Saturday, May 20, 2017

#423 Mediaeval Gingerbread


Here’s a recipe from English Food I have been meaning to make for a while but never have gotten around to until now. I love nothing more than having a go at making these very old recipes – a true window into the past. I can think of no other way than experiencing history. It doesn’t even matter if it tastes good! Quite often some of them have become part of our repertoire at The Buttery, but will this one?
This is an interesting case – mediaeval gingerbread doesn’t resemble modern gingerbreads (like #174 Grasmere Gingerbread I) or even ginger cakes like parkin or Jane’s Ginger Cake (#53). It’s literally ginger and bread mixed with honey and some other spices, so it turns out that this gingerbread is the predecessor of treacle tart too! (I’m sure if I tried hard enough I could produce some kind of family tree of food.)

Mediaeval woodcut, c. 1485
Jane doesn’t give the original recipe, though I have managed to track it down; it’s from an undated medical manuscript known catchily as BL MS Sloane 121, thought to be late fourteenth or early fifteenth century. Many of these Early and Middle English recipes are difficult to decipher, but this one isn’t too tricky:
To make gingerbrede. Take goode honye & clarefie it on the fere, & take fayre paynemayn or wastel brede & grate it, & caste it into the boylenge hony, & stere it well togyderfast with a sklyse that it bren not to the vessel. & then take it doun and put therin ginger, longe pepere & saundres, & tempere it up with thin hands; & than put hem to a flatt boyste & strawe theron suger, & pick therin clowes rounde aboute by the egge and in the mydes, yf it plece you, &c.
Today there is no need to clarify honey, so that step can be missed out, but then it is simply a case of heating up honey and adding some spices; ginger, long pepper (a very common spice then, which has been superseded these days by peppercorns) and sanders (heated and powdered sandalwood) for colour. Stir these in making sure nothing gets burnt, then shape onto a flat tray. Extra sugar can be scattered over and it can be decorated around the edge and middle with cloves. Often gingerbread would be decorated with gold leaf. Other spices used include saffron, cinnamon, galangal, nutmeg, mace and cardamom.
Oddly, Jane found some recipes for gingerbread that do not contain ginger! This could be a mistake by the scribe (these manuscripts predate the printing press so were all handwritten) or it could be that gingerbread became a word for any spiced honey-bread mixture. Jane flags up the point the point that in some European countries the gingerbread used to make gingerbread houses don’t contain ginger!
Jane’s method:
I made some gingerbread…and found you needed about 1 oz of breadcrumbs to one heaped dessertspoonful of honey…Some kind of colouring was needed, because the mixture would have been too pale without it: I used powdered saffron. By stirring the crumbs into the very hot honey, I made a thick paste which could easily be handled and moulded into shape, like almond paste. When the cake was cool, we ate it in slices…
She doesn’t actually say which spices she used, but it seems she used ground ginger, cinnamon and black pepper as in the original recipe. She doesn’t give any proportions of spice either.
My method:
I used the fact that this mediaeval gingerbread was the precursor to the treacle tart, and made a honey-ginger tart.
900g honey
1 tbs ground ginger
2 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp ground cardamom
pinch saffron
zest and juice of 1 lemon (optional, see below)
325g stale breadcrumbs
a 10-inch blind-baked sweet pastry case
To save yourself from a horrible sticky mess, measure the honey straight into your saucepan and warm it gently. Add the spices, crumbling in the saffron and stir in with a wooden spoon. 


Give the mixture a taste, if you want to add more spice, you can; if it tastes far too sweet add the juice and zest of a lemon. Pour in the breadcrumbs and stir thouroughly.
If you want, you can pour this mixture into a lined tin, even better pour it into the pastry case. Either way, bake the mixture for around 20 minutes in a low oven, around 150C to help it firm up. You can then let it cool and cut up appropriately. If the top looks a bit pale and boring – as mine did – quickly brown it with a blowtorch.
We were quite impressed with the result and put it on the menu with a nicely-placed blob of Frangelico flavoured sweet cream.
#423 Mediaeval Gingerbread. It’s always good to find these excellent ancient recipes, especially when it produces something delicious. For our modern tastes, it definitely needed a bit of lemon, and only really needed the ginger, ground mixed spice and black pepper; the saffron and cardamom were a bit unnecessary. Anyway, a lovely peek into our mediaeval past, 8/10.

