Posted by: lialeendertz | December 8, 2011

GMGs and damson Christmas cake

Christmas cake ingredients, with vodka damsons

Last week was the Garden Media Guild Awards, and I tarted myself up (boldly – if I say so myself – in orange) and took myself up London to see if I would win anything for this year’s labours. I sat on a table of people hauled together by the force of nature that is Ann-Marie Powell, where it’s fair to say we had some fun. And I got shortlisted, for three awards: environmental, blog and journalist of the year. Three times I went: ‘oh! oh! oh!….ohh…’ for alas, it was not my year. I toyed with bitter and twisted, but it is hard to maintain when you genuinely admire the writing of the people who won the awards you were up for (Annie Gatti and Mark Diacono), and it is pretty wonderful to be noticed enough to get shortlisted at all. So I laughed a lot, I toasted the winners with only a slightly wistful look on my face, I hobnobbed and networked like a good ‘un and I went out for a delicious meal after at Moro. Fun, fun, fun.

Home again, home again the next day, I let a little self-indulgent disappointment seep in. Best to temporarily give in to these things, I reckon. Touch the flame and feel the burn. And suddenly the one thing I wanted to do was bake. Put my mind to something simple and repetitive. Gardening, baking, sewing, all ways of ordering the world when I’m feeling out of joint, putting things methodically and carefully back in their place. Creative, sure, but requiring no great mental leaps. Nicely steady too, after those little episodes of risen heartbeats. And quite fittingly it was not just any old cake that was crying out to be baked, but the mother of them all, the Christmas cake. A proper project.

Despite being a pretty keen baker I had never made one before. We always go to my mum’s for Christmas and mum makes a mean Christmas cake, but this year I am being the grown up. We are doing Christmas this year, they are coming to us, and it seemed only right that I should step up, take responsibility and bake the damned cake.

Close your eyes and think of lego clone wars super star destroyers...

I’m not going to give you a recipe for Christmas cake – there are Delias for that sort of thing – but I will tell you my spin. It involves damsons. Everything has involved damsons this year, since our vast crop from the allotment tree. I bottled up my 2010 vintage damson vodka in August, when I needed the jars to make my 2011 vintage. The 2010 vodka-soaked damsons (I hope you’re keeping up) have been in a big jar ever since, waiting for me to do something suitably grand with them. So I soaked all the other fruity ingredients in damson vodka, and then added the sozzled damsons, just chopped in half and stoned, as the big, juicy ‘glace cherry’ element. For the nuts I stuck to almonds, with their stone-fruit affinities, and I lobbed another couple of tablespoons of damson vodka (plus flour, sugar, eggs, and spices of course) into the mix before baking. We all stirred it  and wished for good things (most probably lego- or star wars- or lego star wars-based things where the children are concerned, but I wouldn’t let them tell me).

Four hours it baked for. Such a satisfyingly long time. And yes of course: spicy, wafty house clichés. Now I’ve started down this damson-themed road it feels kind of right to stick with it, tho Im pretty sure putting vodka onto a cake is not really a thing. But hey ho, let’s have the courage of our convictions, and even though it’s a Christmas cake, it is only a cake. So it is getting regular doses of damson vodka, I will use damson jam to stick on the marzipan and – oh hell, why not? – I might even go for purple icing.

Soaking, measuring, stirring, wishing and breathing in spicy wafts. Baking therapy on a day of little sighs and little smiles.



  1. Little Jack Horner will be sticking his thumb in your cake to see if you have put Lego in there, along with the plums, instead of silver sixpences.

    I hope damson vodka tastes better than it sounds!

    It was good to meet you at the GMG lunch – even if briefly! Couldn’t miss you in that dress.

  2. I can’t think of anything better to feed a gardener’s Christmas Cake with than home-made damson vodka. French brandy? Hah. Not a patch.

  3. what a lovely blog and the cake sounds nice will have to try next year myself
    i made my first bread with out the bread maker today

  4. Lovely post. The first thing I wanted to do when I got home from the GMG lunch was garden. In fact, I started thinking about it while I was there…

  5. Ah, Christmas cake, always a thing of wonder, all the more so when zhushed up with home-enhanced booze.

    I’ve gone for pear brandy on mine (pears from my Jargonelle tree chucked into a Kilner jar of brandy with some sugar), so I think it’s going to be pear and vanilla jam for the marzipan “glue”.

    So sad you didn’t get your (much deserved) gong. Baking is always the perfect remedy to post-GMG ennui. Now, onwards and upwards to 2012!

  6. I loved spelling tests when I was in school — frequent, easy self-affirmation. In fact, I loved any chance to get assessed and, Lisa Simpson like, agonize why the A- was not an A+.

    It has come to my attention that, in the real world, there is no continuous assessment. In fact it seems there’s little chance at all to hear from anybody at all, on whether they think we are good, better or best at what we do. That’s why, even if we wish isn’t so, we allow awards of any kind to become imbued with so much meaning, like an over-sozzled damson. Those damned awards — so wonderful to get, but so out-of-proportion awful to be passed over for.

    The other thing I miss nowadays (compared to schooldays — or compared in fact to the days when I used to work in an actual office alongside other actual grown-ups) is the easy camaraderie of a peer group. Lovely to hear you got some of that, anyway, at the GMG’s, gong or no gong.

    Sheila Averbuch

  7. You only called me a terrible bastard four times which is very restrained of you. Nice cake, hope you save me a bit

  8. I’m really enjoying your posts here, wish you did more. Lovely chatty, conversational style as well as informative. Sorry you didn’t win at the awards (sorry MarkD, you know I love your books, they’re fab).

  9. Given the family sense of humour and the use of the phrase ‘tarted up’ in the fist sentance I wasn’t expecting a cake! Vodka damsons need to be tried!!!

  10. Lucy – I’m not quite sure how to take that about the dress…the damson vodka isnt very vodka-y. It goes sweet and thick. I reckon it’ll be good.

    Sue – yeah it seemed weird to start pouring brandy on it.

    Linda – lovely process, making bread. I will have to try to update on how the cake turns out.

    Victoria – funny isnt it? We love our little annual shot of glamour but all breathe a sigh of relief to get back to the garden.

    Jane – Not just me then with the post-gmg ennui! We can all be prepared with pounds of dried fruit ahead of next year’s.

    Sheila – You’re so right! Perhaps that is why we all have blogs and twitter accounts. I need continuous affirmation! Assess me!

    Mark – You know, I probably did… PLENTY of cake to go round. It’s vast.

    Catherine – Thank you! How lovely. I am trying to be a little more frequent.

    Hi John! – one of my allotment friends – who also made damson vodka – is dipping her vodka-soaked damsons in dark chocolate to make them into posh chocs. She mentioned this AFTER i’d made the cake…

  11. Sorry, that comment may have seemed a bit abrupt. I wasn’t allowing for the way screens don’t pick up tones of voice. I am not a vodka person – one reason being its vague flavour. I expect the damsons will sort that. And as for the dress – I was admiring its drama1

  12. Lucy – Oh no! Likewise my rsponse was meant tongue in cheek. I guess this is why people use emoticons…. All cool, and thank you re the dress. I felt dramatic x

  13. Never read a blog before. Got intrigued by an article in Gardening Which. Really enjoyed the informality and the information all wrapped up together. Will try the courgette cake recipe even though there isn’t a glut just at the moment! Possibly not very PC but will mean my daughter gets to eat cake over Christmas.

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