My friend Niamh, who blogs at Eat Like a Girl, has just published Comfort and Spice: a beautiful recipe book, densely packed with recipes. (Important, this. Have you noticed how a lot of recent cookery books have a lot of pictures, very big text and surprisingly few recipes? Not this one.) If you’ve been following UK food blogs at all over the last few years, you’ve probably come across Eat Like a Girl. It’s one of my favourite UK cookery blogs: Niamh’s writing voice is just like her conversation, wry and full of energy; her photography is jealousy-inducing; and her recipes are, it goes without saying, bleedin’ marvellous.
Comfort and Spice, the new book in question, is the result of a year’s hard slog, and it’s full of new recipes which don’t appear on Niamh’s blog. The comfort’s all in the home-made butter, pork crackling, parma ham-flavoured salt and parmesan bone marrow that fills the book; the spice brings warmth and depth to the recipes – rose petals, cinnamon, lemongrass, Szechuan peppercorns and bay leaves in a flurry of international recipes.
The book is divided into smart chapters, which you’ll actually find useful in the kitchen. Quick suppers are always a useful resource, but best for me is the section on eight great big dinners – with pointers to what to do with the leftovers.
Niamh invited Dr W and me round for dinner with some other friends to try some bits from the book, and some recipes which didn’t make it in. All fantastic – bacon-infused vodka (not in the book – I hope the recipe turns up in a book or online soon) sounds mad, but made a simply superb bloody mary. Overnight-cooked pork shoulder with a spiced apple relish is pure Niamh: packed with flavour, trimmed with lovely bits of crackling, and sauced with real gusto. Irish potato pancakes with smoked salmon and cucumber relish are in the book, and I was quickly face-down in them, only to be diverted by something called bacon jam with the book’s blaas (one of the few yeasted Irish breads).
Now, if you’re not familiar with Niamh’s cooking, I can’t think of a better place to start than with the bacon jam, which is like a meaty version of crack. Seriously. Once you start eating it, it is basically impossible to stop; a very unattractive look, especially if there are eight other people trying to get to the bowl. It’s on her blog already, so didn’t appear in the book, and she’s given me permission to reproduce the recipe here. Go and cook it, and make sure that you’re alone when you eat it, because bacon jam smeared all over a salivating face is not attractive. Then go and buy the book to induce some more salivating.
500g streaky bacon (it has to be streaky), chopped into small dice
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely diced
50g brown sugar
50mls maple syrup
50ml cider vinegar
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
250ml fresh brewed coffee (NOT instant – important)
2 chipotles in adobo (2 chillies – NOT 2 tins!), finely chopped
Sauté the bacon over a medium heat until starting to crisp.
Take the bacon out and fry the onion in the bacon fat until softening but not coloured. Add the garlic for about a minute.
Transfer the bacon, onion, garlic to a large pot with the rest of the ingredients (excluding the red wine vinegar). Simmer gently for one hour, adding a little water every 30 minutes if required (I only had to do this towards the end). Add the red wine vinegar in the last 5 minutes.
You can pulse the jam in a food processor briefly (to retain the course texture) although I felt it didn’t need it as the bacon was chopped quite small.
Ready to serve. Will keep in the fridge too although I doubt you will have any leftover.
A discussion about the Elizabeth David books that inspired last week’s Poulet Antiboise got me thinking about Christmas presents. I love a food book that’s capable of making me salivate at the writing as well as over the recipes, and there’s nothing better than a book that rewards dipping in and out as much as it does reading from cover to cover. (B, K and L, look away now – you may be receiving presents from this list this year.)
So I’ve made a short list below of some of my very favourite books in this genre. Most aren’t the Jamie-Gordon-Nigella sort that you’ll find displayed in your local bookshop for Christmas; those folk get enough marketing help as it is. Each of these books has something out of the ordinary about it; I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
The Art of Eating M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992) was an American gastronome and prolific author absolutely preoccupied with food; she’s considered the creator of food writing as a specific genre. Her writing is full of an immense love of life, art and the joy of food; eating it, preparing it, growing it, travelling vast distances to find it, and sharing it; all without a trace of the food snobbism that infuses such a lot of later writing on the subject. Her style is so conversational and so engaging that to read her can feel like sitting over a pot of tea and gingerbread (or a bottle of champagne and some oysters), nattering away as you chew. Five of her very best books of essays: Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf, The Gastronomical Me and An Alphabet for Gourmets, are collected in this fat 50th anniversary edition. Unfortunately, and unconscionably, the book is out of print in the UK, but second-hand copies are still to be had for a sensible price on Amazon Marketplace in hard- and soft-back editions. If the book-lover in your life cares more about what’s inside the covers (as she should) than whether the corners are a bit bent, she’ll thank you for this. It’s a book to be dipped into – a wonderful bedside companion, with occasional trips down to the kitchen to try out some of the recipes scattered through it.
Here are Mary Frances’ opening paragraphs on snails. How could you not want to spend 750 pages in this lady’s company?
