Friday, July 13, 2018

Chapter 7: Teatime - Completed!


When I started this project, baking wasn’t the seemingly national pastime as it is now since the rise of the behemoth that is The Great British Bake Off, but it was something I liked to do and was okay at, but certainly had a very narrow baking repertoire. I certainly never baked bread or biscuits, my cake-making was average, but I did make a passable shortcrust pastry. After baking my way through the recipes in this chapter, my world was opened up to a vast array of sticky, spicy, sweet and sometimes stodgy treats, many of which are now standards in my own cooking.

Baking #429 Cumberland Currant Cake
People are sick of mass-produced cakes and biscuits devoid of real flavours, covered in single-use plastic wrapping. Many of the recipes were quite obscure then and I wouldn’t have bothered with them normally, they seem less so now as people all over the country are looking to tradition in their home baking. That said, some recipes in the book are still obscure and old fashioned: you still don’t see #227 Wigs, #62 Seed Cake, #274 Saffron Cake or #431 Murrumbidgee Cake. All these recipes can be found within the pages of English Food.

#113 Muffins
The Teatime chapter was a whopper; so big  I had to split it into four parts, otherwise it would have felt like a never-ending task as there were 72 recipes!
I split them into:
·       7.1: Bread (15 recipes)
·       7.2: Cakes & Tarts (35 recipes)
·       7.3: Pancakes & Griddle Cakes (13 recipes)
·       7.4: Biscuits (9 recipes)
Click on the hyper-links to see my reviews of the four sections.

The chapter scored an overall mean score of 7.0, which seems pretty average for the book so far. For those who care (and I know none of you do), here’s a little bar chart showing the mean scores for the chapter as a whole and then the separate subchapters. There are even error bars, don’t say I don’t treat you.
One important thing I learnt was that Teatime treats are not always sweet cakes and biscuits, but sandwiches made with a variety of breads, toast, muffins and crumpets.

There are blurred lines between my distinctions too; cakes used to be leavened with yeast before the advent of chemical raising agents so there is a continuum between bread and cake, cake and tart, tart and biscuit, biscuit and cake.

#186 Cheese and Oat Biscuits

But where does our obsession with teatime come from?

Well, tea had been drunk in Britain from around 1660; Charles II enjoyed a cuppa char every now and again, that’s for sure. However, it was extremely expensive and only the richest of folk could afford this exotic Chinese drink. It only really started to catch on when Assam tea plants were discovered to be growing in India in the 1820s. Prior to this, the Chinese had held the whole process of tea growing and drying under a shroud of secrecy. The British could buy their tea much more cheaply – it was also the catalyst for the British occupation of India, but that’s a story for another day. It was still expensive at this point, but the upper and middle-upper classes starting drinking it with gusto.

Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford
The idea of teatime as we know it originates in the mid-19th century when the 7th Duchess of Bedford started asking for tea and bread and butter to be served to her in her room at 4 o’clock. The reason she did this was to quash her hunger pangs as she waited for dinner at 9 o’clock. Then, the only other meal of the day was breakfast. She started inviting her lady friends to enjoy her, and soon her lady friends began their own teatimes and invite other ladies to attend. The Duchess was very prominent in society and was good friends with Queen Victoria, so when her Royal Highness decided to start taking tea in afternoon too, the country went nuts.
The Queen had elaborate teas, and whatever she was doing, and wherever she might have been, she stopped for tea at around 4 o’clock. It would be very common for an en route queen to stop her carriage and entourage, for a fire to be lit at the roadside, and for her to sup tea and eat the associated treats. She loved travelling and eating but found it much less exciting once her travel occurred mainly by train and there was no need to stop for tea anymore!

