Many years ago I read a historical novel where the Russian Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna having moved to the Netherlands after marrying the future King William II was reported to complain that the wet Dutch climate was not suitable for human habitation. But as the human race is amazingly equipped to deal with adverse conditions, these days the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and the people seem to be thriving.
However the climate is less ideal for some of the most popular culinary herbs which are Mediterranean in origin, notably rosemary, thyme and lavender.
But as with all other plants, it is a matter of finding a good spot with a suitable micro-climate. That’s why I grow my rosemary together with lavender and rue against the south facing facade of our house. The drainage in the raised bed and the heat stored in the wall would be too much for many other plants (as some of our neighbors found out after trying to grow petunias in front of their house and having to water them twice a day) but rosemary loves it. To complete the Mediterranean theme there’s a grapevine climbing up the wall.
Rosemary is a herb with potent aroma and is usually used quite sparingly in cooking. One thriving rosemary bush is enough to supply a whole street and I often remind people that they are welcome to pick as much as they want. Some do and once I spotted a neighbor who popped out mid-cooking, in slippers and an apron, to snip off a few shoots which made me happy.
We often use rosemary for herbal tea which is an effective cure for mild headaches (especially combined with lavender). Sometimes we use longer branches as skewers to put on cherry tomatoes for the barbecue.
But one of my all time favorite recipes with rosemary is this cake. I like that it uses quite a substantial amount of rosemary, not a mere hint. Rosemary is usually associated with savory cooking and if you tell people it’s in their cake, they are often a little wary.
But I have made it countless times and served it to many different people (it is one of my staples when catering a lunch for one of my courses (together with these braided bread rolls)) and everybody loved it. The cake is made with olive oil and is beautifully moist. It is worth using a good olive oil because you’ll really taste the difference here. Sometimes I put in the chocolate as suggested in the original recipe, but usually I think it is more of a distraction from the lovely rosemary flavor. Do as you please.
Rosemary spelt cake
from Kim Boyce:Good to the Grain
I like to bake the cake in a fluted tart pan, but you can use other pans as well, e.g. a loaf pan. This may effect the baking time.
100 g (¾ cup) spelt flour
200 g (1 ½ cups) all-purpose flour
150 g (¾ cup) (cane) sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
250 ml (1 cup) olive oil
180 ml (¾ cup) whole milk
1 ½ tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
140 g (5 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped (optional)
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius (350 F). Rub a 24 cm (9 1/5 inch) fluted tart pan with olive oil.
In a large bowl, mix together both flours with sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, olive oil, milk and rosemary. Using a rubber spatula, fold the wet mix into the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Stir in the chopped chocolate, if using. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for about 40 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Eat warm or let cool and store for up to three says.