I have eaten several strange things since I was twelve, and I shall be glad to taste broiled locusts and swallow a live fish. But unless I change very much, I shall never be able to eat a slug. My stomach jumps alarmingly at the thought of it.
I have tried to be callous about slugs. I have tried to picture the beauty of their primeval movements before a fast camera, and I have forced myself to read in the Encyclopaedia Britannica the harmless ingredients of their oozy bodies. Nothing helps. I have a horror, deep in my marrow, of everything about them. Slugs are awful, slugs are things from the edges of insanity, and I am afraid of slugs and all their attributes.
But I like snails. Most people like snails.
Forgotten Skills of Cooking I bought Darina Allen’s latest book after spending the afternoon with her back in October; it’s the only book in this list to be published this year. Your gift recipient probably has a few shelves groaning under the weight of cookery books, many of them full of broadly similar recipes and techniques. He is very unlikely to have anything like this one. Forgotten Skills is full of the recipes your great-grandmother was making before mechanisation and processing; here, you’ll learn to make your own butter, yoghurt, black pudding, gorse wine, preserved meats, smoked fish, cheeses – it’s by far the most exciting cookery book I’ve seen this year, and deservedly won 2010’s André Simon prize. There’s more to this book than recipes; you’ll learn about raising chickens; building smokers; judging the tenderness of a freshly shot bunny; and jointing, trussing, boning and plenty of other butchery and husbandry skills.
The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must’ve Been Something I Ate Jeffrey Steingarten’s writing was, back in 2005, one of the things that encouraged me to move away from educational publishing and start writing about food instead; here was someone treating food writing in a way which somehow achieved the magic combination of being blithe and hilariously funny at the same time as being considered and near-scholarly. He was American Vogue’s food correspondent, and his lucid, witty and punctilious approach to eating is a joy. “I like salad, eaten in moderation like bacon or chocolate, about twice a week.” Here, you’ll inhale the fumes of carbonised pizza through Steingarten’s pages as he tries to hack his home oven to reach the temperatures of a commercial pizza oven; learn that the air in Alsace is “as crisp as bacon and as sweet as liver sausage”; discover exactly what Joël Robuchon’s recipe for chips is; and find yourself in possession of useful photocopiable pages on Venetian seafood vocabulary for your next holiday. These books are cheering, life-enhancing and, for the committed foodie, almost as much fun as eating. Buy yourself a copy too.
Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking Michael Ruhlman’s little book is based on a very simple premise: that of the chef’s database. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant kitchen you’ll probably be familiar with the giant spreadsheet which tots up food costs, helps with menu planning, sub-dishes and aids in ordering. The useful part of such a database for the home cook, and the part that Ruhlman is concerned with here, is the breakdown of basic recipes – cake batters, bread doughs, all kinds of pastry, cookie and biscuit and so forth – into the ratios of ingredients that go to make them up. Adjust the ratios, and your bread dough becomes a pasta dough; your set custard a crème Anglaise. Alongside the elemental recipes you’ll find examples of ways to expand them (so that set custard and a pastry dough become a fine asparagus quiche), with encouragement to expand on these ideas and experiment yourself. It’s a very useful little book that lives on my desk rather than in the kitchen.
Ruhlman’s webpage points you at the inevitable iPhone app associated with the book. I haven’t played with it yet, but it looks jolly if you are not the sort to get upset about a phone caked in batter.
They Can’t Ration These This book is for the forager in your life, who should already own Richard Mabey’s little pocket-sized Collins Gem edition of Food for Free (only £2.50 on Amazon at the time of writing – go and grab a copy). The Vicomte de Mauduit was writing in the Second World War, when foraging had become something of a necessity rather than the jolly middle-class weekend yomping exercise it is these days. (And no bad thing, that; as the Vicomte says, “And when Peace will again come on Earth, the people of Britain, already made conscious through food rationing that meals no longer consist of a hot and then cold “joint with two veg”, will find this book a practical and valuable guide to better things”.) The recipes and foraging tips are alternately delicate and delicious-sounding – faux-capers made from nasturtium buds, beechnut butter, the tips of hops treated like asparagus – and the sort of thing that you would only go near in extremis; the starling, frog and hedgehog recipes can probably be left well alone in these fat years of the 21st century. I am depressed to learn that Mauduit was captured by the Nazis after the fall of France, and disappeared in Germany; I hope he’s looking down on us from whatever cloud Sydney Smith and his trumpets are parked on, stuffing his face with foie gras accompanied by those lovely-sounding nasturtium buds and some rowan jelly.
This is a simply beautiful edition from the Persephone Press, whose output is really worth getting to know if you love books. It’s one of those books as lovely to look at and handle as it is to read. I was particularly taken with the endpapers (when do you ever have occasion to say that?), which are absolutely in the spirit of the rest of the book, taken from a fabric design in potato-print made on sugar paper in paint from 1940.
The Oxford Companion to Food My lovely mother-in-law gave me a copy of this hefty encyclopaedia of food earlier this year, and I’ve been dibbling in and out of it ever since. Unusually for a reference book, this is an occasionally opinionated and often very funny treatment of its subject; it’s also exhaustive and enjoyably comprehensive. Did you know that the long bones of the giraffe do not yield good marrow, or that its tongue is the only eatable part of the beast? That the mahseer is the most famous angling fish of India? That if you buy fish in a Finnish market, you’ll be given a free bunch of dill?
