Why beetroot, I don’t hear you ask?
Well, a couple of reasons.
Firstly, although the wee man has an aversion to all vegetables, beetroot sits right at the furthest edge away from what he finds palatable. It’s the polar opposite of McDonald’s chicken nuggets.
While you can think of ways of hiding a carrot or a pepper in his dinner, it’s pretty hard to disguise a beetroot with it’s hard ruby flesh and powerful earthy taste.
The second reason? I have a lot of beetroot.
My da has an allotment and uses every inch of it and his back garden to grow his own produce. He loves to grow fresh fruit and veg and I love to cook them.
Apparently this has been a great year for beetroot.
Like I said I have a lot of it.
A beetroot mountain.
So what to do? Well, there’s no point in serving my son a beetroot, walnut and goat’s cheese salad. I’m thinking something sweeter might work.
Looks like it’s baking day.
The theory is I get him involved in the process of baking. If he takes part then he’ll feel some sort of ownership and be more inclined to eat what he has helped to make. Like all theories, it’s great while it’s in my head.
So I think we’ll have a go at making a beetroot loaf cake. Loaf cakes are not too challenging, not too controversial and most people seem to like them. They’re the Eamonn Holmes of the baking world.
I’m a keen but limited baker. I’m impatient and sloppy but I love to have a go. In a culinary world now dominated by Paul Hollywood Bake-off precision I’m from the ‘It might look like shit but I guarantee it tastes good’ school.
The first job is grating one good-sized beetroot. I hate grating, and grating beetroot is the worst. Soon my hands, the chopping board, most of counter covers, some of the cupboard doors and a fair portion of the floor are dappled with purple juice. I look a bit like Lady Macbeth.
I could use a food processor to do this but that would mean digging it out of the drawer, spending half an hour searching for all the bits, cleaning all the dust off it, wondering why it won’t start, realising I’ve put the blades from my spiraliser in it by mistake….I decide to stick with the grater and stained fingers.
I use a basic loaf cake recipe that I think originally came from Nigella. Equal quantities of butter and caster sugar creamed together (about 250g of each), add some lemon zest and beat in four eggs, one at a time. Then add the grated beetroot and, well, pretty much anything you like. I throw in a couple of handfuls of dried fruit but chocolate chips, nuts, dates, cherries (Christ I’m starting to sound a bit Jamie Oliver here).
When I bake or cook anything I love to use what I already have knocking about the kitchen (hence the beetroot). The best sort of cake is the one I can make without having to go to the shop.
The last step is adding plain flour (about 300g and a teaspoon of baking powder) and it’s at this point that I bring my son in. Any earlier and I know he would have got bored and already drifted away.
I interrupt his game of head-butting the kitchen table and get him busy with the spoon. As he stirs flour goes everywhere; on the sideboard, the floor, over both of us. It’s only later in the evening that I discover a fair dusting somehow ended up down the back of my underpants.
Then I get him to help me pour the mixture into a prepared loaf tin. He is completely captivated by the bright pink dough which seems like something from a sweet shop. The beetroot gives it a glowing artificial look, like those tiny jars of food colouring they sell in the shops. It seems to appeal to the young mind. He insists on licking the spoon and dipping his fingers. I’m beginning to think I may have pulled off a master stroke here.
An hour in a medium oven does the job. My son returns to stare through the glass door a couple of times before disappearing upstairs to tell mummy about his cake.
I allow it to cool before slicing. The fabulous pink hue has softened to a harder crimson colour which magnificently speckles the loaf like a crazy tree with scarlet leaves
My son can’t wait to try it. He……..
Well, where did you think we were going with this? I love a happy ending as well as the next person but come on, it’s my boy we’re talking about here.
The truth is he nibbled a little bit of the cake before asking for a bag of Quavers. Perhaps he was made suspicious by my eagerness to get him to try it. Maybe he spotted the trap. Perhaps his ‘vegetable radar’ was just too keen.
Maybe it was mummy telling him that beetroot turns your poo bright purple which put him off.
But he did try it, so technically, if not morally, I did win the great beetroot challenge.
Plus I was encouraged by the interest he showed in the processes of making the cake. How he seemed to find the same joy that I do in turning a range of modest ingredients into something which is more than the sum of their parts.
I’ve a feeling we’ll be having lots more baking days together over the years. I can’t wait.