I have been writing posts of late on the huge variety of cuts we can get from meat, whether prime cuts or more humble (or should that be umble?) cuts, but I fear I may not be able to cook you all this one!
The umbilical cords of calves born on dairy farms were often collected by thrifty farmers and turned into a dish known as ‘muggety pie’ by famers’ wives. There’s a description of it in the excellent book Food in England by Dorothy Hartley; she says:
The umbilical cord of the calf was washed, soaked in salt water, and cut into short lengths which were then split open end to end twice, and cut, so making small oblong pieces. These were then boiled, till soft, with onions and seasoning, chopped again and made into a pie, using the gelatinous stock and some milk to make the filling gravy. The whole white pie was then covered with crust and baked.
Muggety pie was popular in the West Country, particularly in Gloucestershire and Cornwall, “all jelly soft it was…it was the jelly gravy was the best part – some did put taters and a turnip and sech, but ‘twas best plain, and good cold,” told old farm-hand.
Foods like muggety pie are dishes that probably never travelled much further than the dairy or cattle farmers’ houses and quickly forgotten. It was borne out of a necessity that no longer exists, but why kill an animal for meat that can be sold on when there is good protein laying there in the hay?
So, if there are any diary or cattle farmers that have a spare umbilical cord or two hanging around, let me know and I’ll bake you a delicious pie!
Don’t worry though, you don’t have to miss out on muggety pie because it can also be made out of sheep’s intestines or a sheep’s pluck (i.e. lungs, heart and liver) that latter of which should easily be found at butchers given a little notice…
Today the syllabub is rather an unfamiliar dessert but from the 17th and early 20th centuries it was a pudding staple. It has gone through some minor changes along its way but its essence has remained the same. Originally milk was sweetened and mixed with cider sack – a sweet fortified beer not unlike sherry – and left to curdle and treated as a drink served hot or cold. At the same time at more solid version was being made with cream and wine and spirits. More recently less alcohol and more cream was used producing a dessert that could stand in a cool place that would remain delicious, soft and fully whipped – this was known as an ‘everlasting syllabub’.
Detail of The Sense of Taste by Philip Mercier (1680-1760) showing a salver of syllabubs
The word syllabub comes from the name Sille, an area in the Champagne region of France that made the eponymously named wine, and the word bub, an Elizabethan slang word meaning a bubbling drink, hence Sille bub – wine mixed with a frothy cream. In fact it was a case of the frothier the better, and the best way to achieve this is to spray milk straight from the udder (which has a natural froth) into the wine, this kind of syllabub was also called ‘Hatted Kit’ and a recipe appears for it in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book The Experienced English Housewife:
“To make a Syllabub under the cow
Put a bottle of strong beer and a pint of cider into a punch bowl, grate in a small nutmeg and sweeten it to your taste. Then milk as much milk from the cow as will make a strong froth and the ale look clear. Let it stand an hour, then strew over it a few currants well washed, picked, and plumped before the fire. Then send it to the table.”
Charles II found this sort of syllabub so delicious that he kept cows at the palace in case he got a hankering for some Hatted Kit – he would walk up to one and squirt some milk into his flagon of wine, sack or cider.
If you are a tee-totaller, don’t worry because Sir Kenholm Digby, writing in 1669, gives recipes for syllabubs flavoured with plum juice, cherry syrups and Seville orange.
By the 19th century, the syllabub was generally made from whipping cream together with sweetened wine. The wine was flavoured with lemon and fortified with a little brandy, and it is a recipe for one of these everlasting syllabubs that I give below. It comes from Elizabeth David’s 1969 pamphlet Syllabubs and Fruit Fools (which can be found in her book An Omelette and a Glass of Wine).
Elizabeth David’s Everlasting Syllabub with Almond Biscuits
The ingredients of a syllabub, we find, are simple and sumptuous. The skill demanded for its confection is minimal, the presentation is basic and elegant.
These syllabubs were the original topping to trifles before plain whipped cream took over. They are often served with jellies or with sweet biscuits so I’ve given a recipe for some simple crisp almond biscuits too.
The most important ingredient here is the wine; you can use any sweet or dessert wine, by personal favourite being a nice Muscat. I managed to get hold of an excellent and very reasonably-priced organic free-trade one from Case Solved Wines in Manchester.
This recipe makes between 4 and 6 servings
Ingredients for the syllabub
8 tbs sweet or dessert wine
2 tbs brandy
pared rind of one lemon
60g (2 oz) sugar
300ml (½ pint) double cream
freshly grated nutmeg
The day before you want to serve the syllabub, mix the wine and brandy in a bowl, add the lemon peel and steep overnight.
Next day, strain the wine into a large bowl and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Pour in the cream and whisk until thick. Be careful not to over-whip the cream. Spoon into glasses and scatter a few raspings of nutmeg over them.
