#397 Herb Jellies

Here’s a quickie from the Preserves part of the last chapter of English Food.

Herb jellies are apple jellies flavoured with a herb and a little vinegar for piquancy. They can be served with roast meats, cold cuts, cheese, even fish or vegetables such as peas.


You can use any herb you like. On my allotment there are vast amounts of mint, lemon thyme, chives, sage and oregano.

Here are some suggestions to give you some ideas:
Mint; lamb, duck, mushy peas, garden peas, new potatoes
Thyme; chicken and other poultry, pork, rabbit
Lemon thyme; chicken, fish
Sage; Pork
Marjoram/Oregano; pork, chicken, cheese
Chervil; game
I shan’t go on – I’m sure you get the idea!
My patch of mint needed taming so I put both the leaves and stems to good use.
It is pretty straight-forward.
First weigh, then roughly chop, some Bramley or windfall apples and place, skin core and all, in a large pan. Add 3 ½ fluid ounces of white wine vinegar to every 2 pounds of apples. Add enough water to only just cover the fruit. Amongst the apple pieces, tuck in 2 or 3 big springs of your chosen herb. Bring to a simmer and cook until the apples have become all mushy, around 20-25 minutes.


Pass the juice through a jelly bag and allow to drip overnight.

Next day, pour the juice into a preserving pan and to every pint add a pound of granulated sugar. Put on a medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Keep it on a good rolling boil until setting point is reached.
To test for setting point, bring the juice to a temperature of 104⁰C. To do this, the best thing to do is invest in a sugar thermometer, failing that place a drop or two on a freezing-cold plate and push it with your finger when the jelly is cool. If it wrinkles, it is set. I actually use both methods – the thermometer so that I know I’m there, and the wrinkle test to make doubly sure.
Pour into sterilised jars.

#397 Herb Jellies. This is a great recipe, though I found it too sweet. I adapted it by adding 50% more vinegar, and some of the herb itself, finely chopped, added once the sugar dissolved. Orginal recipe gets a 6.5/0, but it was pretty easy to make it an 8/10.

#329 John Evelyn’s Tart of Herbs


John Evelyn was a very influential diarist who left quite a legacy. He was from a well-to-do family in South-East London, but being the second son, had no rights to the estate (unless his brother died without having a son himself). So, to make up for this he decided to become a scholar and travelled France and Italy in search of knowledge during the tumultuous time of the English Civil War. He wrote several books, witnessed the Great Fire of London, and was friends with Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys. He lived during the reigns of Charles II, James II and William III and Mary II. He was talented landscaper, designing the gardens at Sayes Court, London. He became quite chummy with Charles II and was a founding member of the Royal Society. One of his books, called Sylvia, or a discourse of Forest Trees declared the tragedy befalling the country’s trees that were being felled for fuel to the glass factories. The book was responsible for the planting of millions of trees – quite the modern conservationist!

During his later years, he planned to write an encyclopaedia of horticulture, but only got as far as the first chapter. This chapter was published as a book in its own right in 1699, titled Aceteria and it is from this book that this recipe comes:
An Herb-Tart is made thus: Boil fresh Cream or Milk, with a little grated Bread or Naples-Biscuit (which is better) to thicken it; a pretty Quantity of Chervile, Spinach, Beete (or what other Herb you please) being first par-boil’d and chop’d. Then add Macaron, or Almonds beaten to a Paste, a littlesweet Butter, the Yolk of five Eggs, three of the Whites rejected. To these some add Corinths plump’d in Milk, or boil’d therein, Sugar, Spice at Discretion, and stirring it all together over the Fire, bake it in the Tart-Pan.
These sorts of sweet vegetable-based tarts were commonly eaten as a pudding during wintertime when there was no fresh fruit to be had. I had heard of carrots being used in this way, but not spinach! So, with an air of dubiousness I followed the updated version that Jane Grigson provides which surprisingly only contains spinach…
Begin by cooking 2 pounds of spinach in a pan with a little water and salt. Cover the giant pile with a lid and simmer until it collapses – about 5 minutes.
From this…
…to this!
Let it cool before draining and squeezing out any liquid, and then chop it.
Mix an ounce of breadcrumbs with ½ pint of single cream in a pan and slowly bring it to the boil. Meanwhile soak 2 ounces of currants or raisins in some warm milk. Into the cream, stir the spinach along with 1 or 2 ounces of macaroon crumbs (for a recipe see here), 2 ounces of butter, 2 whole eggs and two egg yolks, 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar and the raisins and milk. Stir the green slurry over a low heat until everything is well-incorporated. Add more sugar or macaroon crumbs and grate in some nutmeg to taste.
Line a 9 to 10 inch tart tin with some puff pastry and pour in the spinach mixture. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 220⁰C (425⁰F) until the pastry has begun the brown, and then turn the heat down to 180⁰C (350⁰F) bake until the filling is set, about 30 to 40 minutes.
This should be eaten hot or warm with some cream for pudding.
#329 John Evelyn’s Tart of Herbs. Well this was certainly a strange one and I haven’t made up my mind as to whether I liked it or not. There was no attempt at masking the flavor of the spinach, but it did marry surprisingly well with the fruit and other sweet things as well as the nutmeg. Even though everyone ate it quite happily we weren’t sure if it was a dessert, and after my fourth slice, I still wasn’t sure! I think it could be very successfully reproduced as an amuse-bouche or hors d’oeuvre though. An interesting winter-warmer, though maybe not for a pudding course. 7/10.

