Tag Archives: Jane Grigson

The Return of the British Cheese Industry


This post complements the episode ‘Cheddar & the Cheese Industry’ on The British Food History Podcast:


Britain’s cheese industry has certainly been through its peaks and troughs over the centuries. As Peter Atkins and I discuss in the podcast episode Cheddar & the Cheese Industry there was once a great variety of local cheeses, but as urban populations grew and there was the need for cheap cheeses for the masses, Britain underwent a cheese bottleneck. The reason? The ‘cheddarfication’ of the industry: our lovely Cheddars were stripped of their character in the 19th and 20th centuries, massed produced and insipid. Not only that, but other cheeses became more like Cheddar, i.e. sharper and harder: Cheshire, Dunlop and Wensleydale all became more like Cheddar. The latter, now a mild and curdy cow’s milk cheese was once a soft, blue ewe’s milk cheese! Writing in the 1950s, Dorothy Hartley thought our cheese industry was dead: ‘the sub-standard cheese is so poor that it invites contrast; so the good cheese standard must be lowered till both are “standard mediocre”. The industrial revolution of the dairy is complete! And our really fine cheeses are lost to England.’1

But then old cheeses and old methods returned with gusto from the late 1980s. How? You’ll have to listen to the podcast! Writing in the 1990s in the third edition of her book English Food, Jane Grigson was impressed by the ‘marvellous choice’ available by the end of the 20th century: ‘One of the happy developments since I wrote [the first edition of] this book has been the renaissance of cheesemaking in Britain.’2 She was particularly happy about the raw milk cheeses, and chesses made with ewe’s and goat’s milk. I’d like to add more soft cheeses and proper full-flavoured hard cheeses.

You are not going to find these cheeses in your local supermarket: you need a good purveyor. I can highly recommend Harvey & Brockless. They have some excellent cheeses, in fact some of my absolute all-time favourites. They sent me a selection of British cheeses through the post, and I must say I was impressed.* It wasn’t just the quality but the fact there was the full gamut of historical and traditional cheeses represented: a Romanesque fresh goat’s milk cheese (Rosary), a cheese that could have been Anglo-Saxon (Bix, a raw creamy cow’s milk cheese), my favourite blue cheese of all time (Isle of Wight Blue; just divine). There was too the oozy and very ripe Baron Bigod, and some traditional cheesecloth matured Cheddar and Devonshire Red (both by Quicke’s). There was even a jar of salty raw goat’s cheese in a herby and garlicky oil (Graceburn) which I made into a salad using the oil to make the dressing – excellent!

Eating Cheese

Excellent cheeses such as these require little help. It’s important you allow your cheese to come up to room temperature under a cheese cloche (or upturned bowl). Proper cheese is a living breathing community of bacteria and fungi and it can sit happily under cover for 2 or 3 days in a cool cupboard or larder.

Letting your cheese come up to room temperature brings out their true flavour.

Eat with simple crackers (H&B provided me with Fig & Sultana Toasts from the excellent Millar’s, and Peter’s Yard Sourdough Crispbreads) or good bread, oatcakes and digestive biscuits (recipe coming soon!). In Yorkshire cheese is eaten with fruit cake, apple pie and gingerbread. Add equally simple accoutrements such as fruit jellies, chutneys or pickles.

Cheese Recipes

Using great cheeses in your cooking improves dishes immeasurably and I thought I’d provide you with a couple of good recipes that makes a small amount of cheese go a long way: a historical toasted cheese and a blue cheese ice cream which is excellent served with poached pears and home-made spelt digestives (that one will be coming in the next post).

Lady Shaftsbury’s Toasted Cheese

This is a recipe I have adapted slightly from Jane Grigson’s English Food. Jane was fortunate to receive the ‘receipt’ book that belonged to Emily Shaftesbury ‘wife of the great social reformer, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury’. They were relatively poor, at least as far as the aristocracy go, and were always in debt.2 Because of this, many of the dishes are cheap – again, as far as the aristocracy go – and this one is delicious. It would make an excellent savoury or starter, or even a ‘light’ lunch if served with a green salad on the side.

I use inverted commas when I write ‘light’ because it is actually pretty heavy going; essentially it’s a fondue of good Cheddar cheese, egg yolks and cream that is grilled before serving with toast. The small amounts given are enough to feed four people.

A good strong melting cheese is required, and I used Quicke’s mature clothbound Cheddar. It is perfect: potent, yet creamy with just the merest hint of blue. Just one 150g piece is needed for four people.

