Some thoughts on baking with citrus

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The space
between the leaves
is full of sunlight.

At the sharp edge,
no longer crowded
with past and future,

fruits ripen on the lemon tree
in the silence
rising
from the morning air.
–   Ok-Koo Kand Grosjean, Garden

That sunlit space is where all citrus fruits reside, a place of sharp, bright awakening and the way we use them in cooking is a tale of cultural derring-do: even the simplest of recipes can possess multiple cultural references, reflecting the complex culinary genealogy of these fruits. Although I use them frequently in savoury meals, today I want to gather together some of my favourite citrus recipes. And if a pudding course redolent with lemon and its citrus cousins is not enough, then precede it with chicken, spaghetti and circles of calamarata pasta dressed with lemon, garlic, parsley and clams, turnip tops and roasted cauliflower .

 One of my favourites is a recipe for a grapefruit yoghurt cake which possesses a convoluted culinary genealogy by way of Ina Garten and Deb Perelman and it is Deb who tinkers with Ina’s original lemon pound cake — and tries to lighten it up. Butter and buttermilk are replaced by oil -and the aforementioned yoghurt – in a nod to the sainted lighter living and not something I usually subscribe to, being of the school of eat a little of whatever the hell you fancy. Anyway, butter is not bad for you. This is not substitution in order to reduce calories or fat but to adjust texture:  the yoghurt adds flavour whilst the oil ensures the crumb retains dampness even when the cake is a few days old.

When we bake with citrus fruits, their sharp, grassy, rimey and clear flavours cut through the melding tendencies of eggs, butter and other oils like Flashman. Grapefruit lends a more rounded, burnished flavour than the lemon and is further rounded-out by the yoghurt which produces a springy, moist crumb with a lactic tang. A grapefruit’s flavour is warm amber compared to the clear jewel-like citrine taste of a lemon.

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Classic lemon bundt cake

Adding the zest to the cake mix results in a drizzle cake in all but name: the grapefruit juices are poured over the cooling cake and then used in an icing sugar-based glaze and this method clearly lends itself to all kinds of free-styling. The Southern Girls Kitchen has a newly published recipe for grapefruit pound cake which would make a great starting-block for experimentation using different glazes and adding in fruit to the batter: the cream cheese in the mixture and the filling also adds moistness and flavour. I have baked madeleines flavoured with bergamot and lime accompanied by a coconut dipping sauce and sharp lemon and lime loaf cakes where a sprinkle of sumach adds a rounded tangy flavour: Nigella’s lemon and polenta cake would also work well with sumach. I like the idea of friands scented with mandorla and Earl Grey tea or made with a blend of pomelo and Lady Grey. There’s other tea blends which sound intriguing too: try Adagio teas who sell a blend called crema di mandorle di albicocca (described as marzipan meets apricot in black tea with a splash of cream) which I think would be amazing in a cake on its own as well.

I’m currently testing a cake-riff on a breakfast grapefruit where we can take the grapefruit halves usual sprinkling of grilled brown sugar and transform this into a brown-sugar and butter icing for a brown-butter and grapefruit loaf cake, perfect for the colder months ahead.  In winter, try incorporating rosy quinces into a damp-crumbed fruity cake spiced with star anise; drench griddled brioche or madeira cake with blood-orange curd for breakfast; or tuck poached kumquats and lychees inside a friand so each bite of cake is enlivened by a heart of fruit. Keep an eye on this site and on my newspaper food column for the recipes.

Rachel Roddy has written about her own baking template- the yoghurt pot cake- which can be adapted as the seasons change and, as she finds, is terribly good-tempered about this. Here, she flavours it with lemon and persimmon which we sometimes refer to as Sharon fruit in the UK. The hachiya variety rewards the wait for ripeness as Rousseau explains: ‘patience is bitter but fruit is sweet,’ maturing to a sweet-jellied voluptuousness. Sponges made with it are beautifully damp. Add in a few slivers of stem ginger to deepen its sweetness into something more dustily mysterious and don’t be too fussy about shaking off the beads of syrup which cling to the little balls of ginger when you spoon them out of their jar and stir them into the batter.

Kerstin Rodgers (aka Ms MarmiteLover) has published a recipe for a boiled-orange upside-down cake which also happens to be gluten-free. Made for one of her secret tea parties, the original idea came via Diana Henry on Saturday Kitchen and the recipe caught my attention because I remember my mother saying that the worst thing she ever had to eat as a child was boiled oranges in post-war Britain. After years of citrus fruit shortages, all she wanted to do was eat one fresh and as un-mucked about with as possible. I don’t think that boiled oranges are disagreeable at all, especially when the caramelised orange juices from Kerstin’s cake (which are fortified by Triple Sec or Cointreau) seep into the base of the almond-enriched crumb. Use Seville Oranges and after you’ve poured the orangey juices over the cake, dust it with more brown sugar and give it a blast under the grill: I think a Seville orange-flavoured cake needs this extra sugar, you, however, may not.

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Blood orange

I’m partial to  Diana Henry’s pomegranate and blood-orange cake which is, she says, ‘for those lunatics who don’t like Christmas pudding’ although I am not one of them. The photo alone sold it to me before I even looked at the recipe as it’s the loveliest thing; basically John Masefield’s Box of Delights in cake form. Pomegranates are such a Christmassy fruit and a heap of fruits on the table and windowsills allows their ruby peel to absorb and reflect back winter light. They glow softly in the corner of the room keeping company with piles of nuts and those long cardboard boxes stuffed with glistening gooey dates. Mead always seems Christmassy to me and I have been testing cakes flavoured with it, either as a soak for the sponge layers, combined with a light hit of orange or lemon in the cake mix or added to the whipped cream, mascarpone or creme fraiche served with each slice. There’s also a quince honey and mead stack cake in the style of the Appalachian apple stack which I made for a friend’s birthday. Watch this space.

Then there’s pies. I have eaten raspberry pies and used the leaves to flavour the cream which is poured over each slice. (Disclaimer: don’t give raspberry leaf cream to women who are pregnant and not at full-term just in case it does what it is reputed to do and primes their uteri for labour by triggering small contractions.) The North American Shakers created a lemon pie made from whole lemons, rind and all, and it is topped with bright wheels of sliced lemon. For all its summer sunniness, it is also the perfect pie for a cold winters day. Claire Ptak from Violet Bakery recently discovered this pie and published her recipe on Guardian Cook . It is pretty much the same recipe as the classic Shaker one.

Tommi Myers uses Tarocco blood-oranges in her pie, here. These oranges are the result of a random mutation of the common sweet orange (citrus sinensis) in a fifteenth century Sicilian orange orchard grove although there is evidence that one blood orange variety arose independently in China. The levels of anthocyanin, a water-soluble pigment commonly found in many types of red, purple and blue plants are elevated in the blood-orange and will only develop if the fruit is exposed to cold conditions during its development or post-harvest.Whilst we’re talking orange pigments, did you know that some oranges grown in some African countries might not develop the characteristic orange-hued peel, remaining green?

Clementines, tangerines and satsumas are a good alternative in the winter or the loose-skinned minneola (a tangerine crossed with a grapefruit), tangelo (bred by crossing the tangerine, grapefruit and orange and also known as the ugli fruit) in the warmer months: these all have aromatic peel and are incredibly juicy. If you have frozen raspberries left over from the previous summer or one of those bags of frozen berries, tip them in too because they add a lovely floral depth and give a pie the shade of a Turner sunset. I have eaten (and want to recreate) a cranberry-tangerine tart with a walnut crust whilst away at Christmas-time on Florida’s Gulf Coast and Nancy Capelloni’s Cranberry Cooking for All Seasons has a lovely-sounding recipe for a cranberry-orange loaf cake which again, is Christmas and Thanksgiving appropriate. I’d probably knock up a sugar-syrup flavoured with quatre-epices to pour over the finished cake to mitigate any overly-tart tendencies these fruits might possess.

