Oaten Biscuits

The recipes this week come from a classic Victorian book “Biscuits for Bakers” (1896) by Frederick T. Vine. They are essentially two versions of the same biscuit, one sweet, one plain. The method and baking time for both is the same, with the only difference being some of the ingredients: more sugar and butter in the sweet version (above left), different mix of flours, less sugar/butter and the use of lard in the plain version (above right).

recipes

Since the recipes are from a book for commercial bakers, the quantities given are huge and the instructions rather scant. For example, instruction to ‘bake in a warm oven’ is very much open to interpretation, forcing me to, in the end, just guess as 150°C Fan.

I chose these recipes for several reasons. Firstly, I love an oat biscuit – who, in their right mind, doesn’t? Secondly, the comment that different mixtures resulted in differing suggested selling price points, with the sweet biscuit selling for 10d a pound, and the plain 8d per pound, so I was keen to see whether the sweet biscuits tasted 2d per pound better (spoiler alert, they did and they didn’t). Lastly, I wanted to use some gadgets – my vintage pastry wheels (aka jagging irons) pictured below, and the lettering stamp set I’d bought last year and not yet used.

jagging

One of my pet peeves is wastage, and the rectangular shapes of these biscuits meant that I could cut them out with absolute minimum wastage. There’s nothing wrong with re-rolling – see previous post about Empty Pudding – but you run the risk of the re-rolled items baking mis-shapen, due to poor combining of scraps, or becoming tough, due to over-mixing.

So what are they like? Well, the sweet version is like a sweet digestive – sweeter than the best-selling modern brand, but not overly sweet, and crisp and crumbly. I love the texture, but they are a little sweet for my tastes. Further experimentation with a finer grade of oatmeal and less sugar might refine this satisfactorily. I tried stamping ‘Rich Oaten’ on them, but the slight spreading due to the increased quantities of  butter/sugar meant the lettering veered towards the blobby, although they did become more browned during baking. The plain version held the lettering much better, and using the cutting wheel made for a very pleasing contrast between the flour-dusted top of the biscuit and the darker, unfloured cut sides. These biscuits are much more crisp and less crumbly, and although they were perfectly enjoyable plain, they really shine when eaten with a little salted butter, cheese or both.

During experimentation, it became clear that the optimum baking time for these biscuits is much longer than average, at 30 minutes. This is due to the need to ensure that they dry out completely, which in turn gives and maintains their crispness.

Oaten Biscuits

As mentioned above, the method and baking are the same for both types of biscuits, so just pick whichever style you prefer, and follow the method below.

Confession time: I was so engrossed in the lettering, I forgot to brush the biscuits for the photo with milk before baking. I quite like the results, but if you would like a browner biscuit, brush with milk.

Plain Oaten Rich Oaten
medium oatmeal 170g medium oatmeal 170g
wholemeal flour 115g wholemeal flour 56g
plain flour 85g plain flour 56g
caster sugar 56g caster sugar 85g
butter 28g butter 100g
lard 28g cream of tartar 1½tsp
cream of tartar 1½tsp bicarbonate of soda ¾tsp
bicarbonate of soda ¾tsp salt ½tsp
salt ½tsp milk  to mix
milk to mix    
  • Put the dry ingredients and fat(s) into a food processor and blitz to combine.
  • With the motor running, add milk a little at a time, until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip out the dough and knead a few times until smooth.
  • Roll out thinly – about 5mm – and dock (poke holes) all over, either with a docker or the end of a skewer or similar.
  • Cut out the biscuits. Rich Oaten are rectangles 3cm x 7cm, Plain Oaten are 5cm x 5cm squares.
  • If you have stamp letting to name the biscuits, use it now.
  • Chill the biscuits in the fridge for 30 minutes to help them keep their shape.
  • Heat the oven to 190°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Arrange the chilled biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with milk if liked.
  • Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the baking sheet around and bake for another 10 minutes. Finally, flip the biscuits over so the bottoms can bake well and bake for 10 minutes, for a total of 30 minutes.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • When cold, store in an airtight container.

Plough Monday Pudding

In times past, when secular life intertwined much more with the religious, and life was closely linked with the land, Plough Monday was the first Monday after (the) Twelfth Day (of Christmas), the Feast of Epiphany, January 6th. It was supposedly the day when work in the fields resumed for the men with spring ploughing and is a tradition that stretches back centuries. It is mentioned in the writings of Thomas Tusser in 1580:

“Plough Munday, next after that Twelf-tide is past,
Bids out with the Plough; the worst husband is last:
If Plowman get hatchet, or whip to the skrene,
Maids loseth their cocke, if no water be seen:”

An explanation of these lines is provided by Daniel Hilman in 1710 (in his publication Tusser Redivivus) as follows:

“After Christmas (which formerly, during the twelve days, was a time of very little work) every gentleman feasted the farmers, and every farmer their servants and task men. Plough Monday puts them in mind of their business. In the morning the men and the maid servants strive who shall show their diligence in rising earliest. If the ploughman can get his whip, his plough-staff, hatchet, or anything that he wants in the field, by the fire-side, before the maid hath got her kettle on, then the maid loseth her Shrove-tide cock[¹], and it wholly belongs to the men. Thus did our forefathers strive to allure youth to their duty, and provided them innocent mirth as well as labour. On this Plough Monday they have a good supper and some strong drink.”

