Cordials… invigorating effect on the heart…

I have most of my cookery books old and new beside me here while I’m writing… If I get stuck with my plot, or my characters, or just in general, I’ll spend a little time distracting myself with recipes and articles about food and drink. The other day I wrote about the curious ingredients Ambrose Heath used in his wine-making recipes, in his little pocket-sized book, unambiguously called, Homemade Wines and Liqueurs. it was published in 1956 – which seems to have been a very good year for recipe book publications!

The little book, and its companion books, were published by Herbert Jenkins Ltd, a successful company founded in 1912, which published among other book, many of P. G. Wodehouse’s novels.  Herbert George Jenkins the owner was born in 1876;  he was a British writer but died very young at the age of forty-seven. he wrote comic books about a Mr Joseph Bindle, and detective stories ‘starring’ Malcolm Sage. He also wrote non-fiction, including a biography of George Borrow and  William Blake.

Back to cordials, which Ambrose Heath supposed to be so invigorating for the heart… I guess we tend to think of cordials as fruit syrups which are diluted with water, lemonade or soda; for Mr Heath, they were a basic ingredient infused in brandy.

I expected them to be fruits, and indeed some were,

  • blackberry (sounds wonderful)
  • black currant (ditto)
  • cranberry (and I thought cranberries were recent arrivals from America)
  • damson (lovely!)
  • gooseberry (interesting)
  • plum
  • raspberry

There was Highland cordial –  whisky flavoured with white currants, lemon rind and ginger essence, and then a selection which sounded more like cough mixtures:

  • aniseed
  • caraway
  • cinnamon
  • clove
  • ginger

I don’t think I will be trying to make any of them… in my experience such things don’t taste nearly as nice as expected! I was intrigued though, that in this section was a recipe for Athol Brose, which I thought was a dessert:

  • 1 lb runny honey
  • 1½ pint whisky
  • 1 cup water
  1. mix the honey and water, stirring with a silver spoon (what else??!!)
  2. gradually stir in the whisky, stirring rapidly until a froth rises
  3. bottle and keep tightly corked


Coltsfoot, comfrey, and gorse… but wine?

I have a very small, pocket-sized book called Home-Made Wines and Liqueurs: How to Make Them, by Ambrose Heath. He was a prolific cookery book writer, editor and journalist, born in 1891 and dying in 1969. The book was one of a series by various authors, and included Ice Cream Dishes, Cocktail Snacks and Canapes, Dishes Without Meat and Biscuits and American Cookies.

Many of the wine and liqueur recipes are from fruit and vegetables, as you might expect, especially from a book published in 1953, not long after the war, when people were using what they readily had to make things they otherwise could not get. So, apples, apricots and blackberries, and well-known other ingredients such as dandelion and cowslip – and even such things as beetroot and carrot… But coltsfoot (“this well-known picturesque if pernicious weed (tussilago farfara) whose bright yellow-rayed flowers appear before the leaves in early spring”) comfrey (“this unusual wine made from the roots of wild comfrey (symphytum officianale) which is commonly found in watery places and on the banks of rivers and streams”) and gorse (ulex, furze or whin) – isn’t that rather prickly?

Hedgerow wine sounds delicious, but mangold? I think mangold is what I know as manglewurzel which is a type of beet most commonly used for animal feed, but also edible for humans – but there is another mangold which is a type of chard – I cannot imagine using that to make wine! Other roots with recipes, turnip wine, parsnip wine and potato wine – tomato? I don’ think so ,not for me thanks… Sage wine? Sounds utterly disgusting! Red clover wine?

Imagine picking two quarts of red clover blossoms – a quart is two pints or nearly five cups… Come to think of it, imagine picking two quarts of flowers from the prickly gorse! There is no mention of the quantity of coltsfoot, but another recipe I came across says five litres of the little things – where would you find that quantity? And as for the roots of the comfrey you have dug up from the banks of your local stream, according to Mr Heath you need four or five roots cut into pieces four or five inches long – not very exact!

Here is a link to the coltsfoot wine recipe:

Why are leeks always braised?

The title of this post is a bit deceptive… because the braising of leeks isn’t my query but something from eighty years ago in the National Mark Calendar of Cooking. Apparently, a French friend visiting either Ambrose Heath or Mrs Cottington Taylor, the authors of the book, enquired why leeks are always braised in England. I hadn’t realised they were – but maybe that was the case in the 1930’s. Braising seems a sensible way to cook a vegetable and retain all its flavour, slowly in a little butter, lid on the pan so it steams slightly. Mr Heath or Mrs C.T. recommend cooking the leeks in salted water, or in stock, and then serving them in cheese, tomato or caper sauce – a caper sauce which is bechamel with chopped capers.

In the same section of the little book, the April section there is a recipe for creamed broccoli, which I initially thought sounded unpleasant, a sort of broccoli purée, but in actual fact it is briefly cooked broccoli and sliced onion, layered with cheese sauce in a pie dish, topped with breadcrumbs and grated cheese, then browned under the grill… this sounds quite tasty! Better than boiled leeks!

