Tag Archives: dairy

Yorkshire Curd Tart

Ah, Yorkshire. God’s Own Country and my home county (well, it’s 3 counties technically, but let’s not worry about that now). There are many delicious regional recipes to be found there, but this must be the best: Yorkshire curd tart. For some very strange reason it hasn’t really ever made its way out of Yorkshire. Essentially it is a baked cheesecake – something that Britain isn’t considered famous for, yet if you delve into the old cook books, you’ll find loads of recipes for them. The cheese in question here is, of course, curd cheese which is sweetened with sugar, and mixed with currants, allspice and sometimes rosewater.

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Now a few guiding words on the making of a curd tart: no matter what you read, and I want to be very clear on this, cottage cheese cannot be used. It must be curd cheese which is very different in taste and texture to cottage cheese. These days it is difficult to get your hands on it, but it is very easy to make yourself, as you’ll see below. Also, the only spice to be used must be ground allspice (or clove-pepper as it used to be called in Yorkshire). Not cinnamon, not nutmeg, and certainly not mixed spice. Another misconception is that lemon curd is spread on the pastry base of the tart. Well it’s not, Mr Michelin Guide. Lastly, and as already mentioned, it’s a kind of cheesecake, and not some kind of custard tart as some people seem to think (Mr Paul Hollywood, I’m looking at you).

Ok. Good. Glad we got those issues out of the way.

Curd tarts were traditionally made around Whitsuntide from left-over curds from the cheese-making process and seem to originate in the early-to-mid 17th century. Most families kept their own cow in those days. For those of you that don’t know (and who does?), Whitsuntide derives from the words White Sunday which is our name for Pentecost, which, if my memory serves me correctly, is the seventh Sunday after Easter. The important thing is that there’s a Bank Holiday the next day and a whole week off for half term for the schoolkids.

In dairy farms with several cows, special curd tarts would be made after the cows had calved, using the cows’ colostrum to make the curd for the tarts. Colostrum is the milk produced straight after a mammal gives birth. It is particularly rich in nutrients and fat, and is yellowish in colour. I’ve always thought of this as a bit mean of the dairy farmer’s wife, but then again, she’d also have to tuck into umbilical cord pie the next day, so I suppose it evens out.

To Make Curd Cheese

It’s really easy to make your own curd cheese. All you need is some gold top Channel Island milk, some rennet, salt, and some muslin or other cloth to drain the whey from the curds; I have used an old pillowcase in the past with much success.

Rennet is an enzyme that curdles milk. In the old days a piece of a freshly-slaughtered male calf’s stomach lining would have been popped into the milk (as still occurs in the production of some non-vegetarian cheeses). These days with the magic of science, we can produce it from bacterial culture.

This recipe makes around 750g curd cheese.

In a saucepan, warm a litre of Channel Island milk to 37⁰C, also termed ‘blood-heat’. Use a thermometer if you like. Pour the milk into a dish or bowl and stir in half a teaspoon of salt and your rennet. Follow the instructions on the bottle to see how much to add, as different brands vary. Stir it in, along with half a teaspoon of salt.

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Leave the milk to stand for 10 or 15 minutes. Upon your return, you’ll see that the milk had gone all wobbly and can be easily – and satisfyingly – broken into curds.

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Scald your straining cloth with water straight from the kettle, spread it out over a bowl so the edges hang over, and then pour in your curds and whey. Tie up the cloth with string and hang up the cheese above the bowl to strain for 4 or 5 hours. Hey presto! You have made curd cheese. It keeps for several days covered in the fridge.

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To Make a Yorkshire Curd Tart

Here’s the recipe I use which is based on the one that appears in Jane Grigson’s English Food. It makes enough filling for one 10 inch diameter tart tin, though you can make several small ones if you prefer. The recipe only requires 250g of cheese, so if you’re making your own, you might want to adjust the quantities in the recipe above, or just make three tarts.

