Those of you following my previous posts will know I’m on a Mrs Beeton roll preparing for my next pop-up on Saturday.
And so to dessert.
It has to be cherries. It’s July and Kent is famous for them. I’ve just finished reading ‘The History of English Food’ by Clarissa Dickson Wright (which has set me off in a whole other direction but I’ll save that for later) and I discovered that the first ever English Cherry Orchard was planted by Henry VIII’s Royal Gardener near Tonbridge. That clinched it, if it was ever up for debate.
Looking through Mrs Beeton, I settled on a Cherry Compote…. with what? Having a load of egg whites in the freezer after last month’s homemade mayonnaise and custard bonanza I decided on some traditional English style macaroons, after all cherries and almonds are classic bedfellows. And then I spotted a recipe for Iced Rice Pudding, tucked away in The Complete Book of Household Management. Oh yes, bring it on!
Whilst I am endeavoring to keep to Mrs Beeton’s original recipes as far as possible, it has to taste great and we have moved on in terms of taste from our Victorian ancestors, not least because of the range of ingredients and kitchen equipment available and so a comparison of recipes was in order. Mrs Beeton’s Cherry Compote recipe uses cherries, sugar, lemon juice, port and cloves. Sounds lovely but perhaps a bit Christmassy. Other options include brandy and vanilla but I settled on a Yotem Ottolenghi combination substituting rosewater and cinnamon for the port and cloves. Just the light summery combination I was looking for. More modern recipes often use sour (or morrello) cherries – the sort you find on cherry trees on the side of the road. I love the idea of that and the trees on Broadditch Rd are dripping but sadly not quite ripe enough. This damned summer means everything is so much further behind. I will make a compote using sour cherries but not for next week.
On our grand tour of the organic farms of Kent we spotted a roadside stall with the first early cherries and negotiated a box for just £10. What a bargain. The only problem I now have is keeping the family away from them!
The iced rice pudding was more of a challenge. My original inspiration from the grande dame herself used rice, milk, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla and would probably make a perfectly good version but I was lusting after a bit more creaminess (think Ambrosia) – bearing in mind that Victorian ice-cream makers are a far cry from the plug-in, switch on and go versions we have today, I’m not criticising, just salivating. Nigel Slater makes one without egg yolks but plenty of half-whipped double cream. It was tempting to give it a go, particularly as I didn’t really want to replenish the egg white supply, but the vast majority of recipes seemed to favour egg yolks. As great ice cream starts with a great custard base, it’s not surprising really. My final version included both egg yolks and clotted cream.
The other sticking point (excuse the pun) was the type of rice to use. Arborio and thai sticky were both championed along with a slightly less helpful ‘rice’. I wanted to keep that traditional English classic feel, so settled on plain old-fashioned pudding rice and added a grating of nutmeg for old times’ sake. The idea of blending half of the mixture came from David Liebovitz’s recipe for ‘Gelato di Riso’ and I think it works really well.
Here’s what I did (and I made notes this time round)
makes enough for 8 greedy people but any ice cream left can go in the freezer, the compote will also freeze and ass for the macaroons….well I defy anyone to resist any left hanging around.
- 500g Cherries stoned (or 350g fresh and 150g wild)
- 50g castor sugar (check for taste, you may prefer a bit more)
- I cinnamon stick
- Juice 1 lemon
- teaspoon rosewater
Put all of the ingredients into a saucepan, cook over a medium heat for about 20 minutes until you have a jam like consistency. Stir only occasionally to prevent sticking, you want to keep the cherries as whole as possible.
Iced Rice Pudding
- 200g pudding rice
- 200g castor sugar
- 1L full fat milk (use unhomogenised, unpasteurised if you can get it)
- 5 egg yolks
- 400ml clotted cream (yes, I know, but it really does make it lush)
- a grating of nutmeg to taste
Add the sugar, rice and milk to a saucepan and cook on a medium heat until the rice is soft and has absorbed plenty of the milk – about 20-30 minutes. Blend half the mixture until smooth with the clotted cream. Whisk the yolks in a bowl and then add the mixture from the blender. Add the contents of the bowl to the rest of the mixture in the saucepan. Add nutmeg to taste. Cover with a layer of clingfilm to stop a skin forming and leave to cool completely. Churn and freeze using an ice cream maker.