Making dough
Ladies had to be seen hosting teatimes and attending teatimes, one must have needed quite some stamina to trawl across the town or village several times so that one could be noticed.
Some disapproved of teatime, Sir Henry Thompson in 1891 said it was an undesirable habit as it was too generous and spoiled the coming dinner. He may well have been right, those poor ladies must have eaten and drank their fill when doing their rounds.
A truly traditional teatime is made up of sandwiches of cold meats and watercress. Cucumber was not originally popular as people regarded it with distain thinking raw cucumber was poisonous. It was also a rigmarole to prepare the sandwiches in advance; just using sliced cucumber made sandwiches soggy, so the slices had be salted overnight to draw out moisture, then rinsed and individually patted dry.

#270 Mereworth Biscuits
Joining the sandwiches were crumpets, muffins, wigs and seed cakes. Seed cakes were very popular because the caraway seeds that went into them were one of the very few spices that could be grown in Europe. There would be lashings of butter, honey and jam too of course.
Sweet sponge cakes like Victoria sponges were not generally eaten by the grown-ups, but instead made up the bulk of the nursery tea, though I’m sure there are many adults today who would prefer it!
I spotted a great reference to a Victorian book called Walsh’s Manual of Domestic Economy, which recommended, as part of a child’s teatime, a wineglass of homebrew to ‘restore health to the most delicate children’. Get that top tip on Mum’s Net!
Personally, I am very glad that home baking and teatime have regained popularity in Britain. I hope it’s not a fad and we all start buying Mr Kipling’s Fondant Fancies again in 18 months’ time or whatever.
Long may it continue!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

7.2 Cakes & Tarts - Completed!

#431 Murrumbidgee Cake

The Cakes and Tarts section of the mammoth Teatime chapter is now complete. There have been some great recipes in this part of the book, many of which have become standards.
The Teatime chapter is so big that I had to split it, rather arbitrarily, into four parts; because of this there are some grey areas and some of the Bread recipes should technically be part of this section. When we think of cakes, we tend think of light sponges made with flour containing a raising agent. These chemical aids to cookery, only appeared in late Georgian times, and only really caught on in the Victorian era; before then, cakes had to be raised with yeast. These days we would call these sorts of cakes ‘enriched breads’, so that’s why I have included them in the Bread section. Likewise, there is a continuum between cake into tart with a cut-off point that was more difficult to separate and so for that reason, I kept them together.
#49 Orange Cake 

There were very few disasters in the book, with the only bad recipes being the extremely dry and boring (#160) Rice Cake, and the super-sweet (#248) Mazarines; avoid those ones for sure. However, everything else was pretty good, I think I got better at baking cakes and pastry as I worked though the book, so some earlier efforts got unfairly marked down. Like all baking, it takes a little practise to improve. I also cooked many of these recipes very early on and barely remember cooking some of them!
#135 Butterscotch Cake

Inside this section are some simple classics as well as some great discoveries. The two tea loaves really are excellent, and it turns out the parsnip beats the carrot hands down in a cake. (#429) Cumberland Currant Cake and (#431) Murrumbidgee Cake (though the former is not a cake, but a tart) were excellent latter day discoveries, and Jane’s (#226) Eccles Cake filling is delicious, especially when used with her recipe for (#384) Fool-Proof Puff Pastry.
The biggest successes of all must be the Christmas recipes. Jane’s (#15) Christmas Cake is simply excellent, it is the only recipe to achieve full-marks and it is the one I use professionally. Likewise, the two mincemeat recipes are part of my Yuletide repertoire, though I inexplicably scored them quite low. Must have had a bad day.
#429 Cumberland Currant Cake

This recipe had 35 recipes in all, and I think pretty comprehensive; usually I have list of glaring omissions, but this time I can’t really think of any. I suppose there are cakes that didn’t exist, or were not yet popular at the time of writing English Food, like lemon drizzle cake or American muffins. If you spot any glaring omissions, please let me know and leave a comment!
#56 Stuffed Monkey