There’s something on nearly every page here which is new to me, or which I only know the barest outlines about: Babylonian cookery, an 18th century portable soup for travellers (a sort of precursor of the stock cube for the upper sets), the brief Victorian fashion for something called paper bag cookery. There’s room on everyone’s shelf for a book like this, which has the potential to entertain you just as much as it educates.
I’m back from a week at Disneyworld, where I actually lost weight, which should tell you all you need to know about the food there. Shouldn’t complain; it’s not every week you get to accompany your husband on a work trip to somewhere with rollercoasters, but there is only so much deep-fried food a girl can take. I ended up subsisting on toffee apples; a surprisingly effective weight-loss regime. More on all that in a later post; it was, after all, the Epcot Food and Wine Festival while we were there, so I do have something besides churros and overcooked steaks to write about.
Back to the matter at hand. The only recipe I’ve ever seen for Poulet Antiboise comes from Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food. In that desert-island situation that never actually happens, but that we all like to fantasise about, Elizabeth David’s are the cookery books I’d rescue from the hold of my sinking ship – and I wouldn’t use them to make fires with. That fate is reserved strictly for that useless brick of a book from Prue Leith’s cookery school.
A Book of Mediterranean Food is David’s first book, and is now available (in the link above) in a hardback edition with her next two, French Country Cooking and Summer Cooking – well worth buying rather than the paperbacks, which tend to fall to bits if you use them much in the kitchen. These books were the fruits of her period living in France, Italy and Greece, and they ooze sunshine and good times. David’s style is unlike the very didactic recipe writing, full of precise times and measurements, that everybody uses these days (usually at the insistence of those reading and cooking from the recipes – a few years ago I decided to start specifying amounts of herbs in grammes rather than handfuls or sprigs, for example, after one too many worried emails asking me precisely how much basil you can fit in a fist). Her recipes are descriptive and give a clear idea of flavour and method, but without always giving particularly precise measurements, timings or even ingredient lists; all of which should leave you, the creative cook, with a world of experimentation and enthusiastic improvisation to enjoy over each dish.
This is a gorgeous recipe, where a chicken is buried in a giant heap of softened onions in a big casserole dish, then roasted until the onions collapse and make their own sauce with the chicken’s savoury juices, and served with typically Provençal flavourings. Rather than stirring olives into the sauce and serving the lot with fried bread triangles as in David’s original recipe, I’ve made a sort of deconstructed tapenade to spread on grilled crostini, which works a treat alongside the chicken’s richness. I’ve decreased the battleship-floating amount of olive oil that you’ll find in the original, added some shallots to the mix and added cooking times, temperature and a weight for your chicken below. I followed David’s original instruction to add a tablespoon or so of cream to the sauce at the end of cooking, but I’d encourage you to taste it first and decide whether or not you think it needs it; it’s just as good if you leave it out, so it’s not made it into the ingredient list below. Some French sautéed potatoes are a great accompaniment to this dish.
To roast one chicken, you’ll need:
1 roasting chicken, about 1.5kg
6 large onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 heaped teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
10 slices from a ciabatta
5 anchovy fillets
2 heaped tablespoons capers, drained
15 black olives, stoned (I like Greek dry roasted olives that come in a jar, like Crespo, for this recipe – additionally, they’re wonderfully cheap)
100g stupendous tomato sauce or sundried tomato paste
A handful of parsley. Ha. Take that, measurement emailers.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC (370ºF). Ferret around inside your chicken and remove any lumps of poultry fat, seasoning it inside with plenty of salt and pepper. Leave it to come to room temperature while you prepare the onions.
Slice the onions and shallots thinly, and sauté them with the cayenne pepper in the oil until soft but not coloured in a heavy-based pan large enough to take the chicken. I use a 29cm oval Le Creuset number which is perfect for pot-roasting a chicken. They’re pricey, but well worth asking for as a Christmas present; mine gets an awful lot of use.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the chicken, burying it upside-down in the onions, which should smother it completely. Put the lid on and roast for 90 minutes (you don’t need to check or baste the chicken while it’s cooking), by which time the chicken will be cooked through and tender, and the onions will have collapsed.
While the chicken is cooking, prepare your tapenade. Chop the capers and olives roughly. In a small frying pan, fry the anchovies with a teaspoon of olive oil, poking occasionally with a wooden spoon until they have “melted”. Add the capers and olives to the pan and sauté for a few minutes to meld the flavours. Remove to a bowl.
Grill the slices of ciabatta and shortly before serving, spread each slice with a teaspoon of tomato sauce and a teaspoon of the tapenade. Sprinkle with parsley and serve alongside the chicken.