Be warned, Jane points out that toasted cheese can cause nightmares,2 so don’t eat it too close to bedtime.**

50 g butter

5 tbs double cream

150 g grated mature Cheddar cheese such as Quicke’s mature clothbound Cheddar

2 medium egg yolks

Freshly ground pepper

Optional extras: pinch of Cayenne pepper or 1-2 tsp smooth or wholegrain mustard

4 slices of toast cut into soldiers

Preheat your grill to a medium-high heat.

Gently melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium-low heat, then add the cream, cheese and egg yolks.

Stir to combine so that the cheese melts and the egg yolks thicken the mixture to produce a smooth, thick mixture like a thick pouring custard. On no account let it boil, otherwise the cheese may split and the egg yolks scramble. Slow and steady wins the race.

As the sauce is melting, season with pepper and add the Cayenne or mustard if using.

Divide the cheese mixture between four ramekins and grill until a golden brown colour, around 3 minutes.

Serve immediately with the toast soldiers.

References

  1. Hartley, D. Food in England. (Little, Brown & Company, 1954).
  2. Grigson, J. English Food. (Penguin, 1992).

* I should point out that I am asked fairly often to do this sort of thing, but I usually turn the company/producer down, the products on offer not being my thing at all, but the brands sold by Harvey & Brockless are genuinely the ones I purchase anyway. You can be sure I would never endorse a product I didn’t think was excellent. I am no cynic!

** Cheese does not cause nightmares.

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Ten Years of British Food: a History!

Well, I never expected to reach this milestone, and I certainly did not foresee what would happen in the years after I started up British Food: a History. In fact, I only set it up because my other blog – Neil Cooks Grigson – a blog created only to help me practise my writing skills after starting a PhD at Manchester University in evolutionary biology. The idea behind the blog is that I cook and blog about every recipe in Jane Grigson’s book English Food; cooking and reading her work had got me so enthusiastic about the history and tradition of British food I felt I needed a second blog! Cooking was still intended/expected only be a hobby and an escape from the laboratory, however I had started to find NCG a little restrictive: I was interested in dishes and ingredients that were not included in her book (there are no jam roly-poly, fish and chips or custard recipes for example). I had also become interested in the food and traditions of the other nations of Great Britain as well as Ireland. I was no longer tied to basing every post around a recipe either, I could write essays too.

Another reason for creating the blog was the yearning I had for all things British at the time – by now I had completed my PhD and had started a Post-Doc position in the lab of Joan Strassmann and David Queller in St Louis, Missouri, USA. I loved American culture, but being away from home focussed my own identity as a Brit, fuelling my enthusiasm for the hobby even further.

I can’t remember when the idea dawned on me that I should try and turn the cooking skills I had unwittingly gained into a food business, but off I went, back to the UK and to Manchester, with good wishes from Joan and David, and support from my friends and family – if there were nay-sayers in the camp, they were keeping their ideas to themselves. I returned to Manchester at the start of August 2012 and by the end of it I had set up The Buttery as a market stall. Under a year later I graduated up to pop up restaurant and then eventually restaurant-bar with Mr Brian Mulhearn. Busy as I was, I did try to blog, but it was tricky and I came close to stopping altogether.

The Buttery existed as a bricks-and-mortar affair for two years, but when it closed I decided to write more: it was therapeutic if nothing else, and I was at a very low ebb, so needed any help I could get. How I had missed it! Unfortunately blogging does not pay the bills, so I kept my toe in as a chef, baker and caterer.

A pop-up restaurant highlight: the Titanic’s last meal inside Victoria Baths!

Over the last couple of years, the blog has become much more popular and seems to be getting recognised more, leading on to a bit of TV and radio work, and I was even approached by publishing house Pen & Sword History to write my first book A Dark History of Sugar which has led to a second book, this time on a subject of my own choosing (I will let you know more about this when I can!).

The British Food History Podcast

The other project that has been borne of the blog was the Lent podcast I made with Sonder Radio and Beena Khetani. What great fun it was. I learned a lot and really wanted to get a second season made…and here it is! It’s taken me almost 18 months to organise myself, but I spotted the anniversary in my diary and thought it a good day to kick season 2 off.