All the recipes from this section are listed below with links plus the scores they were awarded. It scored a mean mark of 7.3 (or if you’d prefer, both a median and mode of 7), making it a rather average chapter; the average mean score for a chapter at the time of writing is 7.28, so it couldn’t be much more average!
Finishing this section, means I have completed the behemoth that was the Teatime chapter, so I’ll be writing a little round up of that soon.
#206 Orange MincemeatPart 1 and Part 2 6.5/10

Friday, May 18, 2018

#431 Murrumbidgee Cake


I think it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for Jane Grigson – and therefore this blog – I wouldn’t be doing what I do now. Cooking and writing for a living was not what I had in mind when I started it; I just needed a way to practise writing for my PhD! I didn’t really know who Jane Grigson was, but I could see by the book English Food sat on my shelf, which someone else had bought me, that it was comprehensive and would be a challenge.

Jane Grigson died in 1992, but her voice and ethos certainly spoke to me loud and clear. Since her death, her influence is still strong for those in the know. But how do you get people not in the know to discover her? It’s certainly not by walking into a bookshop. I make a point of going into one and heading straight to the cookery section; only very rarely is there a Jane Grigson book to be found, yet there is often several by her contemporary Elizabeth David.
Jane and Sophie Grigson (Rex Features)

Her death shocked and saddened people, and her family felt it the strongest, yet after her death her daughter Sophie discovered something in Jane’s kitchen. “We were sitting around shell-shocked, but then I found a Murrumbidgee cake in her larder. A beautiful thing, rich, dense, a favourite of hers. I cut slices of it, and we ate them, and it was wonderful. Her last gift to us.”

Jane would buy these cakes in Oxford, eventually getting hold of a recipe after several years of searching and put it in English Food. It’s a fruit cake so full of dried fruit and nuts that there’s barely any cake batter, rather like American fruit cakes, she says. The cake takes its name from the Murrumbidgee river in Australia, so how it ended up in Oxford I don’t know.

First of all, line a 2 pound loaf tin with greaseproof paper and set the oven to 150°C. Next, mix together the fruit and nuts in a large bowl: 7 ounces of whole Brazil nuts, 5 ounces of whole walnut halves, 8 ounces of halved stoned dates, 3 ½ ounces of candied citrus peel, 6 ounces of glacé cherries, 3 ½ ounces of raisins and the grated zest of a lemon. Phew!

Now mix 3 ½ ounces of plain flour with ½ teaspoon each of baking powder and salt and five ounces of caster sugar. Sift these over the fruit and nuts, getting your hands in there to make sure they all get coated.
In a jug, beat 3 large eggs with a teaspoon of vanilla extract, pour into the fruit and flour and mix well until you have a stiff batter.
Pile in the mixture into the tin, pressing down the fruit and nuts and smoothing as well you can; I found this very tricky as there is so little cake batter but it all turned out okay in the end.

Bake for two hours, testing the mixture with a skewer to see if it’s baked, if during the bake, the cake looks as though it’s getting too brown, cover with brown paper.
Cool the cake for 10 minutes and turn out onto a clean tea towel and make several holes in the cake with a skewer. Feed it with some alcohol; Jane suggests brandy or rum, but you can use any spirit or liqueur you like, I went with rum. Wrap the cake in the towel, cover with cling film and pop in the fridge. Every week, for one to two months, feed with a little more alcohol.

#431 Murrumbidgee Cake. This was a wonderful cake! I know fruit cakes like this are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have to say it beats a Christmas cake hands-down, and as just as Jane says, there’s a good richness to the cake but without the sweet icing that usually adorns a fruit cake. The fruit was soft and the cake mixture deliciously moist. It’s quite an expensive cake to make, unless you eat a variety of dried fruit and nuts anyway and have them in your larder, but it is definitely worth it. It may not have become a British classic, but it is a Grigson family classic, and that’ll certainly do for me. 9/10

Thursday, April 19, 2018

8.3: Preserves - Completed!

