Sunday, January 24, 2010

Traditional British Food, Part 27: Food to Keep Out the Cold...and a book review

What better way to warm up than with a bowl of soup? I love split pea soup and not just because it's cheap. It also happens to be yummy. This recipe is adapted from Traditional British Recipes.

London Fog Soup's a real pea-souper!

serves 8

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 lb bacon, chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 cup split peas
3 quarts chicken stock
2 teaspoons coarse salt (or to taste)
generous grinding of pepper

8 slices white bread, crusts removed
8 teaspoons butter, softened

In a large stock pot or dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until the bacon starts to brown (just slightly!) and render its fat. This will take about 3 minutes. Don't let the bacon brown and crisp!

Add the onion, carrots and celery and turn the heat up to high. Saute for 2-3 minutes. Be sure to not let the vegetables brown, turning heat down if necessary.

Pour in the split peas and the chicken stock into the pot and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat down and simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Season to taste.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter each slice of bread with 1 teaspoon butter then place on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, or until crisp (like big croutons).

Divide the soup into bowls and served topped with toast.


If you remember, I ended up with a lot of mincemeat this year. I've already made mincemeat tarts, but there's still mincemeat left over. These are cable cakes, which are scone/muffin thingys that have mincemeat in them instead of currants or blueberries or golden raisins. This recipe is adapted from Yorkshire Teatime Recipes.

Cable Cakes

makes 24

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup lard (4 ounces)
3 cups mincemeat (1 pound)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two standard 12-cup muffin tins. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the sugar and lard (you can just use a wooden spoon so you don't have to get the mixer out) until light and fluffy. Stir in the mincemeat and mix well.

Add the flour (1 cup at a time, stirring after each addition) and the baking powder. Combine, but don't over mix.

Add the two eggs to the mixture and stir to combine. Then add the milk, a bit at a time (you may not need all of it), until the dough is moistened, but still stiff.

Using a trigger ice cream scoop if you have one, spoon the dough into the tins and bake for about 15 minutes, or until starting to brown, rotating tins halfway through. Cool on a wire rack.


According to Kate Colquhoun's Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Food, Britons were cooking with saffron as early as the 12th century (p. 48). Saffron was cultivated in East Anglia, with yields peaking in the 16th and 17th centuries. This recipe for baked pears is based on Renaissance street food.

Pears Baked in Red Wine

I adapted the preparation and cooking time from this recipe, so I could use pears that were on sale at the grocery store that would never ever ripen.

serves 2

2 firm pears
1/2 cup red wine (I used Cabernet)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of saffron, crushed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel the pears, core them and slice them in half. Place the pear halves in one layer in a small casserole dish (I used a Le Creuset oval gratin; pyrex would work well, too). Whisk together the remaining ingredients and pour over the pear halves.

Bake pears for 40-60 minutes until softened, turning halfway through. Serve the pears covered with the reduced wine sauce.


Speaking of Renaissance Britain, I just finished Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, last year's Booker Prize winner. Mantel's work is a fictionalized account of Thomas Cromwell's world from the fall of Cardinal Wolsey until the execution of Thomas More. I was surprised that the book didn't cover more ground, considering the fact that it's 560 pages long!

However, Mantel does an excellent job of making Thomas Cromwell into a living being rather than just the tough-as-nails, emotionless lawyer portrayed in history books. The novel is very intimate; much of the text is Cromwell's internal dialogue and personal history. Thankfully, this wasn't the average novel about the court of Henry VIII with historical inaccuracies jumping out all over the place. I thought it was very well-researched and kept wondering how anyone could absorb the history as much as Mantel did to make it seem so personal.

Another nice thing about this novel is how Hilary Mantel writes the characters of the two other Thomases who figure largely in the text--Wolsey and More. It was a nice change of pace for Wolsey to be so sympathetic! He is unapologetically aware of his own hypocrisies and very likable. More, on the other hand, is difficult, abusive, scornful and proud--just how I always imagine religious fanatics. This may be unfair, but sometimes it's nice to see More not portrayed as a saint.

I wholeheartedly recommend Wolf Hall, with this word of warning: it's difficult at the beginning because of Mantel's lack of proper nouns--too many pronouns. It takes a while to realize that no matter who is in the scene, "he" is almost always Thomas Cromwell. I can't wait for some of you to read the book and tell me what you think.

