Starting a vegetable garden (with one square metre of land)

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Growing and maintaining a vegetable garden always seemed beyond me until recently — thanks to a book called One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein.

Houbein, who witnessed the devastation of famine in Holland during the second world war, has made food security education a top priority. She lived through a time when 24 000 people starved to death in an area about as big as Gauteng in South Africa. She witnessed all the beautiful trees being chopped down for firewood and all the birds, animals and fish in her home town being killed and used for food. This thick little square book is a gift for survival and is especially encouraging to those who’ve never planted a vegetable garden before.

After reading the first few paragraphs my boyfriend and I were heading off to the hardware store to buy some seedlings, compost and a spade. These are the words that inspired: ‘To start growing your own food without delay, put down this book, go out in the garden and select a spot in the sun. Dig over one square metre with a garden fork and remove all the weeds by hand.’

Houbein doesn’t allow for analysis paralysis —she encourages the wanna-be-gardener to go out immediately and buy some seeds or seedlings, some blood meal and bone meal ‘since you don’t yet have compost and composted manure’. It’s easy to go ahead with your garden once you have these items: sprinkle and rake a few handfuls of the meals into the soil and then loosen it to a depth of 15cm before watering it. You can then read up on the vegetables you’ve bought before the seeds or seedlings are planted and watered. That’s it, to begin with.

We simply dug some compost and bone meal into the earth before planting the seedlings. And that was that… a few weeks later we were eating beautiful fresh rocket, parsley, chives and watercress from our one square metre garden.

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We’ve been dreaming of expanding the vegetable garden so that every spare metre of the property is covered with home-grown edibles. So far we’ve only been able to add another square metre, besides a few pots… been slowed down somewhat by our puppy who just loves getting her paws (and everything else) dirty! But then, as Houbein says, ‘most food gardening failures occur through starting too big.’ She recommends extending the garden by one square metre each season. By doing so, the pleasure is not lost ‘even as your self-sufficiency increases’.

Here’s a photo of our miniature vege garden three months later (with emergency dog-proof fence).

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Click here for a review of the book.


C’est La Vie in Kalk Bay (has since moved to Fish Hoek)

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Off to C’est La Vie early this morning (after a walk to Kalk Bay harbour where there were three lone fishermen) to get some fresh bread…

And there’s our neighbour Josh, taking orders in his notepad with a red pen. A gentle hug hello and a quick catch up. Zack doesn’t look up as he finishes off the heart and leaf-shape patterns on his cuppachinos.

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Choosing bread and there is Zaida, another neighbour. She’s one of the bakers, and she’s busy listening to the baguette’s ‘sing’ as they come out of the oven. ‘They sing… no, really they do… listen…’ Josh and I put our ears to the hot pile of baguettes and sure enough, there’s the sound of crackling fire inside. ‘Wow, I’ve never heard that before,’ says Josh as he dashes off in slow-motion with a breadboard piled up high.

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‘I didn’t know you worked here,’ I say to Zaida.

‘It’s my passion,’ she says. ‘I hounded the owner for a job here for six months. After seeing their croissants, I knew I had to learn how to do it myself. Eventually the owner got tired of me asking and said, ‘okay, come around tomorrow morning at 5 am.” She checks the oven. ‘I’ve been here at five in the morning ever since. This kitchen is my favourite place… working with dough and bread is my meditation time.’

When she’s finished baking in the early morning, Zaida hangs up her apron and heads off to work at her shoe shop. She suggests I try the ciabatta loaf: ‘it’s made with a poolish ferment’. She wraps it up with paper and string.

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A little later, Candice explains why she loves baking. ‘There’s something about waking up in the early morning when the world is so quiet. I love it. Baking is such a gift.’ Then she reads Markus Farbinger’s poem:

Bread Monk

In the first hour of this morning

I ‘saw’ myself work for the first time.

I understood that this has become

my study, my meditation,

my religion, my life,

my connection to the universe.

The notion of work,

commercial benefit,

a safe occupation

to relieve my fear –

has turned

into an act of love

towards myself..

the person next to me..


the entire universe.

