The Hors d’Oeuvres: Mediaeval Pork Tartlettes

The first course of my Dinner Party Through Time was a little amuse bouche from a mediaeval recipe dating around 1400. On the throne was Henry IV, Geoffrey Chaucer was a contemporary; indeed, he was present at his coronation.

The recipe calls these little mouthfuls tartlettes, but they are actually more like a stuffed ravioli or even dim sum. Left-over pork is ground up with spices and other flavourings, wrapped up in a paste and simmered in salted water.

Unfortunately there’s no photographic evidence of this dish so you’ll have to make do with a picture of Henry IV and imagine him eating one.

MOU202462 Portrait of King Henry IV of England (1367-1413) (oil on canvas) by English School, (17th century) oil on canvas 50.5x43 Private Collection © Philip Mould, Historical Portraits Ltd, London, UK English, out of copyright

Here’s the recipe:

Take pork ysode and grynde it small with saffron, medle it with ayren and raisons of coraunce, and powder fort, and salt; and make a /bile of dowhg and close the fars thereinne. Cast the tartlettes in a pan with faire water boillyng and salt.

Although it is relatively simple to cook, this was very much a rich man’s dish with saffron and currants as well as powder fort. This was a commonly used spice mix made up of ground ginger, cumin and long pepper. Long pepper is very difficult to source these days, so for my version of the recipe I used regular black pepper.

I could have covered my meat mixture, or ‘farce’, in thinly rolled fresh pasta, but instead went for the less fiddly option of using filo pastry. I wasn’t convinced that the tarlettes would taste good boiled as in the recipe, so for the dinner party, I simmered half of them and baked the remainder. It turned out that everyone preferred the simmered tartlettes. How little faith I had!

 

This recipe makes around a dozen tartlettes

350g of lean, cooked pork

good pinch of salt

heaped teaspoon of powder fort spice mix

30g currants

1 tbs single cream

1 egg, separated

4 sheets of filo pastry

salted water

 

Powder fort spice mix:

3 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground black peppercorns

1 tsp ground ginger

 

To begin, mince the cooked pork and thoroughly mix in the salt, powder fort, currants, cream and the egg yolk.

Unfold three or four sheets of filo pastry. It can be a tricky number to keep it from drying out, but you should be able to avoid any major disasters by keeping the pastry sheets covered with a damp tea towel.

Cut a strip of filo three centimetres thick and roll a generous teaspoon of the mixture in the filo strip. You are aiming to cover the filling with two or three layers of pastry so there may be enough in one strip for more than one tartlette. Seal the pastry with a light brush of egg white. Continue until you have used up all of the mixture.

Cook the tartlettes by dropping them into simmering salted water for three or four minutes, remove with a slotted spoon and drain them carefully on some kitchen paper. Eat them immediately.

If you don’t want to boil your tartlettes, they can be brushed with more egg white and baked in the oven at 200⁰C for 8 minutes or so.

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A Dinner Party Through Time

Late last year at the very beginning of November I was asked to cook for a dinner party and I was given the most fantastic brief. It was to be for 15 people and 7 courses, and a whistle-stop journey of British food through the ages. This is the kind of brief I absolutely love getting my teeth into.
For anyone who is interested in history, there is no better way to experience it first-hand than cooking an old recipe; you can watch a film, read some original documents, whatever, but food is the only way to actually directly witness a past event.
After much deliberating, I came up with menu, and I thought I would share with you the recipes for each course along with a bit of history about the times or the people who wrote it.
We began with Plantagenet hors d’oeuvres and ended up at World War II for the sixth course.
The dessert bucked the trend; a pudding that used pumpkin as its main ingredient was asked for. (It was the day after Hallowe’en, after all.)
Here’s the full menu:

Hors d’oeuvres.
Pork tartlets, 14th century, Plantagenet
~
First Course
Salmon en croute with candied fruit and herb sauce, Tudor, c1600
~
Second Course
Hashed chickens and stewed turnips with roast quince, 1660, Stuarts
~
Third Course
‘Mutton to eat as venison’, with Lenten Pie, 1773, Georgian
~
Fourth Course
Cucumber, gin and mint sorbet, 1920s
~
Fifth Course
Pigeon faggot, cabbage and mustard sauce, mash, WWII 1940s
~
Sixth Course
Pompion Pye, Stuarts

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Dr Buttery on The Food Programme

Hello there everyone, just a very quick post to let you know that Yours Truly will be on Radio 4’s legendary Food Programme.

A 2-part tribute to Jane Grigson has been recorded in front of a live audience down in Bristol. Sheila Dillon hosts and on the panel are Diana Henry, Shaun Hill and Geraldine Holt. I was invited down to take part in it because Jane Grigson has changed my life, so I get to chat with them about how the blog has led me from PhD student, to starting my own food business.