Monday rissoles

Here is a little more from the National mark Calendar of Cooking… I wrote this a while ago, reflecting on what happened to the left over Sunday roast…

When we were young, we had the traditional roast joint on Sunday; we weren’t served  great slabs of it but beautifully thinly carved slices. Thin slices were more economical, and there were always plenty of home-grown vegetables and lashings of gravy ( my dad’s phrase – except he would have called it ‘gyppo’, a word I think he picked up in the army) and there was always dessert to follow, home-made by mum or very occasionally ice-cream. We didn’t have a fridge at that time, and nor did most people, let alone a freezer, so the block of ice-cream would have been bought at the newsagent, and kept wrapped in newspaper in the coolest place there was.

Left over meat was used throughout the week… we only had a small joint, so maybe we would get two extra meals from it, a shepherd’s or cottage pie, cold with jacket potatoes, or my favourite, made into rissoles… My mum’s rissoles were made from minced cold beef, left over cooked carrots, onion, and a dash of tomato ketchup; the mixture was formed into patties, dipped in seasoned flour and fried – they would have been fried in dripping because we didn’t have cooking oil in those days.

In the National Mark Calendar of Cooking, there is an April recipe which sounds very similar except it has the addition of potato and bacon and is seasoned with nutmeg as well as salt and pepper… sounds delicious! They are called beef cakes, not rissoles, and this is what the authors of the little book, Ambrose Heath and Mrs D.D. Cottington Taylor says about them: When the piece of cold bacon shows signs of becoming all fat, bear these little beef cakes in mind. I think by bacon they might mean a boiled or roast ham joint.

  • ¾ lb cold roast beef, minced
  • ¼ lb fat boiled bacon, minced
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • onion, chopped
  • 3 potatoes, baked in their jackets and the insides removed
  • butter
  • nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • parsley
  • tomato sauce to serve
  1. fry the onion in butter but don’t let brown
  2. mix the minced meats, mashed potato, seasonings and onion
  3. add the egg and make into ten little flat round cakes
  4. fry and brown on both sides in butter and serve with tomato sauce

I like the recipe, but I think I would perhaps coat in seasoned flour like my mum did with her rissoles… although, I guess burgers aren’t floured before cooking!

The frivolous croquettes

Continuing yesterday’s them of the National mark Calendar of Cooking…

A new month, and forget about April Fools, and think about the year turning and days becoming warmer, and all sorts of new seasonal vegetables appearing in abundance. here is what the National Mark Calendar of Cooking has to say for April:

April is Spring’s harbinger, if only the first brave spears of asparagus tell us so. Chickens are now growing lustily, tell us still more, and ducklings quack-quacking on the village pond re-echo the welcome sounds of other Springs. We can eat a little more easily, and with the lengthening days demand a lighter fare. And elegant, too, for are not the manifestations of warmer days appearing in the greengrocer’s as those little bunches of radishes to make our salads so much gayer?
April is a good month to furbish up potato cookery. The humble boiled or mashed or fried, the greedy baked or roast, the frivolous croquettes and fritters – these all pall at last. It is still two months to the crop of new ones and meanwhile there are quite three hundred different ways to choose from. The old potato is a bore – let’s wake him up: and induce him to make friends with other vegetables!
Summer is still tantalizingly far away but we still have our canned sunshine, and why not a pie? Potatoes and pies. An apple pie too: for Bramleys are still about. Two good resolutions for a good month!

I don’t know whether Ambrose heath wrote these little introductions, or whether it was his co-author Dorothy Daisy Cottington Taylor… but aren’t they fun! I have never come across the verb ‘furbish’ before, and never heard croquette potatoes described as frivolous… but I shall think of it next time I see them on a menu!

A breath of spring with rhubarb

The National Mark Calendar of Cooking was published in the early 1930’s, and was intended to promote local and national produce, and to make the most of the seasons best; there are two authors, Ambrose Heath a cookery writer, and Dorothy Daisy Cottington Taylor. I am not sure whether Mr Heath did the introductions and additional comments and Mrs C-T did the recipes, or whether they collaborated… maybe they didn’t even have much to do with each other, being given a brief and told to write and work to it. Maybe she chose and provided the recipes which he then write about, or maybe they were both presented with recipes and had to decide on them… it’s all lost in the intervening years of great British cooking – apart from a little ten-year intermission during and after the war.

