Alexis Soyer's Oxtail Soup with simple suet dumplings

19th century Victorian England saw a rapid growth of population and urbanisation stimulated by the Industrial Revolution. The elite became more wealthy and the poor became poorer.  Eliza Acton noted in her book published in 1845, that soups or pottage was hardly eaten by the English. The poor didn’t have means to heat up the dish that had sustained them for centuries, and often they didn’t even have access to the ingredients to make a soup. This was an era of slum housing, starvation and disease.

Alexis Soyer, who was chef at the prestigious Reform Club and regarded by many as Britain’s first celebrity chef, saw the horrendous poverty of the lower class and took it upon him to do something about it. He invented a soup kitchen and went to Ireland to give out his ‘famine soup’ during the Great Irish Famine in 1847. During his time in Ireland he wrote ‘Soyer’s Charitable Cookery’ and gave the proceeds of the book to various charities. 
His book, ‘A Shilling Cookery for the People’ was a recipe book for ordinary people who could not afford the modern kitchen utensils or large amounts of ingredients. 

In it he writes about how he goes around London and sees the poor attempt to cook but can’t quite manage because of a lack of knowledge. He takes it upon him to teach an old lady to cook an ox cheek in her one precious pot, over a coal fire. The old lady learns and is surprised to find out that the ox cheek is tender and that there is even enough liquid to make a soup from it.  After tasting it and approving it, she said she would teach her neighbours how to do it. Soyer, possibly very pleased about this, said to her that if she would do that, he would sent more recipes for her to learn and teach to her neighbours. 

Of course the old lady was illiterate and Soyer realising that he might have sent a useless bit of paper to her, went to see her and found ‘six elderly matrons and an old man holding council together’, trying to make out Soyer’s writings. He then read the recipes to them. 




Of soup he says that he finds it is no wonder that people have abandoned this dish as the recipes in most cookery books are complicated and expensive. Many contemporary cookery writers like Mrs Beeton made notes on how to cook economically but showed their ignorance by not grasping the fact that most lower class families were lucky to have some kind of roof over their heads, so a kitchen or fire would most probably been a luxury they could only dream of. 

Soyer saw that knowledge was the next big in the poor being able to feed themselves and had the dream of opening a school to teach the poor how to cook. On this notion he remarked “Some of the money spent on our new palace prisons would be much better employed for this purpose.”

As my local farm doesn't offer ox cheek - although they probably would if I asked - I made Soyer's oxtail soup instead. I had been saving these oxtails - which are always sold out at the farm so quite precious - for a special occasion. Since I finished the first part of my book, I thought, let's get out the Oxtail! That's how it is with meat you buy straight from the farm, you treat it with the utmost respect and it becomes so much more valuable.

I had Soyer on my mind, because this week there is a fabulous lecture about him at the Guildhall Library in London. Sadly because of the book deadline I couldn't spear a day to head over to London to attend this lecture, but at least I have now eaten his oxtail soup.

To make this into a main dish for your supper, you can add dumplings, I give you here the recipes as adapted from Soyer's book The Modern Housewife or Menagerie





Oxtail soup with dumplings
Some might find this soup bland, this might be so for our modern palate, this dish is not laden with salt - sweet - spicy like we are so used to today. Give it a go, and try to taste. It really is lovely to have these pure flavours. And then after you've tasted it, make it again and use white wine instead of water.

Rich Tea Biscuits - proven the best dunker

The question is… are you a Digestive or Rich Tea kind of person.
Anyone who loves to dunk a biscuit in their hot drink will have an answer for you straight away. Tea and biscuits are as essential to Britain's cultural history as the Queen, the moody skies of Turner, pudding and queuing.

FOOD52 asked me to investigate the Rich Tea biscuit, and to provide you with the recipe to enjoy this quintessentially biscuit at home.
Britain is a tea drinking nation and has been since tea was introduced in the 17th century during the reign of Charles II. Naturally biscuits would soon be dunked in the delicate porcelain teacups which were produced for those who could afford this absolute luxury.

