Military Tarts

Tart 1

Prince George, 2nd Duke of Cambridge (1819-1904), Commander in Chief British Army 1856 to 1895.

He is the person my first tart is named for. All those of you expecting ladies of a certain ancient profession waiting for business on street corners in garrison towns…shame on you.

Back to tarts.

When I was a little girl this was standard picnic fare, but I haven’t eaten or made it in years, but an article on the above gentleman in “Soldiers of the Queen” ( Journal of the Victorian Military Society  http://www.victorianmilitarysociety.org.uk/ ), brought it back to me.

There is no written recipe, it is probably one of those many dishes handed down to us by my Great Granny Pittock. I’ve no idea where she got them from, but I suspect Eliza Acton’s “Modern Cookery for Private Families”. There was a fashion in Victorian times for naming dishes and treats after the famous names of the time. One day, when I’m feeling brave and in need of more calories than are good for me, I will attempt Duke of Connaught Pudding.

Back to Duke of Cambridge Tart. This is a very simple recipe and doesn’t sound promising, but it is very good and delicious.

Line a tart/flan tin with short crust pastry.

Take 130 grams of self raising flour, 130 grams of castor sugar, 130 grams of cooking spread and two large eggs and beat them together. This is the quick easy all in one method, but you can do it the old fashioned way if you don’t have an mixer.

To this add about 130 grams of currants (approx. I tend to add them until I think it looks right) and the grated zest of one large (or two small) lemons.

Put the sponge mix into the pastry case and bake at 180 C for about 30 mins or until the cake part is well risen and a toothpick comes out clean.

Juice your zested lemon and using 150 grams of icing sugar and use it to make a thin glace icing. When the tart is cooled, but still just a little warm pour the lemon icing over the top and leave to set.

Eat! With or without custard or cream, it is delicious just on its own with a cup of tea.

Tart 2.

Emboldened by the successful remembrance of how to make the above, I wondered about variations.

I did just the same as before, but this time I added 140 grams of sultanas, 150 grams of chopped walnuts and the grated zest of an orange, keeping back half a teaspoonful for the icing.

I baked it just the sane way and made the icing the same only just orange juice and the reserved zest (orange juice doesn’t have the same amount of flavour as lemon).

I have to say, it was a bit of a triumph, it must have been because the military historian and number one son seemed to have no trouble at all in making it disappear.

What I need now is a name for it. I want something military and Victorian, but I don’t want any of the obvious names. So, I am open to suggestions. Please message me your ideas and the reasons why.

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Apple, Apple, Double Bubble.

It is fast approaching THAT time of year. The time when you open the front door to find one of your neighbours standing there festooned with bulging carrier bags and a hopeful expression on their face.

“Would you like a few apples?” they ask, a slight note of desperation in their voice.

What they mean, of course is “Please, please take some. The freezer is full, the kids are refusing to come home if I serve one more apple dessert and even the dog has started hiding them under the sofa.”

If you weaken, despite the fact that the end of your own garden looks like an exploded cider press, and agree to take “a few”, they will dropped a couple of bags and run before you can change your mind.

You are now faced with dozens and dozens of apples of an unknown variety in a multitude of conditions, from nice to oozy and every stage between the two.

What to do, especially as your own freezer is already full and you are beginning to hear the sounds of rebellion from your own rank and file.

The answer is chutney and jelly, double bubble from the same set of apples.

First peel your apples, discarding black bits, unidentifiable bits and anything which might be protein.. SAVE THE PEEL. Chuck it in a zip bag or a covered box, you will need it for the jelly.

Core the apples, see previous about protein bits, and save the cores with the peel.

Chop up the fruit and some onions, I can’t say how much because it depends on the number of  apples you were fooled into taking, but about 8 oz of onion to 2lbs of apples is about right.

Put them in a preserving pan with a bag of dark brown sugar and enough cider vinegar to cover. Add some sultanas or some raisin or even some finely chopped prunes. Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of hours until all is thick and a spoon dragged across the bottom of the pan leaves a clean line. You will need to check and stirred regularly to stop it burning. Put into hot sterilised jars and cover in the usual way. Leave for a month or so before eating. Don’t be tempted to try it earlier, it won’t be nice.

You can spice up the mix anyway you like. My son-in-law would probably add a fistful of chillies, maybe two fists full, but those of us who like our mouths unblistered might add paprika or coriander or cloves. I like to put mustard seeds in, they add crunch and spice without getting over excited.

This chutney is perfect with cheese, delicious with ham and a must for a pork pie.

Now for the jelly.

Take all the peel and the cores and put them in a big pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer until everything has fallen apart and the whole thing looks disgusting.

Trust me.

Take off the heat and put the whole lot into a jelly bag to drip over night. Please put a bowl under the jelly bag to catch the result, I refuse to accept any responsibility for the omission of this.

No jelly bag? A one leg of a pair of tights does an excellent job.

