The Comfort that is a Bowl of Soup

There really is nothing like a bowl of soup to make you feel human again after a hard day, to warm you coming in from the cold, to comfort you when you are tired or down, to make a great satisfying lunch in the middle of a busy day.

And what could be simpler? Of course my all time favourite is What’s Left in the Vegetable Basket Soup. So although, to my mind, a good vegetable soup has to have a basis of onions, carrots and celery, the variations on this mean that no two soups are alike. Some have the hit of the last wrinkled chilli  and quite often something from the store of vegetables frozen from the glut in the summer but then there are the odd ingredients like the the last few tomatoes and half of a left-over courgette. Sometimes made chunky and sometimes whizzed to a creamy liquid. Every one a winner!

The spring soup I always look forward to is Asparagus and Sorrel Soup

Asparagus and Sorrel Soup

This recipe comes from Eat Your Greens by Sophie Grigson, published in 1993. While the asparagus and the sorrel are still in season, this is a delight.  You can use asparagus trimmings for this recipe. This lovely light fresh soup and can be served hot or cold.

Ingredients Serves 2 – 3

175 g (6oz) chopped asparagus or asparagus trimmings, 40g (1 1/2oz) butter, 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped clove of garlic, 1 large handful of shredded sorrel, 1 tablespoon plain flour, 600ml (1 pint) water from cooking the asparagus or stock, salt and pepper, 50ml (2 fl oz) double cream, 1 tablespoon fresh chopped chervil or chives.

Method

Melt the butter in a saucepan and cook the onions and garlic without browning. Add the sorrel and stir until it collapses to a mush. Sprinkle over the flour and stir for a few seconds then a little ata time add the asparagus water or stock. Add the asparagus and season. Simmer for 20 mins.

Process or puree until smooth and if you want, sieve to remove any stringy fibres. Just before serving stir in the cream and chervil or chives.

And a brilliant and tasty soup for the summer – or anytime!

Soup au Pistou

Pistou, the Provençal cousin of pesto, is stirred into this summer vegetable soup just before serving. Pistou, made from cloves of garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil. The basics are the potato, courgettes and beans but this is one of those soups that can vary as much as you like in terms of the vegetables used. Broken spaghetti, rice or bread is sometimes added as well. Try it out and then make it your own.

This version was from an anonymous hand-written recipe and translated in Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen

Soup

1.5 litre water, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 150g potatoes, 150g onions, 150g courgettes, 150g aubergines, 200g white haricot beans (a tin would be fine), 100g green beans, Salt & pepper

Pistou

4 crushed cloves garlic, 4 cups packed basil, 1 cup grated parmesan, ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 plum tomato, cored

Method

Make the pistou: Process basil, parmesan, olive oil, salt, garlic, and tomato in a food processor until finely ground or in a pestle if you are feeling energetic. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Prepare the vegetables – chop the potatoes, courgettes, aubergine into cubes, roughly chop the onions and chop the green beans into 1 cm pieces. Fry the onions in the oil then add the rest of the vegetables and cook for 5 minutes. Add the water, all the fresh vegetables then season well. Cook for around 15 – 20 minutes. Add the white haricot beans and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Add the pistou sauce and stir gently then taste and season again.

Guess what I’ve got for lunch?

Afternoon Tea Week

Let’s celebrate afternoon tea week, who can resist those little finger sandwiches, scones and fancy cakes, it’s like reliving a dolls tea party. That quintessential British meal that sadly is disappearing from our daily lives. With the advent of full time work for women the ritual that is afternoon tea became lost, hardly surprising, who of us has time to work and cook for a tea break?

