A healthy option

We’re well into January and all excuse for excess has passed… without necessarily trying to lose weight (although that is definitely on the agenda!) it seems right to start lightening meals and eating less in general and choosing what are now called ‘healthy options.’

How about this light salad, yes it does have bread, but it sounds fresh, tasty and satisfying –

Acquasala salad

  • stale bread cut in chunks
  • chopped tomatoes
  • cubed cucumber (skin taken off or left on, whatever you prefer)
  • sliced red onion
  • thinly sliced spring onions (sliced on the slant looks attractive)
  • olive oil (whatever is your favourite – i know this is an Italian recipe but I do love Greek olive oil!)
  • fresh herbs such as basil or oregano, chopped
  • any roast vegetables that you have – such as peppers, courgettes, aubergines etc
  1. soak the bread in a little water – don’t let it get sopping wet, then press out the excess water and break it up
  2. mix the vegetables – but gently, they don’t want to be mashed, they want to be themselves (don’t we all?!)
  3. add pepper and only the smallest amount of salt (or leave the salt till later) turn it over with the bread then add olive oil and the herbs
  4. leave it to do its own thing for a couple of hours in a cool but not chilled place
  5. it isn’t traditional but I guess you could add a few cubes of sharp cheese (an Italian equivalent of feta maybe?) and a few olives


High tea for national afternoon tea week finale

When I posted about treacle scones a week ago today, I had no idea it was national-afternoon-tea-eve; I only discovered it the day after, and through the week I’ve been sharing my thoughts on what must be a national institution, afternoon tea.

But wait, what about high tea? Is that the same but bigger? or is a whole different thing served at the end of the afternoon and on the cusp of the evening, or even early evening? I’ve read various explanations of high tea, and afternoon tea, and the difference and origins… some suggest it’s all about class – that afternoon tea was for upper class ladies to socialise in each other’s homes with elegant refreshments, that high tea was for the workers who came home very hungry and had a meal called ‘high’ because it was eaten at a table and ‘tea’ because that was what was drunk… Well, I accept the afternoon tea explanation, but not the high tea one; people coming home from a hard day’s work would have a meal and they would drink tea with it, and they might call it dinner, or tea, but it wasn’t the same as high tea.

I looked for a dictionary definition:

a light meal eaten in the late afternoon or early evening that usually includes cooked food, cakes, and tea to drink

a meal eaten in the late afternoon or early evening, typically consisting of a cooked dish, bread and butter, and tea

Well… that being so, to finish off national afternoon tea week, let’s have high tea… I am going back to when I was young and very occasionally we would go to visit friends and family, or have them visit us, and we would have a salad, sandwiches, cakes, scones and tea – well, us children had fruit squash! Now I have to explain, that in those days, salad was much plainer and less fancy than it is now. At home, everything came from the garden, so all the vegetables were as fresh as could be and served in a very simple way; I guess people (maybe even me) would be very sneering of what was on offer then, compared to our slaws and beans and fruit mixed in and mayonnaise and pasta and rice…

A very traditional salad would include

  • lettuce, usually round, occasionally cos
  • watercress, broken into sprigs
  • mustard and cress/cress
  • tomatoes, whole or quartered
  • radishes, whole to be dipped in salt
  • spring onions, topped and tailed, sometimes halved lenghtways if they were very big
  • cucumber, in slices
  • celery, in sticks served in a jug
  • beetroot, boiled, sliced and served in malt vinegar
  • sliced Spanish onions (we never had this at home)
  • dried fruit such as raisins or sultanas (we also never had this at home)
  • pickles – onions, walnuts, piccalilli

All these items would be served separately, except sometimes the whole tomatoes were put in the bowl of lettuce – which would be a nice bowl, probably glass. As well as the usual serving spoons and salad servers (large spoon and fork) there would pickle forks – with long handles to reach to the bottom of jars, and with a prong at the end of the tine to spear elusive onions. Salad cream would be on the table as well as salt and pepper, and mustard for cold meat – usually ham or beef, sometimes tongue. We never had corned beef at home because having been through the war and sometimes eaten bully beef for months on end, sometimes in hot countries where he had to pour it out of the tin as it had melted, Dad couldn’t abide it. he didn’t like spam type products, so we never had those either. Sometimes we had hard-boiled eggs, or grated cheese, and to go with it all was bread and butter.

Sometimes, we might have jelly or trifle (left over sponge cake, jelly and custard) cold sponge and custard, tinned fruit and evaporated milk or banana custard to finish, but more usually it was a delicious home-made cake!