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The Meyer lemon

I’ll finish on a high note in the form of Fran Gage’s Meyer Lemon Pound Cake recipe, taken from her book Bread & Chocolate. Gage once owned and baked in a well-known San Francisco patisserie and is equally as talented at writing in this, her first book, and its sequel, A Sweet Quartet. Each chapter begins with a brief essay linked to a recipe and in the chapter devoted to citrus she tells us of the elderly woman who strode into her bakery one day with a brown paper bag full of citrons which became marmalade and of her own Meyer lemon tree. After patiently waiting for it to mature and bear fruit, Gage’s pleasure in her precious harvest of floral-scented fruit which comes via its lemon and mandarin-orange parents is palpable. This cake is my absolute favourite. Gage recommends we soak the lemon zest overnight in sugar-syrup (Neruda reminds us that the freshness of a lemon lives on in the sweet-smelling house of the rind) and, alongside the couple of ounces of  lemon juice which goes into the batter, this produces a cake of such tender dampness that it melts in the mouth. This is a cake to eat whilst you sit outside on a sunny day and read Helena Attlee’s  book, The Land Where Lemons Grow, which journeys through Italian history in order to trace the story of the lemons which were brought there by Arabs and now grow so prolifically in Italy.

Meyer Lemon Pound Cake

lemon soaking syrup:
4 lemons
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar

Zest the lemons and put in small pot with the sugar and water, bring to a boil and simmer for 1 minute. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or up to a week). Juice the zested lemons to make 1/3 cup juice, and reserve for the cake.

To make the cake:

1 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
10 TB (5 oz) butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup lemon juice
prepared lemon zest, drained (syrup reserved)

Preheat oven to 350F / 180C. Mix flour and baking soda and set aside. Cream butter with the sugar until fluffy then add the eggs a little at a time. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the lemon juice then stir in the zest. Pour the batter into a buttered loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour. While the cake is still warm, poke holes all over its surface with a skewer and drizzle it with the reserved lemon syrup. Cool, then remove from pan.

 

 

 

Fennel cream cheese and tomato tart

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Like the French, I am not ashamed to buy and use ready-made puff pastry. The quality is generally good and it can save precious time when tiredness stands between you and a freshly baked tart.  I’m a big fan of open tarts because they can exert powers of resurrection over the tired stuff at the bottom of the fridge if you need to use it up. As always though, this will taste and look even better if your tomatoes are taut, herbs fresh and the cheese is the best you can afford. The fennel, herbs and cheese are whipped into a soft creamy bed for the tomatoes and smoothed over the uncooked pastry. If you don’t have access to fennel leaves (fronds) from a garden then many of the bagged salads in supermarkets contain it. Or look for an entire fennel root with a decent amount of fronds attached. The rest of the bulb can be sliced and added to salads, cooked down into summery tomato-based pasta sauces or roasted in its entirety so it won’t go to waste.

This tart takes minutes to prepare and they are good minutes too: by the time you slide the tart into the oven, the air will be scented with the aniseed notes of the fennel and the sharp grass and fruit of tomatoes at the height of their season.

Ingredients

320g ready-made puff pastry

2 very large tomatoes (around 750g)

150g Le Roule soft herbed cheese (or similar brand: Rosary garlic and herb goats cheese is good, too)

2 cloves garlic

sea salt and pepper

sprigs of thyme, lemon thyme, marjoram (chopped, about 3 level tsp), keep a few more sprigs whole for garnishing

chopped fennel fronds (about 2 tsp) or fennel seed (1 tsp)

2 spring onions, cut into thin slices along their length

Shaved parmiggiano to finish (a handful)

olive oil

Method

Heat oven to 190c / 375f and grease a flat baking tray with oil. Put tray in oven to get good and hot. This gives a good baked finish to the pastry base- no soggy bottoms.

Unwrap the pastry and place it on the baking tray then, using a sharp knife, score a line on the pastry, about ½ in (1 cm) in from the edge, all the way around without cutting all the way through. This will ensure that when the pastry bakes, a natural lip will form around the topping.

Crush the garlic with a flat blade and finely chop it. Then chop the fennel and herbs finely too, keeping a few stems of thyme and marjoram intact for the garnish.

Place the soft cheese into a  bowl, add the crushed garlic, fennel (fronds or seeds), chopped herbs and a goodly amount of salt and fresh black pepper to taste. Whip it together with a fork until it is creamy and well combined then using a small palette or other round-bladed knife, spread the cheese mixture evenly all over the surface of the pastry, right up to the line you scored earlier.

Now, thinly slice the tomatoes and arrange them on top of the cheese in whatever pattern pleases you. Sometimes I overlap, sometimes (as in the photo above) I just dot them about.  Arrange the spring onions over them. Brush the edges of the pastry with olive oil, and drizzle some of the oil over the tomatoes and onions then season them  with a little more salt. Scatter the herb sprigs on top.

Bake in the pre-heated oven on the middle shelf for 40-50 minutes or until the pastry is golden-brown and the tomatoes are soft, slightly charred at the edges and perfectly roasted. Keep an eye on it during the last ten minutes because seconds can lie between a perfect charred edge and black smoking ruin. I always throw on some shaved parmesan to serve, too.

 

Belgian prune pie in Wisconsin

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Belgian prune pies by Gina Wautier / photo Gina Wautier

 “We found a roadside motel in Algoma. The innkeeper had a funny accent I could not place….The next morning, she came to find us as we loaded up the car. “You are going to try some Belgian pie, aren’t you?” she asked. (From American Pie by Pascale Le Draoulec, Harper-Collins)

Traversing the United States in search of pie, writer Pascale Le Draoulec was struck by the vastness of a country where entire sub-cultures can set up home and continue the traditions brought with them from the Old Country, yet remain relatively unknown outside of their immediate region. When she arrived in Algoma in Wisconsin after an evening spent at a fish boil on the banks of Lake Michigan, Le Draoulec encountered one of Door County’s most popular-and mysterious to outsiders- food traditions, the Belgian pie. Described as truly unique, when I posted a query for more information about the pie and its Belgian-descended bakers on a private Facebook group where food writers and industry insiders gather to chew the fat, only five of them had heard of it. They were intrigued. “Go find out more,” they said.

Travel back in time to the early nineteenth-century and the story of Belgian pie in the USA begins with a small group of Belgians who originally migrated to the USA from Belgium and made their home in what is known as Door County in the state of Wisconsin. Thousands of miles away from their motherland, they re-built their community and to this day continue to bake pies filled with fruit or cooked rice inside small outdoor ovens, celebrating a yearly harvest whose failure all those years ago in Belgium caused their ancestors to make a long Atlantic crossing in search of a better future.

Door Country lies on a peninsula of land some 50 miles long and twenty miles wide, surrounded by the dark waters of Lake Michigan on one side and Green Bay on the other. The county name originates from the Potawatomi tribe whose members perished trying to cross the lake-passage in canoes, causing them to dub the waters the “Door of Death.” Translated into French, it’s also known as “Ports des Morts” and in English, “Death’s Door.”

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Namur, Door County is named after the Belgian city.

The Belgian communities of Namur, Brussels, Rosiere and Little Sturgeon in Door County and 11 other villages located in Kewaunee and Brown counties have retained much of what first made them special, more than a century and a half ago. Indeed, William Laatch, Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay maintains that, after the Amish communities and Native-American reservations, the settlement of Belgians in north-east Wisconsin is the most enduring ethnic island in the United States. It is unsurprising that Belgian prune pie has also remained geographically distinct.

Back in 19th century Europe,  a harsh winter led to crop loss and a rural crisis and not only did their ruler, King Leopolde not restrict migration, he supported it, although in the 19th century, only 29,000 Belgians left the country for the USAIn the years before the First World War, another 50,000 Belgians arrived in the USA.  (Travel to the little Belgian town of Grez-Doiceau and on its town hall, there can be found a plaque which commemorates the first ten Walloon families who left the town to found a Belgian Community in Wisconsin, in 1853.)

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The plaque at Greg- Doiceau via kayesite.com

 The Grez-Doiceau group boarded the Quinnebaug,  an old, American three-masted ship and set sail on May 17th. The crossing was beset by stormstaking fifty days, a week longer than normal and in the last days of the voyage passengers were starving and two children died.

