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Lancashire Butter Pie

The Lancashire Butter Pie is a regional, traditional pie specific to western Lancashire, especially the area around Preston, and has also been known as Friday Pie and Catholic Pie.

Preston has traditionally had a strong Catholic presence. In Tudor times, it was resistant – and at times downright hostile – to the Reformation. In 1583 the bishop of Chester denounced it as having a people ‘most obstinate and contemptuous’ of the Elizabethan laws on religion.

Since it was forbidden for Catholics to eat meat on Fridays, this pie, having only three simple ingredients, was ideally suited to the pious abstaining from their usual rich fare. And it does make for a good ‘story’.

However, my curiosity over the fact that it is the butter that gives the dish its name, rather than the potatoes and the onions led me to do some digging around into the pie’s history. My thoughts were that, although butter is commonplace for us now, it must have been regarded as a delicious treat in poorer times.

The modern incarnation of Butter Pie is alleged to owe much to the British Butter board, although I can find no verification for this. What I did find was what could be an ancestor of the modern recipe, in an account of the desperately poor existence of the cotton weavers of Lancashire, dating from 1827.

Joseph Greenwood, a worthy man of independent spirit, who has never troubled his parish, 60 years of age, with a wife and six children, lives at Bridge Inn, two miles and a half from Todmorden, on the Burnley road. He has five looms, and has wound and wove in his family, on an average, every week for the last four weeks, 16 pieces, each 30 yards of super calico, 28 west, at 9d, which gets 12s. per week. This sum is to support eight persons, pay rent, fire, clothes, candles to work by, shuttles, repair looms, &c. yet he will not run into debt. This family’s mode of living is as follows: they purchase a quantity of oatmeal, make gruel of oatmeal, salt, and water only, which serves for breakfast and supper; for dinner they bake a small quantity of the meal into a cake, and buy a little blue milk, as they call it, at ½d. per quart, and sup the milk along with the cake, but this is a luxury they cannot have every day. By way of change they sometimes buy wheaten flour to make the porridge, but with that they cannot afford to have the milk. Butter, cheese, and flesh meat, weavers never think of, unless now and then they purchase two ounces or a quarter of a pound of butter: or one or two pennyworth of suet, or odd bits of interior meat, to make a potatoe pie. The mode of making this pie is as follows: the potatoes are washed and cut into, slices, placed in a dish and sprinkled with salt, then filled up with water, the bits of suet are mixed with the potatoes, and the whole is covered with a thin crust, and if they cannot raise the suet or butter, the pie is made without them.[1]

Porridge morning and evening, oatcakes and skimmed milk for lunch. Having to choose between skimmed milk or wheat flour. Potato Pie as a treat. It’s a sobering thought. And little wonder that the tale of it being a dish of abstinence is the more popular, or at least, easier on the conscience. In this modern age, we are sometimes a bit too blasé about food and shameless with food waste. The story behind Butter Pie makes me, at least, be grateful for the abundance we have. This pie was a treat. IS a treat. No matter the humble ingredients.

So, if I haven’t plunged you irretrievably into a pit of despair, let’s talk ingredients!

This pie is deliciously savoury and ‘toothsome’ as Victorians were wont to say – ridiculously so, given the simplicity of its ingredients. Even with such a short list, you can vary the mix to produce delicately nuanced and finely-tuned combinations whilst still respecting the original.

My absolute favourite potato is the Pink Fir Apple, a fingerling-type potato with such a delicious flavour, I eat them as they are – no butter, no salt – they’re that good. In terms of texture, they sit perfectly between floury and waxy, relieving me of having to choose between these two different types of tuber. They aren’t very easy to find, alas. Many people have a specific preference, and will deign to eat only that one type. I, however, believe that there are times when one is more suited to a recipe than the other, and in this recipe you can celebrate both types according to the season. In spring and summer, use waxy new potatoes and spring onions or chives for freshness. In autumn and winter, big slices of soft, floury King Edward or Wilja potatoes with delicately softened brown onions turn this into an unctuous and comforting dish.

