#220 Carrots in 1599

These days we take the humble carrot for granted and treat it as a bog-standard, perhaps boring, veg to have with our meat and two veg – particularly beef. In the Sixteenth Century, however, things were obviously very different for us commoners and carrots were a blessing. Europe in 1599 was ravaged with bubonic plague and many people had to live off their own land. Wheat was not something you can grow in large enough amounts to sustain one’s own family and the extent of the poverty in those times meant few could afford it. Therefore people took to growing root vegetables – and the carrot was very popular as it was relatively easy to grow. There is a species of wild carrot that grows in Britain and Europe, but the cultivated carrot actually most likely arrived from Afghanistan.

Drama King: Billy-Bobs Shakespeare

Just so you know (and to put things into a historical perspective), in 1599 Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne, the first performance of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare went down well at the Globe Theatre in London and Oliver Cromwell – the future Lord Protector of England – was born.

A blast from the past? Carrots in 1599

For this entry, Jane recounts a section from the book Profitable Instructions for the Manuring, Sowing and planting of Kitchin Gardens by Richard Gardiner which was first published in 1499. He essentially makes suggestions as how to make good use of carrots: ‘carrots roots are boiled with [salted] beef…a few carrots do save one quarter of beef in the eating of whole beef…carrots of red colours are desired of many to make dainty salads…[they] make those pottage good, for the use of the common sort…carrots well boiled and buttered is a good dish for hungry or good stomachs’. Carrots also give ‘good nourishment to all people…therefore sow carrots in your gardens, and humbly praise God for them, as for a singular and great blessing’.

I particularly liked the phrase ‘carrots well boiled and buttered is a good dish for hungry or good stomachs’, so that is what I did to go with the jugged hare. It’s good to know that some things don’t change.

#220 Carrots in 1599. I’m not actually going to give a score for this as it’s not really a proper recipe (i.e. a total cop-out). However, I think it really highlights that we take much of our food for granted – not that there is anything wrong with that – and that people in other counties or times past view things in such a different and sometimes inspiring ways.

#79 Carrot and Hazelnut Cake

Right. I promise that October shall be much more eventful in the world of The Grigson than September. It was my turn to do the cake for Evolution Group at University, so I’ve been given a good kick up the arse.

A favourite of the group is carrot cake, and there is a recipe in English Food – though it’s very different to the American carrot cake. It’s made without using fat, like a Genoese spoge to make it light and has the added bonus of having hazelnuts in it. Couldn’t resist not sandwiching it with American-style cream cheese filling.

FYI: Carrots have been used for desserts quite a lot in England. Mrs. Beeton had a sweet, chewy carrot tart in her book; it was revived as mock apricot tart during rationing in the Second World War, if I remember rightly (not that I was in WWII, you understand).

Separate four eggs and add to the yolks to the bowl of a food mixer along with 4 ounces of caster sugar. Whisk them together until pale and frothy. This takes a while so meanwhile finely grate 4 ounces of carrots and blitz 2 ounces of toasted hazelnuts in a food processor (or, heaven-forbid, chop them by hand!). Fold these into the eggy mixture along with 4 ounces of sifted, plain flour. Next, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Slaken the mixture by stirring in a third of the whites and then fold in the rest. Spoon the mixture into two greased and papered 9 inch cake tins and bake at 190ºC for anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes. They’re ready when the sponge springs back pressed lightly. Cool on wire racks.

To make the filling, beat together 8 ounces of full-fat soft cheese with 5 ounces of softened unsalted butter, once incorporated, beat in 4 tablespoons of icing sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Use this to sandwich the cakes together. Dust the whole thing with icing sugar, if you please.

#79 Carrot and Hazelnut Cake – 8/10. A success. Every seemed to like it. Much less dense than a typical carrot cake. I could only have a tiny wee sliver since I’m meant to be on a carb-free week this week, but I had to taste it for the blog, didn’t I!?

#68 Carrot and Tomato Soup

This one is very similar to the tomato soup I made last month, and has almost the same ingredients. I used beef stock rather than vegetable stock this time, which really brings out the flavour of the tomatoes, so unless you’re vegetarian go for the beef!

Soften 8 ounces of sliced carrots and a medium-sized, chopped onion in 2 ounces of butter. Add 8 ounces of peeled and chopped tomatoes and 1 3/4 pints of stock and gently simmer until the carrot is cooked. Liquidise and pass through a sieve to remove seeds before returning to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and add 1/4 pint of single cream and some chopped chives.

