Death / Roe

I often wonder how much healthier, both physically and mentally, we would be as a country if the New Year started not in January, but in March, or perhaps May, and if resolutions therefore had to be kept not in the long death of winter but instead against a background of burgeoning spring as it made its way towards the green early summer. How anyone expects to keep, say, to a salad-based diet, or to lay off the booze – even a glass of good red wine of a long evening! – when the days are still short, when the temperature frequently drops below zero, when there is slush in every gutter and no leaves to be seen, except for endless, endless kale, I do not understand.

Having said that, I do enjoy a crisp winter’s day, and if I might wait until the wind is a little less vicious and the roads are not glinting with ice to get back on my bicycle, then I am willing to spend one eating food which is similarly crisp and cold, January being the time to eat raw celeriac with mustard and creme fraiche, or shredded radicchios and chicory enlivened with neat fillets of blood orange, or brassicas charred briefly over a hot flame, and then left to macerate in apple vinegar and miso. So-called clean eating is, of course, a nonsense, but there is a certain cleanliness of flavour, a sidestep away from the butter and spice which characterises a British Christmas, that is desirable at this time of year, especially if it marches in tandem with an enormous bowl of pasta or a good pot of ragu – one of those ones so slow-cooked that the vegetables have completely dissolved and all you have left is a kind of jam made from meat, so it has to be spread on toast or indeed stirred through that enormous bowl of pasta, rather than served, say, with mashed potato.

Raw celeriac, especially when cut into neat matchsticks and slightly overdressed with that creme fraiche and mustard, demands to be eaten with hot-smoked fish of some kind; in an ideal world, this would be eel, for which I have a great weakness, especially when hot-smoked and cut across the bone into little steaks and then grilled to loosen the rich buttery oils. Eels, however, with their deeply mysterious lives lived between the muddy Thames and the wide Sargasso Sea, are one of the least sustainable of fishes, as well as being, when smoked, quite enormously expensive, so you might have to make do with smoked mackerel; hardly making do, smoked mackerel being extremely delicious, especially if you buy the whole burnished fish wrapped neatly in brown paper, instead of sweaty vac-packed fillets. I don’t have any plans to smoke mackerel this year, as I’m keeping it all for canning, but I did get, the other day, two fat sacs of cod’s roe, one of which I smoked to be made into tarama salata and the other of which I will dry brick-hard and grate or shave over slick ribbons of pasta, a taste of distant seas in the landlocked depths of winter.

Yes We Can

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The Italians, who, despite their supposed reverence for the ingredient have as much of an interest in cooking techniques as do anybody else, express a certain penchant for extremes when it comes to the application of heat. A sauce is cooked for either five minutes or five hours, beef either raw or collapsing to the touch; when something is to be overcooked, as in that rather lovely broccoli cream used to dress pasta, they will overcook the hell out of it – which is just as it should be. If something is not at the extreme end of what you are trying to do to it, then it is not, to my mind, as good as it could be. The correct amount of salt in any food is nearly-too-much; anything less is not enough.

The thing with overcooking is that it comes in circles. The most obvious example is one of the cheaper cuts of steak, hanger or some other kind of skirt. Cook it fresh and bloody, and it cuts like butter under a questing knife; cook it medium-well, and your diners will think you have grilled them one of your worn-out Crocs. Cook it for three hours, perhaps with some sweet onion, some anchovy and a bosky Pinot Noir, and there it is again, melting to tenderness, just the thing to spread onto a piece of almost-burnt toast and eat, standing up, with some nearly-too-sharp pickles on the side. This is true, broadly speaking, of almost any sort of protein. You wouldn’t do it to a fillet steak, but then who eats a fillet steak in this day and age? Hamine eggs, to take another example, boil through grey rubber and on into soft cream, and are all the better for it.

We might not, perhaps, think of doing this to fish. Cephalopods, of course, demand the all-or-nothing treatment, with cuttlefish especially demanding a cooking time of either three hours or close to zero; even the apparently intractable octopus can, with a little judicious preparation (freeze / defrost / brine / dry / marinate) be successfully flash-fried. Your actual backboned swimming fish, though, would seem to be another matter, with even a fish stew only including the fish for the last few minutes of cooking – except, that is, for tinned fish. I’ve written before about the luscious texture, reminiscent of tinned tuna, you can get by slowly poaching fish in olive oil; since then I have also become enamoured with a Japanese preparation, involving entire mackerel cooking in a deeply flavoured marinade. The true, melting nature of actual tinned fish, though, requires the extra heat available from a pressure cooker; as luck would have it, I got one for Christmas.

