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)!

1 comment:

  1. As usual, I love all the history. I always learn a lot! I'm not sure about the pea soup, however. Are you sure you're my daughter? Love you!


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