Chapter 2: Cheese & Egg Dishes – Completed!

Eggs and cheese have been a mainstay of British eating for centuries, making up many a large family meal, bar snack or savoury. They are enjoyed by rich and poor alike and the recipes of this second chapter of English Food are cast by Jane with a very wide net: light soufflés, omelettes (which are as English as they are French, by the way), patés that use up cheesy odds and ends and rich savouries enjoyed by ladies.

Cheesemaking and dairy farming used to be a vital part of British food culture; but when Jane was writing English Food, the masses were having to buy most of their cheese plastic wrapped in perfect squares in supermarkets. Of course we still do now, but the cheese aisles are now teeming with real cheeses too, made traditionally and coming from all over Europe. Parmesan cheese is no longer found ground and dried and smelling of socks and tasting of nought; the real McCoy can be found almost anywhere.

In the 1980s cheesemaking was having a comeback – traditional methods were being used, including the use of unpasteurised milk. Those who liked proper food propelled what was quite a niche market of micro-made cheeses right back into the forefront, eventually landing on our supermarket shelves in large amounts several decades later.

Gloucester Ale & Cheese
We all shop in supermarkets, I certainly don’t pretend otherwise, but nothing can be better than buying your cheese from a proper cheese shop or stall. Manchester folk: my two favourites are The Cheese Hamlet in Didsbury and Winter Tarn. Winter Tarn is a Cumbrian company that seeks out the best British cheeses and travels around the north of England selling those cheeses in little markets, and they pop up at Levenshulme Market every week.

Whether it’s farmhouse Cheddar, double Gloucester, Cornish Yarg or Stinking Bishop you’re after, British cheeses have never been better, but for the best, then as now, you must look beyond the refrigeration section of your local Tesco.

In the 1970s and 80s, our eggs were in a right old state – there was intense over-crowding and the chickens were fed a meal made from the carcasses of dead birds. Quality of life, and egg, was very low, and because of the sheer number of chickens in one place, it didn’t take long for disease to spread. In this case it was the bacterium Salmonella enteriditis (SE) that killed many chickens and quite a few humans too. Coupling this with the fact that eggs from different ‘farms’ and of different ages were being mixed up together, the source of an outbreak couldn’t be found readily.

Pickled Eggs

All this was addressed by the British government in the 1990s – chickens are now vaccinated against SE and with the introduction of the Lion Quality code, which allows each individual egg to be easily traced back to its origin, outbreaks could be tackled swiftly. Only one percent of eggs get contaminated nowadays, and even then the number of bacterial cells averages out at around 10 per egg – so you’d have to be pretty unlucky to become ill.

Seftons
personally, only go for free range; I feel far too guilty about the conditions they have to endure and I can’t bring myself to buy anything less. The best eggs are those you can get from farmers’ markets, and are usually pretty cheap too.

This chapter contains recipes that have become a mainstay of my cooking. Of greatest note, is that special combination of cheese and egg, the soufflé, and Jane’s recipe is a very good and versatile one. You just can’t beat it, and they are not anywhere as tricky to make as you might think. There are Glamorgan sausages too (who needs a nasty vegetarian sausage when you can have these!?) and an 18th Century bacon and egg pie that transported me right back to my Primary School dinner hall.

A Fricassee of Eggs

There have been lows too, one recipe in this chapter has achieved my only zero score so far. The English Rarebit was disgusting: toast soggy with hot red wine, topped with congealed cheese. What were they thinking!?

As usual, here are all the recipes listed as they appear in the book with links to each post on the blog with their score. It turned out to be a pretty average chapter with a mean score of 6.7 (and median and mode of 7.0).

#420 A Fricassee of Eggs

Cooking recipes from English Food by Jane Grigson, has essentially got me where I am today – she’s taught me to cook a wide variety of foods and she has passed on to me a huge interest in British cooking and its forgotten food, and its food that has now a bad name.