Rich Tea's have a plain flavour which makes them ideal for dunking and getting the flavour of your hot drink soaked into the biscuit. Scientists also proved in may last year that Rich Tea biscuits are in fact the superior dunker. This because of its close texture and lower fat and sugar content. The Digestive crumbles whilst the Rich Tea snaps, and it is that snap a lot of people enjoy as part of their dunking ritual. Research showed that while the Digestive takes five second until it starts to wobble, the Rich Tea can stay in shape for a whopping 20 seconds. 

Both these biscuits have a long history. The Digestive is said to have been developed by Scottish doctors in 1839 and a patent was granted in 1890, while the Rich Tea is believed to date back to 17th century Yorkshire. What they have in common is its use, not just as dunkers, they were both served in the afternoon as a sweet, yet slightly savoury biscuit to get through the last few hours until dinner.

Another pointer for the Rich Tea team came when Prince William requested a Rick Tea biscuit cake for his grooms cake at the royal wedding. 1,700 biscuits and 40 pounds of chocolate were used to create this fridge cake which is reported to be a favourite tea-time treat of the Queen herself too.

With the royals and nearly half of the British population approving them we need to give home made Rich Tea biscuits a go. They are definitely more rustic than the smooth Rich Tea's by the favoured iconic British biscuit brands, but all the same they dunk just as well. My advise is to dunk long and enjoy the soaked biscuit to the full. 


What do you need

makes 22-24 6cm wide biscuits

280 g plain white flour
1tbsp - 20 gr of baking powder
0,5 tsp - 5gr  seasalt
3 tsp - 30 gr cane sugar
65 g butter
150 ml cold milk

Method

For the method, check out my recipe on FOOD52

In the meantime...
Boil fresh water, place tea bag in your cup, pour hot water over it. Wait. Now break a Rich Tea biscuit in two, enjoy the snap, and dunk.

Enjoy.

What is your favourite tea biscuit?


About my work: Magic Soup - Book Photography

Over a period of 3 weeks during a hot summer in London, I photographed the newly published book 'Magic Soup'. Magic Soup is written by Ottolenghi's former head chef Nicole Pisani and author Kate Adams. The two ladies have come up with a fun and nutritious set of soup recipes for all different occasions, some are to impress your guests with, some will give you strength and will feel like an immense hug when you're feeling unwell, some look dainty, others look robust and down to earth. There is a soup for everyone in this book. I might be biased but I think this book is great and it places soups back on a higher shelve. 
Not only does the book tell you how to make a good stock, it teaches you how to make your own Kimchi, scallop ceviche and cured salmon. Exciting much? Soups range from a fertility soup, pickled soup, nettle soup with flowers, beetroot and burrata, Ramen, Miso to a good old watercress soup with crab toasts. I tasted most of these dishes during our delicious lunches, they are good.

Shooting this book was so much fun I really wanted to share it with you, here are some pictures from the book, but also some 'making of' pics and incidentals. 
Many thanks to the lovely ladies over at Orion Publishing, Nicole and Kate, the authors and inspiring chefs, Tamzin the prop stylist extraordinaire and Caroline who did everyone's work justice with her design of the book. We were a great team.

I'm giving away a book
Finally, I have one book to give away. I'm not asked to do this by anyone, I just want to spread the soup love. So to win this book, just like my facebook page, twitter if you're on twitter, and instagram (if you already are, superb!) and let me know if you've done it in the comments below, also tell me what your favourite soup is, just for the fun of it. Straightforward. Then I'll just stick your names in a hat and pick one out. No fancy systems, just old school.

Magic Soup was published in February 2015 by Orion/Hachette.
The book is for sale at most book stores and online.

Happy New Year Ozoni

Pea and mountain ham - right: curry leaves
French onion soup - Lime & Lentil soup with marinated feta
Tomatoes and a pretty blue dress
Lamb shank left: Magic Soup

Kate Adams and venison meat balls
Nicole Pisani 
My setup at Fist Option Studio Shoreditch - the many props
Nicole and her pretty blouse
Don't forget to leave a comment in order to win a copy of this book! 


The Competition is now closed and has been won by Sally! Thank you everyone for entering, how amazing!! Again I am sending this book at my own expense as a gift to one of you.

Treacle tarts and Treacle Miners

I've been wanting to investigate and especially photograph the infamous Treacle mines of England for some time now. But as it happens, it's England's best kept secret. So why is it out in the open? Google Treacle Mines and you'll get numerous stories, one even crazier than the other.

