Monthly Archives: November 2011

Christmas is coming…

Tomorrow is the first day of Advent, and so the real run-up to Christmas begins. Around this time I usually begin making the Christmas food: baking and feeding the cake and jarring the mincemeat ready for a little nearer the time. Unfortunately, I haven’t done this for a couple of years; living in America and then going to the UK for Christmas means I am not around to make the stuff. So this year, I thought I would give you some of the traditional recipes tried-and-tested by Yours Truely.

Christmas really is the time where people like to go really traditional – even those that don’t like turkey seem to feel it necessary for the big day. If you don’t like them, don’t have them – there are others to choose from. Turkeys have regularly been eaten in Britain on the big day since the sixteenth century, they only became really popular in the Victorian era; before that, the goose was the popular choice. This changes from region to region however, for example in the North of England, beef was  most popular. Our family usually has beef as well as turkey even now.

The Victorians essentially invented the Christmas we know today: Queen Victoria loved the Christmas Tree that Prince Albert got for her – the craze caught on and we all started doing it. During this time the Christmas card and the Christmas cracker was invented too.

The very first Christmas card by John Callcott Horsely, 1843

I’m here for the food of course, and I’ll save the history of the Christmas fayre for their separate posts. However, for any non-Brits out there I’ll go through the basics:

The Meat: sorry vegetarians, but Christmas dinner is all about the meat. A nut roast or a tofurkey will simply not do. To be traditionally British you can go for a surprising selection of species: turkey, goose, ham, beef, pheasant, even peacock and wild boar if you go as far back as Medieval times. Along with the main roast, you need to have stuffing and pigs in blankets. Do not forget the gravy.

The Veg: the ultimate Christmas vegetable is the brussels sprout whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em. I love them – especially when tossed in bacon and prunes. Other attendees should always be mashed potatoes as well as roast potatoes. In fact plenty of roast vegetables: in my opinion there has to be roast parsnip and sweet potato (which was much more than regular spuds for quite a while), but celeriac and beetroot are also good. Also you need some typical boiled vegetables: carrots, or swede and carrot mash, cabbage or kale. One big error I think people make is that they think every item has to be extra-rich; I remember seeing glazed carrots with vanilla one time. With all the rich meat and roasted veg, you need some good old basic boiled vegetables.

The Sauces: this all depends on the meat you are cooking, redcurrant or cranberry jelly and bread sauce with goose, turkey or game, horseradish with beef, &c.

Afters: for some people the most important bit – the more pudding the better. The obvious one is the Christmas pudding, also known as plum pudding or figgy pudding. I love it, but many people don’t and I can understand why: pure dried fruit and stodge. I have never found a good recipe for one though. Along with the pudding, you also need to add the brandy butter and custard. Just as important is the trifle, it can be boozy or it can e fruity, either way can be excellent as long as it is done well. The third necessary dessert is the Yule-log; a very long history has this one.

The Extras: naturally one doesn’t want to spend a single minute not eating for the entire Christmas period so there are many additional extras, and they are not optional, no siree. The Christmas cake, well-fed with brandy, mince pies -made with a good mincemeat – and a good pâté with a selection of good cheeses. Raised pies are very popular from the simple like a Melton Mowbray pork pie to the unbelievably crazy Yorkshire Christmas Pie, that contained at least eight game species. Plus, people will be thirsty, so don’t forget the mulled wine, cider or ale. Don’t forget some simple roasted chesnuts to eat before the fire. I could go on with the optional extras, but I will not.

Of course not everyone cooks everything from scratch on the day, I certainly don’t. However, it is best to make as many things as possible because they will be much better than the equivalent bought at the supermarket. I have never looked back after making Mrs Beeton’s mincemeat and Jane Grigson’s Christmas cake. The only way you are going to get top-quality foods like these without making them yourself is if you go to the high-end of the market and that can set you back some.

For me, the absolute must-makes are: mince pies, Christmas cake, stuffing and trifle. Oh, and the meat of course!

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Filed under Christmas, food, history, The Victorians

Jam Roly-Poly

That lady I fancied I was looking at her, though, as far as I could see, she had the figure and complexion of a roly-poly pudding – William Makepeace Thackeray, Notes of a journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo, 1846

A great piece of modern-day vintage art by Martin Wiscombe 

If you ask most British people what their most favourite childhood dessert is, the jam roly-poly pudding must be one of the top rankers. It certainly is one of mine. A roly-poly is a pudding made from suet dough that is spread with jam, rolled up and originally boiled in some muslin, but is these days steamed. Other fillings can be done such as golden syrup, apples or prunes. I have never tried a sweet roly-poly with anything other than jam, and even then I will only use raspberry or strawberry jam. There are also savoury roly-poly puddings. It was common to boil the roly-poly in a shirt sleeve, giving it the nick-name ‘dead man’s arm’. I’ve never actually made any kind of pudding by boiling it in muslin, never mind a shirt sleeve. Next time I do a pudding I will do it the old-fashioned way. After all this is a history blog, isn’t it? What makes a pudding a pudding? Click here.