It’s a two-parter and the first episode goes out today at 12.20, and the second episode is broadcast tomorrow at 3.30.

All very exciting and I am so glad that producers Rich Ward and Dan Saladino contacted me about it.

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Toast

toasting fork

from iggandfriends.wordpress.com

Hot buttered toast must be the most popular British breakfast item, whether eaten on the run to the bus stop, or served up with a full English breakfast or posh scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on a Sunday. Elizabeth David described it as a ‘peculiarly English…delicacy’.

It is true that the wafting smell of freshly made toast combined with the sight of the slow melting of a good covering of salted butter is so comforting. Indeed, the first thing offered up to you after you’ve come round from an operation on the NHS (and I unfortunately have had many times) is tea and toast. (Digressing slightly, the first thing offered up to you after an operation in the USA is the similarly comforting cookies and milk.)

Most toast today is, of course, made from the flabby Chorleywood processed white sliced loaf, which produces quite depressingly poor ‘wangy’ toast. Proper toast requires proper bread; bread that has gone a slightly stale. Perfect toast is in the eye of the beholder: thick, thin, crisp throughout, soft in the centre, pale, dark, a scraping of butter or lashings of it.

Making toast was a way of using up stale bread, of course, so toast shouldn’t even be required now that we have the invention of Chorleywood processed bread. It’s ironic that our love of toast means we, on the whole, now make it with a product unsuitable for making it.

It won’t surprise you that there are some very detailed descriptions in old cookbooks as to the best way for making toast.

soyer

The earliest official piece of toasting equipment was the toasting fork. Here’s the flamboyant Victorian chef Alexis Soyer’s instructions from A Shilling Cookery for the People from 1854:

How to Toast Bread – Procure a nice square loaf that had been baked one or two days previously, then with a sharp knife cut off the bottom crust evenly, and then as many sliced you require, about a quarter of an inch in thickness. Contrive to have a clear fire: place a slice of the bread upon a toasting-fork, about an inch from one of the sides, hold it a minute before the fire, then turn it, hold it another minute, by which time the bread will be thoroughly hot, then begin to move it gradually to and fro until the whole surface has assumed a yellowish-brown colour, then turn it again, toasting the other side in the same manner; lay it then upon a hot plate, have some fresh or salt butter (which must not be too hard, as pressing it upon the roast would make it heavy),spread a piece, rather less than an ounce, over, and cut the toast into four or six pieces. You will then have toast made to perfection.

Coal range

Next rung up on the evolutionary ladder of toast-making was the invention of the toast plate, a cast iron rack that could sit in front of coal-powered range cooker. My friend Andreas actually has an original coal range cooker with a toast plate built in. I am very jealous.

range toasting plate

You can buy plates that lay over a gas burner on the stove top that I suppose achieves a flavour closest to the ones found on the coal ranges. Elizabeth David owned one (from English Bread and Yeast Cookery, 1977):

Elizabeth David

Part of the charm of the toast produced on this device is that every piece is different, and differently marked, irregularly chequered with the marks of the grill, charred here and there, flecked with brown and gold and black.

At home, the best way to make toast is by using a grill, preferably a gas grill; it produces a much more even heat and therefore even toasting than an electric grill. I love the flecked toast that David described, but an electric grill has hot spots that produce slices well done in one patch and hardly coloured in another.

THE WAY WE COOKED

You might think all you need to do is stick the bread under the grill and wait, right? Wrong. Here are Delia Smith’s instructions for making toast under a grill, though first you need to slice it (from How to Cook: Book One, 1998):

  1. The key to slicing bread is to use gentle, rapid saw movements with the knife and not to push down too hard on the loaf. For toast, cut the bread into slices about ½ inch (1 cm) thickness. The crusts can be on or off, depending how you like them.
  2. Pre-heat the grill for at least 10 minutes before making the toast, turning it to its highest setting.
  3. Place the bread on the grill rack and position the tray 2 inches (5 cm) from the heat source.
  4. Allow the bread to toast on both sides to your own preferred degree of pale or dark golden brown.
  5. While that is happening, keep an eye on it and don’t wander far.
  6. When the toast is done, remove it immediately to a toast rack…Putting it straight on to a plate means the steam is trapped underneath, making it damp and soggy. If you don’t possess a toast rack you really ought to invest in a modest one. Failing that, stand your slices of toast up against a jar or something similar for about 1 minute before serving.
  7. Always eat toast as soon as possible after that, and never make it ahead of time.
  8. Never ever wrap it in a napkin or cover it (the cardinal sin of the catering trade), because the steam gets trapped and the toast gets soggy.
  9. Always use good bread, because the better the bread, the better the toast. It is also preferable if the bread is a couple of days old.

