A picnic with the National Mark

I was writing somewhere else about picnics, and I suppose I had picnics in my min when I was looking at my little National Mark Calendar of Cooking book from 1936. Maybe I wouldn’t pack a picnic for us with dishes from the little recipe book, but supposing I was writing about a family in the 1930’s who were going on a picnic, what might they take with them?

Mother no doubt would prepare it all, and I can imagine it in a traditional whisker basket or hamper, lined with a blue and white checked cloth. Father would find the right spot to lay out the rugs and cloth, and he would light the Primus stove to make tea.

Mother might have made sandwiches with the National Mark recipe for brown bread (wholemeal flour, yeast, butter, sugar, salt and tepid water) and maybe they would have beef in them. Collared beef (‘very delicious served cold‘) is beef simmered for a long time with onions, herbs (parsley, thyme, sage, marjoram)and spices (mace, cloves, bayleaf, allspice, pepper, celery seeds) – that would be delicious indeed in sandwiches! There were no plastic pots and tubs then, so I guess the salad was either brought as separate ingredients and prepared  sitting on the picnic rug, or maybe prepared and put into a bowl and wrapped in grease-proof paper. There is a lovely selection of salads in the June chapter:

  • celery leaf
  • lettuce and green peas
  • tomato and celery
  • cheese
  • rice, ham and tomato
  • cauliflower

Beef mayonnaise is another option instead of one of the salads above; cubes of beef, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, hard-boiled eggs and home-made mayonnaise (made with olive oil – it’s not just a recent fashion, pre-war cooks used it too!) There are lots of lovely desserts in this little book, desserts which would be practical to bring on a picnic. A sort of clafoutis made with plums, blackcurrant and almond paste tart, strawberry flan, gooseberry tart – and to go with the cup of tea father has made, fruit and nut cake or raisin brown bread. Father himself might prefer the cider cup!

My featured image, by the way is of my own  family on a picnic – a long time after the war I have to say!

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!

Quite unusual and very good indeed

My favourite little 1936 cookery book, the National Mark Calendar of Cooking, is very enthusiastic about their recipe for blackcurrant and almond paste tart… which does indeed sound very delicious!

Here is the whole recipe as it appears… it’s very simple!! I have rearranged the instructions so the almond paste recipe comes first

Blackcurrant and almond paste tart

  • 1 lb blackcurrants (or a tin of blackcurrants, the syrup thickened)
  • arrowroot
  • sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 6 oz castor sugar
  • lemon juice
  • ½ lb ground almonds
  • 6 oz icing sugar
  • vanilla or ratafia essence

This is unusual and very good indeed! Eat it cold, with some kind of plain cake or biscuit: sponge fingers would be excellent. This sweet can be made equally well with tinned black currants. The syrup from the tin should be thickened.

To make the almond paste, sieve the castor sugar with an equal quantity of icing sugar and mix in a basin with the ground almonds and a dessertspoonful of lemon juice. Flavour with a little vanilla or ratafia essence, and knead the mixture well with hand until it is a smooth paste, adding beaten egg to moisten it as you want. Then roll out and proceed as follows. (If you want a rich golden-coloured paste, use the yolk of egg only. But the whole egg, or even the white only may be used, of preferred.

Make a rather deep flan case with the almond paste, and fill this with the blackcurrants which you have stewed in sugar and a little water to make a compôte. Blend the syrup with a little arrowroot, and bake the flan for a few minutes only.



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…


Carrot pudding

It’s been an exciting couple of days… leading up to the general election, voting, then turning on the TV in the evening to watch the results come in! I lasted until about 3:20, I saw Jeremy Corbyn reelected for Islington North, heard his speech, then tottered off to bed… I think there are interesting times ahead…

however, I’m not going to get political here, I am going to think about Carrot Pudding, even though this is a September recipe in my National Mark Calendar of Cooking, it seems more summery than autumny. I have just received some lovely carrots which I want to use for something different… like Carrot Pudding. Carrot cake is my favourite, but I have rather given up hoping to find a perfect recipe, or a perfect cake I can buy – usually too dry or too soggy, too cinnamony, too sweet, too dense, not enough/too much frosting, icing/buttercream instead of frosting…

Back to Carrot Pudding… this sounds rather nice:

Carrot Pudding

  • ½ lb carrots, washed, scrubbed, light boiled until tender, rubbed through a seine (or blitzed in a processor)
  • 2 eggs, separated, whites whisked until stiff
  • 8 oz butter
  • 4 oz castor sugar (although I might like to try with brown of some sort)
  • ½ lb fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon (I don’t like cinnamon, so I might use nutmeg, allspice or mixed spice)
  1. cream butter and sugar
  2. add egg yolks and beat well
  3. mix in carrots, breadcrumbs and spice
  4. carefully fold in whisked egg whites
  5. pour into a buttered mould and steam for 2½ hours
  6. serve with lemon sauce

Lemon sauce

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 large lemon, skin pared off thinly and reserved, juiced
  • 1 oz butter
  • ¼ pint water
  • 1-2 oz sugar
  1. boil the lemon peel for five minutes
  2. add the sugar to your taste (or as Ambrose Heath the writer says, ‘according to your idea of sweetness‘)
  3. pour into a double boiler or bain marie and add the butter, lemon juice and beaten eggs and stir very carefully until it thickens
  4. strain if necessary and serve

The sauce sounds to me like the lemony part of a lemon meringue pie – I guess it’s up to you how thick you make the sauce!