Thursday 24 February 2011

John Bull Memories

From 1973 until 1987 I lived in York and it's still dear to me. Somehow I became associated with an organisation called the Campaign for Real Ale, can't imagine why. Another CAMRA member was Neville Hobson, who worked in his family bakery and yearned to be a publican. When his father passed away, Neville sold the bakery and sought to realise his dream. At that time (1982) there was only one pub in York that was a "free house" (the Spread Eagle): all the rest were tied to breweries. It was a struggle for anyone without years of experience to break into the licensed trade as Nev wished to do. At length he found an ex-pub, built in "road house" style in the 1930s, in use as a store by the Mazda garage next door. He and, as I recall, a bunch of CAMRA members cleared out the old pub, and eventually the John Bull opened. Thanks to a succession of highly responsible bar staff (Jeff, for example, and Rowan), the Bull became recognised as a great place to meet and socialise, where you could get an excellent range of beer and stonking sandwiches. Rowan used to get supplies for the sarnies from Sainsbury's just round the corner and across the river Foss. Half a loaf, a slice of cheese an inch thick, ditto of pickles and about two inches of green salad, were combined into a sandwich you had to dislocate your jaw to eat, anaconda style. On Youtube are two videos of the pub in its last days. The Mazda dealership wanted to expanded their showroom, and the John Bull was in the way, so in 1994, some while after Nev himself had moved on, it was demolished. On the first of the videos you can see the list of sarnies! Cheese, Houmous, Beef, Ham....

There was no juke box, no piped music, and no TV. Particularly nice was that as a female I could go into the John Bull on my own, or on one occasion with the cat in her carrying box (the vet was just up the road) and find good conversation on any topic whatsoever. Many of the regulars were staff or students of the University. This week we welcomed two of those ex-regulars to our house in France - they live less than ten miles away in Charnizay! Who'd have thought it?

Friday 11 February 2011

Do the Stemster Mash (it caught on in a flash)

For anyone living in France who likes a tasty mashed (puréed or creamed) potato, go along to your local Bricomarché or garden centre now and pick up a bag of Stemster seed potatoes. We grew half a dozen plants last year on the recommendation of an allotment association friend back in Leeds. Those six plants gave us half a sack of decent sized, clean and healthy spuds, including a good proportion of bakers. They are obviously very tolerant of drought, because they were planted in April then left to their own devices until we moved house, and they did better than anything else we grew. The skin is pink and the flesh is a pale creamy colour. They keep well too - we are still eating them, although down to the last four. The picture, needless to say, is from Alan Romans (see below).

An awful lot of seed potatoes in France are an attempt to produce a better salad spud than Charlotte (on yield possibly, on flavour - no contest) or a better all-round spud than Bintje (high yield not much taste). In the UK we used to enjoy the "Grow Organic" Potato days, where it is possible to buy varieties one has never tried before by the single tuber, or however many space permits. That introduced us to Belle de Fontenay, BF15, Roseval, La Ratte and Linzer Delikatess, all long-established salad potatoes available here and excellent they are too. However a commercial "sample pack" both here and in the UK is 25 potatoes.

No doubt many people like "mild" potatoes, but I like mine to taste of something. And Stemster is Scottish! It was developed by Jack Dunnett in Caithness, just as far North as you can go in Britain and still be on the Mainland. Stemster is one of a couple of villages in the "lowlands beyond the highlands" and the name is of Scandinavian origin.

Addition to blog - I ordered my seed potatoes from Alan Romans, ex schoolteacher, potato nut and now supplier to, among others, Thompson and Morgan. UK potato growers seem to like a bigger seed tuber than the French - it will be interesting to see if there's much difference.

My seed potatoes are now in a cool room in mushroom trays "chitting" - allowing the sprouts, that will inevitably start now, to grow upwards and not get tangled. Studies have determined that it doesn't make any difference to the yield whether or not a potato is chitted (sprouted) when it is planted. However it won't do the poor things any good to sit in a net bag (or, worse, a plastic bag) so that the sprouts go through the mesh..... So which way up should the potato go? There are three clues. (1) A potato normally has a patch where buds are concentrated; this is called the "rose end" and the potato is positioned with this patch uppermost. (2) The root connecting the tuber to the plant often leaves a little tuft or a string. This should be positioned downwards. (3) Individual buds often nestle in a crescent shape. This should be positioned to look like a smile.

Saturday 5 February 2011

Off on a Junket

Junket ... is another [like fruit creams and syllabubs] of the dishes fast becoming obsolete. In the west of England, especially, this preparation of milk is still locally popular, but elsewhere there are numbers of cooks who have no idea how to make it, although the process is such a simple one that no child who has been shown the way should fail. I found this quote of 1896 from M. M. Mallock's A Younger Son's Cookery Book while browsing through Classic Cheese Cookery by Peter Graham.

Junket (in french, le caillé) is a very light curd cheese, which is basically warm milk treated with the enzyme rennet. The name comes from the Norman French word la jonquette for a rush basket (les joncs are rushes) which was used to drain off the whey from the curds. Junket looks rather like milk jelly and is usually sweetened and flavoured. Rennet (la présure) is found in the stomach lining of an unweaned calf or lamb, and its purpose is to separate milk solids (which the animal can digest) from the liquid (mostly execreted). Nowadays much rennet is of vegetable origin, such as Vegeren derived from the mould mucor mehei. Tim and I are at the latter end of a chesty cold and didn't feel anything like cooking, but I was sure I had some rennet somewhere....

As Tim was going to Perruson, he went into LeClerc to enquire if they had any présure. The customer service assistant, a lady of 'about our age', replied that they did, because she had bought some there herself. She enquired of her computer, and got a surprise. "Computer says nooooooo...." Mallock's prediction seems to have reached France, albeit a century later. Probably the wholefood shop in La Roche Posay will have some. Meanwhile, it turned out we did have some Vegeren, best before February 2003. It's an enzyme! It'll be totally defunct! What the heck, give it a try! We have some La Borde unpasteurised milk. If it doesn't work we'll just end up with a pint of sweetish vanilla-flavoured milk, and I can make rice pudding out of it.

Vegeren's recipe for Junket is:

Warm 1 pint / 570ml of milk to 32° Centigrade / 90° Fahrenheit. Add 1 tablespoon (15ml) of sugar, a few drops of vanilla essence and 10 drops of Vegeren, stir well. Pour into a bowl, allow to cool and set. Serve with fresh fruit.

So I did that... except that I doubled the rennet, given its age. We used our thermometer from a sommelier's kit, rather than dipping a finger as implied by the Good Housekeeping Cookery book, to test the temperature. It was perfect! A pint of milk makes enough for four to six people.

The finished [and set] junket.

Next time I might try Peter Graham's recipe, which is basically the same, but with a different flavouring:

Warm 1 pint / 570 ml milk to blood temperature (about 37° C / 98°F, use a thermometer to be [on the safe side). Dissolve a tablespoon of caster sugar in 2 tablespoons (30ml) rum or cognac in a bowl and pour in the milk. Add 1 teaspoon (5ml) rennet - any more makes the junket taste salty - and stir gently. [I'd dissolve the sugar in the milk, much easier!] Leave the mixture undisturbed at a comfortable room temperature, i.e. about 20°C / 68°F, until set. If possible, transfer to a cool place for a couple of hours before serving. Peter Graham recommends serving this with clotted cream sprinkled with freshly ground nutmeg or cinnamon.

As served.. au nature [left] and with poached quince [right]