The prim, old-fashioned charm of zinnias

I have no zinnias, and I confess I can’t quite remember what they look like, although they were often in our garden at home. I have a memory of brilliant shocking pinks and deep purples and pastel mauves… but maybe I am thinking of a different flower. The reason I am even thinking about zinnias is that I’m looking at my Modern Practical Cookery – my edition was published in 1936 but I feel it may have been written earlier.

Towards the end, in a section entitled ‘Little Dinners’ are monthly suggestions for dinner parties for six guests. I think it is rather a nice idea – and as well as the menu of soup or starter, main course, dessert, then a savoury, there are also suggestions for table decorations and settings.

What can equal the prim, old-fashioned charm of zinnias in mixed colours? Their bright hues are enhanced by the soft delicacy of a Chinese bowl.

That actually does sound lovely, I can just imagine it!

Here is a delightful menu for the betwixt-and-between season when the days of fresh fruit are behind us, and the time for heat-giving foods of winter is not yet come.

I wonder who wrote this? This is another reason I like old cookery books, they are so charming and often elegantly written. I don’t think I’ll ever find out, lost in the annals of Amalgamated Press who published it… but here is the ‘delightful menu‘:


cauliflower cream soup
roast chicken, bread sauce
potatoes, beans
plum jelly creams
mushroom toast

The soup is seasoned with celery seeds and paprika, there are a pair of roast chickens stuffed with breadcrumbs, onion, parsley, butter, chicken livers, seasoning and bound with an egg; the bread sauce is flavoured with onion and cloves; the plums are set in a lemon jelly, with almonds, and served with cream; the mushrooms are cooked in butter and served on rounds of toast.

PS I know my featured image isn’t a zinnia… the flowers I was thinking of aren’t even zinnias! This maybe a geranium… it is very pretty and pink and would make a lovely table decoration – in the absence of zinnias!


Worth buying a chicken!

According to Ambrose Heath and Mrs D.D. Cottington-Taylor, this recipe to use up left overs is so delicious it is almost worth buying a chicken and making bread sauce to go with it in order to have some left over to use up! Isn’t that so often the case? Fried left over mashed potato is so yummy it’s worth making extra mash just so you can have it for breakfast the next day. I don’t like bubble ad squeak, but other people say the same about that!

Potatoes and bread sauce

  • boiled potatoes, sliced
  • bread sauce
  • butter, melted
  • breadcrumbs, browned
  • salt and pepper
  1. lightly butter a shallow fireproof dish and put in the bottom a layer of bread sauce, season
  2. on this put a layer of potato slices, and proceed alternately until the dish is full, seasoning with discretion as you go
  3. finish with a layer of potato, sprinkle on plenty of browned breadcrumbs, and a little melted butter
  4. bake for half an hour in a slow oven

I’ve mentioned before that bread sauce isn’t something we as a family ever had with roast birds, but it is as you might imagine, a milk sauce thickened with bread; traditionally the milk was simmered with an onion stuck with cloves, and spices such as black pepper, nutmeg, or mace, and a bayleaf, and then cubes of bread were stirred in until they broke up to make the sauce…

Christmas in spring time?

A little while ago I mentioned that we are going to cook a Christmas meal for our friends from other countries (Italy, Spain, Hungary, Greece) who were home with their families at the actual time of Christmas, and so missed out on a typical and traditional British lunch!

I also mentioned that one very traditional thing missing off my family’s menu is bread sauce; as children we had all the usual things, but never, ever bread sauce, so I have no family recipe for it… I posted a recipe, but here is another one:

  • 1 teacup breadcrumbs
  • ½ pint milk
  • ½ oz butter
  • 1 small peeled onion
  • 2 cloves if liked
  • seasoning
  1. put all the ingredients in a saucepan to infuse in a warm place for about ½ hour
  2. heat gently until thick
  3. remove cloves an onion and beat until smooth
  4. serve with roast bird

One thing which was always on our Christmas table, but served with pudding and mincepies was rum butter… I don’t remember having fresh cream as a child, so maybe this was served instead, or maybe we just all liked it because of the rum!

