John Evelyn was a very influential diarist who left quite a legacy. He was from a well-to-do family in South-East London, but being the second son, had no rights to the estate (unless his brother died without having a son himself). So, to make up for this he decided to become a scholar and travelled France and Italy in search of knowledge during the tumultuous time of the English Civil War. He wrote several books, witnessed the Great Fire of London, and was friends with Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys. He lived during the reigns of Charles II, James II and William III and Mary II. He was talented landscaper, designing the gardens at Sayes Court, London. He became quite chummy with Charles II and was a founding member of the Royal Society. One of his books, called Sylvia, or a discourse of Forest Trees declared the tragedy befalling the country’s trees that were being felled for fuel to the glass factories. The book was responsible for the planting of millions of trees – quite the modern conservationist!
This is a recipe that is inspired by the medieval love of combining fish and candied sweetmeats. Griggers says it is a ‘brave, but entirely successful blend’. We’ll see. 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 new and exciting new spice, sugar? When first brought to Europe from India, sugar was considered a spice like any other 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.
Whilst the salmon cooks, you can get on with the sauce. Gently fry 2 chopped shallots, a heaped teaspoon of chopped parsley and a teaspoon of mixed chopped tarragon and chervil in 2 ounces of butter. When the shallots have softened, stir in a teaspoon of flour, then ½ pint of single cream (or half single-half double; American readers: heavy whipping cream is the thing to use here). Simmer for around 10 minutes, then season with salt and pepper and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Whisk 2 egg yolks with a couple more tablespoons of 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. Finally, lift the whole thing by adding a good squeeze of lemon juice.
There doesn’t seem to be any history to speak of with this recipe, it seems it is just a way to use up the turkey carcass after Christmas or Thanksgiving, perhaps conceived by Jane Grigson herself. In my case, it was a way of using the huge amount of turkey stock I had in the freezer from the boiled turkey recipe. We don’t like waste here in Grigson Towers, so any way of putting any leftovers such as cooking liquors and carcasses are well-received.
It does use some nice wintertime ingredients: hazelnuts are usually in good supply along with the brazils, walnuts and almonds; there’s the fine herb chervil which I have tried and failed to grow myself. They’re a hardy plant and good for growing in autumn and winter. Unless it is me attempting cultivation. It is obviously in season now as I have seen them twice for sale over the last months or so.
Bring 1 ½ pints of turkey stock to a boil with 8 ounces of raw minced turkey breast. Let it simmer for 3 or 4 minutes. Liquidise the soup and pass it through a sieve back into the pan after you have rinsed it. Jane does not mention what to do with all that turkey breast that won’t pass through the sieve – and there was plenty of it. It seemed a waste so I put some back in as it was still nice and tender.
My friends Ashley and Jason were throwing a bit of a party last weekend and it was a pot luck party, where everyone brings some food. We don’t have such things in England, but I shall try and introduce them as they are a great idea. I thought it would be a good opportunity to sneak in a couple of historical desserts from the eighteenth century, so I made the delicious sweetmeat cake and this cheesecake.
To make the cheesecake, begin by lining a 9 inch flan tin with puff or shortcrust pastry. Griggers says that in the eighteenth century puff pastry would have been used, so I went with that so the cheesecake would be as authentic as possible.
Now beat the filling ingredients together: 8 ounces of full fat cream cheese, 2 big tablespoons of double cream, a tablespoon of orange flower or rose water, 4 large egg yolks, 2 ounces melted slightly salted butter, 3 ounces of crushed macaroon crumbs, 3 ounces of ground almonds, 3 ounces of caster sugar and up to half a freshly ground nutmeg. Whew!
A British classic. It is rather difficult to say how far back the rabbit pie goes – as far back as pies themselves go, I would imagine. The rabbit pie is the archetypal hunter’s family meal and is certainly a cheap – or free – way of getting some good protein in you. These days of course people tend to get their rabbits from the butcher, including myself, but rabbit is getting popular again now that people are trying to cut back on their spending. I wonder if more people have taken up owning an air rifle to hunt their own. The idea strangely appeals. It is worth considering: rabbits are a pest and do not have a hunting season. The reason they are a pest is because they are an introduced species, just like the pesky grey squirrel, only these little blighters came not from America, but from France. The French have kept rabbit farms for a long time and so after William the Bastard/Conqueror came over with his Norman pals to take the English Crown, the later Plantagenet kings brought their farms over. The rabbits escaped and bred like billy-o and we have been stuck with them since.
