Ginger and A Grateful Pudding

May I with an apology. It has been a while since my last post and I promise to resume the momentum once again. Here in York we have been experiencing a harsh drop in temperatures, though thankfully not much snow. Such weather always throws me in to the kitchen in search of satisfying puddings, dried fruit and warm spices. So, in a break from the Healthy Eating series throughout January, I am going to share with you my favourite spice and a wonderfully named baked pudding.

Ginger is initially believed to have been imported for use in Ancient Rome from India ( via its native China) until the fall of the Roman empire in the 5th century. Arab traders then took control of the spice routes from the East and planted the rhizome in Africa and Zanzibar, trading with Greeks and Romans and introducing the spice to Europe along the way. Marco Polo  also obtained ginger on his travels around Central Asia and China, and so began our worldwide love affair with Zingiber officinale.

First utilised as a medicinal plant, Ginger can be found in the anglo saxon manuscript Balds Leechbook alongside silk, frankincense, blood letting and buck’s liver as possible treatments for poor health. In the later medieval period, as diet and health is inexorably linked to the four humors, the spicy heat of ginger gave it a dangerous quality. It has often been included in aphrodisiac consumables such as gingerbread, or the fabulous sounding cordial Rosa Solis. In addition to cinnamon, ginger, clove and grains of paradise, this Italian cordial water held a suspension of coral, ground pearl and tiny flecks of pure gold. A more humble, delicious recipe for rhubarb and ginger cordial can be found in the Jamie Oliver Magazine. As regular readers know, my own passion for food history was sparked by medieval recipes for gingerbread, and in Gingerbread spice and all things nice I provide you with a spice mix for adding medieval flavour to any favourite baking recipe. Ginger also held great value great value as a digestif, to calm the system after eating and ‘close off’ the stomach a belief still in evidence today.

The recipe I have chosen this week makes very good use of ground ginger and is perfect for the chilly damp days of February. It is taken from the Victorian cookbook Everybody’s Pudding Book (1862) by Georgiana Hill. It was, I confess, the name which first drew me in to this dish, and the inclusion of ginger meant that I was always bound to have a go. The end result is reminiscent of a traditional suet dessert but lighter in texture and with the warmth of ground ginger running through.

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A Grateful Pudding

Take half a pound each of breadcrumbs and dry flour, then beat the yolks of four eggs and the whites of two; mix them with half a pint of new milk; stir in the bread and flour; add half a pound of stoned raisins, half a pound of washed currants, a quarter of a pound of sugar, and a large spoonful of ground ginger. Mix thoroughly together and either bake it for three-quarters of an hour, or boil it for an hour and a half.

Please note: I whisked the eggs till light and frothy and reduced the dried fruit slightly. I then spooned the mixture into a baking tin and baked, sat in a bain-marie, for 45 minutes at 175C until lightly browned and cooked through.

That old forgotten fruit

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Quince are a mystifying fruit to the uninitiated. Solid and unyielding to the knife their yellow skins carry a thin layer of fluffy down and they seem scarred and unsightly compared to modern day tree fruit. On top of this quince require some level of processing as they would taste foul raw, if indeed you managed to take a bite without breaking teeth.

The golden – honey fruit has a long culinary history and a broad geography in origin. Jewish belief is that it was in fact the quince, rather than the apple, which Eve picked on that fateful day. In Ancient Greece brides would nibble on quince to sweeten their breath before entering the bed chamber, and it was the main ingredient in the Portuguese marmalada; Henry VIII’s favourite import.

It was through my research on fruit preserves that I first encountered this underused member of the rosacea family. The Tudor sweetmeat is a close relative of the Spanish dulce de membrillo, an excellent addition any cheeseboard. Many recipes can be found online and it is a simple, if lengthy process perfect for filling a blustery October day. Today I aim to guide readers to a more accessible way of introducing the quince into every day cookery. I should point out that I take inspiration from a medieval dish of ‘pear baked in wine’ for the infusion of fortified wine and cinnamon in the poaching stock.

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Poached Quince

Take a sharp knife and cut 5 quince into quarters. Carefully remove the core and lay cut side down into a large ovenproof pot. Pour 300ml water and 100ml madeira wine. Finish with a generous slug of honey and a couple of small cinnamon sticks. Cover and bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until cooked through.

The quince can be eaten hot or cold at this stage; with a spoonful of creme fraiche and an extra drizzle of honey. Or pop them in the bottom of a roasting dish of belly pork and onions as a sharp contrast to the crackling.

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Leftovers will sit quite happily in their juices for a couple of days. Hide a few in your apple pie for a floral depth that will keep people guessing. Dice into bite size pieces and stir into a rice pudding along with a little more madeira, ginger and brown sugar. They sit wonderfully with sweet and sticky flavours of cinnamon, ginger honey or maple syrup, so play around a little and help me stop the quince becoming an old forgotten fruit.