Well... the best way to protect a secret is to convince people that it doesn't exist. And that is what the clever people from these small mining villages have done.
The 'Treacle Mine Preservation Pact' was made and stories were brought to light which would confuse even the smartest on a good day. To protect the whereabouts of the real Treacle mines, a few other locations of mines were invented and after a while only the names of the imaginary Treacle Mines were remembered. The clever scheme mentioned the "The Tovil Treacle Mines" in Maidstone, another two in Kent: Tudeley and Frittenden, a mine around the village of Sabden in Lancashire. But also Somerset and Devon are said to have numerous Treacle mines, as well as the Northern Cumbria.
There is a The Treacle Mine public house in Grays, Essex and a pub named Treacle Mine in Polegate, East Sussex. Local newspapers have reported on Treacle Mine issues and even a Treacle Mine Union was set up to protect the miners interests.

But where are these Treacle Mines?
I found some answers on an evening in a Peak District pub towards closing time. I overheard an older man talking to another old man about a Treacle vein. Forgotten and discarded as pure fiction, I hadn't thought about Treacle Mines for a long time so when I picked up on the word from their conversation, I couldn't help but listen in while quietly sipping my local ale. The oldest of the two - and admittedly the most boozed up of the two - was trying to convince the other one of the truth in Treacle mining. 

The Treacle source was discovered by a 13 year old boy in the 18th century. The boy, son of a miner, was eager to find lead in a part of a Tor not investigated before. He spent 3 years creating an entrance into the rocks of the Treak Cliff, and another two fruitless years attempting to discover a vein of some sorts. But after those 5 years of hard graft without any penny to his name, he stumbled upon a dark sticky mess he first mistakenly assumed was oil. Not surprisingly he was very excited and left the cave to get more candles so he could take a better look and dig out the well. 

Secrets are kept...

... in these hills
When he got home he told his father about the discovery and they both set out to see their money ticket. They lit up the cave with as much candles they were able to afford and started to free the well from its stone tomb. But as the sticky black mess bubbled the boy's father put in his finger, trying to smell and inspect this thick black matter and concluding it must be something else than oil. Confused and disappointed the boy also dipped his finger in the black bubbling well, smelled it and hit my its sweet but rather unfamiliar scent, he licked the thick black substance from his finger. The boys silence troubled his old father, but after a little while he was able to speak... This sweetness will be sought after and more dangerous than lead, tin or oil.

The next day, the boy, his father and 4 other men of his village set out to mine the Treak Cliff syrup and brought out 6 barrels. They drove up to the city with horse and cart in order to find a buyer for this sweet sticky mess. On the way they sold one barrel so that they could eat and sleep at the coaching Inn as they had far to go and not two pennies to pay for a crust of bread. When after 3 days, they finally arrived at a potential buyer he asked what the name of their product was, the boy replied, "Treacle from Treak Cliff, dear sir, and plenty more where that came from". The barrels were sold, and an order was placed for 100 barrels by the end of the month.

The buyer of the first barrels of Treacle was a little more clever than the boy and his old father though, and as the boy only could come up with the name Treacle, from the Treak Cliff, he had also given away the location of this precious find. For sweetness was desired and people dealing in it are treacherous, he had opened himself to danger. The buyer knew that little would go a long way and that it could be sold as it is, without further processing and added to bakes and other otherwise sweetened delights.

When the 100 barrels were nearly filled, word came from the buyer that he wanted to visit the mine with his investors. The boy who had kept the mine a secret thus far, was visiting his landlord of which he leased the bit of hill, to pay his debts and was told by the rather snarky man that the debts had been payed and an offer was put in by a man from the big city to buy the whole cave and mine.
Savvy enough to know what was happening, the boy rushed over to the mine and told the news to his family and fellow villagers who were all hands on deck to mine the 100 barrels in time. A decision was made to protect the mine from further development and the well was filled in with rubble and dirt. When the city men arrived, they told them the 80 of the desired 100 barrels had completely drained the well, and a collapse in the cave made it impossible to dig it out further. The fact is that Treacle became so precious and the city folk so greedy, that the mine needed to be protected. 

