JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Chicory - a salad for the end of winter

I've just got back from a week of travelling, and really needed to eat some serious vegetables. So I bought a basket full of different flavours and colours, lots and lots: I'm unaccustomed to choice, as normally the vegetables just arrive on a Tuesday morning, courtesy of the Riverford box scheme. Even better, I could please myself for the day, because the rest of the family don't get back from their travels until tomorrow.

And so for lunch, I made a salad of chicory and a blood orange, that fabulous winter reminder from Sicily that the sun will shine again. It was a favourite when I was a child, in the days before you could have everything you wanted when you wanted it: you couldn't get summer vegetables in the winter, because there was no air freight. So you ate what there was, and in the winter there was chicory, and the lovely treat of citrus fruit (which had come by ship from hotter parts of Europe or perhaps north Africa). Even so, it was a treat - everyday winter vegetables were cabbages and roots, the staples of northern European cookery.

Chicory and orange works well as a salad because of the contrast of the bitterness with the sweet orange - although it's fair to say that chicory is not as bitter as it once was (which gives me hope that my children might like it as much as I always have). I made the dressing with the juice which dripped profusely from the orange, mixed with black pepper and olive oil. Wonderful.

And this is my entry for weekend herb blogging, hosted this week by Kalyn, South Beach dieter extraordinaire.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

This blog is off on its travels ...

... I'm away for the rest of the week, and, although I'm taking my laptop, I'm not sure if I'll have time to find a connection. I'll try, but I may not post until next weekend.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pythagoras' food theorem

Talk at breakfast turned to maths. Horatio produced a copy of Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy, and read us the following, amazing, passage about Pythagoras:

He founded a religion, of which the main tenets were the transmigration of souls and the sinfulness of eating beans. His religion was embodied in a religious order, which, here and there, acquired control of the State and established a rule of the saints. But the unregenerate hankered after beans, and sooner or later rebelled.

Some of the rules of the Pythagorean order were:

1. to abstain from beans
2. not to pick up what was fallen
3. not to touch a white cock
4. not to break bread
5. not to step over a crossbar
6. not to stir the fire without iron
7. not to eat from a whole loaf
8. not to pluck a garland
9. not to sit on a quart
10. not to eat the heart
11. not to walk on highways
12. not to let swallows share one's roof
13. when the pot is taken off the fire, not to leave the mark of it in the ashes, but to stir them together
14. do not look in a mirror beside a light
15. when you rise from the bedclothes, roll them together and smooth out the impress of the body.

Russell explains the transmigration of souls with a little quotation from Twelfth Night:

Clown: what is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wildfowl?
Malvolio: that the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird.

On the question of food, it's a little puzzling: no beans, and very difficult to eat bread (essentially, it seems you have to get someone who is not a Pythagorean to give you some), not to mention no offal, difficulty picking salad and herbs, and problems with cooking because of all the rules about fires and cooking pots.

Or do you think he was making a wider point about religion and rational thought?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Kale salsa

This is a lot nicer than it sounds, particularly if you have bad memories of the cabbage family from your schooldays. And I think it's probably good enough to be a winter substitute for salsa verde, which we use a lot during the summer. At least, it would be if I could only get the kale to grow.

I know what I did wrong, I put the seedlings in the ground far too late for them to make any significant growth before winter set in. So they sat there, not growing and looking exactly the same as when I planted them, for the whole winter. Except for the moment, in early January, when Lucius let the chickens out, and they made a beeline for the kale and stripped it bare of such leaves as they had. I chased them away, and they haven't been back to that particular part of the garden, which goes to show that Buff Orpingtons are cleverer than you might imagine. I'm slightly mystified that the kale isn't growing at the moment, because you can practically see the grass getting higher, and there are weeds sprouting up all over the place.

This morning I went out to pick the leaves. Nothing at all on the green kale (signs of something eating it - cabbage white caterpillars ALREADY??), but quite a lot of the black. I wasn't really following a recipe, but I did have a look at a couple of books this morning, and the one that was still open on the worktop said you needed 400g of leaves to make enough for six as a starter. So I weighed mine: 35g. That's it - the plants have been there all winter, and there's not enough to make a starter for one person!

But what leaves: soft enough to eat raw, and I did just that. So I cooked about 25g in a lot of water, which turned the most beautiful greeny purply colour, and which I have saved, although I don't know what I'm going to do with it (use it as the stock for more nettle soup, perhaps). I meant to put a whole clove of garlic in too, but I forgot. I put the kale, a finely chopped very small shallot and a few capers into a jug with a slug of olive oil, and whizzed it with my Braun wand.

As this is part of an on-going experiment, I used it on three different types of base, each spread with a blob of 0% Greek yoghurt. Delicious. I think I like the toast cup best.

As for the books which inspired me, Sarah Raven's Great Vegetable Plot has something similar, only with gherkins, olives, parsley, mascapone and crostini (and only using a knife, far too much like hard work!). I looked in the River Cafe books under kale, found nothing, rather puzzlingly, and only later realised that it was indexed under cavalo nero, with no quarter given for the English reader. Hey ho.

And this is my final entry for this month's Heart of the Matter event, hosted by Ilva at Lucullian Delights.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Buzz's winter biscuits

These biscuits take me right back to Oxford in the 1950s, to my childhood, to my grandmother's welcoming kitchen. She always made them for special occasions during the winter. She cut them into rounds using a glass. When they had coooled down after cooking, she decorated them with a blob of icing made simply with icing sugar and water, topped with a little quince jam in the middle. For me, the quince jam was the taste I associated most closly with my grandmother - scented, honeyed, and not found in any other house I visited. I didn't know what it actually was until I was an adult, and bought a jar of quince jelly in a supermarket in France while on holiday. It was, as they say, a Proustian moment - and there I was sitting at the table that was slightly too tall, with the Gothic clock ticking in the corner, and the promise of a game of table croquet once the washing up was finished.

The recipe appears twice in Buzz's books. In the first, which dates back to her childhood in the late 19th century, they are called German biscuits. The second recipe was probably written in the 1920s, no longer a child, but now a wife. It's the same recipe, but now it's called Empire biscuits. I'll take my 20th century European history lesson with plenty of spice, thank you.

Buzz's recipe says:

half a pound of flour
quarter of a pound of butter
quarter of a pound of sugar
one egg
half a teaspoon of baking powder
one teaspoon of cinnamon
one teaspoon of mixed spice

Cream the butter and sugar, add flour, spices and egg by degrees, also baking powder. Mix into a stiff paste and roll onto a floured board. Cut into biscuits and bake 15-20 minutes. Coat with icing sugar and decorate.

