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..?
I wanted to hit the ground running with the Griggers project this September after being away in Turin (work, not play) for the latter part of August, but alas, I have been hindered. There are two main problems here: I am skint and I have become a right old fat knacker all of a sudden. These factors combined can be a hindrance with the recipes in English Food. However, Charmolian and I are being rather more mindful of budgets by planning stuff out properly and sharing cooking duties. To begin with, I tried this soup – cheap and easy, but an unusual one. It is apparently, a very old recipe going right back to the fifteenth century. It is very cheap to make and therefore I assume it was a peasant dish: (windfall) apples and beef broth, basically.
So thrifty folks, here’s how to make your own taste of Medieval England:
Start off by simmering some pearl barley and/or rice in some beef stock until cooked. Next bring 2 ½ pints of beef stock in a saucepan. Meanwhile, roughly chop roughly around 12 ounces of either cooking apples or Cox’s apples ; no need to peel or core. Add the apples to the beef stock and simmer until soft. Strain and push the apples through the sieve, and then add half a teaspoon of ground ginger and a quarter teaspoon of ground black pepper before stirring in the rice or barley. Serve very hot.
#182 Apple Soup. A strange one, this one. It’s not the most exciting – it is what it is, apples and beef, and I’m hardly about to do cartwheels over it, but I did grow to enjoy it after a few spoonfuls. The texture was quite appealing, the high pectin content of the apples makes it slightly viscous and gloopy, and combined with the thickening barley and rice made it seem more substantial than it was, which is good as it’s almost totally calorie-free. Would I make it again? Only when I’m very poor. It’s interesting to eat some food that has some history though. 5/10.
After the success of the Welsh Cawl last month and since it’s been fookin’ freezing of late I thought I’d try something similar – Mutton and Leek Broth. All very much in the same vein. I’ve never cooked mutton before and only eaten once or twice. Plus Grigson says it is “magnificent”. The recipe calls for scrag end of neck, which I managed to get hold of from Frost’s in Chorlton (what would I do without them?); as it’s a cheap cut this soup is really good for those on a budget: 1 ½ pounds for four quid. If you can’t get mutton, you can use lamb. Ask your butcher to chop it up for you as it’s a bit of a hack-saw job.
FYI 1: the neck of a lamb/sheep/veal calf is split into three sections: scrag end nearest the head, which is mainly bone. This is a good thing for broths as it imparts flavour to make a delicious stock. Apparently scrag end is an old fashioned term, and we say ‘round end of neck, presumably because scrag end doesn’t sound too appetising. There’s mid-neck or middle neck and best end of neck too – I’m sure I will get to them in some other recipe.
FYI 2: mutton applies to sheep that have more than two permanent incisors in wear, usually over ayear old.
Like many soups and stews that involve cooking joints and bones up, it’s best to cook it the day before, also the pearl barley requires soaking time so keep this all in mind.
Start by rinsing and soaking 4 ounces of pearl barley in water for four hours. Do some light housework in the meantime, or maybe just watch a film in between. Drain the barley and put it in a large saucepan or stockpot. Trim off any excess fat from the meat (keep any big chunks and freeze them and use for Singin’ Hinnies, which I’ll be cooking very soon) and add the chunks to the pot along with 4 pints of water. Bring it to the boil and simmer it gently for an hour before adding the vegetables: 5 ounces of diced carrot, 4 of diced turnip, a stalk of chopped celery, a chopped leek and 5 ounces of chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper at this point too. Let the broth simmer for at least another hour until the meat is falling off the bones. Cut the meat up and return it to the pot and discard the bones. Skim any fat from the soup – this is the point to leave it over night; solidified fat is much easier to remove. Bring back to the boil and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper, sugar and cayenne pepper. Be quite liberal with the sugar and salt. Slice a second leek thinly and add to the broth along with some chopped parsley and turn off the heat; the residual heat will cook the leek. Serve with granary bread and butter.
#103 Mutton and Leek Broth – 6.5/10. A nice soup that needed a lot of seasoning to make it delicious. I really liked the mild mutton flavour and the pearl barley, but expected it to be much more flavourful. That said, because the batch I made was so big I was still eating it three days later and it did get better as time went by.