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28 Jan 2010 - 3:54 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Cake. It’s a big part of country living. The making of it. The eating of it. The very idea of it. A bloke in the next road has several acres and runs nothing but a few chooks. But being a member of a long-time local family means there are plenty of relatives, so he spends part of each Sunday dropping eggs off to aunts and cousins and dropping by for tea. During the week they repay the favour by bringing things they’ve cooked with the eggs. Top of the list, of course, is cake.

When a Tassie woman heard that I was milking my cow, she got on the blower quick smart. Iris Tatnell, who is nearly eighty and doesn’t sound like she’s a day over forty, was dead keen on sharing her recipe for buttermilk loaf. She grew up on a farm where they milked the cows and fattened the pigs and it’s her mother’s recipe that she wants to share. Real buttermilk, the liquid that comes from churned cream as it turns to butter, is nothing like the stuff you buy from a shop.

I bake a small loaf and some in a log tin. The log tin is a bit chewy, the loaf tin better. The flavour is homely, lightly spiced and very good, though it does (as Iris instructs in her elegant hand) benefit from a dab of butter on each slice. The texture is gently resilient, and I file the recipe away as one of the best I’ve been given.

Maggie is looking much better and is giving just as much milk and more cream since the flush of spring. Two neighbours have offered to have her over to give my paddocks a rest, and she’s already been spending a bit of time at one paddock nearby.

It’s time to find her a boyfriend, so Graeme Lovell, a local livestock hauler, picks her up and takes her to a nearby organic farm where they keep a hereford bull. She’ll be gone a couple of weeks, hopefully long enough to get her in calf. I’ll milk her again when she comes home, then dry her out for a while before the calf is born.

Another cocky, this time one of the Bignell clan, rings with advice on how to feed Maggie come winter. Silage is the thing, wrapped in plastic it can sit outside until needed. It comes as enormous bales, so four may get me through the whole of the non-growing season. Hay, he tells me, will keep Maggie alive. Silage will help her to flourish.


Iris Tatnell’s Buttermilk Loaf

If you don’t have real buttermilk, use 1 cup of milk with 30g butter melted into it and 1 tablespoon of vinegar.

2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup caster sugar
1 large cup sultanas, currants and raisins, mixed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tbsp treacle (optional)
1 cup buttermilk

Sift the flour with the spices and add sugar, fruit and nuts. Mix treacle, warmed over hot water, with buttermilk. Fold in gently. Spoon into a buttered and lined loaf tin. Bake for 3/4 an hour to 50 minutes in a moderate oven (180C). (I like to test it with a skewer as I would any cake.)

Slice and butter when cold.