The mine was closed, deemed useless, and sold to the boy who purchased it with the money of the 80 barrels of Treacle. He continued to mine, in order to keep up appearances, but then stumbled upon a blue mineral vein. Treak Cliff cave became famous for Blue John Stone and the Treacle well remained a closely guarded secret. The buyer from the big city managed to create a thick uncrystallized syrup made during the refining of sugar that closely resembled the taste of Treacle. As the name was never protected, he kept it but left out the cave name to prevent embarrassment, as by then, the stories about Treak cliff Treacle were all forgotten. 

We shall drink Lambswool on the Twelfth Night

Although I was brought up with a lot of Pagan traditions, living in the city of Antwerp meant that some customs were harder to follow than others. As city dwellers far removed from any orchard or field, we were ignorant to the traditional rites surrounding harvest and sowing time. If there is no nature to honour, no field to gather around the cleansing fire, the feasting quickly becomes part of the past and forgotten.

Industrialisation has brought us wealth and the choice of matching shoes with handbags on a regular tuesday morning. It has brought the technical bits and bobs we all love and loathe. The big world has become smaller and the challenges bigger. The lucky few still live outside of the ever growing concrete cities. We follow their lives on Instagram with a sense of nostalgia, as if we have ever experienced living surrounded by trees and liberating fields and forests, and then tragically lost it.

But that is what it is, we have lost something, and most of us can feel it. There have never been more depressed people, nor have there ever been more people who are unhealthy because of their eating habits, eating too much rather than starving, but malnourished nonetheless. Our daily bread is soiled with adulteration, slowly making us ill. Animals are kept away from fields and live their ever shortening lives on the concrete floors of factory farms to keep the cost of your daily need low, fruit is left on the trees to rot because farmers can't afford to harvest it, the price a farmer gets for his milk hasn't gone up in 20 years (based on Belgian farms) so milk is being sprayed onto the soil of the farmland where the cows can no longer roam freely because of bureaucratic nonsense about fertilizer. Small scale generation long fishermen turn their boats into flower beds because the fishing quotas set out to protect fish stocks have made it so that only the big destructive factory fishing vessels can make a living, scooping up the fish only for part of it to be actually consumed and the rest turned into animal feed because their nets just catch too much for it all to be sold and cooked by us humans. The fisherman that could have made his day by catching one Dover Sole, now has to trow it back, while the big monsters take and take and kill the sustainable fishing industry.

We got lost as humans, because we lost part of our human nature.

Let today be an Epiphany

The Epiphany is the Christian feast that concludes the twelve days of Christmas. In Pre-Christian pagan traditions this marks the time for Wassail. The practice of 'wassailing' meant singing and drinking in the apple orchards on the Twelfth Night to awaken the trees, to warn of the evil spirits and pray for a good harvest in the autumn. It could be that the feast of Wassail comes from the Celtic festival called 'La Mas Ubhail', the Feast of the Apple. Wassail comes from 'waes hael' meaning ‘be thou healthy’ or 'be whole', a salutation in Old English. During the feast these words would be addressed to each other and to the oldest apple tree in the orchard.
A drink traditional to Wassail is called 'Lambswool' and it is very possible that 'La Mas Ubhail' got phonetically Anglicised, to 'Lamasool' and later 'Lambswool'. In historical books we often see that a lot of words were written down phonetically, resulting in a number of different ways to note down one single word. 

Robert Herrick, a mid 17th century poet mentioned the custom of Wassailing and Lambswool in his poem about about Twelfth Night, we also get an idea of the recipe too:
Next crown the bowl full  With gentle lamb's wool  Add sugar, nutmeg and ginger,  With store of ale too;  And thus ye must do  To make a wassail a swinger 
Give then to the king And queen wassailing : And though with ale ye be whet here, Yet part from hence As free from offence As when ye innocent met here. 

The drink Lambswool is a mulled ale, poured over hot apple puree, although some people swear by whole apples, or apple pieces cooked in spiced cider or ale. However, as far as a drink goes, you can't swallow a whole apple, nor can you swallow apple pieces so it is most probable that the recipe containing whole apples is just derived from the recipe made with apple puree. It is possible that the soft puree resembled a lambs fleece to people in the old days, resulting in giving it the name of what they associated it with, lambs wool.
Another reason for thinking that an apple puree was used it that this is the end of the season, so the apples which are left in times before refrigeration and fancy techniques to keep fruit from ripening, would not have been the prettiest of the bunch. An hot and spiced apple puree fortified with ale would be warming on a january evening, and would allow people to prepare it in a kettle rather than an oven which is used for the recipe with whole apples. Remember this is a country dish and ovens were a privilege for the well-to-do. But the sugar in the dish also tells us this wasn't a drink for the poor, it could have been a special treat from the lord of the manor, or from the farmer to his farm labourers.



