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Apple Snow

This recipe is more usually served in the late summer and autumn months, but I’ve chosen it now because the weather outside today has carpeted the garden with a thick layer of snow.

This is a classic dessert whose provenance stretches back centuries. Although the name ‘Apple Snow’ is the one more usually found in modern recipe books, it can also be found under the name Apple Fluff, Apple Souffle, Apple Puff and this version, Apple Cream Without Cream.

This last was found in a manuscript from the 17th century, held by The Wellcome Library. The manuscript has been attributed to the splendidly named Mrs Deborah Haddock, who sounds as if she should be the twinkly-eyed star of stories set in a small, quaint fishing village.

It is elegant in its simplicity, requiring only apple pulp, an egg-white and a little sugar. It is also, thanks to modern kitchen gadgetry, prepared incredibly swiftly, requiring less than ten minutes to come together before serving, once the initial preparation has been completed.

Apple Cream Without Cream, aka apple Snow, c1675, MS7892, Wellcome Library Collection

Choice of Fruit

This recipe can be made with any apple you have to hand, either keeping a purity of flavour with a single variety, or mixing and matching in a clearing-out-the-fruit-bowl, waste-not-want-not kind of way.

One of the manuscript recipes I read recommended green apples as being the best, but failed to elaborate any identifying characteristics beyond colour. I prefer to use Bramley apples, for the pale insides and sharpness of taste. Other varieties you might like to try include Worcester Pearmains, which have dazzlingly white flesh that tastes faintly of lemon and rough-skinned Russets that have an almost nutty flavour.

Alternatively, you could follow the recommendation in the recipe above and try this with gooseberries.

Apple Snow

This recipe tweaks the original slightly with additions found in other versions. In terms of quantity, it will make a visually impressive amount, but is so light and delicate, a full glass is still only a relatively small amount. It will hold its shape for two hours or so, but can be mounded in more impressive heights if served immediately after preparation.

Serves 4 – 8

5 Bramley apples, or apple of your choice.
juice of 1 lemon
2tbs cream sherry (optional)
4tbs caster sugar
1 large egg-white

  • Peel, core and chop the apples finely. Toss them in the lemon juice as you go, to prevent them from discolouring.
  • Add the apple and lemon juice to a saucepan with the sherry, if using.
  • Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the apples soften and turn to froth.
  • Mash the apples to a pulp, then sieve to remove all lumps. Chill until required.
  • Whisk the egg-white until it will stand in soft peaks. Set aside.
  • Put 250ml chilled apple pulp into a bowl and whisk on High for 2-3 minutes until pale and fluffy.
  • Add the whisked egg-white and continue whisking, adding in the sugar one spoonful at a time.
  • After 2-3 minutes the mixture will have both increased in volume and become dazzlingly white.
  • Taste and whisk in more sugar if needed.
  • Spoon or pipe into glasses and serve with some crisp biscuits on the side.
  • If you have apple pulp spare, you could spoon a little of it into the glasses before adding the apple snow.
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Marmalade

It’s that time of year, when Seville oranges are in the shops and marmalade is the name of the game.

For the competitively-minded, the Marmalade Awards are an annual competition to find the best marmalades across a number of categories. Whatever your forte  –  plain Seville, dark and chunky, boozy – or even if you are a complete novice, there’s an opportunity to enter and get feedback on your jar from those doyennes of home-produce, the Womens Institute.

Each jar is tasted and scored out of twenty. Less-than-perfect specimens are given hand-written feedback on where improvements can be made. High-scoring jars get certificates. It’s great fun.

I’ve entered for a number of years, some more successful than others – and have garnered a range of Gold, Silver and Bronze awards. The recipes here have both won Gold for me over the years and are ideal for the novice marmalade maker as they are small batch recipes, one making four and the other just two x 450g jars.

Both of these recipes were found in handwritten recipe books, one from the middle of the 19th century and the other from the late 17th century.

Dundee Marmalade

1850

This marmalade is simplicity itself: boil the oranges, chop, then simmer with sugar for 30 minutes. I’ve made only one adjustment to the original recipe, which is to change the water the oranges are boiled in, in order to remove the harshness of the oil contained in the skins. If this sounds like too much hassle, then by all means use the same water all the way through – the result will be on the feisty side!

Top Tip: The cooked oranges will freeze excellently, so if you like this recipe, or have limited storage space for jars, cook a large number of fruit and then freeze until required. The recipe can be easily scaled, so you can use just a couple of oranges to make one large jar at a time.

Seville oranges
granulated sugar

  • Put the oranges into a pan with enough water to cover them. They will float to begin with, but gradually become heavier as they absorb moisture.
  • Bring the pan to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer.
  • After 25 minutes, bring a second pan of water to a simmer.
  • Transfer the oranges to the second pan and continue simmering.
  • Discard the first lot of cooking water and scrub the saucepan. The bitter orange oil will have gathered on the sides of the pan. Fill the pan with fresh water and bring to a simmer.
  • Repeat the above until the oranges have been simmered for 2 hours – 4 changes of water.
  • Lift out the oranges and set aside to drain and cool.
  • When cooled enough to handle, cut the oranges in half and remove only the pips.
  • Chop the rest of the fruit as liked. I prefer to slice it by hand into strips and then into thin shreds with a sharp knife.
  • Weigh the fruit and for every 450g, put 600ml of water and 900g granulated sugar into a clean pan.
  • Heat the sugar and water gently, stirring occasionally, until all the sugar is dissolved.
  • Add the chopped peel and pulp and bring to a gentle boil.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches setting point of 105°C. For 450g of fruit, this will take about 30 minutes. Smaller or larger quantities of fruit will require slight adjustment of this time.
  • Pour into clean, warmed jars and seal whilst hot.
  • Clean and label once cold.

Bridget Hyde’s Very Good Marmalade

1680

Bridget Hyde's Marmalade recipe
Bridget Hyde’s Marmalade recipe, circa 1680, MS2990, Wellcome Library Collection

This recipe is unusual in that it uses the setting qualities of the pectin in green apples and the luxury of wine to create a light and brightly-flavoured, shred marmalade. It is very straightforward to follow the recipe as written, but equally easy to use some of the fruit cooked in the previous recipe, so the recipe below will follow this adaptation. Even without the original musk and ambergris perfuming the result, this is a delicious and delicate marmalade. Any sweet, dessert white wine can be used, however for my Gold-winning entrant in the Marmalade Awards I sought out some Muscat de Frontignan, whose richly perfumed aromas of citrus and honey perfectly complements the fruit in this marmalade. Reflecting the high cost of the ingredients of the time, this recipe makes just two jars per batch.

225g granulated sugar
300ml sweet dessert white wine, Muscat de Frontignan for something really special
150ml water
450g green apples – Granny Smith or Bramley
3 Seville oranges – cooked as above
225g granulated sugar
1 lemon – optional
1 sweet orange – optional

  • Put the first portion of sugar, the white wine and water into a saucepan.
  • Chop the apples into 2cm pieces and add to the pan also, cores, seeds and all.
  • Cut the Sevilles in half and use a teaspoon to scrape out all of the flesh, membranes and seeds. Add this to the saucepan as well.
  • Simmer the contents of the saucepan gently over medium low heat until the apple pieces become translucent.
  • While the apples are simmering, slice the cooked peel into thin shreds.
  • When the apples are translucent, strain the liquid of the pan through a sieve, pressing down on the solids to extract all of the liquid.
  • Rinse the pan and return it to the heat with the wine syrup.
  • Add the remaining sugar and stir until dissolved
  • Add the shredded peel and simmer until it reaches setting point of 105°C, which will take around 20-30 minutes.
  • Taste and adjust the finished flavour to your own liking by adding some freshly-squeezed lemon and/or orange juice.
  • Pour into clean, warmed jars and seal whilst hot.
  • Clean and label once cold.

 

Fasting Day Soup

On my other blog I recently posted my version of the classic Leek and Potato Soup, which is a firm favourite not only because of its deliciousness but also its simplicity to make. I thought it would be nice to complement it here with an equally delicious and equally simple-to-make soup from three centuries ago.

This Fasting Day Soup comes from the manuscript recipe and household book of the Coley family (MS1711), and is held in the archives at the Wellcome Library.

It would have been served on one of the many fasting (i.e. non-meat) days that used to be observed in the church calendar, and as such is eminently suitable for vegetarians and, with a little adjustment, vegans. It is so speedily made, it takes only about 30 minutes from start to finish.

In the original recipe, it is thickened through a combination of breadcrumbs and egg-yolks. For simplicity, I would recommend choosing just one of these, and to keep the soup accessible to anyone with a gluten intolerance, the yolks are the obvious choice, adding both richness and silkiness of texture. Vegans will obviously need to choose breadcrumbs, or a different thickener, or indeed no thickener at all.

The main flavourings are of lettuce, spinach and chervil, which are unusual for a soup, but their delicate nature allows for the soup to be quickly made. As already mentioned, the soup is enriched with egg yolk and also the addition of bright green pistachios. When purréed smooth, the colour is truly glorious, something not accurately reflected in the photo, alas.

I particularly liked the serving suggestion of a toast and a poached egg, to which I have added only a scattering of chopped pistachios.

Fasting Day Soup recipe
Fasting Day Soup recipe, circa 1750 – MS.1711, Wellcome Library Collection

Fasting Day Soup

50g unsalted butter
4 gem lettuce
200g baby spinach
1 bunch fresh chervil – or 3tbs dried
0.5tsp salt
50g shelled pistachios
1 onion – peeled
8 cloves
1 litre boiling water
3 large egg yolks
60ml white wine
juice of 1 lemon

to serve: per person
1 slice of bread, toasted
1 poached egg
a few chopped pistachios
coarse-ground black pepper

  • Shred the lettuce, spinach and chervil finely.
  • Melt the butter in a pan and heat gently until browned.
  • Add the greens and stir until wilted.
  • Stick the cloves into the onion and add to the pot with the pistachios, salt and hot water.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Take about a cup of liquid from the pan and remove the onion. Blend the soup smooth using either a liquidiser or use a stick blender.
  • Whisk the yolks with the white wine, then slowly add the cup of liquid to the yolk mixture, whisking thoroughly.
  • Pour the egg mixture into the soup and stir over a medium heat until the soup thickens. Do not let the soup boil.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning, adding some or all of the lemon juice to taste.
  • Serve with toast, a poached egg and a sprinkling of chopped pistachios.

Cornflake Tart

A trip down my own personal memory lane this week, with a classic of the school dinner repertoire, Cornflake Tart.

In the 1970s and 1980s, long before the advent of the dreaded turkey twizzler, my mother was a supervisor of a kitchen that cooked dinners for seven schools in the local area, including the one I attended, so I am perhaps more familiar than most with the full range of tasty, economical and wholesome home-cooking-style meals of that era.

Whilst some dishes (spamspamspamspam) left me cold and some serving decisions (tinned tomatoes + cheese tart always = soggy tomato-juice pastry) lacking in thought, the desserts were almost (I’m looking at you, semolina-and-red-jam-blob) universally adored.

I’ve written before about Gypsy Tart and Butterscotch Tart, and today we have to join them, the classic, even iconic, Cornflake Tart. I also want to take a few moments to discuss ingredients because, when they are this few in number, they can make or break a dish. By the same token, just because ingredients are humble, doesn’t mean that you should treat them carelessly, and that paying attention to the small details with the same care that more expensive ingredients might warrant, can reap rewards just as great with only a fraction of the cost.

Cornflake Tart has four main ingredients: shortcrust pastry, jam, cornflakes and caramel.

  • Shortcrust pastry. You can use any recipe you like, even buy ready-made if time is short, but I would like to strongly recommend my cornflour shortcrust for this particular tart, for a number of reasons. Regular shortcrust usually uses half butter and half lard as the fat in order to give the best texture and flavour, but this prevents it being enjoyed by vegetarians. My cornflour shortcrust is made with all butter, making it vegetarian-friendly, and the cornflour adds the crispness. You can make delicious gluten-free pastry by substituting Doves Farm gluten-free flour for the regular flour. I actually prefer the pastry in this recipe to be gluten-free, as the crumbly texture is fantastic against the sharp jam and sweet, crunchy cornflakes.
  • Jam. You can use any kind of jam you have to hand, and strawberry seems to be a popular choice, but I recommend something sharp, to contrast with the sweetness of the caramelised cornflakes. Raspberry is good, as is blackberry (see photos), blackcurrant, cranberry, redcurrant, apricot or even apple butter. Also, it should be smooth and free from lumps, so warm and sieve/puree it before spreading onto the cooked pastry. This way you get the benefit of all the flavour and none of the distractions.
  • Cornflakes. Surprisingly, regular cornflakes aren’t gluten-free, due to the barley malt used as a flavouring. On the plus side, gluten-free cornflakes are both available and practically indistinguishable from their mainstream counterparts.
  • Caramel. I say caramel, but the addition of butter to the mixture pushes the sticky, golden glue that holds this tart together more towards a butterscotch than a true caramel. You can emphasize this even more by using soft brown or light muscovado sugar. Whatever sugar you choose, it is important to warm it slowly with the other ingredients until fully dissolved, so that the shine on your finished tart isn’t spoiled by visible sugar crystals.

