Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chocolate pound cake with dried currants and nuts

Trade and Food - Part I
When you walk into the grocery store you are likely to pick up something grown several thousand miles away than one grown in a local farm - a banana from Costa Rica, a pomegranate from Afghanistan or a cantaloupe melon from Peru. What is the thought that goes through your mind? Are you thinking "in my own small way I am helping a farmer in a far away land"?

I have read and heard enough to finally know that the farmer who tends his land and works in the soil sees very little benefit from your purchases. The farmer has to abide by standards of the country to which his food produce is exported and the multinational who is his customer. Using chemicals for high yields not only hurts his land and affects his health. The huge beneficiaries are by far the agro big business who do business with the farmer and you the customer through several intermediaries. The farmer is lucky if he sees even fractions of a cent on the dollar. Once the farmer is not able to abide by the standards set by the multinational company his livelihood and his lifeline the farm is literally in ruins unless he markets his produce through fair trade organizations.

While we enjoy out of season and non local fruits and vegetables the struggles of the farmer will be unseen as is the intrusion of these global agro big business into our food cycles.

Free Trade - NAFTA
NAFTA - North American Free Trade Agreement: On the face of it there is nothing that can be better "NAFTA created the world's largest free trade area, which now links 444 million people producing $17 trillion worth of goods and services." If you go by the prevailing sentiment, trade is a good thing and this should be a boon for most producers, sellers and buyers. But nothing can be further from the truth for small farmers here in the US, Canada and in Mexico.

On one side US small farmers have been hurt extensively, with imports from Canada and Mexico far exceeding exports from the US. This has led to massive losses and bankruptcies among small US farmers forcing them to sell off their farms to huge multinational companies. NAFTA held the promise of cheaper products for the consumer, profitability for the US farmers and prosperity all around. But it was just that an empty promise and in reality has done far greater damage to the common man and the environment. The bulk of the benefits and profits have gone to big business who are fighting against modifications to NAFTA. Link

Fewer and fewer people have direct association with the farmer who grows food and the relationship with the soil that is essential to grow. Kids growing up today have very tiny knowledge of the food growing process and thereby hindering their ability to make sound and sustainable choices. It also make us that much more unaware of the effects of food prices and what should be considered fair.

Changes have been slowly happening. The organic and local food movement have helped revive the small farmers. Increasingly consumers looking to be more connected to their food and food sources. This along with general awareness has helped with the resurgence of small farms. Ultimately to the consumer price is a big factor. The slightly higher price we pay today for produce that use sustainable farming practices that preserve land and soil should be considered as fair.

The effect of NAFTA on small farmers in Mexico has been even more devastating. With the barrier to entry broken by NAFTA subsidized low cost grains from the US flooded Mexican markets making it impossible for small time farmers to compete in their own market. A large number have abandoned their farms and are crossing north to work as farm laborers in the US. The same is true of farmers in Haiti.

As for the Canada its problems due to NAFTA are borne by exploitation of its natural resources. Canada largest trading partner is US and this is added pressure on their natural resources and their ability to make laws to protect their environment. Some of the concerns of Canada due to NAFTA are listed here

NAFTA has hurt the common man and the benefits seem to all go the big corporations. It is easy to site cost and move production from the US to Mexico where costs are lower.

As consumers we do have a lot of power in our hands and as citizens we also have the ability to pressure our governments to do the right thing.

We can start by not grudging the local or organic farmer the slightly higher cost than produce that has been shipped in from foreign lands. 99 out of 100 time the faraway farmer has not benefited either.

... to be continued.

On to today's recipe, chocolate pound cake. There is a very fixed recipe I have for baking cakes and follow it without much alteration. Over the snow break I was itching to make some changes and and see how that worked out. It did turn out pretty good and the constant call for chocolate cake was satisfied in the process.

cake slices with ice cream - the best way to eat them!

