Wednesday, December 30, 2015

7.3 Griddle Cakes & Pancakes - Completed!



The Griddle Cakes & Pancakes section of the Teatime chapter was somewhat of a mixed bag, containing several disappointments and one of the best, and possibly the most cooked recipe in the whole book. Inside the chapter are  some of the oldest and best-loved recipes in England. Crumpets and Muffins are sole decedents of yeast-leavened griddle cakes, prior to the invention of raising agents in the mid-18th Century, and oatcakes have been made in England for millennia.



#113 Muffins

We usually think of griddle cakes as leavened mixtures and pancakes as unleavened, like a crepe, but really it seems like these  two terms really mean nothing; there are thin batters, thick mixtures with or without raising agents called pancakes it seems.
Wherever they lie on the pancake-griddle cake spectrum, they were typically baked on a thick cast iron skillet, griddle iron (also called a girdle) or bakestone. These days, bakestones are too made of cast iron, but they were once made from smooth flat stones which, once made hot in coals, could retain their heat and cook many cakes evenly and efficiently.

King Alfred burns the cakes
It is these sorts of cakes that in the Dark Ages, Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, famously burned when he took shelter after battle in a poor woman’s home. Not knowing who he was, she asked him to watch them as she sent out to collect more wood for the fire.  Distracted working out future strategy, he got a stern telling off when she returned and found them blackened. Full story here.
Although this is a book of English food, there are several Welsh recipes, and they are much superior to the English ones. The highlight of this part of the book is Welsh Light Cakes; lovely frilly griddle cakes made with tangy soured cream. Not recommended however, is the West Yorkshire Riddle Bread, boring, rubbery, bland, and just unpalatable; they were a mystery (a riddle?) to me. I must admit I was not very confident cooking many of the recipes at the beginning of the project and really I should revisit them – the best will be reblogged on the ‘other’ blog at some point. Singin’ Hinnies are first in the queue.



#417 Riddle Bread
Because of me – ahem – misinterpreting some of the early recipes, the recipes in this section score the lowest mean of the completed parts so far, with an average of just 6.4 overall. Below are all of the recipes as they appear in the book with hyperlinks to my posts and their individual scores.



Tuesday, December 8, 2015

#417 West Yorkshire Oatcake or Riddle Bread

This is the last recipe in the Griddle Cakes & Pancakes part of the Teatime chapter – and it was one I have been looking forward to; I am from the West Riding of Yorkshire (a place called Pudsey, which is nestled between Leeds and Bradford), but I had never heard of Yorkshire oatcakes or ‘riddle bread’ until I thumbed through English Food. In Jane’s introduction she described a letter from one of her readers who complained of the difficulties of purchasing oats in Liverpool. The reader, who was from Yorkshire originally, really missed her riddle bread and wished she could get hold of some. How odd that in the 1970s people could not buy oats in the North of England!? It’s the one cereal crop that loves bleak and damp climes and was grown in abundance in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the rest of Northern England and Scotland.


Oats are considered a superfood these days and are widely available, though fine oatmeal is required in this recipe, which can be tricky to get hold of. I wonder if this was what Jane’s Liverpool writer was after. You are unlikely to find it in supermarkets, but some health food shops might stock it. I found some online at a reasonable price.




Making oatcakes - picture from the book The Costume of Yorkshire

I am a huge fan of oats in all forms (however, see below) and really love the Derbyshire oatcake: a large soft, slightly rubbery disc that can be eaten like a pancake, rolled up dripping with butter and sugar. I assumed riddle bread would be the same, but no.


Jane gives detailed instructions on how to make the riddle bread, according to her it made from a batter of fine oatmeal, yeast, salt and water which is quickly ladled and flung in strips across a hot bakestone (or bakstone, if you want to use proper dialect). This produces a pancake with a smooth underside and a bumpy upper side ‘riddled’ with holes. The strips would be hung up before the fire in a wickerwork basket called a creel, or in a kitchen so that they could dry out and be sprinkled into soup. As often with these traditional recipes, it is hard to picture what the technique used actually is, so I cross referenced. Jane usually credits her sources, and she found out about this method in a very good book called Good Things in England, written by Florence White in the 1920s, but there was no extra information to be gleaned.