The tart is not overly sweet and has a lovely soft centre and a golden brown colour.

125g salted butter

60g caster sugar

250g curd cheese

125g raisins

pinch of salt

2 eggs, beaten

¼ to ½ tsp ground allspice

1 tsp rosewater (optional).

blind-baked 10 inch shortcrust pastry shell (made or bought)

First of all, cream together the butter and sugar well, then mix in the cheese, raisins, salt and eggs. Season to taste with the allspice and rosewater.

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Pour the filling into the pastry shell and bake for 25 to 30 minutes at 220⁰C. Cool on a rack.

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Forgotton Foods #3: Umbilical Cord

umbilical cord

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…

 

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Syllabubs

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’.

The Sense of Taste Philip Mercier (1680-1760)

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.

elizabeth raffald Elizabeth Raffald

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

Elizabeth David

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.

Elizabeth David

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.

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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.

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Pickled Eggs

With today’s farming techniques it is hard to believe that eggs were a seasonal food just like fruit and vegetables: the cold winter temperatures were not conducive to incubating developing chicks, nor was there enough food during those lean times to produce eggs in the first place.

When most people think of pickled eggs, I am sure they picture those sat in huge jars full of dark brown malt vinegar like grotesque biological specimens at the back of the fish and chip shop next to the pickled onions. I remember having one as a teenager and it was so, so foul; the malt vinegar was so strong and acrid it took my breath away, and the yolk had disintegrated into a brown pulpy acid mush. God knows how long they had been pickling for. Needless to say, that incident put me off them. However, I have rediscovered them and they don’t have to be like the chip shop ones – they can be piquant, subtly spiced and certainly mellow enough to eat on their own or in salads.

There is no need to pickle eggs these days of course, except for the love of pickles themselves. Below is my recipe that is based on a recipe by Mary Norwack that appears in Jane Grigson’s English Food. The harsh malt vinegar is gone, getting replaced with much milder cider or wine vinegar, and they are further improved by the addition of some spice.

First of all you need your eggs – you can use any kind you want, large, small, bantam or tiny quail’s eggs. I got small hen’s eggs from Abbey Leys Organic Farm via lovely Manchester Veg People, who are sourcing some of my food for the stall. These eggs are truly free range and organic, delicious, and more importantly cheap! People today don’t want small eggs any more, but their loss is my gain as far as I’m concerned.

This recipe should be enough to fill at least 2 litres (4 pints) of pickling jars. You can do one huge one or several small ones.

Ingredients

Hen’s or quail’s eggs (see recipe)

1 litre (2 pints) of white wine or cider vinegar

3 or 4 dried red chillies

15 g (½ oz) fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

15 g (½ oz) brown mustard seeds

15 g (½ oz) peppercorns, black or white

10 g (⅓ oz) coriander seeds

First, select enough eggs that you think will fill snugly inside your jars. Put them in a pan with cold water and bring them to a boil. Simmer the eggs until hard-boiled; this means just 2 minutes for quail’s eggs up to 8 minutes for large hen’s eggs. Tip away the water and let the eggs drain and cool.

Meanwhile make the pickling liquor by pouring the vinegar into a saucepan. Add the spices and bring to a simmer for five minutes. Strain, then cover and let cool.

Shell the eggs and rinse them under the tap and get to work squeezing them into sterilised jars. Then cover with the pickling liquor, making sure that the eggs are completely covered. Place a few of the spices in each of the jars and seal tightly.

Leave the eggs for about 2 weeks in a cool, dark place and then enjoy!

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A good egg?

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.

Louis XV

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.

Egg recipes so far:

Custard (general)

Proper ‘pouring’ custard

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Custard

I love custard. There is very little that can beat it in my opinion, especially during the winter months. By custard I mean the pouring kind also known as crème anglaise by the French and by people who want to sound posh. I call it proper custard.