Her sister, Rachel buzzes by to pick up some coffees.

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Why do people adore this place? ‘The coffee is good. The prices are good and it’s chilled,’ says Josh.

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I hand him twenty bucks for the ciabatta and he mentions that he’s hitchhiking up the East coast next week. I suddenly feel the need to put a GPS tracking device on him. But he adds that he’s (definitely) coming back coz he’s studying philosophy, politics and economics at university next year.

Au revoir, for now…

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And a quick trip down to the market where the traders are still unpacking. Crossing the road, I bump into an ex-Kalk Bay local. He’s putting on his helmet. I tell him we’re staying here until the end of January to check it out. ‘You know who’s buying up Kalk Bay these days?’ he asks. ‘The whole of bloody Rondebosch! What for? To come here to their hippy weekend homes and drive around in their monster four by fours. It makes me sick.’ And off he goes on his black Japanese soul-machine.

Home with Zaida’s bread still warm under my arm, a takeaway cuppachino in hand, waving to le neighbours as I open the door. That’s the thing about living in Kalk Bay: everybody gets to be your neighbour.

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A happy discovery in Muizenberg: The Good Bakery

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An inconspicuous garage door opens out of a big, bare looking building across the way from the railway line. A grim place, you’d think, but then — what is it that smells so good?

There are two odd chairs just outside the garage door. What is this strange set-up? Some kind of post-apocalyptic restaurant? The answer is somewhat revealed: there lies, just inside the unexpected hole in the wall, a table which is spread across the width of the door area. It is laden with breads, muffins, scones and rustic fruit tarts.

Behind the table is an open plan kitchen. And in the kitchen are two men dressed in blue-black aprons. But then, if this was a restaurant, surely there would be a sign? Not necessarily a shop sign but at least a menu of some kind? Surely there’d be some pedestrians, passers by? Some foot traffic?

Yet here these guys are, in the middle of nowhere with splatterings of flour on their aprons, a telltale sign that they have just finished an early morning shift. I sit down on one of the chairs but there’s not even a breezy blackboard marking out the day’s offerings. ‘So, what do you make, I mean, what can I order?’ I ask.

‘Well, there’s this health bread and this rye bread and these berry tarts I made…’

‘Okay, do you have tea?’

‘Yes.’ Pause. ‘What tea would you like?’

‘What tea do you have?’

I follow his eyes to find three boxes perched neatly in a row on top of what looks like an electricity box. The box is high up on a blank canvas of a wall. And as he tries to read the labels from afar, I’m losing all perspective and rising into a bit of a cloudy state of mind. I’m baffled by this sense of timeless unhurriedness. This sense of ease, of no-marketing-required.

The mysterious place is a bakery, it turns out. It’s existed for some time now. Orders have been delivered by bicycle to date. Now the owners have decided to open up the wall and invite the early morning sun in. And whoever purchances to find themselves in the backstreets of this neighbourhood.

‘What is this place called?’ I ask the chef in the peak cap.

‘It’s called the Good Bakery,’ he replies, rolling pin in hand. ‘Sometimes a fantastic bakery, always a good bakery.’

I’m forgetting about the tea and so is the man in the cap. He’s answering more questions and saying ‘ohhhh, how I love making puff pastry’ as he finishes off a butternut pie. We are both in agreement that pastry is all wrong when butter, flour and eggs are taken out of the equation.

Next thing I’m inside the kitchen checking out the starter dough. The baker is stretching it out into a thin sheet. He’s showing me the ‘skin’ and the action of the gluten and explaining the texture. That characteristic sour yeasty smell is drifting out of the sweet, snug warmth of the dough. These chefs well know the joys that come from baking.

Suddenly I am handed a large chunk of freshly baked bread. It’s topped with a pile of pale yellow butter. What a gift.  But then, I thought it was only my father who put this much butter on his bread!

‘You think this is too much butter?’ asks the proprietor. ‘It is nothing but cream with a little salt! You must eat it.’

I bite into the crispy stuff with its ladles of soft yellow. ‘Homemade, fresh from the farmer as it came from the cow.’ The lightest butter I’ve ever tasted. It really is like cream. Nothing like the heavy butter from a supermarket.

