Friday, May 18, 2018

#431 Murrumbidgee Cake


I think it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for Jane Grigson – and therefore this blog – I wouldn’t be doing what I do now. Cooking and writing for a living was not what I had in mind when I started it; I just needed a way to practise writing for my PhD! I didn’t really know who Jane Grigson was, but I could see by the book English Food sat on my shelf, which someone else had bought me, that it was comprehensive and would be a challenge.

Jane Grigson died in 1992, but her voice and ethos certainly spoke to me loud and clear. Since her death, her influence is still strong for those in the know. But how do you get people not in the know to discover her? It’s certainly not by walking into a bookshop. I make a point of going into one and heading straight to the cookery section; only very rarely is there a Jane Grigson book to be found, yet there is often several by her contemporary Elizabeth David.
Jane and Sophie Grigson (Rex Features)

Her death shocked and saddened people, and her family felt it the strongest, yet after her death her daughter Sophie discovered something in Jane’s kitchen. “We were sitting around shell-shocked, but then I found a Murrumbidgee cake in her larder. A beautiful thing, rich, dense, a favourite of hers. I cut slices of it, and we ate them, and it was wonderful. Her last gift to us.”

Jane would buy these cakes in Oxford, eventually getting hold of a recipe after several years of searching and put it in English Food. It’s a fruit cake so full of dried fruit and nuts that there’s barely any cake batter, rather like American fruit cakes, she says. The cake takes its name from the Murrumbidgee river in Australia, so how it ended up in Oxford I don’t know.

First of all, line a 2 pound loaf tin with greaseproof paper and set the oven to 150°C. Next, mix together the fruit and nuts in a large bowl: 7 ounces of whole Brazil nuts, 5 ounces of whole walnut halves, 8 ounces of halved stoned dates, 3 ½ ounces of candied citrus peel, 6 ounces of glacé cherries, 3 ½ ounces of raisins and the grated zest of a lemon. Phew!

Now mix 3 ½ ounces of plain flour with ½ teaspoon each of baking powder and salt and five ounces of caster sugar. Sift these over the fruit and nuts, getting your hands in there to make sure they all get coated.
In a jug, beat 3 large eggs with a teaspoon of vanilla extract, pour into the fruit and flour and mix well until you have a stiff batter.
Pile in the mixture into the tin, pressing down the fruit and nuts and smoothing as well you can; I found this very tricky as there is so little cake batter but it all turned out okay in the end.

Bake for two hours, testing the mixture with a skewer to see if it’s baked, if during the bake, the cake looks as though it’s getting too brown, cover with brown paper.
Cool the cake for 10 minutes and turn out onto a clean tea towel and make several holes in the cake with a skewer. Feed it with some alcohol; Jane suggests brandy or rum, but you can use any spirit or liqueur you like, I went with rum. Wrap the cake in the towel, cover with cling film and pop in the fridge. Every week, for one to two months, feed with a little more alcohol.

#431 Murrumbidgee Cake. This was a wonderful cake! I know fruit cakes like this are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have to say it beats a Christmas cake hands-down, and as just as Jane says, there’s a good richness to the cake but without the sweet icing that usually adorns a fruit cake. The fruit was soft and the cake mixture deliciously moist. It’s quite an expensive cake to make, unless you eat a variety of dried fruit and nuts anyway and have them in your larder, but it is definitely worth it. It may not have become a British classic, but it is a Grigson family classic, and that’ll certainly do for me. 9/10

Thursday, April 19, 2018

8.3: Preserves - Completed!

#430 Granny Milton's Pears in Brandy

There are only twenty recipes to go until I have cooked the entirety of English Food by Jane Grigson, and that means that I am able to give little overviews each time I finish a section.
The Preserves part of the book is at the very end, and is probably the part that most modern cooks would skip or ignore; it’s not as exciting as the meat and fish chapters for example, and you can buy very good preserves in shops and farmers’ markets these days. However, I would say, for me, it is one of the most important sections. 
The principle reason for its importance is that it introduced me to a whole host of British food plants that I had never heard of (or never thought of eating) such as Cornel cherries, medlars, sorbs, rowanberries, quinces and Seville oranges.