Friday, October 7, 2016

#422 Peppered Redcurrant Jelly


This is the last fruit jelly recipe in the book, and I’ve become somewhat of a seasoned jelly maker, making up my own recipes and these days cooking them up at The Buttery to go with meat and cheese platters, roast meats and the like. This is the second of two redcurrant jelly recipes from English Food.

Redcurrant jelly is considered a rather niche preserved, being served with rich meats such as lamb, venison and other game, or as an ingredient in Cumberland Sauce, but it is versatile; I like it with cheese.

Redcurrant jelly is very much the preserve of the gardener – the delicate berries do not transport well and have a short shelf life, which is why they are expensive to buy fresh. On a recent walk around nearby Chorlton Meadows I found dozens of sprays of ruby-red currants growing out of sight beneath a huge mass of thick brambles. Typically in these situations, I brought neither bag nor tub and so I ate them straight from the bush until acid reflux began. It was a shame really, as I could have made a huge amount of jelly. Hey-ho, I’ll remember this secret spot next year.

Our cultivated redcurrants are actually made up of three distinct species, and the less common whitecurrant is simply a variety of redcurrant that has lost the ability to produce the distinctive red pigment. There is also a pinkcurrant.

Country houses and kitchen gardens particularly in the 18th Century, grew vast amounts of red and white currants; their pectin-rich and tart juice used as a base for dozens of other preserves and sauces. I have never made whitecurrant jelly, and I wonder why one doesn’t see it anywhere?

This redcurrant jelly is enriched with red wine and contains cracked black peppercorns, I imagine it would work just as well using whitecurrants and white wine.

This recipe can be easily scaled up or down, depending on how many redcurrants you have, and the great thing about making a jelly is you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of stripping the berries from their stalks as they all get left behind during straining.

Put three pounds of redcurrants in a saucepan. To this, add around 2 ¼ pints of liquid; between 8 and 16 fluid ounces of it should be red wine, the remainder water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the currants are soft and pulpy. Pass through a jelly sieve or bag and allow to drip overnight.

Next day, place the juice in a saucepan or preserving pan with three pounds of granulated sugar. Put over a medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the spoon and turn the heat up so that the fruity syrup boils enthusiastically. At this point put a saucer in the freezer so you can test for a set later.

After 15-20 minutes boiling, test to see if the jelly has set. There are two ways: (1) use a thermometer, pectin gels set at 105C; (2) the wrinkle test where a few drops of jelly on a cold saucer cool and wrinkle when you scrape them with a finger. I usually do both to be on the safe side. If the jelly isn’t set, boil for another 10 minutes and retest.

Finally, roughly grind about a teaspoon of black peppercorns using a pestle and mortar and stir in right at the end of cooking. Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes before potting in hot, sterilised jars.


#422 Peppered Redcurrant Jelly. This is a delicious jelly, spiked with rough spicy peppercorns giving it both interesting flavour and texture. The red wine doesn’t make it too rich, as you might expect it to, so be generous with it. I am going to use it for some future lamb dishes I think, though I did try a little sample with some good cheese, butter and bread. Very good, 8/10.

Monday, August 22, 2016

#421 Scallops with Cheese Sauce

This is a Manx recipe, and Manx recipes have not gone down too well in the past (#390 Isle of Man Herring Pie) stands out as particularly bad, but this one sounded pretty promising. Fish and cheese don’t always work well together, but there are those outstanding exceptions such as cod or lobster with mornay sauce, so there’s hope.
This recipe comes from Suzanne Woolley’s book My Grandmother’s Cookery Book, 50 Manx Recipes, and according to her, scallops are called tanrogen, which actually was ‘the name given to the scallop shell when it was filled with cod oil to provide a lamp for the fishermen. A rush which quickly soaked up the oil, was used for the wick’. I absolutely love happening upon these little forgotten glimpses of past lives. I might even give this it a go, though I might use a different oil…
In Ms Woolley’s grandmother’s day scallops were obviously ten a penny as this recipe requires 18 scallops for six people. As I couldn’t get a remortgage, I just bought enough scallops for a couple of people and adjusted the amounts accordingly.
A smiling scallop with its many tiny black eyes (from divernet.com)

When you go to the fishmonger to collect your eighteen scallops, first check that have been sustainably caught (if they have not, go to another fishmongers), then buy six scallop shells. Make sure you get the concave sides to the shells and not the flat sides.