Despite the mention of ‘a good supper’, I’ve been unable to find any mention of precisely what this consisted of, and most recipes for Plough Monday Pudding, or just Plough Pudding date no further back than the mid 20th century.

In December, 1960, Folklore magazine published[²] the following recipe that had appeared in The Times newspaper on the 8th August of that year. Although titled ‘Plough Pudding’ the introductionry paragraph indicated it was a recipe to be found in Sussex farmhouses.

Subsequent versions all appear to be based on this recipe. Mary Norwak’s 1979 version[³] (below) made the very practical change of transferring the cooking vessel from a cloth to a bowl, and was ascribed to Norfolk. Mary Norwak lived in rural Norfolk, so perhaps this was a nod to her home county. She also quadruples the amount of sausage meat to make a very substantial pudding indeed.

Norfolk Plough Pudding

By the time her English Puddings: Sweet and Savoury was published in 1981, she has adjusted her recipe to reduce the cooking time to three hours and included some stock in the filling, for added moisture. She also comments “Some Plough Puddings are suet rolls wrapped around bacon rashers with onions, sage, pepper and a little black treacle.”[4]

Norfolk Plough Pudding

All other recipes appear to be variations of Mary Norwak’s, although few acknowledge it. The one exception I managed to find was in the Archers’ Country Kitchen by Angela Piper[5].  This version uses cold roast beef, presumably the remains of the Sunday roast and nothing like the original: sausagemeat and bacon being a much more believable stout yeoman’s supper than prime beef.

Plough Monday Pudding

This recipe is also far from perfect in the method, in my opinion. The instructions for using a pudding cloth lack essential details (should be scalded and floured, to prevent the pudding from sticking), the illustration clearly shows a lidless saucepan, which no-one in their right mind would use to cook a STEAMED pudding, and the pan itself is on what appears to be a professional chef’s griddle rather than something more believable for a farmhouse dish. We’ll draw a discrete veil over the ‘pink beef gravy’ serving suggeston, as this page is the only one in the book which mentions it, so it will be forever a mystery.

ANYHOO…

Plough Monday Pudding 2021

My version of Plough Monday Pudding is yet another adaptation, this time for individual steamed puddings. My version also includes an alternative cooking method: the slow cooker. The great danger with the long steaming a suet pudding requires is the need to ensure the water doesn’t boil dry. Honestly, I find it rather stressful. Enter the slow cooker, where you can leave your pudding blissfully unattended, secure in the knowledge that the water will remain largely unevaporated from the moment you switch it on, to the time you haul out your golden delights.

It’s actually better than the traditional method. In support of this statement, I’d like to offer the following photograph:

Slow cooker vs steamed.

The pudding on the left was cooked for 4 hours in the slow cooker on High. The pudding on the right was steamed for 2 hours. Both are fully cooked, but the longer, slower approach of the slow cooker makes for a richer, more golden crust. Another option is to cook on Low for 8 hours – perfect to come home to on a cold, winter’s night.

Don’t think you HAVE to cook your Plough Monday Pudding in individual dishes, or indeed in traditionally-shaped bowls. I have acquired a number of Victorian and later jelly moulds, which sadly sit unused for weeks at a time. Although the pastry needs care to ensure it nestles in all the nooks and crannies of the mould, the result is delightfully grand. Best of all, it can sit quite happily for up to 12 hours in the slow cooker on Low.

Jelly-mould Plough Pudding
Jelly-mould Plough Monday Pudding

Plough Monday Pudding

You can choose any of the above recipes, or follow mine below. I have cherry-picked from all.

For 4 individual puddings or 1 large one.