For the biscuits:
100g (4oz) butter
50g (2oz) caster sugar
150g (6 oz) plain flour
50g (2 oz) ground almonds
Cream the butter and sugar together and then mix in the flour, and finally the almonds. Bring the mixture together with your hand to form a dough – it’ll be very ‘short’, i.e. crumbly, but it will come together – don’t be tempted to add any water or milk because it will result in a biscuit that is not crisp, and you don’t want that. Roll out the mixture to the thickness of a pound coin (about 3mm) and cut into rounds.
Bake for 8-10 minutes at 200⁰C (400⁰F) until tinged with golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight tub.
We all take eggs a little for granted these days, so to get us appreciating them a little more, I thought I’d write a post on the humble egg…
Where to start with eggs? They are so integral to our life because of their versatility. Whole eggs can be boiled, fried, poached, coddled, scrambled and baked. Used as an ingredient in pastry, in sauces and soups, they enrich and they bind, then if you separate the white from the yolk, you can make amazing meringues, velouté sauces, mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, sauce Béarnaise and – my personal favourite – custard (please don’t call it crème anglaise!). Twenty-six million eggs are produced per day in the UK. It beggars belief, it does.
Well I think I shall start with the age-old philosophical question: ‘What came first? The chicken or the egg?’ Just as Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat does her amazing book A History of Food. She very interestingly points out that from a culinary point of view it is the egg that came first because chickens were introduced into Europe in the 5th century BC after the Greeks and Italians had been eating the eggs of other birds like geese, ducks and guinea fowl.
Okay, I shall reword our question: ‘What came first, the fowl or the egg?’ Well, from a culinary perspective, the answer is the fowl. Eating eggs was a bit of a no-no because if one ate an egg, you were – in effect – eating a whole chicken, which is a huge waste. Due to this fact, superstitions naturally arose and still exist today. For example, the people of present-day Burkina Faso believe that children that eat eggs become thieves, plus there is a French saying on a similar vein: ‘He who steals an egg will steal a horse’.
Eggs as food only really took off when chicken farming became common. It unfortunately took off in such a way that the poor old chickens – on the whole – have a miserably terrible time in their battery cages. That said I think there is legislation going through that says that all chickens should get some time to stretch their legs.
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 disease with the fact that eggs from different ‘farms’ were being mixed up together, the source of the disease couldn’t be found readily.
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 that allows each individual egg to be easily traced back to its place of origin, so if there is an outbreak it can be tackled swiftly. Only one percent of eggs get contaminated nowadays, and even then there number of bacterial cells averages out at around 10 per egg – you’d have to be pretty unlucky to become ill these days.
I 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 battery. The best eggs are those you can get from farmers’ markets, and are usually pretty cheap too.
The good thing about modern farming methods is that we get fresh eggs all year round. Normally chickens stop laying during wintertime and therefore eggs had to be preserved, usually by pickling, in Britain. I quite like a pickled egg now and again. I often think how we’d cope as a nation if we suddenly had to eat our food seasonally. I reckon it’d be character-building. Eggs were off limits during Lent because they are from animals. No wonder they are so prominent during Eastertime.
The best way to enjoy an egg is to make a simple meal from it, and what couldn’t be simpler than the boiled egg? Actually there seems to be 101 different methods to boil an egg perfectly and it is far from easy to get consistency. It requires a post to itself. However I cannot let this story wait…
Louis XV of France loved boiled eggs and had them every Sunday for breakfast. He was so deft at eating them that the Parisian people would come and watch their king’s skills at work. A crowd would gather, then a high-ranking servant would shout: ‘The King is about to eat his egg!’, and everyone would watch agog as King Louis sliced the top of the egg with one swift stroke of his fork. It’s amazing what passed as entertainment, though I have to admit it’s quite a skill.
There is only one egg dish that ranks highly when it comes to gastronomy though and that is the omelette. Don’t be deceived by the French name; it cannot be claimed by them. During the Middle Ages, the English would tuck into cheese omelettes pretty regularly, though in those days we used the word fraysse. Like much Franco-Angle foods, the exact origins are lost in time.
One final mention about hen’s eggs from a culinary perspective – they are a lot bigger than they used to be. Any recipe older than, say, around 1900, need a little modification and you might be best using two-thirds of the number stated.
Also, there are more than just hens’ eggs available if you know where to look for them…
Quail eggs – these are probably the most common after the chicken egg, though were a novelty in the 1970s. I don’t really use them and don’t see the point of putting tiny fried eggs on food just for the sake of being fancy, I’d rather have a nice real farm chicken egg. However, they do make great pickled eggs.
Duck eggs – these crop up more commonly these days, particularly in Chinese supermarkets. Apparently, ducks will lay their eggs anywhere, so to be safe a duck egg should be hard-boiled.
Goose eggs – I had never eaten a goose egg until recently when I spotted some for sale at Soulard Market in St Louis. They are massive. Naturally I snapped one up and ate is just like Jane Grigson said to: ‘fried in a little butter’. A ‘rare rich treat’ indeed. I can heartily recommend trying one.
Chicken eggs are dwarfed by goose eggs
Gull eggs – the only egg on the list I have not tried. In fact I have never seen them before anywhere. Ever. I wonder if they are still available. If you know anything about getting hold of some, let me know.