I look around: coffee mugs snuggle up to measuring scales. Baking tins are stacked on shelves. The pies are just out of the oven. This is a place where things are ready when they’re ready. Where you’ll see not a clock on the wall.

Several people have popped by in the meantime including Shaun, an artist and Directed Pressure Point Technique practitioner who works above the bakery. And Nic, the carpenter from next door who still seems bowled over by his next door neighbours’ bread.

I pick up a farm loaf and wave goodbye to one of the proprietors who is getting his hands dirty again. He is merrily picking up litter off the railway line.

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The ‘sometimes fantastic, always good’ bakers Mitchell Penning and Martin Mossmer are pictured above. You’ll find The Good Food Bakery at 12 Milner Road just across the road from the railway line crossing to the right. You can contact them on 074 174 5554 or email them at  They’re open from 6.30 until 3.30 pm.

PS. The plaasbrood was fabulous with cheese, tomato and salad leaves. But it was even better toasted with butter and Verlaque’s Burnt Orange Seville preserve for breakfast. Martin has since advised that yes, The Good Bakery does sell their homemade butter (!)

Chef Giorgio’s Three Cabbage Lucca Soup (prepared & served under a Tuscan sky)

This is Chef Giorgio Giusfredi…

Chef Giorgio took on the challenge of cooking a vegetarian meal for my sisters and I in Italy. He arrived at the villa, in his typically relaxed and friendly style, with boxes and bags of goodies. We had no idea what he was about to prepare for us as the whole meal and experience was a gift from our incredibly generous host, Sonja.

Giorgio served us cheese & herb bruschetta, mushroom bruschetta and tomato brushcetta. Well, those were just the appetisers. What followed was a typical ‘Lucchese’ soup… then a pasta dish with chickpeas and THEN … a local bean dish.

The bean dish was prepared in the ‘Lucca way’ with sage, tomato and black pepper. To end off the feast, Giorgio created a simple dessert: poached peaches in wine which he served with ice cream. All cooked around the pool, under a hazy blue Tuscan sky. Needless to say, we sat around the table for most of the day!

My sisters and I have been bugging Chef G for his soup recipe ever since. It’s just arrived, written in his Italian-English.  To explain, ‘moil’ means hydrate or moisten and ‘tomatoes passata’ refers to skinned and seeded bottled tomatoes. Pinto beans can be used instead of Lucca beans.

The thing is, this recipe is never going to taste the same if it is prepared anywhere else in the world. As Giorgio says, ‘the very characteristic taste and flavour of Lucca Soup comes from the Tuscan black cabbage.’  My sister ‘Gablicious’ and I are still going to give it a bash anyway, using local cabbages and home-made bread.

Zuppa Lucchese

For 8

250 gr. Lucca’s dried red beans

1,5 kg. Cutted onion celery and carrot

500 gr. Black cabbage

500 gr. White cabbage

500 gr. Crispy cabbage

200 gr. Potatoes

200 gr. Zucchini

200 gr. Tomatoes passata

500 gr. Old salted hard Tuscany bread

Erbs(laurel, sage, Rosemary, basil parsley), salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil.


Moil and boil the beans. Fry in a pan half quantity of celery, carrot, onion, with erbs, oil, pepper, salt and the tomato sauce. Incorporate with beans and blend everything to prepare a bean stock. Add to the stock the other half of celery, carrot onion,  all the other vegetables cutted in slices, water and a lot of extra virgin olive oil. Let it cook 5 hours with very low flame. Adjust with salt. Moil the sliced and oiled old bread with a lot of soup. Let it rest for 20 minutes. Serve with extra virgin olive oil and black pepper.