I’m doing all of the writing, presenting and producing myself this time and I’ve come up with a format (I think) of separate seasons of 6 episodes. Each episode will be a standalone subject, but then use the last 2 or 3 episodes to look at a meatier subject in more depth. Kicking off season 2 today is an episode about gingerbread and my guest is the excellent writer, chef and food historian Sam Bilton, author of the cookbook First Catch Your Gingerbread.

To subscribe simply search for ‘The British Food History Podcast’ wherever you usually find your podcasts, or follow this feed to the Captivate website. Please follow, like, subscribe, rate and leave comments: I would be most grateful.

Food historian Sam Bilton helps me kick off season 2

Here’s to another 10 years

What will the next decade bring I wonder? I have no idea, but one thing I do know is that I shall still be writing blog posts and putting together podcast episodes. I just love creating them, and I certainly would have given up years ago if I didn’t have such great, supportive followers on here commenting and telling me about their own memories and experiences – good and bad – on British food. So here’s a big thank you to all of you who have followed the blogs and cooked up my recipes; if I were a religious chap, I would be saying that I feel blessed right now.

I really want to carry on producing more content with more variety, but it is getting increasingly more expensive to produce online content, so if you can please support the blogs and podcast and treat me (should you think I deserve it) to a virtual coffee or pint.

If you like, for £3 per month you can also become a subscriber. If you do, you get access to premium content: extra blog posts and recipes, as well as access to my Easter Eggs tab which will soon start to fill with podcast extras: full interviews, deleted scenes and outtakes. I’m also planning to make some ‘how to’ videos demonstrating some techniques that are best taught by showing rather than by writing a long-winded method.

Right, off I go, this was only supposed to be a quick post and I’ve wittered on for ages. Here’s to the next 10 years!


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Baked Gooseberry Pudding

The last in a quartet of gooseberry posts – I promise I will change the subject next post.

In my honest, humble opinion this is the best gooseberry dessert recipe. It’s old-fashioned and simple to make – gooseberries are baked with a little brown sugar and a knob or two of butter, all covered in cake sponge. The berries are still very sharp and are perfectly balanced with the warm, sweet sponge. This is much more superior to the better-known Eve’s pudding – stewed cooking apples covered in sponge cake. I suspect this would work excellently with blackcurrants.

This recipe crops up in my traditional English or British cookery books, but I first heard of it from Jane Grigson (as I have many dishes) in her book English Food.

For the pudding, you can make any amount of topping, it’s dependent upon whether you like a thin or thick layer of sponge and the dimensions of your baking dish. I used a soufflé dish of diameter around 7 inches/18 centimetres. I think this is a good amount for this size, and for most family-sized dishes.

The sponge is made using the all-in-one method, so make sure your butter is extremely soft to ensure a light topping.

2 tbs Demerara or soft light brown sugar

a couple of knobs of salted butter

gooseberries, topped and tailed

100 g very soft, salted butter

100g self-raising flour

100g caster sugar

2 eggs

Set your oven to 180°C.

Scatter the sugar and dot the butter on the bottom of your baking dish and cover with the gooseberries; you are aiming for a generous single layer of them.

Place the butter, flour, caster sugar and eggs in a bowl and beat together with an electric mixer until the mixture is smooth and well-combined. Using a large spoon or spatula, add the cake batter in big spoonfuls over the gooseberries and level it, you don’t have to be very neat here, the baking batter will flatted itself out.

Place in the oven and bake for around an hour until the top is a deep golden-brown colour.

Serve immediately with custard or lightly-whipped cream sweetened with a little icing sugar.


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‘Neil Cooks Grigson’ moves to WordPress

Hello lovely followers. Just a quickie to let you know that the sister blog to British Food: A History, Neil Cooks Grigson has moved from Blogger to WordPress. It makes much more sense to have them on the same format.

If you’ve never checked it out, now is your chance – there’s over 400 recipes on there, all fully reviewed. There are some amazing ones, and a fair few disasters, warts and all. So if there’s a classic English dish or recipe you’ve always wondered about, chances are I’ve cooked it up.

Just click on this link here and follow – I’d be most grateful!

I’ll be putting a few posts on there to help newcomers get up to speed on the project in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out.

Over and out!

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Third Course: ‘Mutton to eat as venison’ with Lenten Pie

elizabeth raffald

Here we are at the mid-way point of the Dinner Party Through Time and we have arrived in the Georgian period with two great recipes inspired and stolen from the excellent 18th century cook book The Experienced English Housewife by Elizabeth Raffald. The book and the great lady herself deserve a post to themselves really; it lets such a light into the world of grander houses during that time. It’s a book I often leaf-through, so it was the obvious choice.

