Historic Bites: Butterly Delicious

“With enough butter, anything is good.” Julia Child

For decades, butter has been demonised, labelled an artery-clogger contributing to high cholesterol and obesity, and replaced with low fat spreads and margarines.

An ingredient at the very heart of western cuisine for centuries, butter is one of the purest fats available, tastes ambrosial and now, rather wonderfully, is making a rather a grand comeback.

My Grandmother is 109 years old and has lived on a diet primarily composed of meat, butter, a little bread and potatoes all her life. She is fit as a fiddle, her blood pressure’s that of an 18 year old and her outlook extremely youthful. She starts every day with one slice of toast spread, very thickly, with butter. In Norwegian there is a lovely word ‘Tandsmør’ meaning ‘Tooth Butter’ – it is the amount, when spread on bread which leaves a toothmarks.

Etymologically, the word butter comes from the Greek βούτυρον (bouturon) meaning ‘cow or ox cheese’ and during the Middle Ages butter was burned in lamps, just like oil. Butter was a very important commodity and, throughout the UK, you’ll find ‘butter markets’ a legacy from a time when cheese and butter production was essential to the economy. In Rouen, in the north of France, the cathedral’s Butter Tower was built in the 16th century as a tribute to the bishop who authorised the use of butter in lamps during lent when oil was scare.

There are several types of butter; sweet cream butter (pasteurised), salted butter, raw cream butter (unpasteurised), whey butter and cultured butter, all being made across Europe and North America, and of course, Ghee (which is a clarified butter) is used in Indian and eastern cooking, the removal of the milk solids, giving it the ability to keep in hot climates, and it’s more stable at higher cooking temperatures. Classic unsalted butter, or ‘sweet cream butter’, which was first made on a large scale, in the 19th century once pasteurisation allowed for extended longevity before fermentation, but there are some wonderful artisan producers making cultured and whey butters in this country, some of whom I’ll list below.

French butter is regarded as some of the world’s best, but it was also France which first gave us margarine, after a competition was launched by Napoleon III calling for somebody to invent a replacement for butter to feed the army and the poorer population . Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès created a product, in 1869, which he called Oleomargarine, made from beef tallow, salt, sodium sulphate and a small amount of cream, amongst others things – these were actually rather nutritious in their various parts…and from this monstrosity (vis the USA who had discovered that they could replace beef tallow with hydrogenated vegetable oil) eventually came the plasticised monstrosity we know today as margarine.

So, historically, the majority of butter would have been ‘cultured’ which is fermented to some degree and gives a delicious, individual flavour. This also allowed cream from several days’ milking to be used at once, by which time earlier milk would have fermented slightly. Also, butter would have been heavily salted to help preserve it in the days before refrigeration. Butter would also be regularly ‘washed’ and re-salted to keep it fresh. The British were well known in the medieval period for their love of butter on vegetables, something which I’m rather keen on today, or vegetables with their butter as is more often the case at my table.

Sourcing British Butter

Fenn Farm Dairy: Bungay Raw Cultured Butter from Suffolk. A real treat, certainly one to savour. Simply spread on fresh sourdough and enjoy.

Netherend Farm: Organic and Non-Organic butter, from Gloucestershire. As seen on many a celebrity table, made in the Severn Vale, salted and unsalted – the perfect cook’s butter.

Quicke’s : Whey Butter – a delicious and rare heritage recipe recognised by the Slow Food movement as one of the UK’s ‘Forgotten Foods’. Made in Devon. Melt over seasonal asparagus.

Hook and Son: Raw butter from East Sussex. Excellent all purpose butter, use to fry mushrooms with fresh parsley and black pepper for a classic English breakfast.

Cotswold Butter: Made in Worcestershire, a classic salted English butter with sea salt. Perfect for those toasted crumpets.


Finding a new ‘normal’

I find myself writing my first post in extraordinary times on a  fine spring day, which Winnie the Pooh would undoubtedly declare ‘blustery’, but look at the trees…they have begun to unfurl their tiny leaves, the blossom is out and all is fighting against the elements…and winning. Just as we, the world, is fighting against a disease equally as unrelenting. We will hold out, just as the leaves, and it will not take our dignity or beauty away. We must adapt to a new normal and sometimes, forced adaption can be incredibly cathartic.

Just 8 weeks ago, if somebody had said that everybody in the UK would have to stay inside, not enjoy the freedoms and liberties our fore-fathers fought for, they would have been declared insane, and yet, here we are…so we must look to the good of this situation, the reconnecting with ourselves, reading books, playing games, getting out into the garden and growing our own food. All these things which were the ‘norm’ in our grandparents day, must soon be our ‘norm’ too. We have become teachers, councillors, gardeners, cleaners, caterers….time is standing still and allowing us to regress a little. Perhaps this regression is much needed in a world of relentless technology and busyness, from having to make time for things to having the time to enjoy things in a more leisurely way, to take pleasure in the little things like a pot of real tea or a home-cooked family meal. We have time to stop and think, and we are showing gratitude in a way not seen for decades.

