My cup of tea – part 2

The magazine from Waitrose has a last page column of questions posed to a well-known person about the food likes… and dislikes, cooking, eating, and eating out…

A couple of days ago I asked myself some of the same questions… here are the rest:

  • what would be your desert island dish – So difficult… salad maybe… cheese… cheese salad? I guess there would already be oysters and other shellfish available, and fruit and nuts…
  • do you have a go-to afternoon snack – a cup of tea or coffee, I don’t have snacks
  • what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten – jellyfish, in a friend’s Chinese restaurant… it was very nice and not at all what I would have expected had I known what it was I was eating!
  • what was your favourite food as a child – anything… favourite thing that mum cooked… um… maybe one of her pies, or roast pheasant. Cambridge was a very different place when I was a child, more of a market town than a big city
  • is there anything you won’t eat – sausage casserole, love sausages but only fried! However, talking actual food items, brains – I might eat any other part of an animal but brains a definite no-no
  • how do you take your tea – strong with a little milk added afterwards. I also like Chinese tea and mint tea.

tripes

I  mentioned recently that I like tripe, and that having had it in a traditional British way cooked in milk with onions and plenty of pepper, I once discovered it was a miraculous cure-all, especially for hangovers! The particular and very effective recipe which proved it to me was for tripes á la mode de Caen, which apparently was a favourite of William the Conqueror… did he have hangovers? Apparently there are two ways of cooking it, a cream version (perhaps like the British way) and a recipe using cider which sounds more authentic. It should be cooked in a slow oven or in a slow-cooker, in a casserole, marmite, or a Nottingham jar – if ever i find a Nottingham jar, this is exactly the sort of recipe I will use it for!

I’m sure everyone who makes it has their own recipe, probably handed down from grand-maman, but here are a couple of recipes I found (although I felt sure when I had it there were tomatoes too, but maybe that was just how the lady who cooked it made it)

La version une:

  • 2 lbs of tripe
  • 1 calf’s foot
  • 8 oz bacon
  • 1lb onions
  • 12 oz g carrots
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 1 clove (I’d put more in, I can’t believe one clove will have any flavour at all in among everything else!)
  • 1 small glass of brandy ( or should it be calvados?)
  • 1¾pints of white wine – surely that should be cider? Chose what you prefer
  • plenty of salt and pepper

La version deux:

  • 2 lbs of tripe
  • 1 cow heel cut in two
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 8 oz onions
  • 8 oz carrots
  • 1½ oz butter
  • 1 bottle of dry cider
  •  generous fluid oz of calvados
  • herbs and spices – 2 cloves, 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of thyme – again I would increase the amount otherwise they’d barely be evident!
  • salt
  • ground pepper

method:

  1. cut the tripe into bite-sized pieces and slice the vegetables
  2. layer the meat in a casserole or oven proof dish, with the vegetables
  3. sprinkle with seasonings (herbs, spices, salt and pepper) and pour on the liquid (add more – or more water – or less according to your pot – you can always top up later)
  4. cook on a low heat for at least six hours

Enjoy with plenty of crusty bread whether you have a hangover or not!

 

The stockpot is the backbone or the kitchen… or is it?

Writing a cookery book in 1946, Philip Harben was offering recipes at a time when rationing was still in force and the war had only been over for a year. Cities had been bombed, people displaced, men (and women) away from home for six years or more. People had to work hard for long hours and hadn’t always the time to cook as they did pre-war even if they had the ingredients for what the wanted to prepare. Many people lived in single rooms, with small cookers or gas-rings, or shared kitchens, so cooking quickly was important, and that was the title of Mr Harben’s little book, Cooking Quickly.

He writes so evocatively, you really get a sense of him as a person!

