This post complements the episode ‘Forme of Cury with Christopher Monk’ on The British Food History Podcast.
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This post complements the episode ‘Forme of Cury with Christopher Monk’ on The British Food History Podcast.
Read more of this content when you subscribe today. Follow this link for more details.
The breakfast was delicious, consisting of excellent tea, buttered toast and Glamorgan sausages, which I really think are not a whit inferior to those of Epping.George Barrow, Wild Wales, 1862*
I don’t know about you, but I’m a beggar for freezing all sorts of bits and bobs left over from kitchen tasks or clearing out the fridge – carcasses, egg whites, vegetable trimmings – all in the name of frugality, and then promptly forgetting about them entirely. Because of this bad habit my freezer is full to bursting, and desperately needs emptying. The worst offender is fresh breadcrumbs: two bags full of them, in fact. As soon as I saw them, three foods flashed up in my mind: a nice stuffing for poultry, Queen of Puddings or the Welsh classic, Glamorgan sausages. Unsure which to make, I turned to Twitter, and Twitter resolutely told me it should be Glamorgan sausages. I was sure Queen of Puddings would win, but I’m always terrible at guessing the outcomes of these things.
A Glamorgan sausage is “a kind of savoury rissole made of cheese, leek or onion, eggs and breadcrumbs.”1 and they hail from the Vale of Glamorgan, south-east Wales. The Vale has been excellent spot for dairy farming for millennia, says Jane Grigson: “the Iron and Roman Age Welsh were largely a pastoral people moving about and dependent upon flocks and herds.”2 The work was – and is – hard, and communities were often cut off from other for whole seasons at a time; it seems that it was worth it though because the cows were very productive, and there was often a surplus of milk and cheese. This cheese was mixed with leftover bread and flavoured with leek, spring onions and parsley. This mixture was formed into sausage shapes and fried in lard or beef dripping.
There is a myth that the Glamorgan sausage is actually a twentieth century invention, created by the Ministry of Food during the Second World War to push meat-free cooking during rationing. As the quote at the top of this post tells us, they have been around a lot longer than the 1940s.
Traditionally Glamorgan sausages were made using Glamorgan cheese from the milk of the old Glamorgan and Gwent breeds3,4 which declined to almost extinction in the twentieth century, and so a replacement cheese is used today, the best known Welsh cheese, Caerphilly. It is described by the Welsh Cheese Company thus: “Caerphilly has a lactic, fresh lemony flavour and a slightly crumbly texture.”5 They also complain – as do I – of the wan, tasteless Caerphilly cheese we find in our supermarkets today.
If you cannot find a good Caerphilly from a good cheesemonger, I would advise going for a different cheese altogether, the best substitute being Lancashire. You can, of course, use Cheddar, indeed I have used it several times in past, so I will not judge.
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If you’ve never made them before, have a go because they are easy to make and delicious, and, in my mind, a much superior vegetarian sausage to any masquerading as ‘meaty’ in supermarkets’ freezer cabinets. They can also be made and kept in the fridge for up to three days until you want to fry them. They also freeze well uncooked.
The great food historian Theodora Fitzgibbon suggests eating them “hot with fried puréed potatoes [or] for breakfast with bacon.”4 I heartily agree.
Makes 8 sausages
180-200 g Caerphilly cheese (or Lancashire or Cheddar)
120 g fresh breadcrumbs
3-4 cm section of leek, finely chopped
2 tbs chopped parsley
4 sage leaves, chopped
Leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme
2 tsp English mustard (or up to 3 if using a mature Cheddar)
Salt and pepper
2 tsp water
2 tbs seasoned flour
Extra breadcrumbs (fresh or dry) for coating
Sunflower oil, beef dripping or lard for frying
Grate the cheese and place in a food processor with the breadcrumbs, leek, herbs, mustard and one of the eggs and some salt and pepper. Pulse to a sticky rubble – the mixture should easy come together, if all seems a little dry, add the water and pulse again. This can all be done by hand, of course, if you prefer.
Bring the mixture together with your hands to form a nice yellow-green dough and divide into eight equal pieces. Wet your hands and roll the pieces into little sausages, around 1 ½ cm thick.
