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!

Monstrous chickens and prime geese

Here is something I wrote a couple of Septembers ago about the great little 1936 book, National Mark Calendar of Cooking:

The National Mark Calendar of Cooking, published in 1936, was complied for the Ministry of Agriculture by Ambrose Heath, a well-known and respected food writer and critic, and Mrs. D. D. Cottington Taylor, the director of the Good Housekeeping Institute. The National Mark had been introduced in the early 1930’s to ensure the standardisation of grades and packaging of all sorts of food.

The Calendar of Cooking is a delightful little booklet, with excellent recipes, wonderful illustrations by Blair Hughes-Stanton; each month is introduced with an elegantly written couple of paragraphs, which eighty years on seem sweetly dated, for example, the roles of men and women – ‘the mere man relapses into his autumnal habits, and the housewife knows her task will be less exacting’.

We are so used to standardisation, and so many shop in supermarkets where everything is identical, that it is interesting to see how seasons really can affect the produce and the products.

September brings cooler and more autumnal weather. darker and damper evenings impel the production of the soup index once more, and we can look a roast joint in the face again with equanimity, if not definite approval. The happy housewife’s list of vegetables grows. Brussels sprouts are now included and endive – a pleasant and unusual salad.

Chickens are much larger, almost monsters now; and with Michaelmas day, the goose comes into his prime. Grapes hang luscious in te greenhouses, tomatoes on their vines. 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 – names to conjure with. Hungrier and less difficult to please, the mere man relapses into his autumnal habits, and the housewife knows her task will be less exacting for the next six months!

Not sure about these August recipes

I’;m looking at my little 1936 National Mark Calendar of Cooking; as the name suggests, this little recipe book offers seasonal dishes throughout the year, making use of whatever produce is available and at is best this month.

So this month there is a delicious selection of fresh fruit – including blackcurrant, cherries, gooseberries, loganberries, plums and red currants – our seasons have so changed in eighty years that the cherries and currants are all gone now, and vegetables including artichokes, beans of various sorts, beetroot, cucumbers and tomatoes.

There are two tomato recipes… and I really don’t think I would like either… maybe it’s just me, or maybe tastes have changed dramatically since 1936.

Tomato Ice

This is rather good as a first course, or as a soft cocktail.

  • tomatoes
  • cayenne
  • salt and pepper
  1. make a purée of some raw tomatoes by rubbing them through a coarse sieve
  2. strain through a fine sieve
  3. season with salt, pepper and cayenne
  4. freeze to what is technically known as ‘a mush’

‘A mush’ – I find a lot of humour in this little book. I’m not sure, I haven’t been able to find out, but I feel that the writer – from the two authors Ambrose heath and Dorothy Cottington-Taylor,  is Mr Heath. However, I really don’t find tomato mush appealing as either a first course or a soft cocktail – whatever the alcohol added!

Tomato jelly salad

  1. ¾ lb tomatoes
  2. ½ an onion, sliced
  3. 1 lettuce
  4. a little diced celery when in season
  5. ½ tsp sugar
  6. celery salt
  7. bayleaf
  8. 2 cloves
  9. salt
  10. ¼ pint hot water
  11. ½ oz gelatine
  12. mayonnaise
  • stew the tomatoes with the onions, celery, sugar, cloves, bayleaf, celery salt
  • rub through a seive
  • dissolve the gelatine in water and add to the tomato purée
  • when almost cold, pour into small, wetted, individual moulds
  • when set, turn out and serve on lettuce leaves
  • garnish with a tsp of mayonnaise

Of course, these days we can have almost whatever we want whatever the season; so if we wanted tomatoes or celery at any time at all, they would always be available! No, tomato jelly woudl not appeal – not so much the flavour, more the texture would be strange!


A jelly made from loganberry juice is something to dream about!