Soup 7/10; attractiveness 1/10.

#68 Carrot and Tomato Soup – 7/10. Really delicious. Sieving it and adding cream made it really silky and smooth, which is important when you can hardly open your mouth. It freezes brilliantly too.

Sunday Dinner – # 30 and 31

After a Friday night out on the razz and a hangover all Saturday, me and Greg thought we’d do a nice Sunday lunch and get Joff round. We decided to make pretty normal one – pies, gravy, peas, veg , Yorkshire puddings. But we thought the Grigson must have something we could do. Of course, she always delivers; (#30) Carrot and Potato Cake seemed straight-forward and unfussy. Simply fry an onion in butter and stir in 2 or 3 grated carrots along with plenty of salt. Spread half in a cake tin, followed by a pound of thinly-sliced potatoes and then the remaining carrot mixture. Bake in the oven until all has become soft – about 25 minutes. We had a slice of it with our meal and it was a much welcomed addition. The juice from the carrots and the butter made a lovely orange-coloured sweet sauce.

The pudding was an Eighteenth Century-style (#31) Baked Custard Tart. Usually the kind I have is made from eggs, milk, sugar and nutmeg, but this was made from 3/4 pint of single cream boiled with a cinnamon stick and 2 blades of mace. The cream was sieved and added to 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks along with 2 tablespoons of sugar. This was whisked thoroughly and quickly so that it didn’t scramble. Then 2 teaspoons of orange flower water was added, and it was all poured into a blind-baked sweet shortcrust pastry base, a flourish of grated nutmeg added to the surface, and baked on a low/medium heat for about 30 minutes until just set. Can’t wait to get my new kitchen in – hopefully will be starting it at the weekend. Watch this space!

#30 Carrot and Potato Cake – 7/10. An interesting and fuss-free way of making your typical Sunday veg a bit more interesting (and fattening, natch).

#31 Baked Custard Tart – 8/10. Lovely! Very creamy and fragrant. The orange flower water was a perfumed delight! However, I think I do prefer the recipe I know of – there is several recipes similar to this in English Food, so I won’t worry that I’m missing out!

Greg says:
“#31 Baked Custard Tart: 8/10. Woop! Bona to vada your dolly old tart. Me and Joffrey were dry humping over this one. I even gave Pugling a little bit and he made his scratty schnarfing gulp-sound which means ‘I like’. Despite Neil’s misremembering I’m sure this is the only pie of this kind he’s made me and thus is my fave of the breed so far.”

#11 Braised Beef with Carrots

Second course. This one couldn’t be simpler either – all you need is time…and thyme too.

I got a piece of brisket from Savin Hill Farm (http://www.savin-hill.co.uk/), who have a stall from the farmers’ market in Manchester. Brown it in lard and put it into a flameproof casserole. Add loads of sliced carrots, and inch or two’s depth of chicken stock and a big sprig of thyme. Cook on a very low heat, topping-up the stock and adding more carrots for about 2 hours. I served it, as the Grigson recommends, with boiled potatoes. I have to say, I’m going to have to give this one mixed reviews. The carrots cooked with the beef and in the thymey stock were beautifully tender. The beef itself was extremely tasty; really….er….beefy! When I bought it, it was a deep red colour with a little bit of marbling. I don’t think I’ve actually cooked brisket before, and tasty though it was, some of it was pretty tough. The Grigson did say you could use the more expensive cut, silverside. Perhaps I should’ve. I’m sure it wasn’t down to Savin Hill’s produce. FYI: rolled brisket is the strip of muscle from the breast of the cow rolled up. It is one of the 8 primal cuts of meat. I found out that apparently you’ve to cook it fat facing upwards to make it lovely and tender. Oh well – next time it’ll be better!

Simon says:
A main course of beef with carrots was greedily consumed. The carrots were outstanding, cooked in the meat stock and packed full of thyme flavour. The beef was tasty but rather tough in parts: questions were raised over Grigson’s suggested cut for the dish. Served with good peas and spuds. 6/10

I say:
#11 Braised Beef with Carrots: 6/10. I agree with Mr. Simon on this one. Have a feeling it may be my naive beef cookery!