As lifestyles and hours of working changed over time so have mealtimes , following working patterns and changes in social status.  The following is from “A Short History of [British] Mealtimes”

1780
Breakfast 10AM; Dinner 3-5PM, Tea 7PM, Supper 10-11PM
1815
Breakfast 10AM (leisurely), 9AM (less leisurely), 8AM (working people); Luncheon Midday; Dinner 3-5PM; Supper 10-11PM
1835
Breakfast, before 9AM; Luncheon (ladies only) Midday; Dinner 6-8PM; Supper depending upon the timing and substantiality of dinner
1860s/Middle Class
Breakfast 8AM (town), 9-10AM (country); Lunchoen 1-2PM; Dinner 6-8PM (depending upon formality and place)
1900
Early morning 8AM (tea, bread and butter); Breakfast 8-8:30AM; Luncheon Midday; Afternoon tea 5PM, Dinner 7:30-8PM
1930s
Breakfast 8AM; Lunch/upper classes or Dinner/rest Midday-1PM; Afternoon tea 4PM; High tea 5-6PM; Dinner 7-8PM; Supper 9-10PM.

1990s
“Mealtimes…These vary somewhat depending on the region of the country you are visiting, but in general breakfast is served between 7:30 and 9, and lunch between 12 and 2. Tea–an essential and respected part of British tradition, and often a meal in itself–is generally served between 4:30 and 5:30. Dinner or supper is served between 7:30 and 9:30, sometimes earlier.”—Fodor’s Great Britain [1992] (p. 34)

As you can see, tea the kind of fancy-schmancy affair emerged as a social event sometime around the 1830s or 1840s, Bruce Richardson writes in A Social History of Tea. And Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, led the pack. When there is nothing else to do but enjoy a little ‘something’ with friends, why not?

Nowadays we only celebrate high tea on high days and holidays usually eaten out rather than at home despite the popularity of TV programmes such as The Great British Bake Off which celebrate baking in all its forms.

But it is a lovely way to indulge yourself, so this week find somewhere locally that does provide ‘high tea’ and give yourself a treat. Or make something you usually don’t make time for – a few scones or how about a little Victoria sponge? or at least a biscuit and a cup of tea.

These great biscuits are easy to make and are just right for children to decorate.

Tunbridge Water Cakes (William Sayer)*

I have seen references to these biscuits called Tunbridge Wafers or Romary biscuits after the baker Alfred Romary who had a bakery in Tunbridge, opened in 1862. Romary later received Royal warrants for his wafers. Recipes seem to vary of course, some of them more savoury, and this writer has added orange flower water.

Ingredients

250g butter

250g icing sugar

500g flour

3 egg yolks

1 tablespoon orange flower water

Method

Preheat the oven to 180oc/350of/gas 4

Rub the butter in with the flour; add the sugar and make the whole into a paste. Don’t work too much as this will make the biscuits hard. Roll it out very thin on a floured table and cut it out with a plain round or scalloped cutter about 3in across. Place them on a greased baking tray and bake them to a pale delicate colour.

They take about 15 – 20 minutes depending on your oven.

These make lovely biscuits for children to decorate and makes about 50 biscuits.

* From Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen click here

 

A Refreshing Drink for a Hot Day

Elderberry shrub / ketchup an odd recipe which can be made as a savoury vinegar ‘ketchup’ or a sweet ‘shrub’ cordial.

Elderberry Ketchup (or Shrub) (G. Watson)

Although this is called ketchup it is not like the sauce we know and love but a spicy vinegar. Remove the shallots and it is a lovely drink called shrub.  Vinegar as a drink? Try it, it is really refreshing, the vinegar mellows with the sugar and sparkling water.

500ml elderberries

500ml cider vinegar

25g shallots (finely chopped or minced)

A blade of mace

A 1cm cube ginger

1 teaspoonful cloves

1 teaspoonful black peppercorns

Sugar – see method for quantities

Method

Strip the berries from the stalks and rinse in water. Put them in a large jar with the vinegar and leave for 24 hours. Strain off the liquid without crushing the berries.

For shrub - Transfer the elderberry vinegar liquid to a pan DO NOT ADD SHALLOT . Add the spices and boil gently for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, for each 500ml of liquid use 500g sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then pour through a sieve to remove the whole spices. When cold bottle and label.

For the ketchup - Transfer the elderberry vinegar liquid to a pan and add the shallots and spices and boil gently for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, for each 500ml of liquid use 200g sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then pour through a sieve to remove the whole spices. When cold bottle and label.

