Midnight soup again

It’s become part of our family tradition to have Midnight Soup on Christmas Eve – not at midnight though! Every year it is different in some way, either I accidentally miss something out or maybe I’m missing some ingredient and substitute something else; sometimes I just add something different for some reason… but here, again, is the recipe _

Midnight Soup


  • 1 lb steak
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 4 onions
  • 4 tbsp tomato puree
  • 3 pints stock
  • 1 tbsp chilli sauce
  • ¼ tsp ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp pickled silverskin onions
  • 10 oz grapes
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 6 tbsp cream
  • 8 oz mushrooms
  • 1 liqueur glass brandy
  • 1 tumbler glass port
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 level tsp paprika


  1. Cut meat into small cubes. Heat oil and fry meat until lightly brown.  Peel and dice onions and fry lightly with meat at low temperature.
  2. Stir in tomato puree.  Add stock, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
  3. Add chilli sauce, pepper, cayenne pepper, and silverskin onions.  Stir well.
  4. Slice mushrooms and add to pan.  Wash grapes, slice and add to pan.  Bring to the boil.  Mix flour with cream and add to soup.
  5. Add brandy and port, salt and paprika before serving.

Cold feet require hot soup to enliven them

Yesterday, on the first day of October, I share an introduction to the month in terms of cooking from the 1930’s book The National Mark Calendar of Cooking. The authors were Ambrose Heath and Dorothy Daisy Cottington-Taylor; I don’t know if they wrote the whole book collaboratively or if one (probably Mrs. C.-T.) produced the recipes, and the other (probably Mr. H.) wrote the introductions and other remarks.

Ambrose Heath was born Francis Gerald Miller and was a journalist and cookery writer, who probably thought being Frank Miller was a bit ordinary, and so changed his name! His father was also Francis,  his mother was Rose… his brother was Wilfred… his sister was Margaret and his grandfather had been the British Consul in St Vincent Cope West Ireland . By the age of twenty Francis was already a journalist… I don’t know when he changed his name though. Ambrose seems a bit of a character so I think that he must have written the monthly introductions…

Look at this:

Ducks and geese and chickens make fine fare, and the day of the grilled steak and chop has arrived. The gurgling stew which helped so much in the summertime is needed now in earnest, and cold feet require hot soup to enliven them!

Isn’t it great?! ‘The day of the grilled steak and chop…’, ‘the gurgling stew… ‘, ‘cold feet require hot soup to enliven them!’

So here is something for your cold feet… Nothing could be better if you are chilly than borscht! Here are sixteen interesting facts about the famous Ukrainian beetroot soup:

In Ukraine, borscht has always been the symbol of a strong united family: all the ingredients come together melding and blending until they become one delicious flavoursome thing!

  1. Traditionally borscht was made for a wake, to send the dear departed to heaven!
  2. There are over 70 actual recipes for borscht – in actual fact there must a million more, as I am sure every family has their own traditional one. The most extravagant one is “Borscht Kiev”. The stock is made from beef, lamb and pork, and bread kvass (rye bread beer) is added
  3. In the region of Chernigov region, borscht is made with what is described as mushroom “ears” … which I think maybe mushroom filled pasta which look like little ears! (please tell me if I am wrong!)
  4. In the region of Zhytomyr there are two sorts of borscht one which I think is made with dry (or maybe stale) bread and mushrooms, the other with fruit.
  5. Funnily enough, there is one region which has no traditional borscht – Transcarpathia.
  6. The Galicians used to make a brilliantly red soup, just using roast beetroot, and with extra colour from cherry juice.
  7. Jewish Ukrainians used chicken stock with added sweetness (sugar or honey I guess!)
  8. There is a Moscow style borscht made with bouillon of beef and smoked meat, and then served with slices of sausage.
  9. The classic Ukrainian borscht has fresh pork fat, studded with cloves of garlic, salt and greens added once the pot has been taken off the heat, and then left to infuse,
  10. In the olden days, to add a pleasing sourness to the soup, sour milk, cabbage, berries or unripe apples were added. These days, tomatoes are more likely to give acidity – a change dating from the end of the nineteenth beginning of the twentieth century when tomatoes were imported from the USA
  11. In the UK we might use the price of a loaf of bread/pint of milk/pint of beer as a comparative price index; in Ukraine it is the borscht index – how much it costs to make the traditional soup!
  12. Famous borscht fans include Nikolai Gogol, Empress Catherine II and Anna Pavlova (although she is better known in the west for the meringue than the beetroot soup!)
  13. Borschiv in the Ternopil region has a soup festival every autumn! Sadly you have missed it this year, it was held on September 6th!
  14. ‘The borscht belt’ covers the areas where borscht is traditionally cooked – from south-eastern Poland through Ukraine, to Belarus and to the Russian regions around the Volga and the Dnieper.
  15. The Borshchovoe Range of mountains is in Transbaikalia… sadly it is named after the village of Borshchivka which is near the north-western foot of the range, not the soup.

