Chapter 3: Vegetables – Completed!

Well that’s the Vegetables chapter all done-and-dusted, so it’s time for one of my little round-ups; looking again at the recipes and history…

We regard vegetables as the backbone of a varied and healthy diet, but this wasn’t always the case, if you look back to between the late 11th Century and early Tudor times, vegetables were looked upon with suspicion, believed to really mess up your humours especially if eaten raw. The poor were welcome to them of course so they could pad out their pathetic rations of meat and cereals. This led to many peasants, who usually tended their own patch of land, to be generally healthier than the higher echelons of society, who tended to suffer all sorts of diseases and discomfort, such as constipation and scurvy.

#146 Asparagus with Melted Butter 

However, by the mid-16th Century, things had moved on and people became very interested in vegetables and their variety. Seed catalogues of the time listed around 120 different vegetables and herbs. A century later this was down to around sixty, and by the 1970s just forty. This correlates with the movement of people from the countryside to the cities to find work and the loss of self-sufficiency. In its place arose large-scale agriculture, where economy of scale won over variety. The invention of the supermarket succeeded in driving diversity down even further.

#426 Mushrooms in Snuffboxes
This chapter of the book was a whopper with 39 recipes in all, with many from the early days of the blog; in fact, I barely remember cooking some of them! Alot of ground was covered and there were some familiar and unfamiliar recipes and vegetables in there. I’m lucky to have to such excellent Manchester-based independent grocers, such as Unicorn, Organic North and Elliot’s that go the extra mile to supply an interesting array of vegetables and herbs to those that value diversity.
The best discovery for me was the seashore veg: laver, dulse, samphire and sea-kale. They really are worth trying, if you can get your hands on them. Dulse and samphire are pretty easy to get hold of, laver – in the form of laverbread – is easy as long as you live on the south coast of Wales, and you may have take to growing sea-kale on the fringes of your vegetable patch or allotment. I did manage to get some from Elliot’s, but they had to really root around the markets for me.
#412 Sea-kale
These indie businesses have a model that works, and with more and more people joining the vegan and Paleodiet movements, I suspect a real surge in interest into the quality and variety of veg is just around the corner – a brave new vegetable world? I hope so!
I had an allotment for a few years too, which helped, but had to give it up when The Buttery took off. I grew my own tiny broad beans so I could cook #398 Broad Beans in their Pods and sorrel for #164 Sorrel with Eggs.
#164 Sorrel with Eggs
Some recipes I had forgotten about until I looked back over the old posts really stood out: #196 Mange Tout Salad with Chicken Liver and Bacon, #288 Leek Pie and #76 Yeisen Nionod (Welsh Onion Cake) in particular are ones that I shall revisit.
Many of the recipes have become kitchen staples for me: both at home and professionally – #374 Pease Pudding, #295 Purée of Dried Peas with Green Peppercorns, #172 Cucumber Ragoût, #14 Leek and Onion Pudding and #5 Pan Haggerty are all served up regularly.
#398 Broad Beans in their Pods
As usual when I finish a part of the book, I think of the things that were left out. There are only a couple of potato recipes for example. Where are the chips and roast potatoes!? There are no beetroot recipes at all. Other vegetables to get snubbed are: celeriac, broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, globe artichoke and spinach, to name but a few. Not to mention the more obscure such as crosnes, salsify, cardoons, tansy and scorzonera.
I would have expected cauliflower cheese and lobscouse to have appeared. I wonder why they were missed out in favour of disappointing recipes like #220 Carrots in 1599 or #311 Courgette and Parsnip Boats? Ah well, at least I can address these little gaps on the other blog.
If you spot any glaring omissions, please let me know and leave a comment!
All the recipes from this section are listed below with hyperlinks and the scores I awarded them. It scored a mean mark of 7.3 (or if you’d prefer, a median of 8 and a mode of 8.5), making it pretty, er, average, scoring well most of the time but with no ten-out-of-tensor any major disasters.