Chocolate pound cake with dried currants and nuts
1. 1 3/4 cups flour ( I used unbleached all purpose flour) (1 1/2 cups of flour if using whole wheat)
2. 4 Eggs
3. 2 sticks butter at room temperature
4. 1 tbsp cocoa powder
5. 1 1/2 cups of sugar
6. 1 tsp baking powder
7. a pinch of salt
8. 1/2 cup of red currants
9. 3 tbsp of pistachios chopped
10. 1/2 cup of milk

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Using an electric beater, beat the eggs till fluffy and set aside.
2.In a separate bowl, beat the butter and combine the sugar into the butter.
3. Sift ingredients 4-7 together - flour mixture.
4. Incorporate the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture using the beater and adding a bit of eggs as you add the flour when it starts to get dry. Add the currants and mix it in.
5. If the mixture is dry after all the egg has been added add milk to get a pourable batter. (the amount of liquid needed varies depending on the type of flour used)
6. Grease the cake pans and pour the batter and sprinkle the nuts on top.
7. Bake for 25 -30 minutes till a tooth pick inserted comes out clean.

Serve with a scoop of ice cream.


  1. Yumm, next this one on my cake baking skill upgrade

  2. Trade is always a two edged sword, right. Unless there are rules defined regarding the quality of the product you trade, the conditions of manufacturing and in-general humane aspect of the trade so to say AND a way to enforce those rules, unless you have both of these, free trade can act negatively/exploited like you pointed out before. Many times when we are talking across countries and across national/political boundaries it can just be a nightmare to lay down and enforce any such laws (think about our companies, right.. even a free trade between two different organizations within a company can be so exploited if people do not have good intentions). On a sweeter note, chocolate pound cake looks mouth-wateringly delicious and moist!

  3. I saw this post yesterday but the baby was nagging so could not read. thats again an informative post. but does the case in India is also this extreme? I mean most produces here come atleast from within India.
    choco cake with ice cream is our fav dessert.

  4. I remember the phrase in tamil "Uzhudhavanuku rum kalapayum thaan micham". The cake looks perfectly moist and soft. I love it with icecreams. Good to see u back after sometime.

  5. wht can be better thn this

  6. Wow that a gorgeous pound cake, love the addition of currants and nuts...am drooling over the last click, tempting!!

  7. Yumm the pound cake looks so so good and true the perfect way to eath them is indeed together with ice cream. The thought make me drool fot the combo.

  8. I so agree- it breaks my heart to see middle class people moaning about paying a few cents/dollars extra so that the farmer can also earn a decent living. When we buy dirt-cheap food, someone else pays the price.

    I buy fair trade when I can, for now, I use only fairly traded cocoa powder (like in that delicious cake) and coffee.

    Do you happen to know if organic bananas are fairly traded?

  9. I heard that many farmers in India, specially from Andhra, are committing suicide because they can't deal with Govt's bureaucracy and poverty etc. That makes me sad. Even in Karnataka, lot of coffee planters we know have sold their estates and have moved to apartments in Bangalore and do something else. That's scary to me. Imagine you just can't live where your ancestors lived once anymore, those old houses with beautiful carved doors, the smell of old wood and the next generation onwards will never know what fun it is grow up in an estate or a farm, never taste fruits right out of a tree, never learn to climb a tree but only know concrete jungles, Malls and pollution! Terrible!!

    Glad to see your post Indo. I thought I missed your post since I was busy last weekend and didn't log on at all. Pound cake looks yum. I used to make Vanilla one but not baked lately. Love it with Ice Cream and fresh fruit on top! :)

  10. That is one well-written post, very informative...I try to buy as much as possible from the farmer's market, being a locovore' makes some sense...also free from unknown pesticides and stuff.

    Cake with ice cream, wonderful way to eat it:)

  11. I'll give this a try today.

    Funny how I saw 'Made in Canada / Produce of Canada' when in US...and all I see here are 'Produce of USA/Made in USA'.

  12. Yummm the cake looks do delicious and the combination of icecream and cake is simply amazing!

  13. Ok, Indo you can see I am serious about my baking. One question here.

    You say to add eggs to the flour, so I don't need to add eggs before, like what about having a wet mix and a separate dry mix and all that jargon ?