    © prolviv.com



Simply watercress, even more simply pears

When my husband and I first got together we each had a stash of cookery books, which eventually became a single stash. A book he often used – and in fact I don’t know where it is now, was called something like ‘Four Ingredient Meals’ – and that is what the recipes were, all made with just four ingredients. I’m sure a lot of us cook like that anyway – ‘oh what do I have, spring onions,prawns and eggs… so omelette with spring onions, prawns and eggs‘… So when we see actual recipes which are simple and yet interesting, it’s a gift! I notice that Jamie Oliver’s most recent book is ‘5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food’ so he’s thinking along the same lines!

In my little 1936 National Mark Calendar of Cooking, there is a September recipe for watercress soup – I love watercress, it’s full of iron, so I will probably love the soup!

Watercress Soup

  • floury potatoes
  • watercress
  • cream
  • 1 egg yolk
  • lemon juice

(OK, so it’s five ingredients!)

  1. boil the potatoes
  2. when nearly done add the watercress leaves
  3. when the potatoes are cooked, rub them and the watercress through a sieve (these days you can just blitz or blend them)
  4. return o the pan with a little extra water if needed, but do not boil
  5. blend the cream and egg and add to the soup off the heat and stir very well
  6. season with lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste

Maybe if this is just a light lunch, after the soup and crusty bread and butter, how about an even simpler three ingredient dessert:

Pears with butter

  • pears, peeled, cored, sliced
  • butter
  • sugar
  1. layer the pear slices in a buttered dish with more butter and sugar between the layers
  2. top with dots of butter and sugar, brown in the oven

Delicious served with cream!

You may wonder why i have sheep as my featured image, well, very near where these sheep are there is a little stream which runs into the sea and growing in it is watercress!

Should you wish to make spinach custard…

I mentioned that in the ‘miscellaneous’ section, right at the back, pages 727-730, of my Modern Practical Cookery, published in 1936, there is a recipe for spinach custard. My mind actually boggled at this… did it mean something like the children’s dessert we used to have, banana custard, which was chunks of banana in cold custard? or sponge custard – chunks of sponge cake in cold custard? Or was it a hot custard, flavoured with spinach? I know spinach or kale smoothies are popular now (they sound so disgusting, I really am not going to even try one) – so is spinach custard a 1930’s forerunner?

I read through the recipe last night, and when I noticed it said ‘serve with soup’ this seemed even stranger… You can decide what you think, you can even have a go at making the recipe:

Spinach custard – to serve with soup

  • 1 lb spinach, thoroughly washed
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • salt and pepper
  1. remove any large stalks from the spinach and put in a pan with no water, just ½ tsp salt
  2. cook slowly for 10 mins with the lid on
  3. turn off the heat, stir well, replace the lid and let the spinach finish continue cooking in its own juice until tender, for about another 15 mins
  4. strain and press through a sieve, but reserve juice
  5. rub the spinach through the sieve into a basin, add the egg, and salt and pepper to taste
  6. grease an enamel plate, pour on the egg and spinach, and cook in a moderate oven, 160°C, 325°F, gas mark 3, for about 40 mins until set
  7. let it cool, then turn it out onto a board, cut into strips, then into diamonds, or else cut into fancy shapes with a small vegetable cutter sold for the purpose
  8. put them on a plate over the soup you are heating and going to serve the custard shapes with, and allow the shapes to heat for about ten mins
  9. to serve, place shapes in the soup tureen and pour soup over them