Last year I spoke to you about the intriguing Twelfth Cake, a fruit cake elaborately decorated with sugar or wax figurines which was also a privilege for the well-to-do. This cake, which is also mentioned by Herrick in his poem also started of as a humble 'plum cake' for the feast of Wassail. City folk picked up on it and adjusted the cake to their festive needs, making it the centrepiece of the table and causing queues in front of bakeries. Because it became popular in the city and with the wealthy, we get our first recipe for it in a 1803 book. A recipe for Lambswool is more difficult to find, as the drink remained in the countryside. So judging from the poem of Robert Herrick, I came up with this recipe for you.

Lambswool

serves 6-8

What do you need

  • Bramley or Cox stewing apples, 500 gr (peeled and cored about 300 gr)
  • water, 100 ml
  • sugar 100 gr
  • freshly grated nutmeg, 1 teaspoon
  • ginger powder, 1 teaspoon
  • a good ale, 750 ml
Method 
Peel and cut your apples in small pieces and place in a pot along with 100 ml of water and the sugar and spices. Stew until soft and puree so there are no bits left. 
When ready to serve, heat up the apple puree and add the ale while whisking. You should get a nice froth while doing so. Serve at ones.


Are you celebrating the Twelfth Night? Or are you having a slice of King cake, galette Du Roi or Driekoningen taart? Or are you wassailing and drinking Lambswool?


Ancient apple trees in Sussex

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The last of the herring men


Herring means Christmas to me

Fishing in a traditional and sustainable way, is decaying and it is becoming increasingly harder to make a living from a small fishing boat.
In November I visited my friend Stephen Perham, the last of the Clovelly Herring men. 
Also the Clovelly Harbourmaster, he is the only fisherman still living in the village and the only one who sells his catch. One of the very few others is Tommy who is Stephen’s brother, but he doesn't live in the village anymore.
Stephen lives with his betrothed Joy in his grandmother's house, she's a singer in the Fishwives Choir, lifeboat volunteer, and trainee doctor. His sister Rachel lives next door, in the house their father and mother lived and died in, like many before them. These houses are full of stories and ghosts of the past. His family is with us when we sit around the table in his kitchen, drinking port by the warming old Rayburn that's drying tea towels and three beloved soggy dogs. 

Pictures of his ancestors and other long lost locals are found everywhere in his fisherman's cottage and I’m told there are many more, as the old folk of the village have often left their old family photos to him when they died. Joy, very much amused, pointed towards a Clovelly souvenir plaque in their kitchen, showing a small lad on the cobbled street. "Guess who the little boy is?"  
He is the last of the herring men of Clovelly, the last link between the old and the new; he is the one who keeps all those long lost souls alive, the keeper of hundreds of years of memories.

Even when visiting the local pub in Clovelly, we find a lingering echo of Stephen and Tommy's ancestors. The pictures on the wall of the snug bar tell the story of a Clovelly long gone, of fishermen gathering around the table smoking pipes and pictures of the most beloved wooden boats, of which only a few still remain in the harbour. These boats are unique to Clovelly and built to get out to sea faster than the larger boats when the herring arrives.

Stephen in his Picarooner, a wooden boat unique to Clovelly


The harbour at dawn
Traditional sustainable fishing methods that haven't changed for centuries
Clovelly as a community, like many other similar coastal villages, once depended on the herring trade. Records show that two hundred years ago there were a hundred herring boats in the harbour with amounts around nine thousand herrings or ‘Silver Darlings’ brought in from sea. The days of the large herring fleet are long gone and today there are just a few fishermen who still go out for the herring, using sustainable fishing methods with drift nets. 

Meeting Stephen, you immediately understand why the town's herring festival each november isn’t just another food festival - it is a celebration of tradition and heritage, his heritage. Stephen is a 6th generation Clovelly herring fisherman, and with him and his brother, sadly, the line is very likely to end. 

This proud and gentle-natured fisherman is the essence of this little village; he and his family represent the past and the future. He knows all the stories - where which boat got shipwrecked and who survived or was lost to the sea. He can read the waves, the sky and the sound that the rain makes when it hits the water. Fishing is in his blood, and fishing for herring is his passion as it has been associated with his family and this little village for centuries. As harbourmaster and the last full-time fisherman in the village, he knows where every boat is at any given moment and, although it is hard to sell herring these days -it is now a fish which is unjustifiably out of fashion- he continues to go out for herring because it is what he genuinely loves to do.
The fish he doesn’t sell, or eat himself, he salts down in barrels to use as bait. In the summer months he goes out to sea for lobster and crabs. To do this he needs bait, and the herring provides that. He needs a dozen barrels to get through the summer and with the number of herring being so plentiful, he usually only goes out for herring once or twice a week to fulfil orders after the herring festival ends.

Medieval Chicken Compost

Many people ask me if I come across weird and unappetising dishes in those old British cookery books I collect and devour. 

Of course there are always recipes in historical cookery books which might seem odd to us today, but I am quite sure if someone from the 18th century would come and visit us today, he would go home with as much stories about strange foods to tell his contemporaries.
It's all a difference in how we look at food, and how we approach it. For example, most of us only ever see meat, packed in plastic, neatly arranged in the supermarket shelves. Small independent butchers are disappearing on our streets and so is our connection to the animal that provides us with our much savoured sausage. Only last year a butcher shop in Suffolk was asked to remove his elaborate game displays from the window so children wouldn't be upset by the sight of dead animals. Man has become disconnected and doesn't think past the plastic surrounding the factory farmed meat.


I don't find eating the head of a pig weird at all, people in the past would have been happy to have it. But today it is seen as 'medieval' and not very appetising. I must confess I do not have a desire to eat a pigs head any time soon, but many have told me it is exquisite.

I am talking about a Medieval dish with a name that might sound strange to us today, but only because we have given a different explanation to the word, or the word as evolved. Medieval dishes have always delighted me in their inventiveness, and elegance. A pure kind of cooking, with herbs and spices that give your tastebuds a whole other experience.

In the 14th and 15th century the dish with the name 'compost' has been the term for any stewed mixture. A 'composition' of ingredients. This could have been meat, vegetables or fruit. The French term 'compote' very likely derives from the English 'compost' which later only meant stewed fruits. The name 'Compost' for a recipe can also be found in Flemish Medieval cookery books.

To anyone, this dish must sound intriguing, especially as one would immediately think this was a recipe for creating the best compost to fertilise your veggie patch with.

But no, the etymology of the word might be obscure, we are not making any kind of compost for the garden today.
This recipe for 'compost' I am bringing to you today is made with chicken and green herbs, and spices. Another contemporary recipe is made with chickens and some of its offal. Herbs vary in recipes and another 'compost' is made exclusively from root vegetables, dried fruits and spices. They are all very clean and pure dishes.

Chicken was always a noble type of meat on a banquet. It was considered more economical if a chicken was kept for her eggs. Killing off a chicken meant killing of your egg factory so chicken would be on the tables of those who could miss a bird, the elite. 

This dish is fantastic, it is so pure and simple, it is the kind of dish that just makes my heart skip a beat when I first have a little taste. The dish eats like a soup, and I like to add a nice slice of stale sourdough bread as a 'sup' - which was in the past frequently added to thicken the soup and give more substance. This 'sup' is also what gave us the term 'supper' later on in history. A 'sup' could also have been a piece of cake soaked in booze or sauce, the Italian word for trifle 'Zuppa Inglese' still gives shows us the link with the 'sup'.
To make it into an evening meal I added some new potatoes. This of course not ver Medieval as the potato was not known in the Middle Ages, but it is a lovely addition to this dish.





New potatoes are a lovely addition to make it into a main dish, but not very Medieval.

Original recipe from A Noble Boke off Cookry (England, 1468)
To mak composte tak chekins and halve them then tak saige parsly lekes and other good erbes and chop them small then tak a pint of hony and som of the erbes and lay in the botom of the pot and som of the chekyn then tak lard of pork smale mynced and lay it on and cast ther to pouder of guingere and canelle and boille it and serue it.