250g self-raising flour
125g suet
½tsp salt
melted butter for the moulds
1 pork sausage per individual pudding, or 6 for a large one.
2 large onions, chopped finely
125g lean bacon, chopped finely
2tbs chopped fresh sage or 1tbs dried
150ml chicken stock
1tbs treacle

  • Mix  the flour, suet and salt together and add sufficient cold water to bring it together in a soft dough.
  • Grease your pudding moulds well with the melted butter.
  • For individual puddings, divide the pastry into 4 and roll out and line your dishes. Let the excess pastry hang over the edge until your puddings are filled. If you’re making a large pudding, cut off 1/4 of the dough for the lid and roll the rest and line your mould.
  • Remove the sausage skins. For each individual pudding, roll one sausage between clingfilm to about 5mm thickness. Line the pastry in the moulds with the sausage meat. For the large mould, you can press the sausagemeat in by hand, or roll them out and ‘patchwork’ it in.
  • Mix the chopped onion and bacon and add the sage and black pepper.
  • Spoon the onion mixture into the middle of your puddings.
  • Press down gently but firmly. You don’t want to be too rough, because you might tear the pastry, but the filling needs to be firmly packed to give structural integrity when they are turned out, and the raw onion will soften and shrink during cooking.
  • Add the treacle to the stock and heat gently until the treacle melts in.
  • Spoon the dark brown stock into your puddings, allowing time for it to seep down into the gaps, until you can see liquid level with the top of your filling. It should be 2-3 tablespoons for each individual pudding.
  • Cover the ‘top’ of your puddings. You needen’t be too precious about this, because when the puddings are turned out, this ‘top’ will be hidden underneath. For the small ones, fold over the excess pastry from the sides, and use water to moisten and seal the edges. For the large pudding, roll out the reserved pastry to size and again, use water to moisten and seal the edges.
  • Tear off some kitchen foil for each pudding. Brush the underside with melted butter and make a large, single pleat in the foil, then press on top of your puddings. The pleat will allow the pastry to expand as it cooks, without running the risk of the foil tearing and allowing water to get in.
  • For ease of lifting from the hot water at the end of cooking, you might want to tie string around the edge of the foil and create a loop over the top to grab onto.
  • Put your puddings into your slow cooker, ensuring there is space around them for the water to circulate.
  • Add sufficient water to the cooker to come ¾ of the way up the bowls/mould.
  • Turn the heat to High for 4 hours, or Low for 8 hours.
  • When ready to serve, lift the puddings from the cooker and set on a towel to drain and rest for 10 minutes.
  • Turn the puddings out and serve with either a hot tomato sauce (Norwak 1979) or gravy (Norwak, 1981).
  • Top Tip: If your puddings are looking a bit anaemic, you can brush them with melted butter and set into a 200°C, 180°C Fan oven for 5-15 minutes (depending on size), to give them a bit of colour.
Beef and onion Plough Monday Pudding
Beef and onion Plough Monday Pudding

Top Tip: If you’re making the version of the pudding using cooked beef, toss your diced beef in cornflour before mixing with the onion. It will thicken the stock, stop your pudding becoming waterlogged and help hold it together when turned out.

 

[¹] It was a tradition that the local lord gave a gift of a cock hen to the woman of the house at Shrovetide. The Plough Monday friendly competition was a race to see who could get up earliest on that day, and either have their work implements ready (men) or have water on to boil (women). The winner received the prized chicken for that year.

[²] Folklore, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Dec., 1960), p262. All thanks to Dr Annie Gray for helping me get my hands on this article.

[³] The Farmhouse Kitchen, Mary Norwak, (1979), Warwick Press, p49.

[4] English Puddings: Sweet and Savoury, Mary Norwak, (1981), London : Batsford, p109

[5] Archers’ Country Kitchen, Angela Piper, (2011) Newton Abbot : David & Charles, p84

 

Venison Pie

This is a great Deja Food way to transform the cooked venison from a joint into another meal. Since the filling has already been cooked, there is little shrinkage during baking, thus making it a fabulously sturdy picnic pie once cold.

Whichever way you choose to enjoy it, remember to serve with redcurrant jelly.

Venison Pie

500g cooked venison
salt and pepper
300g cooked potatoes
venison, beef or lamb stock, thickened with a little cornflour
beef or lamb dripping pastry, made with stock instead of water.
1 large egg to glaze

A 24cm spring-form tin.

  • Divide the chilled pastry into two pieces, one large than the other.
  • Cut off about 1/3 of the pastry and roll out for the lid of the pie. Cut it to size with 2cm extra all round. Cover with cling film and set aside.
  • Gather the trimmings together with the rest of the pastry and roll out for lining your greased pie tin. Be sure not to have your pastry too thin, as it will have to support a lot of filling – no less than 1cm on the sides and a little thicker over the bottom half of the pie. Let any excess pastry lie over the edges of the tin.
  • Chill the tin in the fridge until required.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Cut the meat into cubes, discarding any fat or connective tissue.
  • Season well with salt and pepper.
  • Cut the potatoes into cubes roughly the same size as the meat.
  • Add the cubed potatoes to the seasoned venison, together with enough gravy to coat.
  • Add the filling to the pie and press down firmly. Spoon over a little extra gravy.
  • Moisten the top edges of the pastry with water and cover with the pre-cut lid. Press firmly to seal, then crimp the edges either by hand or with the tines of a fork. Use the offcuts of pastry to form decorations and secure to the lid using a little water.

Venison and Potato Pie decoration
Pie decoration example

  • Cut a vent hole for steam, then whisk the egg and brush over the top of the pie.
    Bake for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is crisp and brown and the filling hot.
  • Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then remove and serve, or if eating cold, allow to cool fully in the tin.

Radnor Cranberry Tart

If you have an extended social life in the run-up to Christmas, and sample nothing but mince pies throughout December, by the time you get to the 25th, what with the Christmas Cake and Christmas Pudding, you can be all mince-pied out.

Also, sometimes you find yourself fancying something a little savoury at the end of a meal, and this is why this recipe is perfect. It’s simple and straightforward – just two main ingredients of fresh cranberries and juicy raisins. The raisins take the edge off the sometimes eye-popping sharpness of the cranberries and the little dash of vanilla also gives the aroma of sweetness, so only the merest sprinkle of sugar is required. It’s festively reminiscent enough of a mince pie to deserve a place on the table, its fresh-tasting, palate-cleansing, sweet but not too sweet, can be served hot or cold, but ALWAYS with a slice of cheese. I’m thinking some vintage cheddar, crumbly white Cheshire or even one of the fruited cheeses – white Stilton and apricot anyone?

It is a traditional (Welsh) border tart, ideal for Christmas – just look at that glorious colour! The original 1930s recipe in Mrs Arthur Webb’s Farmhouse Cookery didn’t specify any particular pastry, so I’m taking the opportunity to offer for your delectation and amusement, a new pastry recipe! Yes, I know I love the cornflour pastry – and I really do, both sweet and savoury versions – but I can’t resist something that has the potential to add a new arrow to my pastry quiver, as it were, and in this case, I’m really glad that I did.

It’s Eliza Acton’s 1845 recipe for cream pastry and it has my seal of approval for several reasons:

  • Simplicity – in its basic form, it can be whisked together with just two ingredients.
  • Taste – when baked, it is crisp and dry, without any hint of greasiness or stodginess.
  • It can be enriched with butter, but at a ratio of just 1/4 fat-to-flour, it is not as indulgent as it tastes. When enriched with butter, the texture is moving towards the flakiness of flaky pastry, yet with the ‘dryness’ and crispness of the cornflour pastry – Nom!
  • And on the practical side, it handles and rolls really nicely.

You can, of course, use your own favourite pastry instead.

Radnor Cranberry Tart

Eliza Acton’s Cream Pastry
This quantity makes enough for a 20cm pie.

225g plain flour
0.5tsp salt
300-450ml double cream
56g butter

  • Put the flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor.
  • With the motor running, gradually add in the cream, a little at a time, until the mixture comes together.
  • Tip the mixture out and knead until smooth.
  • Roll out the pastry into a long rectangle.
  • Using the same method as for Flaky Pastry, dot over half the butter.
  • Fold the ends over, turn the pastry 90 degrees and repeat.
  • Roll out one last time, and fold the ends inwards.
  • Wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Make the filling (see below).
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut into 2 pieces (2/3 + 1/3 is about right).
  • Roll out the large piece and use it to line a greased, 20cm loose bottomed tart tin. Ease the pastry into the sides, rather than just stretching it by pressing down too hard. Leave the excess hanging over the edge of the tin.
  • Roll out the smaller piece of pastry to make the lid, and lay it onto a cutting board.
  • Chill both pieces of pastry in the fridge for 20 minutes. This will make sure it is relaxed and less prone to shrinkage in the oven.
  • By this time, the filling should be cool enough to use.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Remove the two lots of pastry from the fridge.
  • Fill the lined tin with the cooled filling and smooth over.
  • Using a pastry brush, wet the edges of the pastry, then lay the lid across the top and press the edges together.
  • Trim off the excess using the back of a knife.
  • Crimp the edges to your liking – I used the tines of a fork to make for a good seal.
  • Brush the surface of the tart with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar.
  • Cut a steam vent in the middle of the pastry lid using a sharp knife.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden brown.
  • Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then remove to a wire rack to cool, if not serving warm.
  • Serve with a nice wedge of cheese.

Filling
450g fresh cranberries
225g raisins
30g sugar
60ml cold water
0.5tsp vanilla extract

  • Rinse the cranberries and put them in a pan with the raisins, sugar and water.
  • Cover and warm on a low heat until the mixture comes to the boil and you can hear the cranberries starting to pop.
  • Simmer for just five minutes, then turn off the heat.
  • Taste to make sure of the sweetness, but remember, this is not supposed to be a really sweet tart, however, it shouldn’t be too sour either. If you think it needs a little more sugar, add it by all means.
  • Stir in the vanilla and leave to cool.