I thought that the course should be from opposite ends of the gastronomic spectrum with a rich leg of mutton, specially prepared to taste just like venison, and a Lenten pie, specially made for fast days and full of lovely vegetables and herbs.

mutton3

To dress a Leg of Mutton to eat like Venison

Get the largest and fattest leg of mutton you can get cut out like a haunch of venison as soon as it is killed, whilst; it will eat the tenderer. Take out the bloody vein, stick it in several places in the under side with a sharp pointed knife, pour over it a bottle of red wine, turn it in the wine four or five times a day for five days. Then dry it exceeding well with a clean cloth, hang it up in the air with the thick end uppermost for five days; dry it night and morning to keep it from being damp or growing musty. When you roast it cover it with paper and paste as you do venison. Serve it up with venison sauce. It will take four hours roasting.

It was very intriguing, but it was also obviously unachievable. Looking in other books, I found many versions of it, sometimes roasted, sometimes braised, but always marinated in red wine (and often in the blood of the beast too!). I knew the recipe looked familiar, and it finally dawned on me that an updated recipe for it appeared in good old English Food by good old Jane Grigson. It’s not served with a rich venison sauce, but a gravy made with the cooking liquor

There’s a 4 day marinating time for this recipe, so plan ahead if you fancy making it. It is worth it, this is one of the most delicious things I have ever cooked and eaten. It is beautifully gamey, but with the moist succulence you would expect from lamb or mutton. It is magically transformed! Witchcraft can only be to blame.

Here’s what you need:

1 full leg of mutton (or lamb)

For the marinade:

250g onions, chopped

250g carrots, chopped

100g celery, chopped

4 or 5 cloves of garlic, chopped

3 tbs sunflower oil or lard

2 bay leaves

3 good sprigs of thyme

6 sprigs of parsley

3 sprigs of rosemary

12 crushed juniper berries

12 crushed coriander seeds

15 crushed black peppercorns

1 tbs salt

750ml red wine

175ml red wine vinegar

To cook the mutton:

3 onions, sliced

3 carrots, diced

3 celery stalks, sliced

3 leeks, sliced

375g unsmoked streaky bacon, chopped

90g salted butter

Veal stock or water

To make the marinade, fry the vegetables in the oil or fat. Take your time over this and get them good and brown; the veg won’t be in the final dish, but their flavour will be. Let them cool, and mix with the remaining marinade ingredients.

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Score the fat of the leg into a diamond pattern, like you would do for a ham. Find a large, deep dish or pot and place the lamb inside and pour over the marinade. Make sure the whole leg gets the marinade on it, so turn it over a few times. Keep the leg somewhere cool – a fridge, or a nice cool cellar or pantry – and cover it with foil. Turn it twice a day for four days.

When the four days is up, get the new set of vegetables ready. To cook the mutton, spread the prepared vegetables over the base of a deep roasting tin, place the leg on top and strain the marinade over it. Top up the marinade liquid with veal stock or water so that it comes up two-thirds of the way up the tin. Cover with foil.

You have two choices now: either bring the whole thing slowly to boil and simmer gently for 3 hours on the hob, or bring to simmer and pop it in a cool oven instead, 150⁰C will do it, for a similar amount of time. Turn the joint over after ninety minutes and in the final half an hour, ladle out 2 pints of the cooking liquid and boil it down hard to make a concentrated, richly flavoured stock.

When the cooking time is up, remove the leg and put it into another roasting tin and turn the oven up to 220⁰C. Roast for a good 20 minutes and baste well with the concentrated stock to achieve a nice glaze. Any remaining concentrated stock can be used as gravy.

mutton2

An Herb Pie for Lent

Take lettuce, leeks, spinach, beets and parsley, of each a handful. Give them a boil, then chop them small, and have ready boiled in a cloth one quart of groats with two or three onions in them. Put them in a frying pan with the herbs and a good deal of salt, a pound of butter and a few apples cut thin. Stew them a few minutes over the fire, fill your or raised crust with it, one hour will bake it. Then serve it up.

Groats are whole grains of cereals and oats or barley could have been used, but I chose whole wheat. The only change I made was to use a normal shortcrust pastry and make a regular double-crust pie in a tin, rather than a raised crust with a hot water pastry. I regret that a bit now, but I wasn’t as good at pastry then as I am today. It is a good pie – some plainer cooking that married very well with the rich meat.