#426 Mushrooms in Snuffboxes


Life is too short to stuff a mushroom

Shirley Conran

Goodness knows what Shirley Conran would have thought of this recipe then! It’s the last one in the Vegetableschapter of the book and I have put it off since the beginning, because life’s definitely too short to build a bread snuffbox and stuff it with mushrooms.
A French gold snuffbox (Christie’s)

Another reason I’ve put this one off is that Jane says it’s a ‘good recipe for stretching a few field mushrooms’, and I have been unlucky when it comes to foraging for this type of fungus. I either find just one or two miniscule specimens, or loads of shaggy inkcaps, which aren’t great and prone to decaying very quickly. Well I ran out of patience and bought some nice organic Portobello mushrooms from the excellent grocery store, Unicorn in Chorlton, Manchester.

This is a very calorific recipe: lots of butter, fried bread, cream and sherry. If you make it and next day wake up with gout, don’t run crying to me: you were warned.

Jane doesn’t say whether this a single course or an accompaniment to something else. I had mine with some bitter, dark kale to offset the richness.

She also doesn’t give us any amounts – ‘a system rather than a proper recipe’, she says. Here’s what I did:

I cut slices of breadfrom a tin loaf two inches thick and removed the crust. I reckoned I had enough mushrooms to fill two ‘snuffboxes’. I melted some butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and got to work frying the bread. It needs frying on all sides, so you may find you have to add more butter.

Take the giant croutons out of the pan, add more butter and fry a finely chopped onion until golden, then add your mushrooms, which can be sliced, halved or left whole, depending upon size. Season with saltand pepper. Some mushrooms let out a lot of juice, so get the heat turned up so it can evaporate, before turning back down to medium heat.

Whilst you wait for the mushrooms to cook, cut lids into your snuffboxes about half an inch deep. I wasn’t sure if she meant to cut a square from the top, or that you should just slice the top off, so I tried both to see which looked best. Remove the bread from the inside so that you have a box of fried bread; this was actually very easy to do, the bread within was hot and fluffy and just lifted out.

Keep them warm in the oven as you finish the mushroom mixture: mix in a teaspoon of flour, and once incorporated, plenty of double cream(I used a 150 ml pot) to form a smooth sauce. Add a dash of sherry if you like and check the seasoning. Spoon the mixture into the snuffboxes, replace the lids and serve.

#426 Mushrooms in Snuffboxes. As is often the case with the book English Food, the recipes one doesn’t want to cook, turn out to be the most delicious; and these snuffboxes were very delicious indeed. What’s more, they weren’t particularly difficult to make. It’s tricky to know what to serve them with. I suggest making them smaller and serving them with a watercress salad for a great first course. Alternatively, make large ones and serve alongside roast game for a family meal. 8/10

#424 Chilled Mange Tout Creams

Here’s a straight-forward recipe from the book that I have never gotten around to cooking, mainly because it sounded like it might be a bit boring. These days, however, I reckon I can spot a good subtle recipe, and thought I should give it a go. It’s one that requires careful seasoning as the only ingredient with flavour is the mange tout peas; not the strongest of flavours and served chilled too! You’ve got to use the salt, pepper, sugar and lemon juice in this recipe with a little abandon to pull this one off.

The first edition of English Food was written in the 1970s and this recipe is very much a thing of its time. Jane calls these creams, but they are basically a savoury mousse, the only other savoury mousse I have made from the book was the disastrous #313 Jellied Eel Mousse with Watercress SauceI cooked back in St. Louis in 2011.
A colour plate of the range of pea cultivars, including mangetout just below centre (New Oxford Book of Food Plants)
In the ‘70s the mange tout was quite an exciting new vegetable, though they were old hat to gardeners. A mange tout (or snow pea, as it is called in the USA) is a regular pea that has been bred so that the pod is much less tough than usual, so that the normally flavoursome but inedible pod can be eaten. The pea has been loved by gardeners because of the diversity of variants that can be easily produced, and it is worth mentioning a particularly important pea gardener, Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics.
Gregor Mendel
The monk bred mange tout peas and noticed, simply by looking at traits – and the proportions of the traits – passed down from parent plants to their progeny. He looked at traits such as dwarfism, seed colour and seed texture. He concluded that factors (i.e. genes) were passed down from parents, these factors came in different versions, called alleles. For example, seed texture came in two forms, smooth and wrinkled. One seemed to be dominant over the other, so which two versions of the gene an individual had determined how it looked (its phenotype). For more on this click here.