Once arrived in their first American settlement, the Aux Premiers Belges had to adjust to the harsher climate and a sense of isolation in this vast land. Native Americans were the only human contact they had living as they were on land that was once the ancestral home of the Menominee, Ojibwa, and Potawatomi, among many. The Native-Americans taught the Belgians how to trap wild animals and smoke their meat; to tap trees and make maple syrup and to ice-fish in the winter on Lake Michigan and, as time passed, they began adapt their Belgian foodways to this strange new place.

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The Emigrants (1896) by the Belgian artist Eugène Laermans

Today, many Belgian descendents still live the 35 square mile area settled by their ancestors and, in many cases, their farms have been in the same family for over a century. The prune pie remains a regional speciality of Door County whose population retains strong ties with Antwerp in Belgium where the prune pie has its roots although in other parts of Belgium, this pie is not baked at all, according to Regula Ysewijn, a Belgian national and author of the recently published Pride and Pudding. Prune tarts have always been her favourite, Antwerp being her home city where they are traditionally served on Ash Wednesday albeit not in the same form as their American-Belgian cousin. Regula also suggested that Belgians from Antwerp immigrated to the United States via the Red Star Line whose ships sailed from Antwerp directly and the line was supported via grants from the Belgian government. This might explain why the prune pie has a particularly strong presence in Door Country.

The Kewaunee and Brown counties are where older Belgian houses can be found and many of them have been built with outdoor summer cooking areas where the fierce heat can dissipate. These ovens are not the more commonly-found summer kitchens and are actually accessed via the latter. The baking was done via radiant heat and therefore the oven dimensions had to be precise although the ovens are generally not free-standing as was the custom in Belgium where the same ovens tended to be used communally. The wilds of Wisconsin where communities and individual houses are often many many miles apart renders the communal oven less practicable than it did in compact little Belgium.

Many of these bake-off ovens could cope with forty pies although most of them have since fallen into disrepair or have been demolished. Those left are made of masonry and fieldstone, with walls two feet thick and equipped with chimneys and oven interiors constructed from red-brick. These whitewashed structures were often trimmed in green and provided much-needed shade during the dog days of summer.

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Belgian pie made with cooked rice and cheese topping

There’s some debate locally as to whether prunes, rice or raisins are the traditional filling and these pies can be challenging to make. With a circular base of raised sweet dough made with mashed potatoes and a layered filling of cooked, sweetened rice or a pureé of prunes or raisins (according to which the makes considers traditional), their preparation is multi-stage as local bakers combine their talents to make the hundreds of pies required to feed everyone.

Topped with a sweetened cottage cheese-type mixture when made with fruit, the pie both tastes like, and resembles, a filled Danish or kolache. (The latter is often made with mashed potato too.)

I spoke to Sue Marchant from the bakery where they make the pies year round, ramping up production around Belgian Day (the second week in July) to 1000 pies and over 1200 during Kermiss. “We started making Belgian Pies about 50 years ago at the store. My husbands great- grandmother came from Meeuwen in Flanders Belgium during the 1800’s and she was taught how to make the pies and which recipe to use, ” Sue said. “I learned from her and since then have been making them although I’m not actually of Belgian descent.” Their store receives many visitors from Belgium including the guests from foreign exchange programmes; over 21 different students have stayed with the Marchant family. When I asked Sue about how their pies are received she told me that they liked it despite its differences: “We have visited Belgium and their pie is different, much larger in size and no cheese on the top and the fruit is not sweetened, so they are quite tart,” Sue added.

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Limburgse Vlaii

Meeuwen is a town in the province of Limburg where there also exists a custom of making fruit pies, says Regula Ysewijn. Referred to as Limburgse Vlaai ( Vlaai= tart or pie) these  are open-topped pies, sometimes with a lattice pastry top and traditionally filled with cooked fruits such as cherries (called kriekenvlaai), apple or apricot and, more significantly, with rice or prune puree-the cooked rice and custard porridge is called a rijstevlaai . These pies are popular all over Flanders but are specific to the town of Limburg where they are served at funerals, kermis and other important family occasions but the dough is different. It does not use potato and has only a small amount of butter, is yeasted and must go through two risings whereas the Antwerp version uses a short pastry. There’s no curd cheese topping either.  To be a genuine Limburgse vlaii, the whole pie must be baked and not just the pastry shell.

 In his book, The History of the Belgian Settlements, Math S. Tlachac writes of the Kermiss preparations which overtook the community:

“Then came the baking, which in the early days could only be done in outdoor ovens. As many as three dozen Belgian pies could be baked at one time. The Belgian pie! What would the Kermiss be without the famous delicacy, the crust of which was made of dough, spread over with prunes or apples and topped with homemade cottage cheese. So tasty it was that one bite invited another.”

A hundred or so years later, The Post Crescent Newspaper from Wisconsin wrote about the October 1969 Kermiss celebrations and it is clear that pie-baking remained a herculean task. There is an understandable reluctance to part with secret family recipes as a result although one local baker was less secretive when interviewed by the newspaper:

“Mrs. Jean Guth baked 120 pies to be served in her husband’s tavern for the Ker- miss in Brussels the first week in September. Mrs. Mamie Chaudi’ous and her daughter made them by the dozens. And the women are still mixing and rolling the dough in their kitchens in these Belgian settlements. Though cooks are rather cagey about their special recipes, Mrs. Guth was gracious enough to part with hers….”

After watching the instructor Gina Wautier demonstrate her technique for creating the perfect pie Sandy said this isn't your first rodeo, is it Gina's technique is heavy on the filling and topping nearly to the edge
Gina Wautier and her Belgian pie

Gina Wautier is her daughter and now runs Belgian pie-making classes in Door County. She can remember what happened after her mother shared her recipe with the local newspaper: “When mom was interviewed by news reporters in 1960 she caused quite a stir among the local women for sharing her recipe and allowing it to be published.” Mrs Guth was descended from some of the first settlers in the county and the recipes she used were handed down from her own mother and grandmother, then used to perfect the thousands of pies she served to hungry travellers at the Brussels (Wisconsin) tavern she ran alongside her husband, Ray. There were thirteen other taverns in the immediate area but none baked and sold as many pies as Mrs Guth did.

Pie-baking days in the Guth household were rigorously organised and it is obvious why: “It was not uncommon for her to make 200 pies that would be given away and/or sold in my dad’s tavern at Kermiss time, ” Gina says. “For days our home was covered with pies set out to cool; on the beds, extra tables,  ironing boards, and on wooden planks.  Cold storage was not an issue as the bar’s beer cooler was a great asset for the old peach crates converted into pie carriers.”

She recalls a childhood spent helping her mother in the kitchen on pie baking days: “Belgian Pie making as a young girl in my mother’s kitchen was more a lesson in observation rather than participation’ she told me.  “My jobs were important; dishwashing, peeling apples, pitting prunes, grinding cheese, and greasing the pie tins.  My mom, Jean Guth was very particular in mixing the dough, filling and baking the pies to perfection.” In fact, Mrs Guth made it clear that the method of handling the dough and its mixing are of even more importance than the ingredients.

Every Autumn, Belgian locals gather together to celebrate Kermiss which follows the bringing in of the harvest and kicks off with a thanksgiving mass. The  word Kermiss was originally Middle-Dutch and comes from Kirk-Messe (the German kirchmësse), which means ‘church mass’, and it originated in medieval times as an annual celebration commemorating the anniversary of the dedication of the church before it morphed into the later festival. In Europe, it has various spellings: kermis, kermes, kercmisse, kircmisse, keermisse, carmisse, kirmisse and kercmisse but none of them end with the double ‘s’ which seems to be the most common spelling in Door County and therefore the one I use here. Belgians have been described to me as a community-minded and extremely social people and they historically valued the social side of church attendance to such a degree that it became a fundamental part of their collective worship. Amusingly, and as befits their practical side too, the Belgian immigrants made sure that they built saloons close to their places of worship- often right next to the church so they could keep what they deemed as the less spiritual chatter and gossip away from the house of God.