#109 Quince Comfits 

Also, it equipped me with a huge range of skills, because foods were not just being preserved as jams and jellies, but mediaeval comfits, sugars, flavoured spirits, chutneys, candied peel, orangeades and whole fruits. This, in turn, provided me with a backbone to my food business when it first started back in August 2012; I could line up several preserves on my little market stall and if the day was a washout, they would keep for next time.
#294 Preserved Spiced Oranges

Jane’s recipes always fill me with inspiration, and they continue to do so, but her influence here is greatest, because it has given me the most pleasure, which is also the simplest: the pleasure of cooking the recipes themselves.
Some of the recipes are now standards for me. Her (#24) Seville Orange Marmalade is the simplest and best recipe I have used, and her #383 Spiced Redcurrant Jelly too has never been bettered. #397 Herb Jelly is served at almost every roast dinner and is sublime when made with mint and served up with pie and peas.
#315 Cranberry Jelly

Real surprises in this section was the delicious #46 Rich Orangeade, laced with orange flower water has appeared in several of my pop-up restaurants as it makes such good cocktails! I would also urge you to try #385 Apricot and Pineapple Jam, a preserved made from preserves – dried apricots and tinned pineapples. I really didn’t see the point, but the result was delicious!
If you have never made preserves, the recipes in English Food are an excellent place to start.
#354 Passion Fruit Curd

That said, there are some real glaring omissions. There is little by the way of chutneys – there are no pickled onions and how could she leave out glorious piccalilli!? Also, there are no, what I would call, proper jams. Where is the strawberry, apricot, blackcurrant, greengage or raspberry jam? I really have no idea why fresh fruit jams wouldn’t make an appearance at all. I am attempting to fill in recipes that have been missed out on the other blog, so have a look there for more preserves recipes. If you spot something missing, please let me know.
#24 Seville Orange Marmalade

All twenty-one recipes from this section are listed below with a hyperlink to each post and the score I awarded them. It scored a mean mark of 7.5 (or if you’d prefer, a median and mode of 8), making it the third best completed part so far. It scored well most of the time but there was no recipe that achieved a top score of ten out of ten.
#294 Preserved Spiced Oranges (Part I & Part 2) 8.5/10
#127 Banana Chutney 5.5/10
#397 Herb Jellies 8/10
#255 Lemon Curd 8.5/10
#354 Passion Fruit Curd 6.5/10
#109 Quince Comfits 7/10
#20 Quince Vodka (Part 1 and Part 2) 7/10
#36 Vanilla Sugar 7/10
#286 Candied Peel 8/10

Friday, April 13, 2018

#430 Granny Milton's Pears in Brandy


Here is recipe that uses up a glut of hard ‘windfall’ pears, should you have a tree, or know of one nearby. When I first read through this recipe – quite a few years ago now – I made a note to go to Chorlton Meadows, a lovely green area in Manchester that has a relatively unsullied Mersey River snaking through it. When I first started the blog, I had moved from Chorlton and had got to know it quite well, and I knew there was an area called Hardy’s Farm in the meadows, and part of the farm had been orchard full of apple and pear trees as well as gooseberry bushes.

Every year, in late summer, I made sure I visited the site of the farm and EVERY YEAR there were no tasty pears on the pear trees; they were either totally non-existent or shrivelled brown mush. To this day, I have never seen the pears there come to, as it were, fruition.

Not to be beaten, I made sure I planted a nice pear tree on my little allotment. The first year saw dozens of lovely white flowers, some of which I removed as I didn’t want to put the small tree under too much strain when it came to fruit production. It wasn’t too long before the flower petals were shed, and little pears started to grow. Eventually they reached a good size and had blushed with a delicious-looking pink colour, so I reckoned they would start falling soon. The next time I turned up to the allotment my beautiful pears had been STOLEN. I was livid.

After that the pear tree never flowered again.

These are the lengths I go to, dear readers, to follow the recipes as closely as possible; I didn’t want to simply buy some unripe pears from a shop. Anyway, I gave up and bought some.

I have no idea who Granny Milton is, but I assume she had an amazing pear tree in her garden. Well good for her.


First of all prepare your pears – be they windfall or otherwise – by peeling, coring and quartering them. You need 6 pounds in all for Granny Milton’s recipe, but it can easily be adjusted if you have a different amount.

Next zest three lemons and mix the zest with the juice of the lemons and weigh out 4 ½ pounds of granulated sugar.

Find a large bowl and layer up the pears, zest and juice, and sugar. Cover with cling film and leave overnight.

Next day, put the pears and extracted juices in a heavy pan along with a 4 1/2-inch stick of cinnamon and 8 cloves. Put on the lid and bake slowly in an oven preheated to 140°C for 6 hours.

When the time is up, take the pears out of the oven and allow to cool down completely before stirring in 6 tablespoons of brandy. Remove the whole spices and spoon the pears with the juices into sterilised jars and seal. I found that a lot of the sugar didn’t dissolve into the pear syrup, forming a half-inch thick layer of sugar that could peeled from the base of the pan!

Leave the pears to mature in their jars in a dark cupboard or pantry for three months before eating them.

