18th century Sweet Lamb Pie


When I tell people about my passion for historical dishes, there are always those who look at me with disbelief and some amusement. They claim those ancient dishes were made of rotting meat masked with an abundant use of spices, or stodgy pottage, all eaten with the hands like barbaric creatures. It can't be good, it can't be imaginative, it just can't be ...

The theory that food in the Middle Ages was highly spiced to mask the flavour of rotting meat has been discarded as pure nonsense in the last ten years. Those who were served spiced dishes were privileged, those cooking with it were the master cooks to kings and queens. People of status that not only could afford this immense luxury, but also had a good supply of fresh meat and fish from their estates and beyond.

Our ancestors - of the elite - had a good understanding about spices, and how to combine them. Those flavour combinations would often taste peculiar to us. Not at all in a wrong way, but in a way that you realise it is a flavour sensation you have never tasted before.

This brings me to how tastes have changed.
Today everything is usually either sweet, salty or spicy. Bitter is making a modest comeback and sour too, but these flavours are seldom combined in our 'modern' European cuisine. It is even so that a lot of our foods are processed in factories which add flavour essences to make the food taste the same every time you prepare it. Of course this doesn't happen when you cook from scratch, but it is an unfortunate fact that people in the UK buy a lot of ready meals. It is a trend that has luckily not taken off in Belgium, but it is very possible we're not far behind. Joanna Blytham recently published a book about these practices in food processing factories, and she rings an alarm bell and employs you to smell your food, to taste, and realise the smells and tastes are not from natural ingredients. This is an evolution, when more people eat processed food, they get an idea about how tomato tastes, and how a beef stew should taste. It goes so far that when those people taste the real thing, they can't take the sourness of a real tomato, the texture of the skin, and they find their own beef stew too bland and wonder where the flavour of the ready meal comes from. It's not tomato, and it's not beef. Butter in buttery pastry is not butter but other fats, with added butter flavour. It might taste like butter, but it might not completely and it might even change your taste and idea of how it should taste all together. I will go into Joanna's eye-opening book in another posting but you get the idea for now. Today many of the people taste food, but don't really taste the produce. Their tastes change. A very simple example is when I give someone a glass of raw milk to drink, I am used to it and drink it all the time, but my guests often can't finish another sip because they find the flavour too 'animal-like'. Most milk you buy in the supermarket to me tastes like white water, but this is how the people think milk tastes like these days.


Eliza Smith's Sweet Lamb pie from 1727 is one of those dishes that really show off the old way of spicing food. The flavours come through in layers if you get what I mean. It is not really sweet, but the spices that are used, nutmeg, mace and cloves were considered sweet spices and used as a sweetener. Sugar is added too, but used rather like a spice. In addition to these spices, currants and candied peel are added to bring extra sweetness. Then also sweet potato is added, and artichoke hearts. The 1727 book also mentions that when artichokes aren't in season, one can use grapes too.


The pie is built with pieces of diced lamb, dusted in the spices, and meatballs made with lamb meat, suet, currants and the same sweet spices with the addition of fresh parsley.
Layers are constructed of lamb, lamb meat balls, sweet potato and artichoke.
When your pot or pie is full, a blade of mace is added and the pie is placed in the oven for just over an hour. Just when you're ready to serve, a 'Caudle' is made, this is a sauce which is added to the pie by pouring it in when you are ready to serve. It is usually there to lift the flavours of the dish. In this case the caudle is made with white wine, lemon juice, a little sugar and a couple of egg yolks.
This sauce gives the dish a little acidic kick and will guaranty you to want to empty the saucepan until the very last drop.


The pie can either be made in a free-standing pie crust like you see in the pictures I took when I was at Food Historian Ivan Day's house, for a weekend of Georgian cooking last year. A hotpot is however another way of making this pie, this is a closed casserole dish used in the North of England, or you can use a deep oven dish and add a pastry lid, which is what I did the last time I made the pie, and what you can see in the first pictures here.

I made this Sweet Lamb pie not too long ago when we had two chefs coming for dinner, I did not know how they were going to react to the flavours of this dish.
Fortunately my friends are all about good, honest and natural food so they were eager to try. And they enjoyed it, one of the duo even asked me if it was okay to lick his plate and clean out the saucepan of caudle.

I say that's mission accomplished, don't you think?


The pie is incredibly flavoursome and eats just wonderful with the different vegetables and meat; the addition of a piece of salty pie pastry is a bonus but not a must if you aren't up to making your pastry, but please don't use shop bought pastry... that is just plain evil and doesn't even contain butter!

