English Food (1)
last updated 31st August 2000
This is an old and traditional dessert. You need: one large unblemished cooking apple for each person, brown sugar, dried fruit, cinnamon, unsalted butter and an oven.
The apple has to be an English cooking apple such as Bramley (now seen less and less in shops), which softens with cooking. Dried fruit are currants raisins sultanas and candied peel. Slice off the top of the apple and reserve as a lid. Remove the core from the apple, preferably without piercing the base. Put the dried mixed fruit, brown sugar, cinnamon and a knob of butter into the cavity and cover with the reserved lid. Set in a baking dish, brush the outside with a little melted butter, sprinkle a little water into the bottom of the dish to keep them moist and bake them gently in a low oven for about an hour or until the apple is quite soft inside. The trick is to cook them thoroughly without splitting the apple or burning the raisins and brown sugar which tend to run out.
Apple sauce is the traditional English accompaniment to roast pork, but it is also used as the filling in apple pies and apple turnovers, and makes an excellent fruit mix for a fool or if you want to make your own fruit yoghurts.
English eating apples generally do not go soft when cooked, so you need to make sure you have a cooking variety such as Bramleys, or a semi-cooking variety such as Discovery. Continental eating apples can generally be cooked soft as well as eaten. Peel, quarter and carefully core about 4 apples. (Do not use a tubular corer - they leave behind some of the core which is divided up with hard cellophane-like pieces that cannot be cooked away.) Chop the apples roughly, throw into a sauce-pan over a gentle heat, add a big teaspoonful of honey and Scrote adds half a glass of Retsina but a similar quantity of water will do if you are feeling poor. Cover and simmer gently for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is thick and mushy. Bottle the cooked apple in a sealed jar while it is still hot, and it will keep until you need it.
This recipe is courtesy of Granny Scrote, hence the unnatural exactitude of the measures given.
1 1/2 lb. cooking apples (3 large Bramleys or 4 medium):
2 oz sugar
Peel, core and slice apples or cut in chunks, put in piedish with sugar. Sift flour into mixing bowl. add butter and rub lightly with fingertips until it resembles crumbs. Add two-thirds sugar and nuts, if using. Spoon over apples and pressdown lightly. Sprinkle remaining sugar on top. Place on baking tray, and bake at 400F, or gas mark 6 for 45 minutes
Variation called Brown Betty. Apples and sugar in piedish as above. Topping. 8 ozs porridge oats. 6ozs white sugar , 6 ozs butter. Melt butter and sugar gently in saucepan, add oats and mix well, Add topping to apples and proceed as above.
Another very old and traditional English dessert. A fool is a purée. You always wondered what real apricots are for? Try this when real apricots are in season and cheap. I'm afraid tinned or dried apricots are not quite the same. You need about a pound of fresh apricots, and about 10 oz (1/2 pint) of single cream)
Bake the apricots in a gentle oven (with the stones in) in a little water and sugar until they are soft. (There is a good deal of the flavour in the stone.) When cooked, stone the apricots, mash them to a puree, allow to cool and mix in the cream. Sweeten a little if needed, but leave fairly tart. Serve chilled and let your guests sweeten the fool with caster sugar to their taste.
You can try the same treatment with any fruit puree- gooseberry fool is another traditional recipe, but the acid curdles the cream and to Scrote's mind it works better with rasberries or strawberries. If strawberries are cheap in the summer, put a bag in the freezer (if you have one). Most people assume strawberries can't be frozen, because they re-emerge pulped within their skins, but for this it is ideal so treat yourself to a Strawberry Fool at Christmas.
This is a variation of the classic honey-glazed ham or molasses gammon. Unfortunately a whole ham or gammon is far too large and extremely expensive, but the idea can be applied to a much cheaper offcut, the gammon knuckle, which can be found from time to time in supermarkets, or by actually asking your local butcher.
A knuckle weighs about 2 lb, but half of this is bone and skin. It is a bit too tough (and salty) to roast directly, so you need to cover it in cold water and boil it for an hour until it is cooked but not falling apart. Discard the water which is almost certain to be too salty to be much use for anything else, despite its strong flavour and gelatine content. While the knuckle is still hot, slice the skin diagonally, first one way, then across, to make diamond- shaped cuts, and stud it with cloves.
