Christmas party and Apple Meringue

It’s our family Christmas party tonight…

The National Mark, introduced in the late 1920’s, aimed to improve the quality of food, by regulating it; to help people become better and more creative cooks, while still being careful and economical, using locally grown produce, a Calendar of Recipes was produced in a little booklet.

At the beginning of each month’s recipes was a list of vegetables in season and obviously these would have been things families would eat. Much on the list is exactly what we would find in our greengrocer’s today, such as broccoli, celery, leeks and parsnips, but there are some items which I’m not sure would be in every fruit and vegetable department:

  • chicory
  • horseradish
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • mustard and cress (this seems to have gone completely out of favour)

As well as the foods, there are eleven recipes to go with them each month, and December obviously features turkey ‘and its Accompaniments’ including a recipe for chestnut stuffing, an idea of how to use up leftovers and Christmas cake. I was interested to see that included in the recipes is one for Brussels sprouts with chestnuts… and this is a recipe written over eighty years ago; it only seems recently that all the TV chefs were cooking this, and I read a comment recently that nearly all the chestnuts sold are cooked with Brussels sprouts… well, the National Mark was certainly ahead of the game!

As we come up to Christmas, there are loads of get-togethers and parties, and next week our book club are having a gathering; I am making a dessert and I think I will use this National Mark recipe:

Apple Meringue

  • 1½lb apples
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 oz butter
  • 3-4 oz sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • mace
  1. peel, core and slice the apples, simmer in a little water with the sugar
  2. when cooked, beat to a smooth paste adding the yolks of the eggs and the other ingredients
  3. put in small oven-proof dishes, or a single larger dish
  4. beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in the remaining sugar
  5. put the meringue on the puddings 9 the recipe suggest decorating at this stage with angelica or glacé cherries but I won’t)
  6. bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes or until lightly brown

December and the last month of the calendar!

I shared this last year – and as it is the first day of December, it’s timely to share it again:

The little National Mark booklet, published in the early 1930’s follows the year with recipes and suggestions of what to cook with the seasonal produce available. In December, the cookery booklet applauds the ‘hostess-housewife’ in what we would think is a very dated way, but it was of its time and is rightly celebrating the very hard work that most housewives undertook every day, without our wonderful technological gadgets and aids, and in many if not most cases without the help of the husband.

Here are the words of wisdom from Ambrose Heath and Mrs D.D. Cottingon Taylor, and I love the surreal image of the housewife enthroned upon her kitchen table!:

December and the last month of the calendar! Of all the months this is the one when Cook holds sway. and some sign of greediness may be permitted. The hostess-housewife girds herself for the fray of entertaining friends and relatives and with a determined mein prepares her Christmas kitchen battery. Pardonable that she should feel a kindly rivalry towards those who will receive her hospitality. She naturally wants her entertaining to be the best, for she is a proud woman. Amid the congratulations of her guests – enthroned on the kitchen table with her rolling-pin sceptre-like in one hand and the National Mark Book in the other – she will reveal her secret : National Mark! A happy Christmas! Tired out but happy in her triumph, the crockery washed, the children packed to bed, the guests all gone, she reaps the reward of her labour and her enterprise. And in the morning she will awake to another day, the same as so many before but, after the twelve months’ experience easier and happier… Hurrah for National mark! And a Happy New Year!

A simple homely dish

November from the National Mark Calendar of Cooking – I shared this a couple of years ago:

The 1930’s National Mark recipe book has some recipes which we could find today in any modern recipe book, which again proves that British cooking doesn’t deserve the reputation it had. I dare-say after the war there were many cafés and restaurants which served sub-standard food, and there were plenty of good reasons for that. There are plenty of cafés and restaurants today where the food is ordinary or poor – but that doesn’t mean British cooking as a whole is poor… but I’d better get off my pet hobby-horse and get back to the November recipes from the National Mark Calendar of Cooking.

The recipe book, written by Ambrose Heath and Mrs D.D. Cottington Taylor, is already looking forward to Christmas because there is a pudding recipe included (flour, eggs, beef suet, breadcrumbs, raisins, currants, sultanas, sweet almonds, mixed peel, dark brown sugar, nutmeg, mixed spice, zest and juice of a lemon and brandy) and mincemeat ( apples, carrots, beef suet, mixed peel, currants, raisins, sultanas, glacé cherries, Demerara sugar, almonds, mixed spice, brandy or raisin wine)

  • leek and potato soup
  • braised beef
  • onions stuffed with beef and mushrooms
  • bubble and squeak – a good tip!
  • egg and potato casserole
  • red cabbage
  • apples with chocolate
  • fruit milk pudding
  • cheese bread
  • stuffed celery

The soup sounds quite luxurious with eggs, cream and butter added towards the end, once it has been blended and sieved; the braise beef is prepared in an economical but creative way – the meat cut into slices but not quite cut right through so it has the appearance of a book and between the ‘pages’ is a stuffing of liver, onion and breadcrumbs, tied round to secure it and simmered in stock with herbs and added vegetables. There are two recipes for red cabbage, one from Limousin in France with added chestnuts and pork fat, and the other as a casserole with onions and spices and vinegar and sugar to give a sweet and sour slant.

The apple dessert has the cooked fruit filled with a chocolate sauce and covered in meringue which is baked in the oven until golden; the fruit milk pudding seems the most dated of recipes, but I guess it could be reworked to make something more current but with a retro style it is a dish with fruit in the bottom (the recipe calls for canned fruit, but I think we would use fresh!) covered with tapioca simmered in milk and with egg yolk and sugar added when it is cooked, then a meringue topping added and put back into the oven to brown.

The cheese bread is a simple homely dish, of bread soaked in milk and gently fried in butter with a cheesy topping, and the stuffed celery is celery stuffed with Stilton…

A fabulous autumn day

It’s been a lovely day today… and looking back over my blog, I see it was also a lovely day two years ago! here is what I wrote:

It’s a fabulous autumn day, pale blue sky with a lovely opalescence along the horizon as the sea mist disappears, the sun strong enough to set the leaves glowing in all their vivid fire colours, the evergreens polished and shiny…

The National Mark Calendar of Cooking, the little recipe booklet produced in the early 30’s by the Ministry of Agriculture to encourage cooks to make the most of locally produced fruit and vegetables grown to a national standard, and to be creative in the kitchen.

Each month has a charming little introduction:

November, the month for fireworks! Fogs, cold rain; short afternoons, cosy evenings. Why not plan some fireworks in the kitchen? Now’s the time for those difficult dishes, but only difficult because they take a little longer than usual. Now we’ve time to spare. happy housewife,what will you try today?
The vegetable list lengthens: leeks and onions, celery,chicory, root vegetables and savoys, and spinach useful both to gourmet and dietician. Horseradish is here for roast beef, and for our lingering dessert the fragrant Cox’s Orange Pippin, the best apple in the world. No more plums, alas! But hothouse grapes are perhaps more suited to the season.
And if on foggy nights she wishes to conjure up the distant days of summertime, her national Mark genii of the can will help her. For here are peas and beans, tiny carrots for garnishing and even new potatoes. Fruit salads and pies sometimes taste even more delicious for being out of season, and blackberries, cherries, loganberries, strawberries, in fact nearly all the berries are waiting in their attractive tins for her to buy. Nor must our housewife forget that this is the eleventh month, nor omit to let National Mark help her with Christmas puddings, cakes and mincemeat.

In the days when Ambrose Heath wrote these little introductions, very few houses would have had central heating, most families would have had coal fires in their sitting and dining rooms, and heavy curtains at the un-double glazed windows. Many workers and school children would have cycled or caught the bus or train to work if it was too far to walk, and shops would have closed at five or maybe six o’clock. No freezers, not many refrigerators, and certainly no microwaves! Many women would have been at home, housewives, keeping the house clean and tidy and cooking all meals, as economically as possible. I’m not sure I would like to go back to those times, but it is an interesting snap shot on the past!

