#415 Cumberland Sausage

Unlike other sausages, Cumberland sausages are not made into links, but are allowed to form large coils. You can buy whole coils to fry or bake for a family dinner, or buy lengths of it.  In Richard Woodall’s butcher shop in Waberthwaite, he would measure out yards of sausage using two drawing pins stuck on his counter. Amazingly the shop is still going strong over eight generations!

For me, the Cumberland is the quintessential English sausage; highly seasoned with salt, black pepper, herbs and spices. It shouldn’t have much else added to it, other than a little rusk or bread to soak up the fat. They have been made like this for centuries. Indeed, all sausages were made as one long coiled piece, until the addition of links was introduced in the early seventeenth century. The meat should be coarsely chopped or minced, not like your typical bizarre and homogenous cheap supermarket sausages that are ‘a bland, pink disgrace’, as Jane puts it.

A Cumberland ring is fried or baked, often secured in shape with two skewers before cooking.  It is commonly served as part of a breakfast. Jane mentions that at Rothay Manor, it is served with bacon, tomato, fried egg on fried bread, apple, black pudding and mushrooms; surely the breakfast of champions! It can be served with mashed potatoes and peas, or with a stew of green lentils and bacon cooked in red wine.

To make sausages, you need some natural sausage casings, which you can buy very cheaply from any butcher who makes his own sausages. Often he’ll give you them for free. They are very easy to prepare. All you need to do is soak the in cold water for an hour to remove any salt, find an end (this is quite tricky, as they are very long and not too dissimilar to tapeworms!) and carefully fit a funnel into it to rinse out the insides of the skins with more cold water. Once the water as run all the way through, the skins are ready to use, so pop them in the fridge until needed. Any unused skins can be kept in the fridge for four weeks. For these sausages you’ll need hog casings.

First of all, prepare your meat ready for the mincer by cutting the following into strips: one pound of boned shoulder of pork, 6 ounces of pork back fat and half (yes, half!) a rasher of smoked bacon.

Pass all of these through the mincer using the coarse blade, then again using the medium blade. (I have no medium blade, so just used the coarse one again.)

Using your hands, mix all of these together in a bowl along with an ounce of white breadcrumbsand a quarter teaspoon each of ground nutmegand mace. Season with salt and pepper. I used a teaspoon of salt in all and was pretty heavy on the pepper too. Curiously, Jane does not add any herbs to the mixture, but if you wanted to, dried sage or marjoram are typical.

Now it is time for the fun and games: filling the sausage skins. To do this, I used the sausage stuffer attachment for my Kitchen Aid. The amount of sausagemeat made here easily filled a single hog casing (each one is at least 3 yards/metres long, I reckon).

Prepare the sausage skins as described above. Take one and slide it over the funnel of the stuffer, tying a knot in the end. Now feed the sausagemeat through the machine and into the casings. Here, you need to grasp the sausage as it comes out so that it fills the skin properly making no major air bubbles. This is tricky to do if you are simultaneously feeding the machine with sausagemeat, so an extra pair of hands will come in useful.

As you make more and more sausage, let it land upon a plate to form the characteristic coil. When all the meat has been stuffed into the skin, cut and knot it, leaving some slack for expansion when cooking. Chill the sausage overnight (which I forgot to do, in my eagerness, making it rise up in the centre when in the oven).

Now you can fry the sausage in a pan, turning it over at half time. Alternatively, bake in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes at 180⁰C, pricking the skin before it goes in. Of course, you don’t have to cook the whole thing at once; you can cut lengths off it and fry those up instead.

#415 Cumberland Sausage. This was absolutely delicious, and quite simply the best sausage I have ever eaten! With something simple like this, it is all in the seasoning and the half-rasher of bacon worked wonders in that department. Who’d have thunk it, a real bona fide secret ingredient!? This, along with the freshly-ground pepper and the warming mace and nutmeg, made such a winning combination, that I have been making vast amounts of sausages, sometimes for frying up, or sometimes for sausage rolls. I cannot gush any more than this: 10/10

#395 Red Herrings


Here’s a recipe – or, rather an entry with advice – from English Food that I thought I would never get to cook for two reasons. The first was that I suspected that Jane was having a little joke at our expense and that her entry on red herrings was actually a red herring in itself! Having only ever used the expression and never laying eyes on the food, the penny did not drop for a good while that the saying must have come from somewhere. So, after looking in a few other books I decided red herrings were, in fact, real.