More pics: since we didn’t know what was to follow, we were mad enough to have second helpings of the ‘Luccese Soup’…

Mad because we couldn’t quite fit in all that was to follow…

What a meal, what a day…

Thank you Sonja, Giorgio, J’y (!) and Christo. Also to our Italian God-father and Mama Mia x

Chef Giorgio Giusfredi can be contacted at


What not to miss in Knysna: the forests & ‘ile de pain’

Knysna is a beautiful place, from the surrounding lonesome beaches to the secret mossy forests with their age-old trees (how does one explain the feeling of being close to an 800 year old tree?).  But what would the town itself be without ‘ile de pain’, that bakery come cafe that had me hooked before we even got there…

We stayed on Thesen Island so the hot-spot was just a few hundred metres walk away – and I took that walk just about every day of our week-long stay. If it wasn’t for breakfast then it was for a tea-time pastry treat or for bread to take away with us on some fishing trip. 

If you fall in love with the bread and decide that you want to do an apprenticeship there, the good news is that this is possible. But then you could take the easier route and buy master pastry chef and co-owner Markus Farbinger’s ‘bread’ dvd. The film shares several of his artisan bread recipes. Be warned though, these breads are folded three times and can take up to 5 1/2 hours to produce – including mixing, folding, shaping, resting and baking time.

Many people have described what makes  ‘ile de pain’ such a popular place so I won’t go into the details of the decor and the food – pop across to Jamie Who and read his restaurant review (and yes, the Como breakfast is fantastic, especially for vegetarians). I just want to say that if you are going to Knysna, don’t miss it!

My sister’s crunchy, chewy, seed bar recipe

Hout Bay harbour

Besides a variety of shells, plastic bags, friendly dogs, seagulls and teeny little fish that swished around at my feet in the gentle waves at Hout Bay beach this morning, this is what I discovered: my sister’s crunchy, chewy home-made seed bar recipe.  She presented me with a slice as soon as we met up this morning for our beach stint.  It was good!

When I asked her to tell me how to go about making it, my darling sister dispensed her recipe as follows:

Nina: I found the recipe in a Greek cookbook on a shoot the other day and it’s so easy – you just melt the sugar and…

Me: How much sugar?

Nina: Well, about 50 grams… and then you add the honey

Me: How much honey?

Nina: About 7 tablespoons

Me: Seven tablespoons?

Nina: No, 4 tablespoons.  Anyway, then you dry roast the seeds in a pan…

Me: How do you dry roast them?

Nina: Don’t you know how to dry roast seeds in a pan?

Me: But shouldn’t the nuts and seeds be done first so you can mix them into the melted sugar and honey as it melts?

Nina: Yes, of course, that’s what you’re supposed to do – first do the nuts and seeds…

I think she was rather irritated with all my detailed questions but that’s when I realized the gift that recipe writers bring to the world – that painstaking detail, set out in an orderly fashion to make it easy for any reader to follow.  Hooray, I have an important role to play on this little blue planet!



  • 120 grams of mixed seeds eg. sesame seeds, linseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds (and whatever other nuts or seeds you wish to add)
  • 50 grams of brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons of runny honey


  • Dry roast your seeds in a non-stick pan on a low heat.  Don’t use butter or oil, just pop them in and warm them up slowly until they’re golden in colour.  Put them aside in a bowl
  • If you’re using nuts, dry roast them next
  • Place the sugar in a non-stick pan on a low heat and do not stir it – allow it to melt on its own
  • Then add the honey slowly while stirring very gently
  • Add the seeds to the mixture and stir
  • Pour the mixture out onto a long piece of  buttered wax paper or on a buttered marble surface
  • Lay another piece of buttered wax paper over the mixture and roll a rolling pin over it so as to flatten and even out the seed bar
  • Cut into slices while the seed mix is still warm
  • Store in an air-tight container
And this little piece made it home…

It was worth a trip to the one end of the beach and back to get the full extent of my sister’s recipe.  But now, after writing this, I’m wondering whether my recipes are easy enough to follow… (?!)

Postscript – my other sister ‘Gablicious’ has since made this recipe. She added colour with cranberries and pumpkin seeds  – and more crunch with a variety of nuts. 

A recipe to get you through a black-banana day!

My boyfriend ran a marathon recently with his old buddy Francois, so two days before the race, I filled the fruit bowl with all the fruit that a runner could possibly wish for: bananas, bananas and bananas.