Scientists in the 1920s combined his findings with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, to come up with the Modern Synthesis, providing us with a framework for thinking about genes, selection and evolution.

Ok, enough science waffle, back to the cooking…

You’ll need a pound of topped and tailed mange tout for this recipe. Keep aside a quarter of the peas and put the rest in a saucepan containing half a pint of boiling water along with two teaspoons of finely chopped spring onion green (later the recipe requires gelatine, if using powdered gelatine, keep a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid aside for dissolving it in). 


When the peas are tender, liquidise the whole lot and push through a fine sieve, pushing the pulp through with a ladle.

Dissolve one 11g sachet of powdered gelatine in the remainder of the hot liquid and stir into the puree. If using leaf gelatine, use the appropriate number of leaves according to the pack; factoring in that there will be eight fluid ounces of cream added later.

Season well with salt, sugar, pepper and lemon juice – it’s best to slightly over season here as the flavours will be less pronounced once chilled. Pop it in the fridge and chill until it has the consistency of egg white. Take it out and fold in eight fluid ounces of double or whipping cream, whipped until floppy. 


Next, fold in two egg whites that have been beaten until stiff. For maximum lightness, use a metal spoon for this task.

Jane says to pour the mixture into sixteen moulds, but I poured it into eight moulds, to make easier for service. Cover, pop in the fridge, and the mousse set overnight. It should keep four or five days, so you can make this well in advance.

Blanch the remaining mange tout in boiling water for two minutes, drain and plunge into iced water.

To turn the moulds out, dip them in boiling water and invert into plates, or use a blowtorch. Decorate with the blanched mange tout in an appropriately artistic fashion. Serve with Melba toast.

#424 Chilled Mange Tout Creams. These were great – light and refreshing and perfect this time of year – I put them on the menu as Mange Tout Mousse, seeing as that is what I made. They didn’t sell! I think the word moussemaybe made them sound like they were on the naff side of retro; should have kept Jane’s name for them. All that said, I would say to give them a go. It has made me think that mousses need a bit of a comeback. I give it a solid 7.5/10.

NB: You could use lots of different vegetables for this dish if you don’t like peas. Just make sure you only blanch the vegetables to the point of just becoming tender, you want them as fresh-tasting as possible. Asparagus, carrot and red pepper spring to mind.

#412 Sea Kale

“It’s a shame that seakale, our one English contribution to the basic treasury of the best vegetables, should not be more eaten”, says Jane Grigson in her Vegetable Book, “it is not often in the shops, so you have to grow it yourself.”

Yes, this recipe had been vexing me somewhat and started to make some enquiries about getting hold of some for planting in my allotment. I did a little research into it, and it seems that it is quite a simple cropping plant to grow, though it does have to be forced, i.e. grown in the dark or buried so that as it grows through the soil no light penetrates, making the stems pale and tender. It has been compared to asparagus in its delicacy and mild but delicious flavour. Anyone who grows their own asparagus will know how much of a pain weeds can be, well it seems that in seakale the problem can be averted because you can simply mix sea salt into the soil, killing weeds and adding to the seakale’s vigour. It’s win-win. Indeed, so vigorous, this rare treat results in such ‘bulky crops’ that they are ‘greedily eaten by…livestock’, says The Country Gentleman’s Magazine of 1869.
Wild sea kale in its natural habitat (photo: dorsetlife.co.uk)

If growing is not your thing, then you could try and forage some for yourself. Wild seakale, or Crambe maritima to give its Latin name, is not a common plant; this is because of its rather specific gravel or stony beach habitat. There are not that many of those, except on the south coast of England and parts of Ireland. If you have holidayed in one of these areas, one of the things may have noticed is the total lack of plant life there. Unfortunately, the plants do get somewhat trampled over by people and their beach gear. According to John Wright in his very good book Edible Seashore (part of the River Cottage Handbook series) reckons you are best looking in the fringes of the beaches where the vegetation is less disturbed. If you do find one – remember where it is so the next January or February, you can pile on some gravel and force your own to collect in April.