Regular readers of Gastronomy Domine will be aware of my vintage cookery book habit. I’m hoping to make something of a semi-regular feature of posts about some of these books; if you’ve an interest in food and in social history, an elderly cookery book is a goldmine. Cookery for Invalids, written in 1900 (mine is a later edition), is a book of “recipes and diet hints for the sick room”, and will make you gladder than you’ve ever been that you live in an age of antibiotics, insulin and ubiquitous refrigeration.
Senn, born in 1862, was a chef and a prolific writer of food books, producing 49 books in his lifetime – a remarkable feat given the limited scope of the Victorian and Edwardian kitchen in England. (He had an eye for a new angle; I would love to get my hands on a copy of his Cooking in Paper Bags and Ye Art of Cookery in Ye Olden Time.) By far his most successful book was Cookery for Invalids, first published in 1900, which ran to many editions and seems to have been published at least until the 1930s. (Penicillin was finally purified and tested on humans in 1941, and, of course, many presses closed for the Second World War – I haven’t seen any evidence of printings of the book in the 40s.) Senn himself practised as an early nutritionist as well as a chef, working as Examiner in Sick-Room Cookery at several London hospitals; he was also employed by the government to set up training for army, navy and prison cooks. This was a time when nurse training at the larger hospitals included short courses in what was termed Invalid Cookery, to be practised on their convalescent charges. A wealthy family would employ a children’s nurse for their perfectly well offspring. While dandling, disciplining and doing a bit of mild educating, she was also expected to produce nutritious and stimulating meals for the children; training in dietetics was considered a great boon in such a nurse.
Diet was recognised as a contributing factor in illnesses like diabetes and gout, and was believed to be an efficient treatment in illnesses like neurasthenia (a disease we don’t recognise any more – it was that which affected swooning ladies in the drawing room) and rheumatism. There was a vogue for nutrition, and a huge industry in patent foods like Benger’s (a nourishing wheat and milk preparation); we still recognise plenty today, like Horlick’s, Bovril and Lucozade.
Cookery for Invalids contains a brief explanation of the make-up of foods: protein, carbohydrates, fat, salts (what we would describe as minerals), vitamins and water; a discussion of the suitability of various styles of cooking for the sick (horrible imprecations on those preparing fried food here); a series of recipes; and a list of special diets for those suffering various named, and usually pretty horrible, illnesses. Some of this stuff is curiously modern. I was particularly surprised to see that the daily calorie intake dictated by Senn is, at 2500 kCal, exactly the same as that the NHS tells us to keep today in 2010 – although admittedly, Senn’s patient doing “hard work”, when a lot of what is done today with machinery was still done by people, was allowed to increase his daily intake to between 4000 and 9000 kCal. Writing a good 70 years before Dr “Fatty Fatkins” Atkins, Senn suggested that carbohydrates were the most important part of the diet to cut out in slimmers. His approach to the sick is compassionate, kind, and non-patronising; the pretty tray on the book cover (above) is illustrative of his insistence throughout the book that food should “please the eye as well as the palate”; lack of appetite is a hurdle in most of the illnesses being treated. “The patient’s wants should be studied, and their wishes gratified as far as possible…in feeding a patient do it gently and neatly.” Cleanliness is paramount. NHS hospitals could learn a thing or two.
The Edwardian invalid’s lot was not, all that said, a happy one. While the awful drinks made from burned toast soaked in warm water that you see in the sickroom sections of Victorian cookery books don’t get a look-in here, the Edwardian convalescent was still expected to be bibbing heartily at mug upon mug of beef tea; it was thought to be easy to digest and full of delicious nourishment while “preventing the digestive organs from doing undue work”. As such, Senn recommended it for all patients.
The method is shudder-inducing. The nurse would shred a chunk of lean beef with a couple of forks, discarding gristle and fat, and soak the resulting beef tartare in a big jar of cold water for an hour or so before straining the resulting mush through muslin “with a tiny pinch of salt added”. Lucky invalids might have their beef tea warmed through. “Beef tea must never boil. If it approaches boiling point it is spoilt.” There are eight recipes for beef tea (slow method, raw method, quick process, iced, jellied and so on) here. Variety may not be the spice of life after all. Spice, in fact, was out of the question – far too stimulating. “Stimulants are in many cases positively harmful…spices should be avoided, and where pepper is allowed it must be used sparingly.” Wine, however, might be allowed with the doctor’s permission; “it often tempts the appetite…when other and more solid food would fail”.
Gruels were easy to digest, and this archetypical invalid dish is given its own section. Click on the picture to enlarge this page of gruel recipes to a readable size – besides what you can see here, there are several more pages of gruels, one of which has a wine-glass of sherry poured into it. Thoughts of Oliver Twist aside, sherry gruel sounds abominable. When you’re done with your gruel, “A raw egg beaten up and mixed with a cup of milk, tea or coffee, makes an excellent and nourishing drink.” I shall refrain from comment.
It’s not all so bad. There are palatable and light fish and chicken preparations, a nice little quail on toast, and a herby poached rabbit in Bechamel; unfortunately, there’s also a sandwich filled with raw mutton and sugar, and a custard made with Marmite. I can imagine the patients of owners of this book conniving to die early just to get away from the cooking.