Custard is essentially eggs mixed with liquids, usually milk or cream, and then thickened using a low heat. The difficulty with custard is that they can be overcooked, you want the egg to thicken, but if you go too far the eggs either curdle or go rubbery. Custard should never be allowed to boil, the perfect temperature is around 80⁰C (180⁰F). If you want thicker custard, you need more eggs, not more heat.

I started looking into custard and quite quickly realised that the term custard is actually quite diverse, falling into two broad churches, so thought I’d give a quick overview before I add recipes.

First up are the cream custards, i.e. sauces that are made in a pan and stirred like the aforementioned crème anglaise that is poured on pies, crumbles and steam puddings and the like and is used cold in trifles. Egg yolks and cream or milk are used here, usually flavoured with vanilla and sometimes scented with orange flower water or rose water. Many people think that proper custard is made using custard powder, but they would be incorrect. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bowl of Bird’s, but it is not proper custard. In fact, it isn’t technically custard at all as it doesn’t contain any eggs.

Bird’s advertisement, 1896

There is also confectioner’s custard, crème pâtissière, or pastry cream, thick and sweet and used to make delicious vanilla slices or profiteroles. This custard is unusual because it is heated until it boils, stabilised with cornflour. Also in this category are the fruit curds that are used in tarts, puddings or just in sandwiches. Here, the liquid is provided by fruit juice, typically lemon, but orange, lime and passion fruit curds are made too.

Much more common are the set custards which are baked and usually protected from the dry heat of the oven with a water bath. Whole eggs are used, because the whites form a matrix of albumen creating a gel, setting the custard. The more egg white included, the firmer the custard; useful if you want to turn it out onto a dish. Set custards are a diverse group. There is the classic baked custard, possibly my favourite ever dessert, but also lemon or orange tarts which are similar to fruit curds. All of these can actually be served with or without a pastry crust. Custards cooked in this way were also called douchets. Those without crusts include such classics as bread and butter pudding, burnt cream (or, if you like, crème brûlée) and crème caramel.

Then there are the custards that you don’t think of as custards, like baked cheesecakes or savoury quiches. There are set savoury custards made with meat stock that were once a popular starter, served warm with crisp Melba toast. I have also found recipes for cheese custard and potato custard.

I expected the set custards to be the kind that appeared first, but the earliest recipe going under the name custard I could find is from 1596 and is certainly a cream custard:

To Make a Custard

Break your eggs into a bowl, and put your cream into another bowl. Strain your eggs into the cream. Put in saffron, cloves and mace, and a little cinnamon and ginger, and, if you will, some sugar and butter. Season it with salt. Melt your butter and stir it with a ladle a good while. Dub your custard with dates or currants.

I have to say, it sounds delicious. I shall cook it someday.

By the seventeenth century onwards, set custards had become popular. This is because they were actually more difficult to make than the saucy ones. This is because it was rather problematic to effectively use water baths, plus it was difficult to check the ‘doneness’ of the custards with the old open fires. As ovens became more refined, this sort of delicate baking was easier to attain so up popped puddings like burnt cream (crème brûlée), though the country of origin is somewhat disputed, though the earliest I have come across is from 1692 and is French.

 In the seventeenth century better ovens created more delicate desserts

Elizabeth Raffald was the Queen of Custard, her 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper contained no less than 13 custard recipes both creamy and set, sweet and savoury. I am definitely going to try some of hers, but here’s one that I can’t see getting round to doing as it uses beest, which is an old term for a cow’s first milk produced after calving.

Take a pint of beest, set it over the fire with a little cinnamon or three bay leaves, let it be boiling hot. Then take it off and have ready mixed one spoonful of flour and a spoonful of thick cream, pour your hot beest upon it by degrees. Mix it exceedingly well together and sweeten it to your taste. You may either put it in crusts or cups or bake it.

What is interesting is that it bay leaves are used; it’s half way between a custard and a white sauce. I wonder of the beest tastes extra sweet as well as extra rich.

Custard recipes on the blog:

Proper custard

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