This pud seems to have been invented during the first half of the nineteenth century, no mention of it occurs before 1800 as far as I see, apart from writings about the game called Roly-Poly.

ROLY-POLY. (1) A pudding made in round layers, with preserves or treacle between…

(2) A low, vulgar person.

(3) A game played with a certain number of pins and a ball…

James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips, A dictionary of archaic and provincial words Vol II, 1847

Here is my recipe for jam roly-roly poly, which is based upon James Martin’s. The suet pastry shouldn’t be too sweet; the sweetness should come from the jam and custard (with which it is always served). You can swap any preserve for the jam if you like, I imagine lemon curd would be good. It feeds at least six people and is pretty good value for money – these sorts of wintertime desserts are supposed to warm and fill you. At some point I’ll give the apple and prune ones a try and put the recipes for them on here too.

Ingredients:

10 oz self-raising flour

2 oz sugar

4 oz shredded or chopped suet

raspberry or strawberry jam

custard, to serve

First, make the suet pastry. If you haven’t made pastry before, don’t worry, suet pastry is the easiest of all the pastries to make. In a bowl, mix the flour, sugar and suet together. Using a butter knife, mix in a little cold water. When incorporated, add a little more. Keep adding and incorporating until a dough begins to form, then start using your hands to form a soft but not sticky dough.

If you add too much water add a bit more flour. Now roll out the dough into an oblong and spread it with jam.

Moisten the edges all the way round with a little water and roll it up, folding the ends underneath to prevent the jam from escaping.

There are two ways to steam your pudding: either wrap it in some buttered foil prefolded with a couple of pleats so it has room to expand and tie it with string at the ends, or you can place it in a large buttered loaf tin and then cover it with buttered foil. Because of its enlongated shape, the best way to steam this pudding is to use either a fish kettle or one of those self-basting roasting tins. Steam the pudding for an hour.

Just before the end of the cooking time, preheat the oven to 200⁰C (400⁰F). Take the roly poly out of its little tin prison, place on a baking tray and pop it in the oven for 10 minutes to crisp up.

Serve hot with custard poured over it.

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Filed under food, history, Nineteenth Century, Puddings, Recipes, The Victorians

What is a pudding?

If you are British and trying to explain the word to a foreigner the answer is surprisingly difficult. In America, it is a simple answer: a dessert. We all use pudding to mean dessert or afters, but then there are types of dessert that are true puddings. The true puddings are those that are boiled or steamed. Christmas puddings, suet puddings and sponge puddings fit into this category. In fact, anything boiled or steamed in a basin, cloth or handy piece of intestinal tract is a pudding: black pudding, white pudding, steak & kidney pudding, pease pudding and haggis are the ones that immediately spring to mind. So far, so good. However, there is the odd miscellaneous pudding: Yorkshire puddings aren’t boiled, they are baked beneath the roast beef in the oven.

‘Mixing the Pudding’

So, a pudding is any dessert, or the name for the dessert course. Aside from the proper puddings mentioned above, there are some that go under a false name: bread and butter pudding, sticky toffee pudding and Eve’s pudding are examples of this. Why are these puddings and, say, an apple pie not called an apple pie pudding?

I only realised just how complicated a question ‘What is a pudding?’ is when talking about food with my American friends. All these diverse puddings (whether by my own classification true ones or not) must have some common ancestor. What was the first pudding? To answer this question I needed to hit the historical cookbooks.

I had mentioned in a previous post on the subject of dumplings a little while back that the pudding is a descendant of the dumpling. This was the claim made in 1726 by Thomas Gordon and Henry Carey. They said that dumplings became larger and larger that they had to tied up in a cloth, thus creating the pudding. However, I am not too sure about this claim. Elizabeth Raffald gives plenty of recipes for dumplings in her book from 1769 that are large and therefore require a cloth, but she calls them dumplings (a recipe for sparrow dumplings is in this post). Was the word pudding around a long time before this?

