This is where I note my efforts as I try to recreate some old recipes. Most are taken from my small collection of handwritten recipe books which date from the late 1700's to around 1922. I also have a collection of old tatty old recipe books, well thumbed and heavily splashed from years of use. I love them all!

The old-fashioned very stylised handwriting writing is sometimes difficult to decipher, measurements and cooking instructions are minimal, no tin sizes given. Luckily I enjoy a challenge. Just to complicate things I cook and bake on my wood-fired Rayburn, which can be... unpredictable.

I suspect this blog is less about the food and more about my passion for these lovely old books and the wonderful women who wrote them.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Parsonage Cottage Pantry

You can see from the header photograph, I don't have many cupboards in the kitchen.    What I do have, in the adjoining Boot Room, is a walk-in pantry.

I keep dried and tinned food, spices and herbs, bread, cereals, dog and cat food, glassware, some spare china and several kitchen aids in there.  

It could quite easily become a repository for 'stuff' but I fight hard to keep it reasonably well organised, after all, the cats need me to be able to put my hand on their favourite brand of cat food immediately.   

I had always wanted a large pantry and when this was finished I thought that I would never fill all those  miles of shelves...   Ha!

One thing I hadn't banked on though, was having to share the room with a cat.

Little Miss Pinkerton quietly slips in after me, goes to her favourite corner (just behind the plastic crate on the floor) and sits quietly.   She doesn't climb on shelves, so I don't mind too much.   Mostly I don't mind, because I don't notice her doing it.

Which means that she sometimes gets locked in.

The first time it happened, I was alone in the house.     Suddenly the silence was broken by the sound of a door latch being rattled...never mind the latch being rattled, I was rattled.      Heart pounding, I opened the pantry door, only to have Miss Pinkerton trot out, tail in the air, with a demand for food...NOW!

"Butter wouldn't melt in my mouth, honest!"

Ha!  Just one minute after I clicked on the button to post this, the door was rattled.   Yes, she had sneaked in there again.   I thought she was outside.   Little madam.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Another Primrose Pudding Recipe

This recipe is taken from Florence White's "Flowers as Food"  Receipts and Lore from Many Sources which was published in 1934.

After the previous experiment in Primrose Pudding I really wanted to find another recipe for primroses, hopefully something which I would want to eat,  so I turned to Florence as she is normally quite reliable.  

She wrote "My own small collection of 'receipts' was begun as a literary hobby which proved full of unexpected interests."   

There is a recipe for Prymerose Potage, dating from the 15th century - I wanted to try that but, unfortunately, I didn't have the rice flour or saffron, though I could have supplied the honey, almonds and primroses, along with powdered ginger.

I didn't want to pick a peck of primroses to make several gallons of Primrose Vinegar, either.

So it had to be Primrose Pudding, again.        I reduced the quantity of ingredients down to a manageable level, so I divided everything by four until I came up with this:

Primrose Pudding

Dry cherries (I used crystalised strawberries as I had them in the cupboard)
Pistachios - didn't have any of these
Fine white breadcrumbs 2oz
Castor sugar 1 teaspoonful
Suet - 1oz
Boiling Milk 2 fluid ounces
Egg x 1
Primrose petals 1/2 cup

Butter a mould well and decorate it with the cherries, almonds and pistachios.  
Wash your primroses.

Nip off the white at the base of the primrose petals.
Put the breadcrumbs into a basin, stir in the sugar and pour the boiling milk over the mixture.
Stir in the suet and the primrose petals.
Whisk up the egg to a very light froth and whisk it into the mixture a little at a time, so that the pudding may be light.
Pour the mixture into the mould so as not to disturb the decorations.  Cover with buttered paper and steam for one hour and a quarter.
Serve with champagne or some other wine sauce - I'm afraid I only had some left-over custard to hand, so custard had to do.

The taste test:   It is a steamed suet pudding, not very sweet, a little stodgy.   Much more palatable than the previous recipe, but not really suited for the way we eat today.   I don't think that even the addition of champagne/wine sauce would have improved it a great deal.

The primroses are better left in the garden, they brought absolutely nothing to the party whatsoever.   Perhaps old-fashioned primroses had more flavour!

This definitely concludes my experiments with primroses.

Time to do some work with the wild garlic.   Owl Wood is full of it and it shouldn't be too long before the flowers begin to appear - they are beautiful, but they do herald the end of the season.   I need to make the most of them before that happens.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Primrose Pudding and Scottish Baps

Primrose Pudding

1 lb potatoes boiled and well mashed
1 lb butter
1 lb white sugar crushed very fine
The yolks of 8 eggs and
The whites of 7.
To be very well mixed before baking.