In my little corner of the world, farming goes on, the milk tankers arrive morning and night to collect from the dairy herds, a few miles into Herefordshire the soft fruit is beginning to ripen, the fields are ploughed and sown and everything seems normal. However, these, often forgotten workers are now being thanked for keeping food supplies going, just as the NHS staff are for their life-saving work. Maybe new knowledge will come from this, perhaps children will began to know where milk comes from, people won’t take all supermarket produce for granted and maybe, just maybe, the world will began a quiet revolution. After all, it only takes two weeks to create a habit!


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: The eternal quest for the best Hot Chocolate!

One of the annual traditions in our household is putting up the Christmas decorations on the first weekend in December – this is accompanied by lots of steaming hot chocolate and, of course, homemade gingerbread biscuits.

I fully admit that I am a bit of a Hot Chocolate perfectionist. So often, when I order the ‘Special Hot Chocolate’ on a menu I find myself disappointed – it’s always either not hot enough, not thick enough, not creamy enough or the worst crime, just not chocolaty enough!

This has led to a multitude of experiments at home, trying everything from Spanish recipes, to cocoa powder based recipes with cream and even butter, custard based recipes and, of course, all the brands available at both the supermarkets and delis.

I finally concluded that Jersey milk and real chocolate makes the best and simplest Hot Chocolate – perhaps with the addition of a glug of Baileys or rum for the grown-ups, and there are no end of small additions to make my basic Hot Chocolate extremely festive and child friendly. Winter without Hot Chocolate is like Christmas without Santa, and when the colder weather comes, there’s nothing more satisfying than making a real ritual out of its preparation.

Recipe:

Per Person:

50g of good chocolate (dark or milk or even white)

150ml jersey milk

I make mine in a Pyrex bowl over a pan of simmering water, combing the ingredients with a small whisk, never allowing the bowl to come into contact with the water. This creates the most indulgent drink, patience is the key here, slow and steady wins the chocolate race.

This is a very rich drink so serve in small cups with your choice from the following toppings and additions:

Family Friendly

Whipped cream and grated chocolate

A couple of drops of peppermint extract, whipped cream and a little crushed stripy candy cane

1/4 tsp cinnamon per serving

1/4 tsp ginger per serving

A couple of drops almond extract, cream and toasted almonds

Whipped cream and crushed smarties

marshmallows, drizzled with warm chocolate sauce

Whipped cream and drizzle of warmed salted caramel sauce

Vanilla extract and a grating of nutmeg

Adults Only

A tablespoon of your choice of liqueur per serving, some of my favourites include:

Tia Maria, whipped cream and crushed coffee beans is delicious

Cointreau, cream and grated Terry’s Chocolate Orange

Baileys, whipped cream and chocolate flake

Whisky and a sprinkle of ginger

Amaretto, cream and crushed Amaretti biscuits


Answering a few of my own questions about Clotted Cream….

What do Tolkien’s Hobbits, the Cornish Giant Blundabore, and Edmund Spenser have in common?

The answer; Clotted Cream.

Clotted cream is at the heart of every quintessentially British Cream Tea. Slavered onto scones, melting unctuously beside a warm sticky toffee pudding or just in a bowl IMG_0994alongside a pile of freshly picked, fragrant, seasonal berries. Clotted Cream is one of those delights which spring into your mind as you reach the end of the M5, putting off thoughts, for a while at least, of the long, winding A39 stretching out before you.

Cornish Clotted Cream officially received its Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) stamp in 1998 and today, Rodda’s near Redruth is Britain’s largest producer, although many smaller artisanal dairies produce this, most revered of creams, throughout the West Country.  It is also known as Devonshire Cream or Clouted Cream, the clouts or clots rising to the top during its manufacturing process giving that crunchy, yet yielding crust to every pot.

Although its origins are a little unclear, The Oxford Companion to Food , which is an absolute joy to read, suggests that it may have been introduced to Cornwall by Phoenician traders in search of tin, although there is a considerable amount of folklore attached to this theory. I believe that the reason for its original creation is most likely related to the preservation, before refrigeration, of dairy products. Simply put, the higher the fat content the better a product keeps, take butter for example. Recent studies have suggested that the, once mysterious, manmade underground caves,  or ‘Fogous’, Carneunywhich are often found in Atlantic coastal areas are actually underground storage areas for keeping produce fresh, dairy included, and we know that in the 14th century Monks were producing Clotted Cream in Devon monasteries.

