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. 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.

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.




Bonfire, bangers and riots

Two ways with sausages for Bonfire night: Jacket potato bangers and Toad in the hole

 
Last year on this day I wrote about Guy Fawkes and his connection to the Gunpowder Plot (see Gunpowder, treason and Bonfire Parkin here) and how it came to be that such plot was, well... plotted. I went back to nearly a hundred years before the plot, to see where that seed was sown.
Today I look at the customs that resulted from this failed plot and how it influenced the way we riot and react today to show our dismay, disappointment and disgust for politics and religion.


The trial of the eight surviving conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot was held on januari 27 1606 in Westminster Hall which would have destroyed had their plot been successful. A statute was passed, declaring that deliverance from Gunpowder treason should be remembered every year. From then on each 5th of november there would be a church service at which attendance was compulsory if you were loyal to the King, or at least wanted to pretend to be loyal. It became an annual ceremony to keep the memory of the failed Gunpowder Plot alive. It continued until it was taken out of the prayerbook two centuries later in 1859. But although it was erased from the prayerbook, it was by now rooted into the culture.

In a way the customs of the 5th of november provided a replacement to the pre-reformation holy days of All Saints and All Souls on the 1st and 2nd of November. On these days the churches would be lit with candles, and torches marking the start of winter and darkness. This catholic tradition in its own right had replaced the old pagan rites of Samhain,  which celebrated the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. It literally means 'summer's end' and is the primary festival marking the end and the beginning of the year.

When the christians needed to convert the pagans, they gave them the 1st of November, a day on which they could light candles and make lanterns in hollowed turnips, just as they had been doing for generations before christianity spread. The reformation to Protestantism left the people with an empty gap where their 1st of November celebrations used to be, so naturally they embraced the new bonfire tradition after the Gunpowder Plot failed in the first years of the 1600's. 


Conveniently to the Protestants, the 5th of november could be used as a celebration of the conservation of Protestantism, a date to mark in the calendar alongside the early death of Queen Mary (a Catholic), the long reign of Queen Elizabeth I (Protestant) and the defeat of the Spanish Armada (to warn off the Spanish Catholics). 


When Charles I married the Catholic princes of France, people showed their disapproval of the Catholic queen by burning effigies of the Pope and the devil on the 5th of November. We are now situated 20 years after the Gunpowder Plot and the only effigies that were burnt were that of the pope and the devil, not of Guy Fawkes.
In 1647 was described how bonfires went from simply great fires to spectacles with fireworks and explosives including fireballs. And in 1657 Samuel Clarke's 'England Remembrancer invoked the happenings of the plot. 


After Charles II Restoration in 1660, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary "This 5th of November is observed exceeding well in the City; and at night great bonfires and fireworks." The next years up until the year of the Great Fire in 1666 (which was for a short time also blamed on the catholics) he also mentioned Bonfires and festivities which shows us the normality of these celebrations by this time. On one occasion he is driving home with his wife after going to see Macbeth "forced to go round by London-Wall home because of the bonefires."

Celebrations of the 5th became larger and intense rather than festive after the brother of Charles II Duke of York publicly declared to be a Catholic. This was followed by the Exclusion Crisis to exclude the him from the throne because he was Roman Catholic. When the Tory's started to declare being agains the Exclusion, this created probably one of the first bonfire night riots. In 1682 the 5th fell on a sunday so celebrations started on monday the 6th. Reputedly crowds of people took to the streets attacking Tories and shouting their support for the King's bastard son, the Duke of Monmouth, who was Protestant. This Bonfire night, it was not a celebration of the failed Gunpowder Plot, it was a warning and objection against the possibility of being ruled by a Catholic king.

The next year on the 5th, bonfires and fireworks were banned to keep the calm. But you know what, two years later James did succeed Charles and England had a Catholic King... Needless to say that the Bonfire night celebrations were forbidden although the 'Gunpowder Treason-Day' church service remained.

Under the rule of  James' daughter Mary Stuart and her Protestant husband William of Orange, the celebrations of the 5th commenced and got entwined with the restoration of the Protestant religion in England by William of Orange. That double meaning didn't stick though and years after this, it was forgotten and the 5th was yet again a celebration of the failing of the Gunpowder Plot.
Gunpowder Treason-Day' church sermons changed each year, always highlighting another political event. Leaving the people a reason to take to the streets each year.