To serve, mix with sparking water. Start with 1 part shrub to 6 parts sparkling water and adjust to taste. The syrup may also be mixed with still water or used in cocktails.

Try it – you will be pleasantly surprised

British Pie Week Day 5 – A British Classic Bacon & Egg Pie

For the final pie in British Pie Week I give you a classic. This is a real memoryjerker. Bacon and egg pie turned up quite frequently on our menu as a child in the 50s and 60s. With my mum’s light hand with the pastry and a variety of vegetables from the garden this was a staple.  

The English version of Quiche? There is some discussion about where this originated, we Brits think it was a Victorian breakfast pie but in New Zealand it is a common household dish and it is common to come across it in menus of popular restaurants. So many people there claim that the pie probably originated in New Zealand. The jury is out on that one. A very popular, cheap and filling meal, hot or cold.

This version was written by G. R. Moore and is from the 1950s section of Recipes from an Unknown kitchen but everyone had there own take on this classic. 

Ingredients

500g of shortcrust pastry

300g bacon

1 medium onion (chopped)

5 eggs

30ml milk

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

100g peas

Salt and pepper

Method

Pre heat the oven to 200oC/400of/gas 6

Cut the bacon into smallish pieces. Put the onion and bacon in a frying pan and cook on a medium heat until the onion is transparent, the bacon crisp and no liquid is left. Roll 2/3 of the pastry and line a loose bottomed flan tin. inches diameter (20cm) about 2inches (5cm) deep, then roll the remaining 1/3 into a round to make the lid.

Lightly beat  2 of the eggs with 30ml milk and season, light on the salt but heavy on the pepper. Hard boil the remaining 3 eggs and chop roughly.

Place the bacon and onion mix in the pie, add a layer of chopped hard-boiled egg and the parsley then? pour on the egg mix. Add the layer of peas and season again then put on the pastry lid. Glaze with beaten egg.

Bake for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 180oC/350of/gas 4 and bake for another 30 minutes.

Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen

British Pie Week Day 3 – Comfort Food Egg Pie

It’s raining and cold here today so a bit of comfort food in the form of Egg Pie, a pie with mash not pastry. This recipe is from Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen (again!). From the time of World War II and like a lot of recipes in this era, Egg Pie was born out of a necessity brought about by rationing but actually reflects British comfort food. It just shows what you can make out of the store cupboard and with an inspired veg dish this will fill the family. 

Egg Pie

Ingredients

4 hard boiled eggs

500g potatoes

4 onions, sliced

A little oil for frying

150ml white sauce

Salt and pepper

A small bunch of parsley

Method

Hard boil four eggs. Throw into cold water and remove the shells. Fry the onion slices until golden.

Boil and mash  the potatoes with a little butter, minced parsley and season to taste. Spread a layer of this at the bottom of a pie dish, then put a lay er of the cooked onions spread on the potato.

Then put a layer of sliced eggs a little white sauce and more potato and repeat until the dish is full. Finish with potato on the top. Put a few bits of butter on the top & bake until really hot and brown.

 

Great British Pie Week Day 1 – North Country Fidget Pie

North Country Fidget Pie (G. R. Moore)

Generally fidget pie includes apples and bacon or ham so this North Country version is quite unusual. Fidget Pie is a traditional English recipe for a pie served in the fields to the workers busy bringing in the harvest. I can see why.  The name fidget (or fidgety) pie, originates around Derbyshire andShropshire, in the middle of the country. The origins of the odd sounding name seem to have come from the fact that it originally was fitched, which means five sided in Anglo-Saxon. 

Pastry

250g plain flour

Pinch salt

175g margarine

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon of cold water

Filling

1 finely chopped onion

250g sausage meat

Pepper and salt

1 egg

250g raw potatoes

150g peas

Method

Make the pastry by popping the flour, salt and margarine in a processor, whizz until the mix is like breadcrumbs then add the egg then the water, to make a firm dough. Wrap in clingfilm and allow to rest in the fridge for half an hour or more. Mix the chopped onion with the sausage meat, seasoning and bind with the beaten egg.  If you are using frozen peas defrost and drain well, if you are using fresh- cook gently then drain.