Whichever style you choose, the pastry should provide contrast against which the filling can really shine. Now you could be forgiven for thinking that with such a buttery filling, a rich buttery puff pastry would be the way to go, and you would be perfectly within your rights to try it, but it would not be the best option. It’s just too rich. Everything gets lost. My recommendation is for a cornflour, all butter, shortcrust pastry. It bakes incredibly crisp and the presence of the cornflour makes it a dry crispness – something not usually achievable with an all-butter pastry. And this unassuming, plain pastry is the perfect background for the soft, buttery filling to shine. It’s all about contrasts, of textures as well as flavours. You need the plainness of the pastry to really enjoy the rich-tasting filling.

Butter Pie Slice

Lancashire Butter Pie

The choice of potato is entirely up to you. I used Anya potatoes this time. The quantity of butter in the filling is restrained: you can also dot more over the potato layers if you’re feeling indulgent.

Pastry
225g plain flour
60g cornflour
140g unsalted butter
ice cold water

  • 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, knead smooth then wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut off two thirds. Put the remaining third back into the fridge.
  • Roll this piece out to a thickness of 4-5mm and use it to line a greased 18cm pie tin, loose-bottomed for preference, making sure there is enough pastry overlapping the sides of the tin to allow for joining the lid.
  • Chill the pastry while you prepare the filling.

Filling
750g potatoes
120g unsalted butter
2 medium onions
salt and ground white pepper

1 egg yolk for glazing

  • Peel the potatoes and cut into 1cm slices.
  • Boil or steam (preferred) until tender. Spread out on a clean cloth to cool/dry.
  • Chop the onions finely.
  • Melt the butter in a pan and add the onions.
  • Cook gently over a low heat until softened. Do not allow them to take any colour.
  • Spread a thin layer of buttery onions over the base of the pastry and season with pepper and salt. Cover with a layer of potato slices, cutting them if necessary to fill any gaps.
  • Repeat until the pie is filled, remembering to season each layer of onions. Pour any remaining butter over the top.
  • Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid.
  • Damp the edges of the pastry and lay the lid on top. Trim to leave a border of 1cm.
  • Crimp the pastry edges between finger and thumb. Gently press the crimped edge inwards until it is standing vertical.
  • Mix the yolk with 1-2tsp cold water, and glaze the pastry lid thoroughly using a brush.
  • Cut out some decorations from the offcuts of pastry and arrange on top of the glaze. Leaving the decorations unglazed will keep them from taking on too much colour in the oven, which means they will stand out more when baked. Cut a steam vent in the centre of the lid.
  • Chill the pie in the fridge while the oven heats up.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bake the pie for 40-45 minutes, turning it around after 20 minutes to ensure even browning.
  • Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before turning out and serving.
  • Also delicious cold.

[1] Niles’ National Register, Volume 32,  1827, p118

Apricot Dream Slice

For a number of years I have been collecting the original recipe books of regional Women’s Institutes. They usually take the form of spiral-bound, text-only booklets and are, I feel, a great indication of dishes being prepared in the homes at time of publication.

I have books dating from the 1920s to the 1980s and am always on the look-out for editions from missing counties to fill out the collection. For the most part, they are tried and tested recipes that embody the very best in home cooking, as long as you gloss over the late 70s/early 80s lowpoint characterised by an almost fanatical obsession with recipes that involved opening cans and packets – yes, even in the sainted W.I.!

The recipe comes from the recipe collection of the combined Federation of Women’s Institutes of Northern Ireland. The  booklet is undated, but with a little digging, I’m pretty confident it comes from the 1980s.

This traybake is a variation of a flapjack, but without all the earnest oats, which, speaking even as an oat-lover, can be a little much unless you’re particularly in the mood. It caught my eye mainly due to the title, but also because it was just that little bit different from a lot of the elaborate bakes seen today. It is also my most favourite kind of recipe, a storecupboard one: a recipe that does not require a special trip to the shops, that can usually be made with the contents of your cupboards. A mixture of crumbled digestive biscuits and dessicated coconut is sandwiched with a layer of chopped apricots and (optional) jam. It can also be varied very easily, just by changing the fruit used in the middle – I recommend keeping it sharp but exotic, with pineapple, mango, papaya, cranberries, prunes etc.

The result is crisp, crunchy, sharp, sweet and very moreish, ideal for packed lunches, and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we did in our house.