By the 18th century the festivities on the 'fifth' became less and less fuelled by hatred against Catholics and more about other political issues. The Catholic Relief Acts of 1778 and 1791 made life easier for Catholics, granting them the same rights as Protestants. Of course this sparked resistance leading to a week of rioting in 1780. But eventually the Catholics emancipated, helped by the Irish situation, with Catholic Irish members of Parliament. Of course in Ireland the troubles between the Irish Catholics and English Protestants remained.

Another change happened to the Bonfire night celebrations when anti-catholicism became less acceptable. By the early 19th century effigies of the pope were no longer burnt and the crowds needed another figure to 'blame'. Strangely enough that figure became Guy Fawkes, the person who was least named in contemporary writings about the Treason and Plot. Although Guy Fawkes is mostly remembered on Bonfire night today, it was Robert Catesby who was chief instigator of the Gunpowder Plot (read my previous post to learn more of the plot).

So why did our Guy Fawkes become the figure of Bonfire Night? We can of course not say for certain why, but in 1793 just before the turn of the century, a play was performed at the Royal Haymarket Theatre. The prelude in one act was entitled: Guy Fawkes or The Fifth of November. In 1835 a comic pantomime called Harlequin and Guy Fawkes: or the 5th of November was performed in London's Covent Garden. Many different stories about the Gunpowder Plot were told in plays after that, maybe the truth drifted away and the name Guy Fawkes just sounded best in playwright, maybe it was because he was discovered with the gunpowder...

But now Guy Fawkes has become the Gunpowder Plot, and the night of the fifth got often referred to as 'Guy Fawkes night'. He became the new face of the tradition, the scapegoat of the Plot, the symbol of opposition and disapproval.

Our story takes more turns in the 19th century with Bonfire night celebrations turning violent and dark. Victorian times saw the coming of a different sort of celebration, a night of rioting and criminal behaviour. A night when the honest should stay indoors and the dangerous ruled the streets.
The processions of 'the night of the fifth' would be fired with local social issues of politics and religion. They became manifestations, uprise agains local authorities and they became so dangerous and organised that they needed another organised organisation to contain them. So the police force grew to counter the protesters.

Today we live in a time with organised demonstrations, approved by the local authorities and contained for the safety of the protesters as well as the opponents and those who have nothing to do with it. But when the demonstrations do get ugly today, we see Guy Fawkes appear in the crowds...

Much like in the early 19th century plays about the Gunpowder Plot, a movie was made from a 1980's graphic novel in 2005. 'V for Vendetta' is set in a near-future dystopian society in England, with the main character being 'V' a man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, who wants to destroy the corrupt fascist regime and its leaders. One of the authors of the graphic novel commented that "The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny – and I'm happy with people using it, it seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way." By many political groups the film was seen as an allegory of oppression by government. Anarchists, libertarians and activists of any kind have used the Guy Fawkes mask in their demonstrations after the movie came out. It has been seen in demonstrations agains the G8 summit and in other economical and political protest. It has become the emblem of anonymity and dissent.

The 'Guy' has gained another face, 400 years after he was just one pawn of the Gunpowder Plot. He has now become the face of disappointed people, the face disapproval in modern times. The face saying, we have had enough... For now at least.



On to the food part of this post. Bonfire societies organise the Bonfire parades now in a safe and family friendly manner. The streets of Lewes particulary are the place to be for elaborate bonfire displays. People watch the parade and the fireworks and look forward to warling their hands on hot food and drink. 
For this years bonfire night I give you two ways with bangers which are perfect for bonfire night celebrations at home. Toad in the hole is a traditional meat & batter pudding dish that evolved from the Yorkshire pudding-type puddings and other types of fired pudding.
It is bound to be a succes with the little ones as who doesn't love a good old proper sausage. The other dish is a banger jacket potato, an easy dish that even the most inexperienced cook could make. The potato just needs time to cook in the oven so do that in advance. It's a perfect little bomb of warmth when you are planning to do some bonfiring of your own in the garden!

Toad in the hole

  • good quality sausages, 3 or 4
  • a few sprigs of rosemary (optional)

For the batter  
  • 280 ml milk  
  • 110 g plain flour  
  • a pinch of salt  
  • 3 medium eggs

preheat your oven to max 250° C
Fry your sausages in sunflower oil in a pan until nearly done
Pour 1 cm of sunflower oil into a baking stray or cake tin and place in the middle of the hot oven.
Place a larger tray underneath in case the oil drips over, you don't want extra cleaning afterwards
Make your batter in the manner of making pancake batter
When your oil is hot, you will see as it will be spitting, arrange your sausages into place along with the oil you still have in your pan from frying your bangers
Carefully but swiftly pour the batter into the hot oil, stick in the rosemary sprigs and close the oven door. Bake for 20-25 minutes until puffed up and nicely colored.