Mr Samuel Whiskers  and Anna-Marie stitch Tom Kitten up a treat in

The Roly-Poly by Beatrix Potter

Going back almost 200 years I have found recipes for puddings that take two distinct forms. In The Good Housewife’s Jewel from 1596, Thomas Dalton gives recipes for familiar puddings like black pudding and haggis, but he also gives recipes for puddings that are baked, such as the ‘pudding of a calves chaldron’ or the ‘pudding in a pot’. He also makes reference to making puddings in the bellies of animals such as coney and carp. It is interesting that none of the puddings are desserts, though they do contain many spices such as cloves, mace and ginger as well as dried fruits such as currants, plus sugar. They must have been very expensive to make in the late sixteenth century – to give some perspective in 1596 Elizabeth I was on the throne and the first production of The Merchant of Venice was put on at The Globe theatre. Back in the day there was no such thing as a first course, a second course and so on, at least how we know them; everything was just sent out together. So having sweetly spiced meat puddings would not have seemed strange. We don’t eat food like that anymore, except for the single survivor of this branch of the puddings – the Christmas Pudding.

[See this future post, however, for a correction]

The earliest description of the word pudding I could find is in the Bibliotheca scholastica from 1589. There is no real definition here, but examples of puddings and things associated with them. They all seem to be the kind made by stuffing intestines with various fillings. There are some interesting terms though: there was a pudding only eaten at funerals called a murtatum that was flavoured with myrtle berries, and a pudding-maker was called a silicernium.

In fact the earliest puddings do seem to be essentially sausages, so it seems our friends Messrs Gordon and Carey were probably incorrect. Though they were right about one thing: the pudding is certainly a British invention that was developed from the sausages the Romans brought into the country in the first century BC. The word pudding comes from the Latin word botellus, which means literally sausage; the French word boudin has the same root.

So there you go, a pudding was originally a boiled sausage, but selection throughout time has evolved them radially into a huge range of foods, both sweet and savoury and as far as I know, there isn’t a single one I don’t like. Usually I try to give an exhaustive list of dishes, but the list would probably go on for ever if I use the word pudding in its broad sense; therefore I’m just going to list the kind that I consider the true puddings, i.e. the boiled or steamed ones. Hopefully I’ll provide the histories and recipes for them. Of course, if I have missed any puddings out please let me know. I’m sure there are some glaringly obvious ones that I have forgotten. Okay, here we go:

Those boiled in intestines:

Black pudding

White pudding

Haggis

Those that are steamed in a basin and are savoury:

Steak, kidney and oyster pudding

Minted lamb pudding

Pork and apple pudding

Leek and onion pudding

Mutton, apple and raisin roly-poly

Mussel and leek roly-poly

Pease pudding

Those that are steamed in a basin and are for afters:

Christmas pudding

Jam roly-poly

Spotted Dick

Sussex pond pudding

Steamed sponge pudding

Sticky toffee pudding

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Yorkshire Parkin

God, I love Yorkshire parkin. If you are not familiar with it, it’s a strongly-spiced sticky gingerbread-cum-cake flavoured with treacle and dark brown sugar that is traditionally eaten on Guy Fawkes Night (the fifth of November, aka Bonfire Night) and for me, it is what makes that day complete. It seems like it should be a recipe that has always been, but the earliest mention of it I can find from a primary source in my research is from 1842; a certain Richard Oastler wrote a letter to Sir Thomas Thornhill (who would later become the High Sherrif of Suffolk and a Tory MP) telling him that  he’d recieved one on the 1st day of March from Mrs John Leach of Huddersfield.  The recipe does go back a little further than that though; most likely created some time during the Industrial Revolution by working-class folk as oats and treacle were important elements of the diet in those times. The word parkin was a popular surname in Yorkshire and means Peter. There are other parkins – such as Lancashire parkin – but it doesn’t contain oats and is not, in my very biased opinion, as good because of it.

Making this cake, really brought memories of Bonfire Night as a child growing up in Yorkshire and I must admit, I did have a massive pang of homesickness. Fireworks and bonfires are all well and good, but for me it is always about the food.

This cake has to be eaten to be believed; it will instantly make you feel a million times better if you are feeling down, now that the clocks have gone back. It has to be eaten with a piping hot cup of tea in one hand, preferable in front of a roaring bonfire. Failing that, a roaring fire inside with the dog.

The ingredients are very important here – any non-Brits may not be aware of two of the key ingedients: black treacle and golden syrup. Black treacle is essentially molasses so you can easily substitute there. However, many recipes that ask for golden syrup suggest using corn syrup as an alternative. Please, please, please do not do that. They are incomparable, find a shop with a British ‘aisle’ and get the real thing. Accept no substitute. The history of Lyle’s Golden Syrup is an interesting one and I shall tackle that in another post soon, along with some more golden syrup-based recipes. The recipe calls for weights of treacle and syrup – the best way to do this without creating a nighmarish sticky mess of a kitchen, is to place your saucepan onto the weighing scales, tare them, and then add the syrup and treacle directly.

