Instructions on how to wind a clock
So, you know how much I love ginger right? This has ultimately paid off during a recent expedition to access the manuscript archives at North Yorkshire Records Office. They have kindly invited me to be a part of their upcoming Archives @ Dusk open evening in May and I shall be recreating a couple of recipes for visitors to try on the evening. To my great joy there were a number of fabulous recipes containing ginger and I chose to offer these during the night in question.
I love reading old cookery notebooks – if only for the random nature of the notations. Amongst recipes for handmade oyster sauce, sponges and a York Punch you will also find instructions for winding the clock, a polish for cleaning the harness on your carriages and instructions for how to treat women during her menstruation.
The authors of such hand written manuscripts would often make a note as to whom the recipe or piece of advice came from, the date and sometimes the circumstances in which the recommendation was given. This allows great scope for further research in to the names mentioned and accurate documentation of recipes being used at the time.
As I referenced at the beginning of this post – I shall be using the Archives @ Dusk evening to talk on my favourite subjects – that of ginger and gingerbread. I am particularly keen to try the traditional recipe for ginger beer – found written in a book from 1827.
I shall also be baking a recipe for gingerbread biscuits from the same book and I am extremely curious to see the size of the batch of biscuits gained from one pound butter, three pounds flour and one pound of moist sugar. It is not uncommon to come across recipes on such a substantial scale as they were often written by those managing a large household with a number of guests and staff coming and going.
This takes me to the last notation I wish to share with you today. It is taped on to the inside of the front cover of a manuscript from the late 19th century and states the allowances for servants living on site.
As a food writer I often take inspiration from the seasonal produce available at the local market. Even the early months offer Jerusalem artichoke, rhubarb and Seville oranges, lifting tired culinary spirits after the long haul of winter and raising hopes for the abundance to come. Sadly nature has other ideas as we head into March – traditionally known as the famine month amongst growers – and the hiatus continues until the arrival of asparagus in the middle of April. (I caught my first glimpse of British asparagus today). These days we can access bounty from all over the world – widening our repertoire massively. But amongst all these exotic temptations there are still a few gems of our own waiting to be rediscovered.
One vegetable available most of the year round is the much maligned cauliflower. Seen as a vehicle for a rich cheese sauce rather than the star of a dish, the good old cauli seems to trigger a bored reaction from many cooks. It has been part of the European diet since at least the 12th century and may even receive a mention from Pliny the Elder in his 6th century book, Natural History. Though the cyma he documents may have actually been a reference to it’s greener relative sprouting broccoli.
So what can be done with this very British staple? Early ancestors of our modern cauliflower cheese can be found in a medieval recipe for cauliflower boiled in milk and topped with cream, nutmeg and mace. Many go on to suggest soaking the head in a brine solution before boiling whole. This would then be served lathered with butter and a dusting of nutmeg, believed to be a favourite for King Louis XIV. It is thought that the brine had less to do with flavour than it did the removal of creepy crawlies hiding amongst the florets. In her book, Food in England, Dorothy Hartley also suggests that the leaves of make an excellent side dish of their own.
The cauliflower made it’s way into European diets via the Assyrian Empire and suits the strong, punchy flavours of the region perfectly. Roasted with cumin seeds and chillies, scattered with toasted almonds it makes a wonderful warm salad. Stir in some chickpeas and dress with olive oil, vinegar and chopped herbs and you have an excellent vegetarian main meal. So go ahead, pick up a humble cauli this week and make a meal fit for a (French) king.