Now I have – along with Mr Brian Shields – opened my little restaurant called The Buttery,I am constantly using Jane’s recipes for inspiration for our menus. We have recently started a brunch menu and I spotted this recipe from Chapter 2: Cheese & Egg Dishes. It actually comes from Hannah Glasse, who wrote many a great recipe, and is – unsurprisingly – one of Jane’s most common sources in Engish Food (click here for all the Hannah Glasse recipes cooked in the book thus far). I was looking for something similar to Eggs Benedict, but with British roots. I hoped this recipe would be it.

Jane has made a few adjustments to the original recipe; a dish of boiled eggs in a creamy sauce, her keen sense of Georgian ingredients helps us achieve a final plate of food that is as historically accurate as possible. The devil is in the detail. We also see some her characteristically evocative writing:

In the days before pasteurisation, cream rapidly developed a sharp tang, which is why I used a mixture of double and soured cream…The lovely richness of the sauce suggests an idyllic countryside, cows in a pasture with summer flowers, and a steady sound of bees. An interesting thing is that one still finds it in Normandy and the Sarthe, served with trout and other fine fish, or with boiled chickens and rice.

Not all of the Hannah Glasse recipes have been well received, one – #230 English Rabbit – has achieved the only zero score in the book! However, others have gone down a storm (#366 A Fine Way to Pot a Tongue, springs to mind).

This fricassee of eggs serves eight as a first course, but can easily be scaled up or down.

Take eight large eggs and boil them for eight minutes in boiling water. Remove with a slotted spoon and run under the cold tap so that they can be peeled without burning your dainty pinkies. Cut them into quarters and arrange them nicely in eight small ramekins.

As the eggs are boiling chop up eight sprigs of parsley and melt six ounces of slightly salted butter – Jane gets specific here – in an eight inch frying pan. As it begins to foam, add a quarter pint each of double creamand soured cream. Mix well with a wooden spoon for a couple of minutes and allow the mixture to bubble and evaporate. A thick sauce will form. Quickly stir in the parsley and pour over the eggs. Have ready some triangles of toastand serve and ‘eat immediately’.

#420 A Fricassee of Eggs. Considering the vast amount of butter and cream in this dish, it tasted quite light, the sour cream cutting through the richness. The sauce was a tricky thing as it kept splitting whenever I stopped stirring. I think a half-teaspoon of cornflour could have been used to make it more stable. I think that it could have been improved with the addition of some cooked mushrooms nestled in amongst the eggs before the sauce was poured over them. If the sauce wasn’t so difficult to work with, it might have been a benefit to grill them and get some nice colour on the top as one might do with a hollandaise. I think I prefer eggs au cocotte as a lighter starter for a meal (in fact that is what I ended up putting on my brunch menu). 6/10

#413 Fish Soufflé

A quick one this one.

There are several soufflé recipes in this chapter that are all based on Jane Grigson’s (#138) Cheese Soufflé recipe. This one is for a fish soufflé, but the others have been meat, vegetableand smoked fish. I cook this recipe and its variations quite often, I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to do this one.

For a fish soufflé, you need to finely chop a couple of ounces of onion or shallot in two ounces of butter along with 8 ounces of your chosen fish, soft roes or shellfish. I went with crab, as it is reasonably cheap and can be bought with the brown and white meats already cooked and picked, so all I had to do was mix it into the onion.

Use the basic recipe for #138 Cheese Soufflé, omitting the Lancashire or Cheddar cheese, folding in the fish along with some finely chopped herbs such as parsley, chives or chervil.

#413 Fish Soufflé. No surprise here that was delicious. These soufflé dishes are great, the Cayenne pepper worked especially well with the crab, as did the Parmesan. I’m not sure any fish would work here, so be careful. I would avoid the oily fish, for example. It’s a great way of doing a cheap midweek meal that is actually pretty straight forward that feels like such a treat. 9/10.


#408 Little Cheese Soufflés

For a recent pop-up restaurant menu, I foolishly decided that one course should be soufflé. Now I must admit, I have had little trouble with Jane’s savoury soufflé recipes, but they were large soufflés with plenty of structure. What I wanted was little individuals ones which required even baking in my overworked and increasingly erratic oven. Luckily Jane had it covered – or so I thought – with this recipe for Little Cheese Soufflés.