The odd thing is I cannot find another method for making this riddle bread that matches Jane and Florence’s description. All other sources describe a batter that is shaken upon a chequerboard-like griddle to spread it out and hasten the cooking process, similar to the process of riddling corn, hence ‘riddle’ bread. They could be eaten straight away with plenty of butter like a crumpet or pikelet. This seemed a much easier way of doing things, but, alas, I have to follow Jane’s instruction, so here goes:


With a fork, cream half an ounce of fresh yeast in a little just-warm water and allow to froth. As you wait, mix together in a bowl a pound of fine oatmeal and a ‘scant’ teaspoon of salt. When it has attained a decent head, tip into the oatmeal and whisk in enough warm water to make a batter the thickness of double cream.


Get a cast iron bakestone or griddle on the heat and brush with very little oil or lard. Test the heat with a drop of batter; if it puffs up quickly, it is hot enough. Cast a ladleful of the batter across the bakestone in one swift stroke (this may require a few test flings). If you have the heat of the stone right, it will bubble up all around the edges. 



Once the top has lost its rawness, it can be removed and dried out. Jane suggests doing this on string or clothes rails. I found this impossible to do; the lack of gluten in the oats made somewhat brittle pancakes. Instead, I just placed them on drying racks in the oven on a very low heat until dry.
Now the little strips of riddle bread ‘can be used for soups, fish, fowl, cheese, butter, or any other kind of meat in place of any other kind of bread or biscuit.’ My strips were withered sploshes, I’m sure, compared to the foot long ones prepared in bakeries of yore.

#417 West Yorkshire Oatcake or Riddle Bread. ‘The flavour is slightly bitter’, says Jane, ‘and very appetising’. Well I don’t know what I did wrong here, but they were not appetising at all. I tried some fresh from the stone and they were okay, but the dried ones were as dull as dishwater. I tried reheating them and crumbling them into a stew, but however I ate them, they were not appetising. They were not inedible though, so I give them a 2/10.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

#416 Cumbrian Tatie Pot

I recently made to visit to my friends in their 18th century house in Mallerstang, Cumbria and have been meaning to bring the ingredients up with me to make this dish. It’s one of those lamb, onion and potato based meals you find in the North of England such as Lancashire Hot Pot and Lobscouse, or indeed Irish stew and Scotch broth. It mysteriously appears in the Meat Pies & Puddings section of the Meat, Poultry & Game Chapter.

Mallerstang is a beautiful, slightly bleak, hamlet close to Kirkby Stephen. It sits at the foot of Wild Boar Fell, and there are the remains of a mediaeval castle which is flanked by the sparkling River Eden. It’s an amazing place that is seemingly trapped in time; I recommend a visit.

Cumbrian Tatie Pot is one of those rare dishes in England that mixes its meats, something more common on Continental Europe. “The recipe in slightly different form appears in various books of Lakeland cookery”, says Jane, “and often the beef is described as ‘optional’ – which it most definitely is not. It makes the character of the dish. So resist the national tendency to leave it out.” You have been told.  I found several recipes on the Internet, and none of themhad beef on their ingredient lists.

“Tatie Pot”, she goes on to say, “is very much a dish of communal eating, at village get-togethers, or at society beanos…There is always a certain rivalry to see whose version is the best.” Well I was driving up for a get-together and it was Cumbrian and it looked like the perfect dish to cook in a kitchen equipped with an Aga. What could possibly go wrong?

The first thing you need to do is get hold of the meat; you’ll need 2 pounds of either scrag end (often called round of lamb/mutton these days) or best end of neck off the bone and 2 pounds of shin of beef. Make sure you ask for the bones as well as some extra ones, if the butcher has some. Whilst you’re in the butcher’s shop get yourself a nice black pudding.

When you get home, use the bones and some stock vegetables and herbs, plus a little wine if you have it, to make a good stock. As I was cooking on an Aga, I could get it simmering on the hot plate before popping it in the cool oven overnight. Here’s a post from the other blog on stock-making, if you’re not used to making them.