#430 Granny Milton's Pears in Brandy

There are only twenty recipes to go until I have cooked the entirety of English Food by Jane Grigson, and that means that I am able to give little overviews each time I finish a section.
The Preserves part of the book is at the very end, and is probably the part that most modern cooks would skip or ignore; it’s not as exciting as the meat and fish chapters for example, and you can buy very good preserves in shops and farmers’ markets these days. However, I would say, for me, it is one of the most important sections. 
The principle reason for its importance is that it introduced me to a whole host of British food plants that I had never heard of (or never thought of eating) such as Cornel cherries, medlars, sorbs, rowanberries, quinces and Seville oranges.

#109 Quince Comfits 

Also, it equipped me with a huge range of skills, because foods were not just being preserved as jams and jellies, but mediaeval comfits, sugars, flavoured spirits, chutneys, candied peel, orangeades and whole fruits. This, in turn, provided me with a backbone to my food business when it first started back in August 2012; I could line up several preserves on my little market stall and if the day was a washout, they would keep for next time.
#294 Preserved Spiced Oranges

Jane’s recipes always fill me with inspiration, and they continue to do so, but her influence here is greatest, because it has given me the most pleasure, which is also the simplest: the pleasure of cooking the recipes themselves.
Some of the recipes are now standards for me. Her (#24) Seville Orange Marmalade is the simplest and best recipe I have used, and her #383 Spiced Redcurrant Jelly too has never been bettered. #397 Herb Jelly is served at almost every roast dinner and is sublime when made with mint and served up with pie and peas.
#315 Cranberry Jelly

Real surprises in this section was the delicious #46 Rich Orangeade, laced with orange flower water has appeared in several of my pop-up restaurants as it makes such good cocktails! I would also urge you to try #385 Apricot and Pineapple Jam, a preserved made from preserves – dried apricots and tinned pineapples. I really didn’t see the point, but the result was delicious!
If you have never made preserves, the recipes in English Food are an excellent place to start.
#354 Passion Fruit Curd

That said, there are some real glaring omissions. There is little by the way of chutneys – there are no pickled onions and how could she leave out glorious piccalilli!? Also, there are no, what I would call, proper jams. Where is the strawberry, apricot, blackcurrant, greengage or raspberry jam? I really have no idea why fresh fruit jams wouldn’t make an appearance at all. I am attempting to fill in recipes that have been missed out on the other blog, so have a look there for more preserves recipes. If you spot something missing, please let me know.
#24 Seville Orange Marmalade

All twenty-one recipes from this section are listed below with a hyperlink to each post and the score I awarded them. It scored a mean mark of 7.5 (or if you’d prefer, a median and mode of 8), making it the third best completed part so far. It scored well most of the time but there was no recipe that achieved a top score of ten out of ten.
#294 Preserved Spiced Oranges (Part I & Part 2) 8.5/10
#127 Banana Chutney 5.5/10
#397 Herb Jellies 8/10
#255 Lemon Curd 8.5/10
#354 Passion Fruit Curd 6.5/10
#109 Quince Comfits 7/10
#20 Quince Vodka (Part 1 and Part 2) 7/10
#36 Vanilla Sugar 7/10
#286 Candied Peel 8/10

Friday, April 13, 2018

#430 Granny Milton's Pears in Brandy


Here is recipe that uses up a glut of hard ‘windfall’ pears, should you have a tree, or know of one nearby. When I first read through this recipe – quite a few years ago now – I made a note to go to Chorlton Meadows, a lovely green area in Manchester that has a relatively unsullied Mersey River snaking through it. When I first started the blog, I had moved from Chorlton and had got to know it quite well, and I knew there was an area called Hardy’s Farm in the meadows, and part of the farm had been orchard full of apple and pear trees as well as gooseberry bushes.

Every year, in late summer, I made sure I visited the site of the farm and EVERY YEAR there were no tasty pears on the pear trees; they were either totally non-existent or shrivelled brown mush. To this day, I have never seen the pears there come to, as it were, fruition.