This all sounds very retro… but will such salads ever be back in fashion? I doubt it!

Links to my afternoon tea stories:







… and indeas about the origins of high tea:



… and some lovely ideas!


… and a link to my e-books and my recently published paperback, Radwinter:



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!

School dinner salad

I had school dinners when I was at secondary school, and on the whole I thought they were very good – obviously not as good as home-cooked dinner of course! We had a variety of different dishes throughout the week, and a variety of puddings and desserts to follow. I guess we did have a lot of carbs, but we were much more active, we cycled everywhere, we had games and dance several times a week, and although there were radiators, in the winter I guess the classrooms were quite chilly – no double glazing!

We did have salads from time to time, especially in the summer – a bowl of lettuce leaves, a bowl of sliced tomatoes, a bowl of sliced cucumber… have I missed anything? Oh yes, the salad cream. With that we would have sliced ham or beef or grated cheese… and did we have hard-boiled eggs? I think we did.

This was in Cambridge… a hundred or more miles away in Surrey, a lovely lady who later became my mother-in-law was a school dinner cook, and I have inherited her school dinner cook book… and lots of the things she cooked and prepared sound much more interesting… including the salads.

The salad vegetables were divided into two groups, and a salad would be made from 11 parts group A to 8 parts group B:

Group A

  • raw cabbage, prepared and shredded finely
  • raw sprouts, prepared and shredded finely
  • raw cauliflower
  • watercress – dead leaves and coarse stalks removed, washed well in salt water, shaken/strained and broken into sprigs
  • mustard and cress – stalk ends cut off, washed thoroughly
  • parsley – stalks removed, washed well in salt water, dried thoroughly, broken into sprigs or chopped finely
  • mint – discard stalks, wash leaves thoroughly, leave whole or chop
  • lettuce – outer leaves removed, washed well in salt water, drained thoroughly, torn into sheds (DO NOT CUT)

Group B

  • radishes
  • cucumber
  • tomatoes
  • apples
  • celery
  • carrot – raw or cooked
  • swede – raw or cooked
  • beetroot – raw or cooked
  • dates
  • raisins
  • peas – cooked
  • beans – cooked

It’s interesting that it mentions so firmly that lettuce should be torn not cut – it is all a myth that cutting damages or spoils lettuce… have a look here:


I can’t remember us having winter salads, but in mother-in-law’s school cookery book there is a list of vegetables for three different versions, which I wouldn’t mind. We tend to think of eating raw vegetables as a modern thing, but here we are, sixty years ago children were having them for school lunch!

Winter salad A

  • white cabbage (or sprouts or red cabbage)
  • carrots (or beetroot or tomato)
  • celery (or cauliflower)
  • onion
  • mustard and cress/watercress
  • sugar and vinegar

Winter salad B

  • white cabbage (or sprouts or red cabbage)
  • carrots (or beetroot or tomato)
  • red apples
  • dates
  • onion
  • mustard and cress/watercress
  • sugar and vinegar

Winter salad C

  • white cabbage (or sprouts or red cabbage)
  • carrots (or beetroot or tomato)
  • raisins, sultanas or dates
  • apples
  • lemon juice
  • celery (or cauliflower)
  • onion
  • mustard and cress/watercress
  • sugar and vinegar

… and lastly, here is a recipe for salad dressing:

Salad dressing

  • margarine
  • flour
  • water
  • dried milk
  • vinegar
  • mustard powder
  • sugar
  • salt and pepper
  • yellow food colouring
  1. make a white sauce with the first four ingredients
  2. boil the vinegar and sugar together
  3. make the mustard
  4. add all the ingredients together
  5. add the food colouring to your desired shade


Six salads

I love salad, but I usually eat it on my own as my husband really doesn’t! I generally make a mixture of whatever ingredients I have adding more or less as I fancy, adding nuts, seeds, maybe chopped fruit, maybe anything at all which happens to be in the fridge, including left over cooked vegetables.

It is nice, however, sometimes to actually plan a salad, and the national mark, Calendar of Cooking, published in the early 1930’s, offers some eighty year-old recipes for June salads:

Six salads

  1. celery leaf – well washed, dried and with a little made mustard added to the dressing
  2. lettuce and green peas – cook and cool the peas, dress them with French dressing or mayonnaise diluted with cream, before arranging with the lettuce
  3. tomato and celery – peel the tomatoes, de-seed, cut into strips, mix with thin slices of celery, sprinkle with finely chopped onion, add mustard to the dressing
  4. cheese – lettuce and tomato dresses, with grated cheese on top
  5. rice (cooked), diced ham and chopped tomatoes – mix in  any proportions you like as long as rice predominates, add finely chopped onion and add mustard to the dressing
  6. cauliflower – cold cooked florets (I would use raw) finely chopped onion and parsley, add mustard to dressing

Dress all of them with a French dressing, and it’s suggested that the rice salad and the cauliflower salad could be served as hors d’œvres.

