July food

Probably the most exciting food month – all my favorite fruits are here in abundance. It’s also my birthday this month so I expect many gifts. I accept all major credit cards.

I managed to get quite a few seasonal ingredients last month, so hopefully I will do this month – it shouldn’t be too difficult as I’m spoiled for choice, plus I’ve got my fruit, veg and herbs growing away in my garden. Again not all of these are in the book:

Vegetables: globe artichokes, beetroot, broad beans, carrots, cauliflower, courgettes, french beans, garlic, kohlrabi, lamb’s lettuce, onions, pak choi, peas, potatoes, purslane, radishes, rocket, samphire, sorrel, spinach, tomatoes and watercress.

Fruit: apricots, blackcurrants, blueberries, cherries, gooseberries, raspberries, red and whitecurrants, rhubarb, strawberries and worcesterberries (whatever they are).

Wild greens and herbs: horseradish, marsh samphire and wild fennel.

Wild flowers and fruits: elderflowers and wild strawberries (loads of these in France!).

Fungi and nuts: chanterelles, chicken of the woods, pignuts and summer truffles.

Fish and shellfish: black bream, crab (brown, hen and spider), signal crayfish, cuttlefish, pollack, scallops, sea bass, sea trout and river tout.

Game: rabbit and wood pigeon.

#158 Gooseberry Stuffing for Mackerel

Apart from Britain and the Netherlands, gooseberries are not grown and eaten in large numbers. This is because they’re not a particularly popular fruit for desserts. However, they are often served with mackerel as in this traditional English recipe. It seems to be a combination that has gone out of favour these days – I’ve certainly never eaten them with fish, though I have has tuna and rhubarb before and that was lovely, so I’ve high hopes for this one.

This makes enough stuffing for 4 mackerel:

Top and tail 8 ounces of gooseberries and cook them gently in ½ an ounce of butter until they just begin to soften and pop. Mash them with the back of a wooden spoon, and when luke warm add another 1 ½ ounces of butter and 4 tablespoons of breadcrumbs. Season them up with salt, and both black and Cayenne pepper, plus a little sugar if the gooseberries are too tart (they need quite a lot of tartness, to cut through the oily mackerel).

Bone the mackerel, or ask your fishmonger to do it (if you want to do it yourself – and it is very easy – follow this link for instructions) and divide the mixture up between them. Place them in a buttered ovenproof dish and season the skin with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes at 190⁰C. I served them with salad.

#158 Gooseberry Stuffing for Mackerel – 8/10. This was a taste sensation. The piquant gooseberry stuffing cuts through the rich oily mackerel so well. This really is a recipe that needs a resurgence. Now is the perfect time to make it people – both gooseberries and mackerel are in season. Isn’t it funny how things that are in season at the same time, seem to go so well together? It’s almost as though God planted them all there for us. Unfortunately, I’m too old to still believe in God, so I assume that there’s a better explanation.

#157 Gooseberry Fool

Technically the first of the British soft summer fruits, the gooseberry is one of my all-time favourites. It seems to have gone out of favour these days and quite tricky to track down. I suppose it’s because you have to top and tail them and cook them before you eat then. It’s big shame though. It seems that some people don’t even know what gooseberries are, seeing as one woman in the greengrocers told the lady on the till that there was “something wrong with your grapes, ‘cos they’re all hairy”. I despair sometimes, I really do. Oh well, if you come across some and don’t know what to do with them, start of by making a fool. If you don’t find any, you can substitute any soft fruit for the gooseberries and still have something delicious.

This was enough for three:

Top and tail 8 ounces of gooseberries, place them in a pan with an ounce of butter, cover and cook them gently. Once the gooseberries turn a yellow-ish colour and have softened – around 5 minutes – crush then with a wooden spoon and/or a fork. Try to avoid making them too pureed and mushy; you still want a bit of bite. Now add sugar, not too much as the fruit is supposed to remain a little tart, however, this is all down to personal preference. Allow to cool. Now whip ¼ pint of double cream and fold in the gooseberries and spoon into serving dishes. Grigson suggests serving with an almond biscuit (I didn’t)

#157 Gooseberry Fool – 8/10. This is my kind of pudding; small, yet perfectly-formed, I love stewed fruit and cream (or custard) of any type, but gooseberries especially and they are such a short-lived treat that you need to show them off as best – and as simply – as you can.

