
  • 6 dessert spoons of good cognac

Set the butter to whizz in a food processor with metal blade.  This takes quite a while (longer than it would if you were adding sugar).  I let it whizz on quite a high speed whilst I prepare the flour and ground almonds below.

  • 120g almond flour
  • 80g ground almonds
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder

We have experimented with varying amounts of almond flour and ground almonds.  Too much flour and the cake becomes claggy.  Too much ground almonds and the cake falls apart.  This ratio seems to work best.  Mix these in a bowl together.

Prepare a large cake tin or two smaller ones (about 9″ each or 22cm ish).  I butter and line mine.

When the butter is creamed (it will look and feel like thick double cream), add the eggs, one at a time, with a spoonful of the flour mixture after each addition.  Add the cream, the blitzed orange and the cognac in the same way, then add the rest of the flour mixture.  I let it all whizz on quite a high speed – this seems to bring about the best consistency.

Combine the wet ingredients with the coated fruit and mix well.  Tip into the cake tin(s) and bake in the oven at 160C.  One whole cake takes about two hours, two smaller ones take about one hour forty.  Test as usual with a knife or skewer.  If it comes out clean, the cake is done.  If there are uncooked bits left on the skewer… there are still uncooked bits in the cake.


Rose cognac in the jar

IMG_1590Here is Rose Cognac in the jar, rose petals happily giving up their scent and flavour to the cognac and honey mixture:  50g dehydrated rose petals from Baldwins.  They go a very long way.  150g organic honey, dissolved first in 100mL Courvoisier cognac, then topped up to 850mL Courvoisier.  Altogether 1L menstruum and 50g rose petals.  Combined in a large jar and stirred.  Smells divine.  After a few days I shall taste and add more honey if needed, until perfect.

Rose cognac

IMG_1588Just about to start making the internal preparation for the Pharmacy exam, now the rose petals have arrived.  It’s going to be Rose Cognac, an entirely delicious concoction of rose petals steeped in Courvoisier with added organic honey.  Leave for two weeks, shaking it lovingly every day, strain, label prettily (that’s going to be the hardest part!) and hand over for test consumption 🙂

I am making a large batch, of which only half will be sacrificed for examination purposes.  The other half will be put to celebratory / rehab use after the exams are over.  The proper written exams.  That would be June 10th.

Fragrant body cream

Fragrant body cream

Fragrant body cream

I’ve made variations on this many times before, always searching for the ideal cream, and this is my favourite to date.  It is light enough for a rich face cream, but nourishing and luxurious.  This version seems to be absorbed very quickly and leaves no residue on the skin.  When I rubbed it in (straight from the mixing jar!), it was all gone within a few seconds.  A tiny amount goes a very long way.  I shall use this daily.

This time I made it using a hand held stick blender rather than a coffee frother, which seems to be producing rather frothy creams… not entirely surprising.  The blender, on the other hand, works well, as long as I keep it on low, or low-to-medium as the cream thickens.  I could have added more rose absolute, but I don’t like my creams too fragrant. Adapt for any other fragrance, maybe lavender, frankincense or rosemary, instead of rose.  Here is the recipe:




Dried raspberries

Dried raspberries

Dried raspberries

Joolz bought me a dehydrator for Christmas – an Excalibur – five drawers of pure dehydrating joy.  I can dry anything from herbs at 35 C to crisp breads at 68 C – or indeed fruit at 55 C.  A client brought me an enormous bunch of organic parsley which has dried to a brilliant emerald green with an almost pungent aroma.  A couple of days ago we dried raspberries – according to the manual they are ‘poor’ for dehydrating, but they are extremely tasty when dried, so it was worth experimenting.  I spread them out with plenty of room between each raspberry and dried them at 55 C for about 18 hours.  they have turned out beautifully preserved and crumbly crisp.  Fantastic in my morning porridge, and I shall be layering them into flapjacks.  And into chocolates.

Scottish raspberries are wonderful little beings, and in the summer we shall be picking and drying by the bushel.  They are easy to keep in Kilner jars.

Fruit leather also works beautifully – blitz any fruit, but add raspberries if you need some pizzazz.  Pour the thick liquid on to the silicone sheets on the dehydrating trays, making a layer about 2 – 3 mm thick, and dry until leathery or even crisping.  Totally yummy to eat as sweets, and no added sugar.  I like 80% plums, 20% raspberries.

Wound-healing ointment


I’ve been thinking about an ointment that can be put on wounds, cuts, scrapes, grazes or ulcers.  Dedj’s Duck Poo contains arnica, so can’t go on open wounds.  It works amazingly on bruises, bashes, sprains, strains and the like, though.  Now, if I had an ointment or a cream that worked as well as that for open wounds, that would be a fine thing.

I tried two ideas, using the Duck Poo ratio of oil parts to aqueous parts, and making it slightly less hard, so using less beeswax.  Here you see the results.

I had made a deep decoction of Achillea millefolium, a wonderful vulnerary, which smells deep, dark and delicious.  This I used as the aqueous component for both, and I used organic Symphytum officinale, also an extremely effective wound-healer, in the form of infused oil in both, with organic beeswax.  The ratios are roughly 30 oil, 10 aqueous, 2 beeswax.  Then add whatever you think will give it a little extra something.