I’m aiming to get hold of some tin cans to try this with, but for now I am canning fish in screw-topped Kilner jars; the principle is the same. Oily fish (it needs that fat, I think) and some strongly flavoured things go into a sealed jar, and are cooked at pressure until rendered delicious; conveniently, this also kills off botulinum spores. I wanted to try this with the pomegranate mackerel recipe, but I could get neither mackerel nor pomegranate molasses; instead, I’m trying chunks of salmon with fermented pepper paste, blood orange juice, and a few other things. I have high hopes.

Sharing Plates


However much people bang on about medical improbabilities, long journeys by donkey or by camel, an overstretched hospitality industry, symbolic vegetation or even just the steady movement of the earth around the sun, everybody knows that the real meaning of Christmas is the food – or rather, the feeding of it. The recent examples of (largely Turkish) restaurants opening their doors to the homeless and the lonely show that we know no-one should have to eat alone on Christmas Day, even those who have no particular reason to celebrate it; this is because we know that no-one should have to eat alone ever, unless they want to. Personally, I quite like eating by myself, especially at lunchtime – though not on Christmas Day.

No, the food is there to be fed, and feeding – that is to say sharing – is, whether done begrudgingly, lovingly, thoughtlessly as a natural right, or even at all, is a political act. The recent review of Donald Trump’s dreadful restaurant was hilarious, of course, and clearly well-deserved, but the reason it resonates is that someone who doesn’t give a damn about feeding people non-terrible food, and for whom hospitality is merely another opportunity for conspicuous consumption, is obviously unfit to run a country. If he’s going to operate a restaurant simply to extend his brand and to make money, why wouldn’t he operate his government in the same way?

I’ve never been sure if the remark of Lenin pictured above is intended to imply that government should be open to all, even a lowly cook, that the mechanisms of government should be so well-designed that even a cook could step in and run them, or that the particular multitasking-forward-planning-hard-working-selflessly-food-sharing skillset of the cook or chef makes them ideal for the job; if the latter, as I have always chosen to assume, then he must have meant ‘run’ in a bureaucratic, backroom, Mycroft Holmes sort of a way; no-one would want even the most talented and generous of cooks as the face of government. For that you want a maitre d’, or perhaps a world-weary barman. Imagine Trump as a maitre d’, throwing a tantrum when you didn’t order his ‘favourite’ special, ‘accidentally’ spilling wine over your date so he can wipe down her breasts. Imagine David Cameron as a maitre d’! He’d upsell you Champagne and then teabag your soup for a laugh. If Theresa May’s grim rictus greeted you at a restaurant door, you’d back out and settle in at the pub across the road, where it’s warmer, they keep the ale well, and they cook food with the intention to feed.

Nothing Is Lost

When I was going to sleep, I think the night before last, I had a really good idea for a piece. Today I need to write it, and I have not the slightest idea what it was. Gone. Possibly it was in fact quite a bad idea for a piece, or, it might be, a few lines from a song or a book, the memory of a smile from an imaginary film, which became entwined in my nearly-dreaming brain with, say, a discussion of the relative methods of octopus preparation, complete with recipes. I remember once, in the drifting minutes between the first alarm and the final waking, composing a song which was also a pie, a very fine pie, and am still rather disappointed that I have forgotten the details, which, come to think of it, are probably non-existent and at any rate impossible.

The problem is that, between work, a demanding puppy, and the cold and the dark, I am really quite exhausted, and I can see why most food writers confine themselves, in December, to the production of lists of various kinds, or to a retread of festive tropes providing twists on seasonal classics. Now, I can see why these are useful, if you have a lot of parties in December (as apparently people do), or indeed if you work in a restaurant, and wish to serve people something other than a bulked-up Sunday roast, over and over again. Personally, though, I feel a little sorry for anyone who feels that they need to constantly change the Christmas meal itself, to fall in with fashion or diets or simply for variety’s sake. Surely the point of such meals is that they are always, by and large, the same – like listening to the Fall, or reading PG Wodehouse.