I made the pie you see in the pictures above with pastry I had leftover from my recent pastry project... You might have spotted it on instagram.

18th century Sweet Lamb Pie

Food Revolution Day - Food education back on the menu

Sign the petition www.change.org/jamieoliver




Today is Food Revolution Day, the day on which we come together from all over the world to pull on the same end of the rope. A better future for our children is what is aimed at here, and better food education will bring that. 
At a time when 42 million children under the age of five alone are overweight, we need to take action against this enormous epidemic.

In the olden days when the girls were supposed to marry to spend their lives cooking and cleaning for their husbands, girls were taught their skills in school and from their mothers. Today luckily us ladies aren't chained to the stove and washing basket anymore, but with our emancipation, slowly domestic housekeeping lessons disappeared from the schools. 

So many people don't know how to cook from scratch because they weren't taught the basic skills to make a meal. It is of vital importance that cooking skills, and even growing food is put back on the schools learning plans. With a growing world population, we need to reduce food waste, and to do this, we need to cook more and learn how to deal with leftovers. It might seem so straight forward to you, whipping up an easy dinner after work, but for so many people out there it is a daily struggle. Those trying to survive on a tight budget have it even worse when they don't know how to cook.

I can always make a meal, it might be a strange dish sometimes, but it is always tasty. You tend to take that skill for granted. I know I did, it is only when you talk to someone who really can't cook that you understand that cooking is often a talent you're born with but others need to learn it. I learned from Jamie's Naked Chef Series because my mum wasn't really the type to teach you how to cook, she had a tendency to overcook things, or downright burn them to their second death.
My husband can't cook either. When we were 'courting' he made me a pasta dish with grated carrots which he had heated up in yoghurt. Not the luscious thick strained Greek style yoghurt, natural sour pungent yoghurt. It was one of the most vile things I've ever had to swallow. He thought so too and luckily I didn't have to finish the plate to be polite but how the hell could he have cooked that? Well, he followed a recipe. He doesn't use it intuitive nature because he doesn't know what he is doing. If he would have cooked from his heart, he would have made an entirely different dish. Like his eggs, he can cook a mean egg.

Smithfield Meat Market - a history and a nomination for the Pink Lady Food photography award!

Dear readers, the above image from Smithfield market has been shortlisted in the prestigious Pink Lady Food Photography Awards in the category 'Food For Sale' for the People's choice award. If you like my work, I would be super grateful if you would vote for my photograph! 
You can vote HERE > and scroll down to 'Food for sale'
Thanks so much xx

Smithfield Market, 865 years of notorious history of meat, bloodshed, crime and uprising.

Turning down Sun Street and Crown Street, and crossing Finsbury square, Mr. Sikes struck, by way of Chiswell Street, into Barbican: thence into Long Lane, and so into Smithfield; from which latter place arose a tumult of discordant sounds that filled Oliver Twist with amazement. It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemd to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above. All the pens in the centre of the large area, and as many temporary pens as could be crowded into the vacant space, were filled with sheep; tied up to posts by the gutter side were long lines of beasts and oxen, three or four deep. Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a mass; the whistling of drovers, the barking dogs, the bellowing and plunging of the oxen, the bleating of sheep, the grunting and squeaking of pigs, the cries of hawkers, the shouts, oaths, and quarrelling on all sides; the ringing of bells and roar of voices, that issued from every public-house; the crowding, pushing, driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the hideous and discordant dim that resounded from every corner of the market; and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figues constantly running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng; rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene, which quite confounded the senses.
Charles Dickens - Oliver Twist, 1838


And so were the words of Charles Dickens about Smithfield meat market in his marvellous work Oliver Twist.
England has always been famed for the outstanding quality of its meat. In the 19th century, Smithfield meat market was notorious for its wild cattle that was hazardously driven through the streets of London. The drovers and butchers were apparently as savage as their cattle and murder and rape were no exceptions in these quarters.
Reports of cattle stirred up by drunk herdsmen killing men, woman and children on their way were frequent. Cattle was slaughtered at the site and the streets coloured red with blood.

Surrounded by dirty streets, lanes, courts, and alleys, the haunts of poverty and crime, Smithfield is infested not only with fierce and savage cattle, but also with the still fiercer and more savage tribes of drivers and butchers. On market-days the passengers are in danger of being run over, trampled down, or tossed up by the drivers or “beasts”; at night, rapine and murder prowl in the lanes and alleys in the vicinity; and the police have more trouble with this part of the town than with the whole of Brompton, Kensington, and Bayswater. The crowd­ing of cattle in the centre of the town is an inexhaustible source of accidents.Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853
From 1150, 

Smithfield has been used as a market for live stock. It was a large open space on the outskirts of town, it had small open spaces and wooden pens and a broad open street market.