The Red Herring Freehouse, Great Yarmouth
According to Jane’s entry, they are made in Great Yarmouth, and although they have fallen out of favour her in the UK, they are shipped over to the Caribbean in their droves where they are still a very popular food, indeed, a staple food:
Once they were slave food, now they are a food for the poor, a cheap, storable, provider of protein.
So if they are made in abundance on the south coast of England, a few must escape the net and show up in England itself, right? First I looked online, then in Afro-Caribbean shops in Manchester. Not a whiff. Then, when I lived in America, I detected a scent; apparently they are widely available in Afro-Caribbean stores. Well, not in any of the ones I looked in!
I was ready to give up hope, but then, when I returned to Manchester after my two-year hiatus, I eventually found somewhere that sold them, and that place was an online store called the Smelly Alley Fish Company, Reading. Hooray!
I ordered four and eagerly awaited their arrival. In the meantime I had to work out what to do with them.


Before I tackle any recipes, I’d better tell you what a red herring actually is.

A red herring is a heavily brined and smoked whole herring, rather like a bloater, except it is brined for at least a week, dried, and then cold smoked for at least four weeks. It is this extreme curing that gives both its red coloration and its unbelievably long shelf life so that it can easily survive long journeys and the humidity of the Caribbean.
The red herring cure originated in Scotland, but the herring fished in the North Sea were fatty; making them delicious, but decreasing their shelf life. However, the herring caught off the south coast of England at Great Yarmouth had little fat, and therefore were perfect for trade, eventually outcompeting Scotland.
Red herrings were a staple food for poor people living inland during the Middle Ages, especially during Lenten days, and predated the kipper, which is a relatively new invention.
I love Dorothy Hartley’s description of them from her 1954 classic Food in England:
Red Herrings are a form of super-salted bloater, very popular on the western seaboard, specially [sic] in Ireland. They produce a terrible thirst – all artists seem to like them: I cannot account for this. Rudyard Kipling makes his “Hal o’ the Draft” cook salt herrings in the Cathedral, but he provides the only corroborative authority that I can produce for this notable dietetic discovery.
Note: At Hogmanay, if the [sic] Glasgow friend wishes you well, he slips a red herring down his sleeve into the palm of his hand as he grasps it.
Next New Year’s Eve, I shall try that trick.
Now we know what a red herring is, why is it used in the famous idiom? Red herrings were used as a method of training hunting hounds. A false trail using the pungent red herring would be laid so that the training hound or hounds could be taught to ignore the obvious strong scent and pick up the faint and subtle scent of their hare or fox quarry. Hence, when someone is falsely distracted from their path or purpose, they have been given a red herring. Every day’s school day.
So what do you do with your red herring, once you have found it? Well, here are Jane Grigson’s instructions, which as per the rules of the game, I must follow:
If you ever manage to buy some, soak them well in water or milk. Then grill them or toast them in front of the fire, basting them with butter or olive oil. Serve them with scrambled eggs or potatoes mashed with plenty of butter. Or think of them as anchovies, to be used as a relish rather than a main food.
All good so far, but they are so dry, I wasn’t sure how long to soak them for. Hours? Days? I needed more instruction.
In Good Things in England (1932), Florence White gives us an 1823 Great Yarmouth recipe:
  1. Choose those that are large and moist.
  2. Cut them open, and pour over them some boiling small beer.
  3. Let them soak half an hour, then drain and dry them.
  4. Make them just hot through before the fire, and rub them over with cold butter.
  5. Serve with egg sauce or buttered eggs; mashed potatoes should also be sent up with them.
All well and good, but mine were not moist, but as dry and hard as if mummified.
Here’s a recipe from a lady called Meg Dodd’s, via The Scots Kitchen: Its Lore & Recipes (1929) by F Marian McNeill:
Skin, open, and trim red herring. If old and dry, pour some hot small beer or water over them and let them steep a half-hour, or longer if hard. Broil them over a clear fire at a considerable distance, or before the fire; rub them with good oil or fresh butter while broiling, and rub on a little more when they are served. Serve them very hot with cold butter, or with melted butter and mustard, and mashed potatoes or parsnips.
And finally, from the Smelly Alley Fish Company’s own website:
To cook them, soak for 48 hours, then fry with tomatoes – a great breakfast! They are great as they are (they don’t need to be cooked), and as they are very salty, you might need a pint of beer to drink with them.

