Monday, July 31, 2017

#424 Chilled Mange Tout Creams


Here’s a straight-forward recipe from the book that I have never gotten around to cooking, mainly because it sounded like it might be a bit boring. These days, however, I reckon I can spot a good subtle recipe, and thought I should give it a go. It’s one that requires careful seasoning as the only ingredient with flavour is the mange tout peas; not the strongest of flavours and served chilled too! You’ve got to use the salt, pepper, sugar and lemon juice in this recipe with a little abandon to pull this one off.

The first edition of English Food was written in the 1970s and this recipe is very much a thing of its time. Jane calls these creams, but they are basically a savoury mousse, the only other savoury mousse I have made from the book was the disastrous #313 Jellied Eel Mousse with Watercress Sauce I cooked back in St. Louis in 2011.
A colour plate of the range of pea cultivars, including mangetout just below centre (New Oxford Book of Food Plants)

In the ‘70s the mange tout was quite an exciting new vegetable, though they were old hat to gardeners. A mange tout (or snow pea, as it is called in the USA) is a regular pea that has been bred so that the pod is much less tough than usual, so that the normally flavoursome but inedible pod can be eaten. The pea has been loved by gardeners because of the diversity of variants that can be easily produced, and it is worth mentioning a particularly important pea gardener, Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics.
Gregor Mendel

The monk bred mange tout peas and noticed, simply by looking at traits – and the proportions of the traits – passed down from parent plants to their progeny. He looked at traits such as dwarfism, seed colour and seed texture. He concluded that factors (i.e. genes) were passed down from parents, these factors came in different versions, called alleles. For example, seed texture came in two forms, smooth and wrinkled. One seemed to be dominant over the other, so which two versions of the gene an individual had determined how it looked (its phenotype). For more on this click here.

Scientists in the 1920s combined his findings with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, to come up with the Modern Synthesis, providing us with a framework for thinking about genes, selection and evolution.

Ok, enough science waffle, back to the cooking…

You’ll need a pound of topped and tailed mange tout for this recipe. Keep aside a quarter of the peas and put the rest in a saucepan containing half a pint of boiling water along with two teaspoons of finely chopped spring onion green (later the recipe requires gelatine, if using powdered gelatine, keep a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid aside for dissolving it in). 


When the peas are tender, liquidise the whole lot and push through a fine sieve, pushing the pulp through with a ladle.

Dissolve one 11g sachet of powdered gelatine in the remainder of the hot liquid and stir into the puree. If using leaf gelatine, use the appropriate number of leaves according to the pack; factoring in that there will be eight fluid ounces of cream added later.

Season well with salt, sugar, pepper and lemon juice – it’s best to slightly over season here as the flavours will be less pronounced once chilled. Pop it in the fridge and chill until it has the consistency of egg white. Take it out and fold in eight fluid ounces of double or whipping cream, whipped until floppy. 

Next, fold in two egg whites that have been beaten until stiff. For maximum lightness, use a metal spoon for this task.

Jane says to pour the mixture into sixteen moulds, but I poured it into eight moulds, to make easier for service. Cover, pop in the fridge, and the mousse set overnight. It should keep four or five days, so you can make this well in advance.

Blanch the remaining mange tout in boiling water for two minutes, drain and plunge into iced water.

To turn the moulds out, dip them in boiling water and invert into plates, or use a blowtorch. Decorate with the blanched mange tout in an appropriately artistic fashion. Serve with Melba toast.

#424 Chilled Mange Tout Creams. These were great – light and refreshing and perfect this time of year – I put them on the menu as Mange Tout Mousse, seeing as that is what I made. They didn’t sell! I think the word mousse maybe made them sound like they were on the naff side of retro; should have kept Jane’s name for them. All that said, I would say to give them a go. It has made me think that mousses need a bit of a comeback. I give it a solid 7.5/10.

NB: You could use lots of different vegetables for this dish if you don’t like peas. Just make sure you only blanch the vegetables to the point of just becoming tender, you want them as fresh-tasting as possible. Asparagus, carrot and red pepper spring to mind.

Monday, June 5, 2017

7.4: Biscuits - completed!


So, I have completed another section of English Food! The Biscuits section of the Teatime chapter was quite short with only nine relatively easy recipes; yet it has taken me all this time to bake them!
That said, it’s a surprise that it is so short, as there is a great tradition of biscuit-making with many diverse regional recipes. Jane reckoned that biscuits are one of the few successes of the manufacturing industry, meaning folk are more reluctant to bake them today. She’s probably right, and I expect it is why the section is so short.

Grasmere Gingerbread II
Biscuits come in essentially two forms in Britain: sweet and savoury, the latter more often called crackers. They all have a common ancestor: the ship’s biscuit. A hard, dry rusk that could survive long journeys at sea without spoiling. They were boring, but provided sustenance, often crumbled into broth or hot drinks; our love today for dunking our biscuits into tea and coffee is a throwback to this.
The original biscuits were made from breadcrumbs, reformed and baked in cooling bread ovens (biscuit literally means ‘twice-baked’). Biscuits began to get rather more interesting during the times of the Crusades where the laying down of the spice trading routes, brought not only spices but also sugar (then considered a spice) to Britain. More upmarket biscuits were a mixture of honey and fresh breadcrumbs and were highly-spiced – a Mediæval recipe is included in the book and very good it is too.
But it is descendants of the hard and dry ship’s biscuits that have survived  – Grasmere gingerbread, shortbread, digestives, Rich Tea, Hob Nobs, cream crackers, Ritz crackers, Nice biscuits are all based on them! The list is almost endless.
Cheese and Oat Biscuits
Perhaps it is not the most exciting part of the book, but I there are some real gems in here. I have used  Jane’s recipes for Shortcakes and Grasmere Gingerbread since I first started The Buttery, and the excellent Brandy Snaps were used as part of the dessert in my very first pop-up restaurant. I’ve not found better recipes to this day.
Biscuits are much easier to make than cakes or breads, so if you haven’t done much baking, they are probably a good place to start – though they do have to be watched as they do catch easily.

Making Brandy Snaps
All the recipes in the section are listed below as they appear in the book with hyperlinks and the score I gave them out of ten. The section scores an average of 7.6, the second best mean score so far; the recipes were perhaps not particularly exciting but they were reliable

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.