Monday 3 March 2014

The half green pea

Last week we bought a ham hock (jarret de porc demi-salé) which I cooked in the usual way - lob it into a saucepan, cover it with cold water, bring it to the boil, throw the water away, cover it with water again but this time add a bayleaf and five white peppercorns, back to the boil and cook for 20 minutes per pound plus 20 minutes. The following day the cooking water was a wibbly jelly. A pan of ham stock is just begging to be made into pea and ham soup. No, no, such piteous cries! What no green split peas? We didn't need to go as far as the Bio co-op (the All-Green Pea) to buy some - the Intermarché at Descartes provided pois cassés verts - half green peas. The organic ones looked much the same and cost twice as much.

Note the lack of an accent on the capital E in "Cassés" - a new-fangled idea I can't get used to!

No need for a recipe, says Tim, just lob the lot in. So here's our recipe (for six servings).

1 litre jellied ham stock (or what you have) in which a ham hock has been cooked with 1 bayleaf and 5 white peppercorns

500 g green split peas
½ teaspoon to 1 dessert spoon ground black pepper (depending on how much you like pepper)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon English mustard powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Water/milk/single cream or liquid crême fraiche to dilute as necessary (some of each in this case)
1 handful fresh sage, chopped

Bring the stock to the boil. Add the split peas and a little more water. Stir and cook for 30-40 minutes (according to the packet), stirring occasionally and adding water if shipwrecks are sighted. When the peas are cooked, add the spices and some milk, and blend using a whizzy stick. You can add the sage at this point, or use it as a garnish if you prefer. Dilute further to the texture you like. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Bring back to a simmer and cook for a further 10 minutes. Serve garnished with a swirl of crème fraîche and a sprinkling of chopped sage.

Half green pea soup, with bread, digestives* and cheese
Wash up immediately as this dries like wallpaper paste!

[* A family thing... sables anglais go extremely well with blue cheese... here served with some "chevre bleu"... or equally well with Albert's Bench [Forme d'Ambert] or a brebis bleu... in my Dad's case, he'd have had Blue Stilton... and some bottled stem ginger on the side ... syrup rinsed off! Tim.]

Saturday 1 March 2014

Citrus fruit and the ways thereof

Or, how I ended up with 31 jars of this...

One of each, February 2014
Late January and early February see oranges amers (Seville oranges, literally bitter oranges) in the shops in this part of France. I harangued the couple who run the fruit and vegetable stall at Le Grand Pressigny market for five weeks, to be told they wouuld have some "la semaine prochaine". The next week, the answer was the same. Meanwhile I had bought two kilos of Seville oranges from Intermarché and made "Jill Archer's Ambridge Marmalade" (see recipe). Then the market stall turned up with the goods and I felt obliged to buy some more. This time I made Delia Smith's Dundee marmalade, a dark, chunky marmalade with a lovely deep red colour. The recipe is here. It set rather better than my last Oxford marmalade but still was not as firm as I like. I now had 23 jars of marmalade, not including stock from previous years still on the cellier shelf.

I had done what I always do when making marmalade - bought too many lemons. I therefore decided to make lemon curd, with the addition of two more lemons. The recipe is from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book, 1966 edition (one of the things I'd try to save from a fire, along with the cats and my husband). For me, lemon curd involves a gadget! My mother's Swan Brand double saucepan comes into its own for lemon curd. You can find one on E-bay for less than a tenner.

Never mind photographing that saucepan! Where's my supper, you worthless dog?

This is basically one saucepan that fits closely inside another. You place a little water in the bottom pan, and the food goes in the top pan, to be cooked by steam from beneath. This permits gentle cooking of sauces, eggs and anything else that requires consistent low heat or that burns easily. Egg dishes in particular are very heat sensitive and the protein in the egg denatures (and goes hard) if it gets too hot. The double saucepan  makes perfect creamy, smooth scrambled eggs - as my landlady, Vera Sargisson, taught me when I first started work, in York in 1973. Mrs Sargisson was the widow of a housemaster at Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire and no doubt she used to scramble eggs for the boys of his house when they were feeling low.

Double saucepans are known in the US as double boilers. The classic French bain marie was once the same thing but has spawned numerous offspring with the addition of electricity, steam valves, etc. You can substitute a basin standing over a saucepan of simmering water, but it's tricky to lift in and out without a handle, and painfully slow unless you have a metal (stainless steel) basin.

Lemon Curd is a British delicacy, in French properly called "pâte à tartiner au citron" - lemon spread for bread - but also called "lemon curd"!.

Lemon curd on Carré moulé bread from the Abilly bakery

According to my Good Housekeeping Cookery Book, 1966 edition, lemon curd is made as follows:
Four eggs, beaten (I added an extra yolk, because they were small eggs)
grated rind and juice of 4 lemons
100g (4 ounces) of butter
450g (1 lb) of sugar
Put all the ingredients into the top of a double saucepan. Heat gently and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Continue heating, stirring from time to time, until the curd thickens. Pot and cover in the usual way. Keep in a cool place, refrigerate once opened. Keep no longer than two months.
Makes about 700g (1.5 lb, or three more jars).
The secret of the process is not to stir continuously, whatever your recipe book says, because it will never thicken if you do! Some recipes say strain the eggs, some say strain the cooked curd, some don't say to strain either. The objective of all this straining is to get rid of the slime strings which turn into wiggly white lumps in the curd. The easiest way to eliminate these is to pick them out of the cooked curd with a teaspoon as you see them while filling the pots. It's a good idea to strain the lemon juice, to remove those tiny seeds and bits of fruit.You can make curd with any citrus fruit in the same way - substitute 6 or 8 limes, clementines or tangerines, or a couple of oranges, or a grapefruit for the lemons.

The jar count is now 26. And then Tim bought 2kg of Clementines, variety "Nour". These were plump and gleaming, but turned out to be incredibly sour, and suitable only for cooking or juicing. Eight of these became five jars, albeit small ones, of Clementine Curd, courtesy of Jamie Oliver (recipe here).

Clementine curd, to a Jamie Oliver recipe
The grand total is 31 jars. I have been giving jars to every visitor, to the fruit stall people (non-plussed) and to the Joumiers at the Saffron Fair (regular customer, swap for goat cheese). I'm saving some for special friends of course!

Incidentally, my Fuji Finepix JZ300 camera recognised a human face in one of these photographs, and put a green square around it to show how clever it had been. Anyone who spots this face before I give the game away gets a jar of marmalade, or curd, according to preference.

The makings of a reet good tea