For long as it has been laid down as an article of faith that the STOCKPOT is the Backbone of the Kitchen, the Cook’s Best Friend, the Foundation of All Cooking, and so on. This has discouraged many promising cooks. Don’t let it worry you, because it isn’t true.
Stockpot-worship is based on an old theory, now disproved and out of date, that the liquid got by boiling bones and meat scraps contains all the essential nourishment of the meat. In fact it contains the flavour and very little else. Moreover, this liquid flavour can be extracted in far less time than stockpot addicts believed – they went in for hours and hours of tedious boiling.
Now i am far from denying that a stockpot is a most useful thing to have in a kitchen, especially a large one where there is a big turnover of bones, scraps and oddments. It provides a constant supply, on tap, of flav0ursome liquid which for many purposes is more useful than tap water. But there are short cuts to this flavour-liquor and the short cuts are sometimes just as good as the long-way-round. There are on the market a number of preparations with such names as ‘meat extract’, ‘meat and vegetable extract’ and so on.

He goes on to recommend bottled extracts, including soya products, and although, as he says, they do not contain ‘the essential nourishment of meat’, they do have vitamins and minerals and ‘provide a most useful and stimulating flavour, invaluable for adding  zest to dishes cooked in a hurry.’

Do-it-now!

As I’ve mentioned, I’m not very interested in housework… there always seems so many more interesting and vital things to do… writing, writing, going out, writing, meeting friends, going to the quiz, writing… Everything’s clean in the house, all the clothes washed, ironed and put away, but there is such a muddle of untidiness… oh well, I’ll clear up later, I just have to write this…

Ruth Drew who wrote and broadcast about household matters would have been shocked I think, although she seems as if she was such a lovely person she would have only scolded in a nice way; her book the Happy Housewife, a posthumous collection of her broadcasts and writings from the 1930’s to her death in 1960, is all about being a ‘good’ housewife’ and keeping the household neat, tidy, well-ordered and comfortable. her advice is given with plenty of humour, and actually although obviously in some ways dated, it really is fascinating to see what she suggests as it opens a door on how ordinary people used to live.

In her section on household affairs she writes about ‘do-it-now jobs that are so frequently left undone’. Some of her suggestions are useful now –

  • creaking boards – she explains why they might be creaking, what can be done simply, but suggests consulting a competent handyman or carpenter… and then add about trying to solve the problem yourself with new screws or nails; ‘beware of banging these in inexpertly in case piping beneath is damaged, which could lead to serious trouble…’ How true this is! We had to call the gas-board when my husband hung a picture and put a nail right through an unexpected gas pipe!
  • drawers that stick – rub them down with glasspaper (sandpaper) dust with talcum powder and making sure the piece of furniture is standing on an even floor
  • furniture doors which stick… this, according to Ruth is most frequently caused by ‘a twisted carcase…’ hmmm… she suggests wedges of ‘scraps of rubber flooring, or linoleum… or a wedge made of several thicknesses of cardboard...’
  • washers on taps – she suggests a plumber, although does actually explain how to change one, including taking taps off the basin or bath
  • and squeaky door locks… oil the key, except if it’s a Yale in which case go to s locksmith
  •  a loose hearth tile – we would just buy a tube of cement from a DIY store; Ruth suggests making a thin paste of plaster of paris or Keen’s cement, and gives clear instructions on how to do it

However, some of her suggestions are obsolete because we no longer use such items, have such items, have other ways of solving the problem, are too lazy or idle to go to the trouble, or we can now afford to get a new whatever it is – the whatever-it-is is cheaper, we are wealthier and most of all we have for the most part lost the ‘make do and mend’ mentality.