The Kermiss kept lonely Belgians in touch with their homeland and they would travel great distances across this most northerly of states to meet and celebrate together. In fact, some locals made round trips of 160 miles in order to buy the ingredients for their pies. The first Kermiss in the region was held in 1858 in Rosiere at the same time as Kermiss in its Belgian namesake. A Father Daems came from the Bay Settlement to say Mass and afterwards, local Belgians processed to a hall, serenaded by a band. The procession was briefly halted for a traditional ‘dance in the dust’ on a dirt road before resuming its route.Three days of feasting, dancing and socialising would follow.

Today, the Namur Belgian Heritage Foundation maintains the Kermiss tradition and hundreds of local families flock to the little brick-built former church of St. Mary of the Snows to eat pies,  trippe, jutt, and booyah. Amusingly, their ice-cream is churned by a John Deere tractor.

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Pies by Gina Wautier

Even though Gina Wautier helped her mother prepare the pies, she grew up with gaps in her knowledge and, concerned that the custom might be at risk of dying out, she set about the task of learning the process from start to finish, using her mothers recipes and her own memories to draw upon. Aged just 25 and having lost her mother, trial and error and the assistance of her then mother-in- law proved successful (tradition also says that Belgian pies can help new brides break the ice with their in-laws!) and the task itself was made less time-consuming because Gina had access to food processors instead of a hand grinder and swifter ways of cooking such large quantities of apples. However, her mothers recipe did not cut corners when it came to the quality of its ingredients, she told me: ” It contains real butter, cream, eggs, active cake yeast and vanilla.  No substitutes or imitations.  The crust is thin, fillings thick, and the toppings goes all the way to the crust leaving just enough filling so you can tell what kind of pie it is.”

Like all local foodways, each Belgian pie will be the sum total of their maker and, as Gina says, they are as unique as the people who make them. There are similarities in the technique but its execution can vary: some bakers prefer a thick crust to a thinner one; some will bake a crust using baking soda, whilst others raise their dough slowly, over time. As  another Door County resident called Emily Guilette points out in Le Draoulec’s chapter about her Belgian pie  (which is made with a raised mashed potato and egg crust by the way), ” who sells frozen Belgian pie crusts?” As things stand, these pies simply must be made by hand although sensible locals do pop a few of them in the freezer for when company arrives.

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Belgian prune pie, via the Door County Visitors Bureau

The toppings vary too although one thing is made absolutely clear: a true Belgian pie must have  the cheese spread out towards its edge. I was told most firmly that ‘those that claim they are Belgian pies and then put a small dab of cheese in the middle are so wrong in their claims’ by an impassioned local. According to Gina Wautier, when making the cheese topping, some people will use cream cheese and others cottage cheese sweetened with egg-yolks, butter and sugar.  The filling underneath the crust of cheese can be prune (sweetened with applesauce) or apple and raisin with a cottage cheese topping or the pie can be filled with cooked rice topped with whipping cream. Generally, rice-filled pies do not have the cheese topping and the popularity of apple is down to the preponderance of apple orchards in Door County although during my own research I encountered a recipe for Grandpa Boyen’s Famous Belgian Rice Custard Pie. This version has a regular pie crust base and a rice filling poured over a layer of sweetened, cooked prune left au naturel, with no topping of any kind. Apparently the Grandpa Boyen of the recipe was a boulanger-patissier in Belgium before he moved to Montanta of all places, where he opened a bakery and popularised his pie.

Yet another version was tracked down to a bakery in West Tarentum, Pennsylvania where the pies had a crust base resembling bread dough in texture and  were filled with prune, rice, apricot and raisin. Certainly that bread-like crust sounds similar to the pies made and sold in Kewaunee County which had the typical ‘Danish pastry’ type appearance. At Marchants Bakery, they still use the traditional recipe, do not describe it as having ‘a typical pie crust’  and offer a variety of fillings: rice, prune, apple, cherry, raisin and poppyseed, Sue Marchant told me, adding, “prune and rice are the best sellers at Kermiss but for the store and Belgian Days the best seller is cherry.” Door County is also home to thousands of acres of cherry orchards and both sour and sweet cherries are popular in all kinds of baked goods- not just Belgian pies- although the fruits inclusion is an interesting example of local foodways melding with those European food traditions brought to the USA by the migrants.

 The fillings listed by Gina Wautier were all made by her own mother although “other varieties (cherry, blueberry, apricot, poppy seed) were discovered by accident in our house.”  As she points out, when you make batches of 30 – 60 pies it is hard to be exact on ingredients, remembering “when mom would have extra dough and cottage cheese left she would send one of us kids to the store to get a can of Wilderness pie filling to “use up” the extras to save on waste.   It really was a great combination.”
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A Belgian pie-making class with Gina Wautier and student

Wautier started teaching pie-making classes in 2009 and is now based at Saint Norbert College Language Services Program alongside Karen Stillman who assist in the three hours each class runs for. Each participant is asked about their Belgian heritage (if they have one). ” A common theme in these stories is that they remember their moms and grandmas making the pies but were not allowed in the kitchen to learn how.” It seems that such a labour-intensive process, where bulk-baking is involved, might be less conducive to parent and child baking, I wonder. The classes offer an insight into the way these pies are baked too, in several batches of ten pies per batch. “I have played with my mom’s recipe in order to bring it down to a manageable amount, she says.  “Following my directions it is easy enough to make 5 pies at a time of one kind in a 2 hour time frame.  The rising of the dough is what takes the time. One 2 oz. cake of yeast will make 10 pies.” Wautier demonstrates how to make the dough and uses the slow rising time to teach participants how to make the filling and toppings before dividing the class into two groups for their hands-on part of the lesson. Everyone gets to take home a couple of pies. They all have great fun.

What would your mother think if she could see you now. I asked Gina.

“I think my mom would be very pleased to know that since I started teaching nearly 150 people (young and old) have learned from us. Also my skills are used to bake pies for various non- profits and benefits.  Over $1,500 combined has been profited for charities,” she replies. “Yes, I have a passion for pies.  However I have yet to teach my own children the art.  Maybe I should make that another goal!”

The Marchant Bakery is also concerned about the future of Belgian cuisine and are taking steps to ensure the skills required to bake these pies are handed down: “We need to keep our bakers passing the recipe on to the new staff if we want it to continue,” Sue Marchant told me.”We make and have in the store many old recipes of different products  from the mother country and yes, I would say we are very proud of our heritage here in Brussels and Namur.”


Huge thanks to Regula Ysewijn for her informative emails and help with research. 

Recipe here: http://edibledoor.com/recipes/desserts/grandma-jeans-belgian-pie/

Door County tourist information.

Further reading:

  • Laatsch, W. G., and C. F. Calkins. “Belgians in Wisconsin,” in A. G. Noble (ed.), To Build in a New Land: Ethnic Landscapes in North America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992, pp. 195–210.
  • Martin, Xavier. “The Belgians of Northeast Wisconsin” in Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1895, pp. 375–396.
  • Pecore Waso, Thomas. Good Seeds: a Menominee Food Memoir. Wisconsin Historical Society Press. 2016

Pride and Pudding by Regula Ysewijn: a review

 

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Some might say that pride and pudding are two things my own life has shown a surfeit of but I would argue that in the case of the latter, there is no such thing as too much of a good thing. And if I sound a little proud of that, then so be it.

Enter the newly published Pride and Pudding: the history of British puddings by Regula Ysewijn where the authors in-depth exploration of historical cooking texts has led to a rather splendid and faithful recreation of over eighty puddings, both sweet and savoury. By referencing each pudding’s original recipe against an updated version, Regula provides a contextual revival, helping us understand how and why recipes change over time. The bibliography and reference section are manna from heaven, providing the reader with a fine culinary and gastronomic genealogy and I wish more cookbooks did this, even if it invariably results my spending some eleventy billion pounds on yet more books (although my lack of fiscal self-control is hardly Regula’s fault).

The word ‘pudding’ sounds peculiarly English despite an etymological origin ranging from the West Germanic stem *pud- “to swell” which cognates with the Old English puduc ‘a wen’, or its possible origins in the Old French boudin “sausage,” which itself came from the Latin botellus ‘sausage’ and Regula explores this in her introduction. In the modern sense, the word ‘pudding’ had emerged by 1670, as an extension to the method of cooking foods by boiling or steaming them in a bag or sack. The German pudding, French pouding, Swedish pudding and Irish putog all derive from the word and as Regula points out in her foreword, in the eighteenth century when English food was developing its identity once more, pudding was central to its gastronomy and represented a solid challenge to the tyranny of French food which had developed itself as shorthand for all that was refined at table.