Next time:

It's Burns Night! Bring out the haggis (and the neeps and tatties)!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Traditional British Food, Part 26: Plough Monday

According to Ronald Hutton's The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, before the widespread farming of winter grains in the twentieth century, the spring plowing began immediately after the end of Christmas (Epiphany). By the mid-fifteenth century, the Monday after Twelfth Night became known as "Plough Monday." A ceremonial plow was blessed in church the day before on "Plough Sunday" and the next day the plow was taken through the streets in a procession to collect money for the parish. Naturally, drinking and merry-making followed this parade (124-5).

The English Reformation began the slow decline of Plough Mondays. First, in 1538, Henry VIII forbade that "plough lights" be lit in churches, then Edward VI condemned the "conjuring of ploughs" (125). The ceremonies revived during the reign of Mary only to fall by the wayside during Elizabeth's reign (126). However, a few secularized Plough Monday processions survived into the nineteenth century only to be attacked in the courts. One farmer in 1810 took his case to the Derby Assizes, claiming that when he refused to give them money, the young men pulling the plow plowed up his drive, lawn and a bench, causing twenty pounds' worth of damage (127-8).

Although a few Plough Monday processions were recorded as late as the 1930s, the festival languished until the second wave of "folk revival" during the '60s and '70s brought it back in several English communities (132-3).

The following recipe is for Norfolk Plough Pudding, which, according to Favourite Norfolk Recipes, was traditionally made on Plough Monday. If you like bacon and sausage, you'll love this recipe! Don't worry--it's not as complicated as it looks. There are a lot of steps, but the preparation only takes about half an hour. Just be sure to leave enough time for cooking; this pudding takes four hours to steam. If you need a pudding basin, this is the one I have.

Norfolk Plough Pudding

serves 6-8

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons vegetable shortening or rendered suet
1 pound pork sausage (breakfast sausage, the kind without a casing)
8 slices bacon, chopped
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
chiffonade of 6 sage leaves
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed

Grease a 1-quart pudding basin and set aside.

For the crust: measure the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and stir to combine. Add the shortening (or suet if you have it) and rub together until mixture resembles coarse sand. Add enough cold water for the dough to come together. Take out 2/3 of the dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface until 1/8-inch thick. Use this dough to line the pudding basin, pressing dough into the curves of the basin and filling any gaps using cold water and extra dough. Trim dough flush with top of basin. Set the remaining dough aside for the lid.

For the filling: use the sausage to line the inside of the basin, pressing it into the dough. Try to get an even thickness on the sides and bottom.

Next, combine the bacon, onion, sage and brown sugar. Add this mixture into the pudding basin, pressing down to get filling to line up with top of basin.

Next, roll out the remaining dough to 1/8-inch thickness and place on top of the pudding basin. Trim and press edges firmly together, using a bit of cold water.

Finally, cover the basin with parchment and aluminum foil (don't forget the pleat) and tie with string (instructional video here). Steam for 4 hours. Don't forget to check the water level and top it off with more boiling water from the kettle!

Adapted from Favourite Norfolk Recipes.

This recipe is also available on

Bread and butter pudding did not come about because someone had the idea that bread, butter and rich, sweet custard would make a sensuous and tender pudding. Whoever it was thought of the idea to use up a few slices of leftover bread...It's a wonder we can hold a wooden spoon, our fists are so tightly clenched.
-Nigel Slater,
Eating for England

No matter how Bread and Butter Pudding came to be, it's delicious...and it's a good way to use up leftover bread. Honestly, I think leftovers are great.

Bread and Butter Pudding

serves 6

2 tablespoons butter
6 slices white bread, crusts removed
1/3 cup raisins, currants or golden raisins
1 lemon, zest only
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups milk

Butter a 6-cup capacity baking dish (a 9" square pan, for example).

Butter the bread and then cut into triangles, squares or fingers.

Arrange half the bread in a single layer in the baking sheet. Top with raisins, lemon zest and half the brown sugar. Top with the remaining bread.

Beat together the eggs and milk then pour into the pan. Top with the remaining brown sugar and leave for 30 minutes. (If you need to leave the pudding longer, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.).

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake pudding for 35-40 minutes, or until it is set and the top is a golden color. The pudding will puff up like a soufflé, just wait until it deflates to cut into it. Refrigerate any leftovers. You don't even have to heat them up; this pudding is tasty hot or cold.

