Can’t Cook…Won’t Cook…

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.

The Premise

The whole idea of my blog came from a conversation I had with my boyf about a woman who decided to cook every recipe in a cook book she found. I’m quite an enthusiastic cook and thought it would be a great idea to give it a try too.

I’ve chosen to use Jane Grigson’s English Food for a variety of reasons. First, I enjoy cooking all sorts of world dishes but have never really concentrated on English/British cuisine apart from the odd dish here and there; second Grigson is a great writer; and third, although it was published in 1974, it very much concentrates on traditional dishes and many ingredients are no longer widely used (or perhaps not at all!).

That’s the serious bit done – the main reason I’m doing the whole thing is to become a better cook by concentrating on it as my hobby and to have some fun – although I don’t know where on Earth I’m going to get some of the ingredients from, i.e. brains!!

So this is it. I have to cook every dish in the book as written by Jane – even if it contains something I don’t like, e.g. whiskey and salmon. I’m sure I can find someone who’ll eat it! I may need help with finding some ingredients. If I can’t get hold of something, I’ll use the best alternative as a last resort. Many of the recipes contain foods that I’ve never tried myself so I’ll be giving feedback on everything as I go along!

I’d also like help from you too – hints and tips, good suppliers, whatever – all help will be greatly recieved! Also if you’d like to suggest the next recipe or even try cooking the recipes along with me to start discussions about the best way to devil a kidney or whatever we might be attempting!

All I need to decide on is what I’m going to cook first…