If I was at home for Christmas (‘home’ in this context always being where your parents or the majority of your family live) I know that on Christmas Eve there would be shepherd’s pie with braised red cabbage and mulled, perhaps blackberry wine, with a treacle tart to follow (or is that New Year? Maybe it’s warm mince pies), a warm hug after standing in the cold for the carol service; Christmas dinner means soup, a leg of pork, long chipolatas wrapped in good bacon, stuffing balls, slightly overdone sprouts, sneaky parsnips to be picked out of the roast potatoes, proper gravy and all the rest; it means Christmas pudding and ice cream, mint chocolates, nuts, fruit, the yearly indulgence of coffee with cream in it, and the rest of the day spent dipping bread in gravy every time you walk through the kitchen. The soup might change from year to year; an extra piece of meat might come out, or the veg vary depending on what is left of the allotment in the freezer, but the essentials remain.

I won’t be at home for Christmas itself, this year, so we can do what we like. I think a salt cod and potato pie for the night before, and maybe a game-hung five year old hen, perhaps pot-roasted, for the main event. If it ends up tough and stringy, as well it might, considering I have never cooked one before, then at least we have the trimmings, which are after all the best bit.

The Genesis of Porridge

Whatever our romantic notions of European peasant cuisine might be, they almost certainly don’t include enough gruel. Those delightfully thrifty offal dishes you choke down at street stalls and in little backstreet diners? Before urbanisation and centralised slaughterhouses, they were once-a-year treats, the only freshly steaming meat you’d ever eat. Fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables? Aside from the fact that raw fruit was once considered actively harmful to health, the juvenile state we eat most of our produce in is simply wasteful, a poor use of energy and time. A young pea straight from the pod is delightful, but that’s because it is mainly sugar; leave it on the plant long enough, and you have a suitably starchy pulse to see you through the winter, as a break from, yes, your gruel.

You can make gruel from any grain or pseudo-grain you like, ground or not, or even chestnuts. Before corn and therefore polenta came to Italy, and a long time before mechanisation made pasta a staple dish, the peasantry lived or at least survived on porridges of either buckwheat or chestnut flour; this is something you seldom see in modern temples to the cucina povera, for some reason. In Britain porridge tends to mean a sweet gruel, and it tends to mean oats, which collapse quite well into creaminess, especially with the addition of cream. The true Scottish way is to eat it with salt alone, of course – and maybe a tot of whisky. As I say, though, oats can take such meagre treatment; most other porridges need some sort of enlivening. I don’t know how long you could live on plain chestnut porridge alone, but it would certainly be long enough to wish you didn’t. Congee, the Chinese rice porridge, sounds a little more appetising, but that might be because the last recipe I read for it emphasised that it should be made with a good chicken stock; given that I would happily drink a good chicken stock by itself, this is hardly a fair comparison. A good white risotto is essentially a rice porridge, but again, that is enlivened with not just stock and wine but also large amounts of cheese and butter; given that I would happily … But I repeat myself.

I have always thought of porridge as quite a primitive thing, a slight misstep on the way to making bread, though I suppose it has just followed a parallel path. On the one hand, it is quick to make, and doesn’t need an oven; on the other, it requires  a good metal cooking pot, a comparatively advanced piece of technology.

The pernicious wheatphobia of the clean eating brigade has, anyway, led to a resurgence in the popularity of porridge, often made with so-called ancient grains, many of them varieties of wheat. I am currently eating a porridge made of buckwheat – which, despite the name, is actually a relative of rhubarb – not because I am avoiding gluten but because I like buckwheat, though not, it turns out, enough to enjoy eating it as a gruel, even with the addition of prunes and malt extract and various other favourite things of mine. Perhaps it needs a good chicken stock, or at least a slick of cream; perhaps eating gruel just isn’t supposed to be enjoyable. Perhaps for lunch I will eat something crunchy, and thank the stars I am not a medieval peasant, eating three bowls a day.

Quietly Shining

When you step outside to dump yesterday’s coffee grounds, to relieve the dog, to squeeze your curing hams or to otherwise do whatever it is you do first thing in the morning, and you find that the grass crunches underneath your feet and the sharp air catches in your nostril – when, in short, there is every sign that the ministry of frost has been busily fulfilling its duties overnight, it is time to think about boiling bones.

Although the health claims made for bone broth are dubious at best, the Jay Rayners of this world are wrong about one thing – it is not the same as stock. Not at all. A properly made stock has never risen above a simmer; it has been skimmed and pampered its whole life through, and the end result is eerily clear. A soup made with stock, with neatly diced vegetables cooked just-so in it, might be right for a summer day; a good bone broth, never.

I have some pork bones boiling up right now, in with a good smoked gammon hock – and they will be boiled. They will be cooked until the collagen and the fat breaks down and emulsifies with the water, which will be cloudy but glistening and almost tacky to the touch, like the pellicle on the skin of a drying mackerel. You can see, when you make broth, how bones become glue.

