Saturday, September 11, 2021

Weekend Cooking: Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber

About 18 months ago I heard of a online bookclub called Cook the Books and it was something that sounded right up my alley. The idea is that you read a nominated group food related book and then you cook something that comes to mind while you are reading the book. I read one book and I intended to read more, but then that idea slipped between the cracks. Recently, someone posted that the next book selection was Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe and, based purely on the cover, I was sold!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I hadn't really looked too much into what the book was about but it was my kind of book, and I knew it from page 2!

Anna Kate Callow returns to the small Alabama town of Wicklow following the death of her beloved grandmother Zee. She has inherited Zee's cafe, The Midnight Cafe, but there is a catch. She must spend at least 60 days running the cafe before it can be sold. This is the longest that Anna Kate has spent in the town. Her mother Eden left home when she was pregnant with Anna Kate after a tragic car accident which killed Anna Kate's father and never looked back, thanks mainly to the hatred that was directed her way by his family. The last thing that her late mother wanted was for Anna Kate to be stuck in Wicklow with all that means.

Zee's specialty was Blackbird Pie, not actually bird pie, but rather fruit pie which has mysterious ingredient. Local legend says that if you eat a piece of the famous pie you will dream of a lost loved one, and when you get the pie right, the blackbirds will sing in the trees behind the cafe at midnight. Getting it right means more than just baking the pie. It requires the assistance of several of the quirky characters from the town, it requires the nurturing of the garden and it requires love.

Also recently returned to Wicklow is Natalie Linden Walker. She has moved into the small house on her parents property with her daughter Ollie following the tragic death of her husband (yes, there are quite a few untimely deaths in this book). For Natalie, she knows that she had to return to Wicklow, but her relationship with her mother has always been difficult. She is dignified, very rigid and has high expectations - think of the stereotypical Southern mother and you might have a fair idea.

Natalie wants nothing more than to eat a piece of the pie to see if she can get some answers as to what actually happened to cause her husband's death, but if there is one thing she has always known it is that Lindens do not step foot in the Blackbird Cafe...ever.

Wicklow is a town which is struggling to say alive, despite the best efforts of the town folk. As the cafe is reopened, and the blackbirds begin to sing, and soon there are birdwatchers galore descending on the town. With the town needing to come together, old wounds will be exposed, truths will be revealed and relationships will be healed.

In many ways this book reminds me of those written by Sarah Addison Allen. There is the genteel Southern town, with a touch of magical realism, quirky characters and a lot of charm. I hadn't read Heather Webb before, but I will be reading more. There are two more that seem to be written in this style, but she also writes mysteries.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, the idea is that when you read the chosen for Cook the Books you then make something inspired by the book that you read. There is so much delicious sounding food in this book, there were so many things that I thought of to make.  When Anna Kate arrives in Wicklow, she is welcomed by the townspeople, many of whom welcome her with zucchini loaves, and at one point it  mentions zucchini and cheddar biscuits. I made the classic mistake of thinking that this meant biscuits in the Aussie sense of the word, so I was thinking it was a kind of cracker. It was only when I was searching for a recipe I realised that what it meant was the savoury scone type of biscuit from America.

The other option that I thought of was to try making a proper fruit pie. I've made lemon meringue pies and tarts, but I haven't really made what I imagine an American style pie to be.

In the end though, I have decided to make Hummingbird Cake, because it is a Southern classic, and because I really wanted to make something with cream cheese frosting. I used this recipe from Taste.

I ended up using vegetable oil instead of olive oil. The toasted flaked coconut was a revelation to me, and I will be making that again to throw on my cereal in the mornings or something else.

Hummingbird cake


Olive oil, to grease
20g (1/3 cup) flaked coconut
265g (13/4 cups) self-raising flour
200g (1 cup, firmly packed) brown sugar
45g (1/2 cup) desiccated coconut
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 x 440g can crushed pineapple in natural syrup
3 small ripe bananas, peeled, mashed
185ml (3/4 cup) extra light olive oil
2 eggs, lightly whisked

Cream cheese frosting

1 x 250g pkt cream cheese, at room temperature
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
450g (3 cups) icing sugar mixture
3 tsp milk

Preheat oven to 160C. Brush a round 22cm (base measurement) cake pan with olive oil to grease. Line the base and side with non-stick baking paper. Spread the flaked coconut over a baking tray. Bake for 5-8 minutes or until toasted.