Serve with mustard, braised red cabbage, jacked potato or mashed potato and caramelised onions if you like

To braise red cabbage
  • red Cabbage
  • a cooking apple, cubed ( for a football size cabbage you need 1 large cooking apple)
  • a teaspoon of cinnamon


Cut your cabbage very finely, and heat some butter in a pan.
Add your cabbage and apple and braise, adding a little water when needed.
When soft, spice with a little honey and cinnamon
Serve warm, o so good with sausages

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
Jacket potato bangers

For the potato
  • 1 potato per person You need a floury kind like a Maris Piper, King Edward, or for Belgians 'Bintje frietaardappel'
  • +- 20g coarse sea salt
  • good quality sausages
  • 3 onions, braised and caramelised

Wash the potatoes and let them dry
Preheat your oven to 220° C
Put your salt in a tray and roll each potato in the salt and rub it in
Prick your potato with a toothpick a few times to prevent them bursting
Place the potatoes straight on the rack in the middle of the oven
Bake for 1 hour, then squeeze the potato slightly to see if it appears soft inside, if that doesn't appear so, place back in the oven for another 15-30 minutes.
When the potatoes are nearly ready or when you are about to have dinner caramelise some onions, add one teaspoon of pomegranate molasse of balsamic vinegar, whatever you prefer and let it become nice and sticky. You could do this in advance too and just cook the sausages when you need them.
Finally fry your sausages in oil or butter, I prefer butter and oil in this case. Finish them off with 10 min in the oven along with your potatoes to heat them up again or on their final bake.
Then cut into the potato, add some of that caramelised onion, add a banger and serve!
Also very good with braised red cabbage.

Pudding!
Last years Bonfire parkin might take your fancy, find the recipe here > 

Bonfire Parkin
 


What are you doing for bonfire night?



Weekend Blogawards in Belgium

Miss Foodwise has been nominated for an award in my home country Belgium! 
How about that, very exciting! 

Of course I would love to receive this award here on home turf so if you have a minute, please vote! I thank all of you for your support, not only in voting, but over the 3 years I have been blogging and photographing. It has been amazing, I have met brilliantly talented people, been to amazing places and am now writing like a madwoman on my first book which will be published with Davidsfonds next year!

Workshop 'Krachtvoer' in Antwerp

On sunday 19/10 my friend Loes and I will be teaching a food workshop for children again. We were asked by the Belgian food festival 'Krachtvoer' to come and teach a workshop like the one we did for Food Revolution Day back in may. The theme is 'scarcity and abundance' and we will be showing the kids how you can create some mean flatbreads using up all kinds of leftover fruit, veg, meat and cheese from your fridge. I will be showing them how they can make cheese and Loes will take care of the flatbread dough part.

The white loaf that will make you proud


The power of an image.
I posted a picture on Instagram and Facebook of two loaves of bread I baked on wednesday. I was proud of them, they were beautiful, they were utterly perfect to me.
I had scored the bread this time with little hesitation and fear it would ruin my loaf, and while it was baking in the oven, I watched trough the oven window in true British Bake Off style how my score cracked open and baked into my most proud bake in my life.
Slightly embarrassed by my pride and joy I mentioned that to you the bread might seem plain, but to me they were special. The answer came in the form of that image becoming the most ever likes picture on my facebook and my instagram feed. You loved it too.
So much that you emailed me for the recipe, to go home and bake these loaves yourself, to see it rise, and bake and fill the house with the smell only bread is capable to induce...
Utter joy.

Bread has been a staple since the beginning of time, it evolved from a flat, dense gritty loaf to the small bun sized wheat loaves of the Saxon monks. Wheat and bread was so valuable that often food rents consisted partly of loaves or grain. Wheat and barley would be planted together so if one harvest failed, the barley which was a hardier grain would survive and save the people from the starvation that was luring behind every tree and every sheaf of corn. But harvest failed plenty of times and so bread was made from dried peas and beans. This must have been an very heavy and unpleasant bread but it would provide plenty of nutrition during shortages. Windmills and communal bread ovens can be found in the Domesday book but as they were owned by the manor or monastery, they were not free to use. A portion of the grain or bread dough had to be payed for the use of the mill and oven, therefore the peasants continued to mill the grain themselves using a hand quern that must have taken many long hours of hard labour to end up with a small portion of flour.
People must have suffered from acute toothache with the amount of grit in the bread. Even the upper classes preferred to soak their bread in their all important sauce and have their meat so succulent that it fell of the bone. Chewing would have been difficult if you would have lost most your teeth in your early adulthood.