#328 Salmon in Pastry, with a Herb Sauce

This is a recipe that is inspired by the medieval love of combining fish and candied sweetmeats. Griggers says it is a ‘brave, but entirely successful blend’. We’ll see. Large medieval banquets had to contain dishes with lots of spice; after all how else could you display your vast wealth other than to use that new and exciting new spice, sugar? When first brought to Europe from India, sugar was considered a spice like any other and therefore medicinal. It lost its rank as a spice once it gained popularity as a more general addition to the dinner table; albeit a giant banqueting table.

The addition of the salmon, then, you might feel was also a mark of an ostentatious medieval lord. It is not the case, back in the day, before such things as pollution and overfishing, streams were teeming with fish like salmon. In fact they were so common on the River Mersey that people used to feed them to their pigs! The same, of course, goes for oysters too, and yet we can now buy a pound of sugar for 30 pence. How times have changed.
This dish is very attractive: a nice piece of fish wrapped in pastry with some spices and a nice piquant herb sauce containing some lesser used herbs, and it’s pretty easy to make to boot.
Ask the fishmonger for a 2 ½ pound tail piece of salmon and ask him or her to bone it. If you like, ask them to take off the skin (though I have never seen the point of this). If there isn’t a tail in a single piece, get two filleted tail ends of approximately equal size.
To make the sweet and spicy filling, beat 4 ounces of softened butter with 4 knobs of preserved ginger that have been chopped, a heaped tablespoon of raisins and  a rounded tablespoon of chopped, blanched almonds. Use half of the mixture to sandwich the two pieces of salmon together and then spread the remaining half over the top piece. Season with salt and pepper.
Now you are ready to encase the beast in pastry. Jane suggests using a shortcrust pastry made with 8 ounces of flour and 4 of fat, but I needed a lot more: I used a batch made of 14 ounces of flour and 7 of fat! I must have got a very large 2 ½ pound piece of salmon… Roll out a third of the pastry into a shape larger than the fish and place it on top. Next, roll out the rest and carefully place it over the fish, gluing it together with some beaten egg before trimming the edges and glazing the whole thing. Use the trimmings to ‘make a restrained decoration on top. There were a few small cracks in my pastry, but I hid them most cleverly with some pastry leaves that I placed here and there. I must say, I was quite impressed with my effort. Make 2 or 3 slashes on the top so that steam can escape and bake it for 30 to 35 minutes at 220C (425F).

Whilst the salmon cooks, you can get on with the sauce. Gently fry 2 chopped shallots, a heaped teaspoon of chopped parsley and a teaspoon of mixed chopped tarragon and chervil in 2 ounces of butter. When the shallots have softened, stir in a teaspoon of flour, then ½ pint of single cream (or half single-half double; American readers: heavy whipping cream is the thing to use here). Simmer for around 10 minutes, then season with salt and pepper and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Whisk 2 egg yolks with a couple more tablespoons of cream, turn down the heat in the pan and pour in. The sauce will thicken as the yolks start to cook – do not let the sauce boil, or your yolks will scramble. Finally, lift the whole thing by adding a good squeeze of lemon juice.

Place the salmon in its pastry on a hot dish; serve with the sauce in a separate sauceboat.’
#328 Salmon in Pastry, with a Herb Sauce. Another winner from Grigson; the medieval folk of England obviously knew what they were doing, and obviously weren’t all style, no substance. The salmon remained nice and moist and was perfectly cooked and really was complemented by its very sweet and slightly spiced butter basting. My only complaint would be that there wasn’t enough of the filling; I would have added at least an extra half again of the ginger and raisins. The sauce was excellent – creamy, yet light – tarragon and chervil are really delicious herbs that don’t get featured enough. This applies to chervil particularly, which seems to be in season at the moment as it’s cropping all over the place at the minute. A very good dish this one that could be made excellent with some minor changes. 8/10.

The blog might have been quiet, but I have not…

Ey-up, Grigsoners! I’ve not posted for a while on the blog because I have simply run out of money this month. The move up has been pretty expensive and I only had two week’s pay to last me the whole month. Most of this has gone on petrol and boring moving things. However, I have been getting to explore the city and I’ve managed to find an excellent little farmers’ market very close to me. Tower Grove Farmers’ Market is small yet perfectly formed and has plenty of stalls to keep me busy.

I have found suppliers for Guinea fowl, wild rabbit, marrow bones and all-sorts of tricky to find poultry and meat-cuts.

There’s also a lovely English lady called Jane who has an English bakery stall, plus a great tea stall too. I am looking forward to getting to know these people. I also went to St Louis’s most popular farmers’ market at Soulard last week. This one was rather disappointing as it wasn’t really a farmers’ market, just a huge normal food market really. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I’m sure I’ll frequent it for fruit and vegetables, and there was a few good proper farmer-run stalls there, but no meat or fish really.