  • 4 oz butter
  • 6 oz demerara sugar
  • squeeze of lemon juice or grated nutmeg (I guess you could have both!)
  • 1 -2 wine glasses of rum
  1. cream the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy
  2. gradually (very gradually) beat in the lemon juice if used and the rum – if it begins to split add a little icing sugar

We preferred it kept out of the fridge so although it was stiff it was not hard – there is a recipe for a similar thing called hard sauce, using icing sugar and brandy as opposed to demerara and rum and it is supposed to be put in the fridge so it does go hard.

Bread sauce

We have a lovely set of friends who come from other countries, and they are always interested in our English customs and ways, and also our food! We have shared a traditional Sunday roast, and weekday dishes such as steak and kidney pie and cottage pie – two pies, but very different! They were back with their families over Christmas, so missed the traditional turkey and all the trimmings and the pud and the mincepies…

I had a sudden inspiration as I was talking to them today, after the Easter holidays, later on in April, perhaps we could have a pretend Christmas diner?! They seemed very excited at the idea!

I’m sure every family has its own traditions, and special things they eat… but one of the things we don’t eat, and never have and which I had never heard of until I was an adult is bread sauce. It really doesn’t appeal to me, and on the odd occasion when i have tasted it, it just seems like wallpaper paste – not that I’ve ever eaten wallpaper paste… Perhaps if I made it myself it would be nice… hmmm…

Here is an old recipe my mum had cut from a paper… she never made it, so I don’t know why she kept it!

  • 1 small onion, peeled
  • 1 clove
  • ½ pint milk
  •  2 oz fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 1 oz butter
  • salt and pepper
  1. stud the onion with the clove and simmer in the milk for 10-15 mins
  2. remove onion and pour milk over thee breadcrumbs and leave to soak for ½ hour
  3. reheat stirring in the butter
  4. season to taste
  5. serve hot with roast bird

I will post a report of my success or otherwise, sometime in April when we have an unseasonal Christmas dinner

I bought the turkey

We were dithering over whether to have goose, a large chicken or a turkey, and I solved the dilemma by buying a turkey. I will need to recheck the oven temperature, but I’m pretty confident about cooking it as we’ve done it so often before. However, I did just think I might consult the useful little National Mark Calendar of Cooking to see what Ambrose Heath and Mrs D.D.Cottington taylor suggested eighty years ago:

Roast Turkey and its Accompaniments

Nothing excels a first-quality English turkey and whilst the large ones may prove more economical – as the cost per pound is generally lower – birds weighing 12-16 pounds are mos popular. The time to allow for cooking should be 15 minutes to the pound and fifteen minutes over.
It is entirely a matter of personal taste whether the bird is stuffed or not. The majority of people prefer it with a farce od some kind. Either veal or chestnut is most usual.

  • 1 turkey

Bread sauce:

  • 1 large onion
  • 3-4 cloves
  • a few peppercorns
  • 3 oz bread
  • ¼ pint milk
  • a little salt
  • ½ oz butter

Chestnut stuffing:

  •  2 lbs chestnuts, shelled, cooked in water or milk, rubbed through a sieve or mashed with a potato masher
  • ¼ lb butter
  • 6 oz breadcrumbs
  • 1 lb sausages
  • ½ tsp parsley
  • pepper and salt
  • stock

Veal stuffing:

  • 4 oz breadcrumbs
  • 2 oz finely chopped suet
  • 1 beaten egg
  • ½ tsp chopped carrot
  • 1 tsp chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp thyme and marjoram
  • tarragon
  • lemon zest
  • salt and pepper

Other accompaniments: – baked or grilled chipolata sausages, small bacon rolls, celery sauce, chestnut sauce and cranberry sauce

  1. chestnut stuffing is very easy to make… blend all the ingredients and stuff the breast of the bird with this mixture
  2. veal stuffing is made by blending the ingredients, adding chopped ham if liked, or a little sausage meat
  3. many people like to have a portion of the stuffing inside the bird, and the remainder made into forcemeat balls and baked in the tin
  4. cranberry sauce – 1½lbs cranberries,½ oz butter, and a little sugar – cook the cranberries until tender, rub through a sieve, return to the pan and add sugar and butter

Strangely, there is no recipe for bread sauce – only the ingredients; we never had bread sauce at home, and I don’t actually like it, but, but here is a recipe I found:

Simmer the milk, butter, chopped onion, cloves, peppercorns in a pan for 20 mins. Strain and return the liquid to the pan; add the bread crumbed and simmer for 3-4 mins. Stir in the butter and season; it can be made up to 3 days in advance and reheated.