#430 Granny Milton’s Pears in Brandy. Jane doesn’t suggest what to serve these pears with. I have so far eaten them with sharp cheeses or Greek yoghurt. The pear flavour is very much preserved, and the spices really come through, giving good depth of flavour. They turned a beautiful deep translucent orange-brown colour. However, they were extremely sweet, so I’m quite glad that a lot of the sugar didn’t dissolve, I would suggest eating them with tart accompaniments. Not sure they were worth the wait! 5.5/10

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

#429 Cumberland Currant Cake



Jane Grigson was brought up in the far north of England, and this currant cake was very popular there when she was a child. At the end of winter, when there was nothing fresh left in store aside from a few apples and jars of dried fruit, this cake – more a tart really – would be baked. Everywhere in the north has a similar sweetmeat: Eccles cakes, Chorley cakes and currant squares, and of course mince pies. Children usually called them squashed fly cakes or fly cemeteries. ‘We loved it’, she says, ‘and giggled in a corner, while the family talked. No one realised that they were eating a cake with a history, and medieval ancestors.’

In these days of seasonless, year-round fresh fruit and vegetables flown in from all four corners of the globe, many turn their noses up at these dried-fruit based treats. Well not me! I could eat them all year round, though they do taste most delicious when it’s cold and bracing outside.


To make the currant cake, first make a rich shortcrust pastry by rubbing in 5 ounces of butter and 5 ounces of lard into a pound of plain flour along with a pinch of salt. Form a dough with a little cold water, wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge to rest for around 30 minutes.
Use half the pastry to line a tin with approximate dimensions of 7” x 11” x 1”. My tin wasn’t quite the size as in Jane’s recipe, but it still worked very well.

Now it’s time to layer up the filling ingredients. Start with a good covering of raisins or currants (10 ounces) and then 4 ounces of candied mixed peel. Peel, core and grate a medium-sized cooking apple and scatter that over the mixed fruit. Next, melt 5 ounces of butter in a saucepan, remove from the heat and add 4 ounces of pale or dark soft brown sugar (when given the choice, I always go for the latter), 5 tablespoons of rum, a teaspoon of ground allspice and half a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and mace. Beat them all together and pour evenly over the fruit.

Now roll out the remainder of the dough so that you can cover it – don’t forget to brush the edges with milk or beaten egg before you cover. Press down on the edges, then trim and crimp the pastry. Now brush the lid and scatter over some granulated or Demerara sugar.

Bake at 200°C for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.

Jane suggests either eating hot as a dessert with cream, custard or #211 Cumberland Rum Butter, or cold cut into squares for teatime.

#429 Cumberland Currant Cake. Well I ate this oblong of deliciousness both hot and cold, and it was delicious. The pastry was very rich and the filling sweet yet still tart from the cooking apples; not unlike a giant, square mince pie; and seeing as I’m a mince pie fan, it’s getting a very good mark. When I return to trade at Levenshulme Market later this month, I shall be bringing some of this to sell. Delicious! 9.5/10.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

#428 Sweetheart Cake

St Valentine had nothing to do with romance, but he did die on 14 February in the 3rd Century. His association with love didn’t occur until the fourteenth century. In the mediaeval age, people thought that birds mated mid-February, a certain Geoffrey Chaucer spotted that St Valentine’s Day coincided with this event, and brought them together in one of his stories, Parlement of Foules, cementing the two forever more.



Unlike St Valentine, I have no idea why this dessert is linked with love: jam, almonds and meringue don’t seem particularly romantic to me, and all Jane says about the recipe is that it’s ‘for St Valentine’s Day, to eat at the end of a meal rather than at teatime.’
I suggest using a normal flan tin and baking it any day of the year.
I’ve been meaning to do this straight-forward recipe for a long time but kept forgetting to make it in time for Valentine’s Day. Well this year I remembered. I also remembered to buy the heart-shaped flan tin required; something else I kept forgetting to do.



Begin by lining a heart-shaped flan tin with puff pastry (I made my own, following the recipe for #384 Quick Foolproof Puff Pastry) making sure you stud the base well with fork marks. I popped it in the freezer whilst I got on with making the filling. I used a 9-inch heart-shaped tin.
Begin by melting two ounces of butter in a saucepan. As it cools, beat the yolks of four eggs (keep the whites, you’ll need them) along with four ounces of caster sugar, the zest and juice of a lemon, two ounces of ground almonds and the cooled, melted butter, then fold in 2 ounces of slivered almonds.



Take the lined tin and spread over the base two to three tablespoons of raspberry jam. For these sorts of puddings, it’s a good idea stop spreading half an inch from the edges of the tin, as it makes the next step much easier.