Apricot Dream Slice

Add as many or as few apricots – or whatever fruit you have – as you like. The original recipe called for just 125g, but after trying it, I felt this a little on the meagre side, and since the bag of apricots held 200g, and I just knew the extra would inevitably end up spilled on the cupboard floor, here we are. I like it with the extra fruit – it makes it deliciously indulgent.

For the base
100g digestive biscuits (about 7), crushed
125g wholemeal flour
100g dessicated coconut
100g dark muscovado sugar
½ tsp salt
115g unsalted butter, melted

For the filling
2 large eggs
200g dark muscovado sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
40g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
125-200g chopped dried apricots
4-5tbs jam (optional) – I used up half a jar of apricot and passionfruit (divine combo, by the way)

  • Preheat the oven to 175°C, 155°C Fan.
  • Line a baking tray with parchment. I used one of dimensions 20cm x 28cm, but anything roughly that size is fine.
  • Put all of the base ingredients except the butter into a food processor and blend until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Muscovado sugar can be a bit clumpy and this is a speedy and efficient way to break down the lumps.
  • Tip the mixture into a bowl and stir in the melted butter.
  • Set aside 1/3 of the mixture for the topping, and spread the remainder into the prepared tin. Pack it down firmly – use a flat-bottomed glass tumbler or similar to get a really smooth, firm surface.
  • Bake the base for 15 minutes.
  • While the base is baking, whisk the eggs with the sugar and lemon juice until creamy.
  • Stir in the rest of the ingredients except the jam.
  • When the base is cooked, spread over the jam, if using – the heat of the base will make it runnier and help it spread more easily.
  • Pour over the filling and smooth over.
  • Sprinkle the reserved base mixture over the top and pat smooth.
  • Bake for a further 35-40 minutes until nicely browned.
  • Allow to cool in the tin.
  • When cold, cut into bars or squares to serve.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Orange and Walnut Garland Cake

In my head, the book from which this recipe is adapted is practically modern, as I clearly remember the year it was published, but then my brain gently reminds me that 1978 is now 40 years ago and I am PLUNGED into a slough of despond at how OLD that makes me feel. But enough of the over-dramatics…

I found this recipe in Bread, Cakes and Biscuits, by Mary Norwak, one of the 500 Recipes series published by Hamlyn. It is a fantastic collection of almost every kind of tea-time bake you could wish for, reassuringly written by someone in whose recipes I have absolute confidence. If you’re in need of well-written, dependable recipes, then Mary Norwak is a name you can trust.

The 500 Recipes series is an immense collection of themed recipe books by a variety of authors and, when published, was very competitively priced at just 99p. I regularly find copies in charity shops and car-boot sales and have amassed quite a number of the range. Their only downside is, aside from the cover, a complete lack of illustrations, being printed as they are, on rather low-grade, coarse paper. So it takes a little imagination to be able to pluck out the real gems from a flat page of text.

I chose this recipe for a number of reasons: the unusual flavours, the simplicity of the recipe and the ease with which it can quickly be turned into a very eye-catching, celebration cake.

Nowadays, the more standard cake flavour combination is for coffee to be paired with walnut, but the brightness of citrus really lifts this cake into something altogether more delightful.

I have made a few, small, changes to the original recipe and am also introducing a new element, that of the glaze for the decoration.

Firstly, I have substituted Seville Orange zest and juice for the original sweet orange. The sharpness and bitter notes really pack a punch against the sweetness of the cake.  The simple glace icing is a revelation – I do so love it when an idea exceeds all expectation. This normally (for me) overly-sweet icing is really lifted by the tang of the bitter orange. And where do I have access to Seville oranges out of season, you ask? In my freezer, I reply.  Every Seville orange season, I buy, zest and juice at least one net of Seville oranges. After mixing the juice and zest together, I freeze it in ice-cube trays (one large ‘cube’ contains the juice and zest of 1 orange) and, once frozen, pack into a ziplock bag for later use, just as in this case. It’s fantastic for Seville orange curd, custard, even savoury dishes like roast duck or game casserole. I highly recommend the practice. If you have no Seville oranges, the recipe contains a suggestion for substitution.

You can leave the cake adorned with just the icing topping and it is delicious, but for a bit of wow-factor, you can add a garland of candied fruit and whole nuts. This is my favourite kind of decoration (requires practically zero skill and almost no effort from me), where the beauty of the ingredients IS the decoration and they can really shine. And on that note, I shall segue seamlessly into the new element of this recipe – the glaze.

You will have noticed that the fruit and especially the nuts in the picture above, have a glorious shine to them, and this is achieved through the use of a glaze. For fresh fruit tarts and the like, the traditional glaze is a syrup, but this has the downside of being exceedingly sticky, and in this case might interfere with the glace icing. Also, fresh fruit tarts tend to be eaten immediately, whereas this is a cake that will last several days in an airtight container. The glaze I have used for the decoration is a mixture of simple sugar syrup and gelatine. This adds the shine without the stickiness. The excess glaze will set like a jelly, and later can be gently warmed and re-used to decorate sweet buns, tea-breads, even sweet pies for an extra shiny appearance without stickiness.

Orange & Walnut Garland Cake

Do customise the flavorings to your own personal taste. Dislike walnuts? Use hazelnuts instead, or pistachios or macadamia nuts. Dislike candied peel? Make your own for a fantastic flavour punch, leave it out altogether or add in some more fresh zest.

225g self-raising flour (or plain flour + 1 tsp baking powder)
½ tsp salt
75g unsalted butter, softened
75g caster sugar
zest & juice of 1 Seville orange [1]
3 large eggs
30g candied peel – chopped
60g walnuts – quartered
a little milk (maybe)

Icing
zest & juice of 1 Seville orange [1]
120g icing sugar

Decoration
100g mixed whole nuts
50g candied peel, cherries, etc.

Glaze
50ml water
50g caster sugar
½ sheet gelatine – or enough vegegel to set 100ml of liquid.

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line an 18-20cm cake tin with parchment.
  • Sift flour and salt.
  • Cream butter, sugar and orange zest together until light and fluffy.
  • Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly between additions.
  • Fold in the flour.
  • Stir in the peel, nuts and juice. If the mixture seems a little heavy, loosen it to a dropping consistency with a little milk.
  • Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the cake is cooked through[2].
  • Allow the cake to cool in the tin for ten minutes (to firm up), then cool completely on a wire rack.
  • After decoration, store in an airtight container.

Decoration
As mentioned above, there’s two tiers of decoration you can use for this cake, either with just a simple glace icing, or with the addition of a garland of candied fruit and nuts.  Read through both sets of instructions, because if you want to do the glazed fruit and nuts on top, you need to start before mixing the icing.

  • Glace icing:
    • Mix the zest/juice into the icing sugar until smooth. It should be thin enough be able to pour, but not so runny that it just falls off the side of the cake.
    • Pour over cake and allow to drip down the sides a little.
    • Leave to set.
  • Glazed fruit and nuts:
    • Soak the gelatine in a little cold water.
    • Cut the cherries in half and trim the rest of the fruit to suitable sizes/shapes.
    • Dissolve the sugar in the water (zapping it in the microwave for a few seconds to warm it helps) then add the softened gelatine and stir until it is melted.
    • Now, there are two ways to arrange and glaze the fruit and nuts, either glaze first, then arrange, or arrange, then glaze.  Choose whichever approach you prefer.
      • Arrange then glaze: As soon as you have poured over the icing, press the fruit and nuts into the icing while it is still moist. As the icing dries, it will hold them securely in place. Using a clean paintbrush, paint the glaze over the fruit and nuts, being careful not to allow it to drip onto the icing too much.
      • Glaze then arrange: Put the fruit and nuts into a bowl and pour the glaze over. Toss gently to ensure and even coating. Drain in a sieve, then arrange as above.

[1] If you have no Seville oranges, use the zest of 2 sweet oranges and the juice of 1 in the cake, and for the icing, the zest of 1 orange and the juice of a lemon.
[2] Quick reminder on how to tell when a cake is cooked:

  • Ears: the cake is not making any bubbling/hissing noises.
  • Touch: the cake feels springy when lightly pressed with the fingertips.
  • Eyes: The cake has shrunk away from the sides of the tin a little.
  • Eyes: A cocktail stick inserted into the middle of the cake has no wet mixture on it when removed. NB when making moist, fruited cakes (apple, banana, etc) any fruit moisture is ok, it’s the cake mixture that’s important.

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.

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.