Here’s how I approached the recipe:

1 onion, chopped

oil or butter

150g wholewheat groats

generous knob of butter

2 Cox’s apples, peeled, cored and sliced

2 little gem lettuce, sliced

1 leek, sliced

1 medium golden beetroot, diced

1 handful of spinach, rinsed

1 bunch parsley, chopped

shortcrust pastry

Begin by gently frying the onion in a little butter or oil until soft and golden. Add the groats and cover with water. Simmer gently until the groats are tender, topping up with more water if things look a little dry. Season with salt and pepper and allow to cool. Meanwhile fry and soften the apples in butter and let those cool too.

Mix the apples with the groats and the remaining vegetables and line a pie tin with shortcrust pastry. Tip in the mixture and cover with more pastry in the usual way.

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Glaze with beaten egg and bake at 200⁰C for 20 minutes until golden, then turn down to 175⁰C for 35 to 40 minutes.

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First Course: Tudor Salmon en Croute

tudor fisherman

The second dish in my Dinner Party Through Time menu, and we have moved along a couple of hundred years to Tudor Britain.

This is a recipe that is inspired by the Tudor love of combining fish with candied sweetmeats. Large medieval banquets had to contain dishes with lots of spice; after all how else could you display your vast wealth other than to use that exciting spice, sugar? When first brought to Europe from India, sugar was considered a spice and therefore medicinal. It lost its rank as a spice once it gained popularity as a more general addition to the dinner table; albeit a giant banqueting table.

The addition of the salmon, then, you might feel was also a mark of an ostentatious lord. It is not the case, back in the day, before such things as pollution and overfishing, streams were teeming with fish like salmon. In fact they were so common on the River Mersey that people used to feed them to their pigs! The same, of course, goes for oysters too, and yet we can now buy a pound of sugar for 30 pence. How times have changed.

This dish is very attractive: a lovely fish wrapped neatly in pastry with some sweet spice, fruit and nuts, plus a nice piquant herb sauce. It’s pretty easy to make to boot, as long as you have good shortcrust pastry. This was so good, that it became the main course at my last pop-up restaurant.

tudor salmon 3

Yours Truly, with the fish

This recipe is actually from Jane Grigson, who did the tricky bit for us and worked out a recipe. It comes from her book English Food and I suggest you buy a copy (see the other blog about that!). The only real difference I’ve made is to multiply up the amounts; I used a whole salmon, rather than just a piece as in the book.

You will need:

1 salmon, filleted, skin on or off

250g butter, softened

8 knobs of preserved ginger, chopped

1-2 tbs of the ginger syrup

2 heaped tbs raisins or currants

2 heaped tbs slivered almonds

salt and pepper

shortcrust pastry (see method)

beaten egg

For the herb sauce:

4 shallots, very finely chopped

2 tsp parsley, finely chopped

2 tsp of chervil or tarragon, or a mixture, finely chopped

125g butter

2 tsp plain flour

600ml double cream

2 tsp English mustard

salt and pepper

4 egg yolks

juice ½ lemon

Beat the softened butter with the preserved ginger, raisins and almonds. Sweeten with the syrup as you see fit. Use half of the mixture to sandwich the two pieces of salmon together and then spread the remaining half over the top piece. Season with salt and pepper.

Now you are ready to encase the beast in pastry. I used a batch made of 800g flour and 400g of fat (200g each lard and butter), 2 eggs and a little water, but you might need more or less, depending upon the size of your salmon. Roll out a third of the pastry into a shape larger than the fish and place it on top. Trim around it, leaving a two centimetre gap.

Next, roll out the rest and carefully place it over the fish, trimming the pastry away so there is a one centimetre gap between it and the lower layer. Brush with beaten egg all around the edges, and fold and crimp the pastry all the way around; rather like a huge pasty. Use the trimmings for decoration. There were a few small cracks in my pastry, but I hid them most cleverly with some pastry leaves that I placed here and there. I must say, I was quite impressed with my effort.

Make two or three slashes on the top so that steam can escape and bake for around 45 minutes at 220⁰C (425⁰F). To tell that it is done use a temperature probe; if the centre is around 50⁰C it’s ready to come out. As the fish rests, it will increase in temperature.

tudor salmon 1

As it rests, you can get on with the sauce. Gently fry the shallots and herbs in butter. When the shallots have softened, stir in the flour, then the cream (reserving a little for later). Simmer for around 10 minutes, then season with salt, pepper and mustard. Whisk the egg yolks with the reserved cream, turn down the heat in the pan and pour in. The sauce will thicken as the yolks start to cook – do not let the sauce boil, or your yolks will scramble. If it seems on the thick side, add a little water. Finally, lift the whole thing by adding a good squeeze of lemon juice.