Not to be beaten, I made sure I planted a nice pear tree on my little allotment. The first year saw dozens of lovely white flowers, some of which I removed as I didn’t want to put the small tree under too much strain when it came to fruit production. It wasn’t too long before the flower petals were shed, and little pears started to grow. Eventually they reached a good size and had blushed with a delicious-looking pink colour, so I reckoned they would start falling soon. The next time I turned up to the allotment my beautiful pears had been STOLEN. I was livid.

After that the pear tree never flowered again.

These are the lengths I go to, dear readers, to follow the recipes as closely as possible; I didn’t want to simply buy some unripe pears from a shop. Anyway, I gave up and bought some.

I have no idea who Granny Milton is, but I assume she had an amazing pear tree in her garden. Well good for her.


First of all prepare your pears – be they windfall or otherwise – by peeling, coring and quartering them. You need 6 pounds in all for Granny Milton’s recipe, but it can easily be adjusted if you have a different amount.

Next zest three lemons and mix the zest with the juice of the lemons and weigh out 4 ½ pounds of granulated sugar.

Find a large bowl and layer up the pears, zest and juice, and sugar. Cover with cling film and leave overnight.

Next day, put the pears and extracted juices in a heavy pan along with a 4 1/2-inch stick of cinnamon and 8 cloves. Put on the lid and bake slowly in an oven preheated to 140°C for 6 hours.

When the time is up, take the pears out of the oven and allow to cool down completely before stirring in 6 tablespoons of brandy. Remove the whole spices and spoon the pears with the juices into sterilised jars and seal. I found that a lot of the sugar didn’t dissolve into the pear syrup, forming a half-inch thick layer of sugar that could peeled from the base of the pan!

Leave the pears to mature in their jars in a dark cupboard or pantry for three months before eating them.

#430 Granny Milton’s Pears in Brandy. Jane doesn’t suggest what to serve these pears with. I have so far eaten them with sharp cheeses or Greek yoghurt. The pear flavour is very much preserved, and the spices really come through, giving good depth of flavour. They turned a beautiful deep translucent orange-brown colour. However, they were extremely sweet, so I’m quite glad that a lot of the sugar didn’t dissolve, I would suggest eating them with tart accompaniments. Not sure they were worth the wait! 5.5/10

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

#429 Cumberland Currant Cake



Jane Grigson was brought up in the far north of England, and this currant cake was very popular there when she was a child. At the end of winter, when there was nothing fresh left in store aside from a few apples and jars of dried fruit, this cake – more a tart really – would be baked. Everywhere in the north has a similar sweetmeat: Eccles cakes, Chorley cakes and currant squares, and of course mince pies. Children usually called them squashed fly cakes or fly cemeteries. ‘We loved it’, she says, ‘and giggled in a corner, while the family talked. No one realised that they were eating a cake with a history, and medieval ancestors.’

In these days of seasonless, year-round fresh fruit and vegetables flown in from all four corners of the globe, many turn their noses up at these dried-fruit based treats. Well not me! I could eat them all year round, though they do taste most delicious when it’s cold and bracing outside.


To make the currant cake, first make a rich shortcrust pastry by rubbing in 5 ounces of butter and 5 ounces of lard into a pound of plain flour along with a pinch of salt. Form a dough with a little cold water, wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge to rest for around 30 minutes.
Use half the pastry to line a tin with approximate dimensions of 7” x 11” x 1”. My tin wasn’t quite the size as in Jane’s recipe, but it still worked very well.

Now it’s time to layer up the filling ingredients. Start with a good covering of raisins or currants (10 ounces) and then 4 ounces of candied mixed peel. Peel, core and grate a medium-sized cooking apple and scatter that over the mixed fruit. Next, melt 5 ounces of butter in a saucepan, remove from the heat and add 4 ounces of pale or dark soft brown sugar (when given the choice, I always go for the latter), 5 tablespoons of rum, a teaspoon of ground allspice and half a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and mace. Beat them all together and pour evenly over the fruit.

