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!

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!


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

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

Beef mayonnaise

I’m not sure that beef mayonnaise sounds very enticing for today’s foodies, but maybe it sounded exotic and delicious to cooks in 1935 when the National Mark Calendar of Cooking was written by Ambrose Heath and Dorothy Cottington Taylor. If it was described as beef salad, or beef with mayonnaise it might sound a little more appetising.

The little cookery book was divided up into months with seasonal recipes for each; I  like the sound of a lot of them but August’s don’t appeal quite as much… tomato ice, tomato jelly salad, stuffed cucumber (cooked) and beef mayonnaise… hmmm. The other recipes are more interesting, marrow soup (creamy and herby) fricassée of chicken in a lemon, parsley, butter and nutmeg sauce, plum batter (a little like a clafoutis) raisin brown bread and cider cup… I reserve judgement on stuffed cauliflower.

Beef mayonnaise

  • ½ lb cooked beef (presumably roast)
  • 2 lettuces
  • 1 cucumber sliced
  •  lb tomatoes, chopped, reserving a few slices for decoration
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
  • mayonnaise made from 2 egg yolks, ½ tsp each of salt and pepper, ½ pint olive oil, juice of ½ a lemon or 2 tsp vinegar
  1. arrange a few large lettuce leaves at the bottom and around the sides of a salad bowl,
  2. break up the rest of the lettuce, (reserving the two hearts) and tear into small pieces
  3. put the shredded lettuce, tomato cucumber, beef in a bowl with the mayonnaise and blend
  4. arrange the beef mayonnaise in the bowl with the lettuce leaves
  5. garnish with tomato slices, egg and lettuce hearts