This recipe appears to be far too good to be true; there is no béchamel sauce, no whipping of egg whites, no gentle folding and no ban Marie. All one has to do is mix the ingredients in the right order and bake! Obviously this was the one.

This mixture makes enough for 8 ramekins:

Grate 8 ounces of Lancashire cheese, setting a couple of tablespoons aside for later. Whisk together well 4 large eggs, and mix in ¼ pint each of single and double cream along with the cheese. Season with salt and both black and Cayenne peppers. Jane has a secret ingredient too; a rasp or two of freshly grated nutmeg.

Butter your ramekins and split the mixture between them, making sure there is a half-inch gap between mixture and ramekin rim. Mix together the cheese you put aside with two tablespoons of breadcrumbs and adorn each pot with the mixture.


Place on a baking tray and bake for 20-25 minutes at 200⁰C until risen and browned.
Griggers’ serving suggestion: ‘Serve immediately with thin slices of bread baked in the oven until crisp.
#408 Little Cheese Soufflés. Well what can I say? When Jane says ‘serve immediately’ she really does mean immediately! It took approximately 10 seconds for my risen soufflés to become sunken shells merely coating the inside of my ramekins. In her defence, these soufflé shells did taste good, though they certainly would not do for my pop up. As far as my understanding is, it seems that the mixture only rose because the eggs – technically – overbaked and therefore formed large bubbles. It seems the recipe was too good to be true after all. Hey ho. 3/10.
Here they are straight out of the oven. 10 seconds later, they weren’t so appetising!

P.S. For the pop-up I simply used her basic soufflé recipe and added my own flavourings. They rose and stayed up, so Jane saved the day in the end.

#407 Seftons

The first Earl of Sefton


This recipe comes from the distinguished French Cook Louis Eustache Ude, chef to the Earl of Sefton. He came from good cooking stock himself; his father was chef to King Louis XVI.


Ude was quite a character, there’s a great story of him being hauled in front of a magistrate after he was found selling roast grouse on his menu before the 12th of August (the date from which the gamed season begins. See here for a post all about that). He was given a fine and sent on his way.


The next day, the Scottish Laird who had reported Ude to the police returned to Ude’s restaurant to make sure he was abiding by the rules. Pleased to see there wasn’t a morsel of the offending bird on the menu, he ordered Salami de fruit défendu, i.e. Salmi of Forbidden Fruit, which turned out – of course – to be grouse! The cheeky devil.

Louis Eustache Ude

There was none of this nonsense when he worked for the Earl of Sefton though as they goton like a house on fire, except for one day when he left his service because Ude spotted the Earl’s son adding salt to some soup he made. Offended by this, he turned on his heel and left.


This recipe is essentially a savoury custard. It could only work with a home-made stock though. I imagine it would be excellent nourishing food for someone that is ill. The little custards can be served in their ramekins or turned out onto a plate.


Jane suggests to use a veal stock, but any stock can be used. On the other blog I recently wrote up a recipe for such a stock. For these sorts of dishes where the stock is the star of the show, you need to make your own stock, otherwise you risk it tasting of Cuppa Soup.


Anyway, that’s enough waffle. On with the recipe!


Bring one pint of good, clear, home-made stock to a boil and whisk it into 6 beaten eggs just as you would with a regular custard. Add the grated zest of a lemon, ¼ tsp of ground mace and season with salt and Cayenne pepper, then and whisk in 4 tbs of clarified butter.




Place your ramekins – you’ll need 6 to 8, depending on size – in a deep roasting tin and pour the custard into them and cover with foil. Pour boiling water into the tin, technically turning it into a ban Marie, and carefully slide the tin into an oven already preheated to 180C and bake for 12 to 20 minutes, or until the custards are just set and still have a good wobble on them. Serve straight away with thin, crisp toast, says Good Lady Grigson.