Just in case you do want to make this – there is a rather confusing note that 1 pound of spinach cooked dry will make a large plateful of custard – which seems to suggest you might need more spinach than the 1 lb listed in the ingredients in order to have whole dry pound… The juice you have saved from straining ‘has excellent food values‘ – even after 25 mins cooking? You can use it for soup, the recipe says, but doesn’t say whether it should be the soup you serve the custard shapes with.

An observation – the poor spinach has been cooked for over an hour before it is then reheated over the soup. The custard, which seems more like an omelette surely will have the texture of leather, and probably taste of less. The thought of the smell of baking spinach does not sound very enticing… and what sort of soup would you serve it with? Why not have diamond-shaped croutons?

I looked at the soup section of the book to see if there was any guidance about which soup to serve the spinach custard with… At the beginning of the chapter it does give some serving suggestions:

  • croutons
  • toast Melba
  • pulled bread
  • dumplings
  • finely grated cheese
  • chopped herbs such as parsley and tarragon
  • diced carrot
  • sprigs of cauliflower
  • chopped cooked mixed vegetables (carrot, onion, turnip)
  • asparagus tips

… but looking through the recipes I find no mention of spinach custard, not even to accompany spinach soup.

If by some chance you do make this recipe, I would be most interested to hear your comments on the results!


The garden adds to its glories

A new month and in the National Mark Calendar of Cooking, there is the usual delightful introduction written by either Ambrose Heath or Dorothy Cottington Taylor; I rather think Ambrose wrote it – I’ve read other things by him and this seems very much his style!

July is the gardener’s month again; and salads are in greater demand than ever. Weekend cottages and picnics put a strain on the housewife’s ingenuity, but beef and chickens are always ready to be disguised as galantine, and thus find even readier consumers.
The garden adds to its June glories with broad beans (to peel or not to peel, that is the question), early runner beans, globe artichokes for Jerusalem, and last but by no means least, vegetable marrows. This much-maligned vegetable deserves better treatment, certainly not the white and vapid sauce that usually encloses it. What have our cows done that their butter should not enshrine it. We must see it, sharing some of that golden dew with runner beans, which without it lose what slight flavour they possess.
Currants, cherries and raspberries are now added to our fruit; and early apples to give the first taste of joys which will be with the luckier of us until next May – the Englishman’s fruit, just as beef is his meat.

So what does the calendar suggest for July? Hollandaise soup, anyone? Maybe followed by chicken with green peas? And would you like your chicken and peas accompanied by spinach fritters maybe, or devilled potatoes? And to follow maybe the delicious sounding blackcurrant and almond paste tart?

Here is the recipe for the soup, in case you just want a light lunch!

Hollandaise soup

  • 1 cucumber peeled and diced
  • 1 carrot peeled and diced
  • 1 turnip peeled and diced
  • 1 teacup peas
  • 1 oz flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 quart (2 pints) stock
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 oz butter
  • ¼ pint cream or unsweetened evaporated milk (this is a recipe from the early 1930’s – I think I will go with the cream!)
  • salt, pepper, mace
  1. put the vegetables into salted boiling water and “cook lightly” – I guess just for a few minutes!
  2. melt the butter, stir in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes but do not allow to colour
  3. add stock and seasoning to the butter and flour, stir vigorously and bring to the boil then simmer for fifteen minutes
  4. blend the cream and egg yolks, take the stock from the heat and stir in cream and eggs well, return to the heat and cook very gently for five minutes, DO NOT BOIL!!
  5. add the vegetables and serve

Feeling soupy

Sometimes if it’s warmish, i don’t feel much like eating lunch, but think I should otherwise I’ll be hungry before the next meal and be tempted to snack on something naughty… which is why soup is good – except of course if the weather really is lovely and hot, in which case maybe not soup!