Bread sauce

Listening to Desert Island Discs this morning, the ‘castaway’ was the comedienne, Miranda Hart and she was talking about her family Christmas. her family likes a really traditional Christmas which follows the same pattern from year to year, including the Christmas menu and who does what to help prepare it. She said one of her jobs was making bread sauce. Now I always thought my family had a traditional Christmas, but we’ve never ever had bread sauce, it just does not feature on what we’ve ever eaten on Christmas day.

Now as far as I can tell, bread sauce is made with old white bread with the crusts removed, which is seeped in milk with a raw onion, and then the whole thing is eventually boiled up to properly take on the flavours of the added seasoning (salt, pepper and nutmeg I believe) then the onion is removed (or maybe not) the whole thing whizzed up to make a smooth sauce which is served with the festive meat, chicken or turkey, or whatever. I have to say, that although many people rave about it and say it is the must-have item on Christmas Day, it does not appeal to me at all… although never having tried it I can’t honestly say.

A little while ago there was a crossword clue about a Spanish sauce made of bread and olive oil, which I had heard of but had to look up. Romesco sauce is made from bread and olive oil but a lot of other ingredients too including tomatoes, peppers, almonds and garlic; I’m not sure the texture appeals, but who knows…

So… bread sauce…. I think on the whole, no thanks!!


Trifle with tradition at your peril

I came across a hilarious article about Christmas by Allison Pearson in the paper the other day…. here are just a couple of paragraphs that had me laughing out loud!

Each family has its own Christmas traditions. For instance, every year Himself insists on making bread sauce from scratch. He steeps, he stirs, he crumbs, he cloves. After hours of infinite pains, the bread sauce always looks like wallpaper paste. For all I know, it tastes like wallpaper paste, but we will never find out. You see, the time-honoured fate of Himself’s bread sauce is that it gets forgotten or lost under a pile of cracker debris or an oven glove discarded at the height of the parsnip frenzy. Not Eating the Bread Sauce is a key component of our Christmas, a tradition more honoured in the breach than in the observance, but much loved none the less.

Why doesn’t Himself stop making the bread sauce if no one eats it, a rational Dawkins type might ask. Why do we keep stuffing stockings full of silly gifts when the children are taller than us? Why does a grandmother I know fake Santa footprints in icing sugar and make reindeer poo out of coconut and chocolate? Why did one colleague Skype from Kenya two years ago to join in her family’s hotly contested game of Articulate, complete with engraved cup for the winner? Because it’s traditional, isn’t it? Traditions are both honourable and illogical.

… and here is what she says about  Brussels sprouts:

According to a poll for BBC Good Food Magazine, almost four in 10 Britons admitted that they only ate turkey because it was traditional, while 14 per cent said they would not dare change it “for fear of upsetting family members”. This Christmas, 62 per cent of us will enjoy a traditional turkey dinner, although Christmas pudding is endangered, with only 54 per cent saying they like the rich 14th-century dessert.

Like? What on earth has liking anything got to do with Christmas? It’s traditional, you wimpy wets! Thank goodness Brussels sprouts are just about holding their own, with 64 per cent saying the evil green bullets will feature on their festive table. This season, Waitrose made a well-meaning but entirely wrong-headed decision to sell a sweeter, “child-friendly” variety.

Brussels sprouts should not be friendly to either child or adult. That is their traditional function. Like Islamic fundamentalists, sprouts are a common enemy around which the British people can rally. As for the decision by millions of us to keep setting fire to a claggy, artery-clogging, indigestion-inducing steamed fruit pudding… well, the heart has its raisins.

To read what else Allison has to say here is the rest of the article: