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:

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

Monday, July 13, 2015

#411 Brains with Curry and Grape Sauce

Brains have never really been that popular in England, often banished to a messy tray, at least that’s when they could be found at all. They’ve made appearances in other British cook books but they are few and far between.

The final nail in the coffin for the brain in British cuisine was surely the BSE or ‘Mad Cow’ crisis of the 1990s where cows were infected by a prion which causes the disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). A prion is an infectious protein, and is therefore not alive, and cannot be denatured by regular heat-treatment. It may have been derived from the prion that causes the encephalopathy in sheep known as scrapie, but this link is unclear.

The BSE prion infects the CNS causing the brain to appear spongy under microscopic observation. The symptoms, unsurprisingly, are behavioural: infected individuals become solitary, aggressive and frenetic, they become anorexic and their milk yield drops dramatically. Eventually they lose all coordination. BSE is all-consuming, infecting not the just the CNS but the peripheral nervous system, bone, intestines, placenta and tonsils. It is also found in saliva and excrement, and can sit in the soil perfectly viable for years. I remember watching the pictures of the wretched stumbling beasts on the television news in shock and in horror as they were bulldozed into mass burning graves. A total of 4.4 million cattle were killed during the crisis.

The source of the outbreak was the cattle’s feed, where ground up cadavers of sheep and cows were included in their diet. Shockingly, this practise had been going on since the 1920s, so it was just a matter of time before infection spread. In retrospect, it beggars belief that it could ever have been considered a good idea to turn herbivores into not just carnivores, but cannibals

There was of course worry that BSE could be passed onto humans, not just in food but in bovine insulin for diabetics and in bone meal for gardeners. Though bovine-human transmission was possible, there was no real initial evidence to suggest it actually occurred. Nevertheless, in 1996 the EU banned the UK from exporting beef and beef products including semen, embryos, gelatine and fat. Within the UK sales of beef plummeted, the government blaming the media storm. Secretary of State, John Gummer, famously said it was the British public and not the cows that had gone mad. Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, was adamant that there was no link between the new variant CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the equivalent disease in humans). In the Government’s desperation to calm the country and show just how safe British beef was, the Right Honourable Mr Gummer fed his little daughter a beef burger in front of TV cameras. Idiot.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation had been collecting data, and reckoned that nv-CJD was probably caused by the BSE prion. Hogg and Gummer had been desperately slow to act, but now the country had to tackle the crisis swiftly.

The most important and easily implemented regulation was the ‘over 30 months rule’, a simple ban on killing cattle for beef older than 30 months. When it came to using any part of the CNS for food, the cattle must be under 12 months old, with the same rule applying to sheep. Pigs are not considered a risk.

Simple rules such as this helped deal with the crisis swiftly. In 1992 there was 37 000 cases of BSE, in 2004 there was just 90. By 2006 the EU beef ban was completely lifted; now the UK is back in line with the rest of the EU

Now with all this behind us, you can get hold of them from a good butcher. Order well in advance though, and expect to have to buy in bulk.

First of all you need to prepare your brains – you’ll need around 1 ½ pounds of calves’ brains, which I reckon to be 2 sets, or thereabouts. For some advice on preparing and poaching brains, see this previous post. For this recipe, poach them in milk, as you’ll need it to make sauce.

Strain the milk into a jug and slice the brains on a large plate. Keep them warm as you get on with the sauce, a cross between a béchamel and a velouté.

Start by melting an ounce of butter in a saucepan, then stir in a rounded tablespoon of flour and a teaspoon of curry powder. Mix all around in the butter for a couple of minutes, then add ¼ pint of hot chicken stock, adding a little at a time to prevent lumps forming, then add the amount of the milk the brains were poached in. Simmer the sauce gently for 20 minutes, stirring every now and again, then add ¼ pint of double cream

Meanwhile, get on with preparing 8 ounces of peeled grapes. To do this put them in a bowl and pour over boiling water. Let them sit for a few seconds and then strain them. The skin should now peel away with relative ease. When the sauce is ready, season with salt and pepper and tip in the grapes, including any juice. The sauce is now ready, but if it seems a little thick – it should be the thickness of double cream – add a little more stock or milk.

Pour the sauce over the brains and tuck in triangles of bread fried in butter and serve.

#411 Brains with Curry and Grape Sauce. Well I am glad I cooked the other brain recipe first, as this monstrosity would have put me off for life! The sauce was simply horrible; cloying in such a way, that when in the mouth, you couldn’t tell where sauce started and brain finished. The grapes simply did not go with the sauce. Obviously a thing of its time. I enjoyed the fried bread. 1/10.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Chapter 1: Soups - Completed!

All 24 of the recipes within the Soup chapter are now complete and can join Stuffings in the done pile! I must say that many of them are but vague memories; most of them being cooked at the start of the project when I was a poor PhD student. All of the recipes are below in the order given in English Food with their score.

It was quite a mixed bag of recipes, though none were complete disasters or particularly horrible, with the lowest score being a quite good 4.5/10. Though I notice I have been rather generous in my scoring at the start! The average score for this chapter is a pretty decent 6.9, two whole points lower than the Stuffings section.
The first recipe I cooked for the blog: Finnan Haddock Soup

More importantly, there were some real stars that have become part of my regular repertoire, both at home and for the business, such as Green Pea Soup, June Pea Soup, Vegetable Soup, Cawl and Oyster (or Mussel) Soup.

So what have I learnt about English soups now that I have cooked so many? Well the main thing is that we love it – there are so many different kinds from simple hearty ones that are intended to be a complete meal such as Cawl or Mutton and Leek Broth to light and seasonal ones, delicious as a starter or light lunch like Tomato Soup and June Pea Soup. The final recipe to be cooked in the book – English Hare Soup – is just a single example of the very rich and darkly opulent soups you would have expected to be served in grander houses.
Tomato Soup

English soups are diverse and delicious, but one thing I do notice is that there are no complex soups that are loved, whose recipes are discussed and argued over between families and within households like the French Pot-au-Feu, Bouillabaisse and Cassoulet.

Soups and stews have evolved greatly from the few vegetables, herbs, cereals and scraps of meat and bone we simmered together in times past into an amazing array of delights, but the main thing I have learnt comes straight from those early pottage-makers – how to improvise with whatever you have to produce something nourishing and delicious.