So far, so frivolous. But all your sniggering postmodernity counts for nothing once you get to the final part of the book, which discusses specific illnesses. By the time Senn was writing, the control of type II diabetes through diet (as we do today) was well understood. His diabetic menu would stand up to scrutiny today; and saccharine, discovered in 1878 and commercialised very shortly afterwards, was a real blessing for the Edwardian diabetic. The diet for gout is also similar to what a doctor might suggest today, and the “reducing” diet for the obese is dull but looks effective. But what we will understand as the futility of trying to cure tuberculosis in the pre-antibiotic period through diet, fresh air and rest, is heartbreaking. The week’s menu for the consumptive here on the right (again, click to enlarge) is, as long as you were able to stomach calves’ brains three times a week, pretty palatable, but entirely useless for curing the patient. The massive weight loss that was one of the outward signs of the disease is all the diet tries to address; an earlier page on TB clings to the ancient superstition that red fluids like wine were good for replacing the blood coughed up, along with minced raw meat.
I’ll leave you with some of the advertisements from the front and back of the book – judging by the prices on the products and the graphical style of these ads, I think this edition is from the 1930s. You may recognise some of the products here – you can still buy Shippam’s meat and fish pastes (I used to love the fish paste in my school sandwiches), Borwick’s baking powder and McDougall’s flour. God only knows what became of the Stuffo stuffing company, and you won’t see isinglass outside the brewing process these days; it would have added a distinctly fishy tinge to your jellies, but was much cheaper than gelatine.
An earlier edition of the book (there are very few differences – the most notable one is probably the substitution of the word “corpulency” in the older text with “obesity” in the one I own) has been digitised and can be read online here. If you decide to try any of the recipes from the book, do drop me an email or leave a comment – especially if you tried any of them out on ill people. I’ll be interested to hear whether they ever recovered.
If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you may have noticed a few references to Edwardian savouries and a writer called Ambrose Heath this week. The savoury used to be a course served at the end of a formal English meal. Salty, umami and often highly spiced, the savoury was packed in by English gentlemen after dessert while they discussed hats and feudalism. A salty nibble was meant to cleanse the palate of whatever gelatinous pudding you’d just eaten so you could happily assault it with a cigar and too much port.
The savoury didn’t survive the period of rationing during and after the Second World War (a period which rendered English food completely joyless – it’s only started to recover recently). A grave shame, especially for those, like me, who lack a particularly sweet tooth; I’d far sooner eat a bacon sarnie than an ice-cream. Recipes for savouries are, these days, pretty hard to find, but I have several in a pre-war book by Andre Simon, and I couldn’t believe my luck when I found a copy of Ambrose Heath’s Good Savouries in a second-hand book shop last week.
Ambrose Heath was a prolific food writer: there are more than 70 books to his name. One of the first cookery books I owned was his book on sauces, which, along with his other books, appeals to the systematising, cataloguing part of my soul that lives somewhere on the autistic spectrum. His books are exhaustive and meticulous treatments of their subjects – there are multiple recipes with tiny tweaks for many of the dishes, alternative approaches and ingredient substitutions, and a lovely sense of a rather plump, happy man behind the pen. (And isn’t that a gorgeous cover illustration?)
Most of the savouries in this book are based around salty ingredients like ham, bacon, anchovy or bloaters; they’re usually spiced vigorously with curry powder or chutney, and are presented sitting on a fried crisp of bread, a puff of pastry or a hollowed roll buttered and baked crisp. This recipe for anchovy biscuits reads as follows:
To make the pastry for the cheese straws, Heath says you’ll need:
2oz plain flour 2oz grated parmesan 2oz butter Yolk of 1 egg A dash of mustard Salt and pepper
His recipe will have you rubbing the butter into the flour/parmesan/mustard mixture, binding with the egg yolk and a little water, then baking for ten minutes. I changed the method a little, freezing the butter for 15 minutes and shredding it on the coarse side of the grater into the flour/parmesan mixture (to which I’d added a teaspoon of Madras curry powder), stirring everything together with a knife and binding the resulting mixture with the egg yolk and some ice-cold water mixed with four anchovies pounded in the mortar and pestle. I rested the pastry in the fridge for half an hour before rolling it out very thinly, cutting out 48 rounds with my smallest cookie cutter, and baking at 200°C for 12 minutes until golden. Rub the mixture in if you prefer, but grating in hard butter will give you a puffier, crisper result. I left out salt and pepper – the anchovies and curry powder will provide all the salt and spice you need.
To make the paste to spread on top of the biscuits, I pounded four more anchovy fillets, 1 teaspoon of curry powder (Madras again – Bolsts is my favourite curry powder, but you should use your favourite brand/ferocity), 2 tablespoons of parmesan, 1 tablespoon of chopped capers (in wine vinegar, not salt, which would just be too much with the anchovies), 1 tablespoon of oil from the anchovies and 1 teaspoon of smooth Dijon mustard in the mortar and pestle until smooth. This will give you enough to smear each biscuit with the tip of a knife – look to use a very tiny amount of the topping, which is strong and salty. If you are familiar with Marmite or Vegemite, you need to spread in about the proportions you would spread those on toast. Allow the biscuits to cool before spreading them or they will be too fragile to work with.