Now roll out the remainder of the dough so that you can cover it – don’t forget to brush the edges with milk or beaten egg before you cover. Press down on the edges, then trim and crimp the pastry. Now brush the lid and scatter over some granulated or Demerara sugar.

Bake at 200°C for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.

Jane suggests either eating hot as a dessert with cream, custard or #211 Cumberland Rum Butter, or cold cut into squares for teatime.

#429 Cumberland Currant Cake. Well I ate this oblong of deliciousness both hot and cold, and it was delicious. The pastry was very rich and the filling sweet yet still tart from the cooking apples; not unlike a giant, square mince pie; and seeing as I’m a mince pie fan, it’s getting a very good mark. When I return to trade at Levenshulme Market later this month, I shall be bringing some of this to sell. Delicious! 9.5/10.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

#428 Sweetheart Cake

St Valentine had nothing to do with romance, but he did die on 14 February in the 3rd Century. His association with love didn’t occur until the fourteenth century. In the mediaeval age, people thought that birds mated mid-February, a certain Geoffrey Chaucer spotted that St Valentine’s Day coincided with this event, and brought them together in one of his stories, Parlement of Foules, cementing the two forever more.



Unlike St Valentine, I have no idea why this dessert is linked with love: jam, almonds and meringue don’t seem particularly romantic to me, and all Jane says about the recipe is that it’s ‘for St Valentine’s Day, to eat at the end of a meal rather than at teatime.’
I suggest using a normal flan tin and baking it any day of the year.
I’ve been meaning to do this straight-forward recipe for a long time but kept forgetting to make it in time for Valentine’s Day. Well this year I remembered. I also remembered to buy the heart-shaped flan tin required; something else I kept forgetting to do.



Begin by lining a heart-shaped flan tin with puff pastry (I made my own, following the recipe for #384 Quick Foolproof Puff Pastry) making sure you stud the base well with fork marks. I popped it in the freezer whilst I got on with making the filling. I used a 9-inch heart-shaped tin.
Begin by melting two ounces of butter in a saucepan. As it cools, beat the yolks of four eggs (keep the whites, you’ll need them) along with four ounces of caster sugar, the zest and juice of a lemon, two ounces of ground almonds and the cooled, melted butter, then fold in 2 ounces of slivered almonds.



Take the lined tin and spread over the base two to three tablespoons of raspberry jam. For these sorts of puddings, it’s a good idea stop spreading half an inch from the edges of the tin, as it makes the next step much easier.



Take the filling and spoon it into your tin – don’t aim for the centre, place smallish blobs all around the outside edge first. Now spread the filling evenly, edges first then moving inwards. This ensures the jam doesn’t ride up the edges of the pudding.
Bake in an oven preheated to 200°C for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the pastry has risen and the filling set and golden brown.



Toward the end of the cooking time, prepare the meringue. Put your reserved egg whites, along with a pinch of salt, and beat with an electric whisk until you have whites that will form still peaks. Add a tablespoon of caster sugar and keep beating until you have a nice glossy meringue that holds its shape well.


Spread or pipe the meringue over the top going right to the pastry edges, sprinkle another tablespoon of caster sugar evenly over the top and bake for a further 15 minutes or until the meringue is an appetising golden brown.
Serve warm.
#428 Sweetheart Cake. Well it was certainly sweet, and it was definitely a heart, not I’m not sure if it was a cake. This pudding, a cross between a Bakewell tart and a lemon meringue pie, I enjoyed but the filling was extremely sweet. At least the meringue wasn’t too sugary, otherwise it would have been too sweet to eat, the lemon also helped take the edge off. I ate some the next day cold, and it tasted less sweet. Next time, I will half the sugar. 6/10