Well, you can see the problem.

I used 250g flour, and stirred in the sugar (I used vanilla caster sugar), spices and baking powder. Then I poured in 90ml of grapeseed oil and one egg. There wasn't enough liquid to clump it into a dough, so I added another egg (the eggs we have at the moment are all very small, so one large one might be enough).

When I'd finished cutting it out - some round ones cut with a glass, as I don't seem to have a round cutter, but mostly hearts and stars - I put them on a greased baking sheet and into a moderate oven (160C) for 13 minutes (I started checking after 10 minutes, as this is the sort of thing that burns very quickly).

They're good, they taste just the same (I made some quince jam a couple of years ago, and we haven't yet eaten it all up), but the texture's not so good, not so crisp, more like hard instead. I'd use less sugar next time, and a little more spice. I'd also roll them out much thinner, so that I'd also make half the quantity (one egg's worth), because this made one baking sheet of thick biscuits, and I really wouldn't want two baking sheet's worth ... we really don't eat that many biscuits, and Horatio has just refused point-blank to even try a crumb.

I think next time I'll make something from the meat or vegetable section ... but this recipe, more than any other in the books, reminds me of Buzz, and childhood, and the kitchen where she first taught me to cook. So this post is my entry for the one-off Nostalgia event being run by Kitchen Wench.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Carrot bites

These carrot bites for Heart of the Matter were inspired by a lovely comment I found on my hearty oatcake post from Eleanor (I'm assuming that this Eleanor is not my daughter, but I could be wrong!). She suggested this:

A lovely, crunchy substitute for pastry in finger food is granary bread, crusts removed, squashed flat with a rolling pin and baked in a muffin tin until it forms crunchy little cups that can be filled as you please.

I used a Waitrose wholemeal seed bread, and put them in a hot oven. I set the pinger for four minutes, and they were ready soon after that, lovely little shapes with no saturated fat. I made a herbed carrot puree to go in them, and experimented with it, as you can see from the photograph.

I peeled and sliced three medium carrots, then boiled them in lemon juice sweetened with a teaspoon of honey, and flavoured with a sprig of thyme. When they were tender, I took off the lid, and boiled off all the liquid to make a clinging syrup. I liquidised the result.

The first batch just had this puree, and it was lemony sharp. I think this would be better if the carrots were cooked in a half and half mixture of lemon juice and water.

The second batch was mixed with a little stiffly beaten egg white. It made the puree fluffy, and slightly softened the taste. This was the boys' favourite.

For the third batch, I stirred some of the egg yolk in with the carrot puree, and then mixed some stiffly beaten egg white. This wasn't so good as either of the other two; it tasted quite eggy, and wasn't so good as the clear vegetable flavours of the first two versions. (Having said that, they were all good.)

PS the three carrot mix was enough to fill about 18 little cases.

I also cooked some filo pastry cases for this mixture, some plain (not a success, they didn't look nice, and they burnt very easily), and some brushed with a little egg white (also not a success, they stuck to the tin and made a horrible mess). So thank you, Eleanor, for a really useful new way to make unpastry cases. Time you started a blog, I think!

Hearty oatcakes with smoked trout pate

Finger food. I'm well out of my comfort zone here ... cooking for my family and plonking it down on the table, yes; producing something wholesome-but-pretty-much-undecorated for 100 at a party, yes (although I have to sit down for a week afterwards!) .. but making it all look lovely - tricky. In this house, finger food means a plate of smoked salmon on brown bread squares (use fromage frais flavoured with lemon zest or horseradish instead of butter - MUCH nicer, much healthier). But the idea of The Heart of the Matter was that we all pool our ideas for healthy heart food so that we would all have a bank of new ideas to call on. This morning I'm climbing the learning curve as fast as I can!

Finger food is an important one to crack, because most of it is pretty unhealthy - salted peanuts, crisps cooked in who-knows-what?, little bits of nonsense on pastry, sausages on sticks. Years ago I went to an elegant party where delicious finger food was handed round - crudites, little bites of fish, oysters - and it was all so elegantly served that it was only on the way home that I realised my hostess was almost certainly on a diet. So, yes, I know that presentation is all-important here, and I'm going to do my best (!).

I've racked my brains for something I could do which I haven't already written about, and which I would actually want to do again. And for something which I could make look nice. I'm afraid I've gone with Ilva's idea for heart-shaped biscuits, because, as I've already said, presentation isn't my forte, so all ideas are gratefully received - thanks Ilva!

My biscuits are oatcakes. I've chosen them because one of the biggest surprises of our new diet was discovering that bought oatcakes are full of saturated fat, as they are nearly always made with lard. It seems such a pity, since oats are a terrific food in any healthy diet. It reinforces the point that reading the labels is hugely important when you're trying to eat a healthy diet. So I was pleased to find that they're very quick & easy to make, and making them with oil doesn't affect the taste. I suppose that they were originally made with lard because that was what was to hand; now, it's just cheap fat for the food industry.

Today's topping is a basic one: smoked trout pate. There are two more to follow before the deadline for Heart of the Matter expires on Wednesday. I'm aiming for something a little more sophisticated then, but it's also important to have something quick and easy up your sleeve for parties, the moment when my kitchen is most likely to go into meltdown!

Oatcakes - enough for 20 hearts
175g medium oatmeal (NOT rolled oats)
a pinch of bicarb
two pinches of salt
1 tbsp oil
4 tbsp water

Stir the salt and bicarb into the oats, then add the oil and water. Mix to a moist dough, and turn out onto a work surface strewn with oatmeal. Knead to a smooth ball. In practice, this means adding more oatmeal until the dough is quite dry. Roll it out as thinly as you can, and then cut out your shapes (the traditional shape is a circle cut into eight sections called farls). Place on a greased baking sheet sprinkled with oatmeal. Bake in a low oven (120-150C) for about an hour. Cool on the sheet.

Fish pate

This is easy and delicious. I am not going to give you exact quantities, because you do it by eye, and you make however much you need. I like this kind of cooking. Take roughly equal quantities of 0% fat Greek yoghurt (or 0% fromage frais) and smoked trout (or any other cold smoked fish ... mackerel, cooked kipper, salmon, etc etc), and mash with a fork in a small bowl. Add lemon zest and pepper to taste (you won't need salt). Top your oatcakes with the mixture, and decorate with more lemon zest and some finely chopped chives. Squeeze lemon juice over them before serving. (I expect you already know that you shouldn't assemble these too far in advance, because the crisp oatcakes will go soggy.)