IMG_1524I had recently acquired some Shilajit capsules – Shilajit is supposed to be a wonder-healer, developed, I think, from some kind of resin. It’s difficult to get reliable information on it – the one leaflet I read (and bought!) was written by someone who made up spelling, syntax and grammar as she went along, so I didn’t even begin to trust her research.  Hey ho.  Anyone who knows more about this substance, please get in touch.  I cracked open 15 capsules, which on my scales did not add up to even 1g, and added that to 10g Achillea, and put them in a bain marie to heat.  29g of Symphytum oil were added to 2g of beeswax, and they were also heated to melt the beeswax.  The Shijalit expanded immediately in the deep decoction so the mixture became very stiff, and stuck to spoon and glass, hardening quickly.  It took some stirring when the oil and beeswax were added, to break up the consistency and scrape it off the walls of the glass.  When it felt as if the Shijalit had been suspended sufficiently not to ruin my coffee frother, I frothed until the mixture turned gleaming and fairly smooth.  Here is the result:  a wonderfully dark ointment with “bits” of Shijalit in it.  Shall try it out on an unsuspecting (grown-up) child (of mine) this evening.  He has a big scrape on his elbow from heroically avoiding a suicidal run-out in cricket.

IMG_1526The second batch was made with double the quantities of everything and 10g of Commiphora molmol (Myrrh) powder instead of the Shijalit.  It looked about double the Shilajit  in bulk, and I am wondering whether my scales were having a sulk when I was weighing the Shilajit.  I usually put Myrrh powder on open wounds, so this may be a more efficient way of doing it.  This time the powder didn’t bulk up so much in the deep decoction, but the result is still grainy.  Frothing it was fairly easy as you can see here.  Again, I shall experiment this evening for results.

IMG_1529Here you can see the finished Commiphora molmol nestling gleamingly in its tin, and if you look carefully you can see flecky bits residing within.  Both these ointments will suit the “It looks so disgusting it must be doing me good” tribe, closely related to the “No pain, no gain” family.

Making creams

I’ve been making creams again – a very light Rose face cream with Jojoba oil and Safflower oil;  and a Rose body cream, slightly heavier with Rose Hip oil and Shea Butter, to go with it.  I use an established recipe, the same one every time, just changing the aqueous content occasionally although I do usually use a Rose infusion.  Lavender is also delightful.

What foxes me is that every single time I make a cream, it turns out differently.  They are all lovely, and all have roughly the same weight and absorbency as the previous time, but they are decidedly different.  This time the ‘heavier’ cream turned out more mousse-like and the face cream more like a lotion.  How the former could be more aerated than usual, and the latter less, I don’t know.  The kitchen is the same temperature, give or take a degree or two, and I have done exactly the same things as before, used exactly the same ingredients, same batches, same method, same timing.  Bizarre.  Good thing I am not selling them.  Maybe I’m not drinking enough wine to help the process along 😉

Sea Buckthorn Boiled Sweets

There’s more to the noble art of sweet-making than meets the eye!  And fortunately, in this little saga involving the lovely Karoline and me in another Friday morning experimentation extravaganza, nothing hot or boiling met any of our eyes.  Karoline turned up just at the end of a wonderful herbal med e-seminar on skin cancers, contact dermatitis and psoriasis with a large bag of frozen Sea Buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides.  She, and Doug and Jonesie (Jonesie is the lurcher) are absolute heroes and went harvesting on the Scottish coast.  This is not without difficulties.  If you have ever harvested Sea Buckthorn, there are three things which will not have passed you by:  firstly the thorns… long and spiteful;  secondly, the squishiness of the berries – they splat as soon as touched, launching their juiciness to the four winds;  thirdly, the fact that Sea Buckthorn juice is a really effective, permanent yellowy orange dye.  So, if you get anywhere near enough a Sea Buckthorn branch to harvest it, you will quite likely be covered with orange goo as a thank you.  However, it is worth it.  The easiest way to manage Sea Buckthorn is to freeze it ASAP, and get the berries off whilst still frozen, avoiding splatting and inadvertent dyeing of favourite sweaters.

SB sweets 2


Sea Buckthorn is an amazing food, very citrusy and tart, containing at an average of 695mg per 100g fifteen times the amount of vitamin C as oranges.  It also contains vitamin E, carotenoids, omega oils 3,6,7 & 9, flavenoids (including quercetin) and minerals, making it a nutritious food-medicine.  Although boiling it will destroy some of the constituents, it will still taste highly distinctive.  Not to say mouth-puckering.

We dutifully scraped all the berries off the branches with forks (thus avoiding the thorns), picked out most of the leaves and rinsed / washed them.  Then into the jam pan with 200ml water.  You will be asking how much Sea Buckthorn.  We didn’t weigh… but there was a large plastic bag full of berries on branches, frozen.  We brought the mixture to the boil and simmered for five minutes or so, then strained the whole lot through a muslin and a sieve to give us 732ml Sea Buckthorn juice.  Very, very tart.

