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!

Freezer soup

Being keen never to waste any food as far as is possible, all sorts of odds and ends of leftovers end up in the freezer. I’m really meticulous about writing labels and sticking them on the boxes and bags and whatever containers I’ve found to put the oddments in – well, I’m usually really meticulous but I admit that sometimes I forget… or the item is put away before its label is attached, or someone else puts it away, or the label comes off in the freezer – and sometimes attaches itself to something completely different, or if I’ve written straight onto the bag/box/container in permanent ink, sometimes the ink isn’t permanent…

The upshot of all this is that sometimes, well often if I’m truthful, things emerge from the freezer and I actually have no idea what they are. In our efforts to be economical and to get rid of unwanted things, and not to give in to so-called ‘bargains‘ or ‘2 for the price of 1′ etc, when we needed a new freezer, we bought a small one. For the most part there are only the two of us at home, so we don’t need great stocks of stuff…

Anyway, today from our small freezer, I took out a small box which said clearly ‘fennel soup’… when did I ever have fennel that I made into soup? I have no idea. I also took out another small box which said ‘veg soup’. The fennel soup, was indeed that, but such a small portion it wasn’t enough for both of us, and the so-called veg soup was actually frozen roasted vegetables – perfect, the two things could go together to make enough soup for us! Except it wasn’t enough. I returned to the freezer and found an unlabelled box with beige soupy looking stuff… in with the fennel and roast vegetables… delicious! The beige stuff was chicken soup, so the three things were perfect!

This afternoon I returned to the small freezer, and took out three more containers, none with labels… two might possibly be shepherd’s pie, one is definitely chocolate cake… when did I ever make a chocolate cake and put it in the freezer? Maybe it is not my lack of labels – maybe someone else is sneaking into our house secretly and putting unmarked things in the freezer… it’s the only explanation!


Not sure I quite fancy this!

The National Mark Calendar of Cooking was written in the early 1930’s and the edition I have is from 1936. As you might imagine it is a season recipe book, following the months and the fresh produce available. I have tried many of the recipes and enjoyed nearly all of them. However… there are a few which just sound too unusual and not to modern tastes…

For example, I love Brussels sprouts, and all the new and different recipes I have tried for them, from salads to stir fries I have enjoyed. The National Mark cookery book has Brussels sprouts au gratin, yes, very nice, Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, yes especially nice at Christmas time, and Brussels sprouts purée in the March list of recipes which actually seems to be Brussels sprouts soup… I’m not too sure…

Here it is:

Brussels sprouts purée

  • sprouts
  • 1 oz flour
  • 1 oz butter
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 1¼ pints of milk and water
  • pepper and salt
  • fried bread or toast diced
  1. fry the onion in the butter but do not let it brown
  2. add the flour, cook for a few minutes then add the milk and water and simmer for 5 minutes
  3. prepare and sieve the sprouts (I guess that means cook and sieve them,  or use left over already cooked sprouts)
  4. add to the soup and season
  5. serve very hot with the toast or fried bread
  6. spinach soup can be made in exactly the same way

There is rather a nice little note ‘with the aid of National Mark canned vegetables, a variety of soups can be prepared all the year round in little more than ten minutes should an emergency arise.’

My featured image is of delicious Brussels sprouts with chorizo and black pudding! … and here is the recipe:


Kangaroo soup

We were passing a butcher’s which sells unusual meats and we went in to see if they had any wallaby. Yes, I know they are cute etc, but so are lambs, anyway… while we were away I had wallaby several times and it was absolutely delicious. The butcher had none, but he did have kangaroo, so we bought a couple of streaks.

I cooked them very simply, on a griddle with butter and olive oil, I didn’t marinade them or treat them with anything, I just fried them. While they were resting and the vegetables were finishing cooking (roast potatoes, carrots, peas, cauliflower, sprouts) I made a sort of sauce/gravy with the juices plus port and cherry jam and a little chicken stock… and it was mighty fine, I can tell you!

Today for lunch I made some soup with the remaining sauce/gravy; it seemed a little sweet now it was on its own, so I added some more stock, a little horseradish, a little Worcestershire sauce and the tiniest splash of nam pla (fish sauce) I also added some tiny shell pasta and chopped up a couple of the left over roast potatoes. My husband had the carrots and peas in his bowl, I had the sprouts and cauliflower… and we decided it was a very good soup!

I guess a lot of people might have thrown those oddments away, but we had a lovely lunch – and it felt as if it was free because it was leftovers!