Adapted from Traditional British Cooking.


In other matters, in case PBS isn't providing you with enough Elizabeth Gaskell, both Wives and Daughters and North and South are currently available on Netflix watch-it-now. Both are very good adaptations and definitely worth the almost nine hours it takes to watch both of them.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Traditional British Food, Part 25: (Cream) Tea for Two

Tea is my favorite meal. Both Paul and I are invariably hungry around 4 o'clock, so I think it's a wonderful time to bring out nibbles; scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam (Devonshire's cream tea) are always a welcome sight. However, there are only two of us and scones are best the day they're baked. I thought of all those frozen biscuits at Wal-Mart and figured I'd be able to freeze my scones. It actually works really well. Now we can just bake 4 scones at a time and always have hot scones.

This scone recipe (Devonshire Splits, to be exact) comes from the (sadly out-of-print) Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook.

Devonshire Splits

Yields 12 scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, chilled and finely diced (4 tablespoons)
2/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

To a large bowl, add the flour, salt, cream of tartar, baking powder, soda and sugar. Aerate and combine with a whisk.

Add the butter and rub the mixture between the fingers until the dough resembles a coarse sand.

Make a well, pour in the milk and cut in with a knife (I just used the one I used to level off the flour). Knead with the hands until the dough is smooth.

Roll the dough out to 3/4-inch thickness and cut out twelve scones using a 2 1/2-inch round cutter. Bake for 8-10 minutes on a greased baking sheet until the tops of the scones are a golden brown.

Serve with clotted cream and strawberry jam (I used the filling recipe from my Victoria Sandwich.)

These scones can be frozen before baking. Just place them between layers of plastic wrap or parchment paper in an airtight container. Simply bake as usual.


I have promised you a review of The Young Victoria. I must say, it's the first time I haven't regretted spending $9 on a movie ticket in a long time. Despite one glaring historical inaccuracy, the film was extremely enjoyable and really quite romantic. Paul was actually willing to accompany me to this film (unlike anything made about early-modern England, because I tend to complain through the whole thing--my apologies to Erika for going with me to see Elizabeth: The Golden Age--the history is so interesting, why mess it up?) and says he enjoyed it, which is pretty extraordinary. The Young Victoria was, above all else, a pretty and pleasant film, and I wish people would make more like it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Traditional British Food, Part 24: Here We Come a-Wassailing, or What You Will-- a Twelfth Night's Entertainment

Coffee & Tea
Roast Beef & Cheddar Sandwiches on Wheat
Bacon Sandwiches on White
Caviar (probably rather vulgar, I know)
Mincemeat Tarts

Tuesday night was Twelfth Night, so we had a few friends over for wassail and nibbles, wassail being the official Twelfth Night drink according to the Oxford English Dictionary and to a pamphlet entitled Favourite Somerset Recipes. Twelfth Night is celebrated the evening before Epiphany and thus marks the end of the Christmas season. However, we did not have twelve pipers piping or anything like that. Maybe next year. That would be quite outrageous.

"...they sat down by the huge fire of blazing logs to a substantial supper, and a mighty bowl of wassail, something smaller than an ordinary wash-house copper, in which the hot apples were hissing and bubbling with a rich look, and a jolly sound, that were perfectly irresistible."
-Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers


Serves 6

8 small, red eating apples (approx. 4 ounces each, I used small Galas)
3/4 cup light brown sugar (packed)
6-12 oz. bottles brown ale (or 9 cups)
2 cups Bristol cream sherry
Strips of peel from 1 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a vegetable peeler, remove a strip of skin around the middle of each apple. Put the apples in a large pot than can be used on the stove and in the oven. Add the brown sugar and 1 cup of ale. Cover and cook 30 minutes.

Remove the pot from the oven, take out the apples and keep for later. To the pot, add remaining ale, sherry, lemon peel and spices. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes. Return apples to the wassail and keep hot on the stove until ready to serve.

Adapted from Favourite Somerset Recipes.

Download and print

Mincemeat Tarts

Makes 24 tarts

4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 pound butter (2 sticks), chilled
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
grated rind from 1 orange

about 1 cup mincemeat

Using a pastry blender, two forks or a food processor (or even your fingers!), work the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Next, mix in the sugar and salt. Add the egg yolks and orange rind and stir to mix. Add cold water as needed until mixture comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to overnight. Dough will keep in freezer for a couple of months.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll the pastry out (to about 1/4") on a floured surface. Cut 24 circles with a 3"-diameter circular cutter. Place rounds in 2 standard 12-cup muffin tins and bake in the center of the oven for 15 minutes.