  • patching lino… lino is coming back into fashion, but if there was a hole most people would replace rather than repair. Ruth’s solution, cut out the worn part then use it as a template to cut a patch.
  • a door which needs stopping… we would buy a new door stop, Ruth suggests an old cotton real painted or stained to match the flooring then fastened to the floor with a long screw.
  • chair legs which scratch the floor – we might stick something on the bottom of a chair leg which was a problem but i doubt if we would use Ruth’s idea, to cut patches ‘from an old felt hat‘… who has a felt hat these days old or new?
  • loose knife handles – if you look in most people’s cutlery drawers I am sure they are full of knives which are made of metal with no bone, wood or other handle… there maybe some plastic or resin handles, but most of those would be attached to the blade with a couple of pins. In Ruth’s day most knives would have handles with the ‘tang’ inserted and glued or cemented in place. She gives detailed instructions on how to replace a loose blade into its handle using a home-made cement of 4 parts powdered resin, 1 part beeswax, 1 part plaster of Paris – now you know, just in case your cutlery has a wobble
  • a cracked lavatory basin – I’m sure she means a wash basin, not a lavatory bowl! ‘Outside the basin, paint a strip about 1 inch wide using best quality white lead paint. While the paint is wet, press on a piece of muslin, covering the crack amply. Allow to dry. Then paint the muslin and apply a second, slightly narrower muslin strip. Paint this in turn. Do not use the basin until the last coat of paint has dried completely.’ First of all, lead paint is not available, but if I was hard up and couldn’t afford a new basin and plumber to fix it, might I not adapt this ‘recipe’?
  • loose broom head – the answer is simple, take of the handle, saw off the end of the stick where the nail has split the wood and refix the broom head… Of course it wouldn’t work with a plastic broom, or our garden broom with a metal ‘stick’… and after a while a new stick might be required as the old one got shorter and shorter…

What strikes me is that many of these ‘odd jobs’ might be thought of as ‘men’s’ jobs… not so for Ruth; a housewife was as capable as anyone else for using tools, paint brushes, and other implements.

I’ll just leave you with this… Trigger’s new broom… or was it Granville’s?

 

Asparagus

When we were children asparagus was a treat but not a luxury. My dad had an asparagus bed which must have been about 30 or 40 foot long which he had made himself; he had bought the crowns, I don’t know what variety, I wish I did, maybe it was Connover’s Colossal, a very old variety first introduced in the nineteenth century, and recommended in a book my mum bought him, Practical Gardening and Food Production in Pictures, by Richard Sudell. She bought it for him in the first year of their marriage, 1948.

He was a good and industrious gardener, and there was a very practical reason for him to be so; to put fresh vegetables on our table every day of the year.  So a big asparagus bed in lovely sandy Cambridge soil, very well-manured produced our favourite vegetable throughout the late spring and early summer. We always had asparagus with white sauce, which I guess is how my grandma served it. My sister was a fussy eater but she loved asparagus, we all did!

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This is what Ambrose Heath and Dorothy Daisy Cottington-Taylor have to say about asparagus in the National Mark Calendar of Cooking:

Nothing surpasses carefully cooked asparagus! But, being a rather delicate vegetable, it is readily spoiled by bad cooking. The common mistake is to overboil it, so that the buds are more than tender and break away from the stalks.
The time to allow for cooking naturally depends on the size, age and variety. It is, therefore, necessary to use one’s judgement.
Tie the asparagus in bundles of about seven or eight and cook slowly in boiling water until tender. Remove very carefully to obviate breaking.
An excellent way of cooking asparagus is to place it on a fish strainer in a steamer or fish kettle, as it does not require lifting but can be removed gently in the strainer into a vegetable dish, after the water has been drained away from it.
Asparagus is best when served hot with oily butter; there are, however, other ways of treating it.
A popular way is to serve it cold with vinaigrette sauce. This consists of the following ingredients:- 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of tarragon vinegar, 1 tablespoonful of malt or chilli vinegar, 1 teaspoonful finely chopped National Mark parsley, tarragon and chervil, and two chopped gherkins.
The stalks can be served whole and eaten in he same way as when hot, or the tips only may be dished in a salad bowl or vegetable dish with the dressing over them.

Just slightly off the point of asparagus, but back onto one of my favourite hobby-horses, people who think there was no decent British cooking until European restaurants came to London in the 1950’s should just look at the ingredients here, which Mr heath and Mrs Cottington Taylor expected ‘the housewife’ to know and have, olive oil, tarragon vinegar, chilli vinegar, herbs parsley, tarragon and chervil and gherkins…

A lovely site all about asparagus…

http://www.asparagus-lover.com/