The name is what drew me to this recipe, especially since Owl Wood and the gardens are full of primroses right now...

On reading through the recipe, I was surprised to find no mention whatsoever of primroses!

It was shocking, though I should be used to it by now, to see how much butter was required, never mind the number of eggs and felt like reducing the amounts, but then the pudding would not be a true Primrose Pudding. 

No way could I justify using such quantities on an experiment, so   I divided the quantities by four (1/4 lb potatoes, etc and 2 eggs) and kept to the same proportions.

No mention of how to mix it, what size dish to use, how to bake it, of course.

I boiled and mashed the potatoes and mixed in the butter while they were still hot.   Then mixed in the sugar and when the mixture was cooler I added the very well beaten eggs.     I baked it in an individual 'casserole' dish at 160 degrees.     After twenty minutes it didn't seem ready so I left it for a further ten.

I tried a spoonful while it was warm - pleasant and fluffy, but far too sweet.

At room temperature the texture had slightly collapsed, more like a heavy cheesecake.

This morning, after a night in the fridge, the texture is leaden and it tastes disgustingly sweet - it will be going out for the hens and the birds.

It is not a pudding I can recommend - unless you want to clog up your arteries and lose your teeth.   Now, pass me a lemon.

Baps a Traditional Scottish Recipe 

Flour, salt, lard, yeast, sugar, milk, water.

Sift a pound of flour into a warm bowl and stir in a small teaspoonful of salt.   Rub in two ounces of lard.   Stir in a sachet of dried yeast and a teaspoonful of sugar.

Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in half a pint of tepid milk and water mix.    Make a soft dough.  Cover, leave to rise for about an hour.

Knead lightly and divide into pieces approximately 3 inches long by two inches wide.   Brush with milk or water and set aside, to prove, for about 15 minutes.

Bake in a hot oven for about 15 -20 minutes.

Recipe adapted from The Scots Kitchen, F Marian McNeill, 1929.

Not the prettiest buns in the world - but I am elated!   

In all the years I have been baking bread, trying to make bread which tasted like the bread my mother used to make, this is the first time I have almost nailed it.

I never use lard in my cooking, but I wanted the taste to be authentic, so I bought a very inexpensive half pound block, a supermarket value one, with apologies to the animals.

My first bite of a bap transported me back through the decades!   They taste exactly like my memory of the bread my mother made.    Hers were a bit lighter and fluffier, but the taste was there.

Regrettably, I think it could be the lard which gave it that particular taste, for my mother would have had no qualms about using it.

I made the baps to go with a pot of soup which I was making from an old recipe.   I'll post about that another day.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Sweet Potato Pudding

Another scrumptious pudding, this one was made with sweet potatoes.

Unadorned, it looks very ordinary, but scatter a few berries and it is transformed into a thing of beauty.
I tried some while it was warm and it was a very pleasing sweet flavour and had the texture of a slightly alcoholic egg custard tart.

Today, after a night in the refrigerator, it had become slightly more dense but was just as delicious.

I have several recipes in my books.   I contemplated making this one...

In the end I decided to make one from another book of recipes.     I couldn't resist, once I had seen that it actually had the name of the woman who had given the recipe to cook.

So here we have:    

Mrs Butler's Sweet Potato Pudding

Line a dish with puff paste 1 lb boiled sweet potatoes beaten in a marble mortar with one quarter lb of butter 4 oz sugar 1/4 pint of cream four spoonfuls of brandy candied orange peel cut thin and the yolk of 8 eggs well beaten a little salt.

No instructions about mixing or baking, but that is pretty normal.

No way was I going to use 8 egg yolks.   I reduced everything by half and also had to omit the candied peel because I had used it all up in baking a batch of gingerbread biscuits.

So, my version was:
I lined a dish with leftover shortcrust pastry and plaited the rim, just because I could.    Then I baked it blind, making sure that the base was nice and dry.

1/2 lb boiled sweet potatoes which I pushed through a sieve and then mixed with 2 oz butter, 2 oz sugar and 1/8 pint of cream.   I added two tablespoonful of brandy and 4 well beaten egg yolks.  Poured it all into the pastry dish and put it back into the oven.

I baked it (in my moody Rayburn, no wind to cheer it on) at around 170 degrees until I was happy with the degree of wobble.

Thank you Mrs Butler and thank you to the mystery woman who wrote her recipes in that particular book.  

Yes, I would make it again, it was lovely.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Mrs Birrell's Marvellous Cake, and an Appeal

I have no idea who Mrs Birrell was, but her cake obviously made a big impression on the woman who wrote it into one of my books.   It appears twice.    Of course, I had to give it a go.