After all the reading I did, I happened to ask my greengrocer if she ever saw any at market. She said she’d never even heard of it! That’s how much it has fallen out of fashion. Then, quite unexpectedly, she rang me the next day and said she had seen some. Before I knew it, I was clutching six precious packs of beautifully pale yellow fronds. As soon as I got home I cooked them, using Jane as my guide, of course. This is what she says:

Simply tie in bundles and cook it in boiling salted water or steam until just tender. Drain it well, and serve with melted butter, in the same way as asparagus.

I chose to boil tied bundles of it in just a centimetre of salted water for two minutes exactly, drained it, and then served it on thickly-cut hot buttered toast with a poached egg on top plus a twist or two of the salt and pepper grinder.

#412 Seakale. What a delight this rare treat was. It was of a very delicate flavour that was a little like asparagus, it certainly did not taste like kale or any other cabbage as you might expect. Cooking it very briefly, was definitely the way to go, such mild aromas would soon dissipate into the cooking liquid, and some books say to boil it for fifteen minutes! It cost a fair amount though, so I think I will have a go at trying to grow some on the allotment next year. 8/10

#374 Pease Pudding

Pease pudding is one of the oldest dishes, and most popular, in English history. The main ingredient in pease pudding is of course peas. The pea is one of our oldest cultivated crops mainly because it thrives in temperate climates and is quick to grow, and therefore, to select. Its easy-to-grow nature meant that it was good food for the poor where the poor were often forced to eat ground and dried peasemealformed into loaves and baked like bread.

The etymology of the words pease and peas is interesting: the word originates from the Greek word pison, which became pisum in Latin, crops up in Old English as pise and then changes its spelling to pease. Oddly, the word peasewas mistaken as a pleural and was therefore shortened to pea.

Pease pudding made up of dried, cooked and puréed peas enriched and flavoured with things like butter, eggs or onions. It used to be boiled in a well-floured pudding cloth, giving it the classic cannonball shape; and it wasn’t boiled simply in water alone, but with a piece of salt pork, ham or bacon, with which it would be served. It later would be boiled or steamed in a pudding basin, which is much more convenient, though I am sure the original way of cooking it in the ham stock would have produced a much more delicious meal. I love this pamphlet showing just how versatile pease pudding can be – pease pudding vol-au-vent anybody?
Before pease pudding there was pease pottage, which was essentially a thick soup made from pease and water, flavoured with scraps of meat and vegetables.

So, pease pudding was popular because it was cheap and plentiful. It was often made at the beginning of the week and eaten over the successive days, hence the old rhyme:

                                Pease pudding hot!
                                Pease pudding cold!
                                Pease pudding in the pot
Nine day’s old!

Jane suggests frying it up another day.

To make pease pudding, you first of all need to simmer a pound of dried green peas– whole or split, it doesn’t really matter – in enough water to just cover them until soft and tender. The times here can vary greatly – about 45 minutes to an hour for split peas, at least 2 hours for whole peas. It also worth mentioning that the age of the peas will affect the cooking time – old peas may need soaking overnight in water with a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. If you do soak them overnight, drain away the liquid they were soaked in before cooking in fresh water.

When the peas are tender, drain away any liquid and then pass them through a mouli-legumesor sieve and stir 2 ounces of butterand one beaten egg into the resulting purée. Season well with saltand pepper and spoon the lot into a generously buttered 2 pint pudding basin. Pop the lid on, or make a lid from buttered foil or cloth tied with string. Steam for an hour, then turn it out if you like, and serve with boiled bacon or salt pork or, as I did, with #373 Faggots and Peas.

#374 Pease Pudding. This was a most successful dish – the pease were sweet and well-flavoured. Plus I managed to eat it over the space of several days just like the song! It was best when I fried slices of it in lard so that a good crust formed and ate it with some left-over faggots. I shall do this again. 7/10

#357 Comfrey Leaf Fritters

I have had the foraging bug of late so I thought I would try and make these fritters that appear to been lost to history. According to Jane Grigson, the 18th century writer Hannah Glasse gave a recipe for these fritters that use the plant comfrey. Oddly, I couldn’t find the original recipe anywhere – I found clary fritters and a recipe using comfrey roots – hey ho.

