After talking to Lindsay Middleton about her online resource Dishes for the Sick Room, an exciting deep dive into the invalid cookery recipes found in the cookery books of Glasgow Caledonian University, I decided to have a go at making some barley water.
If you haven’t listened to the episode of the Podcast episode Invalid Cookery with Lindsay Middleton, you can do so below:
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I hope everyone is managing to keep warm in this terribly long cold spell we’re having. It’s pretty miserable, but I hopefully have something for you to help distract you during these cold, long winter nights, at least for a little while: a brand new season of The British Food History Podcast.
Yes, season 5 has just launched with a very special Christmas special with food historian Dr Annie Gray, who came on the podcast talk about Christmas feasting and Christmas food through the ages.
Annie is author of several books including the excellent Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria and Victory in the Kitchen: The Life of Churchill’s Cook. She is also a frequent panellist on Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet, and has appeared on countless television shows, including the excellent A Merry Tudor Christmas with Lucy Worsley.
Her most recent, At Christmas we Feast: Festive Food Through the Ages, published by Profile Books, is out now in paperback, and she kindly came on the podcast to tell me about it. We talked about many things: the myths and misconceptions about the food we eat at Christmas; why and how we feast; how the feast of Christmas has changed through time; what the Victorian’s DIDN’T invent; jelly; wassail; the ancient Xmas centrepiece the boar’s head; trifle; Yorkshire Christmas Pye; and her favourite recipes contained within the book.
If you are a £3 monthly subscriber on the blog, there are three Easter Eggs associated with this episode:
An excised discussion about the merits of making one’s own mincemeat for mince pies
The uncut discussion about recipes and revelations, including Yorkshire Christmas frumenty
The uncut discussion about the boar’s head and squeamishness.
If you like the blogs and podcast I produce and would to start a £3 monthly subscription, or would like to treat me to virtual coffee or pint: follow this link for more information.Thank you.
I have some fantastic guests lined up for this season and quite the variety of topics, including Hogmanay with Paula McIntyre, Eighteenth Century Dining with Ivan Day, and London’s Street Food Sellers with Charlie Taverner. You heard it here first!
If you’ve never tuned in before, just search ‘The British Food History Podcast’ wherever you get your podcasts – it’s available from all providers. If you haven’t already, please follow, like and leave a review: every single one counts and helps the podcast move up those algorithms so that it become easier to find by others.
If you don’t listen to podcasts and don’t have an account with a provider, don’t worry, you can listen through this link below:
Carrying on from my conversation about Yorkshire pudding with Elaine Lemm on the podcast recently, I thought I should toss my hat into the ring with my own recipe.
This post complements the episode ‘Yorkshire Pudding with Elaine Lemm’ on The British Food History Podcast:
This is a simple affair, and after some rigorous recipe testing, using fewer eggs or different mixtures of milk and water, as well as different receptacles in which to cook the batter, I think it is both excellent and fool proof. It goes by the tried-and-tested equal ratio method: i.e. equal volumes of plain flour, milk and eggs, plus a good pinch of salt, and animal fat (in my case, lard).
The pudding takes around 40 minutes to cook, the perfect amount of time to rest your roast meat before carving and serving.
In the podcast episode Elaine and I came to the conclusion that anything made in a muffin tin, isn’t really a proper Yorkshire pudding. Indeed, the consensus on my Special Postbag Edition of the podcast, cooking the batter in a tray achieves the best proportion of crispy, crunchy bits on the fringes and nice puddingy softness in the base. Listen to that episode here:
Have something to add to the debate? Please get in contact or leave a comment at the end of this post, I’m sure I shall be revisiting the subject in future postbag episodes.
Cooking in a dish that is good and thick is important for a good rise: you need something that will heat up in the oven, but also retain it when the cool batter is poured in. Don’t go for anything flimsy here: a really thick metal tin, or even better, an earthenware dish: it’s thickness and its property of retaining heat creates a pud with a fantastic rise: I got such a good one it almost hit the grill elements in my oven when put on the middle shelf! I give the dimensions of my dish in the recipe, but don’t worry if yours is slightly different; puddings like this are very forgiving with respect to dish size.
Make the batter a few hours (minimum one) before you want to cook it.
Serves 6 to 8 if eaten with a roast dinner:
¾ cup (180 ml) plain flour
A good three-finger pinch of sea salt
¾ cup (180 ml) eggs
¾ cup (180 ml) milk, full fat, if possible
30 g lard, dripping or goose or duck fat
Put the flour and salt in a bowl, make a well in the centre and pour your eggs inside the well. Use a whisk to combine the eggs and flour, starting in the well, gradually mixing the flour into the eggs. This prevents lumps forming.
Once the flour and eggs are mixed, add the milk, whisking slowly at first, until it is fully mixed in, then give it a good thrashing for 30 seconds or so. Leave, covered, at room temperature until you want to cook it. If you like, pour the whole lot into a jug, for easier handling later.
When you are ready to cook your pudding, preheat the oven to 200°C.
Place the fat in your tin or dish – I used an earthenware dish of dimension 20 x 28 cm, with steeply sloping sides – and place on the centre shelf of your oven. Give the dish and fat plenty of time to get fully hot: I leave it in there for a good 25 minutes.
Now give the batter a final good whisking, quickly (but carefully) open the oven door, pull the shelf of the oven out slightly so that you can pour in the batter. The batter should sizzle and frill up in the fat.
Quickly push the shelf back into place and close the door. Do not open the door until 25 minutes have elapsed.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, depending upon how dark you like your risen crispy edges.
Remove and slice into squares, serving it up with your roast dinner.
Hello folks! Just a very quick post to let you all know that the fourth season my podcast – The British Food History Podcast – is underway and the first two episodes are ready for you to download and listen to.
In episode 1, I talk to journalist and food writer Felicity Cloake about the Great British breakfast. Listen here:
We talk about how breakfast might be the only thing uniting all 4 countries that make up the UK, the complexities of planning a nation-wide breakfast tour, injuries, why it’s okay to like both red and brown sauce, as well as neither, the importance of pudding on a fried breakfast, regional specialities and recipe writing.
In episode 2, my guest is historian and friend of the show Emma Kay. Today we talk about Emma’s new book A History of Herbalism: Cook, Cure & Conjure which was published in June 2022. Listen here:
We talk about the importance of herbs in medicine, magic and food, and how these things were interconnected, the four humours, Anglo-Saxon medical texts, the double standards surrounding men and women who practised magic and medicine, two female pioneers of botany and herbalism, and narcotic garden vegetables.
I have a few extra guests lined up for you throughout August and September, so make sure to subscribe, follow and like wherever you get your podcasts, and if you can, leave comments, ratings and reviews.
There are Easter Eggs associated with the episodes which are available to subscribers.
If you like the blogs and podcast I produce, please consider treating me to a virtual coffee or pint, or even a £3 monthly subscription. Subscriptions give you access to the Easter Eggs page as well as special blog posts: follow this link for more information.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Hartley, D. Food in England. (Little, Brown & Company, 1954).
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!