Trim away any untidy parts to the scallops and remove the corals, setting them to one side. Slice each scallop in half so that there are 36 discs in all.
Next, add to a wide pan a quarter of a pint of fish stock, a quartered onion, a bay leaf and some salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, add the scallops and allow to tick away very gently for five minutes, then add the corals and simmer for a further five minutes.
Towards the end of the cooking time, make a sauce by melting an ounce of butter in a saucepan and stirring in an ounce of flour to make a roux. Cook for a couple of minutes stirring occasionally. Strain away the scallop cooking liquor and beat it into the roux. Keep the scallops warm. Make the sauce a little less thick by adding a little milk. Simmer for ten minutes and then add an ounce of grated Cheddar cheese and a couple of tablespoons of double cream. Check the seasoning, adding more cream if you like.
Arrange six halves of scallop into each scallop shell along with three corals and pour the sauce over each one. Sprinkle each with a little more grated Cheddar and brown very well under the grill.
Jane suggests piping the edges of the shells with mashed potato or lining the shells with pastry and baking them beforehand. I did neither and simply ate mine with crusty bread.
#421 Scallops with Cheese Sauce. At last, a Manx recipe I liked! It had to happen at some point, I suppose. It worked just as well as I thought it would; lovely tender-sweet scallops in a sharp and creamy sauce. The only thing I could think of to improve it would be to add some breadcrumbs fried in butter to the cheese before grilling to add some texture. I made the sauce a little too thin, but that's easily remedied 8/10.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Chapter 2: Cheese & Egg Dishes - Completed!


Eggs and cheese have been a mainstay of British eating for centuries, making up many a large family meal, bar snack or savoury. They are enjoyed by rich and poor alike and the recipes of this second chapter of English Food are cast by Jane with a very wide net: light soufflés, omelettes (which are as English as they are French, by the way), patés that use up cheesy odds and ends and rich savouries enjoyed by ladies.

Cheesemaking and dairy farming used to be a vital part of British food culture; but when Jane was writing English Food, the masses were having to buy most of their cheese plastic wrapped in perfect squares in supermarkets. Of course we still do now, but the cheese aisles are now teeming with real cheeses too, made traditionally and coming from all over Europe. Parmesan cheese is no longer found ground and dried and smelling of socks and tasting of nought; the real McCoy can be found almost anywhere.

In the 1980s cheesemaking was having a comeback – traditional methods were being used, including the use of unpasteurised milk. Those who liked proper food propelled what was quite a niche market of micro-made cheeses right back into the forefront, eventually landing on our supermarket shelves in large amounts several decades later.

Gloucester Ale & Cheese
We all shop in supermarkets, I certainly don’t pretend otherwise, but nothing can be better than buying your cheese from a proper cheese shop or stall. Manchester folk: my two favourites are The Cheese Hamlet in Didsbury and Winter Tarn. Winter Tarn is a Cumbrian company that seeks out the best British cheeses and travels around the north of England selling those cheeses in little markets, and they pop up at Levenshulme Market every week.

Whether it’s farmhouse Cheddar, double Gloucester, Cornish Yarg or Stinking Bishop you’re after, British cheeses have never been better, but for the best, then as now, you must look beyond the refrigeration section of your local Tesco.

In the 1970s and 80s, our eggs were in a right old state – there was intense over-crowding and the chickens were fed a meal made from the carcasses of dead birds. Quality of life, and egg, was very low, and because of the sheer number of chickens in one place, it didn’t take long for disease to spread. In this case it was the bacterium Salmonella enteriditis (SE) that killed many chickens and quite a few humans too. Coupling this with the fact that eggs from different ‘farms’ and of different ages were being mixed up together, the source of an outbreak couldn’t be found readily.