A short list of ingredients, no instructions other than to bake it in a slow oven - not usually a problem with a Rayburn!

"1 lb flour
1/2 lb sugar
1/4 butter
4 oz Lemon Peel & Citron Mixed
1/4 lb raisins
1/4 lb currants
2 eggs
2 teaspoonsful baking powder
1 teacupful of milk

bake in a slow oven"

Well that doesn't sound so bad.

Starting this blog has taught me many things, one of the most valuable has been how much easier it is to cook and bake if you have all your ingredients weighed and measured before you begin.  

I only started to do this because I wanted to photograph them, but it saves a lot of time, especially when you have a big kitchen, and the pantry is in the Boot Room.   Quite a trek.   These days it has become almost second nature to prepare things beforehand - even when i am not cooking for the blog.

There was no method given, so I simply creamed the butter and sugar until it was light and fluffy, then I added the beaten eggs, a little at a time.      I had already added the baking powder to the flour and I sifted them into the creamed mixture,  added the dried fruit and the milk and gave it a good stir. I had to add another tablespoonful of milk because the consistency wasn't quite right.

No cake tin measurement - I used an 8" fairly deep, loose-bottomed tin, greased and also lined at the base.

The Rayburn was showing 150 degrees when I put it in.

I went out to do some work in our little Owl Wood - planting some more wild garlic, picking fallen branches, chasing our granddaughter around in endless games of hide and seek.

I went indoors a little over an hour later to find that the Rayburn had become a little hotter - it had crept up to about 170..

The cake looked fine, phew!   I tested it with a skewer, it was fully cooked.

Can you see that darker outer ring - the extra heat had overcooked the outside, not burnt it, but it is a bit dry, darn it.     That is one of the problems with a  wood-fired Rayburn, they like their little jokes.   Never mind, Rayburn, I still love you!

The taste test:    I was very surprised, ignoring the hard outer edge, not Mrs Birrell's fault, the cake itself is light, fruity and really lovely.      I am so used to heavier fruit cakes, this one is quite a revelation.

We both enjoyed a slice.   The next test is to see how well it keeps.

ps  Max and I Love this cake.    It has instantly gone to the top of the must bake again list.

Over on my other blog I have put out an appeal for someone who would be willing to have a go at knitting up a pattern from this book.

This is the book which contains Mrs Birrell's Cake.   About half of the book is dedicated to recipes, the other half to knitting patterns.

I like experimenting with the recipes, but I am not a knitter.

I wondered whether there could possibly be someone out there who would like to have a go at knitting up an old fashioned pattern - I've listed some of them over here.  Siberian Cuffs, Baby's Bonnet, Ladies Under Cap, Opera Cap, to name but a few.

I don't have links to any keen knitters - do you?

This is a just for fun project, there is no money in it, no pressure, no hassle.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Violets - Give them a Bruising and Pound them to a Pulp

I live in Tennyson country so please indulge me..

"From the meadows your walks have left so sweet
That, whenever a March wind sighs,
He sets the jewel-print of your feet
In violets blue as your eyes.."        taken from Maud Part 1 by Tennyson

A tiny jug with some beautiful violets, but these are Dog Violets, not the perfumed Sweet Violets which were so often used in recipes.      We have a few tiny patches of Sweet Violets growing in our little Owl Wood,  I would never pluck them and cook with them.

All violets are beautiful, but not all violets are blue.   They can be white, indigo, violet or pink.   Just along the road I know where there are several large patches of white violets growing and a few dog violets.

So far I have not tracked down any other patches of sweet violets.

Yes, I am the crazy woman who you may catch on her hands and knees, trying to get down far enough to sniff the violets.

Once you have stopped falling about with laughter, I'd be grateful of a hand to help me back to my feet!

Violets signified modesty and faithfulness in the Victorian language of flowers.

The scarce sweet violets have been used throughout history, in herbal remedies, beverages, syrups, conserves, pastes, salads, pastes and  pottages.     Mind-boggling, given how relatively rare they are today, you will see what I mean in a moment, when I give you a couple of old recipes.

They were made into things like:

Violet Vinegar
Violet Jelly
Syrup of Violets - Weigh out 1 lb of freshly gathered violets...
Violet Marmalade - Put 4 1/2 lb violet petals....
Violet Ice - Put 1/2 lb of cleaned violet petals...
Sirrop of Violets - First gather a great quantity of violet flowers...

Can you imagine finding enough violets to be able to pick so many?   The combined scent of them must have been pretty powerful and the sight of a carpet of violets quite wonderful.