Here is something I wrote last year:

I love calendars… my husband always gives me two, one he has made himself from his own photos, one he buys of Northern Ireland. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get other calendars too – this year a friend gave me the Paul Hollywood calendar, and he gazes down at me as I write! I never look through the months when I’m given it, I don’t even open it until January 1st, and I don’t peep to see what is coming up! This month’s calendar of my husband’s photos is one of a collection of brightly painted iron tractor seats, the Northern Irish picture is Giant’s Causeway, and Mr Hollywood is looking very fetching in a black shirt…

The National Mark Calendar of Cooking, was a little recipe book published by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries – my copy was published in 1936, but I think there were earlier editions. The national Mark was a government initiative to promote home-grown produce, fruit, vegetables, cereal, meat and fish. Month by month the different seasonal foods are written about and recipes offered. It was written by Ambrose Heath and Dorothy Cottington Taylor; in some ways it seems dated, only the ‘housewife’ buys, prepares and cooks food, but it is charmingly written and is so evocative, so cheerful and so full of fun!

This is the introduction to August:

August makes our housewife, happy now, think of holidays. Picnic fare again, perhaps, or something more ambitious like a fine savoury casserole slowly simmering through the idle afternoon; for if housekeeping cares must be taken on holiday with us – as alas! so often they are – food must not be allowed to go by the board. Instead the thinking-cap must be pressed rather more firmly on, and after an invocation to national mark, a simple dish produced.
And holidays mean the country, and why should not the country mean – apples? Not just any old apple, but some of those apples with pedigree names that National mark ensures your getting. What fun to develop a palate for them as rich as men attain a palate for wine! This summer let us ask  for apples by their names and see what they mean to us. And this month we might well start with Beauty of Bath, a lovely name for a fine apple – National Mark of course. Besides apples we shall have new plums, and possibly the house or cottage we are staying in will have some loganberries; but never mind if it hasn’t; the National Mark has, and we can be sure of good ones. A jelly made from loganberry juice is something to dream about!

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

An ingenious salad…

I’ve written a lot about salads, ingenious and otherwise, but in the introduction to June’s selection of recipes from the National Mark Calendar of Cooking, Augustus heath and Mrs D.D. (Dorothy Daisy) Cottington-Taylor, offer six suggestions. There are other recipes too, but the ingenious salad mention comes in the introduction, which I wrote about last year:

A new month and a new set of notes in the 1930’s recipe book issued by the National Mark to promote home-grown fruit, vegetables ans other produce. The book, the National Mark Calendar of Cooking, was written by Ambrose Heath and Dorothy Daisy Cottington-Taylor; I don’t know for certain, but I think Ambrose might have written the texts and Dorothy oversaw the recipes… that is only a guess based on reading other books Ambrose wrote.

June is principally the month for fruits. Strawberries, and gooseberries – is it not these that June evokes? And the rest of the kitchen garden (reflected in our greengrocer’s window) abets her. peas, the first early beans, new potatoes, lettuce.. for these we will willingly sacrifice departing seakale and asparagus.
Chickens continue apace, and ducklings old enough to braise, if only an excuse to accompany them with oranges. Beef we shall begin to think of as cold: the noble derby Round, rosy sirloin or rib, boiled silverside in a symphony of grey and pink. An ingenious salad will absorb the remains.
In half the year our housewife has scarcely sampled half the charms of National Mark. The whole summer plethora of fruit and vegetables is now before her, and she can taste and taste again until the winter months proffer their condolences in cans of what she now enjoys. Summer! The bees are busy collecting National Mark honey that she will eat next winter. Calves are growing into Select, Prime and Good beasts, in English and Scottish meadows. But what is more important is that strawberries are ripening and raspberries, too. Gather ye strawberries while ye may – the delicious and yet most uncertain fruit in England. But even for one dish, summer would have earned its glory!

I love the way these little monthly introductions are written, so expressive! So charming! … and in a sweet way quite hilarious!

... others of us put jam on first then cream

… strawberries and a cream tea…


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