Make a paste of a mixture of brown sugar and mustard and smear it over the joint. Put the knuckle in the oven dish and roast it in a medium oven, gently for an hour or so, so that it is glazed with the mixture & roasted. Carve it from the bone and return the slices to the oven, to sit in and absorb the juices, for a few minutes. Serve with mashed potato, boiled carrots and (traditionally) a white onion & parsley sauce if you feel up to making it. The bacon is also extremely good served cold, if sliced thin.
This is an English variation on the ordinary white sauce or sauce bechamel, given elsewhere. It is an accompaniment poured over vegetables, and is not eaten on its own. Fresh parsley has a delicate and distinctive flavour- dried parsley will not do in this case. You need a good-sized onion, a bunch of fresh parsley, a bayleaf, 2 oz butter, about a dessertspoonful of flour and about three-quarters of a pint of milk, plus a dash of salt & black pepper for seasoning. A non-stick pan helps.
Chop the parsley finely. Chop the onion, and soften it gently in the butter- do not brown the onion or the butter. It should seem that there is too much butter- it will be needed. When the onion is softened, add a good-sized handful of plain flour, and stir it in so that a greasy paste is formed. Add the bayleaf. As soon as the flour and butter are properly and evenly mixed, remove the pan from the heat and add a slosh of the milk. Stir the flour/ butter paste quickly into the milk- it is important to dissolve the paste as evenly as possible in the milk at this stage. There will be enough residual heat in the pan to cause the mixture to thicken very rapidly, and this thickening will also help you to beat out any lumps. As it thickens and sets add some more milk- you can add quite a lot now, and dissolve the thickened sauce thoroughly in the cold milk. Return the pan to the heat and heat it gently, stirring the while so that it does not stick. As it approaches the boiling point, the milky sauce mixture will start to thicken again. Add some more milk to bring the sauce to its desired degree of liquidity and heat it again until it is as thick as it is going to get. Turn off the heat, and stir in the chopped parsley. Taste it and add a pinch of salt, but do not over-salt it. Serve.
This is another traditional dish and is made with a suet pastry. It uses the same set of flavours as are used later in the bacon, onion and potato hotpot, and like all bacon dishes requires no salt to be added, as it has so much already in the bacon. Suet pastry is made in the same way as shortcrust pastry, but using beef suet which can be bought in packets. Scrote must confess that this has not always been very successful, mainly because it is difficult to get the suet pastry to remain light and moist. You may wish to use part self-raising flour, to lighten it.
There is an old Cornish joke here. Three tin miners, sitting down to their lunch, and the one (having the roly-poly) cries, "Who likes ends?" The apprentice, thinking to get the midlle portion with more of the filling in it, cries, "well I don't." "Good" says the miner, cutting it in half, "'cos me and Fred do."To 12 ounces of flour (320 g), add half its weight (6 ounces, 160 g) of suet, and rub the fat into the flour until it takes the appearance of breadcrumbs. Add a seasoning of pepper and herbs (parsley, thyme and/or sage, if liked) to the mixture and mix in a little cold water to form a stiff dough. Do not over-knead the pastry or it will be hardened- handle it as little as can be managed. Roll the dough out on floury board into a long oval, and sprinkle with 6 ounces of bacon pieces and a whole onion chopped (raw). Roll up the pastry to form a roly-poly. Suet pastry can be baked or steamed. Bake in slow (medium to low) oven for two hours. Serve as slices with green vegetables and a sauce to moisten the dish.
Bangers are sausages in England, and supposedly derive their name from the tendency of the impoverished product during the last war to explode during cooking, due to the amount of water in them. Sausages with mashed potato and gravy is another of the great unregarded common dishes of English households still widely eaten, and a delight in winter after a long trudge on a cold grey day.
Although Scrote himself sometimes admits to a slight unease at the sheer number of bees in his particular bonnet, he is particularly suspicious of commercial packet-sausages. He absolutely refuses to buy them, even the 'premium' ones and he loathes and despises the pink sludge of the so-called 'catering' and 'skinless' varieties. Where Scrote lives, he is lucky to still have one or two old-fashioned butchers, the sort with sawdust on their floors, who still make sausages themselves and hang the links up in great hanks above their window display. Although recently it has become a fashion to make weird and wonderful varieties, such as lamb & apple or whatever, for this you want good old-fashioned 'herby' pork sausages with a bit of sage in them, the big fat ones for which you get about eight in a pound's weight. Even raw, they smell wonderful.
In Scrote's view, sausages should not be cooked in a frying-pan, and should never be barbecued, because they stick and split, and end up blackened on the outside and raw inside. Scrote always roasts his sausages in a dish in a medium oven, and he allows a fair amount of time for them to brown and cook right through, 45 minutes to an hour. So the first thing to do is to grease the bottom of an oven dish slightly, arrange the sausages on them and put them into a medium oven.
About half an hour after the sausages go in, start the potatoes for the mash. Peel a good number of potatoes (more than you think), place them in a pan full of cold, salted water, and put them on to boil. Generally they will take about 20 minutes to cook. Check them near the end (they are done when you can push a fork through them). Drain the boiling water from the potatoes (hold the lid on and tip the pan up, but run some cold water down the sink if you have plastic drains.) Add a knob of butter, a splash of milk or cream, and mash the potatoes thoroughly. (You need a potato-masher for this, a sort of iron-mongery grid on the end of a handle. Do not ever put the potatoes into a food-processor, it will turn your mash into a sort of liquid potato-glue.) Mix the mashed potato up thoroughly until it is smooth, and cover the pot so it keeps warm. (If you are a bit ahead of schedule or like your mash piping hot, put it into the oven with the sausages.) Meanwhile, you should also have been making your onion gravy.
Peel and roughly chop a couple of onions- now add a third one, you want quite a good quantity of onion. Add a big splash of oil to your pan (more than you think, you want to slowly deep fry your chopped onion, or drain some fat from your sausages in the oven). Then fry your onions in it very gently on the top of the stove for a long time slowly- this takes about an hour- so that eventually, very slowly, they become a brown mush. This is a marmalade of onion. Towards the end, add a splash of balsamic vinegar- it helps break down the onion.
Your onions may still need a bit of colour and flavour- if the sausages have produced any sticky meat 'goo', scrape it up and add that to the mixture too. Now stir a big teaspoonful of ordinary flour into your greasy brown onion mash, and then add some water (or better still, red wine) and stir the mixture until it thickens. Adjust the liquid content until you have the right consistency for your gravy and bring it back to a simmer.
Don't worry if it doesn't look very good yet- at this stage the gravy is probably rather light and insipid, so the next thing to do is to correct it's colour and flavour. This is your chance to be creative with any odds and ends you have in your store-cupboard. Add a small amount of tomato, some mustard and a bit of marmite or soy sauce to produce a richer colour and adjust the seasoning. Add a few herbs (a very few) if you feel like it, and if you have any beer a bit of that is even better. Tinker with your gravy until you are reasonably happy with its liquid appearance and flavour, then set it back on the stove and allow it to simmer a little while longer.
All things being equal, everything is now ready, and canny cooks will already have been warming the dinner plates. Put a big dollop of the mashed potato on each plate, lay several sausages beside the mash, pour some of the onion gravy over it, serve and eat.
Bread must be just about the most ancient recipe for cooked food there is, and there are really only two secrets- after you know those it is basically fairly easy. Firstly you need strong wheat flour to make risen bread. The strength depends on the national variety of wheat and the climate- strong flour has more of a constituent called gluten in it, which gives the dough its strength and elasticity. All wheat flour has some, but ordinary flour (particularly wholemeal, which still has the bran in it as well) tends not to have enough to hold up the bubbles in the dough when it rises and the bread slumps and does not expand enough in the cooking. Secondly, you need a really warm, even temperature in your kitchen, otherwise the yeast will sulk and the bread won't rise properly again. So if it is winter, put the oven on straight away to get the place warm, shut the doors and tell everyone to stay out. If you get either of these wrong your bread will be like concrete.
Basically bread is made of wheat flour, yeast, water and salt. You don't really need anything else. The flour can be white or wholemeal depending whether you want white or wholemeal bread, but it must be a strong flour and preferably should be unbleached and stone-ground. Look for the words "Strong", "unbleached" and (for wholemeal) "100% wholemeal". Do not be lead astray by 'brown' flour (it is white flour that has been coloured) or wheatmeal, wholegrain, softgrain or any other 'improvements'.
Scrote confesses that he makes his bread with packet yeast from a supermarket that you mix into the flour dry, simply because it is easy and the yeast keeps a long time in the storecupboard. Live yeast doesn't keep long, so you will need to buy it fresh (from a local baker, if you have one). Live yeast is a slightly damp, beige, crumbly solid with a characteristic 'yeasty' smell, and looks as though possession of it could get you arrested. You need about an ounce or so for a 3 lb bag of flour. Real yeast can't be used immediately- it needs to be 'started' beforehand. 'Cream' the yeast by mashing it with a little (half a teaspoon or less) of sugar. The resulting mess is then dissolved in about half a pint of warm water (very warm, blood heat to be precise) and stood in a warm place for about 15 minutes to half an hour while it 'works'. Keep an eye on it- if the yeast is particularly fresh and 'active', you may find the mixture has foamed up out of the container while your back is turned. Some dried yeasts may also need to be started in a similar way- read the instructions. Don't worry too much if the dried yeast contains an 'improver'- it may need a bit of help to resurrect itself and the principal improver is usually ascorbic acid (a.k.a. vitamin C).
The amount of flour you need depends on the amount of bread you want. 12 oz (about a quarter of a 3 lb bag) will make one reasonable loaf. One 3 lb bag of flour will make 45 bread rolls. Pour the flour into a big pile in a mixing bowl, or failing that onto your wooden board. For some reason, most recipes will tell you to sift the flour, but Scrote doesn't think this is necessary. Modern flours work perfectly well if you don't sift them. Mix in 1 teaspoonful of salt for each 12 oz flour. (Bread requires a surprising amount of salt, otherwise it tastes like cake.) You may, if you like, rub in an ounce or two of butter or olive oil. (A little fat in the dough makes bread slightly softer and keep longer- personally Scrote doesn't like soft bread.) If your yeast is dry mix it in otherwise make a 'well' (a depression) in the flour and add the yeast mixture. Stir in most of about a quarter of a pint of the very warm (blood-heat) water, and mix it into the flour. Don't get the flour too wet- it is much easier to add more water than remove it.
The water and yeast will be unevenly spread through the flour. Some bits will be too wet, some too dry. While there are still some dry floury bits, begin to knead the dough. You do this by flattening it and folding it over, repeatedly. Kneading should be hard work. The idea is not to get air in the dough (the yeast will do that), but to mix it very thoroughly by folding it over and over. If it is still too dry, add some more of the warm water. As you go, the dough will become stiff and elastic. Do not take too long, as the dough will be drying and cooling under your hands. Cover the dough (in its bowl, if you have one) with a clean, dry cloth to keep it warm and set it aside in a very warm place to rise. It should rise to about twice its previous size in an hour or so.
Meanwhile, grease your metal loaf tins, or a metal baking tray if you are going to use them with a smear of butter. When the dough has risen, bring it out, and 'knock it back'. Knead it again briefly to put the spring back into it. Weigh it into the amounts you want and shape them into rolls or loaves or sticks, or whatever. Put them into their tins (or flower pots if you like) or on a baking tray. If you feel like it, sprinkle the tops with poppy seeds or sesame seeds. Set your bread to rise again, still keeping it warm. Meanwhile you already have your oven turned up to the max, going flat-out, haven't you, warming your kitchen, right? You want your oven as hot as it will go. When they have risen again, bring out your loaves, and being careful not to knock them put them into the oven.
It takes a time to cook bread, particularly a loaf, but this varies depending how hot the oven is- allow three quarters of an hour, and try the bread by rapping the base- if it doesn't sound hollow, give it longer. If you have a lot of bread, cook it in batches- don't overload the oven.