Bread remains a staple food in the centuries following the Norman conquest and the Middle Ages, but recipes for breadmaking remain unknown from that period except for a mention of the process of bread making in a poem.



Although today bread still remains the most popular base of our diet, it has also become a source of worry with gluten and wheat intolerances becoming nearly as frequent as famine was in ancient times. Although bread has been a staple food for centuries, in the early years it was labour intensive to mill the grain by hand so bread would not have been the thing to fill up the bellies of the poor. They would have had a modest piece of bread, with their pottage, or a piece of cheese but not as plenty as we often have it today.
Wheat has also been modified to an extent that it is easier to harvest, but the quality is less. The need to have everything fast and plenty changed the way we create bread, with added chemicals to make is rise in a fraction of the time if would actually need to break down the enzymes in the grain which make it harder to digest. There is talk of a modern day 'bread belly' with people suffering from the effects from fast factory made bread which has little resemblance to the real bread of our ancestors. In my opinion the modern everlasting, spongy bread, sometimes dyed with malts or molasse to make it appear as a wholewheat loaf while it is not, is a new kind of poverty, the poverty of quality of the most basic of foods. Our daily bread. 


A Visit to the Peak District

Normally for us a holiday starts early in the morning, after not nearly enough sleep. I will repack my clothes last minute and then we're off, to start a long long day.
But not this time, we were travelling with P&O's overnight ferry from Zeebrugge to Hull. We left the house at 4, which left me enough time to change my mind about my chosen wardrobe for our holiday and leave without the usual rush. 
Our plan was to travel to the Peak District, a beautiful national park in the North of England. The ferryboat brought us conveniently to an hour away from where we needed to be and gave us ideas for other trips in the future. Last year we stood still fro 6 hours on our way to the West country, then again a six hour delay when we were heading to the Cotswolds and again when we drove back to Dover.
Needless to say, we were so looking for a way to avoid the dreadful M25, M4 and other M's that get major delays. The Ferry to Hull brings you not only to the gateway of the North and Scotland, it's great when you need to travel to Wales and even the Midland towns like Birmingham. Anything to avoid the traffic around London sounds like music to my ears.


My partner in crime

Our holiday well and truly started when we boarded the ferry and got us a nice spot on deck to watch the sunset while we were sipping a glass of wine and gazing over the wide and peaceful seascape.
When we retired to our hut we turned into our bunk beds and closed our eyes with the knowledge that we were being brought to England without having to drive, or take trains, in the morning after breakfast, we would just suddenly arrive where we needed to be. It was fantastic for B, who is stuck in traffic every day to get to the office, when you're on holiday, you really don't want to spend it driving for yours again.

After a hearty brekkie we left the Ferry and drove into the rainy North of England. We made a two hour stop in Sheffield as it was on the road and we needed a cup of tea and our English magazines. Then we drove on to our final destination, Castleton a quaint little village in the Hope Valley. 


Castleton is an old mining village, first for lead an then when a young boy decided to go and search for lead in Treak Cliff hill, a new site in Castleton that he leased, he excavated an entrance for years but discovered not lead, but a vein of blue stone with yellow streaks. The stone was baptised Blue John, probably an interpretation in the local dialect from the French 'bleu et jaune'. The stone started to be mined and was even used in the first world war as a fuel for furnaces which unfortunately resulted in a lot of precious stone being lost forever. 

What to do with a glut of summer fruit


Hello you lovely lot, I am sorry for not posting as frequently as I did before. Life just has been terribly busy and choices have to be made. It is wonderful, it is glorious but I do need to find a balance so I can find the time again to share stories with you.
I had a lovely few weeks, I spoke at Europe's largest Food Blogger Conference, Food Blogger Connect in London and a week later I was the main speaker at a blogger event in Brussels, for those who I have met there, welcome to the blog!
I am getting ready to leave for London again, where I will be living out of my suitcase while shooting an exciting upcoming cookery book. (not mine, haven't had time for mine!) The week after that I am traveling to Dorset to be a judge in the Great Taste Awards again. Lots of beautiful food and drink to judge and after that some more lovely food at the glorious Great Taste dinner at Brett Sutton's new place.
After that, it is back to London for a week to shoot a book.
So it is fair to say, the next time you hear from me on here will be august... I hope!

