GROW FOOD slow food Have your garden and eat it too. A practical guide to organic gardening in the sub-tropics with step-by-step instructions and delicious seasonal recipes. Come with me too on some of my travels in Australia, Europe, Asia and beyond.
One of the things I would save if the house was on fire is my folder of collected recipes.  It’s like a culinary ‘This is your Life’.

All kinds of people appear on it’s stained and tattered pages – my god mother’s handwritten recipe for ‘Policeman’s Pudding’ (I think I must have been about 14), Roberta’s lemon mousse recipe from over 45 years ago, when we started our first jobs together in London – and then a recipe club, my friend Nalini’s handwritten Indian family recipes from Delhi – over 35 years old, my mother’s wonderful recipe for Welsh cold tea cake (Barm Brack) and many, many more.  I have a handwritten ‘best banana bread’ recipe that has a shopping list down one side and a note on the other that says “don’t forget to pick up the children”

One of the strangest in my collection is a recipe by Matthew Evans, over 20 years old, which I haven’t been game to try yet. When you read this you will see why. You get one chicken, impale it on a can of beer (after drinking half of it), then cook it (well steam it) on the barbecue.  He calls it “up-the-duff-chook”.  Brilliant in it’s simplicity and just about the most Australian recipe I have ever seen.  The only deference to any kind of sophistication is stuffing some sage leaves under the skin of the chicken and rubbing it with olive oil and salt and pepper.  You stand the beer can on the hotplate, making sure the the legs of the chicken are not touching it, and cook for 30-40 minutes.  Anyone brave enough to try this – please let me know!
NOTE:  I have just had a message from my brother Paul, in London, who says that he has tried this with friends in Amsterdam and it was very good………………………mmmm?!

But I digress, that’s what happens when I start looking through my ‘Memory Recipes’. The first new season pears appeared in the farmers’ market this week; Corella, Bartlett,  beurre bosc and Packhams are the usual varieties – all great either fresh or cooked.  They will be plentiful for many months and I think their versatility is underrated and below are a few of my favourite ways to eat them.

This very delicious pear upside-down cake is handwritten in my recipe folder and subtitled ‘bad back cake’ so I must have thought this one up over twenty years ago when I was laid-up for three months with my first bout of ‘landscaper’s back’.  I can see that I have tweeked it over the years with crossings-out and scribbled additions – one being the cardamom seed – which I think goes wonderfully with pear.  The original recipe had the zest of an orange instead of the cardamom – this works well too.

1 cup caster sugar
150g butter
3 eggs
8 green cardamom pods with seeds removed – in mortar and pestle
1 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup milk
11/2 cups S.R. flour (I use half wholemeal)
1 tsp pure vanilla essence
2 pears peeled, cored and sliced thinly
good pinch of salt
1/4 cup toasted almond flakes

1.  Butter well a round ring-form pan and place thinly sliced pear in pattern over the base.
2.  Heat oven to 170oC
3.  In food processor beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy
4.  Beat in eggs, one at a time
5.  Add flour, almond meal and milk and pulse to combine
6.  Add salt and cardamom seeds, pulse again lightly
7.  Spread mixture over pears and bake in slow oven for 35-45mins
8.  When cooled, turn out onto plate and sprinkle with toasted almond flakes.

This fresh and versatile salad is a real favourite with my family – it goes really well with a good pizza.
  • 1 under-ripe pear, with skin on, thinly sliced
  • 2 big handfuls of salad leaves (rocket, baby cos, endive, chicory, sorrel, lamb’s lettuce etc)
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 80g feta (I prefer goat’s)
  • walnut or macadamia oil
  • lemon juice
  • sea salt and black pepper


  • Wash salad leaves and spin very dry
  • Make dressing with oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper
  • Toss sliced pears in dressing and leaves for 10 mins
  • Mix in with salad leaves and dress with walnuts and crumbled feta
NOTE:  This salad does not work with ripe pears, they have to be crisp and crunchy.
My artist friend Juta has a lovely habit of painting the dinners we have together.  Here is one she did about 20 years ago of a dish of poached pears. (I think she must be bored by the conversation!)
Poached Pears
  • There are many ways to do this.  Some recipes use red wine, some spice the poaching liquid – usually with cinnamon or star anise, but I prefer a more simple approach.
  • Quantity of peeled, whole pears (beurre bosc work well)
  • Place in saucepan large enough for them all to stand up without falling over.
  • Enough water to come half-way up the pears
  • Juice of 1 lemon and 6cm of peel
  • 1 desert spoon sugar 
  • Cover saucepan with lid and simmer slowly until tender.
  • Serve at room temperature with vanilla yoghurt or simple chocolate sauce (melted chocolate cut with single cream)
NOTE: Once cooked, you can remove the pears, return the saucepan to the heat and reduce the liquid to make a thicker syrup.
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