I'll finish with a couple of old recipes.

Violet Cakes

Wet double refined sugar and boil it until it is almost come to sugar again; then put into it Juice of Violets, put in juice of Lemons this will make them look red; if you put in juice and water it will make them look green.

If you will have them all blue, put in the Juice of Violets without the lemon.
John Middleton, 1734

How about some violet marmalade for your breakfast toast?

Violet Marmalade

Put 4 1/2 lb violet petals, with the base nipped off, into a mortar, and bruise and pound them to a pulp.

Clarify 6 lb loaf sugar and boil to the blow.  (240F-245 F)
Add the pulped flowers.   Mix them well in and stir in 3 lb apple marmalade.

Let it boil up a few times.   Stir and mix well.

Put into pots and cover airtight.
Florence White

Many thanks to Blogosphere Magazine and Dominic Franks (Belleau Kitchen) for featuring the wonderful women who wrote the recipe books which feature so heavily in this blog.

They could never have imagined that so long after their deaths, they would still be 'remembered' - and not just by me, for a change!

Well done those women!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

A Cottage Loaf and Wild Garlic Bread

The wild garlic is growing like crazy, time to harvest a bunch and make a loaf of wild garlic bread.

We love the subtle flavour which the chopped wild garlic gives.   I love the bread toasted and spread with a little butter, but when fresh it makes a lovely bread base for a savoury sandwich.

I confess to a slight attack of laziness, I was making a white cottage loaf so I simply doubled the quantities, normally I would make a 50/50 wholemeal garlic loaf.  

I picked a handful of the leaves, washed, dried, and chopped them.    I would normally mix them in with the flour before adding the liquid, but because I was mixing a double batch, and I didn't want wild garlic in both loaves, I kneaded them into half the dough before shaping the loaf so it didn't get distributed quite so evenly.

No special old recipe today.

My wild garlic post from last year can be found HERE.

Wild garlic scones, quiche, pesto, soups... lots of delights to come.   Enjoy the wild garlic season while it lasts, but be careful not to be greedy when you harvest it.     You want to be able to come back for more next year.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Rhubarb Cartwheel Flan + 18th Century Recipe for Crisp Pastry, No Soggy Bottoms!

The rhubarb forcer is in danger of losing its lid; time to begin eating the early rhubarb.

I trawled through my old books but most of the rhubarb  recipes are for jams and preserves,  which seems a shame when the rhubarb is so fresh and young.     I could easily have made a crumble, or rhubarb and custard cake, but it is good to try new recipes.

A couple of days ago I was gifted a big pile of  cookery books which belonged to a lovely old man in our village.  

They are not nearly as old as the books which I normally collect and enjoy so much, but that doesn't matter.    They belonged to our dear friend Oscar, and his late wife, and have obviously been well used during the forty or fifty years they spent with them.   That reason alone, earns them some space on my bookshelves.

Ignoring the relative youth of these books (a mere 50/60 years)  the only other draw back to them is the smell.     Nothing awful, just old book smell.      I know some people love that smell.  

I don't.

Luckily I have a solution.  

You simply need a box with a lid and some fresh cat litter.     Put a good layer of the cat litter at the bottom of the box and then put your book inside* and close the lid.   Leave for a week or two, after which time the smell should be gone.

* You may want to put something between your book and the litter, just to protect the dustjacket/cover from scratches and dents.

The dish I am baking today is a flan A Rhubarb Cartwheel Flan, the recipe comes from the Marguerite Patten book, Fruit and Vegetable Cookery, which was in the pile of books that came from my old friend's house.
The pastry recipe comes from May Byron's book  'Pot Luck' and is an Eighteenth century recipe.

To Make Crisp Paste for Tarts

"Take one pound of fine flour, mixed with one ounce of sifted sugar, make it into a stiff paste, with a gill of boiling cream and three ounces of butter; work it well, and roll it very thin.    When you have made your tarts beat the white of an egg a little, rub it over them with a feather, sift a little sugar over them, and bake in a moderate oven."

I have never made pastry with boiling cream before - and there could be a good reason for that, but unless I try it out, how will I know whether it really works?     I suppose it is like a sweet version of hot water crust pastry - which I have never made - but I'm happy to give it a go.

I sieved the flour and sugar (I used icing sugar) together and then gently melted the butter into the cream and brought them to the boil before pouring them into a well in the middle of the flour and mixing them altogether with a  wooden spoon.

Although I kneaded it well,  I probably should have kneaded it a little more and I should definitely have rolled the dough out much thinner before lining a flan dish.