- 175 g caster sugar
- 100 g ground almonds
- 1 tsp plain flour
- 2 egg whites
- 16 pieces blanched flaked almonds
Preheat oven to 180/160/gas 4. Whisk the egg whites with a fork or a small hand whisk until frothy (you’re not looking for snowy peaks here) Add the sugar, ground almonds and plain flour to form a paste. Drop a teaspoon of the mixture onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper (or rice paper if you want to be really authentic). Make sure you keep them well spaced as they will spread as they cook. Top with a flaked almond and bake for 20 mins. Peel of the baking paper and leave to cool. They should be crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. (If you are using rice paper tear the excess and eat the base!!)
- Dried edible rose petals
- Crushed pistachios
My tasting panel had only one criticism – not enough of it!
Eating with Mrs Beeton is the final pop-up in my first season at the wonderful N084 Tearoom & Eatery. I have loved every moment. The good news is I’m back in September with another 4 nights lined up and featuring a guest appearance in December, by the one and only Mr Frugal Gourmet himself, Colin Dyson.
Recently my lovely cousin Ann lent me a very precious and battered copy of Mrs Beeton’s Complete Household Management. It’s an early edition from 1906 and is obviously very well used. It belonged to my Auntie Margaret who I loved loads – still do in fact even though she’s no longer here with us – but it must have belonged to someone else before that, perhaps my Grandmother? I have a much later version, reprinted in 1984 which claims to be a faithful reproduction but honestly, just spot the difference! The original runs to 2066 pages (not including advertisements) whilst my copy is a mere 1112.
What a treat though! I’ve been spending many a happy hour in the company of Mrs B of late. She was a local girl, moving to Greenhithe after she married and where she lived until she died at the far too early age of 28. Her magnus opus satisfies on so many levels. It is incredibly funny in parts (not intentionally so) but really, boiled salad?!!! Some of her words are just so far removed from what we know or understand today that they really are laugh out loud. Here’s a couple of quotes at random:
“it is in the large establishments of princes, noblemen and very affluent families alone, that the man cook is found in this country”
” bread and cheese as a meal is only fit for soldiers on march or labourers who like it because it holds in the stomach a long time”
” it is generally supposed that the water in which potatoes are boiled is injurious and it may be well to err on the safe side and avoid its use”
(actually she’s not too far off the mark with the last one as the potato is actually a member of the deadly nightshade family)
And satisfying in so many other ways. Firstly of course, all her food is seasonal. That’s not to say it is all necessarily eaten in season, for example many fruits and vegetables are preserved in various ways, but you won’t find Mrs B eating fresh strawberries at Christmas. And I’m with her on that.
The range of foods is quite astonishing too. The use of herbs, spices and aromatics is prodigious and further delving reveals that as far back as medieval times, our ancestors were using turmeric, coriander, pepper and much more, with spices being bought back from the Crusades for example.
But above all the book provides an understanding of food at the time and it’s just so beautiful to read.
Meal times were long, lavish affairs in Victorian and Edwardian times. Even menu suggestions for ‘simple family suppers’ would stretch to 8 dishes. Dinner parties regularly featured more than 14.
I’m serving a mere 4 courses next Saturday. A soup, a fish course, a main course featuring local beef and a desert. Every course is based on a Mrs Beeton recipe and all of the ingredients are seasonal and local wherever possible. I’ve added a bit of a modern twist in part but I think she would recognise everything were she to be there herself and I hope she would approve (I am serving boiled salad after all, no really, I am….and I promise it will be delicious, come along and find out more).
For the fish course, I’ve settled on ‘Pie, Mash & Liqour’.
n.b. I originally wanted to make a traditional eel pie but sadly eels are on the endangered list in British waters although some food champions are working hard to rectify this. So I played around with other ideas and here’s what I ended up with:
Smoked Cod and Mussel Pie
Makes 6 individual pies
(Apololgies for the lack of detail but I made it ‘from my head’ rather than following a recipe. You can’t really go wrong though.)
Warm some double cream in a pan with half an onion and a sprig of thyme. Allow to stand for 20 minutes or so to infuse. Whilst that’s doing its stuff, dice 2 small carrots and a leek and steam for 5 mins until soft. Take 2 smoked cod loins and dice into chunks about the size of a 10p coin. Fry very lightly for a couple of minutes only. Remove the onion and thyme from the cream, add the cod, veg and a generous handful of prepared, cooked mussels (you want at least 3 per pie), add a splash of white wine and season with pepper (and salt if needed although remember the cod will most likely be salty.) You don’t want too much liquid, just enough to bind it all together.
Cut out 6 large circles and 6 smaller circles from some ready rolled puff pastry (use ‘all butter’ it’s much nicer) big enough to line the baking tin you are using. Here’s the one I used.