Pop the biscuits in an oven heated to 180°C for five minutes. The spread will go slightly puffy. Dress with a little parsley before serving warm. Rather than eating your anchovy biscuits at the end of a meal, I’d suggest you use them as nibbles with drinks – a very dry Fino sherry or a Dirty Martini will work beautifully against them.
I note that every year, all good intentions aside, I encounter a total failure to blog the moment I get on skis. Apologies – put it down to grotty resort food; the protein-hunger you get with after a day of exercise which kills off any ability to distinguish between the delicious and the simply calorific; and general exhaustion. (Honestly; you’re lucky I’m blogging now. I swear that jetlag only gets worse as you get older.)
I’ve a few more posts from my American odyssey to bring you, but I’ll intersperse them with some recipes and non-US reviews – like today’s. Just in time for the Darwin bicentennial, I was invited to the launch of a new edition of Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book: Revived and Illustrated in Cambridge. I cursed a bit about not being able to make it (I was at Disneyland that day – which although fabulous, doesn’t have any food worth writing about besides candy floss, popcorn and California’s greasiest wurst), and was delighted to find a copy of the book on the doorstep when I got back home.
When we consider the lives of the great and the good, it doesn’t usually occur to us to wonder what they ate. I mean – think of Darwin, and what comes to mind? I bet it’ll be a list along the lines of On The Origin of Species, Galapagos finches, the Beagle, beards – we dehumanise our icons and reduce them to a series of cyphers.
Emma Darwin’s little recipe notebook offers a fascinating and humanising glimpse into the family’s domestic life. They’re commonplace, simple Victorian recipes – it’s the notebook of a charmingly ordinary woman. This edition expands the little book into a good-sized, handsome cookbook by reproducing many of her handwritten pages, alongside some great food photography, some very pretty contemporary prints of ingredients like chickens and celery, and detailed notes by the editors on each recipe. There are fascinating peeps into the Darwins’ domestic life here – you may well be aware that Darwin sufferered for much of his life from a mysterious illness he is thought to have picked up in Brazil, but probably didn’t know that his doctors forbade him from eating pork (he ignored them in the case of bacon), or that he blamed rhubarb for some of his stomach problems.
Here’s Emma’s recipe for a baked apple pudding in batter. The editors suggest you use well-flavoured dessert apples, and serve with a sprinkling of sugar and plenty of cream. To serve six, you’ll need:
6 apples 2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sprinkling ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon peel 1 tablespoon butter 3 ounces (75 g) flour 1 cup (250 ml) milk 2 eggs
Grease an ovenproof dish deep enough to hold the apples and batter. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
Peel and core the apples. Place them in the prepared dish. In each hole, put a teaspoon of sugar, a little grated lemon peel, and top with a small piece of butter. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the apples from the oven and raise the temperature to 400°F (200°C).
While the apples are baking, sift the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the milk, a little at a time, and mix to a smooth batter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
Pour the batter over the apples and bake for about 30 minutes, or until well risen and brown on top. Sprinkle with sugar and serve at once with cream.
Regular readers will be aware that I’m a bit of a sucker for old recipe books – the odder, the better. Over Christmas, I was pootling around a second-hand bookshop in Yorkshire, when I came across this fabulously racist dust jacket. Flicking through it, I found some really interesting recipes, and started to wonder. Who was this Countess Morphy? Had she ever met a toque-wearing, pirate-earringed, Indian chef in real life? It was £8.50, so I snapped it up.
A bit of Googling reveals that the author wasn’t a countess at all. Marcelle Azra Hincks, born in 1883, was brought up in New Orleans and moved to England some time in her early twenties. She published a few articles and a slim book on modern and foreign dance, and then reinvented herself as a food specialist, complete with a new pseudonym and made-up title. Calling herself a countess was a stroke of genius; the British love a titled lady, and Recipes of All Nations, published in 1935, sold in huge numbers, remaining in print for decades.
There’s a proud little note in red inside the dust jacket: “This is the book that was consulted by the caterer to the London conference of the United Nations.” The book’s exotic credentials don’t stop there; Countess Morphy has drafted in the help of a Mr SK Cheng of the Shanghai Emporium and Restaurant in London’s Chinatown for her Chinese chapter; the proprietor of a London Greek restaurant and “former chef to members of the Royal Family of Greece” helps with the Greek chapter, and a friend at the Polish Embassy selects his favourite recipes for the Polish section. This book, with chapters on food from Equatorial Guinea (iguana fricassee) to Java, must have been outlandishly exotic in 1930s Britain – it was written more than ten years before Elizabeth David introduced Mediterranean cooking to wide-eyed Britain, at a time when we were all munching miserably on suet and mutton.