Her is their introduction to February; it’s written in such a heart and cheery manner, and having read other books by Ambrose Heath, I am inclined to think this is his work:

February marks the new year in steady progress. The housewife ha had her first trial of National Mark and is beginning to taste some of the joys of her new adventure. If she is wise, she will start to experiment a little, and learn that to buy (and properly deal with) a boiling fowl is not so extravagant as it may sound. She will find too, that the rather dull days of late winter and be enlivened by summer sunshine stored in National Mark tins, and a dish of green peas or some delicious summer fruit will evoke memories – possibly of those very gardens and orchards where they were grown.
Healthy appetites will need more nourishment in this inclement weather and consideration of the cheaper cuts of National Mark beef will teach her how to save and serve good food as well.
A breath of spring comes with the first appearance of those slim pink sticks of rhubarb, and she can still count on a good supply of apples for dessert or cooking. A good time to pore over a cookery book, with one’s toes to the fire and half an eye on the clock.

What an evocative picture is painted; a 1930’s house with a coal fire, no double glazing but thick curtains, probably no central heating, polished floor boards, natural fabrics and woods, a radio playing – only one channel available, what was known as the Home Service, the Light Programme and the Third Programme didn’t stat until the 1940’s.

There was no frozen foods, so dried or tinned goods would have served; chickens which now are the cheapest meat available were more of a luxury, only less you reared your own; an ‘old boiling fowl’ would have been what was most cheap then and would have had to have been cooked for a long time, boiling, as described in one of February’s recipes.

I really feel as if this was Ambrose Heath describing the recipe for chicken – “a rather amusing way of presenting a boiled fowl!” :

Boiled Fowl with Spinach

  • boiling fowl – boiled and cut in pieces
  • butter
  • spinach
  • white sauce
  • egg – hard-boiled, kept hot, cut into rings
  1. fry the chicken in a little butter
  2. drain, arrange on a plate and pour over the white sauce, flavoured and coloured with the spinach (the spinach is boiled nad passed through a sieve)
  3. garnish with slices of egg

So how amusing, colouring white sauce green!! Hahahaha!

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night, which is either January 5th or January 6th is the traditional day for taking down Christmas decorations; the tree goes back outside in its pot, the baubles and tinsel is all put away in boxes and stowed in the garage, the last of the pine needles are hoovered up, the cards are unpinned from their ribbons and sorted… and suddenly the house seems dull and echoey.

Twelfth Night is also the Feast of Epiphany when the three wise men, the three kings or the magi, however you call them visited baby Jesus with their gifts and it was also the end of the winter festivities which had stated on All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween. I’m not sure that many people do much to mark twelfth night, apart from taking down their decorations, but it wasn’t so long ago when it would have been part of what most households would mark, often baking a special cake. It used to be that a dried pea and a dried bean would be  cooked in the cake mix, and whoever had the slices containing them would be the king and the queen for the party.

Certainly, when the National Mark Calendar of Cooking was written in the 1930’s it was a known custom, but already beginning to fade, as Ambrose Heath and – or, Dorothy Cottington Taylor wrote in the introduction to their Twelfth Night Cake recipe:

It is a pity to let old customs die out entirely, and a ‘Twelfth Night Party’, at which the cake takes pride of place, is sure to be popular. This cake was originally a highly spiced one and rather rich; but if the party is for children, a simpler mixture could be substituted.
Actually, the outside is by far the most important. The principal decoration should be twelve candles and stars. A pale-coloured icing (suggestive of a clear sky) assists in carrying out the scheme. Each persons ingenuity and resourcefulness can be exercised in evolving a really attractive cake worthy of ‘The Fast of the Star’.

Of course, Shakespeare’s play ‘Twelfth Night’ was written especially to be part of a Twelfth Night entertainment; and in keeping with some of the old traditions, many things are reversed, such as a woman, Viola dressing up as a man, and  Malvolio imagining that he can become a nobleman. These same sort of things can be seen in pantomimes today. These ideas date right back to the Romans and beyond, typical of midwinter celebrations.

Here is the National Mark cake recipe:

  • 8 oz flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 8 oz sugar
  • 8 oz butter
  •  6 oz currants
  • 8 oz sultanas
  • 2 oz candied peel
  • 2 oz glacé cherries
  • 1 level dessertspoonful of mixed spice
  • a little milk to mix
  1. cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy
  2. stir in the sieved flour and spice,  and beaten eggs alternately
  3. mix in the fruit, adding a little milk if necessary
  4. pour into a greased lined tin and bake at 350°F, 180°C gas mark 4, for about 2 hours (cover with greaseproof paper if it gets too dark on top
  5. When cool ice with pale blue icing and decorate with candles and stars

Here is a poem by Robert Herrick, born in 1591 and died in 1674 – lambs wool is a warming drink made from ale, milk, spices and sugar, by the way!:


Twelfth Night,  Or King And Queen

NOW, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where bean’s the king of the sport here ;
Beside we must know,
The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.

Begin then to choose,
This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
Be a king by the lot,
And who shall not
Be Twelfth-day queen for the night here.

Which known, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake ;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurg’d will not drink
To the base from the brink
A health to the king and queen here.

Next crown a bowl full
With gentle lamb’s wool :
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too ;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Give then to the king
And queen wassailing :
And though with ale ye be whet here,
Yet part from hence
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.

by Robert Herrick