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Pudding has moved on from the stuffed vegetable recipe outlined in a Book of Cookrye in 1584 and the medieval technique of preparing fish, game birds and other beasts with a large pudding stuffed inside their belly although it took a Frenchman called Francois Maximilian Misson to declare “Blessed be he that invented pudding for it is a manna that hits the palates of all sorts of people…ah what an excellent thing is an English pudding.” Regula takes his lyrical tribute and runs with it, having amassed five years of blogging experience in the subject prior to writing her book.

Pride and Pudding begins with a handy guide to the different types of pudding (bread, baked, milk, boiled etc) then launches into a historical account of puddings through the ages, from their first mention in Homer’s The Odyssey where black pudding was prepared for Penelope’s suitors to feast upon as they competed for her hand, through to the Romans, Vikings, Normans and onto the court cooking that was documented in the years following the Hundred Years War when plague, taxes and harvest failures led to widespread famine. Moving onto the Medieval period, Regula tells us about surviving manuscripts which recorded the food of the elite: there’s a jelly made in the shape of a devil, a castle and a priest surrounded by a moat of custard and the first record of a pudding-cloth replacing animal intestines to cook puddings in. The Reformation wrought changes in the kitchen too with elaborate Catholic-associated feasts being replaced by ‘proper, honest cooking’ (the eternal cycle of fashion in food, perhaps) whilst Elizabeth the First’s sweet tooth led to a total lack of patent teeth in her later years. The introduction of refined white sugar  during her reign led to a sea-change in its use as sugar was transformed into the highly decorative sweetmeats which graced wealthy tables, and thousands of patissières must have cursed as they nursed burns from sputtering hot pans of sugar.

Moving onto the seventeenth-century, Regula tells us that French food gained dominance in Britain yet despite the prominence of this male chef-dominated cuisine more cookbooks were written by British women than ever before, kicking off with Hannah Wolley’s book, The Queen-Like Closet, published in 1670. Traditional white and black puddings continued to be popular whilst new puddings began to emerge such as Sussex Pond Pudding (1672, by Hannah), the first printed recipe for a Quaking Pudding was published as was the first recorded mention of the Christmas Pudding via Colonel Norwood’s diary record in 1645. As we move into the eighteenth to nineteenth-century and Georgian and Victorian cooking, the focus remains on spectacle with innovation in glassware permitting delicate milk puddings, syllabubs and jellies to be displayed beautifully and if you thought Heston Blumenthal popularised food made to resemble something else, you’d be wrong; the Georgians delighted in creating flummeries that resembled bacon and eggs.

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Cabinet Pudding

We read of Parson Woodforde’s plum puddings, pease puddings and a pike with a pudding in its belly whilst Hannah Glasse makes the first print mention of the iconic Yorkshire Pud. The Georgian table was pudding heaven and the Victorian street-traders made them available to the lower-classes, selling plum duff and meat puds from steaming-hot baskets. Bookshops sold cookbooks entirely devoted to the pudding alongside Eliza Acton’s tome, Modern Cookery for Private Families, firmly locating the Angel of the Home back inside her kitchen unless she could afford staff.

The twentieth and twenty-first centuries saw the growth of cooking as a leisure activity as an end in itself and the gradual move away from staffed kitchens in all but the grandest of houses. Two World Wars, the easy access to convenience foods and ingredients, the movement of women into the paid workplace, immigration, easy access to foreign travel and the decline in school cookery lessons has led to a period of turbulence in British food as it redefines itself. And our attitude to puddings very much reflects this. There’s our fetish for nursery-school puddings in a search for comfort and identity through shared nostalgia, the regained pride in our culinary past, the rise of chefs as superstars, and the constant need for new recipes to fill acres of space in cookbooks, magazines, online food sites and the many food-related TV programmes. And part of this necessarily involves looking back at where we-and the pudding- has come from.

This is where Regula’s solid research-based approach holds especial good, providing us cooks with context for ingredients and techniques. (The short section on what suet, rennet, gelatine and bone marrow is and what they are used for is both historically grounded and useful.) It is important, as a cook, to know why suet creates lightness in certain puddings and that vegetarian rennet substitutes go back to the time of Homer and are not newfangled. Once you start to take the why on board, you will soon be able to improvise and devise your own recipes as well as cooking your way through Pride and Pudding.

So…what about the pudding recipes? They are categorised into six sections: boiled and steamed; baked and batter puddings; bread puddings, jellies, milk puddings and ices; and lastly, a section for master recipes where you’ll find how to make clotted cream and custard-based sauces alongside various pastries, biscuits and flavoured vinegars. Regula incorporates notes  at the base of some of the pages, annotated with a sweet illustration of a pudding spoon. For example, her tort de moy, which is made with bone-marrow, double cream, candied peel, and rosewater among other things, has a suggestion of adding almonds to the infusion used to flavour the custard and her Devonshire white-pot can be cooked using a Dutch oven over a fire with its lid covered in hot coals instead of being placed inside an oven. There’s serving suggestions too.

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I’m particularly intrigued by her white-Pot recipe because a few weeks ago, I tweeted about a local bread and butter pudding recipe called Newmarket pudding (basically wailing for help) and Regula replied to me as did another culinary historian, Dr Annie Gray. The white-pot originated in Devon and consists of buttery layers of bread, set with custard and layered with sweet, plump dried fruits. Unlike our modern-day version where slices of bread are sogged in a mixture of sweetened-cream, the white-pot is sogged with a proper cooked custard made from egg-yolk, cream and sugar. It is an extremely luxurious-sounding meal although centuries ago, if you had access to your own cow, the incorporation of cream and butter would not have felt so indulgent and the pudding would have been a good way of using up stale bread. What might have been more of a luxury item would be the dried fruits which feel more prosaic to us, nowadays. Interestingly, the Newmarket pudding of which I mentioned was most likely the same pudding given a local name for no specific historical reason other than someone seeking to re-brand a generic national recipe for their own. The better historical question to ask is not who ‘invented’ Newmarket Pudding but why someone might seek to rename an existing recipe?

There’s in-depth recipes for haggis and black puddings with photographic depictions of their construction and the option of baking the latter in a tray instead of sausage casings. A white pudding sounds especially beautiful baked with saffron, pinhead oats, egg-yolks, dates and currants then served in a single burnished coil with honey, golden or maple syrup which would surely please James Joyce who saw the simple beauty in such a meal. A delicate castle pudding is similar to a pound cake in its ingredient proportions, lightly spiked with citrus from curd, juice or thinly sliced orange rounds. The sambocade, a cheese curd tart flavoured with elderflowers and the daryols, a flower-pot shaped custard tart, both made from hot-water pastry are somewhat sturdier, even rustic in appearance which belies the delicacy of their flavourings. I was particularly keen to make the prune tart whose genealogy includes their being made in Regula’s hometown of Antwerp on Ash Wednesday and it turned out beautifully despite my being unable to obtain’ the fairest Damask prunes’ as specified by Gervaise Markham in The English Housewife. I love prunes and the tablespoon of dark brown sugar added to them really intensifies their sticky dark flavour. If that doesn’t satisfy you then maybe try General Satisfaction, a pudding from Mary Jewry’s Warne’s Model Cookery and Housekeeping Book, 1868. Topped with a froth of beaten egg-white which covers a base containing a layer of raspberry, sponge fingers and cream, this is a mad confection which seems to take the best from many traditional British puddings. Hence the name, maybe?