The rested salmon can now by sliced up. The best way I find to do this sort of operation is to use a serrated knife. Slice the untidy end off, but keep it pressed up against the rest of the fish as you make more slices. Don’t take away any slices until you are finished cutting, otherwise everything will crumble and collapse.

The best thing to eat with this, I would say, is a green bitter vegetable such as broccoli or kale.


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Dr Buttery on The Food Programme

Hello there everyone, just a very quick post to let you know that Yours Truly will be on Radio 4’s legendary Food Programme.

A 2-part tribute to Jane Grigson has been recorded in front of a live audience down in Bristol. Sheila Dillon hosts and on the panel are Diana Henry, Shaun Hill and Geraldine Holt. I was invited down to take part in it because Jane Grigson has changed my life, so I get to chat with them about how the blog has led me from PhD student, to starting my own food business.

It’s a two-parter and the first episode goes out today at 12.20, and the second episode is broadcast tomorrow at 3.30.

All very exciting and I am so glad that producers Rich Ward and Dan Saladino contacted me about it.

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Seftons

earl of sefton

The first Earl of Sefton

In my previous post, I gave you a recipe for a basic veal stock, so I thought I would give you another recipe that shows of these kinds of home-made stocks to their best.

The recipe comes from the distinguished French Cook Louis Eustache Ude, chef to the Earl of Sefton. He came from good cooking stock himself, his father was chef to King Louis XVI.

Ude was quite a character, there’s a great story of him being hauled in front of a magistrate after he had been found selling roast grouse on his menu before the 12th of August (the date from which the gamed season begins. See here for a post all about that). He was given a fine and sent on his way.

The next day, the Scottish Laird who had reported Ude to the police returned to Ude’s restaurant to make sure he was abiding by the rules. Pleased to see there wasn’t a morsel of the offending bird on the menu, he ordered Salami de fruit défendu, i.e. Salmi of Forbidden Fruit, which turned out – of course – to be grouse!

Louis-Eustache-Ude_2911477k

Louis Eustache Ude

There was none of this nonsense when he worked for ,and was handsomely paid by, the Earl of Sefton, except when he left his service because Ude spotted the Earl’s son adding salt to some soup he made. Offended by this, he turned on his heel and left.

This recipe is in essence a savoury custard, and may sound odd, but it is in fact subtle, delicious and light. It could only work with a home-made stock though. I imagine it would be excellent nourishing food for someone that is ill. The little custards can be served in their ramekins or turned out onto a plate.

The recipe below comes from Jane Grigson’s English Food, where she suggests serving it with thin dry toast. A very good idea, I can confirm.

It makes between six and ten portions depending on the size of your ramekins.

600ml of good, clear, home-made stock

6 beaten eggs

grated zest of a lemon

¼ teaspoon of ground mace

salt and Cayenne pepper

4 tablespoons of clarified butter

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Bring the stock to a boil and whisk into the eggs as you would with a regular custard. Add the lemon zest and mace and season with the salt and Cayenne pepper and whisk in the butter.

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Place your ramekins in a deep roasting tin and pour the custard into them and cover them with foil. Pour boiling water into the tin, technically turning it into a ban Marie. Carefully slide the tin into an oven already preheated to 180⁰C and bake for 12 to 20 minutes, or until the custards are just set and still have a good wobble on them. Serve straight away.

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Favourite Cook Books no. 2: Good Things by Jane Grigson

good things

This is not a manual of cookery, but a book about enjoying food. Few of the recipes in it will contribute much to the repertoire of those who like to produce dinner for 6 in 30 minutes flat. I think food, its quality, its origins, its preparation, is something to be studied and thought about in the same way as any other aspect of human existence.

Jane Grigson, introduction to Good Things, 1970

Good Things was Jane Grigson second book and was published in 1971. Although she is known for her later extensive and very comprehensive writings, this is relatively brief.