Comfrey is a relatively common plant found in ditches or beside hedgerows and river banks all over Europe. There are several species, but the most common in Britain is common comfrey with the Latin name Symphytum officinale, in case you want to find it in a field guide. They are quite easy to spot though: they have large broad leaves that taper to a point and the plant forms a bushy conical shape as it grows higher with younger, smaller leaves. The flowers are either white or purple, are small and arranged in little lines of about seven spikey blooms (though I didn’t count). The leave themselves are covered in slightly rough hairs that are very slightly irritating if the leaves are large.

One thing to point out, and I only found this out after eating them, is that comfrey leaves are a little poisonous and shouldn’t be eaten in large amounts, nor should they be eaten if you have liver problems. You have been warned.

Collect some large comfrey leaves that still have a fresh green colour; the large warty dark green ones don’t look very wholesome to me. Take them home, wash and drain them then remove their stalks. Depending what you are serving with them, you will need one or two leaves per person, more if you are using the smaller tender leaves.

Meanwhile make the batter by mixing together 5 ounces of flour and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk in a tablespoon of oil or melted butter and up to ½ pint of warm water to form a batter the consistency of double cream. The warm water will help thicken the batter a little. Lastly, whisk an egg whiteuntil stiff and fold into the batter.

Heat up some oil in a pan ready to deep fry the leaves. You know you’re at the correct temperature when a small cube of bread browns in about 45 seconds. Dip the leaves in the batter and fry on both sides until the batter is crisp and golden brown, around 4 minutes in all. Don’t be tempted to overcrowd the pan – the leaves will stick together and the whole thing will take much longer to cook. Drain on kitchen paper and season.
I took a photo but can’t seem to find it now. Whoops!
#357 Comfrey Leaf Fritters. I really liked these, though probably for the wrong reasons; the thin comfrey leaves were beautifully tender but essentially completely tasteless! The batter however was absolutely delicious – brown and crisp and bubbly and quite possibly the best batter recipe I have ever used. I’m going to give it 5.5/10 though because the star of the show should have been the comfrey, but it was just simply a vehicle for the divine batter.

#352 Laverbread and Bacon

A couple of weekends ago, Hugh and I popped down to Swansea for a wedding. It is a very nice city, with a very nice market. Whilst there I was very keen to get hold of some Welsh laverbread; there are a few recipes that use it so I bought a couple of tubs. I am always keen to try new foods and I had never eaten laverbread; always excited to see another species added to my list!
Laverbread does not contain any bread, but is in fact a species of seaweed found on the rocky seashore of Wales and is rarely seen outside of the borders. It is however, available online pretty easily if you’re not in or near Wales.
Plate from an unknown book – laver is number 4
 
According to my Traditional Welsh Recipes teatowel, to make laverbread, you need wash your laver (the algae Porphyra laciniata) and, without any additional water, simmer it until it becomes dark green gelatinous pulp – about 4 hours. Drain the leaves and chop them, adding salt to taste; and there you have it, laverbread, or bara lawr as the Welsh call it. Laverbread is traditionally fried in small balls or patties in bacon fat. It doesn’t take long because the laverbread is already cooked.
 
There are several seaweed based recipes in English Food, I have already covered one using the seaweed dulse, yet no one in England really eats it, and the tradition is slowly dying in the two remaining seaweed-eating nations in the British Isles: Wales and Ireland. In the past everyone used to eat it, but like many foods labelled ‘peasant food’ a stigma was, and still is, attached. It is strange that in most other countries people are so enthusiastic about their peasant foods – they are the comfort foods! – yet most of us turn our noses up at them.
Didn’t mean to get into a lecture there, but whatever falls out of brain ends up on the post. Anyways, as a rookie to the ways of laverbread and how to cook it, it went for this simple recipe that would hopefully be a good introduction.
Take a pound of prepared laverbread and mix in enough fine oatmeal to make soft, coherent dough. Roll into balls and flatten slightly. Fry in bacon fatfor a few minutes per side or until nice and golden brown.
 
Serve with bacon in a mixed grill or a fried breakfast. I did something a little healthier and used the bacon I fried to flavour vegetable soup, and used the laverbread patties almost as dumplings.
#352 Laverbread and Bacon. Well I have to say I was impressed with the laverbread. I was subtly flavoured with iodine just as mussels and oysters are, but there was no fishiness to it. If I was living in Wales, laverbread and bacon would definitely be on my Sunday breakfast list. 7/10.