The next day, discard the remaining contents of the jelly bag (tights leg) in the compost heap and tip all the collected juice into a jug and measure it, it may take a couple of goes to measure it all. Once you know how much liquid you have, pour it into a saucepan and add sugar at the ratio of 1lb of sugar to 1 pint of juice. You may have to do some maths, but it isn’t an absolute, so don’t worry too much, just try and be somewhere near.

Heat the mix slowly until the sugar is dissolved and then bring to a rolling boil and boil until you reach jam setting point. To skim off any scum, because underneath there will be a beautiful clear, amber coloured syrup which will set to a glorious soft jelly.

You can just put it in jars as you would any jam or jelly, it is delicious with ham or on crumpets or pancakes, but you can also flavour it by adding things to the jars as you pouring in the hot syrup. Herbs like mint, sage or thyme work well, as does strips of lemon peel or a couple of chillies you have slit open to let the fire out.

Two treats for the dark cold days to come from the same unpromising bags.

 

Ashkenazi or Sephardi?

I’ve had an interesting week and as you have probably guessed from above, it has involved Jewish people. And, if your mind works a bit like mine, your first thought was FOOD! And how very right you would be.

This week I had my very first visit to a synagogue. The military historian to whom I am wed was giving one of his talks to a Jewish retired group and I went with him to do the navigating. Neither of us realised it would be in a hall at the side of the synagogue, don’t ask me why it never crossed our minds, we were having a dumb moment.

Anyway, when we arrive, himself is required to wear a skull cap, which fortunately didn’t fall off during the time we were there and I got a conducted tour of the synagogue itself. It was beautiful and fascinating and I found everything really, really interesting. The stained glass was lovely, very modern, but very well done and richly coloured. The lower set represented each of the Jewish festivals, Passover, Rosh Hannah etc and the upper set were The Twelve Tribes of Israel.

The lovely man who was my guide showed me were The Torah is kept and told me very proudly that theirs is over 300 years old and was written by a scribes of exceptional skill. he also took me through a part of a service, showing me the Hebrew side of the prayer book and the English side. I thought it was a very good job I hadn’t been born Jewish, I could barely mange an F- in French, I would have been a total disaster with not only a different tongue, but a different alphabet would have been something which made my 11% in the French mock “O” level look like a triumph.

As you may have guessed, my ability to learn, speak or understand a foreign language is pitiable, except for culinary French…where do you think I managed to pick up the marks to achieve my 11%.

Back to food.

After Himself had given his talk ( “Women in the Army in World War One”), there were question and tea and cake. And what cake, my dear ones, absolutely delicious homemade, kosher ones. There was a chocolate sponge which looked very boring, just brown sponge, but which was in fact a diet busting, several slices, fabulous chocolatey delight. And the biscuits ( cookies, my American buddies), were yummy.

I got talking to the ladies who had conjured up these goodies, none of which were under 75 and several of whom were over 90, and they told me they all got their recipes from Florence Greenburg’s Jewish Cooking. One of them said her copy was so old and so well used it was only held together by sellotape and chicken fat. Well  of course I wanted a copy of this book, but a quick trawl through various book sellers showed it was out of print and what second hand ones I could find where either affordable, but in vile condition or in excellent condition, but so expensive it made my eyes water.

Then the military historian reminded me I do have a copy of “The Book of Jewish Food” by Claudia Roden. In fact, he said, you have a hard back first edition in a dust wrapper. And, he said, you have never opened it despite the fact I bought it for you in 1997.

I obviously treated all this with the contempt it deserved and went on a book hunt the second we got home. This might sound a bit exaggerated, but you haven’t seen the inside of Allen Towers and the way the walls are held up by over stuffed bookcases. Remarkably, I found the book almost immediately and what treasures I have found inside.

The book is divided into the two culinary traditions, The Ashkenazi World and The Sephardi World, the first is the food of the cold north, heavy on potatoes, cream and eggs, while the second is the food of the warm south, fragrant with citrus, rose water and pistachios. Both a totally delicious and I can’t hardly decide what to cook first.

Hardly, but not impossible. I am going to start with an apple cake and some savoury pancakes stuffed with minced beef. Then I am going to try Pipiruchkas Reyenadas de Keso (Peppers stuffed with cheese), Kubba Halab (Meat-Filled Rice Croquettes) and a Chocolate and Almond cake which has a method I have never seen before.

Later I want to try making some of the bread recipes, I make all my own bread using the lovely lazy no-knead method, so how well I will do with going back to the old manual method I amd my arthritic wrists I do not know, but I do love a bagel, especially with London cure smoked salmon and cream cheese.

So thank you to the ladies and gentleman of the synagogue, thank you for showing me your beautiful temple and thank you for sending me off on a new culinary adventure.

We are What We Eat.