Great at parties, and delicious at breakfast, too!

More toppings tomorrow.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Braised fennel

Fennel is not very popular in this house. But, as you can see, they liked this .. except Alfred, who wouldn't try it: "Fennel, that's the stuff I ate once and didn't like." I don't normally let anyone get away with that sort of remark ("your tastebuds change" the family all chant whenever I'm in danger of saying something similar). But there's something about that aniseedy taste which you can't really force on people.

It's years since I've braised anything other than a piece of meat, and I'd forgotten what a convenient way of cooking it is, and how much flavour it adds. I'm now dreaming of braised Little Gem, and braised chicory (that's another vegetable I can't get anyone to eat, too bitter). After I'd cleared up lunch, and was doing a little blog surfing, I noticed that several people were talking about a new book about braising - it's obviously making a come-back.

The key, it seems to me, is to avoid the anaemic look, so you start with a little energetic browning, then add your liquid and flavourings, cover and simmer for the right amount of time (Who needs a cookbook when you've got the blogosphere? Funny how we've all got SO many!).

Braised fennel

You need a heavy-bottomed frying pan with a lid, large enough to take the fennel slices in one layer.

Slice each head of fennel into four or five pieces each just under a centimetre thick. Fry them hard in olive oil until browned. Turn them, fry a little more, then add some stock, to come half way up the fennel. Bring to the boil, cover, turn down the heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the fennel is tender. You'll need to watch it towards the end, particularly if the lid is not close fitting. Ideally, serve from the pan.

This is my entry for weekend herb blogging, this week hosted by Thyme for Cooking. There are some great recipes to try in the round-up for last week's whb, which you'll find at Key Lime & Coconut. There's a lot of soup, so you feel that winter's not quite yet over ...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Inspiration ..

This week Ranulph Fiennes - a man who had a triple heart bypass four years ago - climbed the north face of the Eiger, one of the most treacherous mountaineering challenges, even though he only took up climbing a couple of years ago. And he's afraid of heights, the kind of afraid that makes his entire body go to jelly when he looks down. He did this to raise money for a cure for cancer, because in an 18-month period, he lost his wife, his sister and his mother to cancer.

What a man! And what a reminder that it's not just diet we have to worry about ... carpe diem: seize the day! And almost the best part? He's a blogger, too!

If I'm calling him an inspiration, that means I'll have to do something, too ... the question is: what?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Do you heat your plates?

When Lucius and I were engaged, we spent a lot of time in the car, driving between our - then - two houses in Bristol and Henley-on-Thames, and also visiting friends and relations. It was in the days when not all cars had radios, and few people - certainly not us - had tape machines. So I read to Lucius as we drove. We got through a number of books while it lasted - we gave up the habit when our first child was born.

One of the best books was Coningsby, a novel by Disraeli, the 19th century British statesman. It is fair to say that I might well not have finished this if I had been reading it by myself, but it's not really an option to give up half way through a book you are sharing with someone else. And it is very rewarding, full of jokes and observations about life - and also full of food: great banquets, intimate dinners, sly digs. And the story - love, ambition, power - goes at a cracking pace.

Disraeli was once at a tedious great dinner where he was served champagne between courses: "Thank God for something warm," he famously said. Here's an extract from Coningsby, published in 1844, which puts me to shame, because I often forget to warm the plates.

Lord Monmouth's dinners at Paris were celebrated. It was generally agreed that they had no rivals; yet there were others who had as skilful cooks, others who, for such a purpose, were equally profuse in their expenditure. What, then, was the secret spell of his success? The simplest in the world, though no one seemed aware of it. His Lordship's plates were always hot; whereas at Paris, in the best appointed houses, and at dinners which, for costly materials and admirable art in their preparation, cannot be surpassed, the effect is always considerably lessened, and by a mode the most mortifying: by the mere circumstance that every one at a French dinner is served on a cold plate.

(He goes on to say that the reason for this is that French plates are made of inferior pottery, rather than the superior China of English plates, and suggests that there would be gastronomic improvements (not to mention commercial advantages) on both sides of the Channel if we sold the French plates, and they sold us their capital wines.)

So, do YOU warm your plates?

Friday, March 16, 2007

A plain spelt loaf

This bread is one for beginners, as it is easily and quickly made, and very good - Horatio ate it up in double quick time, and now I must go and make another one! I found the recipe on a great blog I discovered this week, Bread Water Salt Oil. I read June's post and went straight to the kitchen to get started.

Once you've made bread with spelt, it's hard to go back to "ordinary" wholemeal flour. I can make a white loaf, no trouble, but any attempt at wholemeal loaves - they've been hard as bullets, only eaten out of politeness or necessity. I've bought several books on the subject, but they haven't made the difference. But spelt - easy to handle, delicious to eat, and with added historical romance, the bread of choice of the Romans. You barely need to knead it, and you cook it in moderate oven, not the usual hot one.

I've made a few changes to June's recipe, mainly because, unlike her, I can't get hold of fresh yeast. If anyone can tell me where to buy it, I'd be really grateful - I've more or less given up looking, because, for a while, it became a bit of an obsession. Now I use dried yeast (NOT instant yeast), and find it gives good results if you use half the amount of fresh yeast specified. This loaf in the picture was made in a great hurry, with only one rise in the tin (see tip below), but, as you can see, still has a pretty good crumb. (It just doesn't look as good as it should, with its rather flat top; the double rise gives a springier dough, and so the top is beautifully domed).

Plain spelt loaf

500g spelt flour (I use Bacheldre, which you can get in Waitrose)
5g dried yeast (the sort that comes in tins, not the instant stuff from a packet)
2 good pinches of Maldon salt
1 tbsp oil
warm water

Mix the yeast with a little warm water (and the merest hint of sugar to get it going, one tiny pinch should do the trick) and leave to one side for 10-15 minutes until it foams up. Add it to the flour and salt, together with enough water to make a soft dough. Don't bother to knead this, you could even stir it with a spoon, although you'd miss the sensual pleasure of making bread with your hands. It's a beautiful colour, and smells sweet. Leave it somewhere warm to double. This will take perhaps an hour, perhaps less. Then turn it into a 2lb tin, and prove (this, too, will be a far quicker process than if you were using wholemeal flour). Bake in a moderate oven, 180C, for about 35 minutes. I generally give bread a couple of minutes out of the tin at the end, and then leave it to cool crosswise over the tin, which gives it a crunchy crust.