The toast rack is an essential. Before I owned one, I leant the slices against each other as you would for a house of cards.

So there we go, a definitive guide to making toast, well, as long as you’re not using an electric toaster!

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Seftons

earl of sefton

The first Earl of Sefton

In my previous post, I gave you a recipe for a basic veal stock, so I thought I would give you another recipe that shows of these kinds of home-made stocks to their best.

The recipe comes from the distinguished French Cook Louis Eustache Ude, chef to the Earl of Sefton. He came from good cooking stock himself, his father was chef to King Louis XVI.

Ude was quite a character, there’s a great story of him being hauled in front of a magistrate after he had been found selling roast grouse on his menu before the 12th of August (the date from which the gamed season begins. See here for a post all about that). He was given a fine and sent on his way.

The next day, the Scottish Laird who had reported Ude to the police returned to Ude’s restaurant to make sure he was abiding by the rules. Pleased to see there wasn’t a morsel of the offending bird on the menu, he ordered Salami de fruit défendu, i.e. Salmi of Forbidden Fruit, which turned out – of course – to be grouse!

Louis-Eustache-Ude_2911477k

Louis Eustache Ude

There was none of this nonsense when he worked for ,and was handsomely paid by, the Earl of Sefton, except when he left his service because Ude spotted the Earl’s son adding salt to some soup he made. Offended by this, he turned on his heel and left.

This recipe is in essence a savoury custard, and may sound odd, but it is in fact subtle, delicious and light. It could only work with a home-made stock though. I imagine it would be excellent nourishing food for someone that is ill. The little custards can be served in their ramekins or turned out onto a plate.

The recipe below comes from Jane Grigson’s English Food, where she suggests serving it with thin dry toast. A very good idea, I can confirm.

It makes between six and ten portions depending on the size of your ramekins.

 

600ml of good, clear, home-made stock

6 beaten eggs

grated zest of a lemon

¼ teaspoon of ground mace

salt and Cayenne pepper

4 tablespoons of clarified butter

2015-01-19 19.39.55

Bring the stock to a boil and whisk into the eggs as you would with a regular custard. Add the lemon zest and mace and season with the salt and Cayenne pepper and whisk in the butter.

2015-01-19 19.56.02

Place your ramekins in a deep roasting tin and pour the custard into them and cover them with foil. Pour boiling water into the tin, technically turning it into a ban Marie. Carefully slide the tin into an oven already preheated to 180⁰C and bake for 12 to 20 minutes, or until the custards are just set and still have a good wobble on them. Serve straight away.

2015-01-19 20.33.13

 

 

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How to Make a Basic Veal Stock

To me, life without veal stock…is a life not worth living

Anthony Bourdain

A while ago, I started up a series of posts on stock-making, and thought I should continue it.

When it comes to stock-making the home cook needs to keep out an eagle-eye for off cuts of meat and bones to sequester in the freezer ready to whip out for a stock. This I always do at Levenshulme Market (of which I am a Director), where the excellent Wintertarn has a stall selling organic cheese and –being good, sustainable dairy farmers – their organic rose veal too. I always have a nosey for any odd bits and I’ve managed to stockpile a few calves’ tails and a calf’s heart, amongst other things.

2015-01-15 16.48.38

These sorts of bits are great for making meat stocks – muscle for meaty flavour and bones for gelatinous body.

I thought I would give you my recipe to make a basic veal stock ready for classic soups, stews and sauces. It is the stock favoured in posh restaurants with kitchen run by French chefs, but it is easy to make, and cheap too, if you know where to look. It’s always a good idea to make friends with your local butcher, for this very reason. The reason it is liked so much is that it as there is no dominating flavour as there can be with beef stocks, yet there is plenty of body.

I have written a post already on general stock making, so it might be a good idea to have a look at that if you haven’t made stock very often.

This recipe is guidance really, most quote veal knuckle (the veal equivalent to a pig’s trotter) and veal shin, but you can use any cheap/free bone and muscle combination. You only need to the basic aromatics too – this is a simple, yet elegant stock, of course you can add other vegetables too. Notice there are no peppercorns; if you want a clear stock they need to be avoided as they can make the stock cloudy. If you don’t care, add half a dozen.

 

1 kg of veal knuckle, split, or tail, or other bones, chopped up

750g shank, or other well-used muscle cut into pieces (heart, tongue, skirt, osso bucco etc.)