Pickled Eggs

All this was addressed by the British government in the 1990s – chickens are now vaccinated against SE and with the introduction of the Lion Quality code, which allows each individual egg to be easily traced back to its origin, outbreaks could be tackled swiftly. Only one percent of eggs get contaminated nowadays, and even then the number of bacterial cells averages out at around 10 per egg – so you’d have to be pretty unlucky to become ill.

Seftons
personally, only go for free range; I feel far too guilty about the conditions they have to endure and I can’t bring myself to buy anything less. The best eggs are those you can get from farmers’ markets, and are usually pretty cheap too.

This chapter contains recipes that have become a mainstay of my cooking. Of greatest note, is that special combination of cheese and egg, the soufflé, and Jane’s recipe is a very good and versatile one. You just can’t beat it, and they are not anywhere as tricky to make as you might think. There are Glamorgan sausages too (who needs a nasty vegetarian sausage when you can have these!?) and an 18th Century bacon and egg pie that transported me right back to my Primary School dinner hall.

A Fricassee of Eggs

There have been lows too, one recipe in this chapter has achieved my only zero score so far. The English Rarebit was disgusting: toast soggy with hot red wine, topped with congealed cheese. What were they thinking!?

As usual, here are all the recipes listed as they appear in the book with links to each post on the blog with their score. It turned out to be a pretty average chapter with a mean score of 6.7 (and median and mode of 7.0).


























Thursday, July 7, 2016

#420 A Fricassee of Eggs


Cooking recipes from English Food by Jane Grigson, has essentially got me where I am today – she’s taught me to cook a wide variety of foods and she has passed on to me a huge interest in British cooking and its forgotten food, and its food that has now a bad name.

Now I have – along with Mr Brian Shields – opened my little restaurant called The Buttery, I am constantly using Jane’s recipes for inspiration for our menus. We have recently started a brunch menu and I spotted this recipe from Chapter 2: Cheese & Egg Dishes. It actually comes from Hannah Glasse, who wrote many a great recipe, and is – unsurprisingly – one of Jane’s most common sources in Engish Food (click here for all the Hannah Glasse recipes cooked in the book thus far). I was looking for something similar to Eggs Benedict, but with British roots. I hoped this recipe would be it.

Jane has made a few adjustments to the original recipe; a dish of boiled eggs in a creamy sauce, her keen sense of Georgian ingredients helps us achieve a final plate of food that is as historically accurate as possible. The devil is in the detail. We also see some her characteristically evocative writing:

In the days before pasteurisation, cream rapidly developed a sharp tang, which is why I used a mixture of double and soured cream…The lovely richness of the sauce suggests an idyllic countryside, cows in a pasture with summer flowers, and a steady sound of bees. An interesting thing is that one still finds it in Normandy and the Sarthe, served with trout and other fine fish, or with boiled chickens and rice.

Not all of the Hannah Glasse recipes have been well received, one – #230 English Rabbit – has achieved the only zero score in the book! However, others have gone down a storm (#366 A Fine Way to Pot a Tongue, springs to mind).
This fricassee of eggs serves eight as a first course, but can easily be scaled up or down.


Take eight large eggs and boil them for eight minutes in boiling water. Remove with a slotted spoon and run under the cold tap so that they can be peeled without burning your dainty pinkies. Cut them into quarters and arrange them nicely in eight small ramekins.

As the eggs are boiling chop up eight sprigs of parsley and melt six ounces of slightly salted butter – Jane gets specific here – in an eight inch frying pan. As it begins to foam, add a quarter pint each of double cream and soured cream. Mix well with a wooden spoon for a couple of minutes and allow the mixture to bubble and evaporate. A thick sauce will form. Quickly stir in the parsley and pour over the eggs. Have ready some triangles of toast and serve and ‘eat immediately’.

