Charlotte and I have been very excited about the prospect of making our own crumpets for a while – just how do you get all the hole in!? We were to find out. The recipe is actually one by Elizabeth David – a very influential food writer, who wrote a book on yeast cookery. It’s making recipes like this – really stoically English fayre that I would never have thought of cooking myself. They are very easy – you need to buy some rings to cook them in as the batter is reasonably runny. If you don’t have one / can’t be arsed buying one, don’t worry, as you can ladle mixture straight into the pan and let it spread out to produce a pikelet which you don’t seem to be able to buy anywhere other than Yorkshire.
This recipe made us a baker’s dozen of crumpets:
Start off by warming a pound of plain flour through in the oven. Whilst your waiting for that warm up a pint of whole milk, 2 tablespoons of flavourless oil and a teaspoon of sugar to blood heat. Take out 3 tablespoons of the warmed milk and fork it through half an ounce of fresh yeast and let it thicken and become creamy. Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the yeast mixture, a tablespoon of salt and the remaining milk and beat the mixture – 5 minutes by hand, or about 3 with an electric beater. Cover the mixture and allow to rise and double in bulk – this is quite rapid with fresh yeast. Knock the mixture back and add ¼ pint of warmed water that has had a very generous pinch of bicarbonate of soda dissolved in it. Beat the mixture well and let it sit a rise again for around half an hour.
Grease a griddle or heavy-based frying pan and the crumpet rings with lard. Place the rings in the pan and pour in mixture two-thirds of the way up. Allow to fry very gently until the top is covered with holes and the surface is no longer liquid. Turn the crumpets over so they cook and colour on the other side. Allow them to cool and toast them, serving them with plenty of melted butter.
#110 Elizabeth David’s Crumpets – 6.5/10. The score I’ve given these crumpets may be changed later. The reason for this is that their consistency was rather soft and doughy, however they were piping hot throughout with no raw flour taste, so I’m not whether they are mean to be like that or whether they are undercooked. Consistency aside, they did taste absolutely delicious, so when I get the chance, I’m going to try them again…
I went into Unicorn in Chorlton, Manchester to stock up on my favourite seasonal fruit and vegetables – this time of year they are quince, Jerusalem artichokes and Seville oranges. Once I’d bought them, it was a quick trawl through the book to see what I could do with them. The one recipe that didn’t require me to buy anything extra, other than was in my store cupboard, was quince comfits; all they need is water and sugar.
FYI: A comfit is a sugary sweet, rather like a pastille, that go way back In fact, quince comfits were made as part as Henry IV’s coronation banquet in 1399. This is a fact that I’m still in awe of. Get some made if you find some quinces and have a rare medieval treat!
Scrub the fluffy stuff that coats the quince’s skins, wash them thoroughly, and chop roughly. Put them in a pan with around an inch of water and simmer them, covered, until they are very soft. This takes a while as they are so hard, so keep a check on them and add extra water if need be to prevent them boiling dry. Once they are very soft, pass them through a sieve and weigh the pulp. Return it to the pan and add an equal weight of sugar. Bring it to the boil and allow to simmer, pop and bubble for up to half an hour. Make sure you stir it often to prevent it catching. It is ready when the mixture comes away from the sides as you stir. Pour the mixture into Swiss roll tins or sandwich tins that have been lined with greaseproof paper. Now you have to be patient – the mixture has to be dried slowly in a very low oven (less than 50ºC) or in the airing cupboard for a few days. Cut it into squares and shake the sweets in a tub of caster sugar to coat them. Hey Presto: Medieval sweets!
Griggers reckons they’re really good melted on grilled pork chops.
#109 Quince Comfits
– 7/10. I love quince. I think they’re my second favourite fruit after the raspberry. Their wonderfully perfumed toffee flavour really does come across in these little sweets. I don’t really go for sweets like this usually, but these are good and have the added interest of being eaten by a medieval king!
When I made the chestnut soup the other day, I made sure that there was enough spare to make this dish. I had bought a brace of partridge from the Farmers’ Market a couple of months ago waiting for some chestnuts to turn up. I had never eaten partridge before, but I know it is a highly-prized game bird. This is a very easy dish to cook – a very good introduction to game, if you haven’t cooked it before.