Take the tarts out of the oven and spoon about 1/2 tablespoon mincemeat in each one and return to the oven for another 5 minutes. Cool in tins for 5-10 minutes and then cool completely on racks.

Adapted from BBC Good Food.

Download and print

Paul is being wonderful and taking me to see The Young Victoria this evening. I've been waiting for it to come out here for almost a year! I'll let you know what I thought of it. Here's the trailer:

Friday, January 1, 2010

Traditional British Food, Part 23: Belated Christmas Dinner

This is a pretty exciting post for me, because it includes my first YouTube video! (Keep reading for more.)

We had a lovely (if snowbound) Christmas in Oklahoma City, but Paul and I had to come back to Wichita so we could have our Christmas Pudding! You'll remember I made it back in November. The post is here.

Before we get to the pudding, here's the recipe for the yummy roast that we had along with the BEST Brussels sprouts EVER! Paul doesn't like Brussels sprouts and he likes these. You should give them a try.

Roast Beef with Cabernet Gravy

1 Beef Roast (ours was 3 lbs)
Olive oil
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and quartered
6-7 garlic cloves, peeled
2 sprigs thyme
1 cup Cabernet Sauvignon (or other suitable red wine)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Generously season beef all over with salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in the roasting pan (or other pan that can go on the stove and in the oven) and sear the meat on all sides. Set the meat aside.

Remove the roasting pan from the heat and add all the vegetables. Place the meat on top of the vegetables and put the roasting pan in the oven for 20 minutes and then turn the oven down to 325 degrees and continue cooking for 15 minutes per pound.

Take the roasting pan out of the oven and put the meat on a platter, surrounded by the carrots, parsnips, and onions. Cover with aluminum foil. Leave the garlic and thyme in the roasting tin and set aside for making gravy. Let the meat rest for 30 minutes.

After the meat has rested, place the roasting pan over high heat. When the drippings have gotten nice and hot, pour in the wine and deglaze the pan. Reduce to a rather thin gravy consistency and strain into individual bowls for dipping.

This recipe makes enough vegetables for 2 people and enough meat for at least 6 (we'll have lots of yummy cold roast beef). If you need to serve more people, just increase the number of vegetables.

While the meat is resting, make these delicious Brussels sprouts:

Buttered Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

serves 4

4 ounces bacon, cut into lardons
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed, large sprouts cut in half
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter

Put a large skillet over medium-high heat and fry the bacon until crispy.

Add the Brussels sprouts and toss for a minute or so, until they are sufficiently coated in bacon fat. Then, pour in the stock and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the stock is reduced to a glaze and the sprouts are tender.

Stir in the butter until it melts, then season with salt and pepper. You probably won't need that much salt because of the bacon.


Both recipes adapted from BBC Good Food.


On to finishing up the Christmas Pudding. I removed it from the larder, re-covered it in parchment paper and tin foil (watch this video) and steamed it for another hour and forty minutes. Then, I turned the pudding out onto a plate, topped it with holly (a big thanks to Susan's Floral) and Paul set it on fire. Here is a video of Paul heating the brandy and pouring the flaming liquor over our Christmas Pudding. Please excuse the poor video quality. I filmed it on my digital camera's video setting. Please also excuse me being a total wuss about the whole thing. I have a healthy fear of setting the house on fire. Rebecca- I hope this is Dickensian enough for you!

P.S. Delia Smith does say to leave the holly on when flambéing the pudding.

Here's a photo of the lovely lush and moist interior of the Christmas Pudding. It's basically fruit soaked in a lot of brandy suspended in a wisp of cake soaked in a lot of brandy. Yum.


A note on shopping at health food stores:

The parsnips for the roast beef came from our local health food store. Unfortunately, the parsnips (and everything else we picked up) tasted like incense. Rather like licking a denizen of Haight-Ashbury circa 1967. Not pleasant. Cooking didn't seem to help. Moral of the story: if the entire store smells of patchouli, your produce might taste funky. I love how trying to do the right thing for the earth, et cetera, et cetera, sometimes (most of the time, really) bites me in the ass.

Coming up next week: Twelfth Night celebrations