#420 A Fricassee of Eggs. Considering the vast amount of butter and cream in this dish, it tasted quite light, the sour cream cutting through the richness. The sauce was a tricky thing as it kept splitting whenever I stopped stirring. I think a half-teaspoon of cornflour could have been used to make it more stable. I think that it could have been improved with the addition of some cooked mushrooms nestled in amongst the eggs before the sauce was poured over them. If the sauce wasn’t so difficult to work with, it might have been a benefit to grill them and get some nice colour on the top as one might do with a hollandaise. I think I prefer eggs au cocotte as a lighter starter for a meal (in fact that is what I ended up putting on my brunch menu). 6/10

Thursday, June 9, 2016

7.1 Bread - Completed!


So with the baking of #419 Cobb’s Bath Buns I’ve completed the Bread section of the Teatime chapter, and it has been a mixed bag. Looking back over the posts, very few have stuck in my mind; in fact I don’t even remember cooking some of them! I have no recollection of #81 Northumbrian Wholemeal Scones, for example. What is strange is that I seem to score the recipes quite highly. I think it was just the novelty of baking bread creating bias; for the first time my house was being filled with the smell of freshly-baked bread, and I was getting to taste real bread made with fresh yeast. Even if it was a slightly stodgy, under kneaded doorstop.
The totally forgettable Wholemeal Scones

Jane doesn’t give much advice to the total novice and assumes we have an idea of the bread-making process. When she does give advice, it is wrong; for #53 Electric Dough Hook Bread, she advises us to mix the dough only briefly. This does not create a good, fluffy loaf, though I was impressed at the time.
Electric Dough Hook Bread
 
 However, it is Jane’s writing that provides such detail about the history of the recipes, one cannot resist getting interested, so I bought Elizabeth David’s tome, English Bread & Yeast Cookery, which again, got me hooked even more so. After baking many of her recipes, I was still finding the bread I was making not quite up to scratch. It was simply practise that got me there – trial and error, and getting used to the feel of dough that had been kneaded sufficiently to produce a good, light loaf. The penny dropped for me whilst I was living in Saint Louis. Only then, did I realise that some of the recipes work very well, but others really do not.



The real star of the chapter is the #224 Basic Bun Dough recipe which can be used to make #370 Chelsea Buns and (my personal favourite) #370 Chelsea Buns. #104 Wiltshire Lardy Cake piqued my interest and I worked on Jane’s recipe to produce one that works well for me, appearing on a pop-up restaurant menu as part of a dessert. I feel I really need to revisit others of the same ilk such as #227 Wigs and #274 Saffron Cake from Cornwall.

The winning recipe - Chelsea Buns

Recipes that simply do not work are #401 Plum Bread and #419 Cobb’s Bath Buns.

Now you may think I am being critical – perhaps over critical – of my food goddess, but over and above what I think of the recipes within this part of the book, the end result is a chap who can now bake bread, knows what good bread is, and who will never, ever, buy a plastic-wrapped Chorleywood supermarket loaf ever again. Surely this is the point?

Wiltshire Lardy Cake

Here’s the full list of recipes as they appear in the book with their scores. The Bread recipes averaged out with a mean score of 6.9.












#227 Wigs 6/10



Thursday, March 24, 2016

#419 Cobb's Bath Buns


The Roman Baths

The great thing about Bath is that it has such history; you cannot help but find something to be amazed by at the turn of every street corner.

The famous spa at Bath has attracted people for millennia – there is archaeological evidence of human settlement going back 10,000 years. Bath was founded in 863BC by a chap called Bladud. Suffering from leprosy, he had been ostracised from society and found that bathing in the warm, muddy springs, after seeing pigs doing the same, cured him. It must have put him in fine fettle because he later went on to become the ninth King of the Britons and to father King Lear.

Of course it was the Romans that really transformed the place, creating the town Aqua Sulis with the baths that are there today in fine working order.

From the point of view of food, however, Bath really came into its own in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when it was deluged by the holidaying  middle classes. The Roman Baths and Pump Room were restored to their former glories after centuries of neglect, making Bath the best and most popular of all the spa towns. This wasn’t just because of its locality to London, or that it was in a lovely part of England; it was because Bath simply had the best of everything. It was a trade epicentre: excellent salt marsh lamb from Wales, a seemingly endless supply of fruit and vegetables from Tewkesbury, cider from Glastonbury, apricots, cherries and plums from the Cotswolds, cream and junkets from Devon and Somerset, excellent freshwater fish – especially elvers – from the Severn Valley as well as sea fish from the ports of Cornwall, all came to one place. And that was just British produce! I haven’t mentioned the French brandy, the Spanish wine or the exotic spices from further afield.