Here’s what to do with a brace of the little birdies:
Brown the partridge and 6 ounces of chopped streaky bacon in 1 ½ ounces of butter. When done, transfer the to a casserole dish and brown18 pickling onions, or 9 shallots, and add them to the dish too. Next, take a glass of dry white wine and deglaze the pan with it, making sure all the nice stuck-down bits come away from the pan’s base and pour over the birds. Add a little beef stock so that the liquids comes around half-way up the partridges. Cover and cook in a moderate oven – around 150ºC. Grigson now says to take out the birds when ‘almost done’. I had no idea when this would be and thought it would be slightly less than the pigeon I once did, but I was wrong. Take them out after around 45 minutes (I cooked them for 2 ½ hours!) and remove the birds. Add some Savoy cabbage that has been blanched for 10 minutes and lay it out in the dish. Return the birds. Now add 6 ounces of chestnuts that have been pricked, boiled for 15 minutes and then peeled. Cook for a further 45 minutes, or less if the meat comes easily away from the bones. I realised that they were already done at this point and didn’t leave the chestnuts in long enough. According to Larousse Gastromonique partridge shouldn’t take any more than 1 ½ hours to cook.
Finally, arrange the chestnuts, cabbage and onions or shallots on a dish with the birds on top and allow them to rest. Meanwhile, reduce the liquor from the dish by boiling it down hard to concentrate the flavours. This final step is very important. Serve with boiled potatoes.
#108 Partridge with Chestnuts and Cabbage – 7.5/10. A very delicious meal – everything went so very well together and the partridge was pale with a nice gamy flavour that was not overpowering at all. The dish should be a 9 really I think, as the birds were overdone and a little dry and the chestnuts not cooked enough, but hey-ho that’s my fault, not Grigson’s.
I’m a chestnut fan, but I’ve not ever cooked with them, except for roasting. In fact I’ve only ever eaten them roasted or in a pork stuffing. I spotted some in the greengrocers and thought I’d have a go at this soup. The soups in English Food have been great (with the exception of the Mulligatawny Soup); and what I really like about them all so far is the simplicity – absolutely no faffing about. This one is no different. Give it a go if you see some chestnuts.
This makes enough for 6:
This soup requires a pound of chestnuts, and the first job is to pierce either end of each and every one with a sharp knife. Plunge them into boiling water for 10 minutes. Use a tea towel to grasp onto them with one hand and a sharp knife to remove their softened shells with the other and discard any bad ones; don’t worry if they are not whole. Keep them in the hot water as you peel them to keep the shells soft. Simmer the chestnuts along with one stick of celery in 3 ½ pints of light beef stock for 20 minutes. In the mean time, peel, core and slice two Cox’s Pippin apples. Simmer the apples in 2 ounces of butter until they soften, seasoning well with black pepper. Add the apple and juices to the stock and liquidise the whole thing until smooth. Return it to the pan, check for seasoning, and stir through 4 fluid ounces of single cream. Don’t let the soup boil if you are retuning it to the heat. Serve the soup with croutons fried in butter.
FYI: if you are lucky enough to know where there is a sweet chestnut tree, you can make shampoo from cooking up the leaves and peel.
#107 Chestnut and Apple Soup – 6.5/10. A very nice creamy-pale soup. Rich, yet light at the same time. I would certainly recommend this one; it would make a very good first course. Two apples didn’t really make it taste that much of apples, so it loses some marks for that – I would do three.
Whilst perusing the little fishmongers in Stockport, me and Charlotte spotted boiling chickens for sale. This is quite weird as I always keep my eye out for them and never see them, but the day before Charlotte requested Mulligatawny soup, but I said that we couldn’t do that, as we need a boiling fowl for it. Perhaps Charlotte is a lucky charm for the English Food project and me. Like some sort of leprechaun or troll.* I’m glad I now have a supply of boiling fowls as quite a few recipes require them. Good oh.
FYI: the word Mulligatawny comes from the Tamil, an Indian language, and means pepper water, and it came here in the Eighteenth Century.
This makes a big old load of soup, enough for 5 or 6 people:
Begin by chopping the boiling chicken into pieces and brown it in 2 ounces of butter, along with a sliced onion. Now add 1 ½ tablespoons of curry powder – either mild, medium or hot (I went for medium, but added a pinch of chilli powder) – and 8 ounces of yoghurt, plus some salt. Fry all this until the yoghurt reduces and becomes a thick crust on the bottom the pan. Be careful not to let it burn though. Add 3 pints of water and let it all come to a simmer. Cook for around an hour and a half until the meat is falling off the bone. Pick the meat off the carcass and chop it up, if need be, retuning it to the pan and chucking out the bones. This is a good point to leave the soup overnight, so any chicken fat can be skimmed off easily. Melt another of butter in a separate small saucepan and add 4 cloves; apparently, the cloves soften after a few minutes if cooked gently and can be crushed with a spoon. This didn’t happen for me. Hey-ho. Add the juice of lemon and pour the butter mixture into the soup. Season with more salt if appropriate. Serve with some boiled rice and some chopped apple sprinkled on top.