Personally, I rarely put in vegetables when I’m boiling ham and bones, though the skins of brown onions give a satisfying colour. As you’re normally doing something else with it, you can add the vegetables then, and give them a fighting chance to retain their integrity; not much outlasts the smoke and salt of a boiling ham hock. Today, when the broth is done I will sweat diced onion and carrots, add some pickled cucumber and its brine, then buckwheat and the broth and finally parsley, great handfuls of parsley and dill, and maybe some soured cream. I’ll share it with some good friends and some good beer, and we will know in our bones that it is cold outside and we are warm.

Alternate Kitchens

You probably don’t remember, but my first ever post on here was on the subject of imaginary cuisines. What if, I asked, what if amongst those washing up in America fleeing war, poverty, oppressions and famine there had been a significant number from Turkey, whose meyhanes and grills now formed as much a part of the New York cityscape as red sauce joints and Ashkenazi delis? That such alternate cuisines are easy to conjure up demonstrates how food cultures spring not only from landscape, from quirks of geology and weather, but from the various movements of humanity, from immigration, from trade and from war. What would the cuisine look like of an island stuck between Africa and Italy’s boot, ruled at times by Greeks, Arabs, Normans, polenta-eaters and mafiosi? It would look Sicilian, and its real glory would come not from the scorching hills of the interior but from the alleys of Palermo; it would be easier, if it were imaginary, to understand.

It strikes me occasionally that anyone engaged in trying to cook what is called Modern British cuisine is engaged in a similar act of creation. Even the most ardent defender of the food of this country would admit that there is a crack in our culinary heritage, a break between then and now; blame it on industrial urbanisation, on Victorian puritanism, on the privations of rationing, but there it is. The apparently fervent embrace of the cuisines of former colonial subjects and various immigrants seems an attempt to fill that gap, a search for the authentic in sweet-and-sour sauce and tikka masala. The irony, of course, is that these cuisines had already changed, adapted to the ingredients they had to hand and to the palates they had to satisfy; they are part of the patchwork of British cuisine.

It has always been a patchwork, of course. Everything has. Medieval kings gorged themselves on the spoils of the Crusades; recipes for curries and pilafs and pasta go back further than you think. Ketchup on everything? That worked its way here from Indonesia, I believe. The Romans taught us how to make sausages, and they brought cabbages and onions to go with them. Back to Modern British; this supposed break with some imaginary peasant Golden Age means we can, essentially, do what the hell we like. People in Italy argue over their ‘genuine’ cuisine, which was mainly invented by Mussolini; we’re still appropriating from everywhere, this time with an added handful of what-ifs. What if Britain had discarded its frankly baffling fear of culinary decay and embraced fermentation and air-drying, alongside its Northern European cousins, if we pressed our herring, dry-cured our sheep, desiccated our cod in the bitter North Sea winds? We don’t have to always-have-done, luckily. We can just start now. Do your bit for an inclusive Britain – nail a fish to a tree.

By Any Other Name

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Sometimes the hardest step in the journey of a dish from brain to plate is deciding what to call the damn thing – a comparatively recent problem. Back in the day, of course, even the finest of chefs would have cooked a menu of the classics, and the names as well as the recipes and presentation would have come straight from Escoffier; now originality is expected everywhere, and if high-flung menuese and its attendant plague of adjectives has (thankfully) become a thing of the past, then the current style of [ingredient, ingredient, ingredient] or [ingredient & ingredient] can be just as demanding. Commas or ampersand? What order? In such a sparse form, the scanty information you do give away becomes vital. Do you acknowledge the artichoke is raw, the mackerel is cured, the chilli is fermented, the yoghurt is seasoned, the chickpeas are spiced, the croutons are absent? Or do you leave the nitty-gritty to front of house, who will (probably) get everything wrong anyway?

This gets even harder when you start making things up. A chicken breast is a chicken breast, no matter what combination of cured and fermented items you put it on a plate with. What to call boiled pigs’ lungs, minced with onion and stuffed into intestine? This is a similar preparation to a haggis, of course, but the chieftain of the pudding race is made with sheep offal (the whole pluck, ideally) and stuffed into a stomach; I think you could get away with one change to this formula, but not two. Pig offal stuffed in a stomach, I’d happily call a pork haggis. Conversely, lamb offal in sausage form would make a good haggis sausage. A pork haggis sausage, though, is just silly. A pork light sausage? A pork offal sausage? I’d expect some liver in that, personally. A pork lung sausage? These get less appetising. I find myself wishing I’d put some blood in the mix so I could call it black pudding and have done. Pudding might be the way to go – by the time the things are grilled they’re barely sausage-shaped anyway – but I’m not sure the term is generally understood in that way, black and white puddings as well as the aforementioned chieftain notwithstanding. Offal pudding? Light pudding? You see my problem. The things are sitting in the freezer now, awaiting only a name.