Here's a tip: if you are in a hurry, you can turn the dough straight into the tin, leave it to rise to the top of the tin, and then cook it. The texture won't be quite so good, but it will still be airy.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Nettle soup

I've got a cold this week, so need something to build me up. Nettles (urtica dioica) fit the bill perfectly, as they are full of iron, and, I think, vitamin C. As so-called hedgerow food, they have the added advantage of giving you something for nothing. But in this garden they grow in huge profusion, great clumps of them. They're only just beginning to show now, which is perfect, because you need young shoots if you're going to eat them (they get very stringy indeed, and mature plants can be made into clothes, just like hemp).

It's hard to believe that this clump of three-inch high nettles will be four feet tall by midsummer.

Even nettles this small carry quite a sting, so you need to wear gloves: finding them is probably the most difficult bit of making this soup.

Quick nettle soup

For two, you'll need half a colander full, one potato, one onion, some stock or water, and nutmeg.

Chop the onion, and sweat in a little oil. When they're soft but not golden, add potato chunks, stir round for a few moments, then add the nettles. The leaves will fill your pan pretty full, but, like spinach, they wilt right down, so when you add liquid, don't put in too much, there's no need to cover the leaves. Bring to the boil, put on the lid, and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes. Liquidize, & season with lots of nutmeg. Reheat, and serve with a swirl of fromage frais.

This is my entry for weekend herb blogging, hosted this week by Becky at Key Lime and Coconut

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Grandma's footsteps

I am lucky enough to have the manuscript cookery books which belonged to my grandmother and to my mother. Occasionally I pull them out, but I've never cooked from them. They are very like my manuscript book: full of scribblings, jottings, bits torn out of newspapers and magazines, recipes noted down by friends ... a chaotic, slightly disorganised jumble that works for its owner, but probably not for anyone else. They are, I think, what I would save first if the house caught fire, because they are redolent of the continuity in my family's life.

Now, I think, I would like to explore these precious books. Once a week, I'm going to cook from them, and blog the result. Some of the recipes will be familiar: my grandmother Buzz first taught me to cook - one of my earliest memories is standing on a chair in her kitchen in Oxford, "helping" her weigh out the flour, the breadcrumbs, the sugar, the butter, for treacle tart, and then licking the satisfyingly sticky syrup off the spoon. Think of the patience she needed to give me such a wonderful introduction to a life-long culinary journey!

My mother's recipes will be a discovery, as she died when I was an infant. They are written in her strong confident hand, and I think that cooking from them will bring me closer to her. I've tried asking people who knew her to tell me about her - the things that made her laugh, what colours she liked, inconsequential details - but it's too hard, it doesn't work across so many decades, and, besides, you perhaps need to have this particular void in your life to understand exactly what the question is.

Already I feel the first sense of connection with her. I've found a recipe written by Buzz for my mother. She's being a model mother-in-law: helpful, wanting to do the right thing - and so is my mother, flattering her new mother-in-law by asking for her gingerbread recipe. And look at Buzz's writing, that characteristic round hand, which she learnt in the late 19th century, unlike anyone else's I've ever seen.

I'm going to cook it this afternoon for my son, just back from university, and with the largest appetite in the family. Only just like Buzz, I'm going to experiment with it, to take out all that butter.

LATER: Okay, I've made it, and it's very good indeed, only I'm puzzled that Buzz calls it flat gingerbread cake, because this recipe has made me understand why it's called gingerbread. The result is definitely more of a bread than a cake, quite solid. Good eating; also no butter, no eggs - I'm beginning to feel that I'm cracking the cake problem (all that saturated fat).

I had fun converting the recipe between imperial measures, metric measures, and American cup sizes (because the conversion table for butter to oil that I found was on an American website).

Buzz's flat gingerbread

600g plain flour
200ml grapeseed oil (NOT olive oil)
150g soft brown sugar
200g runny honey
50g crystallised ginger, chopped fairly small
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp baking powder

In a large bowl, beat together the oil, honey and sugar. Mix the spices and baking powder into the flour, then work this into the oil mixture. You will almost certainly need some liquid at this point; I used 150ml of water. Finally, stir in the ginger pieces. Spread into a flat baking tin, and bake at 180C for about half an hour. Test with a skewer. Leave to cool in the tin.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Can I ask you a favour?

Dozens and dozens of you have been reading my blog lately, but hardly anyone has left any comments, and I'm beginning to wonder if I've got some sort of blogger's B.O. which no-one will tell me about. I've met with nothing but kindness in cyberspace, bloggers are such a great lot, so - could you let me know if I'm being neurotic, or whether I've got a glitch which is stopping you from leaving comments? I'd be SOOOOOO grateful! Thanks ...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Rosemary citrus salt

When you decide to cut cheese out of most of your cooking, you're left with a problem: how to give your food a certain savoury taste. Nothing is the same as cheese, and none of my ideas is intended to replace cheese - but lots of the other seasonings I use, including this one, add piquancy rather than smothering with their own all-pervasive flavour. I've come to like this new way of flavouring food rather better than using cheese, and I now don't particularly like the taste of cooked cheese. But I still think there's little to beat a slice of well-made Cheddar, or Stilton, or Vacherin, or ... well, you get the idea.

Rosemary citrus salt is one of a number of useful things to keep in the fridge and use where you might once have used cheese. It takes moments to prepare, and keeps forever in a little plastic box in the fridge. Put 100g Maldon sea crystals in a mortar, add the finely grated zest of a lemon and an orange (earlier in the year a Seville orange might be extra tang-y), and the chopped leaves of a couple of twigs of rosemary. Bash it all up until you get a sticky mess, then spread it out thinly onto a baking tray. It needs to dry out before you can store it, so I put it on top of my Aga for a few hours, but anywhere warm and dry would do. It goes on lots of things, to make them a little more exciting - fish, lamb, gratins - and makes a change from anchovy breadcrumbs, another stalwart of this kitchen.

I've posted this before, but in a place where it could easily be missed, so here it is again, with an idea for using it.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fate cannot harm me, I have dined today

It was Sydney Smith who famously said that his idea of heaven was eating pate de foie gras to the sound of trumpets - you feel he might have been a bit of a foodie. So when I came across his recipe for salad dressing, it was irresistible.


To make this condiment, your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two hard-boiled eggs;
Two boiled potatoes, passed through kitchen sieve,
Smoothness and softness to the salad give.

Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
And, half suspected, animate the whole.
Of mordant mustard add a single spoon,
Distrust the condiment that bites so soon;
But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault,
To add a double quantity of salt.