Countess Morphy takes us on a tour of classical European cooking; the French chapter is the longest and quite gorgeous, full of dishes enriched with yolks and cream. Alongside all this, though, there’s a pleasingly complete treatment of Scandinavian cookery, with Norway, Sweden and Denmark meriting a chapter each. Eastern Europe is covered in detail too, and the Russian chapter (on which a Madame N Wolkoff from the Russian Tea Room in London consulted) has me salivating – sturgeon with sweet wine and cherries, beef Strogonoff and stuffed grouse with soured cream.
A middle-class upbringing in New Orleans would have seen classical French food as standard, but there’s also a section towards the back of the book, quite distinct from the chapter on American food, devoted to the Creole cookery of New Orleans itself. I’ll leave you with Countess Morphy’s recipe for Creole breakfast fritters and its sadly nostalgic introduction – there’s something of a sense of homesickness in this recipe. These fritters, made from rice and raised with yeast are quite unlike anything I’ve come across before, but they sound delicious.
Calas (Breakfast rice fritters)
These delicious breakfast fritters or cakes were sold by the old Creole negro women, and their familiar and harmonious street cry of “Bel calas, bel calas, tout chauds!” was heard in all the streets of the French quarter at breakfast time. They went their daily round carrying on their heads a covered wooden bowl containing the hot Calas – picturesque figures they must have been, with their brightly coloured bandana tignons or head-dress, their blue check dresses and their spotless white aprons. The negro cooks would dash out to secure the freshly made hot Calas, which were eaten with the morning cup of coffee. The following is the traditional recipe for Calas:
Ingredients: ½ a cup of rice, 3 cups of water, 3 eggs, 3 tablespoons of flour, ½ a cup of sugar, about 1 oz or a little under of yeast, lard or oil.
Method: Put the water in a saucepan, bring to the boil and add the rice. Boil till the rice is very soft and mushy. Remove from the saucepan and, when quite cold, mix with the yeast dissolved in warm water. Set the rice to rise overnight. In the morning, beat the eggs thoroughly, add them to the rice, with the sugar and flour. Beat all well and make into a thick batter. Set aside to rise for another 15 minutes. Have ready a deep frying pan with hot oil or lard, drop into it 1 tablespoon of the mixture at a time, and cook till a light golden colour. When done, remove them from the fat, drain well by placing them on a sieve or in a colander, sprinkle with sugar and serve very hot.
A friendly publisher mailed me just before I left for New York, asking if I’d review a couple of books here for them. Always up for a freebie (I am nothing if not venal, especially where books are involved), I said yes – and was very, very pleased when Breakfast at the Wolseleyturned out to say A.A.Gillon the cover. If you’re not a consumer of English newspapers, you may not have come across him; he’s an author and journalist with a liking for smoking jackets and waspish prose. These days, Gill is the restaurant critic for the Sunday Times, and his is usually the first page I turn to when reading the papers in bed. His writing is unapologetically baroque and often vicious – his description of the Welsh as “loquacious, dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly, pugnacious little trolls” in the Times about ten years ago (he also said that “You can easily travel from Cardiff to Anglesey without ever stimulating a taste bud,”) nearly caused a Celtic uprising and sparked so many complaints from outraged Welshmen (no idea why – I’m married to one of the pugnacious little trolls, and it seemed fair enough to me) that the Press Complaints Commission and Commission for Racial Equality had to weigh in. We Brits love a Commission.
The Wolseley is a café-restaurant next to the Ritz in London, set in a building which was originally a gorgeously opulent showroom for Wolseley automobiles in the 1920s. That aesthetic runs through the restaurant itself as well as the book: the hard cover reproduces the design of the marble floors (themselves copied from Brunelleschi’s floors in Santo Spirito in Florence, according to Gill), while a tiny black dust-slip does double duty by carrying the title and author while acting as a slim belt to dress up the cover. I do not usually witter on like this about the outside of a book, but this one is very pretty, and the copious and beautiful photography inside keeps the loveliness factor high. They top it all off with a black satin ribbon bookmark. If this book was a person, it’d be wearing a velvet opera cape.
The book opens with an essay on the Wolseley’s history, then one on breakfast; Gill then walks us through a night’s preparation in the restaurant kitchens for the breakfast rush, but somehow takes us there via the Turkish siege of Vienna (croissants, pastries, espresso), Capuchin monks in Venice (cappuccino) and the beekeepers of South London (who supply the Wolseley with honey and beeswax for their cannelés de Bordeaux). My only complaint here is that because he’s writing about something he really enjoys, Gill is having trouble being as poisonous as usual, and I love him for his poison. Every now and then, though, the sliver-tipped dagger slips through the silky prose, so the restaurant’s customer database becomes “a benign Stazi report”; we are ticked off for moving from the “sugar-crusted, multicoloured, zoomorphically shaped processed carbs of childhood for the sombre, brown, bran-rich, blandly goodly flakes of colonic probity and adulthood”.