Traditionally made in shallow bowls in farmhouse kitchens the fresh milk is left to stand until the cream rises to the top and then heated very slowly until the clots formed. These were then skimmed off. Interestingly enough, with a minimum 55% fat content, Clotted Cream would actually be considered butter in America.

Popular in the 17th and 18th Centuries, it was often flavoured with rose water and served alongside the ever popular Junkets and is greatly favoured by the legendary Sir Kenelm Digby  whose posthumously-written eponymous, cookery book,  ‘The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened’, is a wonderful guide to food and drink in Carolingian and Restoration Britain.

So, to the great debate; do you eat your cream tea Cornish style (jam first) or Devon style (cream first)? Both have their merits, but I suppose for me, it depends on the jam’s consistency.

And the little question at the beginning? Well, Hobbits, of course, consider Clotted Cream a staple food (who wouldn’t); Blunderbore, the giant of ‘Jack the Giant Hunter’ fame was fed clotted cream by Jenny who was to become his fourth wife, (so it obviously has aphrodisiacal qualities as well!) And finally, a few words on the subject from Edmund Spenser;

‘Ne would she scorn the simple shepherd swain,
For she would call him often heam,
And give him curds and clouted cream’

 

This post is not sponsored by Rodda’s, but was written on my own volition after receiving some of their lovely products and deciding to find out exactly what Clotted Cream was all about!


My Organic 60/40 #feedyourhappy

Yesterday saw the launch of The Organic Trade Board’s #feedyourhappycampaign. This EU backed initiative aims to encourage people to ‘go organic’, even if it’s only a little bit!

pumpkins

I have been a strong supporter of organic produce for many years and try, cost permitting, to use organic produce as much as possible. I think there are certain foods which should always be organic; without compromise Organic milk is always in my fridge, and the majority of my fruit and vegetables are also organic. Most recently I have been researching organic meat and have discovered several local suppliers (more on them soon) whose meat is not organic but very high welfare and pasture fed. This is a really good compromise as organic meat can take a rather hefty chunk out of the weekly budget; and also, with any farm seeking organic certification, the goalposts are set extremely high before the certificate is awarded, so there is a transition period.

So, can we eat entirely organic?

I’m sure there are those out there who can, but it isn’t terribly easy. Generally, it’s probably easier to eat organic in cities, where there are lots of organic restaurants, cafes, and market-fresh produce available on a daily basis. You do have to (forgive the pun) dig rather deeper in the countryside. Then of course there is the issue of origin. I can walk into Waitrose and fill my basket to the brim with organic produce yet how much of it British? As someone passionate about our native produce I have to ask myself – do I go for the bag of local apples which are not certified organic but which I know to have been grown without pesticides, or the certified organic New Zealand grown apples flown thousands of miles and probably chilled near to death? British always wins.fullsizeoutput_18e

The solution is to stand up for British organic farmers; supporting this campaign is showing the farming community that we want organic and we want British and there is a market out there to justify the initial outlay. We want improved health, better tasting products and more easily accessible products.

I think that a 60/40 rule should generally apply (occasionally stretching to 80/20). Even I am guilty of the ‘Mum, can we go to McDonald’s?’ moments; and no one (generally) is perfect. I do try and ensure that under my roof food is nutritious, not packed with poisonous pesticides and generally locally sourced (although I admit to trying Gousto over the really busy summer,  as who can resist their opening offers?). But now that school has started and life isn’t quite as busy it’s time to sift through my recipe book collection and plan some fabulous, and obviously, budget conscious meals.

Here are my tips for cutting down the costs whilst enjoying organic:IMG_2231

1: Buy mince; it’s so versatile and organic mince is so much cheaper that the larger cuts, steaks or fillets. For everything from homemade Burgers to Shepherd’s Pie, soups and stews, mince is an essential – so load that freezer! It can also be bulked out with organic lentils (which are also quite reasonable) to make Chilli or Bolognese.

2: Buy a whole chicken; it’ll do Sunday Lunch, Monday supper and soup for at least two days lunches. Bone broth is totally delicious and amazingly good for you so make sure not to waste a drop – and also using the whole bird takes away any ‘expense’ guilt

3: Buy offal – again really nutritious. Chicken livers can be whipped into a light and delicious parfait; lambs liver served with bacon, mash and onion gravy is a forgotten delight. Organic Pig’s liver makes excellent terrine, even better served with a side of windfall apple and cider chutney. liverandbacon

4: Buy seasonally; go with the sturdy brassicas in winter and the radishes and tomatoes in summer – eating with the seasons is a sure way to reduce costs; and who wants to eat strawberries in the middle of December anyway?

5: Finally, try and buy in bulk; flour, oats, rice and pasta are all more affordable when bought in larger quantities; I buy 20kg sacks of organic, stoneground flour directly from the mills via amazon, or from Sharpham Park shop and it’s always far better value for money.

spelt