I don’t know what I was thinking but obviously no human being can eat that many bananas in just a couple of days.  I’m not sure I know how anybody can run 42 km either but that’s another matter!  What to do with what’s left of those bananas became the pertinent question.  Those left over bananas were sure bothering me.  As was the thought of those little fruit flies that threatened to appear one imminent black-banana’d day.

‘If you could choose between banana pancakes, a banana split or banana bread, what would you choose?’ I asked my boyfriend.

‘Banana bread,’ he said, ‘if there’s enough butter.’

There wasn’t enough butter so I added some olive oil to the concoction.  I should have said mixture there but then I think I’m developing a thing about over-ripe bananas, especially squashing them into a perfectly happy sweet-smelling banana-less batter! 

But now the deed is done and the timer has rung…

Here’s a simple banana bread recipe adapted from Eric Lanlard’s recipe from Home Bake (that includes 75 g walnuts in the batter mixed in at the end and 50 g banana chips to decorate the top before baking):

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C, butter a loaf tin and then gather 125 grams of butter (soft – I used 90 grams of butter and made up the difference with olive oil), 170 grams sugar, 2 eggs (at room temperature), 300 grams sifted flour (plain), 1 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (sifted), 150 ml milk, 5 ml vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon poppy seeds, 3 extremely ripe bananas (mashed) and a dash of cinnamon to taste.

Then whisk the butter and sugar together until they’re creamed and smooth.  Add an egg and beat, add the other egg and then beat again.  Stir in 1/3 of the flour with the bicarb, some milk and repeat until the flour and milk are well mixed in. 

Lastly, stir in the bananas, vanilla extract, poppy seeds and cinnamon.  Pour the batter into your greased tin and bake for an hour to an hour and ten minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Eat your warm banana bread as a midnight snack or toast a slice in the morning, spread it with butter and serve with sliced normal banana.

I’ll be serving mine with tea.

PS. You can see more of Eric’s wonderful recipes here.

Tinks’ eggless chocolate cake


This is one of my favourite photos of my sisters and I, taken on our old farm in Magaliesburg with our family friends, Bonny, Celeste and Vaughan.  Our fathers grew up together and our mothers were destined to become firm friends too as Yoskie and Dawn lived on the top farm, just above ours.   Dawn was a very important person in our lives: she made vetkoeks.  But that’s a story for later.

For now, I want to share a recipe that takes me right back to this photograph.  It was here, besides the old barn on the middle farm, that we would meet Chris and Tinks, both paleontologists, on the occasional weekend.  Chris had a greying beard and knew a lot about books and bees.  Tinks wore patterned shirts and an eccentric hairdo and always arrived with a very unusual tasting chocolate cake.

It’s not that I disliked Tinks’ chocolate cake.  It was more a case of it looked strange and tasted strange and felt strange.  I’d eat it slowly, wondering at its very peculiar flavour.  I often thought about it over the years but could never figure it out… until my sister recently announced that she no longer eats eggs and I had to bake her a birthday cake.

I went through my Mom’s old recipes and discovered Tinks’ chocolate cake recipe amongst them.  Wallah, no eggs!  I got straight to work, mixed up the ingredients and dipped my finger in the thick brown batter to taste.  Oh yes, that taste from all those years ago came whooshing back.  I looked through the ingredients again.  It had to be the cinnamon, mystery solved!

Or so I thought…

When it was ready, I took a teeny bite… it didn’t exactly taste of cinnamon… perhaps it was the combination of ingredients?  I found myself eating it slowly, as I did when I was a child and still found myself wondering.  My almost vegan sister (the baby in the photo above) enjoyed it and my Mom sure did too.  I’m leaving it at that… the thing I’m wondering about now is this: whatever happened to Chris and Tinks?