Another old English favourite. The shallow pyrex baking dish helps for this. Grease the baking dish with a little butter. Cut and butter a number of slices of white bread. (Do not remove the crusts.) Lay the slices in a layer in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle over a little brown sugar, a little powdered cinnamon if liked, and some mixed dried fruit- currants, sultanas and chopped candied peel. Add another layer of slices of bread and butter and more sugar and dried fruit. Finish with a layer of bread slices. (Do not put dried fruit on top, it dries and burns.) Grate some nutmeg over the top. Beat one egg into about three quarters of a pint of milk. Pour over the pudding and press it down a little, so that the milk comes nearly, but not up to, the top layer. Bake in a medium to low oven for about one hour until the top is browned. Serve.
An Italian accompaniment to salads or soups, or as a starter. French bread remains fresh for only a few hours and this is a good way of using it up if by chance you have miscalculated. Take a french stick, not too new and fresh, and slice it lengthways. Chop and pound two or three cloves of fresh garlic, and then pound them into about half of a 500g pack of butter. Use the pestle and mortar if you have one, otherwise smash the garlic with anything to hand and mix the resulting mess into the butter in a bowl. It is important to smash the garlic first as it is uncrushable once in the butter. Don't worry if you make too much, garlic butter is a nice adornment to a steak or on hot vegetables.
Butter the interior of the stick liberally with the garlic butter- the idea is that it is going to be soaked with it. Close the stick and wrap it in aluminium foil, sealing the edges. Bake in a medium to hot oven for about half an hour, so that the butter is completely melted and soaked into the bread, and the outside is browned a little. (You can smell how the garlic bread is doing because the smell of the garlic, initially pungent, becomes sweeter and less raw as the garlic is steamed- do not over-cook it) Serve pieces of the garlic bread steaming and hot. You can also make bruschetta, a herb bread, in the same way using olive oil and italian herbs such as oregano or basil.
This is a traditional accompaniment to the christmas turkey, and is quite difficult to get right. You will need cloves, a small onion, a bayleaf, milk, a lot of real white breadcrumbs, some cream and (traditionally) a little sherry. To make the breadcrumbs, take half a loaf of stale white bread, break or slice it, and heat it very gently in a very, very low oven for an hour until it is dry, hard and very brittle. The heat must be very low- you must not brown the bread, but it must be completely dry. Crush the dry bread in your pestle and mortar into fine bread crumbs. Stick the cloves into the peeled onion and put it into a pan with about half a pint of milk and the bayleaf. Warm the milk so the flavours suffuse it. Pour it over the breadcrumbs in a bowl and mix in the cream and a minute dash of sherry. The bread sauce should be very thick when warm, and should set solid when cold. Its flavour is very delicate and it is delicious either warm or cold.
This is another very old dish, used as a way of finishing up the leftovers from a previous meal. The name comes from what happens when you cook it apparently. You will need a big pile of cold, left-over mashed potato, cooked cabbage. In Victorian times (i.e. Mrs Beeton's 1st edition, 1861), bubble & squeak was made of cold, cooked beef from the Sunday joint and cabbage and onion, but rationing probably put an end to all the meat except the dripping.
Heat some dripping (fat) in a pan fairly strongly and fry the cold cooked cabbage and mashed potato and mix it thoroughly, then reduce the heat somewhat and cook the whole dish steadily for 15 to 20 minutes or more without stirring it, so that it is set solid, the edges and underside are browned but not stuck and it is cooked right through. Serve it piping hot.
This a white sauce with an added flavouring. You will need about an ounce or so of butter, a dessertspoonful of flour, about three-quarters of a pint of milk, about 6 ounces of a melting cheese such as cheddar, and a dash of salt & black pepper for seasoning. A non-stick pan as usual helps when cooking with milk.