Put the larger circles in so that the pastry comes right to the top of each, fill generously with the fish mixture, place the smaller ring on top and pull the sides of the bases up and over the lids. Seal and brush the tops with beaten egg. Put them in a moderate oven until golden brown, crisp and utterly irresistible.
For the liquor, make a bechemal sauce with flour, butter and stock (fish stock is ideal but you can use a good vegetable stock), add plenty of chopped flat leaf parsley and a splash of white wine. Ensure your mashed potatoes are really creamy.
Here’s the dish I made. On the day I’m adding pea shoots tossed in a light vinaigrette. The pea shoots as a nod to the traditional inclusion of mushy peas and the vinegar to add that touch of sharpness you need with pie, mash and liquor.
Eating with Mrs Beeton is at the No84 Eatery and Tearoom, 84 Parrock Street, Gravesend on Saturday July 6th at 7.30pm. BYO. Jim McNeill will be giving a fascinating talk about the life and times of Mrs Beeton and her food. All that for only £25! A few tickets are still available, please contact me to book. I hope to see you there.
I now have my first pop-up restaurant under my belt and getting ready for the next. It’s on June 8th at the No84 Café and Eatery in Gravesend if you are interested.
I had a huge sense of achievement after the first. It was a sell-out. I managed to feed 32 people who all had a great night (with the help of my formidable team: front of house posse, Jim and Sarah, sous chef, Adam and Eileen and Ted for loads of help both pre and post and for being such enthusiastic diners on the night). Big thanks to all xx
The basic premise of the No84 Occasional Supper Club is that people eat good food, from local and trusted producers/suppliers. Diners eat communally -the tables are laid out in a large horseshoe – and each night features a different guest speaker.
On June 8th, the theme is ‘Wild about Kent’ and features local produce with elements of wild food. I am very excited that ‘Fergus the Forager’ (aka Fergus Brennan) has agreed to be our guest speaker. Check out his website.
But now the difficult bit, deciding on the menu and making it work. Anyone with any experience of cooking for a crowd will tell you that simply scaling up a recipe meant for 2 to serve 32 doesn’t necessarily work. I am also restricted by the café kitchen itself. I love the café, I love its ethos, I love the people who run it and work there but it is a café and not a restaurant. No fancy equipment, in fact quite the opposite – a large oven but only two small induction hobs and that’s about it. Saturday is also their busiest day so we can’t get in and cracking until at least 5pm, later even. So the menu has to take account of all of these factors.
I have decided on the ‘amuse bouche’ and turn back to Heston Blumenthal for inspiration. It will be basically crudités with a big but (as opposed to a big butt which was on last month’s menu!). I want to create sharing plates of a Kentish vegetable garden. Heston suggests oven drying black olives and then chopping them finely to create soil. I will then ‘plant’ a range of tiny seasonal vegetables in the soil ready to be picked and dipped. I had a great chat with a local farmer on Sunday. Once he had got his head round the idea he was dead up for it and we have agreed a range of tiny veg that he’ll have ready for me a couple of days beforehand.
For the starter I am using a local goat’s cheese and Kent beetroot as the basis of the dish. I had a practice on Sunday. See my efforts below.
The component parts are goats cheese mousse, beetroot and raspberry puree, beetroot crisps, balsamic jelly cubes, leaves with a walnut dressing. It wasn’t quite right, it needs tweaking. The balsamic jelly cubes will be too expensive to make and didn’t add enough to justify their inclusion. I’ll go for a balsamic reduction instead and drizzle over. I need to do another batch of crisps and keep them in an airtight tin to make sure they stay crisp for a few hours and I’d like the salad leaves to include a few wild ones. Dandelion leaves come to mind and perhaps a few wild flowers as a garnish.
I’m almost halfway there, second half to follow.
I’m on the verge of something very exciting. The wonderful No84 Café and Eatery at Echo Square in Gravesend have agreed to let me run a pop-up restaurant….dates and full details to follow but the first of a three is on Saturday April 27th and the theme is pork and apples.
Roundwood Farm in nearby Meopham, rear rare breed pigs which roam freely amongst the apple orchards. The lovely Bev who runs the farm with her husband will be coming along to give a short talk on the evening too. It should be really good but as you know it will all hang on the food – no pressure then.