Roll out the pastry and use 2/3 to line the base of a pie dish. Put in a layer of the sausage meat mix, then a layer of potatoes thinly sliced, season well then add the peas. Lightly beat the egg and pour over the filling. Use the remaining 1/3 of the pastry to form the lid, glaze using beaten egg. Heat the oven to 190oc/375of/gas5. Bake it in hot oven for 30 minutes reduce heat to moderate – 180oc/350of/gas4 and cook for further 15 minutes. Can be eaten hot or cold.

From Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen 

Good bye to a cooking friend

I know I am supposed to be in the book selling business to earn a living but sometimes I find it very difficult to actually part with some of my books. It is like saying goodbye to a friend and today is one of those days.

I am a particular fan of hand-written recipe books and one that I had in the shop has gone to a new home in Australia where I am sure it will be much loved.

William Sayer starting writing his book in 1821, the hand-writing is beautiful and the recipes exciting. Some of them I used to write Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen, including currie powder, camp vinegar, curacao, Oxford sausages.

Cheerio William enjoy the antipodes.

 

Gorgeous Greek Fish

It’s a while ago now since I published my book Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen so I don’t run through the pages that often. And strangely I find I use it just like any other recipe book on my shelf. I find myself looking for a good recipe when friends are coming round and look for inspiration from the shelf only to find one from my book that I had loved enough to write about but had forgotten. I think that’s the problem of having a) a LOT of cookery books and b) not being able to make a decision. 

This came from a hand-written recipe book from the 1990s I don’t know the name of the author sadly, but she did often add the names of the people who gave her the recipes, there are quite a few recipes from Dick, Mary and Hilary. The book came with an envelope stuffed with newspaper cuttings and lots of notes on pieces of paper where he/she had jotted down recipes on the first piece of paper which came to hand.

Anyway with Norma and Mike coming round I needed a nice fish dish and found the perfect answer in my book. I’m not sure why I don’t eat this every week because I love it so much and it is so easy to make. 

Mary’s Greek Fish

1 large tin of peeled tomatoes

Bream, haddock or cod for 4

Large handful of fresh parsley and oregano

2 large onions

1 clove of chopped garlic

½ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 180oc/35of/gas 4

Place filleted fish in a flat oven dish with a lid. Fry the chopped onions in olive oil very gently until transparent add the garlic and continue cooking for a few more minutes.  Add the tomatoes, then when mushy add the chopped herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture over the fish and bake in the oven for around 3/4 hour.

This doesn’t need anything with it apart from some crusty bread to soak up the last juices.

Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen

A Little Christmas Liqueur Treat

Well we are on the upward slope to Christmas and like all other cooks and food lovers I am starting to prepare food before I think of anything else.

On my list of what needs to be prepared up front are a few bottles of liquid refreshment. The Damson Gin was set in place a couple of months ago and now it is time for the Curacao. I found this recipe while I was writing Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen and comes from a recipe book handwritten by William Sayer in the1820s.

Curacao is a liqueur flavored with the dried peel of the laraha citrus fruit, grown on the island of Curacao. A non-native plant similar to an orange the laraha developed from the sweet Valencia orange transplanted by Spanish explorers. Although the bitter flesh of the Laraha is all but inedible, the peels are aromatic and flavorful, maintaining much of the essence of the Valencia orange.

Curaçao liqueur was first developed and marketed by the Senior family in the 19th century. To create the liqueur the laraha peel is dried, bringing out the sweetly fragranced oils. After soaking in a still with alcohol and water for several days, the peel is removed and other spices are added. This recipe uses seville and blood oranges to give the flavor and is obviously not as strong as the original as syrup is added. The recipe calls for three teaspoons of red barley (roasted for colour), but I omitted this as it is just for colour and difficult to find. I have also halved the amounts in the original but feel free to revert.  

