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My mother was a prolific writer of recipes. She usually wrote them on small scraps of paper and threaded them in the pages of her cookbooks.She later stored all the scraps in a plastic bag, together with recipes she had cut out of magazines.  They often had little detail, just a list of ingredients was common. Her recipes were only for her, to remind her of quantities as the method was firmly embedded in her head.

I must have been ten or so when I started writing recipes in an exercise book. I found the exercise book in a bag of mamma’s recipes. Flicking through it a few weeks ago I noted that many of them were “Australian” – lamingtons, snowballs, truffles (with Marie biscuits and condensed milk), oat biscuits and a cream cheese dip (with Heinz mayonnaise and Worchestershire sauce). Rather than cook mamma’s traditional recipes from northeast Italy, I was at least initially, focussed on recipes that I probably copied out of the Woman’s Weekly (those of you not in Australia, this was a weekly then later monthly magazine here that also released magazine style cookbooks). After these initial recipes of mine, mamma starts writing in the exercise book too: crostata, salsa al prezzemolo and spaghetti alla carbonara (which, dare I say it, contains cream, garlic and sausage!). Then as a teenager, in cursive writing, I add more “Aussie” recipes; Megan’s Punch (1 bottle of pink sparkling wine, 1/3 bottle brandy, 1 box strawberries, 2 tbsp sugar and 6 slices of cucumber) and Brandy Alexander pie. I don’t remember making many of them, I think I mainly wanted to write them down.

There are a couple in this book that I am keen to make, the first of these is called “Marina’s walnut and raisin-filled coffee cake”. Perhaps Marina is the daughter of a family friend who I used to play with as a child and teenager; however I cannot be sure; maybe it was also a Women’s Weekly recipe from the 1980s.

If you have a look at the instructions in my hand-writing in the photo, you will see that I write to “beat until the mixture is slightly fluffy” (which I find funny, it is not a word I would really use now) . I essentially followed the recipe as it was written, though I changed the types of flour. The layer of raisins and walnuts in the centre is thickened with cornstarch, which struck me as a bit old-fashioned (I was tempted to leave it out). But it was lovely. Honey is the only sweetening agent, meaning that the cake is moist and honey-sweet, with the layer of lemony dried fruit and nuts keeping it fresh even on day 3. It is also a lovely golden colour and is perfect served with coffee. I dare say it would make an excellent breakfast cake (I know from experience!). I made it thinking of my mother, as today is the first Mother’s Day I have not been with her. I miss her so.

In other news:

  1. SBS Italian asked me take part in a new mini segment on their morning radio show “Seasonal with Paola Bacchia”. It not only gives me a good opportunity to practice my Italian spoken language (something I do rarely now that mamma is no longer with us), but also to talk about one of the things I love most; eating seasonally and shopping at the fresh food market. More often than not I go to the Victoria Market, which I believe is where Francesca Valdinoci and I will be recording the next segment, to talk about winter produce. This episode was about autumn produce (chestnuts, pumpkin, persimmons) and I give my recipe for pumpkin gnocchi. So if you would like to practice your Italian, with written and listening skills, the link to the page for the podcast episode is here.
  2. My new cookbook “Istria, Recipes and stories from the hidden heart of Italy, Slovenia and Croatia”, which will be released in 1 October is available for pre-order. Pre-order sales really help authors PLUS the price is a bit lower than you will get it in shops. Angus and Robertson have it on preorder for $10 less than RRP as do Booktopia and The Nile (Google for other sites, can be pre-ordered worldwide). I have also updated my cookbooks page on this site with the final cover of the book (which has changed slightly – just the colour scheme – from the last time I wrote about it).

If you make the recipe below, please let me know what you think. Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, those who are with us and those who are not.

Baci, Paola X

walnut and raisin honey cake

140 g raisins, halved
50g walnuts, finely chopped
1 lemon, zest only
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon cornflour/cornstarch
1/2 cup water
140g butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup honey
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
150g wholemeal spelt flour
90g plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
125ml milk
1 scant tsp powdered cinnamon

Butter and line the sides and base of a 22cm tin (mine was springform). Preheat the oven to 180C conventional.

To make the filling place the raisins, walnuts, lemon zest and honey in a small saucepan. Dissolve the cornflour in the water and when combined, add to the saucepan. Place on medium heat and cook a few minutes, stirring until well combined and the mixture starts to thicken. Set aside to cool.

To make the cake, place the butter and honey in the bowl of your kitchen mixer and beat until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until really well combined.

In a separate bowl, place the flours, baking powder and salt and whisk to combine and remove lumps.

Add tablespoons of flour to the cake mix, alternating with the milk until you have used them all up. Pour half the batter into the prepared cake tin (it will be quite thick), then evenly spread cooled raisin and walnut filling. Pour on the rest of the batter and tap to make smooth. Scatter on the cinnamon.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool about 10 minutes in the cake tin before placing on a wire rack. This cake is easier to cut at room temperature though it does taste lovely when slightly warm.

Store in a covered container in a cool spot for 3 days

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