On Saturday, I decided to do a practice run on the dessert I have in mind. Arlette with pressed apple terrine. I know Heston Blumenthal has a recipe in his ‘Heston at Home’ book and I found another version on the internet by Mark Jordan. Both recipes are a layered dessert with ‘wafers’ and fillings layered up like a classic millefeuille. The Mark Jordan version used opaline (a ‘glass like’ caramel wafer) rather than the puff pastry caramelised wafer favoured by Heston. I thought it might be more impressive but having tried both the Heston version is by far the easiest to make.
It is simply puff pastry rolled paper thin and liberally dusted with icing sugar and then baked between two baking sheets to stop the pastry rising. You end up with gorgeous, sweet, caramelized pastry, which actually tastes nothing like pastry. Working quickly when they come out of the oven you can cut them into the desired shape using a template.
That said, I will adapt the recipe for opaline to give me my caramel ‘sculptures’ to decorate the finished dessert. It involves making a simple caramel by melting sugar, pouring into a baking tray lined with parchment, allowing it to cool and then blitzing the whole thing in a food processor. The resulting powder is then finely dusted onto a lined baking sheet and put into a hot oven for one minute to re-melt. It really does come out like caramel coloured glass.
Phew, that bit nailed, now onto the pressed apples. Actually that was also straightforward, at least to start with. Copious amounts of peeling, coring and slicing on a mandolin later, the apple slices (all 2mm thick) were neatly layered on yet another baking sheet (by now I had to borrow some from the neighbours) each layer being brushed with an apple flavoured sugar syrup that was allowed to turn quite dark (the finished taste bearing a resemblance to that of a really lovely, deeply caramelized tarte tatin). Then came the deceptively simple instructions:
“Place in a low oven (90 degrees) for 13 hours weighted down with something heavy.”
Really? What the hell can I use?
Wall bricks! Perfect. I found two buried in soil in the garden (don’t ask!), hauled them in washed them stuck them on top of the apples (protected by yet another baking sheet) and 13 hours later had the most amazing pressed apple terrine to slice up using the same template as before and 2 lovely warm wall bricks to use as hot water bottles in my apple pie bed!!
The apple jelly came next. I didn’t have the pectin powder stated in the recipe, you try finding it in Tesco/Asda/Sainsburys/Morrisons, so tried a number of substitutes including pectin sugar, arrowroot and agar-agar but nothing really worked. I started from scratch and made a simple apple jelly using some good quality apple juice and gelatine and it made a fine jelly but it didn’t work at all layered in the dessert. It made it too unstable. I tried cubing it and serving it on the side but my band of intrepid tasters all agreed the jelly wasn’t necessary.
So the final version went something like this:
• A slice of pressed apple terrine
• A caramelised wafer
• Piped cream flavoured with a few drops of rosewater
• A caramelised wafer
• A slice of apple terrine
• A caramelised wafer
And sprinkled on the top the following mix:
Crystallized fennel seeds, vanilla seeds from the pod, sea salt, crumbled wafer (the unused bits from slicing the wafer) and some broken bits of opaline. Also dotted on top, some small cubes of peeled apple. Sounds over the top but by god it tastes good.
I served it with some good quality ice cream, a shard of opaline and butterscotch sauce.
Thank you to my trusted tasters, I’m now happy with my dessert. If anyone has a surplus of apples, a couple of wall bricks hanging about and a spare 18 hours, message me and I’ll send you the recipe.
Once we hit forty, women only have about four taste buds left: one for vodka, one for wine, one for cheese, and one for chocolate.
Gina Barreca Born 1957 – Humourist and Academic
Lily Bollinger 1899 – 1977
“I only drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad.
Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone.
When I have company I consider it obligatory.
I trifle with it if I’m not in a hurry and drink it when I am, otherwise I never touch the stuff unless I am thirsty”.
I don’t run to Bollinger champagne, or any champagne for that matter, I am supposed to be the Frugal Gourmet! A nice Cremant Bourgogne same grapes, same method, slightly different place and a fraction of the price; or even more affordably cheap fizzy generic wine 2 Euro a bottle and a dash of home made fruit sirop to make a Kir Royale. Lovely and very affordable
If you read my last post you will know that I’ve been very virtuous and walking each day but it also gives me an excuse to look out for fruity autumn treasures and surely there is no doubt that the damson is a real gem.
I love damsons and I chanced upon the most glorious stash two weeks ago so armed with two carrier bags, Jim and I made our way back on Saturday. Within 20 minutes or so we had picked just shy of 7lbs. They were at the perfect stage of ripeness and it was tempting to gorge on them but no doubt that would have had disastrous consequences and anyway I had other things in mind.