I brown my chicken before stewing, this isn't done in the original Medieval recipe, but I find it improves the flavour and the look of the dish, I leave my chicken whole, but you can cut it in half if you prefer.
It might be so that the Medieval cook also browned the chicken, but recipes of that period weren't complete as they were more often just aide-memoirs rather than clear instructions.

What do you need

The Best Books for Food lovers?

Books, the treasure that is bound pieces of paper.
I've been planning this post for over a year now, but never really had the time because I was busy, reading books ;) Seriously, it's just one of those things you can never seem to finalise because there will always be other and more exciting books to buy.
Of course this list is quite personal, but if you like this blog, I think you will find it useful. Especially with the time to buy presents near, here is what I had on my list and what you will find in my book case. A book is always such a treasure, and as a book buying addict myself, mostly antiquarian, I know how handy a list can be.

First up: Books for food geeks




Prospect Books hardly ever publish a title I wouldn't buy. These are the books for geeks, for those who wonder how the food was prepared centuries ago on an open fire, on the first range in the 18th century and the Victorian stoves. For those who wonder how to build a wood fired oven, how to cook in it and how to treasure it. For those interested in Medieval British or Arab food, Catalan, Ancient Greek or Roman food. 
Prospect has books on cookery, food history and the ethnology of food. They are one of the very few to specialise in this field of food geek books Any book by Prospect would make me happy, though the books in this picture are but a few of the titles I have. Prospect Books was founded in 1979 by the late Alan Davidson - who wrote the Oxford Companion to food - and his wife Jane Davidson. 

Must buys as gifts?  Quinces: Growing & Cooking, Apicius, Honey from a Weed, Medieval Arab Cookery, Alan Davidson's Mediterranean Seafood, Roman Food Poems, Sugar-plums and Sherbert The Prehistory of Sweets, The Book of Marmalade, The Centaur’s Kitchen and many, many more...

Other publishers of very interesting and geeky books on food history are The British Museum who published 'The Curious Cookbook' recently, and the Oxford University Press. I was just given 'Movable Feasts' published by them. Also Grub Street publishes books about interesting subjects, like ice creams (historic) and British food in general.

Vintage Books



Vintage books are always a nice gift for the hard core food lover, and especially the hard core food lover who also loves hoarding books. I always have a look in charity shops, but for many decent antiquarian books you really need to see a specialised dealer. A book can cost as little as 50 £ but prices can also go up to 20 000 or more!
Building a relationship with a seller is always a good idea.

Books about British food



If you want to learn about British food then these books are a good way to start.
There are a few missing from this picture, like Dorothy Hartley's 'Food in England' and Elizabeth David's 'Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen'. The only reason being that I forgot to put them on the pile. 
'Food Britania' by Andrew Webb is the most recent of the bunch but nonetheless a delightful book on regional British food and produce. Eliza Acton, is often referred to as the 'real Mrs Beaton' and her book is an extraordinary account on British food of that period. Even then she touches on some food issues which are still very relevant today.
Florence White's books were written with the help of the members of the 'English Folk Cookery Association' she founded. A lot of the recipes in her books may have been lost if she hadn't recorded them. Her 'Good things in England' (1932) is easy to get online or with the publisher, the 'Good English Food' (1952) you also see here is very rare but it never hurts to google it. 'Cooking in Europe, 1650-1850' was written by food historian extraordinaire Ivan Day, and of course very interesting indeed. It is fairly hard to get in the UK, but easier to acquire in the US and Canada. Jane Grigson's English food is as important as Dorothy Hartley's 'Food in England' and used as a reference work by many. For those who wish to learn how British food evolved over the centuries, then let C. Anne Wilson take you on a trip through history in her 'Food & Drink in Britain'.
Of course there are more books like this, but some of them printed in such a small number that finding them can be very hard and very frustrating.



Books by Agnes B Marshall, the very first female celebrity chef of Victorian England, touring the country giving cookery demonstrations, and teaching in her cookery school. She also invented one of the first ice cream machines and ice caves, and sold cookery utensils from her store. She died and was forgotten and fell into the shadow of Mrs Beeton, who is no match for Mrs Marshall. She was nicknamed the Queen of ices and her book on ice cream was republished last year. Here you see my original books, with the post-its in it, showing that they are loved and used in my home.