In 1174 Smithfield was described by William Fitzstephen, clerk to Thomas à Becket in his 'Description of London', one of my favourite works to learn about Ancient London and its people.

'In a suburb immediately outside one of the gates there is a field that is smooth, both in name and in fact. Every Friday (unless it is an important holy day requiring solemnity) crowds are drawn to the show and sale of fine horses. This attracts the earls, barons and knights who are then in the city, along with many citizens, whether to buy or just to watch.'
A description of London, ca.1174/1183, translated from Latin.

The Irish Midlands

Leap Castle, Ireland's most haunted castle
Last week Bruno and I were invited by Mid-Ireland tourism to come over for a weekend to explore what the Irish Midlands has to offer. It was going to be our first visit to Ireland and we were looking forward to it for a month. We both had one of the busiest times since a very long time, for me it was finishing the English manuscript of my book, for him it were hundred and one things.
It was a relief to step on that airplane - though with the disaster of the German plane crash from a week earlier in the back of our heads - knowing that we were able to take these four days away from our work. We came back revived and full of creative energy. Let me share our highlights with you.


Bellefield Gardens

The first day of our trip we visited the Birr Theatre where regular plays are offered but also workshops for kids, when we were there to assemble for tea, kids were learning to do stop-motion films. So great to get the kids to do creative things.

Home away from home

We then drove off to go and see the beautiful gardens by Garden designer Angela Jupe at Bellefield Gardens. Angela is a garden designer after my own heart. The gardens look very rustic and not at all staged. She works with salvaged materials and creates new things with it. She restored the farmhouse and all the cottages surrounding its courtyard. You can hire them, they each have a cosy log burner, a kitchen and a private little garden. A real treat if you want to get away from the rat race and spend some time walking around the beautiful surroundings and cooking up amazing food to enjoy by the fireplace. I wish I had just 1% of Angela Jupe's gardening talent. The whole estate is truly enchanting.




Fairytale garden

Back in the buss we went to see Fancroft Mill just over the border in Tipperary. The owners bought this derelict mill, garden and millhouse from Angela Jupe who had designed the garden and then sold it because the derelict mill was an enormous project to take on. The new owners restored the watermill, which is housed in a very tall building than can be seen from a distance in the rolling countryside. They accidentally became millers with it. The gardens are - like Bellefield Gardens - immaculately rustic and the little tower makes it look like a fairytale setting. I could sit in this garden for hours, and in fact the owners tell me that that is what they tell visitors, to take their time exploring and sitting in the garden. 


Haunted as hell

The next stop is Ireland's most haunted castle - a real treat for Bruno who is a fan of horror movies and other gothic things. Leap Castle is a ruin, but it is lived in by Sean Ryan and his family. It must have looked imposing in its heyday, and scary too because if you committed a crime on these lands, which could have been poaching a rabbit, you were read your last prayer on the top floor of the castle where the 'Bloody chapel' is - or was - and then thrown into a hole which was lined with spikes on the bottom - yikes.
The castle was built in the 1500's and originally named 'Leim Ui Bhanain' meaning ’Leap of the O’Bannons’. The O’Carrolls, the clan who owned the castle, were a fierce and brutal people.  They were known for their cruel tactics,  killing those that came on their path. The 'Bloody chapel' has an 'oubliette', a narrow room, more like a hole where people where in the 1930's three cartloads of human bones were removed. The grandfather of our bus driver was one of the workmen on the job. Sean, the owner of the castle told us about the spirits in his home but ensures us they are not evil, but that they are there. Constant murdering had been going on in the castle up until the 18th century. And at one time one of the owners was so involved with the occult that she summoned a dark spirit that thankfully has remained quiet but is still in the castle. Leap castle was looted and burnt by IRA militants in 1922 during an uprising when it was owned by English aristocracy. Stories say that the villagers from the surroundings stood there laughing when the castle went up in flames. But they did spare the life of the caretaker and his wife and child. The English family who owned was not present when the castle got reduced to the ruin it is today. Did I see a ghost? No, but I can't help but wander what I felt as you go into the cold castle knowing it is haunted, and aware of all the monstrous murders that have happened there.

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.