Cut the meats into good-sized pieces and coat them in some well-seasoned flour and arrange the pieces in a wide roasting pan. Scatter over the meat six level tablespoons of mixed, dried pulses (e.g. split peas, pearl barley, red lentils). In the original recipe, Jane says to soak them overnight, but with today’s dried pulses there is no need for this step. Chop two large onions and slice the black pudding into half-inch slices and disperse these evenly, tucking the black pudding between pieces of meat. Season.

Next, peel around three pounds of potatoes and quarter them lengthways. Arrange them on top with their rounded sides pointing upwards. Season well.

Skim the stock of fat and warm it up then pour it over so that it comes halfway up the spuds. Bake at 200⁰C for four hours, topping up the stock with more stock or water, so that the potatoes get a good, dark, crunchy top. As I was cooking on an Aga, I put the tatie pot in the hot oven for two hours and then in the cool oven until everything was nicely cooked and unctuous. The hot oven was rather hotter than expected and the potatoes were perhaps a little darker and crunchier than expected, but never mind, this is country cooking.

#416 Cumbrian Tatie Pot. Even though those potatoes were a little on the burnt side, they did not detract from the fact this was an absolutely delicious dish. The long and slow cooked meat was as soft as butter, the pulses gave body and nuttiness and it was a delight to discover a piece of melting black pudding every now and again. This is definitely going to appear on a future menu; simple and excellent food that sticks to your ribs: 9.5/10

Monday, October 12, 2015

#415 Cumberland Sausage


Unlike other sausages, Cumberland sausages are not made into links, but are allowed to form large coils. You can buy whole coils to fry or bake for a family dinner, or buy lengths of it.  In Richard Woodall’s butcher shop in Waberthwaite, he would measure out yards of sausage using two drawing pins stuck on his counter. Amazingly the shop is still going strong over eight generations!

For me, the Cumberland is the quintessential English sausage; highly seasoned with salt, black pepper, herbs and spices. It shouldn’t have much else added to it, other than a little rusk or bread to soak up the fat. They have been made like this for centuries. Indeed, all sausages were made as one long coiled piece, until the addition of links was introduced in the early seventeenth century. The meat should be coarsely chopped or minced, not like your typical bizarre and homogenous cheap supermarket sausages that are ‘a bland, pink disgrace’, as Jane puts it.

A Cumberland ring is fried or baked, often secured in shape with two skewers before cooking.  It is commonly served as part of a breakfast. Jane mentions that at Rothay Manor, it is served with bacon, tomato, fried egg on fried bread, apple, black pudding and mushrooms; surely the breakfast of champions! It can be served with mashed potatoes and peas, or with a stew of green lentils and bacon cooked in red wine.

To make sausages, you need some natural sausage casings, which you can buy very cheaply from any butcher who makes his own sausages. Often he’ll give you them for free. They are very easy to prepare. All you need to do is soak the in cold water for an hour to remove any salt, find an end (this is quite tricky, as they are very long and not too dissimilar to tapeworms!) and carefully fit a funnel into it to rinse out the insides of the skins with more cold water. Once the water as run all the way through, the skins are ready to use, so pop them in the fridge until needed. Any unused skins can be kept in the fridge for four weeks. For these sausages you’ll need hog casings.

First of all, prepare your meat ready for the mincer by cutting the following into strips: one pound of boned shoulder of pork, 6 ounces of pork back fat and half (yes, half!) a rasher of smoked bacon.

Pass all of these through the mincer using the coarse blade, then again using the medium blade. (I have no medium blade, so just used the coarse one again.)

Using your hands, mix all of these together in a bowl along with an ounce of white breadcrumbs and a quarter teaspoon each of ground nutmeg and mace. Season with salt and pepper. I used a teaspoon of salt in all and was pretty heavy on the pepper too. Curiously, Jane does not add any herbs to the mixture, but if you wanted to, dried sage or marjoram are typical.

Now it is time for the fun and games: filling the sausage skins. To do this, I used the sausage stuffer attachment for my Kitchen Aid. The amount of sausagemeat made here easily filled a single hog casing (each one is at least 3 yards/metres long, I reckon).

Prepare the sausage skins as described above. Take one and slide it over the funnel of the stuffer, tying a knot in the end. Now feed the sausagemeat through the machine and into the casings. Here, you need to grasp the sausage as it comes out so that it fills the skin properly making no major air bubbles. This is tricky to do if you are simultaneously feeding the machine with sausagemeat, so an extra pair of hands will come in useful.