Take the filling and spoon it into your tin – don’t aim for the centre, place smallish blobs all around the outside edge first. Now spread the filling evenly, edges first then moving inwards. This ensures the jam doesn’t ride up the edges of the pudding.
Bake in an oven preheated to 200°C for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the pastry has risen and the filling set and golden brown.



Toward the end of the cooking time, prepare the meringue. Put your reserved egg whites, along with a pinch of salt, and beat with an electric whisk until you have whites that will form still peaks. Add a tablespoon of caster sugar and keep beating until you have a nice glossy meringue that holds its shape well.


Spread or pipe the meringue over the top going right to the pastry edges, sprinkle another tablespoon of caster sugar evenly over the top and bake for a further 15 minutes or until the meringue is an appetising golden brown.
Serve warm.
#428 Sweetheart Cake. Well it was certainly sweet, and it was definitely a heart, not I’m not sure if it was a cake. This pudding, a cross between a Bakewell tart and a lemon meringue pie, I enjoyed but the filling was extremely sweet. At least the meringue wasn’t too sugary, otherwise it would have been too sweet to eat, the lemon also helped take the edge off. I ate some the next day cold, and it tasted less sweet. Next time, I will half the sugar. 6/10


Saturday, February 10, 2018

#427 Roast Guineafowl



Guineafowl originate in Africa and were first bred for meat by the Ancient Egyptians and was very popular in the ancient world – there is an infamous Greek dish called mattye where a guineahen would be killed by a knife plunged into its head via the beak. It would then be poached with lots of herbs, and its own chicks! They seemed to fall out of favour for a good while before being reintroduced by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century.

These days, guineafowl are more popular in France than the UK, being a popular ornamental fowl in farms, small holdings and rural households. They double as an excellent guard dog; getting very vocal at any approaching fox or indeed, postman. ‘The first time I saw guineafowl, they were humped along the roof ridge of a French farmhouse’, says Jane in her introduction to this recipe. I have similar memories from my science days when I would go on the annual field trip with the zoology undergraduates of Manchester University to the foothills of the French Alps, where guineafowl would toddle about decoratively with their black-and-white suits, blue combs bobbing, like a little fat harlequin.

I think guineafowl are delicious, they have a mild gamey flavour, lying somewhere between chicken and pheasant. It’s often braised as it has a tendency to dry out when roasted. In this recipe however, dryness is skilfully averted by covering the fowls with bacon or strips of pork back fat and the use of a good sausagemeat stuffing. Because of its gaminess, it is often served with the trimmings associated with roast game, such as game chips, #123 Bread Sauce and #114 Quince Jelly. See #122 Roast Pheasant for more on the subject.

Get hold of two guineafowl, both weighing 1 ½ to 2 pounds. Sit them on the board to get to room temperature as you get on with the stuffing.

Remove the skin from four ounces of good quality sausages (go to butcher who makes his or her own or make your own: see #415 Cumberland Sausages). Break up the meat and add the rest of the ingredients: a heaped tablespoon of breadcrumbs, one tablespoon each of brandy and port, a heaped tablespoon of chopped parsley, a crushed clove of garlic and salt and pepper.  If you are lucky enough to find fowl with their giblets, find the liver, remove the gall, chop and add to the stuffing.

Mix everything well but keep things quite loose – you don’t want to compress the stuffing, as it will turn out stodgy. Divide it loosely between the two birds.

Now prepare the birds themselves by laying six rashers of unsmoked streaky bacon over the breasts and legs. This stops the birds from drying out in the oven. Again, buy good quality dry-cured bacon, not the cheap stuff that shrinks shedding its added water as white milky froth. Instead of bacon, you could use thin slices of pork back fat; it’s certainly cheaper, and it probably keeps the birds more moist, but doesn’t taste half as good. Pros and cons innit?

Put them in a roasting tray and pop them in an oven preheated to 220°C. Fifteen minutes later, turn down the heat to 200°C, and leave the birds roasting for 30 minutes. At this point, remove them from the oven, take off their little porky jackets and dust them with well-seasoned flour. Baste and pop back into the oven for a final 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove the birds and keep them under foil on a board whilst you make the gravy in the tin they were roasted.

Get the roasting tin over a medium heat and pour in a glass of port (2 to 3 fluid ounces, approx.). Use a wooden spoon to scrape the delicious dark-brown almost burned bits from base of the tin. Add ½ pint of stock – again, if there were giblets in the birds, you could make giblet stock, otherwise use chicken stock. Reduce this mixture down until you have a small volume of intensely-flavoured gravy. Don’t strain it and lose all those nice burnt bits!