#407 Seftons. These were great, light and satisfying, even though they sound a little odd. I’m thinking that should I ever get my premises, they will definitely go on the menu; they are delicious, light, subtle and very satisfying and could very easily made vegetarian. I imagine a good mushroom stock would work very well as an alternative to veal. 8/10


#351 Potted Cheese

Sorry for the quiet blog folks, I am still organising my life after my recent move back to Manchester. The dust has settled enough however, for me to do this recipe for potted cheese that I have had my eye on for a good while; I couldn’t make it in America as I couldn’t get hold of the required Cheshire cheese for love nor money (and if I could it would have cost a pretty penny, let me tell you).
Potted cheese was very popular from the mid-18thcentury as a way to use up left-over dry cheese and rinds and pep them up a little and make them edible and delicious once more. The cheese is potted just like potted meat or fish: mixed with butter and seasoned with alcohol and spices.
Any cheese can be used: Cheshire, Stilton, Gloucester, Wensleydale, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, whatever you have available. It then needs to be moistened and seasoned. Jane makes some suggestions as do many 18th century books: white wine, sherry, port, Worcester sauce, chili vinegar, black pepper, chives, mustard, Cayenne pepper, ground mace. The list goes on. Jane uses any leftover cheeses and combines them to make a single that is ‘a far more rewarding result than any cook deserves’, we mix our grapes to make blended wines, so why not cheese? Hannah Glasse says ‘a slice of [potted cheese] exceeds all the cream cheeses than can be made’. This is all high praise indeed. The recipe that Jane specifies uses Cheshire cheese, port or sherry, Cayenne pepper and walnuts.
Take 3 ounces of butter out of the fridge in good time so that it can soften. Next prepare 8 ounces of Cheshire cheese – cut into cubes and reduce to a crumble in a food processor or grate if doing by hand.  Add the butter and two tablespoons of port or brown sherry to form a paste. Add a good pinch of Cayenne pepper. Jane now tells us to either form into small cheese truckles and roll them in chopped walnuts, or to put in pots and cover with clarified butter if the potted cheese is to be kept for a while. I found the cheese truckles easier to make after the mixture was allowed to sit in the fridge overnight.

 

#351 Potted Cheese. I was very much looking forward to making this recipe, mainly because Jane is so enthusiastic about it. When I first made it I wasn’t too sure, I found it grainy and thought the alcohol didn’t quite work. However, I tried it again after a night in the fridge and it had transformed – the port had soaked into the grains of cheese to produce a creamy homogenous cheese truckle. It’s very good on an oatcake. On the strength of this, I’ve gone out and bought a few different cheeses so I can try a few combinations myself. 7/10.

#254 Gloucestershire Cheese and Ale

After a slow few months, it is time to get Neil Cooks Grigson up and running again. I’m settling in here in Texas now, which means I’m getting more than a little homesick. What better way is there to get over it than making some nice English foods?

I was a bit hungover this morning so this recipe I hoped would be the perfect cure: carbs, fat and salt plus the hair of the dog, the perfect combination. The cheese required for this is single or double Gloucester. Good cheeses are hard to find in Houston – typical American cheeses are not the best and anything I considered proper (i.e. European) are pretty expensive and/or difficult to find. However I did find an excellent shop which is set out like a big market called the Epicurean Market. There’s a few of them in Houston and they sell a lot of European foods. So finding places like this is great for my blog.

This recipe is quick and easy and full of delicious calories:

Start by slicing some double or single Gloucester cheese thinly and arrange them in a small ovenproof dish. Spread some good mustard over the top – Griggers suggests Tewksbury wholegrain, but any piquant wholegrain will be good – and then pour over enough ale to just cover the cheese. Bake in a moderate oven until the whole things melts and becomes a sauce. Meanwhile, toast some wholemeal or granary bread, arrange on a plate and then moisten with a little warmed ale. Lastly spoon over the melted cheese and serve with a glass of ale.


#254 Gloucestershire Cheese and Ale. A good traditional cheesy dish very similar to those served in Gentlemen’s Clubs in Edwardian times. Very rich but the mustard and bitter ale helped to cut through the cheese. I was right in that it really helped to sort out my hangover too! 7.5/10