Black Broth

I have no idea who Mr Sparks was, but he obviously made an impression on at least one of the many ladies through whose hands one particular manuscript¹ passed, for there are no fewer than nine of his recipes included over the course of ten pages.

I have been unable to find any printed cookery book with a Mr Sparks as author, so must assume that these recipes were copied from one handwritten source into another as a result of having tasted the dishes in question. I almost have more confidence in a handwritten recipe with a name attached that is otherwise untraceable, because it hints at genuine originality: someone created it, someone ate it, that someone liked it so much, they asked for the recipe.

Original Black Broth recipe
Source: MS7851, Wellcome Library Collection

This black broth is made with venison. Venison is beautifully lean meat, which also means that it can be prone to toughness on the less prime cuts such as shoulder, or the ‘helpfully’ diced meat (that gives no hint as to which part of the animal it came from) available in packs in the supermarket.

Long, slow poaching in a flavoursome broth makes for fall-apart tender meat, perfect for a warming winter soup. This recipe uses a method gleaned from old manuscripts that is the opposite of what we do today, namely frying the meat after it has been cooked. I’ve used it with ragoos and fricassees and have been delighted with the added richness it gives both to the flavour of the meat and to the dish as a whole. The butter might seem extravagant, but it is a sumptuous
complement to the leanness of the venison.

A slow-cooker is ideal for this largely set-it-and-forget-it hearty soup, but you can also cook it on the stove top on a very low heat, or covered in the oven at 140°C/120°C fan/gas 1.

Black Broth

1kg venison shoulder, in one piece if possible, otherwise cut into large cubes.
3 slices wholemeal bread
3 onions
9 cloves
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch mixed herbs
1tbs peppercorns
1tsp salt
1.5 litres beef stock
50g unsalted butter
3-4tbs chopped, mixed herbs
gravy browning (optional)

2-3 slices of white bread, crusts removed, cut into 1cm cubes

marigold petals to garnish

  • Toast the bread as dark as possible without turning black.
  • Peel the onions and stick 3 cloves into each one.
  • Add all of the ingredients down to the stock to the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours.
  • Remove the meat from the cooking liquid and trim all fat, skin and connective tissue. Cut into suitably-sized pieces if not already cubed.
  • Strain the cooking liquid and discard the solids. Remove all fat from the broth, either with a separator jug or by chilling the liquid in the fridge and allowing the fat to solidify on top, then lifting off. Taste and decide if the broth requires any embellishment. You can improve the flavour of the broth, if necessary, with various flavouring sauces such as, but not limited to, mushroom ketchup, walnut ketchup, anchovy essence, Henderson’s Relish, Worcestershire Sauce, Marmite, Bovril, soy sauce.
  • Melt the butter in a large pan and add the pieces of cooked venison.
  • Braise the meat over a medium-low heat, turning often but carefully, to avoid breaking it apart further, until the meat is richly browned.
  • Return the meat to the broth and heat through. Add the chopped herbs and taste to check the seasoning. Add pepper, salt and more of the flavourings as required. If you’d like your broth darker, use a drop or two of gravy browning.
  • Add the cubed bread to the remaining butter and toss over medium heat until crisped and browned.
  • Serve sippets (for that is what you have just made) and marigold petals (if available) sprinkled into the broth.

 

¹ MS7851, Wellcome Library Collection. Various marks of ownership are written in the book, in a number of hands. ‘Elizabeth Browne 1697’, ‘Penelope Humphreys’, ‘Sarah Studman’, ‘D Milward’ and ‘Mary Dawes Jan 18 1791’.

Mussel Pottage

A pottage is a thickened, substantial cross between a soup and a stew. I was drawn to this recipe by the lazy cook in me that is always looking for a simpler, easier way to achieve tasty food.

When this recipe was jotted down three hundred years ago, it would have been quite hard work to prepare: collecting the mussels, cleaning them, steaming them, straining the sand from the broth, etc.

Luckily for us, we have the luxury of buying what someone else has collected and cleaned, and also cooked. Whilst you can certainly buy fresh mussels in their shells and prepare them yourself, cooked mussels and prepared fish stock can bring this dish together in just minutes. I’ve been rather specific with the number of mussels, however you should feel free to increase this quantity with abandon, if so inclined.

Mussel Pottage

Serves 4

500ml fish stock
250ml water
4 slices of white bread, crusts removed
2 blades mace
½ tsp ground allspice
150ml cream
3 large yolks
1tbs anchovy sauce
32 cooked mussels
30g butter
2tbs chopped parsley to serve

  • Put the stock, water, bread, spices and anchovy sauce into a pan and bring to a boil.
  • Turn the heat down and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat, fish out the mace and purée with a stick blender.
  • Mix the cream, anchovy sauce and the yolks together and whisk into the soup.
  • Set aside 12 mussels for garnish and add the remainder to the soup. Warm gently.
  • When ready to serve, melt the butter in a pan and when hot, quickly toss the mussels set aside for garnish in the hot butter for about a minute, to heat through .
  • Serve garnished with the fried mussels and a sprinkle of chopped parsley.