#227 Wigs

Wigs go right back to the Middle Ages when a ‘wig’ meant a ‘wedge’. Bakers would make a sweetened cake using yeast as a raising agent, making cuts so that wedge shapes were made. This recipe is from Elizabeth David’s book, English Bread and Yeast Cookery – a classic work that I do not own yet! – and is a Seventeenth Century recipe. Eating sweet cakes really took off in that period of history as people realised that sweet cakes and breads went really nice with morning or afternoon tea. It was during this time that Teatime or High Tea came into being and a whole chapter of English Food is devoted to it. This is a good recipe to try if you’ve never made bread before as there is no kneading, er, needed!

To make your own wigs start off by creaming half an ounce of yeast in six fluid ounces of warmed milk. Beat in 12 ounces of plain flour (not strong white flour – this is more of a cake than a bread) to form a loose dough before mixing in four ounces of softened butter. Next, mix in 4 ounces of caster sugar and ½ teaspoon each of mixed spice and ground ginger along with two or three teaspoons of caraway seeds. Cover with cling film and allow to rise – a couple of hours should do it. Knock back the dough and divide it between two greased 9 inch sandwich tins, making four cuts (i.e. eight wedges). If the dough is too soft to pick up and handle, add some more flour. Cover the sandwich tins with large billowing polythene bags – you don’t want bag to touch dough – and let the wigs prove for 20 – 40 minutes. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 200⁰C. Eat warm.

#227 Wigs. I liked these – not too sweet, and great hot with plenty of butter on them. The genius thing was the addition of caraway seeds. The fragrant nutty taste may not be for everyone, but I really like it. It is a shame they have gone out of favour. These are definitely worth a go, particularly because they are a real little bit of English history. 6/10

#226 Eccles Cakes

This time of year there is no seasonal fruit, except for champagne rhubarb, and so we have to turn to stored apples and pears or dried fruits. Some people don’t like dried fruits, but I am a definite fan, and thought an attempt at the classic Eccles cake was well overdue. There has been a bit of a disagreement in the house as to whether the recipe in English Food is actually a true Eccles cake or not – Charlotte reckons it should be made with puff pastry and Griggers (and me!) reckons a lard shortcrust pastry. A quick look in the Dairy Book of British Food gives an extra point to Charlotte. Does anyone know the true answer? Give me your opinions on this one please! I’d hope it is a lard-based answer as that seems more Northern English to me. Griggers says that if it made with puff pastry, you have a Banbury cake, which is Southern English. Oh well, we may never know.

Makes 10-12 cakes.

First of all, make some pastry using 4 ounces of lard and 8 ounces of plain flour. While it rests in the fridge make the filling: melt together an ounce of butter with 2 ounces of caster sugar, then stir in 4 ounces of currants, an ounce of candied peel, plus half a teaspoon each of ground nutmeg and allspice. Leave to cool. Roll out the pastry and cut out circles around four inches in diameter. Place a spoon of the currant mixture in the centre and bring in the pastry by its edges so that you can pinch them together. Turn the cake over and gently roll them to flatten them slightly. Make a hole in the centre, brush with a little egg white and sprinkle with caster sugar. Bake at 220⁰C for about 15 minutes. Cool on a rack.

#226 Eccles Cakes. Whether they are true Eccles cakes or not, these were delicious. The filling was rich, but wasn’t too sweet and I liked the spice element (which I thought wasn’t in an Eccles cake). It also reminded me how good lard shortcrust pastry is. If you’ve never tried one – give it a go. 7/10.

#225 Cockie-Leekie

And my lords and lieges, let us all to dinner, for the cockie-leekie is a-cooling.”

Sir Walter Scott, to his dinner guests

Cockie-Leekie, or Cock-a-Leekie, is a very Scottish dish, or so I thought. Apparently it turns up in several versions in Scottish and Welsh cook books and a rather complicated recipe in an English cook book where it is called Hindle Wakes. It appears in English food, but I haven’t done it yet.

So it is not necessarily exclusively Scottish. It is also not a soup. It’s a good, hearty and simple dish: beef, chicken, leeks and prunes all stewed together. All you need is some slow cooking time. Have a go and make it for a lazy Sunday dinner as I did. It serves at least 6 people:

Start off by placing a two-pound slice of stewing steak in the bottom of a deep stockpot. Cover with water and bring it to a boil slowly, skimming off any scum as it rises to the top. Simmer for an hour and hten season well with salt and pepper. Meanwhile trim three pounds of leeks and tie half of them in a bundle. When the hour is up place them in the pot. Simmer for a further half an hour before adding a whole chicken or capon and sit it on top of the beef (you can use a boiling fowl; if so, add it when you add the leeks). The cockie-leekie now needs to simmer gently for an hour and a half. Twenty minutes before it is ready remove the bundle of leeks and add a pound of prunes. Now slice the remaining leeks up and add those in the final five minutes. Easy.

To serve it, place some beef and a piece of chicken in large bowl and cover with the thick, dark and rich stock. A meal in itself, though I did some boiled new potatoes too.