Four times the spoon with oil from Lucca brown,
And twice with vinegar procured from town;
And, lastly, o'er the flavored compound toss
A magic soupcion of anchovy sauce.

O, green and glorious! O herbaceous treat!
'T would tempt the dying anchorite to eat:
Back to the world he'd turn his fleeting soul,
And plunge his fingers in the salad bowl!
Serenely full, the epicure would say,
"Fate cannot harm me, I have dined to-day."

Sydney Smith (1771–1845)

I'm sure I'm not the first person to try to make this salad according to the poet's instructions, but I think I may be the first to try from a version of the poem missing the lines about oil and vinegar. It was so stiff I had to let it down with some oil, although I didn't use vinegar. And I used tinned anchovies rather than anchovy sauce (because I didn't have any). Later, when I went shopping, I checked the ingredients on the bottled anchovy sauce, and thought that whole anchovies were a better bet: well, would you choose to cook with xanthan gum? No wonder it was suspiciously cheap compared to a tin of anchovies.

Smith's salad for four

Peel and boil one small floury potato. At the same time, hard boil two eggs. When both are cooked and cooled, whizz the potatoes, egg yolks with half a 50g tin of anchovies, a splash of red wine vinegar, and as much olive oil as is needed to let it down. Do not, pace Smith, use salt, as the anchovies will provide all that you need.

In the mean time, put salad leaves onto four plates, sprinkle with a little finely chopped shallot (or red onion), add sliced avocado. Pour on the dressing.

You will see from the photograph of the finished dish, that ours was still rather solid, as I used a large potato, no vinegar and not enough oil. Even so, it was really delicious, a recipe that deserves a revival. Smith's salad is filling, a meal in itself (rather in the manner of a Caesar salad), and one that will keep you going for hours.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Salad easy

Don't you just hate those ruinous supermarket pillows of salad that taste faintly of swimming pool? At the risk of turning this blog into an edition of Gardener's World, I'm going to tell you how to free yourself of them forever, a really easy way. I've got a garden and a greenhouse, but I'm pretty sure you could do this on a sunny windowsill, too. We've been picking and eating salad through the winter - and the only actual gardening I did (apart from the occasional sprinkle with water) was to sow the seeds in the autumn. Now that it's warming up and the days are getting longer, we can barely eat up with the growth.

The secret is to grow plants which are "cut and come again" - in other words, salad leaves rather than entire lettuces. So you go out with your colander, and choose the exact leaves you want, rather than pulling up a huge lettuce with lots of nasty outer leaves you're going to have to chuck. And you pick them regularly - daily at this time of year, weekly in the dark of winter - so you only ever have luscious young leaves, the sort celebrity chefs know how to charge for.

The varieties you are looking for are rocket, mizuna (lovely peppery taste), mustards, cresses. They're often sold in mixes called things like Saladisi, and theyre a good way to start, because you are growing your very own bowl of mixed salad, and because you get to know which ones you like best, and because it's cheaper. Some mixes are recommended for winter, some for summer, but most of them will grow year round.

You need to sow them at intervals during the year: out of doors, now (by which I mean any time in the next six weeks), and again a couple of months later. Indoors, for a winter crop, you really need to get the seed in the ground in September, and the earlier you do it, the stronger your winter crop will be. The indoor crop could be in a grow-bag in a greenhouse, or perhaps in a wine box on a balcony (perhaps covered, cloche-style, with fleece, or plastic, or perspex), or in a large pot on a windowsill. Whatever, just water and pick, water and pick. And eat, of course.

I sprinkle them in rows (so I can tell them apart from the weeds), and I don't bother to cover them, although I may just stroke the soil lightly. Keep them watered (you really do need to use a fine sprinkler head, but you don't actually need a watering can for this, you can use a special head on an old plastic bottle).

Yesterday, I sowed the first outdoor seed, in an old zinc bath outside the kitchen door (I often find myself picking in the dark), covered over with an old door scraper to keep off the pigeons. I expect we'll be able to start picking these in mid to late April, depending on the weather, by which time the plants in my greenhouse will be exhausted and fading.

Friday, March 09, 2007

We were lucky

In July 2004, we set off on our summer holidays, the car laden, as usual, with sports kit - tennis racquets, golf bags, fishing rods, walking gear, several changes of footwear each: everything that was needed for the usual active family holiday. We drove to Scotland, stopping on the way to visit friends, where we would be staying with several other families from our wider family in a huge 18th century mansion in Angus, before going to to visit good friends on the island of Mull.

We both really needed a holiday: Lucius had an issue at work which made his shoulders hunch up with tension whenever he talked about it. I was embroiled in an unpleasant spat with our village council, and the first of our four children was about to go to university which would mean change for the family (this was the first family holiday which didn't include everyone). The children were happy in the back of the car, surrounded by stuff, and plugged in to their music.

We were the last to arrive: everyone was on the terrace overlooking the River North Esk having drinks in the early evening sunshine. We joined them, had dinner, and then went to find our rooms, Lettice sharing with her cousin, the boys together in the room next to ours. There was chatter and laughter, it was good to be surrounded by family; there was the promise of a whole week of activity and exploration in this beautiful place in the foothills of the highlands. Plans were made for golf the next morning, and for a group of us to visit Glamis Castle nearby.

I remember that on the way to Glamis we talked about illness, we talked about how it would affect us, we talked about cancer, everyone's fear. But, looking back, we didn't really address it, we talked about it as something that would affect other people. Despite our increasing middle age, we still felt invincible, whatever evidence there was to the contrary, and however much we knew it wasn't so.

All that confidence was shattered within moments of returning to The Burn. Lucius was playing tennis with Horatio - no longer a gentle game of adult v child, but now, a game between two males who both wanted to win, one improving every day, the other wanting to carry on unbeaten as long as he could.

"Joanna, Joanna! Lucius has come in and he's lying on the sofa and he's not very well." As soon as I saw him, I could see that something was really wrong. He was grey. He looked weak, he looked wounded. I went to the office to see if we could telephone a doctor, but the surgery was closing, and it was difficult. James, my brother-in-law, and an orthopaedic consultant, took one look and said we should take him to the nearest A&E. So off we went.

Lucius's brother Chippy drove, in his brand-new car that was not yet properly run in. James sat in the front, telephoning the emergency services to find out where to go, and whether an ambulance could meet us. No. So he talked to the hospital direct. All this in a low voice in the front. Lucius was lying across the seats at the back, his head in my lap - clammy, silent, sick.