All this has made Bath what it is today. Its food heritage, however, seems to have been boiled down into two things: Bath buns and Sally Lunns.

I’ve never seen either Bath buns or Sally Lunns anywhere other than Bath itself, which just goes to show that we still have regional cooking in an age of a swirling population. I like that you don’t see them everywhere; it makes eating one a rare treat to be relished. There are, of course, stories attached to the invention of these enriched breads which should be taken with a huge pinch of salt.

A bath bun is a large fruit bun, made with dough similar to that of a Chelsea bun or hot cross bun. The bread dough is enriched with eggs, sugar and currants. At the bottom of each bun is a lump of sugar and the freshly-baked bun is finished with a sticky wash, extra currants and crushed loaf sugar or sugar nibs.

The Bath bun is said to have been invented by a doctor called William Oliver in the 18th century. After his patients visited the Roman baths he would give them a nourishing Bath bun. It was soon apparent that his plan was not working as he expected when he realised his patients were getting somewhat portly. He withdrew the buns and replaced them with hard, dry water biscuits.

I must say that I would have become a hypochondriac if I was one of Oliver’s patients! I would have used any excuse to get my hands on one. They are so delicious - sweet and sticky and very bad for you. I can’t put the attractiveness of the Bath bun better than W Chambers, writing in his Edinburgh Journal of 1855:

The Bath-bun is a sturdy and gorgeous usurper – a new potentiate, whose blandishments have won away a great many children, we regret to say, from their lawful allegiance to the plum-bun. The Bath-bun is not only a toothsome dainty, but showy and alluring withal. It was easier for ancient mariners to resist the temptations of the Sirens, than it is for a modern child to turn away from a Bath-bun…Large, solid, and imposing, it challenges attention, and fascinates its little purchasers.

We can see from this quote that the Bath bun was popular, not just in Bath, but England and Scotland, so what happened to it? Enriched breads are still pretty popular in Britain, even with the advent of comparatively modern chemically-aerated sponge cakes. Strange.

Here’s the recipe that appears in English food. It contains no currants, which I think are as essential as the sugar lumps:

First of all make the ferment – sometimes called a sponge – a yeasty batter that gets the microbial metabolism underway quick smart. Mash together 1 ½ ounces of fresh yeast with the same weight of granulated sugar in a little water taken from ½ pint of blood-heat water. Add the remainder of the water and leave until the mixture has begun to foam, around 20 minutes. As you wait, weigh out 15 ounces of eggs in their shells and crack them into a bowl. Beat in 5 ounces of strong white bread flour and then add the yeast mixture once foaming. Cover with cling film or a damp tea towel so that it can rise for around an hour.


To make the dough, mix into the ferment the following: 30 ounces of strong white bread flour, 12 ounces of softened butter, 3 ounces of granulated sugar, 12 ounces of broken sugar lumps, a good pinch each of mixed spice and salt and a few drops of lemon juice.

Jane says for us to knead this dough together; good luck with that, the mixture is more a batter than a dough. I did this impossible task in my Kitchen Aid. Cover and leave to prove again until its double the size, which could take 90 minutes or longer with such an enriched dough weighed down with so many goodies.

Knock back the dough (the best part of the bread-making process) and ‘shape the dough into pieces the size of a small Cox’s orange pippin’. Good luck with that, too.
Somehow place the pieces of dough on baking sheets lined with greaseproof paper, cover with plastic bags and allow to rise again.

Bake at 200⁰C for around 20 minutes, swapping trays half way though to achieve an even bake.

When almost baked, make the bun wash by boiling together 2 ounces of sugar with 5 tablespoons of water. As soon as the buns come out of the oven, place on racks and brush with the syrupy mixture. Lastly, crumble over more broken sugar lumps.
#419 Cobb’s Bath Buns. As with many of Jane’s recipes from the Bread section of the book I didn’t get on very well with this recipe. The dough was tricky to handle and I couldn’t achieve the proud, round shape I expect from a Bath bun. They also seemed to stale almost immediately. Bit of a damp squib for the last recipe in this section. 3.5/10.