Here is Tinks’ recipe, re-written by my Mom with her own notes:

CHOCOLATE CAKE – QUICK – TINKS’ check below for my recipe

For the Cake

  • 6 oz (185g) plain flour (1 ½ cups) – I used self raising flour and no baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 3 level tablespoons cocoa powder (heaped)
  • 1 level teaspoon bicarb of soda
  • 1 level teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 6 oz light soft brown sugar (12 tablespoons) – I used brown treacle sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • ¼ pt (150 ml) plus 4 tablespoons cold water (230 ml in total)

For Topping

  • 1 oz butter (30g)
  • 6 level tablespoons light soft brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 ½ oz chopped walnuts (45g)

Tin size 9”x 11” (roasting tin)


Sieve the flour, cocoa, bicarb, salt, cinnamon and sugar into roasting tin

Add the oil, vinegar, vanilla essence and cold water

Mix all ingredients with a fork – I used an electric beater but not for long

Bake the cake on the shelf above the centre of a moderate oven, gas 4 or 350 (180 degrees) for 30 minutes or until a warm skewer inserted comes out clean

While cake is baking make topping

Beat butter until soft

Mix in sugar, milk and chopped walnuts

Immediately the cake is cooked spread the topping over the cake and put under a pre-heated grill lightly brown – NB be very careful – topping burns in seconds – don’t put too close to the grill

Leave cake to cool before cutting into 12 pieces – delicious with whipped cream

I hope to post Dawn’s vetkoek recipe soon.


Jean’s Apple Tart Cake


3 Tablespoons butter

3 Eggs

¼ Teaspoon salt

¼ Cup milk

1 Cup flour

1 Teaspoon baking powder

1 Cup sugar

1 Tin pie apples

1 Small tin of condensed milk (can add ½ cup of milk)


Beat butter and sugar well

Add eggs and beat well

Add milk and dry ingredients alternately

Pour half of the dough into a buttered baking dish and pack the apples in layers

Pour the other half of the dough over the apple pieces

Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes or until ready (test with skewer)

Heat the condensed milk with half a cup of milk and pour over the tart while it is hot (alternatively, use condensed milk only)


If you’d like to bake a simple cake, double the recipe and allow approximately 1 hr and 10 minutes of baking time.  Pour the condensed milk syrup over the top and then lightly whip Nestle dessert cream and pour it over the topping once it has set.

And if you’re up to it… let the kids decorate it (as Oliva did below – J is for Jean, her much-loved grandmother)

Lemon Meringue Pie (using condensed milk & a biscuit base)


Eating lemon meringue pie is an intense experience.

There’s the zing of the lemon that dangles rather dangerously on the edge of your tongue as you take your first bite. Then there’s the creamy sweet condensed milk that rushes in on the heels of the sharp sourness, which then, rather dramatically, gives way to the buttery crunch of the biscuit base (with a hint of saltiness) before your taste buds are finally allowed to settle into the softness of the soothing meringue topping.

Lemon meringue pie isn’t complete without a cup of tea…

Or a tea party (thank~you Anairam and also for your blog post on my lemon meringue pie !) …

Here is a somewhat classic South African recipe using one packet of biscuits and one tin of condensed milk. It’s easy to bake and my favourite part is creating different meringue shapes (otherwise simply spoon it on loosely to form a ‘puffy-cloud’ topping).

PRE HEAT OVEN to 180 degrees celsius


GREASE a tart tin with butter

CRUSH 1 packet Tennis biscuits (or other coconut, syrup and butter biscuits) into fine pieces (my Mom used to put the packet inside a dish cloth and then bang the contents with a rolling pin)

MELT 125 grams butter

COMBINE biscuits and butter and PRESS into the pie dish (allow it to set in the fridge)


MIX 385 g/ 1 tin of Nestle condensed milk with 3 egg yolks and 125 ml of lemon juice (put the egg whites aside for the meringue topping)


WHISK 3 to 4 egg whites until stiff and then gradually add 125 ml castor sugar and 15 ml cornflour (to stabilise the meringue). Whisk until the peaks are stiff and the egg whites are shiny

PIPE (or spoon on) the meringue onto the filling


Bake at 180 degrees for ten – 15 minutes or until the meringue is lightly browned

Allow to cool before serving (eat the same day or the following day)

Variations – place 1/2 can of pie apples or 3 sliced bananas on the biscuit base before pouring in the filling. Alternatively, mix the pulp of 3 fresh granadilla into the condensed milk filling. For an extra zing, add the rind of one lemon to the condensed milk filling.