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Tannie Maria’s Love Advice and Recipe Column: Pineapple Butternut Cake

"Death on the Limpopo" book cover (left). Image: Supplied. Camping (right). Image: Peter van Straten

Sally Andrew is the author of a series of Tannie Maria murder mysteries set in the Klein Karoo. In this monthly column, Daily Maverick collaborates with the (fictional) Karoo Gazette to share some of Tannie Maria’s stories, letters and recipes.

In Death on the Limpopo, Tannie Maria goes on an adventurous road trip with Zabanguni, a Daily Maverick investigative journalist. Maria camps for the first time ever. And bakes a pineapple butternut cake in a pot on the fire.

***

I put on my sheepskin jacket, and we pulled our chairs closer to the fire as we ate.

“You were right,” I said. “I do like camping. The food tastes twice as nice.”

There was a lot of butternut left over. Just the right amount for a pineapple butternut cake, with cream cheese vanilla icing.

“What pot can I bake in?” I asked.

Zaba put on a head torch, but flinched when it hurt the swelling on her head. So she hung the torch around her neck, and brought me a flat-bottomed cast-iron pot. She gave me Gary’s head torch, and helped me adjust the strap.

Swartberg Pass, Prince Albert, close to where Maria and Zaba were camping. Image: Supplied

I found all the cake ingredients in the bakkie and put them on the camping table. I beat the eggs, adding vanilla essence and oil. Then I added the dry ingredients: flour, bicarb, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, salt and sugar. I mashed the butternut, and mixed that in too, along with the can of crushed pineapple, and the pecans. I’d just eaten, but making the cake got me hungry all over again. As I worked, Zaba sorted out the bedding.

While the cake baked on the coals, I prepared the icing: butter, cream cheese, vanilla essence, icing sugar. Then I tidied everything away, apart from some pecans for decorating the cake.

“I’ve put you over here,” said Zaba, carrying what looked like a giant blue Swiss roll to my orange tent.

I looked at her green tent that was quite a distance away. I wouldn’t have minded if our bedrooms had been a little closer together.

“I snore,” said Zaba. As if she could read my mind.

She unrolled the blue plastic. It was long and flat.

“This is your mattress,” she said.

I was glad I had good padding of my own. That thin little thing wouldn’t put much softness between me and the ground. But I didn’t want to complain on my first night camping.

Zaba said: “It’s an air mat. It’s quite comfortable. You’ll see.”

She blew up the air mat for me and gave me Gary’s down sleeping bag – and a solar jar. I climbed inside the tent and tested the mattress. She was right – it was just fine. And when I’d laid everything out in my tent, it felt quite cosy, like a little bedroom.

We went back to the fire, and I poked the coals under the pot while Zaba used tongs to put more coals on its cast-iron lid.

Her phone rang, and she stood up to answer it. “Lucille,” she said. “Tomorrow?… I won’t make it… Thank you for letting me know.”

She sat down, as if her body was heavy, her legs weak.

“Gary’s funeral is tomorrow,” she said.

“Do you want to go back?”

“No,” she said. “I want to go forward. I owe it to him.”

I saw the weight of the grief on her. I think she carried it all the time, but although I’d seen the sorrow in her eyes, I hadn’t known how heavy was its weight. I wished I could help her somehow. But grief is not something that can be fixed. Over time, the weight gets less heavy, but it never becomes light. I could not help her carry it. But I could be by her side. And I could give her cake.

The pineapple butternut cake was ready, and I tipped it from the pot onto a breadboard. While it cooled, I put on water for coffee. Then I spread the cream-cheese vanilla icing on the cake and cut two slices. Zaba was looking up at the sky, as if she was trying to see through the blackness, to the other side.

“Here you are,” I said.

She blinked the darkness from her eyes and took the cake. Then she looked up at the sky again.

“The stars are icy,” I said. They were sparkly and clear.

“Gary’s sleeping bag is very warm,” she said. “But I put an extra blanket in your tent.”

Pineapple Butternut Cake. Image: Supplied
Pineapple Butternut Cake. Image: Supplied

The cake was delicious with coffee and stars. We cleaned up the camp and ourselves, and I climbed into Gary’s sleeping bag. It was very warm, as if it still held the heat of his body. I fell into a heavy sleep and dreamt that salad thieves were attacking our camp.

“The lettuce,” they shouted, waving sharp knives and forks. “Give us the lettuce!”

*** 

Pineapple Butternut Cake 

  • 2 cups (500 g) cubed butternut
  • 2¾ cups (375 g) cake flour
  • 2½ cups (500 g) white sugar
  • 1½ t bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 T ground cinnamon
  • ½ t ground cloves
  • ½ t ground (or grated fresh) nutmeg
  • ¼ t salt
  • 1½ cups vegetable oil
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 t vanilla essence
  • 1¼ cups (280 g) crushed pineapple (this is 1 x 400g can, drained of fluid)
  • 1½ cups pecan nuts, roughly chopped

Lemon cream-cheese icing

  • 500g (2 tubs) smooth cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 180g butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups (200g) icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 t vanilla essence
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • grated zest of ½ lemon
  • pecan nuts and lemon zest for decorating

*** 

  • Steam the butternut until soft. Drain, then purée (or mash) until smooth. Set aside to cool.
  • Preheat your oven to 180°C. Grease and flour two 23–27cm cake tins.
  • Sift together the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, spices and salt.
  • In a separate large bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs and vanilla essence.
  • Gradually beat the flour mixture into the egg mixture.
  • Add the butternut purée, pineapple and pecans. Mix well.
  • Divide the batter between the prepared tins. Bake for 50–60 minutes, or until a skewer poked into the cake comes out clean. This cake is moist, but make sure it is cooked through.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool before turning the cakes out onto a wire rack.
  • To make the icing, beat together the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the icing sugar, followed by the vanilla essence and lemon juice. Fold in the lemon zest.
  • Refrigerate for 20 minutes before using.
  • Spread the lemon cream-cheese icing on top of each cooled cake.
  • Stack the two cakes (or serve as two single-layer cakes), then decorate with pecan nuts and lemon zest.
  • Refrigerate before serving.

*** 

Recipe by Lindy Truswell, cake by Verushka Louw. Image: Vanessa Brown
Cake by Verushka Louw. Image: Sean Brown
Image: Sean Brown

Tips

  • To spice things up, add small pieces of candied ginger to the cake decoration.
  • Both the cake and the icing freeze well. But freeze separately, storing the cake in plastic and the icing in a sealed tub. When you are ready to serve, allow both to come to room temperature before icing the cake.
  • When camping, it is easier to halve the ingredients and make a single-layer cake in a pot. DM/ML

This letter and Tannie Maria’s recipe are an excerpt from Death on the Limpopo. You can buy Sally Andrew’s books here.

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