Now find three saucers, sprinkle the seasoned flour on one, beat the egg and pour that on another, then scatter your extra breadcrumbs on the third.
Now roll a sausage in the flour, tapping away excess, then the egg and then the breadcrumbs. Repeat for the remaining sausages.
Heat a deep frying pan over a medium-high heat with the oil or lard; you need enough for a half-centimetre depth. When hot fry the sausages for around 3 minutes, then turn them all a quarter turn – use two forks for this – cook another 3 minutes, etc until they are golden brown all over.
Remove and drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately.
*This quote is taken from, A Taste of Wales by Theordora FitzGibbon. The Epping sausages referred to in the quote are a skinless type made from pork and sometimes breadcrumbed or floured before frying, hence the comparison.
1. Mason, L. & Brown, C. The Taste of Britain. (Harper Press, 1999).
2. Grigson, J. English Food. (Penguin, 1992).
3. Glamorgan. The Cheese Wiki https://cheese.fandom.com/wiki/Glamorgan.
4. FitzGibbon, T. A Taste of Wales. (J M Dent & Sons Ltd, 1971).
5. A brief history of Caerphilly cheese. The Welsh Cheese Company https://www.welshcheesecompany.co.uk/blog/brief-history-caerphilly-cheese/ (2020).
Over recent years, as we have become more aware of people’s food intolerances and allergies there has been a great rise in the amount of plant-based milks consumed in the western world. We’ve also realised that there are many benefits associated with the cutting down of animal products in our diets. One of these plant milks – almond milk – is actually having a Renaissance because it was a food that used to be consumed in abundance in mediaeval Europe. Indeed, if I was writing this 20 years ago, it would be appearing in my ‘Forgotten Foods’ series on the blog.
As you may know, mediaeval Christians fasted a lot. There were two great fasting episodes: Advent and Lent. Every Wednesday, Friday and Saturdays was a fast day, meaning that around half of the days of the year were spent fasting. No meat or animal produce was allowed to be eaten, except for fish which was considered cool and calming and so appropriate for these days of solemnity.
Just like the people do today, mediaeval folk tried to make alternative products that could fill the same satisfying gastronomical niche as the real thing. Almond milk was one of those products.
Almonds were imported (as they are now) and very expensive. Households were expected to make almost all their own food and drinks and almond milk was no exception. The expense and effort required to make it made it a fasting ingredient reserved only for the rich, and they consumed a lot of it. King Edward I went through a startling 40 000 pounds of almonds in just two years!
I must admit I quite enjoy modern almond milk as a drink or in porridge but find it otherwise a little insipid, so I was interested in finding out how mediaeval people went about making it and what it was like. From my reading, it seems to be thicker and more substantial than todays, where it was refined into a thick almond cream or curdled to make a kind of almond curd cheese. I’m not sure if this would be possible using the almond milk of today!
On the other hand, modern almond milk may be more nutritious. When people moved from cow’s milk to plant-based milks, many didn’t realise there would be a massive drop in their consumption of nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. This led to concerns that people would become deficient, and so modern manufacturers fortify almond milk with extra nutrients to help people to achieve their recommended nutritional allowances for the day.
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Making Mediaeval Almond Milk
The basic method was acquired from the Arabs who were supplying much of the almonds themselves via the vast network of trade routes that stretched out through Eastern Europe, the Middle East and beyond.
The begin almonds would be pounded very fine, sometimes with a little spring water or rose water to stop them oiling; they didn’t want to make almond nut butter by accident! After this initial exhausting task, the almonds would be soaked in spring water (though I have found references to soaking them in barley water too). After soaking, it was passed through a strainer and seasoned with salt and some honey or sugar. Cream could be made by boiling the milk down until very thick or made into curds by adding vinegar before straining. I came across this recipe for an almond cheese so thick, you could slice it:
Take almond milk, and boil it, and when it is boiled take it from the fire, and sprinkle on a little vinegar. Then spread it on a cloth, and cast sugar on it, and when it is cold gather it together, and leche it [slice it] in dishes, and serve it forth.