Flaming June

Well May seemed to fly by in a hazy blur, I’m surprised I got so many recipes done and typed-up for the blog (though there is one pending, and it’s very special). I was pretty pleased that managed to stick with seasonal produce. I’ve found – or should I say, Butters has found – a very good seasonal guide: The River Cottage Seasonal Food Guide. If you don’t know anything about River Cottage, then look at their site. Headed by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, they are championing self-sufficiency on whatever scale you can manage. The good thing is that their guide includes wild food. Anyways, here’s the list for flaming June – again, not all appear in English Food, but all is here for completeness:

Asparagus, broad beans, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, peas (including sugar snap, purslane, radishes, rocket, sorrel, watercress.

Cherries (European), gooseberries, rhubarb, strawberries.

Wild greens and herbs:
Broom buds, horseradish, sea spinach, wild fennel.

Wild flowers and fruits:

Fungi and nuts:
Pignuts, St George’s mushrooms.

Fish and shellfish:
Black bream, spider crab, signal crayfish, cuttlefish, mackerel, pollack, salmon (wild), sea bass, sea trout, river trout.

Wood pigeon.

So that’s the list – I’ll see what I can do. The big highlights for me are gooseberries and strawberries. Keep an eye out for me folks for anything on the list you find, especially gooseberries since no bugger seems to sell them anymore!

#146 Asparagus with Melted Butter

Does anyone know if Britain has had an asparagus shortage this year? I’ve looked high and low for days and not found any from the UK, most are from Peru and the nearest were from Catalan. Then, I happened upon some in Asda of all places. I love asparagus, but refuse to eat the important stuff – aside from its flavor, the reason it’s special is because it is such a short-lived treat. I don’t want to eat it all year round. Griggers didn’t agree, it seems, and scoffed it whenever she could get her mitts on some.

There’s no other way of enjoying this excellent vegetable – simply steamed with butter. The only addition I’ve made is a serving it on a slice of toast to turn this from a starter to light supper dish.

You will need at least 10 stalks per person – or more if you have those delicate thin fronds. Trim away the woody ends by cutting or snapping them off and tie the stalks up with string. Stand the asparagus in a saucepan with an inch of boiling water seasoned with salt and pepper. Cover the pan (or make a dome with foil if your pan is not deep) and simmer until tender and cooked – anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes depending on thickness. Alternatively, cook them in an asparagus kettle or steam them. Meanwhile melt an ounce of butter for every serving and season it with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Lay the asparagus on a plate and pour over the butter or serve it in a separate jug.

FYI: Asparagus is famous for producing smelly wee – though some people haven’t made this observation. This isn’t because their urine hasn’t taken on the smell, but that they lack the specific receptor in the nose that detects it. It is all down to one particular recessive allele of a gene – if you have both copies of the allele, you won’t be able to smell your sticky asparagus wee – but everyone else will! Nice.

#146 Asparagus with Melted Butter – 9.5/10. This is pretty hard to beat – the bitter-sweet asparagus with the rich salty and tart lemon butter are a marriage made in heaven. I could eat this forever.

#142 Ballymaloe Fruit Tarts

As Grigson says in her entry for this recipe – “in no way are these English”. Seeing as they’re obviously Irish; a recipe from a lady called Myrtle Allen who lived/lives in Cork (I wonder if she’s related to Rachel Allen?), but came up with it in France, I’d be inclined to agree. However, as you’ll see if you make them, they seem quintessentially English – the whipped cream, the chewy ground almond base and, most importantly, the use of seasonal fruit. One fruit on my seasonal list for May is rhubarb. However, there’s no rhubarb recipe in the book, at least not specifically rhubarb. This seemed like the only opportunity to use it. You can of course use any fruit: “During the first part of the year, top them with chunks of lightly cooked pink rhubarb, next come gooseberries, then the wild possibilities of the full summer…”.

FYI1: If like me, you love rhubarb, don’t make a habit of eating too much of the green rhubarb as it causes kidney and bladder stones due to the oxalate contained in the green areas – it dissolves in the blood no problems but in large amounts precipitates once it’s been filtered by the kidneys.

FYI2: All of the pink forced rhubarb in Britain comes from West Yorkshire – the rhubarb triangle. It’s a triangle because all farms are located within the triangle that Leeds (my home town), Branford and Wakefield make up. Read about it here.

This is a very easy recipe; summery and light, just right to finish off the skate salad I had made. For the base you need ground almonds, caster sugar and lightly salted butter all in equal amounts. Griggers says 4 ounces of each, but I went for 2 ounces of each seeing as there was just me and Butters to feed. This made 12 little tarts.