Like the rest of the nation (except Jim, who incidentally doesn’t like Strictly either, but that’s an ongoing argument between the two of us!) I am hooked on the fabulous Great British Bake Off and was inspired to make something I had never made before – Queen of Puddings – no, it isn’t a moniker for the majestic Mary Berry although it should be.
A quick Google search soon bought up the recipe used on the show a couple of weeks ago, which version is of course, attributed to the great Mrs Berry herself. It comprises a bottom layer of baked custard, a thin layer of homemade jam using summer fruits and a meringue topping. Since I had damsons galore, I decided I would make a few changes to the recipe.
First off, the bulk of the damsons were destined for jelly rather than jam…you try stoning 3lbs worth of damsons…far easier to push the whole lot through a sieve and the end result is just so wonderfully deep purple, red and well, jammy. So on that basis, I thought I would make a damson and apple compote for the middle layer instead. That decided, it needed a further twist to really elevate it into autumn, so I decided to fold roasted, chopped hazelnuts into the meringue, sprinkling a good portion on top. Hazelnut meringues are very popular in France where you regularly see them piled high in boulangerie windows. That sorted, all that remained was to give it a go.
And the results? There were five of us for Sunday lunch and the fight for seconds almost caused a revolution. I can honestly say that I have never seen a queen made such short work of, since Marie Antoinette suggested cake!
For the custard:
600ml/1 pint full-fat milk
25g/1oz butter, plus extra for greasing the dish
1 lemon, zest finely grated
50g/2oz caster sugar
3 free-range eggs, yolks only
75g/3oz fresh white breadcrumbs
For the compote:
1 medium sized cooking apple, peeled and cored
4-5 tablespoons of castor sugar (or to taste)
For the meringue:
175g/6oz caster sugar
3 free-range eggs, whites only
50g/2oz chopped roasted hazelnuts (plus a few for sprinkling on top)
• Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3 and grease a 1.4 litre/2½ pint shallow ovenproof dish (one that will fit into a roasting tin) with butter.
• For the custard base, very gently warm the milk in a small saucepan. Add the butter, lemon zest and the 50g/2oz of sugar, stir until dissolved.
• Lightly whisk the egg yolks in a bowl. Slowly pour the warm milk into the eggs, while whisking.
• Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the base of the buttered dish and pour over the custard. Leave to stand for about 15 minutes, so the breadcrumbs absorb the liquid.
• Carefully transfer the dish to a roasting tin and fill the tin halfway with hot water. Bake the custard in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes until the custard has set. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool a little.
• Meanwhile, put the damsons into a pan and warm over a gentle heat. Once they’ve softened and released their juice, remove the stones. (I removed them from the heat, let them cool slightly and simply fished them out). Add the chopped apple and stir gently until it resembles a soft compote although retaining some ‘body’ .
• Add the sugar and cook for a further three minutes.
• Whisk the egg whites using an electric hand whisk on full speed until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed. Add the remaining 175g/6oz sugar a teaspoon at a time, still whisking on maximum speed until the mixture is stiff and shiny. Fold in the toasted chopped hazelnuts. Transfer the meringue mixture to a piping bag. (I didn’t pipe and it was still fine).
• Spread 4-5 tablespoons of compote over the set custard, then pipe the meringue on top. (or spoon making some lovely peaks). Sprinkle with the remaining hazelnuts.
• Lower the oven temperature to 150C/300F/Gas 2 and return the pudding to the oven (not in the roasting tin with water) for about 25-30 minutes until the meringue is pale golden all over and crisp. Serve warm.
As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.
Joan Gussow (born 1928) is a professor, author, environmentalist and gardener
Edible, adj.: Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.
Ambrose Bierce born 1842 – died after December 26, 1913.
Americain writer, journalist, humuorist and critic
Jean Gabon the definitive Maigret
My Friend Maigret 1949 – George Simenon.
Maigret leaves rainy Paris to solve a case in the warm, Spring Midi region on the Mediterranean coast. He takes with him Mr Pyle – a detective from Scotland Yard, London who is studying Maigret’s “method”. After walking around the small, quiet seaside village where the murder has taken place they go to the local cafe for diner and Maigret asks….:
“Do you like Mediterranean cooking, Mr Pyle?”
“I don’t know it.”
“Do you want to try it?”
And, Paul, the proprietor, suggested:
“Some small birds, to start with? I’ve cooked a few on the spit, brought in this morning.”
They were robins, Paul unfortunately announced as he served the Englishman, who could not help gazing tenderly at his plate.
Got a few Robins around the house at the moment, they show up well against the snow.
Hmmm perhaps not.