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.



Breakfasts become a matter of consequence

October 1st, and I am going to be cheeky and repost something I wrote last year…

The National Mark, an agency set up by the Ministering of Agriculture at the beginning of the 1930’s to set a standard for food; it so annoys me when British food and cooking is denigrated – British people have always enjoyed producing and cooking good food in interesting and different ways, The war years and the rationing had a huge impact which continued into the 1950’s; but whatever the standards in restaurants and cafés, I’m sure home-cooked food was as good as anywhere else in the world. Many families had vegetable gardens, and allotments, not just to save money but to enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables of the season and to experiment with different and unusual varieties

Ambrose Heath (1891-1969) and Dorothy Daisy Cottington-Taylor (1891-1944) who wrote the little recipe book have an introduction to each month; elegantly written and a real insight to home cooking in the 1930’s.

October dives still further into winter, and breakfasts become a matter of consequence. Eggs must once more be studied – and mushrooms. Closer acquaintance with the various cuts of beef is recommended too. The garden still bears up, though there are almost daily secessions. Peas have left us long since, and runner beans are almost done – quite if Jack Frost is about. But parsnips will be all the better for his touch, and so will celery. Cauliflower is a newcomer and usually plentiful and so is red cabbage, a fine vegetable when eaten hot in some way as described elsewhere in these pages; but the vegetable marrows have by now been ‘jammed.’

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!

Evenings out, friends to dine, a snack after the theatres or the pictures: these arouse the housewife’s interest in good food again. Something very attractive, something unusual, something savoury, something deliciously appetising! She knows by now that her National Mark can be relied on.

By the way, the elegant little wood cut illustrations were done by Blair Hughes-Stanton, (1902-1981).

Pears, that loveliest of all,

It’s chutney/jam/pickling time of year! Here is something i wrote last year about delicious sounding pickled pears:

I came across a recipe for pickled pears in the September section of the National Mark Calendar of Cooking: in the introduction to the month, Ambrose Heath and/or Dorothy Cottington Taylor write “Long evenings and idle dinner-time propel us towards dessert, and before the cobnuts we shall sample an apple or perhaps one of the first pears; for apples, say a Worcester Pearmain, with its crisp sweet flesh; for pears, that loveliest of all, Doyenne do Comice.” We don’t have a pear tree but we do have an apple tree; it bears plenty of fruit but for some reason they are not very sweet. we don’t often have desserts, only when we have friends round, and i did try drying the apples in rings and although they taste quite nice and last for a long time, we don’t eat many of them either.

So I wonder if I could pickle them? there is the recipe I found for pickled pears, which sounds rather nice.

Pickled pears

  • 6 lbs pears/apples cored and cut in equal sized pieces ( (a) it doesn’t specify whether they should be peeled – use your own judgement, (b) if you use apples choose ones which will remain firm in cooking, (c) the quantities are rather large so half or reduce by a third and use your own judgment on the amount of spices – I think in general we like stronger flavoured things than nearly ninety years ago; I would still use all the lemon zest and juice)
  • 4½ lbs sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 pieces of root ginger
  • ½ oz cloves
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • vanilla pod
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 3 pints of vinegar (I guess in the 1930’s when this book was written it would be malt vinegar – I think I would use cider or white wine vinegar)
  1. crush the ginger and tie it with the other spices in a muslin
  2. put vinegar, sugar and spices in a pan and bring to the boil
  3. add the fruit and cook slowly until tender
  4. remove the spice bag and pack the fruit into jars
  5. if the liquid seems very thin, boil quickly for a few minutes once the fruit has been removed until it becomes syrupy then pour into the jars
  6. cover and seal
  7. there is no mention on whether they should be left to mature or eaten straight away – trial and error I guess!