SB sweets 1I cleaned the pan, and we put the juice back in with 732g golden castor sugar and brought it to the boil.  The trick is to get it to the ‘soft crack’ or ‘hard crack’ temperature, then – somehow – get the liquid into these little silicon trays you see above and below.  We stirred continuously (remembering a previous jam-making scenario where I turned my back for a millisecond and was rewarded with ‘caramelised plum jam’), and, hey presto, around 140 C, the mixture started going very dark, very quickly.  No more bright orangey goo, this turned a glorious, rich, dark orange in, yes, a millisecond.

SB sweets 3Getting it out of the jam pan and into the silicon trays involved a soup ladle, a pyrex jug, a lot of swearing, and no burns at all.  Well, just a tiny one on my little finger which I can’t feel any more.  This stuff cools and hardens very quickly indeed, so we were manhandling a rather sticky mess in no time.  Notice the toothpicks in the large heart-shaped sweets.  These will be lollies.  There will be an easier way to do this, and I shall investigate.  The washing up was easy peasy (mainly because my cleaning lady had turned up, and she did it) but also because a little hot water dissolved away all the sticky goo immediately.

The result is very yummy, very sticky (suck, do not chew if you want to keep your fillings), and may well turn up in some guise in my children’s christmas stockings.  Now I’m off to sup Sea Buckthorn vodka and suck a sweet before dinner.




Bruises and Bashes Salve

The subtitle for this post has to be


The recipe (classified) for this wonderful preparation comes courtesy of the delightful Dedge Leibbrandt who lectured us on herbal first aid a couple of weekends ago at Lincoln College.  As hinted, it is designed for bashes and bruises, sprains and strains, fractures and swellings, and combines a speedy anti-inflammatory action with bone healing and soft tissue repair, as well as being analgesic, or pain – lindering.  The magic ingredients are Symphytum officinale (Comfrey), Arnica montana and Gaultheria fragrantissima (Wintergreen).  The magic lies largely in Symphytum having large amounts of allantoin, the substance that occurs in the body itself wherever healing is required, Arnica having proven bruise-healing ability, and Gaultheria having very large amounts of salicilic acid, the stuff in aspirin. It smells fantastically antiseptic and medicinal, courtesy of the Gaultheria, and it would be fair to say that I am chuffed with it.

Of course, I had to tinker with the recipe as given, as if this tried and tested preparation has not already been road-tested to dynamic perfection.  So I have added some emulsifying wax to the beeswax, and some glycerin, as it looked more like a cream on paper, than an ointment.  Why I think that I can improve on the recipe, never having actually made it, eludes me.  Next time I shall make myself do it as per instructions and it will undoubtedly be even better.

Many decades ago, Joolz’ grandfather, ‘Grandpa Flynn, the chemist’ developed and used a preparation called ‘Grandpa’s Healing Cream’ which Joolz says smells very similar to Duck Poo.  However, whereas Duck Poo has the colour and consistency of, yes, duck poo, Grandpa Flynn’s Healing Cream (GFHC) was orangey – black in colour and very ointmenty.  Sadly, Joolz dropped and smashed the very last jar of GFHC many, many, many years ago, and Grandpa Flynn went to his grave with the recipe, despite his son and daughter-in-law both being doctors… or maybe because… and there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth since, as it did work extraordinarily well.  The latest gnashing and wailing has obviously come from me, as I would have been MOST interested in getting my grubby little paws / brain cells on that recipe.

Plum harvest

This year the harvest has been very good from our little plum tree.  We reckon 8 or 9 kg, leaving the uppermost branches for the birds and beasts to feed upon.  This means there have been lots of delicious happenings:

Plum jam:  225 ml water and 700g caster sugar to each kilo of stoned, halved plums.  Simmer the plums in the water for 20 minutes until the skins start to come off.  Heat the sugar in the oven in the meantime, to help prevent crystals when it hits the plums.  Add sugar and stir, simmering for another 15 minutes or so until all crystals have gone and the sugar is completely and utterly dissolved.  Then boil hard for 10 minutes and start testing for the ‘wrinkle effect’ when dropped onto a cold place and pushed with a spoon.  Pour into sterilised jars, cool, seal and label.

Plum jam with orange and chili:  add powdered, i.e. ground up in a pestle and mortar, dried orange peel.  We dried our own from organic oranges – so pungent!!! Thereof 2 teaspoons, and 1/2 teaspoon very, very hot dried flaked chilies we got from the Indian grocer’s.  These to each kilo of plums, in the initial shimmering stage.  Yum!

Plums in vodka, folk method:  fill a large Kilner jar with halved, stoned plums and press down.  Fill the same jar with good quality vodka.  Seal and leave for at least two weeks.

Plums in brandy:  fill a large Kilner jar as before.  Add one tablespoon light muscovado sugar to about 200ml Courvoisier and let the sugar dissolve.  Add this to the jar, then top up to the top with straight Courvoisier.  Both jars should be filled right up to level with or above the top of the plums.  Leave for about 2 weeks, or longer.