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Ypocras Jellies

The batter section has another recipe I have never encountered before, Jersey Wonders, little twists of dough which are browned in lard and look for all the world like tiny pairs of female labia. (I may or may not be selling these to you, based upon that description!) Regula has chosen to not fiddle with the original recipe too much, keeping the sugar proportions roughly the same apart from a dusting of icing sugar. These are next on my list to try alongside the Ypocras jellies whose name comes from the original name for mulled wine back in the Middle Ages although, as she says, mulled wine has been around since Roman times. Mentioned by Chaucer when the first written British recipe appeared, these jellies contain all manner of spices, ‘bruised’ using a pestle and mortar and they look richly festive, perfect for Autumn and Winter feasts when their cardomom, bay, nutmeg, clementine and sloe gin flavours naturally shine (and are in season here in the UK). If you want to inspect a recipe for the mulled wine used in the jelly (also called Hippocras), this website has reprinted a manuscript from 1530 with permission of the British Library and it contains some unusual ingredients such galingale, grains of paradise, cubebs and long pepper (and should you wish to buy long-pepper, Barts Spices sell a decent one). I suspect that Nigella Lawson, no slouch in the alcohol-infused jelly stakes herself will adore this part of the book. In the same section (jellies, milk puddings, ices) you will find all the indulgent flummeries, syllabubs, trifles, possets and bombes you could ever need. Perfect party food all of them, naturally possessed of a comforting glamour, and something that chefs like Heston Blumenthal and the jelly company Bombas & Parr have clearly been inspired by. This is a book whose art direction is as meticulous as its academic research yet at no point does the reader feel overwhelmed by style over substance. The images are Old Masterly in style and cleverly compliment the contemporary twist Regula affords her pudding recipes.

If, like me, you crave a return to a more thoughtful kind of cookbook that entertains while it educates, Pride and Pudding: The History of British Puddings is out now, published by Murdoch Books in Britain, Australia and New Zealand and Regula’s website also has details of some specially commissioned Pride and Pudding bowls. It’s a wonderful and  timeless book and one hell of an achievement.

Regula’s website: Pride and Pudding

Photographs used here with kind permission of Regula Ysewijn.

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Fancy trying squirrel for supper?

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Long eaten across the American Deep South and very popular stewed long and slow, squirrel meat was even included in older editions of that famous American cooking tome The Joy of Cooking as a ‘tender alternative to chicken or rabbit’. It might not be long before people across East Anglia become accustomed to eating this lowest of food-miles meat and with over five million of the bright eyed and bushy tailed beasties hopping across our lawns, parks and forests, the questions has to be ‘what took us so long?’

Squirrel meat is on sale for the first time on the butchery counter at the Elveden Courtyard in Suffolk. Similar to rabbit in flavour, it is a light-coloured, finely textured meat that is low in fat and completely free-range. Its natural diet of berries and nuts contributes to a flavour I can only describe as nutty having eaten it some time ago, coated in a flavoured breadcrumb Southern style and deep fried. I also recommend a paella made with squirrel instead of rabbit or chicken and the great Brunswick Stew, an old Southern one pot meal beloved in North Carolina and Kentucky and which must be made with three specific ingredients to be genuine- okra, lima (butter) beans and squirrel.

One regular Elveden customer, Helen Sturgeon, has already created some lovely squirrel pasties using the meat and food shop manager Richard Howard explains the benefits, “Squirrel from Elveden is wild, nutritious and has virtually zero food miles, coming straight from the estate itself, making for a highly ethical meat.” If terroir is your thing, squirrel meat, like all wild game, is its perfect expression.

The move follows an increase in demand for game from the estate butchers, with venison, pheasant and wild rabbit highly sought after. Although rabbit can be shot all year round, a national decrease in population numbers has led the estate to restrict the numbers shot each month in order to ensure the animals flourish. It is generally advised to avoid eating town squirrels because of the risk of ingesting what they have eaten which may include poison put out to kill rats. Buying squirrel meat from a reputable supplier eliminates the risk.

“Rabbits are no longer breeding ‘like rabbits’,” explains James Holliday, Forestry and Conservation Manager at Elveden Estate. “Nationally, numbers have been in decline over the past few years and have now reached such low numbers we are limiting the number killed in order to maintain a sustainable population.”

The Elveden Estate is located in the Brecks region of Suffolk, an area renowned for rabbit warrening and a unique ecosystem that greatly depends upon controlled rabbit populations to maintain the open and friable structure of the soil, benefiting the huge variety of plants that are specialised to sandy healthland. So while we’re trying to build local rabbit populations up again, why not try its arboreal taste equivalent?

The Elveden Courtyard shops are open Monday to Saturday from 9.30am to 5pm and Sundays from 10am to 5pm.

For further information, please visit www.elveden.com

Elmer Fudds Brunswick Stew

Woodbridge Tide Mill and The Cake Shop Launch Collaborative Cookbook

Woodbridge’s iconic working Tide Mill has collaborated with the town’s much loved bakery, The Cake Shop, to create an informative book filled with delicious recipes and fascinating facts.

The book will launch at The Local Seasonal Food Market: What’s Tasty in Woodbridge on Market Hill in Woodbridge on Saturday 24th May from 10am.  The recipes have been created by Christine Wright from The Cake Shop and Anne Barratt from the Tide Mill – who will be signing copies of the book at the market between 12 noon and 1.00pm.

The book uses interesting recipes and facts to dispel the myths around wholemeal flour.   Not only does it explain why wholemeal flour is the healthiest option, but it also demonstrates the remarkable versatility of wholemeal flour through the variety of tasty recipes.

Nigel Barratt, Miller and Trustee of the Tide Mill Living Museum said; “Many people may think that that all you can really do with wholemeal flour is bake heavy, stodgy bread, but it’s far more versatile.

“Most flour produced in modern roller mills has all the bran and most of the nutrients in the wheat germ removed in the process.  Our stone ground wholemeal flour uses 100% of the whole grain. The slow and gentle milling process leaves all the goodness in the flour and makes it the healthiest and most natural of all wheat flours. It’s tasty too, with a characteristic nutty flavour that works really well in bread, cakes, pastry and biscuits!”

We have been able to see a sneak preview of the recipes and they appear accessible, family friendly and clearly explained. Tide Mill Wholemeal Onion & Herb Bread, Chapatti’s and Paratha’s are all accompanied by bakers tips to help you trouble shoot any problem areas and teach you some of the tricks of the trade too. In the meal section, Stuffed Mushrooms on Tide Mill Croutons offers what looks like a delicious and sensible way of using up any stale bread. Unlike supermarket bread which is stuffed with preservatives which tends to make it get soggy and mouldy as it ages, home baked bread merely dries out. This offers great scope for further cooking, an important consideration in these times of austerity and furthermore ingredients are in the main, accessible and affordable.

Bread can also make great puddings and it won’t be long before we are into the fruit season and able to make the delicious sounding Blueberry & Nectarine Crumble with its lime spiked fruit base and almond enriched crumble topping. Cakes also celebrate fruit from the recipe for Christines fruit cake through all manner of banana breads, Date Slices and the Tide Mill Carrot Cake. Sections for recipes suitable for children- pizza bases for one and even a dog biscuit recipe round off this useful and local cook book.

Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes, and More from NPR’s the Kitchen Sisters by Nikki Silva & Davia Nelson

 

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Now for something a little more offbeat for those of you who enjoy pure food writing. NPR (American radio) broadcast an appeal for stories about kitchens in unusual places and this book is an anthology of the many startling and sometimes heartbreaking stories that flooded in. What makes a hidden kitchen? For George Foreman (of the grill fame) it can be found through memories of childhood deprivation, of  hiding below the windowsill of a friends house, watching them eat. For a homeless man turned cooking equipment guru, the knowledge that homeless people use his grills by connecting them to street side power supplies is almost unbearably poignant. A hidden kitchen might be the San Fransciscan Cioppino cooked in a bay side hut for members of the local open water swimming club. Or it could be secret civil rights kitchens or the famous Chile Queens of San Antonio who sold their bowls of red in large tents catering to locals. If this book leaves you hungry for more, check out the original recorded oral testimonies on NPR’s archives. 

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More Cook Books Reviewed

Sweet Eats for All: 250 Decadent Gluten-Free, Vegan Recipes–from Candy to Cookies, Puff Pastries to Petits Fours by Allyson Kramer

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If you have food allergies or have to cook for somebody with them, it is extra useful to be able to make classic recipes as opposed to some esoteric concoction that sets the allergic person even farther apart by dint of weird and spooky ingredients.