Bake it blind until it is golden and crisp.

Rhubarb Cartwheel Flan 

12 oz rhubarb
4 oz granulated sugar
1/2 pint water

Wash the rhubarb well, trim the ends and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces.     Dissolve the sugar in water in a large saucepan, bring to the boil and add the rhubarb.   Cook gently, just under boiling point, until tender for about 10 minutes.     When cooked, drain off the juice and allow to cool.   Keep 6 of the strips, cut the others in half and put in the flan case.   Set aside.

Ginger Sauce:

1 round dessertspoon cornflour
1/4 heaped teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 pint milk
1 level tablespoon castor sugar

Blend the cornflour and ginger with 1 tablespoon milk.   Put the remaining milk in a small saucepan and bring to the boil.   Pour on to the blended cornflour, stir well, return to the saucepan and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring all the time.   Add the sugar and when cool, cover the rhubarb in the flan.  Arrange the 6  strips of rhubarb on the top to resemble the spokes of a wheel.

This is what I ended up with.

Just as well I am not a wheelwright!    
It was much nicer than it looks.   Rhubarb and ginger is a classic flavour combination with good reason.

The pastry was too thick, but strong and crisp, perfect for a flan, definitely no soggy bottom!

As you can see, the ginger sauce was a little bit thin and runny (in my opinion) for a flan although it tasted very good and Max ate two large slices straight away - bang goes that diet!

Despite the runny ginger sauce the pastry case remained strong and crisp, by the way.

I made the flan a second time, substituting a really thick egg custard sauce this time, which I had flavoured with plenty of ground ginger.    Success!  Though I still made the pastry too thick.  Could do better, and must try harder!

Nope, that is not a sausage on the top of the flan, it really is a slice of  pink and tender rhubarb.
I just take rubbish photographs, the flan tasted delicious!

I made an egg custard sauce, making it thicker than I would normally, and flavouring it with ground ginger.       Max was an even happier man.    

So, in conclusion, the original recipe was fine, but the thicker, ginger custard/sauce was much nicer - in our opinion, which is now making me think that I could use ginger to flavour the custard in the next rhubarb and custard cake that I make...

Watch this space!

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Pea and Lettuce Soup

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So many of the soup recipes from my old books proclaim to be 'vegetable', but I read on and the list of ingredients include items such as "two pounds of neck of mutton, or a fowl"...

Eventually I found one which required only vegetables and butter, things which I had in the fridge, including a very limp old lettuce  and peas from the freezer.

Melt an ounce of butter and put two chopped onions, the peas and the outer leaves of a lettuce or two to stew in a pint of water.   Add salt and pepper.     Pulp the vegetables but keep the liquor and add to it some more water and the hearts and stalks of the lettuces with spinach leaves cut small.    Add more salt and pepper and stew until soft.

In more modern parlance:

Chop two onions and saute them in an ounce of butter.  Roughly shred the outer leaves of a couple of old lettuces and add them to the pan.   Tip in a bag of peas.   Add a pint of water and simmer until the vegetables are cooked.     Blitz the soup with your hand-held blender, then add the hearts and stalks of the lettuce, along with spinach leaves, season to taste.    I added vegetable bouillon and cooked them all together.

I also added a good handful of chopped mint because we like the old mint and pea combination.

The resulting soup was quite thin at first.   I let it stand overnight and the next day it had thickened up considerably, the flavour had developed, too.  

Reheat and then serve with fresh crusty bread, croutons, dumplings, grated cheese - whatever it is that makes you happy.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

An even Better Victorian Chocolate Cake Recipe

The garden is full of primroses and my old recipe books have plenty of recipes which use them, but I decided to pick just a few for decoration.  

Chocolate cake is always popular with my family and this one got a big thumbs up from them.    It doesn't come with a list of ingredients a mile long.   Nor does it take any great effort.

I found it in one of my old recipe books:

8 oz flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 oz dark chocolate
8 fl oz milk
5 oz butter
10 oz soft brown sugar - (I didn't have enough, so 4 or 5 oz was dark molasses sugar)
3 eggs
1 tbsp black treacle
1 tsp vanilla extract

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.

Put the milk and chocolate into a pan and warm them gently, stir when melted and then set aside to cool.

Cream the butter and sugar, adding the beaten eggs a little at a time.   Add flour and eggs alternately.

Mix well and then add the cooled chocolate and milk mixture.

Pour the batter into tins and bake at 180 degrees - 25-30 minutes, approximately.

I used two 8" tins, but you could use smaller ones and make three cakes.

No doubt there will be more to come.