#106 Mulligatawny Soup – 4.5/10. Not a bad soup, but decidedly average. When I first tried I thought it was surprisingly light and refreshing, but then as I tried it again, I decided I wasn’t sure. It sat in the fridge for a bit and I realised I wasn’t going to eat it, so it went off the bin. I think I was disappointed because it wasn’t what I expected. I’ve had Mulligatawny from a tin and was sure it contained some kind of red meat. Flicking through the book, I spotted another soup called Indian Soup, which looks a lot like what I thought Mulligatawny was.
Charlotte and myself when to the bustling metropolis that is Stockport at the weekend to buy boots (Charlotte) and to take back a plane to B&Q (me). This is the exciting life we lead. Be jealous. One great thing about Stockport is its market. It’s very old and very good; the market hall has been restored and refurbished and it looks very nice. I wanted to go for one particular reason: sweets. There’s brilliant stall that sells all the sweets from your childhood: cough cops, pineapple cubes, midget gems, and pear drops. You name it; they got it. We bought enough to induce a diabetic coma. On the way back Charlotte pointed out the fishmongers, where we saw some lovely kippers. We’d not had kippers for breakfast for ages so we thought we’d get a couple.
There are three ways to cook your breakfast kippers according to Grigson:
1. Poach in shallow water for a couple of minutes, serve with knob of butter
2. Fry in butter, a couple of minutes each side
3. Grill a couple of minutes each side. Skin side first, then turn over and add a knob of butter.
I went for number three, as it’s my favourite way. Whichever way you do them, make sure there’s freshly ground pepper on them and brown bread and butter on the side.
FYI: kippers are the most recent of the cured fishes – the kipper cure was created for salmon, but was then later applied to herring, where it was obviously much nicer.
#105 Kippers – 8/10. It’s not very often I have a savoury breakfast, but kippers really are best thing, salty and rich they give you a boost you really need of a morning. I’m surprised to see how few people like them, bring them back, I say. They do repeat on you for the rest of the day, so don’t go on a romantic date that may later lead on to heavy petting. You have been warned.
I’ve heard of the lardy cake and once saw someone making one on telly. I remember thinking that it looked pretty marvellous. For those of you that have never heard of lardy cakes, they’re basically a sweet sticky bun, but instead of enriching it with butter, lard is used; it’s layered along with sugar and mixed fruit through white bread dough. These ingredients meld together to make a moist, sticky and very rich teatime treat. It is quite possibly the least healthy thing I’ve ever cooked, and Jane Grigson reckons it’s on the “skinny side”!
Start off by making some bread dough using a pound of flour (follow this method if you don’t have your own recipe, but adjust amounts accordingly). Whilst you’re waiting for it to rise, measure out 6 ounces of lard and chop it up, 6 ounces of mixed dried fruit, 2 ounces of mixed peel and 6 ounces of granulated sugar. Once the dough had risen, and you’ve knocked it back, roll it out into a long oblong and spread the first two thirds of it with a third of the lard, fruit, peel and sugar. Fold this into thirds and press or tuck the ends under, give it quarter turn and roll out the dough again. Repeat this process two more times so that all the fruit and sugar are used up. Place the rolled up dough in a large tin that is oblong or square in shape and let the dough prove. Bake for 35-45 minutes at 220ºC. Turn it out onto a plate so that the sticky side is facing up and so that the lard can soak through the bread. Serve warm or cold.
#104 Wiltshire Lardy Cake – difficult to score this one; we tried it warm and it’s either 9/10 or 2/10. It’s tastes really sweet and is beautifully sticky with lovely plump juicy raisins, but has the bizarre savoury meatiness of the lard. I think if I were to cook it again, it would have to be even more skinny than Griggers’ measurements. However, once it was cool, it did taste less, er, meaty. Give it a go – easy and cheap to make, so I think I’ll go with a final score of 7/10.