  14. PJ, absolutely true but most of these trade laws/rules are done with input of the moneyed businesses and rarely does the common man get his say.

    Sayantani, as far as I know most food is grown in India. Look at the profileration of apples from Australia and NewZealand, coconut imported from Srilanka , Thailand because for the industries that use them it is cheaper that way putting a lot of pressure on growers in India. Where export is considered I taste the best spices and nuts outside of Indian than while I was there, the best are exported.

    Nirmala, sad but so true. Glad to be missed but it has not been that long?

    notyet, Priya, HC - thanks. Irresistible right?

    Asha, absolutely I hear stories first hand and it is heart wrenching. Dear Asha, that is indeed good to hear.

    Nupur, absolutely. This cocoa powder was made from free trade beans. Yes! for a few products I make sure. Don't know got to check about bananas.

  15. Malar, yes local whenever possible.

    Kay, see? the direct result of these trade deals.

  16. Sandeepa, I beat the eggs first and keep it, then beat the butter and sugar together separately - will fix the post to make clear.

    Add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture and then intersperse with egg mixture as you are adding the flour. HTH.

  17. Too Classy a recipe, Indo !...:)..
    Lovely Lovely cake!!! :)

    And abt Mochai, trying to find out the English name I bumped on a site which had 100..in all languages, world wide!!!...have given the link there..

  18. This looks so beautiful decorated with pistachios!

  19. The main problem is that we are so used to convenience now. I keep reminding myself to shop from the local farmer's market. But it's so hard when it's open for three hours on a Sat morning only... we need to totally overhaul our mentality!

  20. I'm yet to read your entire post and will come back & do so when I get a few minutes together.. for now, I'm absolutely salivating at the dense chocolate cake - yummy!

  21. The main problem is that we are so used to convenience now. I keep reminding myself to shop from the local farmer's market. But it's so hard when it's open for three hours on a Sat morning only... we need to totally overhaul our mentality!

  22. Perfect cake for my son. He's got chocolate tooth. Thanks for sharing Indo. Nice post too.

  23. Interesting read..Loved the addition of crrants and nuts..will try this next time I make a poundcake...Perfect with ice cream..

  24. cake with ice cream in that weather ISG? Heard it is going to snow there again. The clicks look good.

    So far Fair trade coffee and chocolate were on my list of to buy items..Waiting for part 2.

  25. I hate to buy from these big stores.... I always felt that an injustice towards, our poor farmers..... their efforts & hard work is being monetized by these big branded stores...I hate the idea... I hate that we are not close to natural things like our parents or their parents did..... One day it would all be history..... for the future generations.....

    Oops! forgot..... tempting piece with a scoop of i-scream.......


  26. India's way behind in all this - I just checked to see if we had farmers' markets here in my city and there is just news about some far, far away! Sometimes I think we should rent a small plot of land somewhere and grow our own vegetables - they may not be organic but at least we can control some other factors. I remember when we gardened in school and even at home as kids, manure would be used for fertiliser. Guess I've digressed a little.

    We don't seem to have any fair trade information either, I just checked.

  27. Actually, we used to have a fair trade shop for handicrafts here for a long time, but it shut down!

  28. First time here, Loved your space. Not just the recipe but also write up before it was quite interesting.

    You might find me often around :)

  29. As always an informative post. Folks forget that we actually save in the long run by paying a little extra now instead of paying thousands to our docs.
    I love the combination of chocolate & pistachio

  30. Ellam kaali..Aachu :)

    Bore adichathu, naan yenna pannatum, vera yarum illai adikarathukku..aathan egg beat senju cake.

  31. I love chocolate and the pound cake looks irresistible!

  32. I like pound cakes due to the simplicity. Nice idea of adding chocolate and nuts ISG. :-)

  33. No kannu for my kannu kuttis OK?

    I have updated the post about using feeding bottles for plants.

  34. We often talk between ourselves that we should buy a farm :-) I still remember back in India when we were growing up how we would get fresh veggies from our farm... We are getting so much local produce here from the Sprouts that opened here.

    The cake looks so good with the nuts. yes warm cake with some ice cream perfect.


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