2 carrots, peeled and halved lengthways

2 onions, peeled, halved and studded with 2 cloves each

2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped

2 whole garlic cloves

a bouquet garni made up of thyme, parsley stalks, 2 bay leaves

 

First, get a large pot of water on the boil, and blanche the meat for 5 minutes. This gets rid of the scum, that otherwise would rise to the surface and require skimming. Drain the meat and give it a quick rinse. Place in your stock pot with the vegetables, packing everything in tightly. Pour cold water to just cover, around 2 litres.

Bring to a simmer very slowly, it should take at least 20 minutes. If you do this correctly, you won’t get any more scum rising to the surface.

2015-01-15 17.27.27

Once the water is barely gurgling, move the pot onto the smallest hob on your cooker, set at its lowest heat. Keep the pot covered and let it tick over for 5 hours. It may seem like a long time, but it really needs this long slow bathe. It’s not like you have to stand over it. Tip your nets, grout the bathroom or take the dog out or something in the meantime.

Strain the stock through a sieve into a clean pan, bring to boil and reduce by a third. Cool overnight and take away any fat that has solidified on the stock’s surface. You should have a pale coloured jellied stock that can be seasoned and used as required.

If you want a richer brown stock, the bones and vegetables can be browned in the oven first.

In the next post I’ll give you a recipe that needs a good, home-made stock like this.

2015-01-19 19.37.50

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Rice Pudding

 What is the matter with Mary Jane?

She’s perfectly well, and she hasn’t a pain,

And it’s lovely rice pudding for dinner again!—

What is the matter with Mary Jane?

AA Milne, Rice Pudding

 Rice pudding has been made in Britain ever since rice found its way there via those Asian European trade routes in the eleventh century. It’s a classic pudding and one of my very favourites, even eaten from a tin. In the Victorian times, it would have been put into the category of ‘nursery puddings’ along with all the other milky, custardy unrefined ones that everyone remembers from their childhood.

I love all of the milk puddings: semolina, macaroni, sago, the lot, but rice pudding is the best. I served it at one of my Pud Clubs, but it unfortunately scored low; it seems that people either love it or hate it.

Here’s an example of a rice pudding that is cooked in the oldest sense of the word pudding, i.e. it is stuffed into intestine (‘farnes’) and boiled. It appears in The English Huswife by Gervase Markham in 1615

Take half a pound of rice, and steep it in new milk a whole night, and in the morning drain it, and let the milk drop away; then take a quart of the best, sweetest and thickest cream, and put the rice into it, and boil it a little; then set it to cool an hour or two, and after put in the yolks of half a dozen eggs, a little pepper, cloves, mace, currants,dates, sugar and salt; and having mixed them well together, put in a great store of beef suet well beaten and small shred, and so put it into the farmes…and serve them after a day old.

The earliest recipe I could find is from 1400 from Food in England by Dorothy Hartley, but she doesn’t say which manuscript it’s from:

Nye ye ris whges hem clene, seethe them fort til hit breke, let it kele, do thereto almand mylke, and of Kyne colour yt salt, and gif it forth.

Roughly translated: rinse the rice and boil it until it will break easily. Let it cool, and add almond milk as well as cows’ milk (kyne). Add some salt and serve.

I think that a combination of almond and cows’ milk sounds quite delicious. Notice that there’s no sugar or spice; far too expensive in those days!

Anyways, enough waffle, here is my recipe for rice pudding. It takes long and slow cooking, but these things are worth the wait. I use vanilla as my spice, but you could use cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice. Currants or sultanas make a good addition too.

The most important thing is to buy proper pudding rice – a short, fat grain similar to Arborio rice. If you can’t get hold of it, I’m sure any other glutinous rice will do, but don’t quote me on that!

If I have to put a number to it, I suppose I’d have to say it serves four, but in my house it’s probably more like two:

2015-01-10 21.09.0125g butter plus extra for greasing

75g pudding rice

50g caster sugar

1 vanilla pod

1 litre full-fat milk, preferably Channel Island Gold Top

Jam (optional)

 

Grease an ovenproof dish with a capacity of a little over 1 litre with butter and scatter in the pudding rice, followed by the sugar. Break up the remainder of the butter into little knobs and dot them about.

Deal with the vanilla pod: using a small pointed knife, carefully cut the pod lengthways so that you can scrape out the seeds. Put seed and pod in amongst the rice. Pour on the milk and pop into an oven preheated to 140⁰C for around 2 hours, but it may be more. Every half an hour give the pudding a good stir so that the rice grains don’t clump together. Don’t mix it in the final 45 minutes or so if you want to achieve a good crust.

Make sure everyone gets some skin and a good blob of jam. I would go strawberry or raspberry here, but it is entirely up to you.

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