THE UNNAMED SAUSAGE

I am 90% sure that no-one will ever follow this recipe.

the lungs and windpipe of two medium pigs

stock vegetables (onion, carrot and co)

4 sweet white onions

a little oil

250g toasted buckwheat groats

sausage casings

copious salt and pepper

 

Put the lights in a big pot with the stock vegetables and cover with water. Bring to a simmer and leave there for several hours, skimming the scum off from time to time, until the windpipes are very soft. Fish out the lights with a spider or similar and leave to cool a little, then pick through them, tearing the lungs into chunks and discarding the hard parts of the windpipe.

At some point during this, slice the onions and cook them with a pinch of salt in a little oil until very soft and golden, which will, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, take a while. Add the cooked onion to the offal, weigh the lot and add 2% salt by weight. If you have a kilo, for example, add 20g of salt. Add a good teaspoon or so of ground pepper, then blitz until fairly smooth and stir in the buckwheat. Chill overnight.

Stuff into sausage skins (or get your friendly butcher to do it), then place the whole link in a pan, cover with cold water, and poach very gently for 15 minutes. They can now be kept in the fridge or used immediately; either way, oil them a bit and grill, turning a couple of times, until the skins are shiny and starting to brown. Eat with fermented tomato ketchup and maybe a hash brown or two.

A Pretty Pickle

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If I were the sort of person to jump to conclusions, I might think that the above TripAdvisor user and self-described customer of Darsham Nurseries Cafe were an old-fashioned racist, the kind who thinks Turkish food begins and ends with dubious kebab shops, just as the sum total of Chinese cuisine can be found within the walls of the Golden Dragon; as it is, I will confine myself to the observation that he doesn’t know a huge amount about the food of the Eastern Mediterranean. If he did, he might join the dots between the plate of largely Stamboulite vegetable preparations he was served and the origins of the kebab, and figure out the bizarre reason why such a chilli might have adorned his plate; either way, he is certainly a snob, as anyone who professes a dislike for those “chillies you get in kebab shops” must be. For one thing, what he was actually served was Spanish guindillas, similar to those chillies you get in kebab shops, and for another, those chillies you get in kebab shops (CYGIKSs, from now on) are one of the finest of all pickles, a standout even in the impressive pickling world of Turkey.

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A good pickled chilli needs crunch, heat – but not too much heat – sweetness and sharpness and salt; it should be edible by itself with only a slight wince, so it can be eaten with abandon as a counterpoint to rich, fatty meats or sharp cheeses and nuts. The CYGIKS is a perfect expression of these qualities, and the Spanish guindillas we used to use at work are one of the closest equivalents that don’t come in 10l tins, for delivery, presumably, to kebab shops. I say ‘used to use’ not because the above review showed us the error of our ways but because we have started making our own, which, if anything, are even more like those CYGIKSs. We grow a huge number of sweet and chilli peppers at Darsham, among them the two main varieties used for CYGIKSs, the short stubby pale green ones and the long curly pale green ones. They probably have names, but I’m no expert. As it happens, I have spent a decent portion of the past four years perfecting my chilli-pickling method, starting with a frankly useless Jamie Oliver recipe and a box of generic greens and ending with a major breakthrough just as this year’s plants started seriously fruiting. We now have jar upon jar upon jar of the things, and they will be proudly adorning our mezze for many months to come.

CYGIKSs

This is more of a method than a recipe. As a general-ish rule, a 1l jar will take about 500g or so of chillies, which will need about 500ml of liquid to cover them. You’ll want to make loads, anyway, because they’re delicious.

STAGE ONE

chillies, preferably green curly mild ones

salt

sugar

water

Slit each chilli through one side of its flesh, all the way from stalk to tip, and pack them into a jar or crock. Pour water over them, then pour it off into a measuring jug – just to see how much brine you’ll need.