Here are some soups I have made in the past which have been successful:

  • Root soup – The colour was sensational, the recipe easy, one small to medium beetroot, two parsnips, one medium to large carrot, one medium onion, stock… cook, blend, season, serve, enjoy!
  • Nettle soup – Nettle soup is the easiest thing to make – fry a few onions in butter, wilt down the nettles leaves which have been very, very thoroughly washed and pulled from the fibrous stems, add some stock (and  cooked potatoes if you want a thicker soup) heat through, don’t let the nettles lose their lovely colour, whiz in a blender and rub through a sieve, serve with a swirl of cream and some freshly grated nutmeg!
  • Smiley soup – Parsnip and leek soup, with cumin, coriander, dill, anis seeds, fennel, coconut and cheesy toast fingers!
  • Sunny soup – Miserable weather needs sunny soup, red, yellow and green peppers, tinned tomatoes, onions and garlic, roasted or  fried, blended, with a light stock, pour into bowls with chickpeas, finely sliced, blanched runner beans and orzo pasta, a tiny splash of chilli sauce, dabs of crème fraiche, some roasted baby tomatoes… sunny soup!
  • Strange-looking soup – Onion and dill soup with cumin, – gently fry loads of onions and a little garlic in a mixture of oil and butter; when really soft, blend and extra vegetable stock. Garnish with fried onions and pine nuts… it looks a strange colour but is really tasty
  • Lentil soup – While the lentils were cooking I fried a very small amount of chopped up smoked bacon and about an inch of finely sliced leek in some olive oil. When the pulses were soft, I blended them and the onion then poured them onto the bacon and leek. I added salt, a splash of sweet chilli and garlic sauce, and sprinkled some dill seeds… and there was soup!
  • Beetroot soup – I peeled my raw beetroot –  it looked as if murder had been committed, red everywhere, but I prefer the flavour of the roots boiled without their skins. I used the red cooking  liquor for the soup which I made in the ordinary way, with gently fried onions, herbs, spices and seasoning. I rubbed it through a sieve, added a little extra vegetable stock thickened with cornflour, and garnished with coriander
  • Cauliflower soup – I sliced some onion and fried it with quite a lot of butter and olive oil and also some grated root ginger; I added freshly ground nutmeg and black pepper, a couple of allspice berries and a couple of hot chillies. I added some finely sliced cauliflower leaves and stalk and cooked for a few minutes until they were soft. I added about a third of the cauliflower head chopped up, sweated it a little then poured in about a pint of vegetable stock. When it was just cooked I blended it, and rubbed it through a sieve, added some cream blended with cornflour, and reheated it and voilá!

It’s still spring

Even though it is beginning to feel like summer, the windows are open late into the evening, it is still spring. The little 1936 publication, The National mark Calendar of Cooking offers us Spring Soup. The little cookery book was issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and published to try and promote good produce from local and regional farmers, to improve standards and improve the nation’s health.

So here is the spring soup:

Spring Soup

  • 1 lettuce
  • 1 turnip
  • 1 carrot
  • a few spring onions
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1½ pints of stock or milk and water
  • 1 tbsp cream or evaporated milk
  • parsley
  • pepper and salt
  1. shred the vegetables as finely as possible and set aside half the lettuce for garnish
  2. bring the stock or milk and water to the boil and add all the vegetables and the parsley and seasoning
  3. blend the egg yolk with the cream or evaporated milk, bring the soup to a gentle simmer and stir in the egg and cream
  4. put the set aside lettuce in the bottom of the tureen and pour in the soup

I’m not sure about the turnip… turnip doesn’t seem very spring like to me, and it does have a very dominating flavour – maybe a potato? Or for a borscht like soup, how about a beetroot!