Cornflake Tart

These quantities are sufficient for a medium-sized tart that will serve anything between 1 and 10 people, depending on appetite.

Pastry
225g plain flour or Doves Farm gluten-free flour
60g cornflour
140g unsalted butter
ice-cold water to mix

Filling
200g sharp jam, warmed and sieved/pureed
60g butter – salted or not, your choice
60g sugar – caster, soft brown, light muscovado
60g golden syrup
110g cornflakes – regular or gluten-free

  • Make the pastry: Put the flours and butter into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface and knead smooth.
  • Roll out thinly (5mm) and line a tart or flan tin lined with parchment. For the gluten-free pastry, roll it out onto parchment cut to size, then lift into the tin and shape the corners/edges with your fingertips.
  • Cover with cling-film and chill in the freezer for 20 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Remove the pastry from the freezer and prick the base with a fork to prevent blistering.
  • Line the pastry with baking parchment and rice/baking beads.
  • Bake for 15 minutes. Remove parchment and rice and bake for a further 5-10  minutes until pale but cooked.
  • While the pastry is baking, make the caramel syrup.
  • Put the sugar, butter and syrup into a small pan and heat gently, whilst stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the cornflakes into a large bowl.
  • Allow the sugar mixture to simmer gently for 5 minutes then pour over the cornflakes and toss thoroughly to coat.
  • When the pastry is baked, spread the warm jam over the base of the tart and add the cornflakes. Spread the cornflakes evenly over the tart and press lightly but not enough to crush the cereal.
  • Return the tart to the oven for 10 minutes to ‘set’ the topping.
  • Allow to cool in the tin.
  • Slice the cold tart into portions with a sharp knife and store in an airtight container.

Bonus recipe – Gluten-free Scones

Switching out regular flour for Doves Farm gluten-free flour for pastry isn’t the only easy substitution you can make. Deliciously light and airy scones are just as easily made, using Mrs McNab’s 19th century recipe from Great British Bakes.

GF Scones

One slight variation to the method is that, due to the lack of gluten, there is a tendency for the dough to spread during baking. So to keep your gluten-free scones neat and for maximum lift, bake them in baking rings. If you don’t have baking rings, then do as I do and use the tins from small cans of mushy peas.

225g Doves Farm plain flour
1tsp cream of tartar
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
½tsp salt
30g unsalted butter
1 large egg
80ml plain yogurt
80ml whole milk

milk to glaze

  • Preheat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  • Grease 8 small baking rings/tins and line with parchment paper. Arrange the tins on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  • Put the flour, cream of tartar, bicarbonate of soda, salt, butter and egg into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Tip the mixture into a bowl.
  • Mix together the yogurt and milk.
  • Gradually stir the liquid into the dry ingredients. You might not need it all, but the mixture should be soft and moist rather than dry.
  • Divide the mixture between the tins. Each one should have about 55g of dough.
  • Brush the tops with milk and bake for 15 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 10 minutes to ensure even baking.
  • When baked, if the tops are a little pale, if possible, switch the oven to top heat with fan, remove the rings/tins and brown the scones for 3-4 minutes. If your oven doesn’t have this function, then brown lightly under a grill but don’t leave them too long or they will burn.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Chutney

I’m going to open this post with a statement:

“There is nothing that can transform a platter of cold meats and/or cheeses more easily than chutney.”

Me, just now.

Bold? Possibly, but with justification. Every chutney, from the lowest of the  low-shelf, supermarket budget jars to the very best of hand-crafted and home-made pots contains a tantalising mix of sweet, salty, sour and spice.

Originating in India, the word was initially translated as  ‘salad’ but was later refined into:

“CHUTNEE, a condiment, compounded of sweets and acids. Strips of ripe fruit, raisins, spices, sour herbs, cayenne, lemon juice, &c, are the ordinary ingredients pounded and boiled together, and then bottled for use. Chutnee is much eaten in India with curries, stews, &c.”¹

Modern recipes are bulky, favouring a consistency closer to marmalade, but early anglicised recipes are much more of a sauce. These three recipes date from the nineteenth century and November is a perfect time to make them, in order to spice up your Christmas table or to give as gifts that can be enjoyed immediately upon unwrapping.