The best salad I have ever ever ever eaten!

Our Dutch friends think we are very odd and rather funny (in the nicest fondest way) because we love to visit what to them is a perfectly ordinary supermarket – Jumbo! It’s not just that it has lots of interesting and delicious looking Dutch foods – everyday items and speciality, it’s just so interesting to see a completely normal supermarket in another country.

There is a big new store, Jumbo Foodmarkt Veghel,  opened in what had been an old factory complex – a milling operation I think. We went there last year, and this year we went again… We had had a busy morning being good tourists, and by the time we got to the shop it was lunch time! I’m not sure if the restaurant was part of Jumbo – I’m pretty sure it was, but it was in its own space, opposite a beer shop with literally hundreds, if not thousands of different sorts of beer, mostly from the Netherlands, but also from Belgium and other European countries. There was also a big speciality food market, which would have been really interesting to go round, but we were a little pressed for time.

We settled ourselves at a table, our order was taken, our friends wanted a tuna salad sandwich, my husband a burger, and I asked for salad – meat, fish or vegetarian, I was asked. I decided on the veggie option… The tuna salad sandwiches arrived – the most generous size I have ever seen, and the burger, which was like a mini home-made burger, very chunky but lunchtime sized with loads of chips – definitely not frozen but fresh-cut and cooked by the looks of it… and then my salad…

The photo really doesn’t do it justice… every mouthful was different and delicious.. it was so wonderful that I actually made a list of ingredients, as far as I could tell, so I could try to replicate it at home… The man who had taken our orders had also cooked and prepared the meals, and when he came over, I think he was a bit surprised (but also delighted!) by my enthusiasm! I showed him my list and I think I had found everything – except the balsamic vinegar!

here is what I think was in the salad:

  • mixed baby leaves dressed in the lightest of oil/balsamic dressing
  • lightly roasted nuts including almonds, walnuts, cashews
  • seeds including sesame and sunflower (maybe some pumpkin)
  • baby pickled onions and teeny-weeny-tiny pickled gherkins
  • pickled slices of carrot (still crunchy and in a very light pickle)
  • cucumber
  • baby tomatoes preserved in olive oil and herbs
  • tomatoes
  • soft goats’ cheese masked in a dressing of tomatoes, fig, red peppers and paprika (the peppers may have been preserved in olive oil too, or roasted, very soft, savoury dressing)
  • decorated with a creamy dressing, which I think was slightly herby, maybe garlicky
  • what I think may have been seaweed… but not completely sure on that, it did taste lovely though and was bright green!

I know it sounds ridiculous maybe to be so enamoured by a salad – a collection of things just put together (the man said he had just taken whatever he fancied out of the bowls of ingredients and made the salad specially for me) – but honestly, it was just yummy!

Variation on the goat’s cheese salad

I recently made a really delicious salad using left-overs… a small lettuce, goat’s cheese. a few other bits and pieces and seaweed from my seaweed collection…

In that random way that things happen, today I found I had a small lettuce and some goat’s cheese… I altered the recipe slightly:

Chilli seaweed goat’s cheese salad

  • small lettuce, for example baby gem
  • half a soft goat’s cheese round, cut into small pieces, skin removed (eat it on a cracker while you’re making the salad)
  • shavings of celery – including leaves
  • ransome leaves (wild garlic)
  • cashew nuts
  • laver seaweed
  • olive oil
  • pomegranate syrup
  • sea salt
  • lots of grinds of pepper (I put whole spices such as coriander seeds, fenugreek etc in the grinder with the pepper corns for a nice taste)
  • dash of chilli sauce but not too hot (I use Marie Sharp’s Green Habanero, it’s made with nopal – prickly pear cactus – green habanero, garlic and lime)
  1. cut/tear the lettuce and ransome leaves into bite-sizes and put into a large bowl
  2. add the celery, cheese, nuts, laver, salt and pepper and mix well so the seasoning runs throughout the leaves
  3. add the olive oil, syrup and chilli and gently turn over to coat everything

This salad may go a little limp if it’s not eaten straight away but it still tastes good, in fact the flavours meld in together! I even ate some the next day!