So how does mediaeval almond milk compare to compare to todays, and how is it to use as an ingredient?
I updated the mediaeval approach to making almond milk, but the ingredients essentially remain the same.
100g ground almonds
2 tsp rose or orange-flower water (optional)
1 tsp sugar or honey
A good pinch of salt400 ml boiling water
60 ml white wine (optional)
The first task is to get those ground almonds super-fine. Put them in a blender (a Nutri-bullet style blender is perfect) with the rose water and about 50 ml of the hot water and blitz in pulses until very smooth. Add the rest of the boiling water and leave to stand and soak for around 20 minutes.
Give the milk a good swish around and pass it through a sieve to remove any large pieces of ground almond. Sweeten with the sugar or honey, add the wine if using and allow to cool.
The mediaeval almond milk is now ready to use.
Well I must say, I was quite impressed with the end result. It was more substantial than bought almond milk in both texture (it was creamy) and taste (the honey, salt and rose water). It wasn’t chalky or gritty either like I expected. I don’t recommend adding the wine however; it put the flavours out of kilter for me, but each to their own I suppose.
I heartily recommend making some. I made a rose-flavoured pudding (see next post) and I even tried making the cheese with the left-over almond milk.
I was rather odd in flavour, I added soft dark brown sugar and a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar, let it stand for a few hours and then passed it through a scalded tea towel sat in a sieve. It could make an interesting mediaeval version of a Yorkshire Curd Tart I think.
At the end of last year, I finally had the opportunity to visit the United States to visit old friends – and haunts – in Houston, St Louis and Chicago, as well as discovering new cities such as Dallas, New York and New Orleans. It was a crazy whistle stop road trip and no mistake.
Having lived on both sides of the Pond, I can really appreciate the American influence on British cuisine. So much deliciousness has drifted over the Atlantic to wedge itself firmly in the psyche of British – nobody in the UK could possibly imagine a world without mouth-watering pulled pork, pillowy cinnamon buns or squidgy chocolate brownies (and blondies!).
One of the best foods of all is Mac and Cheese, and although considered very much an all-American (or perhaps the American) meal, macaroni cheese has its origins firmly planted in Britain.
Macaroni cheese emigrated to the US and Canada with the British settlers, but it wasn’t until the 1930s, during the Great Depression, that it really became part of American culture. Millions were starving, but one entrepreneurial salesman from St Louis, Missouri had the idea to combine nonperishable dried pasta with dried processed cheese. It could be mass produced and priced low. It was a huge hit, quickly establishing itself as the ‘American Housewife’s Best Friend’, feeding a family of four for just twenty cents. It literally saved a nation from starvation.
The first mention of it my side of the Pond can be found in the 1769 classic cookbook The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffauld. It says To Dress Macaroni with Parmesan Cheese:
Boil four ounces of macaroni till it be quite tender and lay it on a sieve to drain. Then put it in a tossing pan with about a gill [a quarter of a pint] of good cream, a lump of butter rolled in flour, boil it five minutes. Pour it on a plate, lay all over it parmesan cheese toasted. Send it to the table on a water plate, for it soon gets cold.
All the elements of a modern macaroni cheese: the appropriate pasta, a proto-béchamel sauce, plenty of cream and lots of cheese; perhaps surprisingly, parmesan cheese.
But we can go back even further; back to the 1390s in fact, with Britain’s earliest cookbook Forme of Cury. Pasta made from breadcrumbs (I must try it sometime) cooked in a velouté sauce (like a béchamel but made with stock instead of milk), and something called chese ruayn which was a hard cheese similar in taste to brie, resulting in something half-way between macaroni cheese and a lasagne. I wonder if there’s an extant French cheese that could fit the bill if I tried to cook this dish?
Take good broth and do in an earthen pot. Take flour of payndemayn [high quality white bread] and make thereof past[e] with water, and make therof thynne foyles as paper with a roller; drye it hard and seeth [simmer] it in broth. Take chese ruayn grated and lay it in dishes with powdour douce [a mix of warm spices such as cinnamon, cloves etc], and lay on the loseyns [the pasta sheets] isode as hole as thou myst, and above powdour and chese; and so twyce or thrice [i.e. layer it up], & serve it forth.
This dish must have remained popular because macaroni and other pasta dishes using cheese and velouté sauce appear crop up again in Eliza Acton’s 1845 book Modern Cookery for Private Families. There is also the more familiar béchamel sauce version. What is interesting is that there is a variety of cheeses used in these recipes: Cheddar, Parmesan, Gruyere and blue Stilton all feature. I love blue cheese, so this one really stood out for me and I have adapted it below.
If blue cheese isn’t your thing, replace it with another. Cheddar, red Leicester or a mature Lancashire would all work. This recipe produces a rather saucy macaroni cheese, if you prefer a thicker consistency, add an extra 50 grams of pasta.
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Blue Stilton Macaroni Cheese
30 g plain flour
30 g butter
400 ml hot full-fat milk
150 ml double cream
200 g macaroni
1 slice stale bread
½ tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves, or ¼ tsp fried rosemary (optional)
225 g Stilton cheese, grated
200 g Gruyere or Cheddar cheese, grated
Pinch Cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly-milled black pepper
First of all make a roux by melting the butter in a saucepan. As soon as it has finished foaming, tip in the flour and mix well with a small whisk or wooden spoon. Cook on a medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently. If the roux starts to brown, turn down the heat.
Beat in around a quarter of the milk with your whisk, adding another quarter once the first lot is fully incorporated. Repeat until all of the milk is used up. Add the cream and allow the béchamel sauce to simmer gently for around 10 minutes. Make sure you stir every minute or so, to stop the flour sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Meanwhile cook the macaroni in plenty of salted water – follow the instructions on the packet and cook for two minutes less than the instructions state.
Make the bread into breadcrumbs by pulsing in a food processor. If using, add the rosemary half way through the pulsing process.
Take the sauce off the heat and drain the pasta. Stir in the cheeses, mixing until fully incorporated. Tip in the pasta and mix. Now season well with salt, black pepper and Cayenne pepper.
Pour the whole lot into a baking dish of a capacity of 1.5 litres, or thereabouts and bake for around 20 minutes at 180°C until brown and bubbling and the breadcrumbs are well-toasted.
Serve straight away with crusty bread or a rocket salad.
The vellum scroll rolled up (British Museum)
As promised in my previous post, a few recipes from the Forme of Cury. I have translated them into modern English, so you can follow them a bit easier. For the hippocras drink, I have given you my interpretation of the recipe as there are some hard-to-find ingredients. All the recipes are easy to make and taste delicious.
A very simple dish – not everything Richard II ate was ostentatious. This is a very simple recipe with ingredients we use today. The addition of the saffron give it an interesting earthy flavour. Powder douce was a mixture of sweet spices – the spices we would associate with desserts like apple pie – shop-bought mixed spice is good substitute. The base of the soup is broth or stock, use any you like, though I think chicken is the best for this soup.
Caboches in Potage. Take Caboches and quarter hem and seeth hem in gode broth with Oynouns yminced and the whyte of Lekes yslyt and ycorue smale. And do þerto safroun & salt, and force it with powdour douce.
Cabbage Soup. Take cabbages and quarter them and seethe (simmer) them in good broth with chopped onions and the white of leeks, slit and diced small. Add saffron and salt, and season it with powder douce.
The Forme of Cury with stitching where a new piece of parchment was added to the scroll (British museum)
If you want to know more: this blog post complements this podcast episode.
Rabbit or Kid in a Sweet and Sour Sauce
Any kind of meat can be used here really, chicken legs or diced lamb are the best substitutes. Sweet and sour sauce was called egurdouce; -douce meaning sweet and egur- meaning sour, e.g. vin-egur was sour wine, in other words vinegar! The meat is browned in lard, removed, so the onions and dried fruit can be fried, the meat is replaced with the liquid ingredients and spices and simmered just like a modern casserole or stew.
Egurdouce. Take connynges or kydde, and smyte hem on pecys rawe, and fry hem in white grece. Take raysouns of coraunce and fry hem. Take oynouns, perboile hem and hewe them small and fry them. Take rede wyne and a lytel vynegur, sugur with powdour of pepr, of ginger, of canel, salt; and cast þerto, and lat it seeþ with a gode quantite of white grece, & serue it forth.
Take young rabbits or kid and cut them into pieces and fry them in lard. Take currants and fry them. Take onions, parboil them, and chop them small and fry them. Take red wine and red wine vinegar, sugar and powdered pepper, ginger, cinnamon, salt and add them, let it simmer gently in a good quantity of lard and serve it forth.
Straining hippograss through a bag
This is a really excellent recipe for spiced wine; mulled drinks were drunk throughout the year and could be served hot or cold. There are some tricky to get hold of spices, but I’ve added alternatives where appropriate. If you have to omit a spice or two, don’t worry, it will still be delicious.
Pur fait ypocras. Troys vnces de canell & iii vneces de gyngeuer; spykenard de Spayn, le pays dun denerer; garyngale, clowes gylofre, poeure long, noieȝ mugadeȝ, maȝioȝame, cardemonii, de chescun dm. vnce; de toutes soit fsait powdour &c.
To make hippocras. Three ounces of cinnamon and three ounces of ginger, spikenard of Spain, a pennysworth; galingale, cloves, long pepper, nutmeg, marjoram, cardamom, of each a quarter of an ounce; grain of paradise, flour of cinnamon, of each half an ounce; of all, powder is to be made etc.
There are a couple of tricky spices in the list: long pepper and grains of paradise are available to buy online quite easily, but are very expensive, so you can get away with regular black pepper as a substitute. Galangal is easier to find fresh than dried these days, as it is used extensively in Thai cuisine as part of their delicious red and green curries, however, seek and ye shall find the dried variety.
Spikenard of Spain is the extract of the root of a valerian plant and was used in the church as an anointing oil, it also appears very commonly in recipes. I’ve never had the opportunity to taste it.
Here’s my version of the recipe:
1 bottle of red wine
1 tsp each ground cinnamon and ground ginger
¼ tsp each ground galingale, ground black pepper, ground nutmeg, dried marjoram, ground cardamom
honey to taste
Pour the wine into a saucepan with all of the spices and bring slowly to a scalding temperature. Don’t let the wine boil as there’ll be no alcohol left in it! Let the spices steep in the hot wine for around 10 minutes.
Meanwhile spread a piece of muslin, or any other suitable cloth, over a sieve and pour the spiced wine through it into another pan or serving jug. Add honey to sweeten. Serve hot or cold.
My previous post on pickling went on a bit, so I’ve added these two simple recipes as a separate one. The methods are not particularly comprehensive, so if you haven’t pickled before read the previous post for hints and tips.
Pickled Red Cabbage
As with many recipes for preserving, it’s difficult to come up with precise amounts. It all depends upon how much produce you have and the size and shape of your jars . A certain amount of guesswork is required. If you don’t make enough pickling liquor, you can quickly make more, and if you make too much, keep it in a sterilised jar; you can always use it pickle something else, or use it in salad dressings.
It is a good example of a system rather than of a recipe, but I reckon a good-sized red cabbage will need a litre of liquor. Oh and it’s a two-day affair, so don’t start this the day before a fortnight’s holiday or something:
1 red cabbage, sliced thinly, centre removed
Sea or rock salt
Scatter your sliced cabbage into a colander placed on a deep plate or large bowl and strew with plenty of salt. Cover with a tea towel and leave overnight for the water to drain.
1 litre of cider, wine or distilled vinegar
1 tsp peppercorns
1 tsp Allspice berries
50 g sugar
1 star anise
1 tsp Mustard seeds
Boil the vinegar with the spices and sugar, simmering for 5 minutes. Rinse the salt from the cabbage and pack into sterilised jars. Strain the hot vinegar and fill the jars with the piping hot liquor. Pop the chilli and star anise into the jars and a few of the seeds and berries (for prettiness). Put on lids and leave to mature for four weeks.
Delia Smith’s Quick Pickled Onions
from her Complete Cookery Course, 1982
“I’m afraid I have neither the strength nor the patience of endure long pickling sessions…so I always use the method below” says Delia.
No faffing about with this one: onions usually need brining or dry-salting. Delia skips this stage, but be warned: they don’t keep as long as regular pickled onions as the excess water isn’t drawn out by the salting process. They’ll keep 4 months maximum.
In her recipe, Delia asks for pickling spice, which you can buy already blended, but have a go at making your own; a keen cook will probably have most of the spices needed anyway! See the previous post for an example.
2 kg pickling onions [or shallots]
1.75 l of malt vinegar (Sarson’s is best)
25 g pickling spice
The first task is to peel the onions. Put them in a bowl and cover with boiling water straight from the kettle, drain and get peeling. The skins should now be relatively loose from their hot water treatment.
Half-fill your jars with onions – 4 1-litre jars will be enough – and share out half of the pickling spices between them, scattering nicely. Top up with the remainder of the onions, and then the rest of the spices. Pour the vinegar in (no need to heat it) and screw the lids on tightly. Leave the onions 8 weeks before eating them.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Glaze with beaten egg and bake at 200⁰C for 20 minutes until golden, then turn down to 175⁰C for 35 to 40 minutes.
As promised in my last post a good recipe for a basic vegetable stock which is definitely robust enough to be swapped for chicken or fish stock in any recipe.
It is hard to be exact when making stock because it depends upon the vegetables you like, the vegetables you have and what the stock is to be used for. It’s also worth mentioning that if you don’t have tomatoes, for example, don’t worry, just include something else to make up for it.
The basics are fundamental. You need at least three of the following: onion, leek, carrot, celery and garlic and then everything else is a bonus. I would say you should use at least 3 more vegetables.
The good thing about a vegetable stock is that because it is only simmered for 20 minutes you can get away with cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, or any other brassicas before they go all farty. Asparagus trimmings, sweetcorn, pea pods, and anything else you can think of all count. Keep your trimmings in a freezer bag until they are required.
The same goes for herbs: freeze parsley stalks and anything else that is looking a bit sad sat in the bottom of the fridge. Avoid mint as it tends to overpower vegetable stocks.
The spices I like to use are peppercorns, cloves and then either some fennel seeds or some allspice berries, but it’s up to you really; cumin or cardamom, nutmeg or mace, chillies or lemon peel have all worked successfully in the past.
Remember: the whole point of making your own stock is that you don’t get the same thing every time. I have never included a vegetable that hasn’t worked, even ones you won’t suspect like beetroots, cucumbers, lettuces and courgettes.
For more general information on stocks click here.
This recipe makes around 1 ¾ litres of stock.
At least 3 of the following: 1 large onion, 1 carrot, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 sticks celery (with leaves), 1 leek (include the green top)
75g brassica – e.g. cabbage, broccoli, turnip &c
½ fennel bulb
Any other vegetable trimmings (if using all trimmings, go for at least 300g in weight)
30g butter or 2 tbs olive oil
2 bay leaves
6-10 parsley stalks
4 springs of thyme
1 sprig rosemary
6 allspice berries or a teaspoon of fennel seeds
around 2 litres of water
Begin by preparing your mirepoix; a mirepoix is just vegetables chopped very small so that the maximum amount of flavour can be extracted in the minimum amount of time. I go for the easy option and use a food processor.
Heat the butter or oil in a pan and fry the vegetables for around 10 minutes so that they soften but don’t colour.
Tip the vegetables into a large saucepan or stockpot along with your herbs and spices. Cover them with cold water and slowly bring to a bare simmer. Try and make sure the stock doesn’t boil. Simmer the stock on the smallest hob on the lowest possible heat so that it merrily ticks away for around 20 minutes.
Let the stock cool slightly before straining it off. Avoid seasoning it with salt – wait until you’ve made the dish you are to use the stock for.
Your vegetable stock is now ready to use.
If you want, you can reduce it, but you must be careful not to boil it hard as the subtle flavours will evaporate and the stock will look and taste like overcooked sprouts. The best way reduce it is to pour the stock into a wide pan and let it simmer and reduce gently.