I took Jane’s instruction and soaked them in milk, in the end, overnight. The next morning, the house awoke to the pungent smell of soaked red herrings. I fished them out of their now rufous milky marinade and grilled them smeared in butter, serving them with eggs for breakfast.
They were still pretty dry after all that soaking, though the roes found inside were nice and soft, and quite possibly the saltiest things I have ever eaten in my life. Trying to eat the flesh of the herring was tricky as it could not be parted easily from the bones. I had, as warned, a huge thirst, and the smell of red herring had still permeated my little terrace a week later.
#395 Red Herrings. What to say of red herrings!? Well they did taste good, but they were so unbelievably strong in flavour, and so difficult to eat (think fish jerky) I barely ate half of one. I think I need to revisit them following advice from those other recipes. A slow simmer in some hot milk might be a good idea, to help rehydrate the fish, or give a two-day cold soaking, but I think that it might be best cut with plenty of butter as potted red herrings or something like that. I have two left, so shall keep you posted on that one. Score? 7/10 I think, because the flavour was great, given even its pungency, it just needs taming!

#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.
 

#278 Crempog Las

Well Shrove Tuesday is almost here, so I thought I’d provide a pancake recipe from English Food. This one is perhaps a more alternative recipe as it is most definitely savoury rather than sweet, and best served up with sausages, bacon and eggs as a breakfast dish rather than for a Pancake Day evening pig-out. In America, people seem to be having much more fun with their Mardi Gras celebrations…
The Welsh seem much more adept at pancakes than the English and I suppose that’s why there are so many Welsh recipes in the Pancakes and Griddle Cakes section of the Teatime chapter of the book. If they weren’t counted, there would be slim pickings. Crempog Las, by the way, translates as green pancakes in Welsh (check out this site for more information on this dish and other Welsh dishes). I didn’t have high hopes as there has been a bad run of recipes from this section…
The other reason why I wanted to cook these pancakes is that I found a pack of sausages that I bought from Harrison Hog Farms. They have a stall at the Rice University Farmers’ Market and breed pigs that look suspiciously like Gloucester Old Spots; a fine old English breed, so I thought they can’t be bad. Naturally, I put in them in the freezer and promptly forgot about them. Even though I have only been in my Texan apartment for five months, I have managed to almost fill my freezer with bits that I see in shops and left overs like wine, egg whites, breadcrumbs and what-not that I expect one day will come in useful. I decided that it needs emptying. It is for the same reason that later on this week I will be doing oxtail soup.
Anyways, I have wittered on far too much:
Using a whisk, mix together four ounces of plain flour, a large egg, a dessertspoon of finely chopped parsley, a heaped teaspoon of finely chopped shallot and enough milk to make a thick batter. Season with salt and pepper. Fry the pancakes in some oil or grease  over a moderately-high heat until golden brown – two or three minutes a side should do it. That’s it. Serve with butter or as part of a fried breakfast.
#278 Crempog Las. These were delicious! A subtle savouriness from the slightly sweet-acrid shallot and the grassy freshness of parsley made them very morish. I am definitely adding these to my breakfast arsenal. Give them a try, they are so very, very easy. 7.5/10.

#260 Potato Cakes

During the working week I try my best to go to the gym and eat sensibly. This isn’t necessarily because I am a health fanatic, it is simply because from around the age of 28, it occurred to me that the old metabolism was grinding down a few gears and I was no longer able to scoff all the nice stodge and chocolate I liked to without becoming a massive fat knacker. And so the gym regime and healthy diet was introduced. However, this was just for five days of the week. The weekend however, is there for me to eat and drink all the things I used to like. It’s a trade-off innit?
Every Sunday whilst I have been in Texas, my breakfast treat has been pancakes and bacon, but today I thought I’d do these potato cakes from English Food. I’ve always associated potato cakes with Irish food – potato farls being an essential part of the Ulster Fry. However it seems that they are/were popular throughout Britain and Ireland.
To make the cakes, mash a pound of boiled potatoes, then mix in an ounce of melted butter, 4 ounces of plain flour, ½ teaspoon salt, a teaspoon of baking powder and – if you like – an egg. Bring all the ingredients together to form a dough that isn’t too sticky to handle and roll it out. Griggers gives us options as to how to cook and eat them: 1) Roll out thinly and cut out saucer-sized circles and cook on a griddle greased with lard, suet or bacon fat. Roll the cooked cakes around little sticks of salty butter. 2) Roll out the dough into ½” thickness and cut out circles with a scone cutter- griddle along with the bacon, sausage and eggs for 15 minutes. 3) Go Welsh: Add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and another of white sugar to the mixture. I went for the second option.

