The Justified Greengage

Like a sum­mer dah­lia frozen in ice, this post is pos­sibly slightly per­verse (the flower-freez­ing thing isn’t always daft — some­times it’s edible.) I have a slightly sink­ing feel­ing that what I’m about to embark on may repel before it entices. But, as with my posts on Fermat’s Last The­or­em and the French writer Ray­mond Queneau, it may be worth stick­ing with until the end, when at least there’ll be cake.

This is a homily about the hom­onym, one of a group of words that share the same spelling and the same pro­nun­ci­ation, but have dif­fer­ent mean­ings. The word that star­ted all this off is the hom­onym jus­ti­fied, which can be typo­graph­ic­al or simply excus­able. And the reas­on I’m going on about it is because of the lay­out of this page. I don’t much like text that’s

flush on the left but ragged on the right

or ragged on the left but flush on the right

And, even worse, text that hov­ers some­where in the middle of the page, without any real clue what it’s doing there

What I try to use is jus­ti­fied text — it’s so sooth­ingly square and sym­met­ric­al. But there’s some­thing bossily sanc­ti­mo­ni­ous about the oth­er mean­ing of the word jus­ti­fied, that I really don’t like; boast­ing that it, and only it, is right (not as in left, but as in cor­rect, which is of course anoth­er hom­onym). We tend to use the word jus­ti­fied when we want to bol­ster our slightly flag­ging defences. Think of the 19th Cen­tury nov­el The Private Mem­oirs and Con­fes­sions of a Jus­ti­fied Sin­ner by James Hogg, if you want to find an example of just such a usage. Mem­oirs they may be, con­fes­sions they could be, but jus­ti­fied they cer­tainly are not.

So this is a post about jus­ti­fied in a typo­graph­ic­al sense, but not in a sanc­ti­mo­ni­ous sense. The green­gage of my title is jus­ti­fied in that it stops the cake from being ragged left, ragged right or simply all over the place. It’s an addi­tion that makes the cake right (as in per­fect, not as in left.)


  • 180 grams unsalted but­ter
  • 180 grams caster sug­ar plus extra table­spoon
  • 180 grams self-rais­ing flour
  • 100 grams ground almonds
  • 3 medi­um eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tea­spoon vanilla essence
  • Hand­ful ripe green­gages, halved and stoned
  • Hand­ful ripe blue­ber­ries
  • Hand­ful flaked almonds

Pre­heat the oven to 175 C. But­ter a 25 cm cake tin and line the bot­tom with parch­ment. Beat the but­ter and sug­ar togeth­er until pale and fluffy look­ing. Whisk the eggs with a fork and mix them in, a little at a time. Sieve the flour to add a little air and fold it in, along with the ground almonds, the vanilla essence and a pinch of salt.

Tip the mix­ture into the cake tin and push the green­gage halves into the mix­ture, cut side up, until semi-sub­merged, but still vis­ible. Do the same with the blue­ber­ries and then sprinkle the extra table­spoon of sug­ar over the lot. Place in the middle of the oven. After half an hour, pull the tin out briefly so that you can sprinkle the top of the cake with the flaked, blanched almonds (add them any earli­er than this and the nuts will burn). Place the tin back in the oven for anoth­er half and hour.

Take the cake out of the oven and, after half an hour, remove from the tin. This is one of those cakes that, without ques­tion, tastes bet­ter the next day. So you can be an entirely Jus­ti­fied Sin­ner by eat­ing the entire thing, single-handed, in two days.

p.s. To leaven this mix­ture a little, I will leave you with an example of what hap­pens if you muddle up your hom­onyms:

The thief tripped as he tried to make his get­away and landed in a cement mix­er. He became a hardened crim­in­al.

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