I have just sent my occult detective short story off to the editor and his first comment was on the part food plays in it. Lovely John Linwood Grant made the same comment about my other short stories in an interview I did with him recently, only he mentioned the other F word…fertility, more of that at a later date.

http://greydogtales.com/blog/solemn-curfew-folklore-horror-cheese/

It got me thinking, because food does play an important part in my stories. I think what a character cooks and eats is important to understanding them and can give you as much insight as what they wear, where they live and what they believe. Chances are if they don’t eat pork, they are from one of the Faiths of the Book which forbid it, or if they don’t eat beef, they maybe Hindu. If they don’t eat meat at all, they maybe vegetarian or vegan, either by conviction or faith again.

Some of us are heathens with the moral values of a vulture and eat almost anything…I’m not judging, I’m just saying, cos I suspect I may have to put my hand up and be counted in this group.

Maybe this is the moment to mention my favourite food apart from bread and butter, because I don’t get to eat it very often and if you just happen to have a tin which needs a home, I would like you to consider me first.

Yes, I love caviar. I don’t need your blinis or your soured cream or your chopped egg, just give me a spoon.

I digress… back to food in stories and the insight they give to character. For example, if an individual breakfasts on raw chicken gizzards with a side order of hot caramel sauce, the chances are they are either the villain or not playing with a full deck.

I couldn’t find a picture of raw chicken gizzards, so here is one of tentacles. I would most certainly eat this, but not with a side order of hot caramel sauce.

On the other hand, Mrs Lillicrop, my occult detective breakfasts on porridge and kippers and has a fondness for afternoon tea. Already you are getting the picture of middle class respectability and you would be right, apart from a tendency to attack poltergeists with nothing more than a pince-nez and a stern word of reproach.

I sometimes visit a site where young authors ask for advice, often it has to do with what name would be best for their characters and what hair colour to pick etc etc. I think it would be a far better if they first worked out what their creation likes for lunch…see previous about breakfasting…a tuna sandwich with no mayo says more than sea green eyes and dirty blond hair imo. I’ve not suggested any of this to them, because they would probably regard it as grossly frivolous.

As you probably know, or have guessed, I like to cook and I like to cook things I have never cooked before, especially if I can use ingredients I haven’t tried. I also like to read about cooking down the ages, because the evolution of food and cooking technics reflects the evolution of mankind. It is part of our history, all of us, no matter where we come from, how we eat and how we cook it is the result of thousands and thousands of years of experiment and enjoyment. Tastes differ all over the planet, but very few of us eat what we don’t like, although plenty of us eat too much of what we do like, and yes, I’m guilty of this…warm crispy bread and lashing of fresh butter…mmm.

What people don’t like to eat can tell you more, Mrs Lillicrop is off to Scotland in my next (work in progress) story, but she will not be eating haggis. Why? Because I hate it, can’t stand it, its up there with cabbage and beets, my other two top hates. I will now sit back and await the comments of haggis lovers, including no doubt my husband who adores it and has to cook it himself if he wants to eat it. He is lucky I don’t make him do it in a fire pit in the garden. He likes cabbage as well, I sometime wonder why I married him.

However, what those around Mrs Lillicrop do eat on her Scottish adventure and what they don’t eat will provide much to explain them and their thoughts, tastes and motivations.

 

BTW, he doesn’t like lobster either, I have to eat his share for him, it’s so hard, but someone has to do it.

A Pudding c.1850

lemons

I feel the need to share a recipe, I have these moments, it comes from a need to feed people. There’s nothing I like more than a load of folks sitting around my kitchen table tucking in to something warm out of the oven

Now brace yourselves, you are going to look at the list of ingredients and go “yuck!”, but trust me. This recipe has been handed down through five generations of my family, from my 2x Great Gran who was born in 1841, but for all I know it may be older than that.

I’ve had to work out the weight of ingridents, because it came down to me as “a bit of that and a handful of this and a smidgen of that.”. One day someone will tell me just how much a “smidgen” is, I’d love to know.

I did do some research and think I found something very like this in Eliza Acton’s ” Modern Cooking for Private Families” first published in 1845, so it could be that Jessie got it from there.

However it began, this is what has come down the family

500 grams of raw potato. these must be the white floury type, not the waxy salad ones.

(There’s your “yuck” moment. She promised us pudding and now she is talking spuds)

140 grams of unsalted butter

140 grams of castor sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

a pinch of salt

the grated zest of 2 lemons

the juice of one lemon

200 grams of currants

200 grams of sultanas

nutmeg, freshly grated.

Boil the potatoes in unsalted water until they are tender and then mash until they are very, very smooth.

Allow to cool for a few minutes; then beat in the butter, the lemon juice and zest, the sugar and the eggs.

The mixture will be very liquid.

Now fold in the dried fruit.

Pour everything into a well buttered baking dish and cook in a moderate oven for 20-25 minutes. It should be set, but still have a slight wobble in the middle.

The original recipe doesn’t include this, but I like to sprinkle the whole thing with sugar and caramelise it. You can do this under the grill, but I’ve got a culinary blow torch and there is nothing more fun than powering ti up and torching something.

Serve in slices with or without cream. It is at its best warm, but cold is pretty good as well.