#260 Potato Cakes. These were great; and very easy to make too. They had a light texture due to the baking powder as well as a nice soft inside without being stodgy. They went perfectly with the sausages and sweet maple-smoked bacon I ate with them. I shall be making these again. 7/10

#113 Muffins

After the reasonable success of the crumpets, I thought I should carry on the bread theme and use up some more of the yeast. I didn’t even have to look through; I knew straight away that I wanted muffins – the second best breakfast carb after the crumpet… Don’t be confused between these muffins and American muffins – they are two very different beasts. I suppose in America our muffins are called English muffins, non?

Muffins are halfway between crumpets and bread – they are made with soft dough using strong flour and are cooked gently on the hob, rather than in the oven. They’re easy to do, but do require a bit of time and energy to knead them properly… It is worth putting in a bit of effort as it make the dough nice and elastic and therefore fluffier when cooked.

This recipe makes 12 muffins:

Start off by creaming ½ an ounce of yeast in 4 tablespoons of warm water, then warm ½ pint of whole milk and an ounce of butter in a pan until they reach blood heat. Meanwhile crack an egg into a bowl and give it a brief whisk, and pour in the warm milk into it, whisking thoroughly.

Weigh out a pound of strong plain white flour and empty it into a warm bowl (or better, warm the flour and bowl together on a low heat in the oven). Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast and the milk-egg mixture, along with a teaspoon of salt. Mix together thoroughly, adding more flour or water if required. You want a soft dough, but not one that is sticky. Knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes, place it, cover it and allow the dough to rise to at least double it’s volume.

Roll out the dough to ½ inch thickness and cut out rounds with large pastry cutters or whatever (I used crumpet rings). Knead the trimmings together and roll them out too, so you get as many muffins as possible from the mixture. Let them rise a little.

Put a heavy-based pan on a low heat and brush it lightly with lard or oil and fry them gently. Griggers says they should expand into something like a “puffball fungus”, and if you leave them to rise slightly they will. Turn them over after around 7 minutes and cook the other side.


Apparently, you should toast muffins whole – they should never be cut, but torn, adding butters as you go. Either way, eat them with lots of salted butter.

#113 Muffins – 7/10. I really liked these – it was easy to make them nice and light as the low heat made them almost impossible to overcook. The result is light and fluffy muffins that eat very well, very hard to get wrong, I think, and you should give them a go. They freeze well too…

#105 Kippers

Charlotte and myself when to the bustling metropolis that is Stockport at the weekend to buy boots (Charlotte) and to take back a plane to B&Q (me). This is the exciting life we lead. Be jealous. One great thing about Stockport is its market. It’s very old and very good; the market hall has been restored and refurbished and it looks very nice. I wanted to go for one particular reason: sweets. There’s brilliant stall that sells all the sweets from your childhood: cough cops, pineapple cubes, midget gems, and pear drops. You name it; they got it. We bought enough to induce a diabetic coma. On the way back Charlotte pointed out the fishmongers, where we saw some lovely kippers. We’d not had kippers for breakfast for ages so we thought we’d get a couple.

There are three ways to cook your breakfast kippers according to Grigson:
1. Poach in shallow water for a couple of minutes, serve with knob of butter
2. Fry in butter, a couple of minutes each side
3. Grill a couple of minutes each side. Skin side first, then turn over and add a knob of butter.

I went for number three, as it’s my favourite way. Whichever way you do them, make sure there’s freshly ground pepper on them and brown bread and butter on the side.


FYI: kippers are the most recent of the cured fishes – the kipper cure was created for salmon, but was then later applied to herring, where it was obviously much nicer.

#105 Kippers – 8/10. It’s not very often I have a savoury breakfast, but kippers really are best thing, salty and rich they give you a boost you really need of a morning. I’m surprised to see how few people like them, bring them back, I say. They do repeat on you for the rest of the day, so don’t go on a romantic date that may later lead on to heavy petting. You have been warned.