Talking of fish there are two great places for that kind of thing here – Bob’s Seafood sells a good range of sea fish and will order fish in for you too, plus they’ll portion the stuff as you request. Should be good to get the usually tricky-to-find mackerel and herring. There is also a huge Asian supermarket called Seafood City which is quite an experience; there’s a host of live fresh and seawater fish and crustaceans including eel. There’s also live turtle, which I actually found a little disturbing. Many of the species are killed in-store which is a bit gruesome. The killings only seem to occur once a week. Go on a Saturday and there fresh fish a-plenty. Go on a Thursday and it is a sorry site

One of my best friends of the blog is, of course, the internet and have found that Amazon.com of all places has an excellent grocery department. I have managed to get preserved ginger – a favourite ingredient of mine and never seen by me anywhere in a grocery store in the USA thus far. I’ve also managed to get some seaweed, not a thing really associated with English food anymore, though still popular in Wales and Ireland.

Lastly, I have also been attemping to flex my green fingers. Some herbs and vegetables are simply unavailable – both sides of the pond. I have therefore got hold of some heirloom seeds and have planted some winter savory (required for the lamb’s head in brain sauce recipe!) and chervil.

I’ve also bought a mint and a marjoram plant. I don’t want to get too cocky, so I am sticking with these four for now and I shall see how I get on. I am a terrible gardener so I won’t get too excited about it yet; my mint plant is already riddled with some kind of powdery mildew, though some chervil seeds have germinated, so you take the rough with the smooth. The aim is to get a full herb garden growing. We shall about that one…

#272 Melted Butter

As our Jane quite rightly points out in English Food, many old recipe books suggest serving meat, fish and vegetables with good butter or good melted butter. This is not just high quality butter melted on the food, but a butter sauce not unlike hollandaise. The main difference being that flour is used to thicken the sauce instead of egg yolks, which makes the sauce much easier to make. In The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald, there are quite a few mentions of it, but no actual receipt. The recipe given here is from The Cook’s Guide by a certain Charles Elmé Francatelli who was briefly the chef at Buckingham Palace during the reign of Queen Victoria. Oh la-dee-da! (He left because he was disgusted with the filthiness of the kitchens.)
Anyways, the sauce seemed to be the perfect accompaniment to the poor old lobster I accidentally dismembered, then boiled. I’ll give the basic recipe and then the variations…
To make the sauce it is best to do the whole thing in a bain-marie or double boiler – i.e. a bowl over simmering water.  Weigh out 9 ounces of unsalted or lightly salted butter – Griggers suggests using a good Danish butter – melt one third of it in the ban-marie with some pepper and nutmeg. Next, stir in an ounce of flour and ¼ pint of cold water, using a whisk to prevent lumpiness. Heat until the sauce is at simmering point, then turn the heat right down and leave for 20 minutes for the sauce to thicken. Now beat in the rest of the butter piece by piece using the whisk. Add any flavorings you want at this point (see below for some suggestions). Season with lemon juice and salt, plus more pepper if required. Lastly, add a tablespoon of double cream for richness.
Flavorings:
Shrimp sauce – add some brown shrimp to the sauce at the end; use fish stock instead of water if you like
Lobster and crab sauces – add the chopped flesh plus some Cayenne pepper. If the lobster was a lady lobster with roe, then pass it through a sieve into the sauce.
Anchovy sauce – add some anchovy essence.
Herb sauce – add plenty of chopped herbs to the sauce near the end of cooking. For larger herbs like sorrel and spinach, steam and chop them before adding them to the sauce.
For the sauce I made, I didn’t want to chop the lobster up, so I stirred in the brown meat (which people think is inedible because of its consistency, but it is delicious) and some chopped parsley and provided it in a jug to be poured over the lobster halves.
Check out the fancy lobster tools!
#272 Melted Butter. I really like this surprisingly light sauce and it complimented the lobster brilliantly. Plus it was much easier than a sauce hollandaise – one didn’t have to stand next it hoping it wouldn’t split. I imagine it would be good to serve with fish, potatoes and asparagus for a Sunday lunch in the summertime. A definite winner this one.

Not quite the Good Life, but it’s a start…

Aside from a bit of baking to help me relax I’ve been attempting a little bit of gardening. I have no idea what I’m doing at the minute, but I’m aiming for two things: one, some kind of fresh produce for myself – though in very small amounts as my back yard is tiny; two, British flowers that will not only look nice but attract any passing wildlife that has dared enter darkest Levenshulme. I’m hopefully choosing plants that tick both boxes simultaneously. Thus far: rosemary, red basil, chives, leaf beet spinach, mint, marjoram, blackberry, raspberry and blackcurrant. I also plan to attempt some broad beans and maybe some peas too, as well as extra hard-to-get herbs like tarragon and chervil, plus some wild flowers too. All this should add up to a lovely little oasis in a sometimes miserable South Manchester.

Thus far only the red basil has germinated, I shall keep you posted. Has anyone got any tips or suggestion as to what else I can plant? It has to be something easy to look after that takes up little space. Any comments are very welcome. Ta!