In ‘Sweet Eats for All’ Allyson Kramer keeps the promise of the title by offering safe alternatives to classic recipes such as Key Lime Pie, German chocolate cake and puddings such as pots de creme, albeit made with fashionable chocolate butternut. The person with allergies can once more enjoy the cakes, candies and puddings they always saw as denied them.

No food lover likes to be out of gastro-fashion and Kramer nods to the current ur ingredients such as Matcha and the canny use of vegetables to add moisture and texture. Clever techniques and substitutions, cool ingredients (smoked salt topping!) plus childhood nostalgic favourites such as lollipops and ice creams are included and all are underpinned by Kramers fifteen years of experience in cooking and recipe development.

A great book that belongs on the shelf of anybody with a food allergy or those seeking a new way of eating.

Juniors Cookbook by Marvin & Walter Rosen

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Famous for its classic American Diner food and bakery, Juniors is one of NYC’s most famous and iconic restaurants. The cheesecake recipes alone make the cover price worth it; we have baked probably hundreds of these over the years and the Juniors cheesecake has been voted NYC’s best. Baked on a classic sponge base, flavoured with a little lemon peel and a whole lot of vanilla, we have never eaten better. The recipes are interspersed with the history of the restaurant and Brooklyn with downhome Jewish cooking well represented. Recipes for cheese blintzes, the classic Black n White cookies, Macaroni Cheese, all manner of cookies and mains are all easy to follow but you will need to buy USA style measuring cups.

The Pastry Queen: Royally Good Recipes From the Texas Hill Country’s Rather Sweet Bakery and Cafe by Rebecca Rather and Alison Oresman

 

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One of our favourite ever chefs, recipe creators and cookbook writers, Rebecca Rather is a distinguished pastry chef and restaurateur in the Texan Hill Country town of Frederiksburg. Rebecca was proprietor of ‘The Rather Sweet Bakery’ and ‘The Pink Pig’ and her books are packed with stories and photographic essays that act as testimonies to just how good and reliable her recipes are. Who would have thought that adding fresh mashed potato to Jailhouse Cinnamon Rolls would make them light and airy?

Her Tuxedo Cake has been requested for every child’ birthday we know- three layers of luscious chocolate sponge drenched in chocolate and frosted with Creme Chantilly. The giant PB&J cookies are the size of dinner plates (everything is bigger in Texas) and chicken pot pies made and baked in pastry topped dishes look and taste superb. We have made nearly all her recipes and they range from super indulgent cakes ‘Mexican Tres Leches Cake, to yeast baking such as Kolaches- pillowy sweet yeast buns stuffed with either savoury or sweet fillings. Main courses and snacks are well provided for too with King Ranch Casseroles and vividly coloured bowls of soup packed with Tex Mex flavour.

The Pastry Queen Christmas: Big-Hearted Holiday Entertaining, Texas Style by Rebecca Rather and Alison Oresman 

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One of THE best and original Christmas baking and cooking books, jam packed with table dressing and serving ideas, this book is undoubtedly what gave Nigella some of her ideas regarding her own Christmas book. Rebecca Rather is a trained pastry chef, caterer and restaurateur and her recipes always, always work without being faffy and cheffy. She is fond of family style meals, eschewing individual portions and you will find wonderful tall layer cakes spiked with alcohol, fruit and inventive flavourings. Cocktails and party drinks are a strength too. 

Our favourites? Whiskey Glazed Eggnog Cakes, In-the-bag Chile Frito Pie, Cranberry Margaritas, Cowboy Coffee and Olive Beef Tenderloin. Oh and don’t forget to try the Warm Pear Ginger Upside Down Cake with Amaretto Whipped cream.

Classic Spanish Cooking: Recipes for Mastering the Spanish Kitchen by Elisabeth Luard 

 

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Elisabeth Luard is an ‘insiders’ choice. Not backed by a mega bucks publicity campaign, her books sell steadily to people who appreciate beautifully understated, knowledgeable food writing underpinned by accurate recipes that work. This is a trans-regional ‘Greatest Hits’ of Spain with foolproof recipes for Gazpacho, Tortilla, Albondigas and Paella. Luard once lived in Andalusia and knows of what she writes, speaks and eats.

Best Food Writing edited by Holly Hughes (2000-2013)

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One of my favourite food writing anthologies, Hughes collates and edits the best food writers from around the World in each yearly collection. The latest edition features NYC chef and restaurateur Gabrielle Hamilton (Guess who’s coming to dinner), Jonathon Gold on Hawaiian food trucks, Carole Penn-Romine on ‘Coke and Peanuts’ and a very moving meditation on feeding ice cream to her dying Mother by Sarah DiGregorio. Previous editions feature well known British food writers too but the stories told are of events and emotions common to all nationalities. Everybody eats!

Eat: The Little Book of Fast Food by Nigel Slater

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Returning to the format of his first books and updating it for the Twitter generation, Slater has produced reams (over 600) of user friendly non faffy recipes that I think parent and other time pressed cooks will find both invaluable and intelligent. The book alone is a joy to possess being chunky and beautifully designed with its cloth covers and text-economical recipe descriptions. Yes it presupposes that you have some cooking experience; I wouldn’t buy it for a teenager who did not know what ‘braise’ means for example. But for those cognizant of the basics and keen to experiment, this book would make a great gift or leaving home present.

A Tale of Twelve Kitchens by Jake Tilson

 

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Infused with the artists sensibility of its author, this is a book about living, travelling and cooking as you go. An inveterate collector, Jake Tilson’s book has something of the scrapbook about it but it is not scrappy. Moving in a linear fashion from his English countryside youth through London and marriage which led him to Scotland and then kitchens and cooking in far flung places – Santa Fe, Tuscany and LA, this book is filled with achievable recipes with a sense of place. Try Dominican Black beans, Secret Garden Mulberry Sauce and Butteries. 

The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook by Lynn Hill

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Across the UK and beyond, thousands of home bakers have been meeting covertly in hidden locations with the same simple mission: bake, eat and gossip about cake. These are the members of the phenomenally popular Clandestine Cake Club and here are their recipes. From Smoked Chile Chocolate Cake to the lovely Citrus section, these cakes are reliable. They work, they look good but do not require Peggy Porschen levels of expertise in the decorating department and they taste superb.

The Clatter Of Forks And Spoons by Richard Corrigan

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Based on the dictum that ‘everything should taste of itself’ Corrigan creates recipes that are hearty, earthy yet simple in he does not expect you to use thirty ingredients from far flung corners of the globe. This is a big read of a book full of memoir and stories of his youth reflected in reinterpretations of meals from those times. We love the Bentley’s Fish Pie, the Eight Hour Lamb and wonderful crab dishes.

Made In Sicily by Giorgio Locatelli

 

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Companion volume to his ‘Made In Italy’ and both books are huge, all encompassing tomes. This volume focuses on the regional cooking of Sicily, an Italian island with a cuisine bearing the imprint of its many invaders. Locatelli intersperses memoir and food writing with intelligently compiled recipes base upon a love for the island kindled in him aged ten. Simpler in ingredient and preparation than his previous book ‘Made In Italy’ which is reflective of the Sicilian way, this book should be used in tandem with seasonal produce where possible. Broccoli, Chile and Almond Salad, Lamb with Broad Beans and Cassatta (Ricotta Cake) are all favourites of ours. 

 A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg

images (20)Molly’s blog ‘Orangette’ was one of the earliest and exists to this day. This book is both food memoir, an account of life and family and full of excellent modern recipes. Her writing is poignant, sharp and never strays into food hyperbole. Favourites? Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cake with Glazed Oranges and Creme Fraiche and Doron’s Meatballs with PineNuts, Coriander and Golden Raisins. The titles alone make us swoon. Molly now has her own restaurant in Seattle called ‘Delaunay’ and a new cookbook due out this May 2014. We await this eagerly and encourage you all to follow her wonderful blog http://orangette.blogspot.co.uk/

How To Eat by Nigella Lawson

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Is it hyperbolic to describe this as a seminal food and cooking text? We don’t think so and are proud to declare ourselves as very early Nigella adopters, being fans of her early ‘Vogue’ food columns that went onto become this book. Nigella’s first book is written with such love, warmth and longing for memories of past meals that it will resonate forever. This is the kind of food book to hunker down with and read as you would a work of fiction. You will be guaranteed to want to cook from it too as it is jampacked with useful achievable advice for everyone. Personally we found the weaning and infant feeding chapters full of useful advice- like having a Health Visitor, Mother, friend and champion cook rolled into one and standing by my side whilst we agonised over what to feed our children. For us the cover price alone is justified by Nigella’s tip on how to prep large amounts of kids party Marmite sandwiches. Simply beat butter and Marmite together in a bowl until soft and incorporated and then spread the bread with it. Amazing. Simple.