It was an hour's drive to Dundee. We had to drive through the city, one we didn't know, and with confusing signposts. All the time, James was talking to the hospital, taking a pulse every so often. Lucius groaned, James turned to examine him in the confined space, whispered to Chippy, and suddenly, the car, already going at speed, shot forward.

"Please be alive when we arrive at the hospital, please be alive when we arrive, please be alive when we arrive ..." I couldn't stroke him, he didn't want to be touched; I couldn't talk to him, he was turned in on himself. I bit my tongue - literally, to stop myself from crying - and repeated my mantra in my head: "please be alive when we arrive."

When we got there, he was bundled into a wheelchair and rushed in to the cardiac unit. I was directed to the front desk, where a smiling Scots lady asked for his name, and I burst into tears. "It's all right, lassie, it's all right," she soothed. It was the first of many small acts of kindness of strangers.

After an eternal little while, the doctor came to find us, to tell us what had happened, but, also, to get my permission to use heavy-duty drug treatment. He talked that medical language that the healthy never learn. "So, does that mean he's had a heart attack?" He looked surprised. He explained again, only this time I understood. A clot had come to rest in Lucius's heart, luckily for him in a place where damage tended to be less; luckily for him, he lay down more or less immediately; luckily for him, he was in the cardiac unit within a couple of hours.

We didn't see him until after he had taken the clot-buster. He was in a high-tech chair, wired up to the nines, still grey, still wounded, but smiling weakly, beginning to look out again. We went home after he was settled onto the high-dependency ward, where staff outnumber patients, and where patience and kindness are everyday virtues.

It was a bad moment, telling the children. It was worst for Horatio - he couldn't believe it was serious: "Mum, he just said he wanted to stop playing because he felt sick, and then he collected up all the balls." So H had wandered off to find another tennis partner, and never gave the matter another thought. It's not like the movies - it's not even how you imagined it would be.

He stayed in hospital a week, champing at the bit by the end, longing to get back to his life. But he wasn't allowed to go to Mull, for fear of another attack, and he wasn't allowed to drive for a month. Every day he got stronger, but not as quickly as he wanted to believe. Now you would never know. We were lucky. We were very lucky.


We were in shock. How could this happen to my virile, averagely fit, strong husband? We got answers from the British Heart Foundation. You know them, too: smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, lack of activity, stress, heredity.

We needed to DO something. We both read the BHF booklets:

People who eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day are less likely to have heart disease. We do not know exactly why, but it is thought to be due to the antioxidant vitamins they contain ... there is not yet enough evidence that taking vitamin tablets has the same effect.

Eating oily fish once or twice a week may help to reduce your level of triglycerides (fatty substances found in the blood), and prevent blood clots from forming in your coronary arteries. It can also help to improve your chances of survival after a heart attack. The particular oil in fish that has these beneficial effects is known as 'omega-3'. It is found mainly in oily fish such as herring, kippers, mackerel, pilchards, sardines, salmon, fresh tuna, trout and anchovies.

Well, wouldn't you give it a try? In practice, we were doing quite a bit of it anyway, but, as we looked carefully at the advice, we could see that changes were needed.

Five portions of fruit and veg a day is the most effective change you can make. If you only make one change, this should be it. Lots of people say they don't know how much there is in a portion. Well, it's one apple, or banana, or orange; it's two clementines, two Kiwi fruit. It's a slice of melon, a cup of berries. It's two or three tablespoons of fruit salad or stewed fruit. It's a small bowl of salad, a couple of serving spoons of veg. Just eat more, and keep on eating them!

Eat less fat overall, and cut right down on saturated fat. So butter, hard cheese, lard, suet - all obvious no-noes. Ghee, too, if you're keen on Indian food. But also coconut oil and palm oil - and these are used extensively in industrially processed food. So: read the labels. Welcome monounsaturates (olive oil, walnut oil, avocado), polyunsaturates (sunflower oil, soya oil, fish oils), omega-3 fats (oily fish, walnuts, soya).

Keep a healthy weight. I struggle with this. Although this way of eating helps, it is not a slimming diet in itself. Kalyn has inspired me to explore the South Beach Diet, and I'll post on how that goes. The BHF recommends checking by measuring your waist - anything over 32" is bad, over 35" very bad.

Cut down on salt. There's a strong connection between high consumption of salt and high blood pressure. There's a HUGE amount of salt in industrial food, although things are beginning to improve. Read the labels. Better still, make your own food; don't add salt, you'll get all you need from the processed food you do buy.

Watch out for hidden fats and salt. Here are the daily guidelines (men first, women second): fats 95g/70g (less than a third should be saturated); sugars 70g/50g; fibre 20g/16g; salt 6g/5g.

It's forever and it works. So don't beat yourself up when you backslide, and remember the 80/20 rule - if you get it right four-fifths of the time, that's fine. Enjoy. And then, please, share your recipes with the rest of us.

How The Heart of the Matter works: The first theme is going to be Finger Food, we thought that it would be perfect for the 'introduction party' of this event. The last day to send your entry is the 22 of March (this month, send it to i_beretta AT yahoo DOT it), please remember to link here and that we want only one-event entries.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

There's something fishy about this cauliflower

They say that vegetarians miss bacon the most; for us, the saturated fat we'd both most like to eat is cheese. The trouble is that the low fat cheeses are mostly not worth bothering with, and even the medium fat cheeses are 30% or more saturated fat. So it has to be an occasional treat - a small amount, twice a week max.

So it's a shame to use up the cheese allowance in the cooking, where you can't savour it to the full. The problem is, how to get the necessary note of savoury into the cooking? I mean, how to cook cauliflower cheese without the cheese?

The answer won't please vegetarians, but makes a really good gratin: I smother the steamed cauliflower in a white sauce made with olive oil, flour, and skimmed milk, so that it tastes deliciously sweet. Then I top it with my anchovy breadcrumb mix before putting it in the oven to brown for 25 minutes. Despite the title of this post, it doesn't taste remotely fishy, but satisfyingly savoury.

Savoury breadcrumbs

Blitz three or four slices of bread - whatever you've got, but, in truth, white makes a softer mixture. Stale is fine, probably better than fresh. You want the crumbs to be very fine, although I often leave a few lumps for texture. In a heavy frying pan, gently sizzle the contents of a 50g tin of anchovy in olive oil (you can cut them up first if you like). When they've started to melt, add the breadcrumbs, turn up the heat, and fry for two or three minutes stirring all the time, until they are golden. Leave to cool completely before storing in a plastic box in the fridge. They'll keep for ages, and you can use them in 101 ways, not just to zizz up the cauliflower (you can use them to stuff tomatoes or mushrooms, for instance).