#225 Cockie-Leekie. Really good food, especially for this time of year when all is miserable and wet outside. This is home-cooking at its simplest and finest. The stock produce from the beef and prunes was lovely and rich, but did not detract from the subtly-flavoured chicken. Really good one this one. 7.5/10.

#224 Basic Bun Dough

One of Griggers’ main bugbears in the 1970s was the massive decline in the quality of all things bready. There are of course artisan bakers that do make excellent bread – Barbakan in Chorlton, Manchester is the one near me – but generally it is the supermarket bread we seem to buy and endure. Of course, nowadays, supermarkets have in-store bakeries in supermarkets, so there are improvements, but it is still bread done in the cheap with additives. I think the point that Jane is getting at is we don’t know how good bread can be because we don’t bother to bake it ourselves. This is a shame, because artisan bread can be easily gotten hold of at a fraction of the price of a supermarket loaf, if you bake it yourself. I am trying my best at this concept and am getting better. This recipe is one that Griggers hails the most as it can be used as a base for hot cross buns and Chelsea buns; the supermarket ones are “dull” and this is because the ingredients that make them so good are omitted, such as sugar, eggs, butter and milk.

This recipe can be used as a base, but I wanted to see what the simple rich basic bread buns tasted like, partly through interest, but mainly because I wanted to do a practise one before I do the hot cross buns on the run up to Easter.

Begin by mixing together a pound of strong white bread flour with a quarter of a teaspoon of salt in a warmed mixing bowl. Measure out 2 ounces of caster sugar, and place one spoonful of the sugar into a pudding bowl along with an ounce of crumbled fresh yeast into a pudding bowl and four ounces of flour from the mixing bowl. In a jug, mix together a quarter of a pint each of milk and boiling water straight from the kettle. Whisk this into the yeast mix to form a smooth batter and leave to rise for around 15 minutes until the whole thing has become a satisfying yeasty cushion. Whilst you are waiting for it to rise, stir the remainder of the sugar into the flour and rub 3 ounces of butter into it. Make a well in the centre and pour in a lightly beaten egg and the foaming yeast mixture and mix together with a wooden spoon to form a dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a good 10-15 minutes adding flour as you go so that the dough is slightly rubbery and “a moderately tacky, but not sticky, texture”. The mixing bowl should then be washed and greased so that the dough can sit inside and rise and double in bulk – make sure you cover it with some cling film or a damp tea towel. Fresh yeast rises much quicker than dried, so it’s great if you are an impatient bread-baker.

The bread can be used for whatever purpose you like, but if you want them au naturale, then roll the dough into a long sausage shape and divide into 12 pieces and form them into round buns. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, leaving gaps for when they rise. Cover them and prove for at least 30 minutes. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 230⁰C, remove and brush them with some milk to make them shiny when they cool.

#224 Basic Bun Dough. This bread was delicious! Slightly sweet, rich and very fluffy. I can’t wait to do the hot cross buns – they must be divine because these basic buns are a 7.5/10.

#223 Marion Jones’s Green Fish Soup

Here’s a relatively straight-forward recipe – there’s not many left to attempt that are quick and easy, everything else is either bizarre, labour-intensive or both. Not be put off by the name – there are no green fish in it – it is just white fish, the green colour coming from broccoli. FYI: Marion Jones does/did co-own a restaurant in Malvern; I know nothing else about her. She must’ve been a mate of Jane’s.

Begin by sweating a sliced medium onion and a small sliced leek in an ounce of butter. Be careful not to let it colour. When soft, add an ounce of flour and stir for a few minutes so that the flour cooks out a little. Pour in 1 ¾ of fish stock that has been flavoured with nutmeg and fennel (crush a few fennel seeds up and grate some nutmeg in, if using fish stock cubes) and simmer for 10 minutes, then add a pound of skinned white fish fillets – cod, haddock, whiting, hake, etc. – and simmer for a further minute. Allow to cool a little before blending it. While the stock cooks, trim 13 ounces of broccoli – you can use sprouting broccoli or the more readily available calabrese broccoli – and boil in salted water until just tender. As soon as they are cooked, drain them and refresh them in cold water to give them a vivid green colour. Make sure you reserve the cooking water. Add the cooked broccoli and blend again, thinning the soup with the reserved cooking liquor. If you want to be posh, pass it through a sieve. Season with salt and pepper, and stir through some cream if you like.

#223 Marion Jones’s Green Fish Soup. This was an okay recipe, but nothing to shout about. It tasted a bit like those Findus boil in the bag cod in parsley sauce from 1970s and 80s. Remember them? The white fish and broccoli combination work well as they have a certain complementary sweetness. I wouldn’t make it again, but I would eat it if someone else cooked it for me 5/10.

The Layout of the Book

Hello there lads and lasses! I thought it was about time I got round to doing this entry on the book itself. I either keep forgetting to do it or putting it off. The plan is that I will add the chapters and subchapters to the tags so that everything appears in the index down the right-hand side of the blog, so that you can see the recipes in their appropriate chapters as I cook them and it won’t seem like I’m just doing random recipes. That’s the plan anyway. It’ll take me a while to sort it all so do not expect promptness.