All of Jane Grigson books are wonderful, and this book is no different: logical, creative, witty and sometimes austere, she weaves a tapestry of each ingredient’s culinary potential; and this is why the book is so great, for each chapter focusses upon a single main ingredient. She shows you just how inventive humans can be with a single ingredient and how it should be savoured in its seasonality to be fully appreciated; something we no longer do. This book has spurred me on in my own efforts to be seasonal. Take, for example, the chapter on celery – a vegetable that we generally either add to the stockpot or crunch on in a boring salad – she says:

The fine pleasure of buying celery in earthy heads, after the first improving frosts of winter, is slowly being eroded by the wash of enterprise and aviation. Almost the year round, cleaned and slightly flabby greenish celery…is on sale at inviting prices. It’s the wise cook who averts her eyes from this profuse and plastic display and waits for November. Then crispness and flavour are at their peak …In any case one of the greatest luxuries you can have in Britain today is simple food of the best quality.’

She then goes onto her first recipe which consists of celery stalks, good Normandy butter and sea salt. This is the genius of Good Things, you are being shown how good something can be if prepared properly, grown skilfully and eaten seasonality and sensibly; essentially Jane is teaching us how to eat.

(NB, click here for a post of my own on the humble celery stick).

Every chapter also perfectly reflects Jane’s own lifestyle; spending half her time between England and France, with a smattering of recipes from other European countries. It really showed how she lived her life, though I can imagine her family got a little sick of some of the focal ingredients when she was recipe testing.

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Sweetbreads: a Jane Grigson – and Neil Buttery – favourite

So what did she pick? Some are probably quite obvious such as venison, asparagus, woodland mushrooms, strawberries and ice creams; others are common and, perhaps, overlooked, like celery, kippers, tomatoes and carrots; whilst some were becoming forgotten or seemed obscure, ones that leap to mind are snails, quince, sweetbreads and fruit liqueurs. Jane’s gift to me is a love of such foods that I never would have sought out, that has demonstrated to me just how good, exciting and varied British food can be, as well as how its history is interlinked inextricably with other countries’ food histories.

Sweetbread Pie

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I think this recipe best sums up the essence and ethos of Good Things; it uses a delicious but forgotten meat cut, is French but you would think it quintessentially English. She discovered it in the charcuterie of a small town in Burgandy and it was the most expensive pâté in the shop. She made it into a pie, a pie so good it made it on my last Pop-Up Restaurant menu. The recipe requires you prepare some sweetbreads – if you’ve never eaten or prepared sweetbreads, have a look at this previous post all about them. In a nutshell, you poach them briefly in a light chicken or vegetable stock, or court-bouillon. For a post on stock-making click here. I am so self-referential these days! If you can’t get as much as the 500g given in the recipe, then use whatever you can get your hands on. I expect it would be excellent even with the sweetbreads omitted altogether!

I have changed only her Imperial weights and measures so that they are metricated…

For the pastry:

300g plain flour

150g of butter and lard

1 tbs icing sugar

water to bind

For the filling:

500g prepared lambs’ or calves’ sweetbreads

125g mushrooms, roughly chopped

2 tbs onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

75g butter

350g lean pork, or veal and pork mixed

225g hard back pork fat

2 rashers green (i.e. unsmoked) back bacon

2 eggs

heaped tbs flour

125g cream

salt, pepper and thyme.

‘Make the pastry in the usual way’, says Jane. I mean to write a post on pastry-making, I shall endeavour to do so soon. Whilst it rests in the fridge, cut up the sweetbreads into even-sized pieces, then cook the mushrooms onions and garlic in the butter, until softened but not brown. Next, make the forcemeat by mincing the pork and veal, if using, the back fat and the bacon through the course and then fine blades. Mix in the eggs, flour, cream and the mushroom mixture. Season with salt and pepper and add a good sprinkle of chopped thyme.

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Line a 450g loaf tin (an old 1 lb tin) with 2 thirds of the pastry. Spread over one third of the mixture over the base of the tin, then a layer of half of the sweetbreads, then a second third of the forcemeat, then the remaining sweetbreads, and lastly the final third of the pork mixture.

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Seal the pie with a lid, brush with egg wash and bake for 90 minutes in a moderate oven – around 180⁰C.

‘Serve warm’, she says, but it is also very good at room temperature. It keeps very well in the fridge if wrapped up tightly in foil or clingfilm.

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Filed under baking, Books, Britain, cooking, food, General, Meat, Recipes, Uncategorized

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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Filed under baking, Britain, cooking, Dairy, Desserts, food, General, history, Puddings, Recipes