The Justified Greengage

Orange dahlia set into ice

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.



    1. I’m glad you like the image of the frozen dahlia. The distorting effect of ice makes for interesting pictures, I think.

  1. I agree with jakey, that picture of the frozen dahlia is absolutely stunning, and I really like to see the greengage being put to great use, it’s one of my favorite fruits!

    1. I’m so pleased to hear you were glued, Sally – thank you. And delighted that you like the dahlia too. Freezing flowers seems to make them hyperreal in some ways.

  2. Welcome back, dear Charlie. Your post so made me smile… maybe because I am a word lover, a grammar lover or maybe because I love your wit and wisdom, your play on words and your amazing food. And I now know what I can make with the beautiful greengage plums now on the market.

    1. I adore greengages and planted a small tree last year – no fruit yet, alas. I ate them for the very first time in France – many years ago – so I always associate them with your adopted country.

  3. Would never have thought of freezing a dahlia, but it makes a wonderful brushstroke artwork of a photo.
    Totally agree about justified text – have been muttering dire threats about a designer who will use centred text on websites that I’ve written the content for, making it decorative rather than functional…grrrr!
    The cake looks wonderful, if only I could get my hands on some greengages, when it’s spring over here now. Maybe I could try apricots and youngberries in a month or so?

    1. Yes – apricots would be wonderful, especially with the almonds. Centred text on a website? How horrible – so messy and very hard to read.

  4. Oh wow – that frozen dahlia! At first I thought it was a ginger flower preserved in syrup 🙂 I did not grow up with greengages so I never know what to do with them – maybe this cake will provide the impetus I need to start baking with them. I am a sucker for words and wordplay so, of course, I love this post. When I was a teenager, my mom and I had a running joke about the homonyms funny (amusing) and funny (a bit odd). Every time each of us used the word funny, the other would always chime in “Funny ha-ha or funny peculiar?”. I miss her every day.

    1. I’m sure you do miss her – I know how you feel. Memories like that are very sustaining, although slightly mournful at the same time.

  5. This cake looks very similar to one I recently made with plums. I will try it again with greengages, if there are any left in the market. It took me years to realise that the French for greengage is reine-claude, I knew I liked them when I saw them in the market, but just didn’t make the connection.

  6. Oh no, never justified type please. Justified type really needs careful kerning (spacing) to be pleasing. Range left is far more pleasing. And justified type immediately makes me think of Word, IMHO the most awful software sent to plague us.

    The cake, however, looks absolutely, tastefully, pleasingly gorgeous.

    1. As an experiment, I’ll write my next post ranged left. I know what you mean about careful kerning, but my columns are pretty narrow, which makes it less of an issue. I’m fascinated by typography – it sounds as though you are too – and I’m trying my best to perfect my letterpress skills on a printing press that used to belong to my father. It’s a slow old business though.

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