As you make more and more sausage, let it land upon a plate to form the characteristic coil. When all the meat has been stuffed into the skin, cut and knot it, leaving some slack for expansion when cooking. Chill the sausage overnight (which I forgot to do, in my eagerness, making it rise up in the centre when in the oven).

Now you can fry the sausage in a pan, turning it over at half time. Alternatively, bake in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes at 180⁰C, pricking the skin before it goes in. Of course, you don’t have to cook the whole thing at once; you can cut lengths off it and fry those up instead.

#415 Cumberland Sausage. This was absolutely delicious, and quite simply the best sausage I have ever eaten! With something simple like this, it is all in the seasoning and the half-rasher of bacon worked wonders in that department. Who’d have thunk it, a real bona fide secret ingredient!? This, along with the freshly-ground pepper and the warming mace and nutmeg, made such a winning combination, that I have been making vast amounts of sausages, sometimes for frying up, or sometimes for sausage rolls. I cannot gush any more than this: 10/10


Monday, September 28, 2015

#414 Oldbury Gooseberry Tarts


The summer fruit season is pretty much done and dusted now, with just autumn raspberries and wild blackberries hanging around, but back in June at the very beginning of the season, I made these little gooseberry ‘tarts’. I’m using ‘inverted commas’ there because they are not tarts, they are pies.
In their simplest form, Oldbury fruit tarts are  hand-raised pies made from a hot-water pastry, filled with fruit and sugar and then baked. The pies, according to two of Jane’s correspondents, had links with Oldbury in Gloucestershire, and would be made by families as soon as soft fruits began to appear. In the latter half of the 19th century (and I’m sure much earlier than that too) the pies were ‘sold at fairs at a penny each’.
Below is the recipe and my review of the tarts, but it’s worth pointing out that sometimes these Oldbury pies would be made just like normal raised pies, but instead for being filled with jellied stock as you would  a pork pie, it is filled with fruit jelly preserve instead. This sounds so delicious and I may have a go at these more complex ones. I like the idea of a slice of fruit pie with jelly and some good cheese (Gloucester, of course) to round off a meal.
The hot water pastry for these pies is different to Jane’s recipe for her savoury (#282) Raised Pies in that there is both lard and butter here but no egg or icing sugar (which give crispness and an appetising brown colour to the cooked pastry). However, the method is essentially the same:
First cube 4 ounces each of butter and lard and pour over them 5 tablespoons of boiling water. Stir around until the fats have melted.  Put a pound of plain flour in a bowl, make a well in the centre and tip in the warm liquid mixture. Using a wooden spoon, and then your hands, form a dough.

At this point, I kneaded the dough until smooth – Jane says it should have ‘a waxy look’ – then popped it back in the bowl, covered it with cling film and left it to rest for a bit until it felt like it could be rolled and moulded successfully.
I found that the dough made six tarts using Jane’s method of thinly rolling out batches into circles and, then using a saucer as a template to cut out perfect shapes. I kept the trimmings for the lids.
Here’s the tricky bit: now mould the edges of each pastry circle to a height of about an inch so that they form cases – or in old English coffyns. This was a bit of a nightmare; you need a good cool stiff dough to do this, and if possible, three hands.



Now you can tumble in your topped and tailed gooseberries (about 8 ounces altogether) and a good amount of Demerara sugar (at least an ounce per tart, I’d say, but use your discretion). Roll out the lids, make a hole in the centre, and glue them in place with a brush and water, making sure you crimp the edges. Now leave the pastry to harden, this is a matter of a couple of hours in the fridge, but if leaving them in a cool larder, it’ll require an overnight wait.



Bake the ‘tarts’ for around 25-30 minutes at 200⁰C. Because of a lack of either egg , icing sugar or glaze, the pastry doesn’t turn a nice golden brown, but if the filling is happily bubbling away within, you can be pretty sure they are ready.



I served them warm with some pouring cream.
#414 Oldbury Gooseberry Tarts. Well these were not really worth the effort as the pastry was pretty disappointing in both taste and texture. Gooseberries in any form are good of course, so I did eat them. I’m looking forward to trying to make a larger pie filled with fruit jelly – that has to be delicious. 4/10.