The three recipes I have selected are:

  • Sweet Chutney (top): Similar in flavour and texture to a modern Brown Sauce, but with much more of a spicy, tangy kick. It is the only one of the three that recommends waiting before enjoying, a grand total of 2 weeks.
  • Mrs Benfield’s Bengal Chutney (front left): unusually pale and interesting, this chutney uses sour fruit, gooseberries if you have them in the freezer (I did) or sour apples instead. It’s sharp and tangy with just a hint of mustardy fire.
  • Mr Crawford’s Chetna (front right): my personal favourite. It wakes up your tastebuds with salty, sour, spiciness but doesn’t blow your head off with fire. Goes great with everything.  I’ve even used it as a salad dressing. A taste sensation.

I love all three of these recipes because not only do they offer a delicious taste of times past, they’re eminently practical in that they neither take forever to make nor do they result in vast quantities. Perfect for individual use with 1 or 2 spares in the cupboard to spare, or plenty for half a dozen gift jars.

Sweet Chutney

225g tamarind pulp
225g dates
225g fresh ginger
225g sultanas
225g onions
115g fresh chillies without seeds
4tbs dark muscovado sugar
2tbs salt

malt vinegar

  • Put all of the ingredients into a food processor and blitz until finely chopped.
  • Transfer all to a blender and add sufficient malt vinegar to make a pourable sauce.
  • Rub through a fine sieve – or not, your choice.
  • Pour into sterilised glass bottles and seal.
  • The sauce will be ready in a fortnight.
Sweet Chutney MS1846, Wellcome Library Collection, c1850-1875

Mrs Benfield’s Bengal Chutney

600g green gooseberries or 800g Bramley apples
300ml malt vinegar
115g soft brown sugar
56g salt
30g garlic
30g onions
30g fresh ginger
7g cayenne pepper
50g mustard seed – washed and dried
50g raisins – chopped fine

  • If using apples, peel and remove the cores. Chop.
  • Add the fruit to a pan with the vinegar and simmer until soft. Set aside to cool.
  • Put the cold fruit pulp and vinegar into a blender with the sugar, salt, garlic, onions, ginger, pepper and raisins and puree smooth.
  • Stir through the mustard seeds and bottle in sterilised jars or bottles.
Mrs Benfield’s Bengal Chutney, 1853, MS7733, Wellcome Library Collection.

Mr Crawford’s Chetna

170g green gooseberries or sour apple (peeled, cored and chopped)
115g raisins
115g dark muscovado sugar
30g fresh ginger
30g fresh garlic – peeled & left whole²
56g cayenne pepper OR 1 tsp dried red pepper flakes
56g salt

malt vinegar

  • Put all of the ingredients except the garlic into a food processor and chop finely.
  • Add sufficient malt vinegar to make a pourable sauce.
  • Add the garlic cloves and pot in sterilised glass jars.
Mr Crawford’s Chetna, 19thC, MS5854, Wellcome Library Collection

¹ The oriental interpreter and treasury of East India knowledge, 1848, Stocqueler, J. H. (1800-1885), C.Cox, London, p63.

² When I first made this, the garlic I had was quite large, so I sliced each clove in half. This made the garlic flavour stronger than if the cloves had been left whole, but not overpoweringly so. I decided to keep this modification for my own use, but the recipe above is the original.

Oat Cakes

I’m using the recipe for these oatcakes as an example of the pitfalls of projecting 21st century understanding onto 17th century recipes.

Mention the word ‘oatcakes’ and most people will think of small, crisp biscuits that are enjoyed with cheese, pate and the like.

These oatcakes, however, come from an altogether different origin, resembling as they do, what we nowadays would call a muffin. And here is where I have to hold my hand up and make a confession.  Back in 2011, in this post, I had a bit of a chuckle at Hannah Glasse’s distracted recipe for Muffins and Oat-cakes, that never mentions oatcakes beyond the title, and her mistake at the end of the method where she writes

Observe, muffins are made the same way.

However, upon reading this and several other early oatcake recipes, it became clear to me that Hannah’s method had actually been describing the making of oat-cakes, which are muffins made with a significant proportion of oat flour. I’d just assumed she was in error because I was thinking of the wrong kind of oatcake, putting the modern notion of a biscuit onto her 18th century recipe.