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C. Cream together the butter, sugar and almonds and place teaspoonfuls of the mixture into a small tart tin. Bake for 10 minutes, maybe more, maybe less; what happens is magical – the blobs of mixture spread out to form perfect little tart bases that are cooked once they are rimmed with golden brown. Take them out of the tins when they’ve cooled a little bit with a butter knife or a teaspoon and allow to cool and harden on a wire rack. Don’t leave them in there too long or they’ll stick to the tins. Now whisk some cream, and a little sugar if you like, and place a teaspoon of it in the tart case and some of the fruit on top. (For the rhubarb, I stewed it lightly with some sugar and a vanilla pod.)

#142 Ballymaloe Fruit Tarts – 7.5/10. Really simple and delicious. The base is chewy and the topping, light. Even if you don’t bake these sorts of things, have a go at these – you get a lot of return for little effort.

Getting Seasonal

It’s tricky to choose recipes to cook when there are still so many to choose from in the book – plus, many ingredients are unknown to me, and because of a certain amount of trepidation I’ve ignored some. I have decided that the best thing to do here is to follow the seasons more closely (I try to do this as much as I can anyway). This means that anything new to me as a cook, should be in tip-top shape and therefore be much less likely to go wrong. At least that’s the theory. So, after a little bit of research on the internet, here’s a list of meat, fish, vegetables and fruits that are in season and/or at their peak in May. Not all are used in English Food, but I’ve included them for completeness. We shall see how many I can do this Maytime:

Sea trout
Sea bass
Cabbage (all kinds)
Samphire (I don’t know where I’m going to get thhis from! Help anybody?)
Jersey Royal potatoes
Spring onions

#57 Asparagus Omelette

Another asparagus recipe; there’s two more, but I don’t think I’ll get them done before I go to France at the end of next week. (I’m going on a field trip to St. Auban, just north of Nice.) I bought the ingredients from the excellent fruit and veg stall that’s outside All Saint’s Park on Oxford Road, on the campus of Manchester Metropolitan University. I think a lot of people walk straight past it, thinking it’s some cheapo stall, but it’s certainly not. It sells seasonal produce – including English asparagus – at a very good price. I knew Joff was coming round and I wanted to make something quick and easy, so I thought an asparagus omelette would certainly fit the bill (and it did).

For 3. Start by trimming and cooking a bunch of asparagus as I did for the Asparagus and eggs. Drain them and cut them into thirds. Save some of the best tips for garnish. Keep the rest warm in the oven sprinkled with Gruyere cheese – a tablespoon per person. Make the omelettes using 6 eggs exactly how I did previously when I cooked mushroom omelettes. Add a third of the asparagus and to the centre and serve with a nice salad.

Make a vinaigrette from olive oil and cider vinegar in a ratio of 3:1, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, sugar and a small clove of finely chopped garlic.

#57 Asparagus Omelette 6.5/10. A very nice omelette, but oddly I preferred the asparagus and eggs I made earlier in the month. Not sure why, because the ingredients are essentially the same.

#55 Asparagus and Eggs

It is said that the English Springtime officially commenced with the start of the asparagus season. It is a shame that everything we do so far removed from the seasons these days with our constant demand for year-round food. What is the point of eating a chlorosed watery tomato in November, I ask you!? Yet we all do it. Asparagus, however, although I’m sure that it could be provided all year round, isn’t; the season is ingrained there somewhere. Those that eat it would know not to buy at any other time. That said, I saw some in Asda the other day from Peru!

The other travesty is that I have not cooked any this year, and there are a few asparagus-based recipes in English Food. (#55) Asparagus and eggs made use of the left over eggs from the almond tart I’d made previously, plus Greg and I were slightly hungover and scrambled eggs, as far as I’m concerned, are one of the best cures for such a malaise.

For two: Remove the woody bits from about 6 ounces of asparagus. To do this with minimal waste, just hold the asparagus spear in your hands and allow it to snap near the base end, this is the natural breaking point between woody stalk and tender spear. Boil them in just an inch or so of well-salted water for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness. Do not overcook! Test them with a knife if you’re not sure. Salt is a must with any green vegetable as, apart from improving the flavour, it makes the colour much more vivid (also, don’t cover the pan for the same reason). Drain them and keep them warm. Toast some brown bread and butter it well. Keep that warm too. Make some scrambled eggs, using 4 of the lovelies, a tablespoon of butter and plenty of salt and pepper. Stop cooking the eggs before they are ready as the carry on cooking in the pan. I prefer them soft, creamy and pourable, but I know that makes some people want to vom, but please don’t overdo them. Place two-thirds of the asparagus on the toast, spoon over the eggs, and using your best artistic flare, stylishly place the rest of the spears on top. Scoff.

#55 Asparagus and eggs – 7/10. Simple yet effective. It displays the richness of the eggs, and the sweet but slightly astringent taste of the asparagus. Plus it takes only a few minutes to make. Very good.