Carve the guineafowl and serve with the gravy and bacon. Jane recommends serving it with #262 Chestnuts as a Vegetable. We served it with the food that was in the house: roast carrots, quinoa and some lovely indigo-dark purple kale.

#427 Roast Guineafowl. I feel so lucky to have things like this just hanging about in the freezer! The cooking method laid out by Jane was spot-on, as she usually is when it comes to roasting (however, see #359 Rabbit and #393 Hare); meat was lovely and moist. The gravy too was delicious, and the stuffing well-seasoned with a good garlic hit, making it taste very un-English; it must be based on a French farcemeat from one of Jane’s many trips to the country. Very, very good: 9/10

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Chapter 3: Vegetables - Completed!


Well that’s the Vegetables chapter all done-and-dusted, so it’s time for one of my little round-ups; looking again at the recipes and history…

We regard vegetables as the backbone of a varied and healthy diet, but this wasn’t always the case, if you look back to between the late 11th Century and early Tudor times, vegetables were looked upon with suspicion, believed to really mess up your humours especially if eaten raw. The poor were welcome to them of course so they could pad out their pathetic rations of meat and cereals. This led to many peasants, who usually tended their own patch of land, to be generally healthier than the higher echelons of society, who tended to suffer all sorts of diseases and discomfort, such as constipation and scurvy.

#146 Asparagus with Melted Butter 

However, by the mid-16th Century, things had moved on and people became very interested in vegetables and their variety. Seed catalogues of the time listed around 120 different vegetables and herbs. A century later this was down to around sixty, and by the 1970s just forty. This correlates with the movement of people from the countryside to the cities to find work and the loss of self-sufficiency. In its place arose large-scale agriculture, where economy of scale won over variety. The invention of the supermarket succeeded in driving diversity down even further.
#426 Mushrooms in Snuffboxes

This chapter of the book was a whopper with 39 recipes in all, with many from the early days of the blog; in fact, I barely remember cooking some of them! Alot of ground was covered and there were some familiar and unfamiliar recipes and vegetables in there. I’m lucky to have to such excellent Manchester-based independent grocers, such as Unicorn, Organic North and Elliot’s that go the extra mile to supply an interesting array of vegetables and herbs to those that value diversity.
The best discovery for me was the seashore veg: laver, dulse, samphire and sea-kale. They really are worth trying, if you can get your hands on them. Dulse and samphire are pretty easy to get hold of, laver – in the form of laverbread – is easy as long as you live on the south coast of Wales, and you may have take to growing sea-kale on the fringes of your vegetable patch or allotment. I did manage to get some from Elliot’s, but they had to really root around the markets for me.
#412 Sea-kale

These indie businesses have a model that works, and with more and more people joining the vegan and Paleodiet movements, I suspect a real surge in interest into the quality and variety of veg is just around the corner – a brave new vegetable world? I hope so!
I had an allotment for a few years too, which helped, but had to give it up when The Buttery took off. I grew my own tiny broad beans so I could cook #398 Broad Beans in their Pods and sorrel for #164 Sorrel with Eggs.
#164 Sorrel with Eggs

Some recipes I had forgotten about until I looked back over the old posts really stood out: #196 Mange Tout Salad with Chicken Liver and Bacon, #288 Leek Pie and #76 Yeisen Nionod (Welsh Onion Cake) in particular are ones that I shall revisit.
Many of the recipes have become kitchen staples for me: both at home and professionally - #374 Pease Pudding, #295 Purée of Dried Peas with Green Peppercorns, #172 Cucumber Ragoût, #14 Leek and Onion Pudding and #5 Pan Haggerty are all served up regularly.
#398 Broad Beans in their Pods

As usual when I finish a part of the book, I think of the things that were left out. There are only a couple of potato recipes for example. Where are the chips and roast potatoes!? There are no beetroot recipes at all. Other vegetables to get snubbed are: celeriac, broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, globe artichoke and spinach, to name but a few. Not to mention the more obscure such as crosnes, salsify, cardoons, tansy and scorzonera.
I would have expected cauliflower cheese and lobscouse to have appeared. I wonder why they were missed out in favour of disappointing recipes like #220 Carrots in 1599 or #311 Courgette and Parsnip Boats? Ah well, at least I can address these little gaps on the other blog.
If you spot any glaring omissions, please let me know and leave a comment!
All the recipes from this section are listed below with hyperlinks and the scores I awarded them. It scored a mean mark of 7.3 (or if you’d prefer, a median of 8 and a mode of 8.5), making it pretty, er, average, scoring well most of the time but with no ten-out-of-tensor any major disasters.