One last thing… almost as important as the ingredients, is the aging of the parkin. No matter how tempting it may be, do not eat the parkin on the day you have made it. It needs to be kept in an airtight box or tin for at least three days. The cake needs a bit of time for the flavours and stickiness to develop.

Ingredients:

8 0z butter

4 oz soft dark sugar

2 0z black treacle (or molasses)

7 oz golden syrup

5 oz medium oatmeal (often sold sold as quick-oats)

7 oz self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

4 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp mixed spice

2 large egg, beaten

2 tbs milk

Preheat the oven to 140⁰C (275⁰F) and lightly grease a square 7 x 7 inch cake tin. In a saucepan, melt together the butter, brown sugar, black treacle and golden syrup. It is important to do this on a medium-low heat, you don’t the sugars to boil, just to meld together.

Whilst they are melding, stir all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and when the syrup mixture is ready, tip it in. Use a wooden spoon to beat the wet ingredients into the dry. Now incorporate the eggs – do this bit-by-bit, or you run the risk of curdling the mixture. Lastly, slacken the mixture with the milk and pour the whole lot into your cake tin.

Cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes and cool it in the tin. Once cool, keep the parkin in an air-tight cake tin or tub and keep for at least three days before cutting into squares.

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Filed under Biscuits, cake, food, history, Recipes, Teatime

Remember remember the fifth of November…

Remember, remember the fifth of November,

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.

We see no reason

Why Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot.

On the fifth day of November 1605, after an anonymous tip-off, a man was found in the House of Lords keeping watch over 36 barrels of explosives. That man was of course Guy Fawkes, the most famous of the thirteen Catholic conspirators who attempted to assassinate King James I of England and VI of Scotland.

King James I of England & VI of Scotland

They were not doing out of sheer spite, you understand, in fact they had pretty good reason to do it. James was a Protestant, as was Elizabeth I before him. Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s father, after becoming sick of being told what to do by the Roman Catholic Church, essentially created Protestantism so he could do anything – or anyone – he liked. This made him the Head of the Church rather than the Pope – something that still exists to this day. In fact, it will be this year – 2011 – where a long-time law will eventually be dropped allowing members of the royal family to marry Roman Catholics. Anyway to be Catholic was to be hated – you had no few rights and any public servant or member of the Church Office had to swear an allegiance to the Church of England. Several attempts to assassinate the monarch previously had been unsuccessful, but the Gunpowder Plot was the closest anyone had ever got to getting the job done.

A contemporary depiction of some of the conspirators

Guy Fawkes is the third from the right

Guy Fawkes may be the best known of the conspirators, but he was certainly not the ringleader – that was a man called Robert Catesby. No, Fawkes was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and because he was caught red-handed, it was he that was made an example of. Even though he was caught and arrested, he only confessed to the full crimes after three days of torture. Eights of the conspirators were caught and hung, drawn and quartered.

Fawkes’s signature before torture…

…and after.

Of course anyone who was a Protestant celebrated this fact and it soon became customary to build bonfires on the fifth of November and in its early days it was used as another excuse to persecute any Catholics that may be living in your neighbourhood. However, the decades and centuries passed, and for most people Guy Fawkes Night is simply a great British custom where we get to huddle round a big bonfire, set off our fireworks – and most important of all – eat some food.

British celebrations always have feasts, or at least certain foods, associated with them and Bonfire Night is no exception. It may not have a very long list, but they are some of the most delicious foods. I think it is because it is associated with cosiness – big coats, big scarves and big hunks of cake and toffee, all washed down with a big mug of tea.

One of the most exciting things for me as a child was baking potatoes in the bonfire. The potatoes were wrapped in aluminium foil and gingerly placed in the white-hot embers with the use of a stick and left there for an hour or so to cook before being fished out and eaten greedily with lots of melted butter. There is no better baked potato than a bonfire-baked potato let me tell you. If you are having a bonfire, give them a go, you will not be disappointed.

This time of year is the best for cakes and toffees – they are commonly heavily flavoured with black treacle and spices, all very provocative and medieval-feeling. The four that spring to mind are Yorkshire parkin, bonfire toffee, cinder toffee and toffee apples. It is these autumn and winter foods that I love the most, and miss the most. I am hunting down the ingredients to make some of these myself whilst I am here in the USA – the recipes will follow of course.

One last thing: if you are having a bonfire, don’t forget to check it before you light it, just in case a little hedgehog has made its little hibernation home in there. Roasted hedgehog should certainly not be on the menu…

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Filed under food, history, Seventeenth Century