The brine is 3.5%, which is to say you’ll need 35g of salt and the same of sugar for each litre of water, so make this up, pour into a pan and bring to a boil, just to dissolve the solids. Let it cool to room temperature or thereabouts and pour over the chillies. Weight them down with something and leave to ferment for a week.

STAGE TWO

brined chillies

white wine vinegar

sugar

By now the brine should be cloudy with lactobacteria and the chillies should be crunchy and well flavoured. Drain them well and pack back into the jar.

For the pickle, you want 400g of sugar for each litre of vinegar – it helps to make a little extra up, to top up the chillies as necessary. Bring this mixture to a boil and pour straight over the chillies, remembering that hot acid hitting chilli seeds can sting the eyes a little (quite a lot, actually). Seal and leave for a week, then eat with your mezze or kebab.

Sweet-Meats

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It’s fascinating, the things people leave in books. I volunteered at Oxfam Books for a couple of months, and in that time amassed a folder (which I still have, somewhere) full of various items found between the pages of donations. I dog-ear, personally, having little respect for the ‘book’ as a totemic object, so the breadth of things used as bookmarks surprised me. Flyers and train tickets, yes, lots of them, but also very personal pieces, postcards, letters, photographs, and so on. Are these the things nearest to hand in the urgency of bookmarking, or are they saved for that purpose, a little memento kept always close by?

Inserts in practical non-fiction (gardening and cookery especially) tend towards the useful. For every copy of Mrs Beeton with all the colour plates cut out there’s an old Delia bristling with newspaper clippings, supermarket recipe pamphlets, old shopping lists … and maybe, if you’re lucky, some original recipes, carefully recorded in neat pencil. I found this one between the pages of an American book on game cookery, from 1945; some newspaper pieces within (on cooking with coon and reindeer) are of a similar vintage – a column on the back of one of them railing against socialism – so I assume this recipe is too. More research, as they say, is needed.

So. The recipe – which, as you can see, is a list of ingredients with no method or yield given – is untitled, but looks, from the sugar, the fruit, the adding of alcohol to each jar, like a recipe for mincemeat, of the old English and it seems the American kind which actually contains meat. (I was always dubious about the existence of such a thing, as ‘meat’ in some contexts [sweetmeat] just means ‘food’, and it seemed to go hand-in-hand with the preposterous assertion that spices were used to mask rotten meat, but it seems I was wrong.) When I shared the ‘recipe’ on Twitter, Dan Lepard came to the same conclusion, and proffered the helpful fact that Wellington is a variety of cooking apple, similar to our Bramley.

The final piece of the puzzle came from the fine Penguin Handbook The American Heritage Cookbook, dating from the 60s but collating rather older dishes, which features a recipe for Sunnyside Mincemeat Pie, with a strikingly similar list of ingredients – only beef instead of venison. I had assumed that a meat-containing mincemeat, unlike the usual British variety, must require cooking prior to jarring, and here was confirmation! I had a method – and my neighbour was giving away bags of windfall Bramleys. Isn’t it nice when things work out?

VENISON MINCEMEAT

With apologies to the original cook, I have streamlined the amounts somewhat in converting to metric. That half an ounce of venison might have seemed very important – or maybe it’s just what she happened to have. Either way, I’ve kept things simpler. I’ve also gone with the original mix of dates and prunes, because I like prunes. Do as you like – dried cherries are nice.

You can see that the original recipe called for meat and fat to be marinated, but not in what; I’ve skipped this altogether. Unless it means heavily brined (possible), I can’t see that you’d get much of the marinade through the blanket of fruit and spice.

DISCLAIMER: This involves cooking meat in what seems like an insufficiency of salt or acid and leaving it in the fridge for a month. Make sure you cook it thoroughly when you make it into pies. If I get botulism, I’ll let you know.

Makes 3 1l jars, which is far too much mincemeat.

500g venison, minced

200g suet, shredded (preferably deer, but that’s quite hard to get hold of. I used sheep, but beef will do)

1.25kg cooking apples, chopped

500g light muscovado sugar

500g dates, chopped

500g prunes, chopped

300ml nice apple juice

150 mixed candied peel, chopped

.25 t ground cloves

.25 t ground mace

.25 t ground ginger

.5 t ground nutmeg

2 t salt

1 t ground cinnamon

some booze (I don’t drink rum, so I used bramble whisky)

Put everything except the booze in a big pan, and bring to a slight simmer. Leave it there with a lid on for two hours, stirring occasionally, then pack into sterilised jars, adding a couple of tablespoons of booze to each jar. Put in the fridge and leave for a month.