Meanwhile, get on with preparing 8 ounces of peeled grapes. To do this put them in a bowl and pour over boiling water. Let them sit for a few seconds and then strain them. The skin should now peel away with relative ease. When the sauce is ready, season with salt and pepper and tip in the grapes, including any juice. The sauce is now ready, but if it seems a little thick – it should be the thickness of double cream – add a little more stock or milk.
The photographs are not really doing the process justice. I really need a better camera!
Mrs Beeton gives a recipe for leek soup that requires a sheep’s head and also describes how to “dress a sheep’s head” with a very similar recipe to Jane’s, though the barley is replaced with oats (as it is in the Scottish fashion). And if lamb’s head with brain sauce makes your stomach turn, I found a recipe in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper for lamb’s head and purtenances, which, to you and I, are the innards. Calf’s head was also very popular; it was the main ingredient in mock turtle soup, for example. So the heads of sheep, calf and, of course, wild boar have been enjoyed for centuries in pretty well-to-do houses, so they can’t be that bad, can they..?
A quickie. I knew that we would have plenty of leftover Bradenham ham from Christmas so I knocked this one up. Follow the recipe for the cheese soufflé but use half the amount of cheese and fold about 8 ounces of chopped ham into it. Alternatively, soften a couple of ounces of onions in butter and add 8 ounces of blanched, minced sweetbreads or cooked brains if you like your offal. You might not wish to include cheese though. Make sure you add some herbs too.
#214 Meat Soufflé. The best way to use up some leftover ham, I reckon. The cheese- ham combo is a classic. The salty-sweet ham and cheese and the creamy egg were perfect. If you’ve never made a soufflé before have a go, they are not as scary as people make out. 8.5/10.
Finding the woodcock was exciting, as I am now officially a food geek – however I was feeling a little trepidation; this is definitely the first really extreme thing I’ve made from the cook book. Woodcock is considered a delicacy not just because it’s so hard to get hold of, but also because pretty much the whole thing is eaten. Essentially, the bird is roasted rare, whole and completely intact (except the eyes are removed and it is plucked) and trussed with its own beak. The trail of the bird (i.e. the guts, liver etc) is spread on fried bread and the head is split in two so that you can use the beak of one half to prize out the brain from the other.
Woodcock trussed with its own beak
Here’s what to do if you happen upon this little birdie:
Preheat your oven to 220°C. Start off by trussing the bird with it’s beak by spearing the thighs to keep them closed up together. Season the breasts and cover liberally with butter so it doesn’t dry out. Place on a small roasting tin and cook for 18-20 minutes. Whilst that is happening, fry one slice of white bread per bird gently in butter, placing it under the woodcock(s) for the final 5 minutes of cooking. When the time is up, remove the bread and place on a warmed plate and allow the bird to rest for 5 or 10 minutes in the pan. Next, using a knife and/or spoon scoop out the trail (everything except the gizzard – which is actually hard to get to, so it’s unlikely you’ll accidently scoop it out). Spread the trail on the toast. Cut off the head and cut it in half lengthways so that you can use the beak to remove the brain from the halves. You can serve the bird whole or remove the breasts if you like.
The final dish
#128 Woodcock. How on Earth am I going to score this one!? Eating the innards of a bird wasn’t something I was going to relish – but I did relish the idea of eating something very traditional but very out-of-favour. From that point of view – an excitement rating – 10/10. Flavour-wise, the breast meat was very gamey indeed – the smaller the bird, the stronger the flavour – it was so rich that it would have been more than enough for one person. The thigh meat was horrible though – just tasted of dead animal. Bizarrely, the best bit was the trail on toast. The intestines were very soft and there was nothing chewy, though it took some courage to make the first bite. Turns out it tastes a bit like Marmite. Very nice. The brain didn’t really taste as strong as the trail, but was soft and slightly greasy in texture; it appealed to my sudden manly bloodlust though. So overall, it is a high scorer, but not too high – I don’t want to give it loads of marks because of the novelty, so on flavour alone, I reckon it’s worthy of 6/10.
There are several ingredients in English Food that I have assumed that I won’t be able to cook, at least not in England. But watching television last night, it seems I can.
The Supersizers Go… Is a series showing off the eating habits of the English through the ages and last night they went Victorian. The presenters are a bit self-indulgent but it’s good mindless TV. Giles Coren and Sue Perkins tucked into giant game pies, calf’s ears, jellies, plum duffs, bad curries, croquettes, offal, offal and offal. It seems that English really food comes into its own here – many of Jane Grigson’s recipes are very similar to the dishes cooked then; in fact it was her daughter, Sophie that did the cooking. The main ingredients were butter and brandy, it seems, but it was all very restrained and frugal. Unless your very rich, or it was Christmas.
FYI: The Christmas as we know it now was invented in the Victorian era, courtesy of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Charles Dickens
One of things that really surprised me was the amount of game that our presenters were allowed to eat. One of the dishes contained snipe – I assumed that there are too rare to shoot these days, but obviously not. Searching on the web, I find that all the game birds that Jane Grigson lists in the game section of the tome are still legal game, including ptarmigan and wigeon. The other big surprise was that one meal’s centrepiece was a boiled calf’s head with the brain served in a garlic butter sauce. I thought that due to the BSE crisis, bovine brains couldn’t be eaten any more. It seems that I am wrong. It also seems that they taste vile. It also seems that I will be able to do the calf brain recipes. Damn.
On Channel 4 later that evening was Gordon Ramsay’s effort, The F-Word. I’m never sure whether I like the programme, yet I seem to watch it every week. This week he was fishing for elvers – baby eels – in Somerset. There is one recipe that uses elves in English Food, and I thought, as I have studied eels and elvers in the past that because elves numbers had dropped by 98 percent it would no longer be legal to fish for them, that they would be protected or something. Well, you have to have a special licence, but you can fish for them. If you want to buy them, they’ll set you back up to £525 a kilo. It took him 4 hours to collect enough for three measly portions. I know that the reason for the drop in numbers is not known, but surely fishing the remaining few is not going to help. I know I won’t be a part of it.
So it seems that there isn’t anything I can’t cook, but some things I won’t.