As I was walking in Lyme Park at the weekend I kept an eye out for edible goodies. Lyme Park is great for oyster mushrooms because of the large number of beech trees in the forests there. However, I did not expect to find a splendid chicken-of-the woods growing on a dead tree trunk just off the path to the children’s play area! Goodness knows how many had walked past it unaware of the delicious treat..
Although I am by no means an expert, I recognised it straight away – a large bracket fungus with multiple brackets with a beautiful and almost garish orange and sulphur-yellow coloration. In fact, another name for it is the sulphur polypore (the polypore part is because it doesn’t have gills on its underside like a typical fungus, but many tiny pores). There really is nothing else like it, so you can be pretty certain of what it is.
However, before I go on: always confirm you have correctly identified the fungus and check more than one field guide. The two I use are the River Cottage Handbook No.1: Mushrooms, for quick reference and the Collins Fungi Guide for more detailed descriptions. If you are not 100% sure of what you are picking, don’t pick it!
As with all fungi there is a certain amount of variation – there can be many brackets or a few, they can be a range of widths from a few inches to a couple of feet, the brackets can be neat and flat, or can look as though they’ve poured out and frozen, like orange lava, in a Dali-esque manner. The one I found had grown around blades of grass, trapping them like flies on amber. I didn’t take it all because I thought I’d see if the intact part would grow back – if I’m lucky I might be able to collect a regular ‘crop’ over the next few months!
Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo in situ because my phone has run out of batteries, but here’s a few pictures I have found in books and on the ‘net that shows off this variation:
From (in order) John Wright, First Nature, Cornell University, Malcolm Storey
Chicken-of-the-woods, or to give its scientific name Laetiporus sulphurous, is only found on trees, and the trees can be living or dead. It is usually found in the Summer and Autumn, and occasionally in Winter if it is a mild one. It grows most commonly upon oak and also yew, cedar, cherry wood, sweet chestnut, and willow. It is worth pointing out that all Laetiporus species are edible except if found growing on poisonous trees such as yew and cedar.
Whilst on the subject of edibility, I should also mention that Laetiporus sulphurous is only edible when cooked.
Cooking with Chicken-of-the-Woods
This fungus is called chicken-of-the-woods because it’s firm flesh is pale and fibrous but tender, like chicken breast. For that reason it makes an excellent meat substitute for vegetarians. What a coincidence it is that I have a friend visiting me who is vegetarian; we could put the chickeniness to the test.
I did hope it was good because the chicken-of-the-woods I found was pretty big, weighing in at 2 kilograms and bigger than my head! It therefore would keep me and my visiting friend Stuart in meals for most of the week.
Preparing it is simple. Separate the brackets from each other and trim away and tough woody bits then rinse it under the tap briefly to get rid of any soil and creepy-crawlies, then slice it reasonably thinly. Then it is just a question of integrating it into a recipe. As you slice, you’ll notice that the flesh is rather dry, so when frying it you should add a little water so that it can absorb it and become more typically mushroomy in texture.
Its firm flesh is tender and yielding and definitely has a truffle aroma and flavour when cooked – there’s a lot of umami going on in that mushroom! It’s definitely the tastiest wild mushroom I have found thus far. We couldn’t understand why it hasn’t been cultivated as food because it was so substantial and satisfying, and better than any TVP, Quorn or other mock meats. Maybe I’ve found a gap in the market…
Here’s what I made with it:
One third was turned in simple mushrooms on toast – a recipe can be found for that here – the only changes I made was to add a little water after a few minutes’ sautéing, and to omit the cream/milk. Whenever you try a mushroom the first time, this is the thing to cook for it shows it off in all its glory! It fed 4.
The second third was used in a stir fry with the typical stir-fry veg, soy, (vegetarian) oyster sauce and, again, some water. This really showed off its meaty qualities. Excellent. This fed 2.
The last third was a spinach and chicken-of-the-woods lasagne. I made a simple béchamel sauce flavoured with Lancashire cheese, black pepper and nutmeg, then sautéed the mushrooms in olive oil, added some water and steamed the spinach on top of the mushrooms. Everything was layered up in the usual way, finished with some Parmesan and breadcrumbs and baked. This fed 4….
Now it is all used up, and we didn’t even get bored of it. I do hope another grows back on that tree trunk…