To answer some questions I have had from you guys on social media and via email when I posted my cherry brandy picture on facebook, this is what you can do with your summer fruit! I like to preserve mine, to keep for the cold winter and autumn days, to bring a little sunshine on your table. It is sun in a jar, it is happiness. So when you have a glut of fruit, get your jars out and drain them in alcohol or sugar to keep them for when you most need it, when it is chilly and rainy. Here below are some of my recipes for preserves, and at the end I've added some links to other recipes on other websites. Enjoy the summer fruits!

My favourite: Drunken Cherries, or Cherry Brandy. 
We call it Kriekenborrel in Belgium and I have been making it since I was a little girl. In fact my oldest jar is from 1998, which is when I started making them myself. I now have a jar most years, sometimes more than one to give as gifts for christmas (oh yes, I used the 'C' word in summer)
It's just a wonderful way to preserve a cherry, you can use them served with vanilla ice, baked in cakes or puddings and just as they are in tiny little delicate glasses.

Cherry Brandy Find the recipe here
Next up is Raspberry vinegar.
The colour of this vinegar stays lovely and red even a year later, it looks the part on your larder and even more pretty drizzled over a green salad.
The vinegar is also okay to drink, but only by the thimble full as it is quite strong and pungent. As you can guess, this is also a great gift to give someone who will appreciate it.


Raspberry Vinegar Find the recipe here

Sweet Cheese Curd Tarts and the Road to a Book

Those who follow my instagram already know that I have been working on my very own book the last few months. (There is even a # hash tag on it to follow some of the process, I know, how very modern of me.) It is a scary yet exciting journey, one with occasional bumps in the road and one with smooth pathways. I thought it would be easy, I couldn't be more wrong. 

I am fortunate that my publisher was super excited about me to design the book myself and photograph it, which isn't a given thing. They gave me the freedom to come up with a concept no matter how crazy it sounded. They wanted the book to be 'totally me'. This was always something that was made up in my mind. If the book would be designed by someone else and photographed by someone else, it would not be my book. I would not want that book. This isn't a narcissistic urge to just get 'a' book out there, this is an artistic project for me. I have been a graphic designer my whole professional life, I have done numerous layouts for books, booklets and magazines. Not being allowed to design and layout my own book would just feel completely and utterly wrong. But of course, this means doing the work of 3 maybe 4 people all on my very own...
I will have to turn down future jobs to get be able to do this big book project but the book will by no means pay enough so I can pay my bills. All the money from the advance, the layout work and the photography will go to the actual creating of this book. But although I would have liked to at least have some tiny profit, I am also very happy that the subject of my book wasn't chosen for me, and that I can really do what I want. I have had other offers from publishers, who had the subject of my book already decided for me, of course I had to turn them down. As I said, this is not just 'a' book. 

Because of the significance of this project, I often freeze and can't write or cook or photograph. Being a creative creature means you constantly doubt your work, and push yourself and push and push. I ask myself constantly, is this perfect enough. In every word and image I put an enormous effort, the story I tell needs to be right, it needs to transport you. I am not shooting a book, I am creating images that will hopefully whisk you away to my imaginary English cottage with limestone walls and a cream colored coal fired Aga stove. I want you to smell the slightly burnt toast that has the flavour unmatched by any toaster because it has been toasted on that oh so coveted AGA coal fire. 

When I freeze, it is the moment when I am in doubt. Doubt is your enemy.
You must not forget, I started my own business as a freelance photographer/graphic designer/writer in januari, which means I am not surrounded by colleagues anymore, I work alone, and often I will be abroad, alone in my B&B. There's no 'can we have a chat about the concept or designs' like in the advertising agency I worked at. I have to ask myself if it is right, I have to be objective and not let my heart get too much involved in it.
Which is hard, because I am a very passionate person. There is hardly any grey in me, it is either good or bad. There is no 'this will do' in my book - literally and figuratively speaking.

I am writing about this because I know a few people in our little online food lovers community who are also working on a book or book proposal. Sometimes to read someone else saying it is not a walk in the park, helps you to be okay with it, if one a day you wake up and are overtaken by the fear this great project brings with it.
It happens to us all. 

But also because I need your help, I need people who would like to be involved and test a recipe for me, or more if you're up to it. Eternal gratitude to my recipe testers so please get in touch if you want to get cooking for me - my email is on my contact page.


But on to that tart you see here, this is a sweet cheese curd tart with lemon. It is one of the recipes you just develop by accident, while trying to make something else you come up with an equally scrumptious dish.
Sweetened cheese curds have been used as a sweet treat on its own and in tarts for centuries, early recipes like this are the very first ancestors of the cheesecake we know today. Because I have used lard in the pastry, the tart has a sweet yet also savoury hint which is perfect for the likes of me who do not enjoy a very sweet treat.