Books for people who like to investigate 

About my work: The Taste of Belgium - Book Photography

Hi guys, I wanted to share this project with you. In september I went to London to do the photography for the new book by indie publisher Grub Street. The funny thing is, it's a book about Belgian food, by a Belgian author Ruth Van Waerebeek, in English but hopefully soon also in Dutch. The book was originally published many years ago under the name, 'Everybody Eats Well in Belgium'.

It's always such a treat when a publisher books you for your photography style and therefore I also get really attached to the book as it is my baby in the end as well.
Of course for this particular project I could bring more to the table as I am of course a Belgian lady and finding 'Belgian style props' only required me to open my cupboards or a short trip to the nearest charity shop for vintage beer glasses.

As soon as I had met with the people from Grub Street I had a vision on where I wanted to take the photography of this book. My Belgian, and Flemish roots in particular drove me to include the dark and moody photography I enjoy to do most, inspired by the Dutch/Flemish masters of the renaissance. The publisher allowed me to be creative in suggesting images and styles. It was a pleasure working with Grub Street Publishing, we got along like a house on fire. They even wrote a little something about little old me on the jacket of the book. Truly honoured.

I am very proud of this book, I hope you will like it as much as I do.
It's full of Belgian classics, not very difficult and very tasty! There is a whole chapter dedicated to cooking with beer, what more do you want! Recipes for Belgian waffles maybe? The perfect Belgian frites? This is a book you can enjoy, there's plenty to read.
To whet your appetite, here a few pictures and a recipe at the end.
The book is for sale on Amazon here > for £20 instead of £ 25!
*** I am not earning anything from the sales of the book. Just so you know :)  ***


Jacket text:
Ruth Van Waerebeek is an adventurous traveller, international chef and cookbook author from Belgium. She was born and raised in the medieval town of Ghent where she learned to cook at the side of her mother, grandmother and her great-grandmother. She was a chef in two leading restaurants in Ghent before she set off travelling round the world. In the 1990s she worked in full time teaching at a school of culinary arts in New York. Since 2000 she has been the brand ambassador and the house chef of Chile’s most important winery Concha y Toro. She travels regularly to the company’s major events in Europe, Russia, USA, Latin America and Asia. She now runs the Mapuyampay Hostal Gastronómico and Cooking School in the heart of Chile’s wine country. Her cooking classes have been profiled in Gourmet Magazine as one of the 50 best cooking vacations in the world.

Regula Ysewijn was the photographer on this book. A former graphic designer, she was born and raised in Antwerp, Belgium where she went to art school and taught herself to cook. In her photography she is inspired by Dutch and Flemish Renaissance paintings, one of which she grew up with hanging in her parents’ dining room. She travels Europe and Britain in particular for her photography assignments and she is also busy working on her first book. When she is not photographing, she is giving workshops and lectures on topics of food photography, cooking and graphic design.

Flemish waffles
  • 15g/. ounce fresh cake yeast or 1
  • package active dry yeast
  • 480ml/2 cups milk or 420ml/1. cups
  • milk and 4 tablespoons/. cup water, warmed to 38ÅãC/100ÅãF
  • 250g/2. cups plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 100g/7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons cognac or brandy
  • 3 large egg whites, beaten to soft peaks
  • For serving: Icing/confectioners’ sugarUnsalted butter, at room temperature, or whipped cream

Makes about 12 waffles

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 60ml/. cup of the lukewarm milk.
Set aside until the mixture is bubbling and foamy, about 5 minutes.
Sift the flour together with the salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a
well in the centre and add the whole egg, the yeast mixture, and the
sugar. Mix well with a wooden spoon. Add the remaining milk and the
egg yolks, one at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon until smooth.
Add the melted butter, vanilla, and cognac. Stir to just combine.
Fold the egg whites into the batter. Cover with a clean towel and let rise
for 1 hour in a warm spot (see Note, page 262).
Stir the batter and bake 120ml/. cup at a time in a hot waffle iron.
Serve immediately with icing/confectioners’ sugar and butter or
whipped cream.