We burnt the salt and the herbs (in America it is correct to drop the h in herbs - it does sound odd) and shared the cake with Héloïse; Simon only had a very small piece, because he was full of dinner.
I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
This week was Midsummer, a celebration of the summer solstice: the day when the sun is highest in the sky, and there is the longest period of daylight. Here in the Cotswolds, we watched the sun slowly descend, in glorious shades of orange and red, and then finally slip over the horizon at about 11pm. I've not, in any of the years I was in London, been as aware of English seasons as I am now. Perhaps it's the obvious arrival of summer - the pollen that's been driving me slowly insane over the past fortnight, or the heatwave that makes working outside in the sun impossible.
But I think it's more likely that I am living surrounded by neighbours who bring a small bowl of redcurrants straight from the bush in their garden. That I can point out the budding apple blossom, or walk off up to the Common to collect elderflowers. That the tree I duck under on my running route is now covered with glorious yellow flowers - I risk bumping my head on the church gate every time I avoid it. That I can see the new produce in our local farmer's market each week; I've kept a list of the food as it appears, already making plans for next year's bounty. I can see, with astounding clarity, the seasons shift and change.
Without wanting to wish away the months of asparagus, and broad beans, and strawberries, passing the midpoint of the year also reminds me that we're heading into autumn, my favourite season. By the time it arrives, I will have finished drafting my next book, and this feels worthy of acknowledgement, (panic, obviously), and a small personal celebration. I turned, as I so often do at this time of year, to my very favourite book, rereading I Capture the Castle during one long, impossibly warm night, as sleep eluded me.
Though I have featured it in this column before, I felt compelled to include it one final time. This week turned out to be perfect. Towards the end of the book, with her beloved sister Rose in London, Cassandra celebrates Midsummer alone, carrying out long-standing family rituals: making a garland of flowers, burning salt and herbs, eating a ceremonial cake, lighting a bonfire, and then - slightly more unexpectedly - a snog with her sister's fiancé, Simon, who arrives as she is dancing around the flames. This is a version of the cake, a riff on a Swedish Midsommar recipe that Cassandra, suddenly able to buy groceries again, after years of poverty, could have pulled together.
This will be my final Novel Recipes column for the Guardian. It's been a joy to write over the past three years - thank you for reading it, sharing it, and cooking from it. If you'd like to keep in touch, about my next book, upcoming events, or my other writing, keep an eye on my website: The Little Library Cafe.
Cassandra's Midsummer Cake
225g golden caster sugar
3tbsp elderflower cordial
190g plain flour
400ml double cream
2tbsp elderflower cordial
Thyme, mint, edible flowers (optional)
Two mixing bowls
Electric whisk (or a whisk and good arm muscles)
Three 20cm sandwich tins
1. Heat the oven to 160C (fan). Separate the eggs, and put the yolks in one mixing bowl, and the whites in the other. Add the sugar and cordial to the yolks, and whisk until pale and smooth. Beat in the flour.
2. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks, and fold a third into the yolks to loosen the batter. Fold in the other two thirds. Divide the batter between three well greased and lined sandwich tins (you can do this in batches if you don't have three tins).
3. Transfer to the oven for 20 minutes, until the cakes are risen, golden, and coming away from the sides of the tins. Bring the cakes out of the oven, cool for five minutes in their tins, and then completely on a wire rack.
4. Pour the cream and elderflower into a clean bowl, and beat by hand to soft, billowy peaks. Go slowly towards the end, as it's so easy to overmix, and for the cream to split - especially in summer.
5. Finally, layer up the cake. Hull all the strawberries, saving a handful of the prettiest ones for the top, and slice the larger ones into pieces. Spread a third of the cream onto one of the cakes, top with strawberries, and then place another cake on top. Spread with another third of the cream, then more strawberries. Place the final cake on top, then top with the cream, and decorate with strawberries, thyme, mint, and edible flowers. Store in the fridge until you're ready to eat it, and serve in generous slices.