Thursday 19 December 2019

Take a Christmas bite of Cranberry, Lemon and Pistachio Shortbread

Cranberry, Lemon and Pistachio Shortbread
Cranberries and pistachios are my favourite seasonal fruit and nuts and they make a great combination with the tangy taste of lemon to show off Christmas colours and flavours. 
What you need 
200g/7oz butter
50g/2oz icing sugar
300g/11oz plain flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g/2oz cranberries (dried)
50g/2oz pistachios
Zest and juice of 1 lemon

How to bake 
Line a 20cm/8 inch square tin with baking paper. Using a food processor or mixer, mix together the butter, sugar and flour until it comes together. Add the vanilla, cranberries, pistachios and lemon zest and mix slowly to distribute evenly. Add the lemon juice and mix briefly to combine all the ingredients. Press the mixture into the tin and chill for 30-40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 170C/150(Fan)/Mark 3 and bake for around 30-35 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and cut into fingers whilst still in the tin. Then allow to cool.
Meryl says : These delicious shortbreads make an excellent homemade gift and are very easy to make. Enjoy a Christmas treat with friends and family!

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Memories of Doncaster Butterscotch

One of my favourite sweet tastes is Butterscotch and Doncaster is the place where it originates. Samuel Parkinson used local places such as the church and the racecourse to market this delicacy. Originally, it was described as ‘medicinal’ and acquired a ‘royal’ label after Queen Victoria visited the town in 1851 and tasted the ‘sweetmeat’ which was sold as ‘an emollient for the chest in the winter season’.
Food historians are divided over the name ‘scotched’ meaning ‘cut’ or ‘scored’ as Butterscotch needs to be cut into pieces before hardening. Others are divided over whether the buttery treacle ball is a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ crack as toffee. I was privileged to be shown a copy of the original recipe from Doncaster’s Archives and made the recipe as near to the original for a Georgian baking event at Cusworth Hall. It was a great success!
Meryl says : Here are some more recipes using Doncaster Butterscotch you might like to try. I’m not promising any medicinal cures but they are certainly tasty!

Friday 11 October 2019

Wartime Beetroot cake … ‘I should cocoa’

Grandma lived through WW1 and 2 and I’ve often thought about how this affected her approach to food and baking. I’ve been doing talks about wartime baking and rationing and meeting some interesting people who have memories of the difficulties of preparing food in WW2 so it’s been fascinating to try out some of the recipes from that period.
I've been given a recipe for Beetroot cake. As with many ingredients in short supply or on the rationing list, alternatives had to be found and, in this case, beetroot replaced most of the cocoa powder. You might have used dried eggs, different fats and most certainly wholemeal flour.
Beetroot cake
150g/5oz butter
175g/6oz sugar
2 eggs (beaten)
250g/9oz beetroot (cooked)
2 tbsps white wine vinegar
160ml/5 fl oz milk
250g flour
2-3 tbsps cocoa powder
2 tsps baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan), mark 4. Line a 21cm/8 inch round or square cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs. Blend the beetroot to a puree and add the vinegar and milk and add this to the mixture. Mix the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder and fold this in. Pour this mixture into the tin and bake for around 45 minutes.  
Meryl says : Another wartime recipe is Vinegar cake which has found some fans but suffers from its sour name. But Beetroot cake is now popular with modern cooks and has certainly reinvented itself. Whether you like beetroot or not, this cake must have been a real treat during those dark wartime days; I should cocoa. See what you think!

Thursday 19 September 2019

Rhubarb & Ginger Chutney makes the grade

I was delighted to support a Doncaster Heritage Skills baking session earlier in the year and  demonstrate a few recipes. Grandma’s mantra was ‘Waste not want not’ and when there were gluts of produce, nothing ever went to waste.  This year has been a good one for Rhubarb, but there are only so many Rhubarb Crumbles to eat so I made this spicy Rhubarb and Ginger Chutney. It got thumbs up all round!
What you need …
1kg/2.2lbs rhubarb
300ml/½ pint white wine or cider vinegar
2 onions (chopped)
10g lump root ginger peeled and finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp salt
350g brown sugar

How to prepare …
Trim and wash the rhubarb, slice it into fairly fine chunks. Heat the chopped onions, vinegar, ginger, sugar and salt in a wide based non aluminium pan. Bring to a boil for about 5 minutes, then add the rhubarb. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until thickened. Put into sterilised jars and leave to cool.
Meryl says : It needs a bit more boiling than other chutneys but well worth the effort and especially if you like a milder chutney it will go well with cheese and meats throughout the year.
Try more Rhubarb recipes
Rhubarb Tutti-frutti Crumble

or Chutney Recipes 

Meryl says : Whatever you bake this month, enjoy it!

