I started my first garden when I was four and dedicated it entirely to my then favourite flower, the Sweet William. I loved their little zig zag- edged petals, as though fairies had been at work with pinking shears. I would lay on my tummy admiring my diminutive, colourful world, like Gulliver in Lilliput, trying to decide which was my favourite.
My love of flowers hasn’t diminished nor has my habit of growing them and using them in my cooking. I grew up in the northern hemisphere and my summer as a child was oft spent gathering flowers and fruits from the hedgerows and the garden to brighten a tea cake or to make a summer cordial. Today, my flowers jostle with vegetables, herbs and fruit trees in my handkerchief–sized garden. They patiently wait for me each morning to do my rounds, like a doctor checking the chart at the foot of the hospital bed, dead-heading spent flowers, examining new shoots for unwanted pests and nodding with approval at new buds that have unfurled seemingly overnight.
In my cake business, I am known equally for my handmade sugar flowers on couture wedding cakes as my freshly-picked petals on a layered sponge. With trug in hand, I harvest the flowers that I need for the day at an early hour when they are at their fragrant best. Besides, the sun makes them sleepy. Some I will paint with egg white and dust with fine sugar ‘til they twinkle like a Mothers Day card, others I will simply scatter over a cake, allowing them to fall where they will. The flowers are edible, of course, organically grown and completely oblivious to the world of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
My cakes are made from organic and local, seasonal produce and I love to bring the romance of the kitchen garden into my baking. When I meet with couples to plan their wedding cake, I like to offer them flavour profiles to match the season and to mark the specialness of the occasion. Will it be the musky notes of a fig and violet cake when figs are at their best in March, or strawberries and elderflower (our strawberry season in Queensland happily coincides with Wimbledon), or perhaps summer raspberries and rose, peach and lemon verbena, chocolate and apricots, or lavender and lemon? Quite often, a couple will choose a cake that will look best simply dressed with fresh flowers and I am happy to supply them from my own garden or source them from other local, organic growers.
Every cake I bake has a story to tell – of the dairy farmer up at dawn to send me fresh, creamy milk and butter, the happy chickens scratching in the morning mist laying beautiful golden eggs, the wheat farmer eating breakfast knowing he has a long, hot day of harvesting stretching out before him, drawing on a lifetime of experience that tells him the grain is ripe. Now it’s my turn – to call on my lifelong love of baking, and with these wonderful ingredients and the magical alchemy that is baking, turn them into delicious cakes for all to enjoy.
I didn’t grow up surrounded by abundance. But I learnt early about the importance for our wellbeing of fresh food and its availability. My parents’ childhoods and youth fell between the Great Depression and two world wars. Many people were starving. Any piece of earth that could be turned, a handful of seeds that had been squirrelled away broadcast over it, represented life. Out of this poverty came a deep respect and understanding of the seasons and provenance, the value of uncontaminated land for our survival. We were city people but knew the real national treasures were those who produced food in a way that cared for the land.
Our lifestyles have changed and the way we consume seems to be to our own detriment. But deep down I think we all care about these things, because they’re something worth caring about. Freshly churned butter and fresh cream and eggs are things of value and to be appreciated. Golden grain, grown from seed that hasn’t been tampered with, it’s roots deep in dark, alluvial soils alive with organic matter, are to be coveted. Rest assured, they will continue their story through my cakes.
vintage picnics gillian bell
Do you like to picnic? I’ve always loved picnics. Proper ones, that is. Where the basket is overflowing, its bounty wrapped in some cheery print.
My Swallows & Amazons vintage-style picnics is a nod back to the picnics of my childhood – full of adventure, sticky buns and tea. Where plots were planned lying on your back staring into the dappled-green canopy overhead, opening small parcels of food from a creaking hamper was as exciting as Christmas morning, and food tasted better beside a river.
My vintage-style picnics provide you with all the picnicware you need to have yourself a proper picnic from the past, with hampers, dainty plates, Thermos’ flasks, blankets and transistor radios. And what’s to eat? Well, you can choose from a menu that’s full of home-baked tarts and pies, soup and sausage rolls, fresh sandwiches, sticky buns, biscuits, scones and cakes, jellies and puddings, iced teas, homemade cordials and lemonades. Oh, and of course, a Thermos full of piping hot tea or coffee. Everything you need for a splendid day out!
Email for more information http://www.gillianbellcake.com.au/contact-us/
vintage picnics gillian bell
vintage picnics gillian bell
Dawn arrived on tiptoe this morning, through soft rain. But the rain can’t dampen the promise of the day ahead.
Miss F and Mr S are getting married today and their yellow rose petal cake, the colour of sunshine, symbolises all the joy and optimism and love that will fill their day.
They chose a two tier lemon cake, in ivory fondant, wrapped in soft organza and scattered with sugar rose petals. Each petal is made by hand and individually coloured.
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate”.
My very best wishes to you both. yellow roses
The rat… appeared staggering under a fat, wicker luncheon basket. “Shove that under your feet, he observed to the Mole, as he passed it down into his boat…
“What’s inside it?” asked the Mole wriggling with curiosity.
“There’s cold chicken inside it” replied the Rat briefly, “Cold chicken, cold tongue, cold ham, cold beef, pickled gherkin, salad french rolls, cress sandwiches, potted meat, ginger beer, lemonade – soda water.”
“O stop, stop!” cried the Mole in ecstasies.*
I love picnics. Something tasty to eat wrapped in pastry (which always tastes better outdoors), lying on a picnic rug staring up at the land of clouds or reading a good book, sticky cakes in tins and thermos flasks of tea.
Today is the perfect day for a picnic and I wouldn’t mind Ratty and Moles’ spread. But every picnic needs a cake, which their picnic hamper is decidedly lacking. Not a fancy one mind, but the sort that will stand up to the journey – the packing of the car or the crush of the rucksack. No, it needs to be a solid, dependable one that reassures you the moment you lift the lid of the tin that it has arrived in one piece and looking as good as if you had served it at home. So I think a sticky date and walnut loaf is in order. Buttered or not, whichever way you prefer. And I’m going to make a traditional egg and bacon pie that I can cut into big wedges when we get there and serve it with ripe tomatoes, simply sliced open and sprinkled with fresh mint and sea salt.
*From The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham