Archive for February 2009

British Classic #3: Lardy Cake

February 28, 2009

Short and sweet this time around, with sweet being the operative word…

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you a legend of the West Country. The Lardy Cake, as it’s name lets slip, is a dried fruit bread using rendered pork fat and copious amounts of unrefined sugar. Created in Wiltshire, regional versions are found wherever pig farming occurs in high volume, and again it can be directly attributed to frugality, a national pastime. But what a way to use up lard! There can be few things more delightful and agreeable to eat with a growling stomach than this soft, sweet loaf flecked with orange peel and currants, lubricated with an opaque film of crunchy sugar-fat, leaving fingertips and mouth edges glistening with every indulgent mouthful. 

The heart stopping, shock-horror calorific orgy of Lardy Cake is both the best and worst thing about it. In today’s low-fat, guilt laden diet mentality there is no place for such a time traveller, a relic of ages past where fat, sugar and flour were a means of staving off the persistent cold inherent to the British Isles. Now we have central heating (not to mention global warming), and a cake of sugar and pig, turned upside down to cool so that the maximum amount of good stuff soaks back into it is not wanted by many.

That’s many, not all. (cough) 

There’s no doubt about it, Lardy Cake is disappearing. Slowly but surely, even in prime pig country where I sit and type this, it becomes less easily to find it year after year. I eventually expect it to become a quaint oddity, one for arch cookbook writers to throw in as a humourous aside….”Of course, you won’t actually COOK this!?” Personally, I blame the association with the US term “Lardass”. Hard not to think of it with each bite. 

But, my friend, if you are lucky enough to find a baker who makes this wonderful treat, don’t deny yourself. Take a slice home, and eat it in the only way it should be eaten – with a mug of strong tea, and a clear conscience. 

Thanks again, and see you for #4: The OXO cube….

Croosh

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British Classic #2: Black Pudding

February 24, 2009

There can be no middle ground with Black Pudding, the Holy Grail of our sausage repertoire here in Blighty. It is a something of fascination to many outside of these shores that we eat so many of the squiggly, alien-shaped organs and glands of our farm animals, but rather than Viking-imbued bloodlust, it is simply down to our ancestors stubborn refusal to discard any part of an animal we have slaughtered. Black Pudding illustrates this attitude perfectly…not to mention deliciously.

Okay, let’s come clean. It’s blood. Lots of blood. If you eat black pudding, There. Will. Be. Blood. A combination of pig and ox blood is thickened with oats, diced pork fat, pearl barley and usually cereal or rusk. This is then piped into casing as per any other variety of sausage. These are then boiled and allowed to cool. When required, the pudding is most commonly sliced then fried or grilled until crisp. No Full English Breakfast (and an episode on that will come, rest assured) would be complete without it, yet more often than not the common reaction to the idea of Black Pudding is…..”Urgh! I’m not eating that.” Pervading modern squeamishness equates the creation of these sausages as something monstrous, an anachronism in today’s ethically minded, caring approach to meat. Well, bollocks to that. I freely admit that a butcher’s kitchen awash with blood and rusk(no exaggeration – according to Andy, my butcher, it takes around 90 litres of blood to make a decent batch. That’s at least a Shining lift-full) isn’t as appealing as, say, artisan salted caramels or other 21st century wonders but to ignore it is a travesty. According to WordPress, I’ve got to 274 words and I haven’t talked about how it tastes yet. Nothing shows the strength of feeling on either side of the BP fence better than that.

So how does it taste? Well, to paraphrase actor Troy Mcclure, “Slow down Jimmy. You just asked a mouthful.” How Black Pudding tastes depends totally upon the skill of the maker – both practically AND with the choice of seasonings – coupled with the quality of the ingredients. I’ve eaten the best and worst of BP and I must say that if the only reference point I had was the poor stuff, well, I wouldn’t like it either! At it’s worst, it is dry and sour, with an abundence of salt and pepper to mask the scarcity of pig and over-reliance on cereals. But at it’s best…delicately spiced, soft with a light crumbliness and a deeply comforting feel in the mouth and on the tastebuds. It has no strong flavour to dominate, so those put off by comparisons to things like liver or kidney are really, really missing something special. Blood is a by-product of pork production, so to use it is to show respect for the animal that gave it’s life. We don’t just do it to freak out the tourists. We do it because it’s really good. But don’t just take our word for it. Ask the Spanish or Latin Americans, who have their own beloved morcilla, or the respective blood sausage recipes of France(the world famous boudin noir), Germany, Romania, Iceland, Sweden and many more around the globe. Our own BP does not have one definitive recipe. Indeed, the finest have recipes as secret as that of Coca-Cola et al, guarded and passed down under high security. We have national competitions, as well as fierce rivalry between regions and counties concerning whose pud is superior. We like doing the infighting thing, you’ll see more examples as the weeks go on…

My personal favourite? I suppose I’m breaking my own rules here as the nation I choose, namely the Republic of Ireland, is not part of Great Britain, but I’m sure they won’t mind. The Black Pudding mecca is to be found in the town of Clonakilty, West County Cork. A beautiful place to start with, it now supplies most top restaurants and home cooks in the know with the finest BP I have ever tasted. It’s also the country that gave us the sibling White Pudding (can you guess what they took out to make it White Pudding? Correct.) which is darn fine eatin’, too. But were I to recommend anything, it would to be to find your local independent butcher and buy a homemade, local example.It will either be in small pebbles, loops or huge shiny torpedoes, the likes of which you would expect to find more suited to a shagpile carpet in the San Fernando Valley. That shape is the one commonly found in supermarkets. I generally wouldn’t touch the stuff in most supermarkets with a barge-pole, and I put down a lot of  the personal dislikes of BP to bad supermarket examples. They just can’t resist filling them with rubbish, you see.

Fried to perfect crispness, it is a thing of wonder. And not just as part of a fry-up. Black Pudding and the sweet/sharp notes of apples get along very well, and Black Pudding with scallops is not just a pretentious restaurant gimmick. It’s genuinely delicious. In this country it has become something of a garnish for trendy chefs and sometimes suffers for it, but I have used it to great effect in a number of varied dishes, and I’m pretty sure I shall never get tired of it. So I shall close this second entry with a plea to apprehensive visitors and squeamish natives alike: PLEASE GIVE IT A CHANCE! It’s really rather good.

Thanks and see you next time,

Croosh

Coming soon: #3: The Lardy Cake

REAL British Classic #1: The Jaffa Cake

February 22, 2009

There are few things dearer to my heart (or should that be my stomach) than a Mcvities Jaffa Cake. A wonder of food engineering, flavour and texture combination, Jaffas illustrate well the British tendency to enjoy a foodstuff with a hint of playfulness and fun about it. A small disc of firm, dry sponge holding a smaller disc of tangy marmalade coloured jelly, the jelly half finished with an ethereally thin layer of dark chocolate. Chocolate and orange are always a fine combination, and the “smashing orangey bit”(as advertising instructed us was the term for the centre of the Jaffa Cake) is refreshingly sharp and holds up well to the twin attack of  chocolate and slightly stale tasting sponge. I must point out here that a hint of staleness with regards to confectionary is no bad thing for the British. In fact, we have a soft spot for really low quality sweet things, waxy “chocolate” Rainbow Drops being one example that springs to mind from my happy sweetshop memories. No, for some of us, the beauty of the Jaffa Cake lies in the ritual of how you eat them. Heaven forbid that we should actually just bite, then chew. No, no. This is Great Britain! Do you scrape the chocolate away with your front teeth, then separating the jelly from its spongey mooring? Or is it a case of  precision-nibbling away the sponge, to then attack either the orange from below, or to strip it of its choccy covering. The saliva producing quality of Jaffas makes them one of the most horrendously moreish snack cakes that money can buy, and many a large cardboard tube has been finished off at a shamefully fast speed. (Ahem) Indeed, they have long been known as a staple of cash-strapped students eager for sugar to dampen down the munchie attack brought forth via daytime TV/Jazz Cigarettes…

So how long have we been in love with this plucky little fella? Like most things British, it has a long history, first emerging waaaay back in 1927, and remaining popular ever since. A question also remained popular too, namely: Is a Jaffa Cake a cake or is it in fact a biscuit? Now, under UK law, no VAT is paid on biscuits and cakes, with one notable exception. Chocolate covered biscuits incur value added tax. Her Majesty’s Customs And Excise challenged this in 1991 and took McVities to court over the matter, probably due to the fact that Jaffas are about the same size as most biscuits. McVities responded by making a giant Jaffa Cake – the thought of it just makes my knees go – to show that they were essentially just miniature versions of cakes. The court ruled in their favour and subsequently we can say for definite that the Jaffa is indeed a cake. Waste of court time? I think not! Truly a British icon (my Nan told me of a meal in her youth where a solitary Jaffa Cake was given as a dessert), a world without smashing orangey bits is a world I want no part of. Just watch Spaced to see the joy that they elicit. That’s how we feel about ’em!

McVities Jaffa Cake, I salute you!

And there we go, thus ends the first in what I plan to be a weekly series highlighting uniquely British foods for anyone in the dark about our eccentricities and habits. See you next time………

Welcome to the insiders guide to the real gems of British food!

February 22, 2009

Hello one and all!

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Casey, I’m a chef, and I reside in a sleepy village just outside of Hereford in the leafy English countryside. I’ve acquired a number of dear friends from beyond our sceptred isle, which in turn gave me this little idea. Each week I shall write about a foodstuff that foreigners may know nothing about, but which are indispensible to the majority of native Brits. A little inside information, if you will, for anyone planning to travel here/make some bulk air freighted food orders…Any feedback would be much appreciated, and I hope you enjoy the blog! 

Croosh