Australia Day, an excellent day for a picnic at a friend's property where we sit and gaze at the rolling hills and listen to the wind. A place where kids run across fields, climb fallen blackwoods, or go wading in the creek. A place where we stop being city dwellers just for a moment, and instead rest on the land which supports us and holds us and whispers secrets beyond hearing. If only we knew how to listen, we might just understand what it has to say.
I have just read Strandloper by Alan Garner, which tells the story of escaped convict, William Buckley. Buckley lived for thirty years with a local indigenous tribe, who recognised in him their deceased elder, Murrungurk. In Garner's version, having been through local initiation rites in England before his deportation, Buckley is initiated into the tribe and discovers deep resonances; the Dreaming is universal. Through the story, Garner suggests that all healthy people are able to embody the sacred in their every action, and recognise the spirituality of the land and their infinite dependence on it; and he suggests that ruptures in the Dreaming caused by the violence of colonialism must be answered by a new Dreaming, yet to unfold. As to how it will, with the loss of the ancestors who teach the art of listening, well, that is a mystery. Perhaps Strandloper is a good place to start.
It's a beautiful, difficult, thought provoking and sad book; I came away with a deep sense of loss both for the indigenous tribes which were ripped apart by colonialism, and for my own lack of a traditional heritage. A sense of connection with the land and knowledge of the rituals associated with it have been lost to so many of us thanks to generations of successive displacement; but loving and paying attention to one particular place over many years must be a beginning point for a new relationship with the land. And for my family, our particular place is our friend's property. 'This,' said my three year old, 'is my favourite super duper place' , and that just about sums it up for me.
Reflection always makes me hungry; and, like food for reflective thought, food for the block needs to be sturdy, as the only access is up a severely rutted old logging track. Having just scored a big bag of lemons from a neighbour, I brought a heavy lemon cake. It may not be the most ecologically responsible food nor is it particularly connected with the land, but to this European born on the other side of the world from her ancestors, it is gently restorative, nevertheless.
Super Duper Moist Lemon Cake
- 200g unsalted butter at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 160°. Position an oven rack in the centre of the oven. Line a loaf tin with baking paper, or butter it well.
Slice one of the lemons crosswise into circles. Place it in a small saucepan with 2 tbs of the sugar and 4 tbs water. Bring it to a gentle simmer, and let it bubble away for 5 to 7 minutes, shaking from time to time, until the liquid has almost disappeared and the lemon becomes sticky. Do not let it burn! Take it off the heat and leave to cool.
Whisk together the ground almonds and the baking powder.
Place the butter and 200g of the sugar into a mixmaster and beat until they are fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, until all is combined. Zest one of the lemons and chop the zest finely (or use the tiny holes on a grater). Add the zest to the mixture and beat once more.
Remove the bowl from the mixer. Gently fold in the ground almonds and baking powder, scraping from the bottom to keep the mixture as light as possible. Place it into the prepared loaf tin.
Arrange the lemon slices along the top of the cake, and drizzle any lightly toffee'd liquids over them. Slip into the oven, and bake for 50 minutes or until a knife slips out clean.
While the cake is in the oven, place the juice of the zested lemon and the last 2 tbs of sugar into the same saucepan as was used to cook the lemon slices. Warm very slightly, just until the sugar has dissolved. When the cake is done, take it out of the oven and poke it with a toothpick left right and centre. Now spoon the lemon and sugar mixture over the cake, letting each spoonful be absorbed before adding the next one. Leave the cake to cool in its tin.
Delicious on its own, or with an artery-blocking splodge of double cream.
Adapted from a recipe in The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater.
(Local: lemons, eggs. Mysterious provenance: ground almonds. Not so local: baking powder. From Indonesia, but organic, delicious, full of healthy minerals, and far more sustainable than cane sugar: coconut palm sugar.)