Jane provides an extremely comprehensive coverage of all things English and foody over eight chapters. I haven’t paid nearly enough attention to the Fish and Meat chapters being just a third of the way through them (though there are lots of recipes), and I have done more than three-quarters of the Cakes and Soup sections. I’m trying my best to address this. There are many omissions though, and I am compiling a list so that eventually there may be an English Food 2.1.

Anyways, because I am a total geek, I have counted up the number of recipes in each chapter and subchapter. I did this when I had far too much time on my hands. Here’s the list with links to the chapters. It is funny how my writing gets worse as you scroll down the entries and go further back in time…

Chapter 1: Soups – 24 recipes

Chapter 2: Egg & Cheese Dishes – 24 recipes

Chapter 3: Vegetables – 39 recipes

Chapter 4: Fish – 61 recipes
4.1: Saltwater Fish – 16 recipes
4.2: Freshwater Fish – 13 recipes
4.3: Shellfish – 13 recipes
4.4: Cured Fish – 19 recipes

Chapter 5: Meat, Poultry & Game – 119 recipes
5.1: Beef & Veal – 16 recipes
5.2: Lamb & Mutton – 16 recipes
5.3: Pork – 8 recipes
5.4: Cured Meat – 17 recipes
5.5: Poultry – 18 recipes
5.6: Game – 23 recipes
5.7: Meat Pies & Puddings – 21 recipes

Chapter 6: Puddings – 66 recipes

Chapter 7: Teatime – 72 recipes
7.1: Bread – 15 recipes
7.2: Cakes & Tarts – 35 recipes
7.3: Griddle Cakes & Pancakes – 13 recipes
7.4: Biscuits – 9 recipes

Chapter 8: Stuffings, Sauces and Preserves – 45 recipes
8.1 Stuffings – 5 recipes
8.2 Sauces – 19 recipes
8.3 Preserves & Random Things – 21 recipes

Whew! That means that if you do the sums, I have 450 recipes to do. But I’m not that far from half way. I think I need to pull my finger out!

#222 Guinea Fowl Braised with Mushrooms

The poultry section of English Food has not been tackled much; I don’t know why, because I’m a big fan of poultry. Anyways, walked through the Arndale Market in Manchester City Centre, I spotted that the butcher had some Guinea fowl – not something you really see these days out of specialist poulterers, so I thought I should snap one up as I had the opportunity (I also bought some corn-fed chickens so that I can address the lack of poultry recipes tackled later).

Guinea fowl is very popular in France, but are not so in Britain these days, though they were once considered very nutritional and perfect food for invalids, so why for a nation of sickly pasty folk, we don’t eat them by the bucketful I don’t know. In Burkina Faso, braised Guinea fowl are given to women that have just given birth. So there you go; prolong your life with a Guinea fowl dinner.

This recipe serves 3 to 4 people: Start by browning a Guinea fowl all over in butter and then placing it in a reasonably tight-fitting casserole dish breast down and dot it with two further ounces of butter. Now finely chop a medium-sized onion and sprinkle it around the sides of the bird and season. Cover tightly with lid or foil and bake for 30 minutes at 190⁰C. Meanwhile, slice 12 ounces of mushrooms and season them with salt, pepper and lemon juice (why Griggers says to do this now, I do not know), and when the 30 minutes is up, turn the fowl breast-side up and tuck the mushrooms in down the sides. Replace the lid and bake for another 40 minutes, taking the lid off for the final ten, so that the Guinea fowl can brown. Allow everything to rest for 20 minutes, then remove the bird and cut into eight pieces: two thighs, two drumsticks and four pieces of breast. Dish them up with the mushrooms and pour over the remaining buttery gravy. Serve with potatoes or bread.

My lens steamed up, sorry!

#222 Guinea Fowl Braised with Mushrooms. This was the first time I’d eaten it, and it did not disappoint. The flesh tasted like a very rich chicken and was a little gamey; so something between a chicken and pheasant (in fact, Griggers says that all Guinea fowl and pheasant recipes are interchangeable). Briasing it in butter made the meat extremely moist and succulent, the slightly earthy mushrooms offsetting it all very well. Great stuff – and easy 8/10.

February Food

February is a suitable month for dying. Everything around is dead, the trees black and frozen so that the appearance of green shoots two months hence seems preposterous, the ground hard and cold, the snow dirty, the winter hateful, hanging on too long
Anna Quindlen
Cheer up, love. It ain’t that bad.
Here we are in February. Already. January is famous for taking ages to lug itself through its thirty-one days, not this time though; it has whizzed by and now I find myself in the final winter month before things start picking up for spring. I’ll see how many I can get through this month Grigsoners, but I am busy, busy, busy with the old PhD at the minute. I do have some interesting things up my sleeve though – I just need some spare time!!

Vegetables: Jerusalem artichokes, Brussels tops and sprouts, cabbages, chicory, endive, spring and winter greens, kale, leeks, lettuce, onions, potatoes, swede.

Fruit: forced rhubarb.

Fish and shellfish: cockles, cod, crab, oysters.

Game: hare, mallard, partridge, pheasant, rabbit, venison, woodpigeon.