More short essays open each of the food chapters – Vienoisserie; Eggs; English Breakfast; Fruit and Cereals; and Tea, Coffee and Hot Chocolate. Rather wonderfully, you are offered bulleted instructions on how, for example, to prepare the perfectly poached or scrambled egg; a perfect cup of coffee (a discussion of the coarseness of your grind and whether you should select an Arabica or a Robusta); tea types and terminology. The night churns on – Polish plongeurs (“slim-featured, pale-eyed, all of them with the same contrary mixture of relief and resentment: a battened-in, taciturn, steely ambition”) flop about with rubber gloves and misery. I said above that Gill’s prose is baroque and it can be an acquired taste, but it’s a taste well worth acquiring if only so that you can read what he has to say about yoghurt.
The essays are punctuated with a good solid armful of breakfast recipes (not by Gill). These are the dishes we all secretly love and avoid eating regularly for the sake of our arteries and pancreas – eggs Benedict, pain au chocolat, omelette Arnold Bennett, lamb’s kidneys with Madeira, crèpes, haggis and duck egg. My heart throbs with the writing, my salivary glands do that squirty thing with the recipes. No recipe for the darned cannelés de Bordeaux, which saddens me, because I love the things.
I am torn between keeping this book in the kitchen so I can practise poaching eggs (a trick I have never quite got the hang of) or on the bedside table so I can read about the English breakfast’s “cacophony of meat” before bedtime. I suspect I’m just going to be running up and down the stairs a lot. Just as well, given all the black pudding.
No pictures yet today – the USB cable for my camera has gone walkies. You’ll have to make do with the magic of the written word.
My very dear friend Lorna got married on Saturday. (I am still recovering from the stupid decision I made to try to keep up with her new husband’s Irish friends once the drinking began in earnest. Congratulations to Lorna and Stephen, who are currently eating things in bikini and trunks on their honeymoon in Sicily.) Lorna, clearly having got this being a bride thing back to front, gave me a present the week before the wedding.
We were sitting in a café when she handed over the book she’d bought me, and on opening it I proceeded to get so excited that an old gentleman at an adjacent table got up and said how delightful it was to see young people still able to get excited over books. I immediately stopped being delightful and instead became very self-conscious for about ten seconds before going all twittery again, for this is a seriously, seriously fabulous book. André Simon’s Concise Encyclopaedia of Gastronomy is a real treasure trove of esoteric and quirky information for the obsessional foodie. It was started in 1938 by Simon, a champagne dealer, wine writer and all-round bon-viveur, and was planned for release in three sections a year to be lined up attractively on your bookshelves. Sauces, the first section, was published in 1939. With the breakout of the Second World War, paper shortages and conscription at his English publishers slowed the publication of the next eight sections, but by 1946 the work was finished, and a couple of years later a single-volume edition (the one I was chirruping about in the cafe) was published.
André Simon’s exhaustive treatment of what he calls ‘Gaster-the-belly . . . that temperamental furnace . . . the seat of the soul’ is by turns fascinating and hilarious, and remains useful for the modern cook, with its concise recipes, its instructions on handling different ingredients and its exploration of some truly unusual foods. (I am pretty sure that readers in 1945 had never eaten an agouti, much less enjoyed its ‘best part, the grizzled fur’. I certainly haven’t.) We learn that the flesh of the squirrel is seldom eaten in England . . . and we’re given two recipes for a casserole and a pie. We discover that the fat of the Bastard Antelope ‘quickly becomes cold and clogs in the mouth’. Here is a consomme of swifts, there a roast swan. There’s a recipe for The Bishop, a Cambridge University wintertime concoction of oranges and port. There are pages upon pages of short descriptions of cheeses, some now extinct. And, wonder of wonders, a few hundred early cocktail recipes. (I like the sound of the Jack Rose – the juice of half a lime, a teaspoon of grenadine and a jigger of apple-jack, shaken over ice.) There are edible birds I’ve never heard of (the Tufted Pochard? The Godwit?) There’s a recipe for rabbit in brandy which I’m determined to cook. There’s a detailed history of the Bath Oliver biscuit. A garnish for sweetbreads involving truffles cooked whole in Madeira, hollowed and refilled with quenelles of chicken forcemeat and the chopped centres of the truffles. And there’s a thoughtful instruction to make sure that the only aardvark that I allow to pass my lips should be smoked.
It’s worth looking at some second-hand websites for a copy of this magical book. Simon laments that: ‘Gastronomy in England and in the United States of America has a very limited appeal; it certainly has none of the fascination which Nutrition has for a vast number of people. And yet Gastronomy is to Nutrition what health is to sickness. All who enjoy good health, which means, happily, the great majority of the population, could and should enjoy good food and drink, the fuller and happier life which is the gift of Gastronomy for all normal people: that is to say people who are blessed with all their senses and a sufficient measure of common sense to make good use of them.’ I hope he’d find the food landscape in Britain a bit more congenial these days.
I loved this photoessay from Time. A few years ago, photographer Peter Menzel and journalist Faith D’Alusio visited thirty families across the world, and documented what they ate in a week in the book Hungry Planet. (The picture here is the British family’s weekly shop. I can thankfully say that my own weekly shop looks a lot more like the Chinese family’s haul, but rather more vegetabley.)
There are some shocks and surprises here, where weekly food rations are broken down by budget as well as by content. Well worth a look.