I've posted this for doodles, who asked me what we do instead of cheese. This is just one idea, and I'll pull it all together for a comprehensive post next week, when I've had a chance to think it all through, and perhaps take a photo or two. And as I know that Kalyn like's cauliflower, this is my entry for this week's weekend herb blogging!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Affordable superfoods

Superfoods: it's a daft idea, really, especially with all those newspaper scares that generally accompany them. But they don't have to be expensive (blueberries), ecologically unsound (summer fruit in winter), impossible to pronounce (quinoa), or otherwise exotic. Here's a list (not exhaustive, just to get you going) of healthy heart superfoods which are delicious, cheap, plentiful, and won't cost the earth:

* dark green cabbage / spinach
* lentils, any colour
* herrings / kippers
* carrots
* porridge
* onions
* pumpkin
* black tea
* plain unsweetened yoghurt
* dark chocolate

Soon you can add a couple of other readily available items to that list:

* tomatoes
* berries

... but not until they don't have to be air-freighted here.

My complete list (excluding any mention of quinoa) was posted when I began this blog in May 2005.

A lot of our superfoods come from Riverford in a veg box. Recommended, because a veg box forces you to think of vegetables first, make them centre stage (as in, "what shall we have with the pumpkin?" or "how shall we cook our onions tonight?"). No need if you live near a really good market, and use it regularly. But there's something about a veg box which forces creativity on you, and the Riverford produce tastes good better best!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A good beef stew with thyme and anchovy

I made this yesterday for Lucius and some American friends of his who were coming to supper. It had to be easy, because I was off to my beekeeping class (this year's project), so Lucius had to dish it up, when he'd much rather be chatting than worrying about food. The idea was to make double rations, so that there would be plenty to freeze, but it was so good that there's not much left. This stew is strongly flavoured.

Chop three large onions and sweat in a little olive oil. Add one kilo of diced stewing steak. Turn up the heat and brown. Add a dash of wine (I used port, because there was some around). Shake in some flour (about a tablespoonful). Add all the contents of a tin of anchovies (chop them first if you like, but they'll melt away to nothing. Add four sliced carrots.Stir in a finely chopped sprig of thyme (my sprig was very big, to go with the strong flavour given by the anchovy). Add liquid (I used chicken stock and some water) to just cover. Bring to the boil, then simmer gently for an hour or two, depending on the cut and size of the meat.

Served with baked potatoes, cauliflower bake, and a tomato salad. I ate it lukewarm when I got back from beekeeping (we discussed the diseases of bees, which are many and varied). It would be good with a little orange zest grated into it (or a strip of orange peel added at the beginning and fished out before serving).

Spring is sprung!

We've had a lot of rain recently ... this was the view from my kitchen window most of last week.

I could only console myself with the thought that the flower buds were swelling ...

... and now the sun is shining, the days are getting longer, the flowers are blooming - it's SPRING!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Red onion marmalade

This is a sort of chutney, easy to make, very useful to have in the cupboard. It takes quite a while to boil down, but it's worth the wait, and you only have to watch it at the end, when you want to stop cooking just as it's about to catch.

The idea came from a note that's been on my desk for weeks: red onions/sugar/red wine/vinegar/port. And that's all it is. (I don't remember how I came to write the note, but was probably inspired by one blog or another, as that's where most of my cooking inspiration comes from these days, so apologies if it looks as if I've pinched someone else's idea: get in touch and I'll set up a link!)

1. Chop one kilo of red onions and sweat in olive oil

2. Add 300g muscovado sugar

3. Add one bottle of red wine (I used very cheap, probably undrinkable Rioja), 150ml port, and 250 ml sherry vinegar

4. Cook until all the liquid is absorbed

5. Bottle

6. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

And the moon was eclipsed by the earth ...

These photographs aren't mine, sad to say. There are more, too. My attempts at night photography were doomed by incompetence: at dusk, I went out and photographed the rising moon. Then I went in to find my tripod. I turned the house upside down, but couldn't find it, so all my photos were taken with a little camera that flashes at night, no matter how much you change the settings.

It was a wonderful clear night, and the moon shone in her own colours for a brief time. Here is the full moon rising, over my veg patch ..

Saturday, March 03, 2007


It's a bit late in the season to be writing about making marmalade, because you'd be lucky to find any Seville oranges at all now (although there were still a few around last week). However, I had a spectacular disaster in January, and have only just now got round to starting again. And it has turned out to be the best marmalade I've ever made, so I'm writing down what I did in the hope that I'll be able to do it again next year!

January's disaster nearly burnt the house down - I put 4.5 kilos of Seville oranges into my biggest pan, covered them with water and put them on to boil. The idea was to bring them to the boil, put the lid on the pan, and cook the oranges slowly in a very low oven all day, so that I could finish the marmalade in the evening when I came back from a visit to Bath. Unfortunately, I forgot the second part, drove to Reading, caught the train, arrived an hour later, drove to Rosie and Stephen's, and had finished lunch when I suddenly remembered the oranges on the top of the stove. I rang Amy, who lives two villages away and who has a key to the house, and she nobly went out to the rescue (it was the day of the big storm which blew over several of our trees). By the time she got there, there was an inch of black stuff at the bottom of the pan. It took nearly a week of soaking then scrubbing to get the pan back to normal!

This time I boiled 2 kg of Seville oranges in 2 litres of water; they bubbled away for about an hour, and towards the end of the cooking time I topped up the water (from the kettle, so as not to slow down the process). I left this to cool overnight.

Next day, I scooped out the oranges and drained them in a colander over the pan, and pulled them in half. I scraped the flesh (there's not much in a Seville) and pips, which I added to the liquid. I boiled this up for about five minutes. Meanwhile, I sliced the orange skins in the Magimix, which gave a pleasing variety - some huge slices, some tiny, and many in between.

Then I strained the liquid, and added 3kg of sugar (the special sort for marmalade-making, although ordinary sugar works just as well, because of all the pectin in the pips). When it was dissolved (over a low heat), I added the peel, brought the mixture up to a boil, and then boiled it hard for not quite 10 minutes, until it had been at the "jam" setting on my sugar thermometer for a couple of minutes.

I left it to cool for about 10 minutes before bottling it, which allowed the foam to subside completely.

Perfect set, not too hard, but not runny, either.


