Butternut squash in disguise

May 1, 2017 - 12:00am -- Living City

Butternut squash in disguise​​
A recipe using vegetables in a gluten-free cake

By Mary Gateshill

Many of us will have gone through Lent letting go of sweets, daily meat and other treats. Now we are in May and we can try to get back to normal. Something that really interests me is that food and eating habits have changed their “normalness” time and again over the ages.

If we were made to eat what is grown near to us, and within the season of the product, our diets would be quite restricted. We would have greater engagement in searching for and preparing what was available, and very likely we would eat considerably less.

From the little I have read of food history, the Romans came to the English shores well prepared to survive with foods from home — at least the higher levels of Roman society. There is also evidence that they planted globe artichokes, figs and grapevines to supplement their meals.

The Middle Ages saw the beginning of importing food stuffs, including raisins, dates, sugar and pepper.

The Victorians were always great inventors and experimenters, creating delights such as custard powder, sweetened condensed milk, dried vegetables and packaged soups, bottled pickles and sauces — produced by Harry J. Heinz.

Nowadays we have the world at our fingertips everywhere — through the internet, the supermarket and even the corner shop. We are more than spoiled by the variety of choices.

In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the incidence of food intolerances, to the point that now all supermarkets have their own “Free from” ranges.

We have such a range of produce around us that there are ways we can reduce some reactions by slightly altering what we eat. For example, for dairy intolerance there are many milk alternatives readily available, soy based, nut based, etc. Already back in the 12th century, almonds were ground and diluted to substitute cows’ milk.

Spelt flour contains less gluten than wheat flour, and so causes less disturbance to those who have a slight gluten intolerance. Similarly the long, slow process of producing sourdough bread, which is entirely natural, can be easier to digest than wheat bread.

There are some recipes substituting fat and wheat flour, as well as reducing sugar in cakes, by using vegetables, honey and nuts. Many of us will have happily eaten and enjoyed a cake like this such as carrot cake. But there are others — and here is one.


Light chocolate cake (serves 12)

Ingredients (use two springform pans):

  • 3 medium eggs

  • 3/4 cup sugar (6 ounces)

  • 7 ounces peeled and grated butternut squash

  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) white rice flour

  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder

  • 3 ounces (1/3 cup) ground almonds

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) buttermilk (or plain low fat yogurt)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk eggs and sugar together for four minutes until thick and pale.

Beat in the butternut squash for a few minutes to the egg-sugar-mixture, then add in all the other ingredients except the buttermilk. Finally, add the buttermilk into the mixture and beat a few more minutes to mix well.

Divide equally between the two pans and bake for 30 minutes in the center of the oven.

Make a filling or coating of your choice (like a homemade jam) and spread it between the layered cakes. Sprinkle a dusting of cinnamon scented powdered sugar over the top.

First published in New City, London.