First of all, grate the cheese. Then make the basic white sauce. Melt the butter in the pan- do not brown the butter. Add a good-sized handful of plain flour, and stir it in so that a greasy paste is formed. Throw in the bayleaf. When the flour and butter are properly and evenly mixed and heated through, remove the pan from the heat and add a slosh of the milk. Stir the flour/ butter paste quickly into the milk- it is important to dissolve the paste as evenly as possible in the milk at this stage. As the initial sauce thickens from the heat of the pan, add some more milk- you can add quite a lot now- and stir the thickened sauce thoroughly into the cold milk. Return the pan to the heat and heat it gently, stirring thoroughly all round the pan so that the sauce does not stick to the bottom or sides. As it nears boiling point, the milky sauce mixture will start to thicken again. Adjust the sauce with more milk and re-heat it. You should not have the sauce too thick, because the cheese will thicken it further. Turn off the heat, and drop in the grated cheese. Stir it until the cheese is melted and dissolved in the sauce. Add a pinch of salt, but do not over-salt it. This basic sauce is a principal component in Cauliflower Cheese, Eggs Mornay, Macaroni Cheese, Moussaka, Lasagne and Canelloni.
Cauliflower cheese is ridiculously easy if you can make a Cheese Sauce. You need a good white cauliflower. Trim off the manky leaves, but leave a few of the pale immature ones. Divide the cauliflower into 'florets' of approximately the same size, trimming away any excessively large stalks. Boil, or better still steam, the cauliflower in a little water until it is only just done- do not over-cook it. Drain and set on one side for the moment (especially if you only have the one pan).
Meanwhile, make a good amount of cheese sauce using the recipe above. Put the cauliflower into the oven dish and cover with the cheese sauce. (Those with one pan may need to do a little juggling here since the idea is to pour the sauce over the cauliflower.) Grate a little more cheese over the top, real parmesan for preference, and pop into a medium oven for about half an hour to heat through thoroughly and maybe brown the top just a little bit. Serve as a simple meal in itself.
These are quick and easy but tricky to make well. Real cheese straws are made from cheese pastry, in which the cheese is included during the making of the pastry itself. It is a lot easier though to buy ready-made puff pastry which rises and is flaky, and try to incorporate the cheese afterwards. It is also a good way of using up leftover pastry.
You will need a baking tray of some description, which you should grease with a scrap of butter, an oven, some pastry and several ounces of a cooking cheese like cheddar, grated. Defrost the flaky- or puff-pastry and divide into three equal slabs. Sprinkle each heavily with grated cheese, clap them together and roll them out on a floury board. Add more cheese as you go, if you think you can get away with it- you can't really have too much in cheese straws. Do not re-cut and re-roll the pastry to do it- if you over-work the pastry it will lose its puff.
Roll out the cheesey pastry into a strip and with your knife cut it into thin strips. Lay the strips on the baking tray and bake them for about ten minutes in a hot oven. Keep an eye on them as they over-cook easily, and are not so nice then. Adventurous cooks can also try rolling the pastry up and cutting slices to produce spirals, or folding the edges of the strip into the middle twice and cutting slices to produce (when puffed) heart shapes.
This is Ruth's recipe. Fry some chopped onion and a bit of garlic in butter/olive oil. Add chicken breasts either whole or in slices. Fry for a while. Put in some green pepper corns and a squeeze of lemon. Stir in Creme Fraiche. Warm through. Also goes well with mushrooms
Chicken Kiev are boned chicken breasts into which a pocket has been slit, garlic butter inserted, and the pocket sealed so that the garlic butter remains inside and does not leak out during the cooking. This is not easy to accomplish, so here is Ruth's recipe for Chicken Kiev:-
"Simplest method - buy [name of a supermarket chain]'s chicken kiev. If you're mad or stingy then fry the chicken breasts lightly and bake with plenty of garlic butter."
This is a sort of smaller, quicker cousin to the famous 'Cock-a-Leekie' soup from Scotland, which is made with a boiling fowl, several pounds of leeks, black pepper, and quite a lot of water. Here is Ruth's recipe: take 2 chicken breasts, sliced & marinaded in olive oil, lemon juice, thyme, parsley. Fry them gently with 1 finely chopped leek, black pepper, add more butter as the leek absorbs. Serve with boiled rice.