Combine the flour, sugar, desiccated coconut, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add the pineapple, banana, extra light olive oil and egg and stir until well combined. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake in oven, covering the cake with foil if it browns too quickly, for 1 hour 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Set aside in the pan for 10 minutes to cool before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, to make the cream cheese frosting, use an electric beater to beat the cream cheese and butter in a bowl. Add the icing sugar and beat until well combined. Add milk and beat to combine.

Place the cake on a plate. Spread the cream cheese frosting over the top and side of the cake. Sprinkle with toasted flaked coconut and serve.

I am also linking this post up with Foodies Read hosted at

Weekly Meals

Saturday - Fried Chicken, mash and beans
Sunday - Roast Pork with veggies
Monday - Beef Stir Fry
Tuesday - Butter Chicken
Wednesday - Spag Bol
Thursday - Chicken Kebabs, baked potato and coleslaw
Friday - Take Away

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page


  1. The book and your recipe sound interesting. Southern cooking is something that I'm not too familiar with. Once in Savannah Georgia we had grits and green tomatoes. That's all the Southern food I've had. Your Hummingbird cake looks delicious.

    1. I've not eaten a lot of Southern food either. I have had biscuits and gravy and a couple of other things on my travels.

  2. Your book sounds a bit over-wrought! All those untimely deaths, as you say. Southern Gothic with magical realism is pretty heavy!

    best... mae at

    1. I'm not sure overwrought is the right word. It was all handled with a light touch!

  3. I love reading about Cook the Books. I bet I'd like this book -- I'm a sucker for quirky characters and Southern settings. Haha on the biscuit mixup -- I've had that problem too; depends on the country what a "biscuit" is. Yummers on the hummingbird cake.

    1. It did have me searching the internet for zucchini and cheddar crackers for a while,but zucchini would be too wet to be able to do that with.

  4. Dear Marg, Thanks so much for sharing this recipe and book review of Hummingbird Cake. Also a BIG thanks for hosting weekend cooking. Please take a look-see at my post, Healthy Recipes and Techniques to Spice Foods with Healing Turmeric. Wishing you a beautiful weekend. Nancy Andres @ Colors 4 Health

  5. I haven’t had hummingbird cake in ages, it’s so good! That’s a good foodie book.

  6. OMG, I need to remember this cake when I have leftover bananas to use up! So far, I have never made a Hummingbird Cake...

    1. I thought I would nearly have an opportunity to make another one but my husband had those bananas earmarked for another purpose!

  7. I used to make fruit pies often when my kids lived at home. They're pretty quick and easy except for the crust, which we don't care for all that much and so I buy premade. I do take the time to make hummingbird cake, which is one of my favorites!

  8. So glad you are joining us for CTB this selection. Your cake sounds lovely. Great choice and yes, this author reminded me a bit of Sarah Addison Allen too.

    1. I have the next book all lined up ready to read!

  9. Hi Marg, I am so happy you joined us this round for Cook the Books and sorry it has taken me so long to come comment on your post. Work is kicking me in the butt lately!

    Anyway, I am glad you enjoyed the book and your hummingbird cake looks amazing. I adore toasted coconut and cream cheese frosting. It makes me want to lick the screen! ;-)

  10. Yes. This does remind me of Sarah's books. So glad you revisited CTB. I hope we see you for the next round as well. Hummingbird Cake is quintessentially Southern so this was a great pick! Take care!

    1. I have the next book lined up ready to go Debra.

  11. One of my dearest friends makes hummingbird cake. We've been out of touch, and this made me give her a call. We had a grand time catching up.

    1. Oh how lovely! Thank you for mentioning this here.

  12. I have had Hummingbird cake in my recipe file for eons, and always intending to make it. Yours looks so good, it's a real impetus.