A Girl Called Jack- 100 delicious budget recipes by Jack Monroe.

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Her writing is superb, she is socially and politically moral and her recipes are not runners up in taste and style. Jack is a cash-strapped single mum living in Southend. When she found herself with a shopping budget of just £10 a week to feed herself and her young son, she addressed the situation with immense resourcefulness, creativity and by embracing her local supermarket’s ‘basics’ range. She created recipe after recipe of delicious, simple and upbeat meals that were outrageously cheap. Learn with Jack Monroe’s A Girl Called Jack how to save money on your weekly shop whilst being less wasteful and creating inexpensive, tasty food. Recipes include Vegetable Masala Curry for 30p a portion, Pasta alla Genovese for 19p a portion, Fig, Rosemary and Lemon Bread for 26p and a Jam Sponge reminiscent of school days for 23p a portion. We loved the Gigantes Plaki- tomato-ey Greek style large Butter Beans scooped up with whatever bread you have or versatile accompaniment to grains, rice or pasta.

Xanthe Clay calls her sassy and was an early champion of Jack Monroe’s blog. Xanthe Clay knows her stuff.

Go forth and buy this book. Unlike Jamie, she hasn’t priced her ‘budget meal’ book at a ridiculous price (Jamie ended up being shamed into donating large quantities of his book to libraries) nor does Jack Monroe make rude, disparaging remarks about poorer people in order to generate publicity.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya von Bremzen 

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In 1974, when Anya was ten, she and her mother fled to the USA, with no winter coats and no right of return. These days, Anya is the doyenne of high-end food writing. And yet, the flavour of Soviet kolbasa, like Proust’s madeleines, transports her back to that vanished Atlantis known as the USSR in this book with its wide ranging writings covering seven decades of Soviet Russia seen through a prism of one families meals.

A Slice Of Cherry Pie by Julia Parsons.

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The first book by a well regarded food blogger, ‘A Slice Of Cherry Pie’ melds food with beautifully compositions of the places, people and memories underpinning her recipe creations: a mix of modern rustic dishes inspired and inflected by a love of eating and sharing. The stylish scrapbook effect, mixing text, photographs, family memorabilia and montages makes this book a visual and tactile pleasure. From chocolate cakes to more unusual risotti, the recipes work.

How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

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Rarely has a book title been more (wilfully) misinterpreted. The original tongue in cheek intentions of Lawson when she named the book have been distorted into an anti Feminist ‘Get back in the kitchen’ edict far from the original intention. Indeed what this book suggests (as do all of Lawson’s) is that the kitchen can be another source of pleasure and comfort in the multi faceted like that many women today lead. 

This is one of our favourites of Lawson’s books being published just after ‘How To Eat’ when she still felt like a relatively undiscovered treasure. Her narrative is impregnated with all five senses, evoking your own memories through the recounting of her own. Lawson sets the scene before each recipe often crediting others for their creation. Rosebud Madeleines, Granny Boy’s Biscuits, Schnecken, Boston Cream Pie, Cheese Blintzes and Joe Dolce’s Cheesecake- Lawson journeys through France, Ireland, North American and her beloved Italy bringing a combination of faithful adherence and culinary reinterpretation. One of our favourite ever baking recipes is found in this book – Mini Lime Syrup Sponges. They are super cute and tiny mouthfuls of sharp sweet heaven.

The Hairy Dieters Eat for Life: How to Love Food, Lose Weight and Keep it Off for Good! – Dave Myers & Si King

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These guys came into Mumsnet Towers for a webchat in January and gave great chat about this book and their escapades of late.

The feedback was positive from the many Mumsnetters who have cooked from this book with comments along the lines of ‘tasting not like diet food’, ‘easy’, ‘family friendly’. Their motto is ‘Flavour has no calories’ and these recipes certainly pack the former in full of fruit, vegetables and lean meat and fish. Traditionally high fat and sugar foods such as Cornish Pasties, pancakes, Pork Schnitzel and chicken Bhuna are reformatted as low fat versions sacrificing none of the pleasure. Warm Nectarine Tart got our attention.

Roast by Marcus Verbene

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From the award winning restaurant in London’s Borough Market comes this sumptuously designed but down to earth book. Making full use of QR technology with its embedded film clips of culinary techniques and step by step photo guides, this book will guide you through each meal of the day using British and local ingredients and time honoured techniques brought up to date. From Anchovy rubbed roast mutton to wonderful fish and shellfish recipes as befits a former chef at J Sheekeys (the famous seafood and fish restaurant), this book captures the best of modern British cookery. 

One of the great recommendations by Harris & Harris books in Clare- http://www.harrisharris.co.uk/

Low Carb Revolution by Annie Bell

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Reducing your carbohydrate intake is proven as not only the fastest way of shedding those unwanted pounds, but keeping them off in the long-term. Here is a book that shows you how to achieve that without giving up any of your favourite dishes. Award-winning food writer Annie Bell approaches the Low Carb diet as a food lover and passionate cook, which is reflected in her approach to this way of life throughout the book. 

Annie Bell is a favourite of ours and probably bears some responsibility for a few extra poundage because of her amazing and seductive looking baking. This book is packed with creative savoury recipes such as salt and pepper duck (not something that tends to be seen as ‘diet’ food) that won’t make us feel deprived plus some puddings- a crustless mango cheesecake has been earmarked for making sooner rather than later!

Kitchen Diaries II by Nigel Slater

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Includes over 250 recipes, many from his BBC TV series Dish of the Day, Simple Suppers and Simple Cooking. From Nigel Slater,  one of our best-loved food writers, a beautiful and inspiring companion volume to his bestselling Kitchen Diaries. Slater has maintained an eating & food diary for years and this is the second anthology of entries- a composite of a year of eating. From grilled things in juice and cooking fat smeared rolls to pork rib ragu (worth the cover price alone) this book is rammed with simple and delectable ways to eat.

The Food Of Morocco by Paula Wolfert – review

 

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This scholarly book exploring the cuisine and culinary traditions of Morocco is the result of more than forty years of experience of world travel and gustatory exploration. Interspersed with glossaries of ingredients and techniques are essays about Morocco, its history and people.  The recipes are comprehensive and even easier to achieve now because of the wider availability of the ingredients; when we first bought this book, living in a large city with an expat population was a must. Wide margins make it a book for scribbling in, adding thoughts and comments – it invites this and is definitely a book to hand down as it deliberately ignores culinary fashions for hard core exploration and is the perfect companion to Wolfert’s classic, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco.

PAULA WOLFERT, a resident of Sonoma in California, is the author of eight previously published cookbooks, all considered classics. Among them: Couscous and Other Good Food From MoroccoThe Cooking of Southwest France, and five books on Mediterranean cuisine including the much praised Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean. She has won the Julia Child Award three times, The James Beard Award five times, The M. F. K. Fisher AwardThe Tastemaker Award and been a finalist for the British Andre Simon Award. She is the creator of the open Facebook Moroccan Cooking Group, an invaluable source of support, enquiry and information.

Some of our favourite recipes in this book are the blood orange and almond lettuce salad which is redolent with the colours, tastes and scents of this magical country. The Berber Couscous for Spring is a perfect distillation of the early season bounty- Broad beans, Courgettes, Spring Chicken meat, Cinnamon, early Tomatoes and the first of the years cream as cows start giving milk again. Wolfert ensures we understand why certain ingredients are the herald of their season meaning these recipes earn a place in the home of the local and seasonal food lover.