What is strange is that the French did (and still do) love farmed rabbit and prefer it over wild. Griggers – in all her rabbit recipes – specifies that it must be wild; “[d]omestic rabbit by contrast is as insipid as a battery chicken, even nasty in texture and taste.”
Rabbits were very popular in Northern England as a pie filling in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and an alternative meat for a steak and oyster pie – back in the day when oysters were poor people’s food.
If you see a wild rabbit in the butcher’s shop try one – it’s cheaper than a chicken and is truly free-range and organic to boot!
Rabbit – like all game – is very lean so it needs a little helping hand with some additional fat, in this case streaky bacon which also helps the meat go a bit further. Forcemeat balls are often added to dishes like this – something stodgy that again increases bulk. I’m a big fan of forcemeat balls, so I was glad to see them appear in this recipe. Last and by no means least is the herb thyme which is essential in any rabbit dish. Don’t scrimp on it. Because it is used quite liberally, use fresh thyme.
This rabbit pie is the last in a trio of game recipes I cooked whilst I was in England over Christmas. It serves 6 to 8 people.
First of all joint a wild rabbit (or ask your butcher to do it) and soak it in salty cold water for around 1 ½ hours.
I am not quite sure why one needs to do this step. Perhaps it reduces the amount of water in the rabbit by osmosis for some reason? If you know, leave a comment, I’d be most grateful. Drain the rabbit and place it in a saucepan. Pour enough fresh water to cover the beast, bring the water to a boil and let it simmer for 3 or 4 minutes. Drain and dry it.
Roll the rabbit pieces in some seasoned flour and brown it in butter, lard, bacon fat or dripping in a large, deep sauté pan then fry a large chopped onion and 5 or 6 ounces of streaky bacon or salt pork. When lightly browned, add the grated rind of a lemon, a heaped tablespoon of parsley and four good sprigs of thyme.
Add enough light beef or veal stock to just cover. Cover and simmer until the rabbit is cooked. Jane doesn’t give a time here, but it will depend upon the age of the rabbit. Mine took about 1 ½ hours. To test it, I just sampled a bit of leg meat. Let the mixture cool and bone the rabbit if you want; I did because little ones were eating it.
Now the pie needs to be made. Place the mixture in a pie dish, piling it in the middle and scatter forcemeat balls around it (look here for the recipe). If you have a rather broad or long pie dish, it may be worth placing a pie funnel in the centre – I didn’t have one and the pie sank a little.
To cover the pie, roll out some shortcrust or puff pastry. Cut strips from the pastry and use it to line the rim of the dish, gluing it in place with some beaten egg. Next, cover the pie and trim any excess pastry and use it to decorate the top. Glaze with beaten egg.
Bake at 220⁰C (425⁰F) for 20-30 minutes and then turn the heat down to 160⁰C (325⁰F) for another 30 minutes. As usual, protect the pastry with some brown paper should it colour too much.
#325 Rabbit Pie. I am on a roll with the pies at the moment because this was another excellent one. The rabbit was very tender and not too rank tasting as the previous rabbit had been. I suppose it is the risk one takes with game. The very lean rabbit was ‘fattened’ up excellently with all the streaky bacon it was fried with. Plus it was complemented perfectly by the fresh thyme and the lemon zest. Really good – now that wild rabbit is getting more common meat in Britain’s butcher shops, there’s no excuse in giving it a try. 8/10
Cover the birds with vine leaves if you can get them. This is not necessary, so don’t worry if you can’t find any (I couldn’t). Next, cover the birds in jackets made of either bacon rashers or a sheet of pork back fat.
I went with bacon here as it could be served up alongside the grouse.
Roast for 35-45 minutes and allow to rest under some foil for around 20 minutes.
You can serve whatever you like with the grouse, but it is typically eaten with the typical game accompaniments like bread sauce, game chips and a tart jelly such as rowanberry. I went with some mashed potato and a couple of veg, myself.