Ingredients

1 bottle of pale brandy,

2 seville oranges

1 red orange

350g of sugar

2 inch stick of cinnamon

900mls water 

Method

Place the oranges where they will dry very gradually until thoroughly dry when they will be ‘not larger than a pigeon’s egg’. I put mine in the airing cupboard but it takes some time. If you put them in a low oven be careful that they do not burn.

Then add them with the brandy and cinnamon to a large sealed jar, in a warm place for a week or two. When you are ready to make the Curaçao, remove the oranges and strain the liquid through muslin to remove the cinnamon and barley. 

Make a very clear syrup of the sugar and water, but not strong enough to crystallise. Cool, add the brandy then  mix it all together and store it in a sealed bottle.

I’m not sure what to do with the used oranges it seems a shame to throw them away, perhaps they would make good Christmas decorations. All suggestions welcome.

Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen

The Perfect Kitchen

According to Wikipedia - A kitchen is a room or part of a room used for cooking and food preparation in a dwelling or in a commercial establishment.

The origins of the word ‘kitchen’ are somewhat involved. Derived from the Latin ‘coquina’, in French it is ‘cuisine’ and is very similar in sound to ‘cycene’ the saxon word, ‘kuche’ in German, ‘kiokken’ in Danish, ‘cegin’ in Welsh, ‘kyshen’ in Scottish and ‘cucina’ in Italian. Through history the kitchen has evolved to reflect our way of life. As Anne Reagan says in A Brief History of the Kitchen – Historically, kitchens weren’t luxurious and unlike today’s kitchen, they were not rooms where people wanted to spend time in. They definitely weren’t rooms meant for hosting guests or entertaining. They were dark and prone to catching fire; they were filled with noises, messes and smells. They were extremely busy spaces and could be hot and uncomfortable. For these reasons, kitchens tended to be situated as far away as possible from the social or private rooms in a home.

In the Victorian period, it was universally understood that the kitchen was used only for cooking. Washing-up, scrubbing vegetables and all the messy, low-status activities that involved water were done in the scullery. Even the smallest Victorian houses had a separate scullery, and it was rare for sinks to be installed in kitchens before the twentieth century. Gas-fired ranges were exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851, and in 1868 Shrewsbury’s Portable Gas Oven came onto the market. However, prejudice, fear of explosions and health scares about eating food impregnated with harmful fumes delayed the widespread introduction of gas ovens, and they did not begin to replace solid fuel ranges in any numbers until the 1890s. Back to the perfect kitchen. In Modern Cooking Illustrated from 1947 Lydia Chatterton sets out the ideal kitchen for the new bride after the war. ‘At a minimum the homemaker should aim at a gas or electric cooker, a hot water boiler and double sink’ however ‘kitchen cabinets, washing machines and vacuum cleaners are welcome additions’s. The chapter on setting up and decorating a kitchen is fascinating and reflects not just the technology of the times’nowadays it is possible to “go electric” in the most out of the way parts of the country, but also reflecting the types of food that were prepared there. ‘If you do a lot of pastry making perhaps someone will give you one of the new tables, half marble-topped and half wood’.  To day’s perfect kitchen varies as much as the style of all the rooms in our homes to reflect who we are. And we have the choice (depending on our bank balance) to decide whether we want ultramodern shiny white or steel with all mod cons, practical useful working places with tools we know work, or a room with a link to the past with copper pans and herbs drying. Like most of you I’m sure, my kitchen is a bit of a mish mash, a bit like me, a place I love to be that isn’t perfect but feels familiar and mostly smells of cooking. Not smart and sassy and sadly I can’t fit the family in there to eat but it’s my place.   My ideal kitchen was one owned by the late great Anita Roddick, a room of three parts the cooking area with a big table, piles of cooking books and hanging utensils at one end, in the middle a dining area with a lovely big table that would seat a large family and a dresser of china and a cozy sitting room at the other end with comfy sofa by the fire all surrounded by family photos. I loved that room. So what would your ideal kitchen be? Are you ever likely to get it? and would it be so bad if you didn’t?

Modern Cookery Illustrated