This scruffy-looking plant is my sorrel patch. Every garden should have one: the taste of sorrel is like nothing else - and I've never seen it for sale anywhere, not even in France.

In some ways it's like spinach, only with a lemony sharpness to it, and none of that Popeye'd metallic feel on your tongue. Just like spinach, it cooks down to nothing - a sludgy khaki-coloured nothing, rather than that deep rich yet bright spinach green. You can use young leaves raw in a salad to add piquancy.

It's an easy plant. Mine grow in an east-facing bed, with poor stony soil, and no attention from anybody, except harvesting. I was given two or three roots, probably in the autumn. It's a perennial plant, the sort that looks after itself, and just appears again when the days are noticeably longer, the air a little warmer. Now is a good time to sow seed, and I don't think they're particularly difficult to propagate. I should think they'd do well in a pot, although I haven't tried.

Grow it near the kitchen, so that you can easily keep picking a succession of young leaves - they appear out of the ground all summer like red spears before unfurling a shield-shaped leaf. Cookery books tend to specify "a handful", and that's because you can't buy it. Don't worry too much about quantities, but remember that however you are cooking your sorrel, one handful per person is plenty, even though it cooks right down, because even the young leaves have a strong taste.

This week our roast chicken was accompanied by a little mess of sorrel cooked in the water that clung after washing. Three or four minutes in an uncovered saucepan, keeping an eye on it, keeping it moving with a wooden spoon, cooked at the last minute whilst dishing up the rest of the meal. Next time I might stir in a little fromage frais to make a sauce. Or serve it with fish. Or add it to an omelette. Sorrel makes all of these dishes special - and keeps people guessing, since it is not well known in this country.

A real treat, even if gardening is not really your thing, although it may be if you have found this link through weekend herb blogging (this is the first time I have taken part in a blog event, so please forgive me if I've done it wrong).

Friday, March 02, 2007

Nearly full moon ...

... and tomorrow there's a total eclipse of the moon, one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world. Last night, Lucius and I had an unresolvable debate about which is more beautiful, a solar or a lunar eclipse. A solar eclipse is awe-inspiring and exhilerating - celestial fireworks. A lunar eclipse is a gentler experience: the first time I saw one I was surprised that the moon was still visible at totality, I thought it would be impossible to see. Instead, it was the moon as I'd never seen it before: commanding, red, magnificent. I can't wait. Full contact starts at about 10.45 Saturday night, and carries on until just before midnight.

Here's some techie stuff from the BBC:

The almost-full Moon will rise in the E at 17:29 UT (same as GMT) on Saturday 3 March and will climb steeply to 25° high into the ESE by 20:18, when the Earth's shadow will just touch the leftmost edge of the Moon ("first contact"). You might have "has it? / hasn't it?" doubts for some time, as first contact can be difficult to spot because (a) this is the reasonably light "penumbral" shadow; and (b) the edge of the shadow is fuzzy, rather than sharp, so the transition is not very clear.

The area of the penumbra continues to grow until the Moon's face is totally in shadow. Then at 21:30, (second contact) the edge of the Moon will just touch the umbra. The penumbra/umbra transition will also be fuzzy, but it will soon become clear that the shadow is darkening, and at 22:44 the Moon's surface will be completely covered by the umbra. The Moon rarely disappears completely during totality, but it's difficult to forecast just how dark it will become. It will probably be somewhere between a light, glowing coppery red and a dark, brooding blood-red. Whatever happens though it should be spectacular and it's relatively easy to photograph.

The Moon will remain fully in the umbra until 23:57, will be fully in the penumbra at 01:11 UT on Sunday 4 March, and finally the eclipse will end at 02:24 with the Moon about 40° high in the SW.

And even more if you didn't quite get it (I don't really understand the science or mechanics, I just respond to the beauty and the romance).

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Old English cookery

My friend DD rang this morning to ask if I could mind her shop for an hour while she popped out. Great - a good chance for a browse, as if I need any more books in this house. But I do ...

First was a paperback copy of Michael Smith's Fine English Cookery for £2. This is a real classic of English cookery, elegant English cookery before all those French cooks fled from revolutionary France and we got the taste for anglicised foreign cuisine. Jane Grigson says in the blurb: "He starts from the reasonable assumption that people who sat on Chippendale chairs in elegant houses were unlikely to be eating filthy food from their Wedgwood dinner services. Therefore what they ate is worth exploring." I can't wait to cook from it.

The second was a real bargain, £10 for an original 1814 copy of Elizabeth Raffald's The Experienced English Housekeeper, for the use and ease of Ladies, Housekeepers, Cooks &c, written purely from practice; dedicated to the Hon Lady Elizabeth Warburton, whom the Author lately served as Housekeeper; Consisting of several Hundred Original Receipts, most of which never appeared in print Great title, and one of the sources for Smith's book. It was a bit of a bestseller, and this copy (leather-bound and with the original owner's inked notes) is "A new edition, in which are inserted some celebrated receipts by other modern Authors"

It belonged to Elizabeth Cooper of Ox Close House, near Ripon, and when she died in 1859 it was given to her granddaughter Annie Harland. They both obviously used it a great deal, because the binding has been mended, and needs mending again. In the back, Annie has written a detailed instruction to take the stains out of flannel, which begins: rub with yolk of egg before washing.

The book falls open at the recipe "to preserve oranges carved", which turns out to be marmalade (topical, as I'm just making a batch of marmalade now). On the same page is a recipe for preserving quinces which will be useful in the autumn. Some of the recipes have charming names - bride cake for a wedding. Some sound dire but may well be worth pursuing: to make a peas soup for Lent, for which you need "blue boiling peas" - I can only suppose that she means Puy lentils, in which case, absolutely delicious with anchovies, onion, cloves, carrots, parnsips and a bunch of herbs.

And what about this? I'm posting it in its entirety:

To make a catchup to keep seven years
. Take two quarts of the oldest strong beer you can get, put to it one quart of red wine, three quarters of a pound of anchovies, three ounces of shalots peeled; half an ounce of mace, the same of nutmegs; a quarter of an ounce of cloves, three large races of ginger cut in slices, boil it all together over a moderate fire till one third is wasted, the next day bottle it for use; it will carry to the East Indies.

Industrial quantities of a wonderfully flavoursome brew - but I suppose you would need them if you were sailing to the Far East with only barrels of rotting food to eat. I might work on reducing the quantities, because it sounds good (although I have no idea how you'd find out what is a race of ginger - trial and error, I suppose).

I am SO looking forward to confounding the idea that English cooking is, at best, dire, and, at worst, doesn't exist.