Monday, August 10, 2015

#413 Fish Soufflé


A quick one this one.

There are several soufflé recipes in this chapter that are all based on Jane Grigson’s (#138) Cheese Soufflé recipe. This one is for a fish soufflé, but the others have been meat, vegetable and smoked fish. I cook this recipe and its variations quite often, I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to do this one.

For a fish soufflé, you need to finely chop a couple of ounces of onion or shallot in two ounces of butter along with 8 ounces of your chosen fish, soft roes or shellfish. I went with crab, as it is reasonably cheap and can be bought with the brown and white meats already cooked and picked, so all I had to do was mix it into the onion.

Use the basic recipe for #138 Cheese Soufflé, omitting the Lancashire or Cheddar cheese, folding in the fish along with some finely chopped herbs such as parsley, chives or chervil.

#413 Fish Soufflé. No surprise here that was delicious. These soufflé dishes are great, the Cayenne pepper worked especially well with the crab, as did the Parmesan. I’m not sure any fish would work here, so be careful. I would avoid the oily fish, for example. It’s a great way of doing a cheap midweek meal that is actually pretty straight forward that feels like such a treat. 9/10.



Thursday, July 23, 2015

#412 Sea Kale


“It’s a shame that seakale, our one English contribution to the basic treasury of the best vegetables, should not be more eaten”, says Jane Grigson in her Vegetable Book, “it is not often in the shops, so you have to grow it yourself.”

Yes, this recipe had been vexing me somewhat and started to make some enquiries about getting hold of some for planting in my allotment. I did a little research into it, and it seems that it is quite a simple cropping plant to grow, though it does have to be forced, i.e. grown in the dark or buried so that as it grows through the soil no light penetrates, making the stems pale and tender. It has been compared to asparagus in its delicacy and mild but delicious flavour. Anyone who grows their own asparagus will know how much of a pain weeds can be, well it seems that in seakale the problem can be averted because you can simply mix sea salt into the soil, killing weeds and adding to the seakale’s vigour. It’s win-win. Indeed, so vigorous, this rare treat results in such ‘bulky crops’ that they are ‘greedily eaten by…livestock’, says The Country Gentleman’s Magazine of 1869.
Wild sea kale in its natural habitat (photo: dorsetlife.co.uk)

If growing is not your thing, then you could try and forage some for yourself. Wild seakale, or Crambe maritima to give its Latin name, is not a common plant; this is because of its rather specific gravel or stony beach habitat. There are not that many of those, except on the south coast of England and parts of Ireland. If you have holidayed in one of these areas, one of the things may have noticed is the total lack of plant life there. Unfortunately, the plants do get somewhat trampled over by people and their beach gear. According to John Wright in his very good book Edible Seashore (part of the River Cottage Handbook series) reckons you are best looking in the fringes of the beaches where the vegetation is less disturbed. If you do find one – remember where it is so the next January or February, you can pile on some gravel and force your own to collect in April.

After all the reading I did, I happened to ask my greengrocer if she ever saw any at market. She said she’d never even heard of it! That’s how much it has fallen out of fashion. Then, quite unexpectedly, she rang me the next day and said she had seen some. Before I knew it, I was clutching six precious packs of beautifully pale yellow fronds. As soon as I got home I cooked them, using Jane as my guide, of course. This is what she says:

Simply tie in bundles and cook it in boiling salted water or steam until just tender. Drain it well, and serve with melted butter, in the same way as asparagus.

I chose to boil tied bundles of it in just a centimetre of salted water for two minutes exactly, drained it, and then served it on thickly-cut hot buttered toast with a poached egg on top plus a twist or two of the salt and pepper grinder.

#412 Seakale. What a delight this rare treat was. It was of a very delicate flavour that was a little like asparagus, it certainly did not taste like kale or any other cabbage as you might expect. Cooking it very briefly, was definitely the way to go, such mild aromas would soon dissipate into the cooking liquid, and some books say to boil it for fifteen minutes! It cost a fair amount though, so I think I will have a go at trying to grow some on the allotment next year. 8/10