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Lincolnshire Plum Loaf looks to its past

Lincolnshire Plum Loaf
There’s some confusion about ‘plums’ and ‘plumbs’. A ‘Lincolnshire lass’ (as she proudly described herself) gave me this recipe a few months ago. She asked me to share her Gran’s ‘Plumb Loaf’ as it was a treasured family recipe. She wasn’t sure why she had written ‘Plumb’ so we laughed when I said ‘plumb’ usually referred to lead weight whereas ‘plum’ was a traditional term for any type of dried fruit. However, she may have the last laugh as I found Elizabeth Raffald's recipe for ‘Plumb Loaf’ and ‘White Plumb Loaf’ when researching this Doncaster born cook. 
Elizabeth Raffald's Plumb Cake 
The recipes are similar but the quantities are much greater especially when it comes to eggs! 

Here’s what you need ...
Lincolnshire Plumb Loaf
2 cups/8oz/225g self raising flour
½ cup/2oz/50g butter
1 cup/4oz/110g sugar
2 cups/8oz/225g mixed fruit
2oz/50g ground almonds
2oz/50g glace cherries
1 egg (beaten)
a little milk
How to bake it ….
Preheat the oven 180C/350F/Gas 4 to Rub the butter into the flour well, add the mixed fruit, ground almonds and cherries with the sugar. Then add the egg and milk. The mixture needs to be stiff so don’t add too much milk. Put into a lined loaf tin and bake for 45 minutes approximately.

Meryl says : When checking up on ‘plums’ and ‘plumbs’ I discovered that ‘plumming’ was a term used in Victorian times to describe dried fruit as it expands. That’s why the Victorians called Christmas pudding ‘Plum Pudding’. Why not try my Great Aunt Emma’s Plum Pudding recipe.

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Uncovering a Doncaster born Domestic Goddess

I enjoy doing research into Heritage baking and earlier this year, I was delighted that Doncaster Heritage Festival asked me to do some digging for a talk entitled ‘Uncovering Doncaster’s Food History’. There was a wealth of material to explore from the famous Doncaster Market  at the heart of the town since 1194 to the new Food Festival held in May. I discovered an amazing gem in the Central Library, where I poured over a copy of ‘The Experienced English Housekeeper’ by Elizabeth Raffald, originally published in 1769 and containing this tasty citrus biscuit. I've brought the recipe up to date for a modern oven.
Yorkshire Cracknels
What you need ….
8oz/225g flour
8oz/225g butter
3 eggs (yolks only)
5oz/150g sugar
2-3 tbsps water
1 lemon zest
Few drops orange extract
How to bake ….
Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas 3. Rub the butter into the flour. Then add the egg yolks and sugar. Mix in the water, lemon zest and a few drops of orange extract. Form a ball with the mixture and leave to chill in a cool place for 30 minutes. Then roll out as thinly as you can. Cut rounds as large as you wish. Bake for 20 minutes in a slow oven.
More about Elizabeth Raffald ....
Elizabeth Raffald was born in Doncaster in 1733 but spent most of her adult life in Cheshire and Manchester where she has a blue plaque in her honour. She died aged 47 in 1781 but by that time she had become a true entrepreneur. She was firstly employed as a cook housekeeper by the Warburton family at Arley Hall where she honed her skills and acquired the knowledge to write her book. Together with her husband, John she moved into Manchester and there she ran a confectionery shop, a cookery school, a catering business, the first employment agency for servants, the first trade directory and a coaching inn. She created the modern version of the Eccles cake with flaky pastry and is reputed to be the first cook to design a Bride’s cake with almond paste and royal icing. 
Meryl says : Cracknells are known today more as a biscuit made with popular breakfast cereals and chocolate but I love Elizabeth Raffald’s citrus version. They make a real Heritage biscuit and a tribute to this truly domestic goddess of her time. 

Saturday 27 July 2019

Homemade Mango Chutney worth the wait

This tangy homemade Mango Chutney goes well with the usual Indian dishes but can spice up a variety of summer dishes, meats and even toasted sandwiches. I’ve made Mango & Apple Chutney before from one of Grandma Abson’s Chutney recipes but this one is an easy Chutney recipe. These ingredients make about 4-5 small jars.
Mango Chutney
250g/9oz light brown sugar
600m/1 ptl white wine vinegar
4-5 mangoes (stones removed, peeled and chopped)
2 onions (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 red chilli
50g/2oz root ginger (grated)
2 tbsps lemon juice
½ tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cardamom
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp salt
110g/4oz raisins (optional)

Boil the sugar in the vinegar in a large pan till dissolved. Chop the mangoes and onions and then add these together with the garlic, chilli and grated ginger to the pan. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat. Allow to simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes to an hour until the fruit is tender. Pound the seeds and cardamon in a pestle and mortar.  Add these spices, the turmeric and the lemon juice, mustard powder, and salt. Finally, add the raisins, if using. Continue to simmer for 5 to 10 more minutes until the chutney leaves a clear trail when a spoon is drawn across. Allow to cool and then spoon into clean, sterilised jars.

Meryl’s tip : This chutney will be best eaten after a few months, when the flavours have started to combine – that’s if you can wait!

Saturday 22 June 2019

Cook's in charge in the Great Kitchen

In Edwardian times, every large house had a Great Kitchen where the cook was in charge. At Cusworth Hall in 1901, the Great Kitchen was the domain of Eliza Haddrill, a 47 year old lady from Berkshire. She would meet her mistress, Lady Isabella every morning to decide the menus for the day and with the help of the kitchen maids, prepare meals for the family and servants.
On the recent Servants’ Day, I got dressed up as Eliza to bake some recipes for the visitors which the Servants might have eaten.  I made a Slab Cake. This is a light fruit cake which has no additional spices in the recipe so it retains a simplicity which the servants would have enjoyed. 
What you need to bake Slab Cake…
225g/8oz butter
225g/8oz sugar
5 eggs (beaten)
275g/10oz plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
110g/4oz ground almonds
225g/8oz sultanas
110g/4oz glace cherries
110g/4oz walnuts

How to bake …
Pre heat the oven Mark 2, 300F, 150C. Grease and line a 23 cm/9 inch square cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs gradually. Mix together the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, fruit and walnuts. Add these to the creamed mixture. Bake for 1½ - 2 hours.
Meryl says : This was one of Grandma Abson’s recipes which she would have made at Oakleigh when she was a cook in service in Edwardian times. This cake got the thumbs up with the visitors, alongside the Ground Rice CakeI hope you enjoy it too!

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Servants Day at Cusworth Hall

We know that at the beginning of the Edwardian era in 1901, Cusworth Hall was a grand establishment. There were 11 servants living in the Hall, including the housekeeper, butler, cook, kitchen maid, a scullery maid and 2 housemaids and many others were employed in the house and on the estate. The cook would need to provide food for all these employees as well the family and guests at the house. 

This year, Servants' Day included visits to the Servants Quarters and the Great Kitchen. I baked some of the recipes which the servants might have eaten during their daily routine. They would gather at 11.00 in the Servants Hall for morning tea and to receive instructions. The cakes the cook provided for them would have been plain, made with cheaper ingredients so I think Ground Rice Cake would have been a popular choice.
What you need …
4 eggs
225g/8oz butter
225g/8oz sugar
225g/8oz self-raising flour
225g/8oz ground rice
Few drops lemon extract or zest of 1 lemon

How to bake …
Preheat the oven to 325F, Mark 3, 170 C. Separate the egg whites and whisk well. Beat the yolks and butter to a cream with the sugar and then mix with the flour and ground rice. Fold in the egg whites. Add the lemon zest or extract. It may be flavoured with almond extract instead of lemon. Put the mixture in a lined loaf tin. Bake for approximately 1 hour.
Meryl says : Visitors to the Hall enjoyed trying out Ground Rice Cake. It reminded some of them of Ground Rice Pudding. Others liked the lemon taste and the distinct grainy texture of Ground Rice. Try it at home and see what you think. I'll be adding another recipe from Servants' Day soon so look out for Slab Cake! 

Saturday 11 May 2019

Tutti Frutti Rhubarb Crumble goes ‘awopbopaloobop’

The young Rhubarb in the garden is starting to grow in abundance so I’m taking advantage to make one of my favourite Rhubarb recipes. We always think first of Rhubarb crumble but this recipe has a slight twist as you melt the butter for the crumble mixture rather than rub it into the flour. It also means there’s more of the fruit to enjoy and less of the topping.  

What you need
3½oz/90g wholemeal flour
2oz/50g rolled oats
1 tbsp poppy seeds
2oz/50g demerara sugar
4oz/110g butter
1lb/450g rhubarb
30g currants

How to bake …
Preheat the oven to 190C (170C Fan), 375F/Mark 5. Grease an 8 inch/21 cm baking dish. Melt the butter gently in a pan. Mix together the flour, oats, poppy seeds, and sugar in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter and make up small patties from the mixture. Freeze these for 10 minutes.
Cut the rhubarb into chunks, place on a baking tray, sprinkle with demerara sugar and pre-cook in the oven for 15 minutes.  I added 2 tsps of ginger to the rhubarb while the crumble mixture freezes.

Remove the patties from the freezer and crumble in large and small pieces over the fruit. Bake for about 35 minutes until the top is golden. Allow to cool slightly. Serve with ice cream or crème fraiche. 

Meryl says : You can use this recipe with any mixed red fruits e.g. cherries, strawberries, plums, raspberries, redcurrants.  Mix 1 tbsp cornflour with 50 ml/2 fl oz water or red wine. Place the fruit in a bowl and add the cornflour mixture. Transfer the fruit to the prepared dish and continue as before with the crumble topping. You can be sure it’ll go “A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!” 
Here are some more of Grandma Abson’s favourite recipes with Rhubarb and I’m busy devising a recipe for Rhubarb and Ginger Chutney – coming soon!