The best thing I found out was that an oatfield fell victim to a crop circle in 1676 – the first ever recording of one! The woodcut below shows that people assumed it was the work of the devil, rather than men from outer space.
Nobody really eats dulse, or any other seaweed, in England these days, though they used to. It is a pity because I do like the stuff. It seems to be popular still in Ireland though; my friend Evelyn often brings back a bag of it whenever she visits home and I like to steal a few pieces.
The dulse industry has obviously died a bit of a death in England and the rest of the UK and Ireland compared to days of yore. Charles Dickens, writing in 1858, reminisces about childhood holidays in Aberdeen where there were often over a dozen ‘dulse-wives’ selling dulse:
Kidney Soup was apparently a kitchen standby in households of times past – particularly in Scotland. Indeed, this recipe is taken from Florence B. Jack’s book Cookery for Every Household. Ms Jack was the principal of the Edinburgh School of Domestic Arts, and very austere she was too.
Now I know it sounds weird, but this is a classic recipe that is also cheap – cheap because it’s main ingredient is kidney, of course. We are being told that offal and the cheaper cuts of meats are suddenly becoming popular due to the recession, but I have not seen any evidence of really from the people that I speak to (though I have in butcher’s shop windows). When saying I’ve been doing this recipe, there has been nothing but pulled faces and dry retching (the only exception being Anthea – frequent blog commenter – she ate it often as a child). I must admit, however, that as much as I love kidneys, I wasn’t quite sure about eating them in soup. However, this book is full of surprises.
To start with you need a whole ox kidney; cut away any fat and gristly bits and cut up the kidney into small pieces. Brown it in an ounce and a half of butter or dripping in a large saucepan along with a sliced onion. Pour over four pints of beef stock and stir, adding some salt. Bring the stock to a boil and skim any scum that rises to the top. Add a bouquet garni and some spices: 20 peppercorns, a blade of mace and a quarter teaspoon of celery seeds. Tie the bouquet and spices in a piece of muslin first. Simmer for 3 to 4 hours, covered on the hob or in the oven.
When ready, skim any fat from the surface and strain the soup. As with most soups and stews its best let it cool down completely – overnight is best – so that you be sure of getting rid of all the fat. Pick out the bits of kidney and give them a rinse. Heat up the soup again and add an ounce of flour that has first been slaked in a tablespoon of mushroom ketchup. (The recipe doesn’t actually say what kind of ketchup, but with this being beef, mushroom or tomato are the best to use.) let the soup thicken slightly and add the kidney pieces. Finally season with more salt and pepper if required, plus some lemon or orange juice and a dash of sherry to add complexity of the flavour.
FYI: the kidneys were thought to be the part of the body concerned with conscience and reflection. Apparently, God would inspect the kidneys to see how good someone had been. In fact, one kidney was responsible for good thoughts, the other evil. The Latin word renes, is used to describe anything of the kidney (e.g. renal), but also is the root word for reins too. So there you go; a choice nugget of factoid for you there.
#193 Kidney Soup. This was a really delicious soup! I loved it the slightly spiced beef consommé was light and tasty and complimented the strong metallic gamey taste of the kidneys. It requires a bit for forethought to make it, but it is worth it I reckon. Cheap, tasty and good for you. 6.5/10.
A bit of a cop out this one as it it’s not really a recipe, though it is listed as one in the book. It’s actually more a bit of advice on good eating. There’s many like this in the book. Here, Griggers discusses the dos and don’ts of buying Finnan haddock, which is smoked haddock. We call it Finny haddock in Yorkshire. Findon, or Finnan is a small coastal village near Aberdeen in Scotland. It is there where the proper stuff is made. Griggers warns us of buying those ‘golden fillets’ that are that weird shiny orange colour like cheap sweaty spray-on tan, which I suppose it is but with added smoke flavour. Splarf. My mum used to buy them and they are vastly inferior to the proper stuff. There have been a few recipes so far in the book that has used Finnan haddock, and I think that I have mentioned all this before. However, if you want the really good shit, it is Arbroath that you need to travel to. There, Arbroath smokies are made. As I was in the fishmongers buying some prawns (see a later entry for what I wanted those for) there some were, just lying there. So I bought one, as you have to be opportunistic in this game.
So the recipe? “Heat briefly under the grill or in the oven, and eaten with plenty of butter and bread, or used for kedgeree.” So a brief grilling it was for my little smokie.
#190 Finnan Haddock. If you ever see those little Arbroath smokies in the fishmongers you have to buy some. The flesh was so succulent and sweet due to its protection by the now leathery skin, and the smoke flavour was nothing like anything I’ve tasted before: it was as though it had only just been taken out of the smokehouse and slipped onto my plate. The smoke flavour was sweet and acrid, not unlike a good cigar. Excellent. 8/10. If I catch any of you buying a golden fillet, I will come over personally and poke you in the eye with it.
The second of the three rabbits/rarebits that appear in English Food (the third being English of course). After the appearance of Welsh rabbit in the early eighteenth century, and its subsequent popularity, meant that it diversified. Griggers finds this recipe in Hannah Glasse’s 1747 book Art of Cookery. Scotch rabbit seems much easier (and cheaper, natch) as the only ingredients are cheese, toast and butter. The recipe is in fact just lifted directly out of her book, so that is what I’ll do:
‘Toast a piece of bread nicely on both sides, butter it, cut a slice of cheese about as big as the bread, toast it on both sides, and lay it on the bread.’
Easy? Let’s go through it again:
Toast a piece of bread nicely on both sides, butter it. Check.
…cut a slice of cheese about as big as the bread… Yep, good, done that.
…toast it on both sides… Say what now? How the hell are you meant to toast a piece of cheese on both sides!?
This is what I did: I cut the cut and laid it on a piece of buttered grease-proof paper in the hope it could grill it and turn it over. This was not the case as you can see by the photo!
#183 Scotch Rabbit (Rarebit) – 2/10. What a pathetic sight it was. The cheese just stuck to the paper and ended up a big mess. What I don’t understand is that normal good-old cheese on toast is better, tastier and above all easy to make. There is no wonder at all why the Scotch rabbit never took off.
First, make a flour mixture made up of two parts plain flour to one part corn flour (or rice flour). Either make a big batch of this or make precisely nine ounces. I made just what I needed, though I think I’ll be making some more pretty soon. Mix in 3 ounces of cold, cubes butter and one of sugar (In other words, a ratio of 3:2:1, so you can actually use any amount you want!). Either use a mixer or the tips of your fingers to rub in the butter, and once the mixture is breadcrumb-like, bring it together and knead briefly to form a dough. It will seem too dry at first, but the heat of your hands will help it. Don’t over work the dough either – you want a crumbly biscuit, not a cookie. Roll out the mixture to your preferred thickness and cut into your preferred shape. Put on a baking tray and scatter with more sugar. Bake at 180°C until cooked, you must take them out before they stat to colour, so keep an eye out for the merest hint – the timing will depend on the shape and thickness of your shortbreads.
Lee with said shortcake and mangoes
FYI: Traditional Scottish shortbread goes back to around the Twelfth Century, and it is traditional in the Shetland Isles to break a giant shortbread over the head of the bride on the day of the wedding.
#66 Shortbread – 9/10. Wonderful, crumbly and tasty; and this was the first time I’d ever made them. You cannot but shortcakes like this no matter where you go – they are too crumbly and short to be packaged. You’d just end up with a packet of dust.