Oat Cakes recipe
Oat Cakes recipe, circa 1700, MS7788, Wellcome Library

The manuscript in which I found this recipe dates from around 1700, which makes them of the time of Queen Anne, last of the Stuart monarchs. The spicing and flavouring make them deliciously decadent and aromatic, perfect for an elegant afternoon tea-table. They are best enjoyed warm, with just a little butter. If you’re not eating them fresh from the pan, then the outsides should be lightly toasted under a grill before gently pulling apart and buttering.

These take a little longer than regular muffins in the initial cooking, but my guess is that is down to the oat flour. Speaking of which, I made these by sifting fine oatmeal, which is also sometimes sold as oat flour. It is coarser than wheat flour, being somewhere between brown flour and stoneground wholemeal flour in texture.  I firstly sieve out the coarser particles and then whizz these coarse siftings in a blender/spice grinder (the offset blades are more efficient than a food processor) and re-sieve in order to get the maximum amount of ‘flour’. This process is a little tedious, and frankly, you could just use the oat flour as is and they would be fine, but by using only the finest quality of oat flour ensures the delicacy of their texture matches the delicacy of the flavourings.

Oat Cakes

Makes 14

300g plain flour
300g oat flour
20g fresh yeast
150ml whole milk
150ml water
1 large egg
2 large yolks
2tbs sweet sherry/Madeira/Marsala
1/3 nutmeg, grated
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/2tsp salt
20g caster sugar

  • Put the dry ingredients and the yeast into a bowl. I use my stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
  • Whisk the milk, water, egg, yolks and alcohol together then add to the dry ingredients.
  • Mix thoroughly for 10 minutes.
  • Mix on high for 2 minutes, then and leave to rise for 1 hour.
  • Deflate the dough gently then divide it into 75g portions.
  • Cup your hand over each piece of dough and roll it in small circles, shaping the dough into a smooth ball. Set the ball on a flour-dusted surface to rise. Don’t put the balls of dough too close together, or they might rise into each other.
  • Allow the dough to rise for 30 minutes from the moment the first ball of dough is shaped. They will take time to cook in batches, so with the staggered batch cooking, the last few will have risen just in time to be cooked.
  • Put a heavy-based pan onto a large ring on a medium heat. On my 1-9 induction hob, I use 6.
  • Cook the muffins in batches. Depending on the size of your pan, you can cook 4 or 5 at a time.
  • To transfer the risen dough to the pan, gently slide a thin spatula underneath and transfer it to the pan turning it upside down as you do so, so that the top of the oat cake cooks first. This will help create the perfect muffin shape. If you cook the base first, the top will continue to rise and curve, and since the radiated heat from the pan will dry the surface of the dough as it cooks, this will thus make it ‘reluctant’ to flatten into the traditional muffin shape. Cooking the soft top first, the weight of the dough pressing down allows it to settle like a gently deflating cushion, into the flattened shape, and a partial hardening of the already flat bottom (which has become the top) is fine.
  • Cook for 6-7 minutes, then gently turn the cakes over and cook for another 5-6 minutes. When done, they should sound hollow when tapped.
  • Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Damson Preserves

Here’s a trio of preserves that champion one of my favourite sorts of food – free stuff!

Damsons grow wild in the hedgerows and along the canal banks and lanes of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire, and the only cost is your time to pick them. They are tart, wild plums, about the size and shape of a large grape, with a soft, hazy-blue bloom to the skin. NB The size/shape is key to identifying true damsons – if the fruit is round and apple-shaped, it is a different wild plum known as a bullace.

I had an especially impressive haul of damsons this year, from three difference sources, so aside from the obligatory Damson Gin, I had enough to make batches of the above preserves for the first time, the recipes for which I have had bookmarked for years. Whatever your toothsome preference, there should be something for everyone here.

If you’re unable to find damsons, then all of these recipes will work with any kind of small, tart plums.

Damson Conserve

MS1795
From MS1795, circa 1685, Wellcome Library Collection

First up is the oldest of the three recipes, found in a household manuscript book at the Wellcome Library. Sadly for those of us interested in people as much as recipes, it is anonymous,  and dates from around 1685. It caught my eye because of the slightly unusual method it employs. Usually, the vigorous boiling in the making of damson jam renders the delicate fruit into a pulp, but the method in this recipe is strikingly similar to that employed by the modern queen of jam-making, la fée des confitures, Christine Ferber. Sugar is used to both draw out the juices of the fruit, and to infuse the delicate flesh, so that it can all the better withstand the cooking process. The result is beautifully whole damsons in a richly flavoured syrup.

You can make any quantity you like, by scaling up the recipe to suit the quantity of fruit you have. I have altered the recipe slightly, based on my experience of working with Madam Ferber’s recipes.

1lb damsons
1lb granulated sugar
120ml water

  • Remove the stalks and with a sharp knife, cut the skin of the damsons around “in the crease” as the recipe puts it.
  • Sprinkle a layer of sugar in a pan and set the damsons into the sugar, to draw out the juice.
  • Sprinkle the remainder of sugar over the top.
  • Pour over the water.
  • Cover and leave overnight.
  • Next day, heat very gently until the sugar has melted.
  • Lift the fruit out of the syrup and bring it to a boil.
  • Return the fruit to the now hot syrup and allow to steep overnight.
  • On Day 3, lift the fruit out of the syrup and bring it to a boil again.
  • Return the fruit and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Transfer to warmed pots and seal while hot.

Miss Milward’s Pickled Damsons

19th century

Alison Uttley’s fictionalised autobiographical book The Country Child was one of my favourites growing up, and it remains so to this day. The book details her childhood growing up on a Derbyshire farm in the late nineteenth century – I highly recommend it.

Ms Uttley came across her mother’s recipe book whilst researching Country Hoard, and in response to encouragement from her published, produced Recipes from an Old Farmhouse in 1966. This recipe was made in vast quantities, to ensure there was a ready supply for the many mouths fed at the farm.

Almost equally sweet and sharp, they are equally good served alongside cold meats and cheeses, as spooned over ice cream.

You can halve or even quarter this recipe if liked.

3.2kg damsons
1.8kg white, granulated sugar
2 x 5cm cinnamon sticks
20g whole cloves
malt vinegar to cover

  • Layer the damsons and sugar in a casserole.
  • Add the spices and vinegar enough to just submerge the fruit, and cover with a lid.
  • Place in the oven and turn the heat to 120°C, 100°C Fan.
  • Bake gently for 1 hour to draw out the juices.
  • Set aside to cool.
  • When cold, drain the fruit from the syrup.
  • Heat the syrup until boiling, then pour over the fruit and allow to stand until the next day.
  • Repeat this draining/boiling each day for the next 7 days (for a total of 8 days).
  • Allow the damsons to stand in the syrupy pickle for seven  more days.
  • Spoon the damsons into warmed pots, boil the syrup and pour over the fruit.
  • Seal at once.
  • Cherries may also be pickled in this way.

Mrs Musson’s Baroda Chutney

This recipe, from Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, won first prize in the Farmer and Stockbreeder Competition in 1950, and it is my new, favourite chutney. It can be found in a delightful little book entitled “Cook it the Farmhouse Way” by Barbara Wilcox. A digitised copy of the book can be borrowed for 2 weeks from The Internet Archive – click here.

The damsons give it a beautiful, rich colour, and the chutney can be eaten immediately. It is fantastic with both cold meats and cheeses.

1.35kg apples – peeled and cored
1.35kg marrow – peeled and chopped roughly
1.35kg tomatoes
900g damsons, counted
1.125kg onions – peeled
225g shallots
170g garlic
140g salt
1tsp dried chilli flakes
900g sugar
115g mustard seed – yellow or black
50g fresh ginger – sliced thin
15g whole cloves
1.7 litres malt vinegar

  • Chop the apples, marrow, tomatoes, onions, shallots and garlic. You can do this by hand or, as I did, by pulsing them 2 or 3 times in a food processor. You want  your resulting chutney to be fine enough to spread in a sandwich without any unseemly large pieces.
  • Put into a large bowl with the damsons, salt, chillies and sugar.
  • Mix thoroughly, then cover with cling film and leave overnight.
  • The next day, tie the spices and the sliced ginger in a muslin bag and add to the vegetables, together with the vinegar.
  • Mix thoroughly then pour everything into a preserving pan.
  • Bring slowly to the boil, stirring frequently, then turn the heat down and simmer until no excess moisture is visible – 4-6 hours – stirring regularly. Alternatively, you can cook this, uncovered, in a slow cooker. It requires less stirring, although the cooking time then increases to about 10 hours.
  • Remove the muslin bag of spices and fish out the damsons stones (optional – but you might want to write a reminder on the label if you keep them in). If you counted your damsons before cooking, you can easily keep track of how many stones you need to retrieve.
  • Pot and seal at once.