Day 27: Rhubarb-Apple Preserves

17 Feb

England’s known for its berries. As a kid, I’d visit my Granny and we’d go strawberry picking in the summer in farms near her house in Kent. It’s an area where a lot of the strawberries served at Wimbledon’s tennis tournaments in the heat of the English summer are grown. We’d go to pick-your-own farms, get our little baskets to put them in and invariably end up sucking down about half of the berries before they ever made it to the baskets. Granny used to make jams and bitter orange marmalades every year. She never made these rhubarb-apple preserves, as far as I know, but she did make rhubarb-apple crumbles a good deal.

During the war, sugar was fairly heavily rationed after 1941 – 8 ounces only per week for an adult! But you did get 1/2 pound jam per month, which meant you had a sugary treat of sorts fairly readily available, if in limited quantities. For this compote recipe, I used a mixture of sugar and English strawberry jam, to add to the rhubarb’s natural redness for a prettier result. I ended up blending only half of the mixture, so a few chunks of rhubarb and apple remain for texture. This smells like heaven when it’s cooking, but don’t be tempted to dip into it when hot as scalding hot jam is like lava and you’ll burn yourself quite badly.

Rhubarb-Apple Preserves

Yield: 2 regular-sized jam jars

3 stalks rhubarb, unpeeled, roughly chopped
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup strawberry jam

Put the rhubarb and apple in a medium pot with about 1 cup tap water. Add the sugar and jam and stir thoroughly. Bring to a simmer and simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes. The rhubarb pieces should not be breaking down, but should be cooked through. Remove from the heat and put 1/2 of the compote in a tall container. Blend with a stick blender, or if you don’t have one, process in a food processor or regular blender until smooth. Add the blended half to the unblended. Seal in sterilized jam jars and allow to cool to room temperature. Keep in the refrigerator. This is lovely on toast, toasted English muffins, or hot crumpets. Tea is obligatory.


Day 26: Vanilla-pickled Rhubarb

15 Feb

Rhubarb is sort of like prune – it’s a very old-fashioned flavor, since it’s sort of what most folks’ grandparents had in desserts or pastries when they were kids. The first two grocery stores on my hunt for rhubarb basically laughed at me when I asked if they had rhubarb. One manager looked at me with one eyebrow cocked and said “You know, it’s not very popular.” Um beg to differ. It’s extremely popular – with me! In case you haven’t cooked rhubarb before, it looks like big, red-skinned celery. It’s sort of a vegetable-fruit in that way. And it’s delicious with strawberries and/or ginger. Sometimes it comes with leaves attached – they shouldn’t be eaten at all, since they contain oxalates, which are mildly toxic when eaten in large quantities. Just so you’re aware, DO NOT eat the stems raw, as they also contain the same substance when uncooked. Not that you’d want to, since rhubarb is pretty tart and stringy when it’s raw. But some folks grew up eating it raw and dipping it in sugar.

Although it was fairly popular in the UK during the war since it’s a prolific grower (it’s like the bunny of the produce world), it’s actually become quite trendy in the US recently. My Granny used to make rhubarb crumble for me when I came to stay with her as a child and I’ve loved it ever since. Pickled rhubarb is a great addition to savory salads, but you could also add it to a panna cotta, custard or other layered dessert. Since rhubarb can get fairly mushy when cooked, it’s a good candidate for pickling. I like to use Sherry vinegar and vanilla when I pickle rhubarb, so it has a tart-sweet balance. has a bunch of great rhubarb recipes – my favorite is actually a tequila-rhubarb cocktail called the Rhuby Red.

Vanilla-pickled Rhubarb

2 stalks rhubarb
1 cup Sherry vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped

Peel the tough stringy parts of the rhubarb. Trim the ends and then cut into 2-inch long pieces. Cut each piece into 3 or 4, depending how big they are. Clean them very thoroughly, then put them in a sterilized mason jar. Bring the vinegar, sugar and salt to the boil in a pot. In case you’re the type who likes to smell things when they’re cooking, this will NOT be pleasant to put near your face, as hot vinegar is a big like breathing around lots of undiluted bleach – not fun. Pour the vinegar mixture over the rhubarb and add the vanilla. Seal with plastic wrap. Allow to cool to room temperature. The rhubarb is now pickled. This is great in a spinach salad with some sliced strawberries and goat cheese. Try it in a savory Asian dish, or chop it finely and eat it with very sweet vanilla pudding with berries, to add a crunch and savory balance to desserts.

Day 25: Steamed Cod, Beet Greens and Potatoes

13 Feb

I don’t remember my Granny making beets when I was little, but utilizing the entire ingredient is what she was all about. And beet greens are a great example. You buy your bunch of beets. You can tell by the lush, healthy-looking, un-slimey leaves that the beets are still young and haven’t spent the last decade in a crate somewhere in the back of the store. You take em home, cook the beets and then save the greens. Be sure to thoroughly wash off the greens as they’re usually heavily coated in sand and dirt. Dry the greens and separate the leaves from the stems. This may seem unnecessary and finicky, but if you cook them all together, the leaves can burn or overcook before the stems are cooked through.

Remember to separate the stems and leaves of the beet greens

I tend to buy a mix of yellow and red beets, and some rainbow ones if available. One of the fun things about this is that the stems of the greens match the color of the beets, so golden beets have yellow stems. As you can see from the photo below, a mixture of red and yellow beet greens makes for a more colorful dish, with splashes of crimson and gold. In this cod dish, which is light on washing up since it’s made in one pot, the beet greens are the foundation of the dish. It’s also a fairly healthy main course, and contains little cooking fat. Best of all, it only takes about half an hour, including prep time, so if you’re having a busy day you can still throw it together when you get home. If you don’t have one already, this dish from All-Clad is awesome – oven-proof, a great size for this dish, and perfect in terms of heat distribution throughout the pot. In other words, it doesn’t really have noticeable hotspots so things cook evenly. They’re a tad pricey but basically you’ll never need to buy another pot. You could use any old sauté pan that’s about 2-inches deep and has a lid.

Steamed Cod, Beet Greens and Potatoes

1 Serving

2 to 3 tablespoons drippings
2 medium potatoes, thin-skinned such as Yukon Golds, cut into discs
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Greens from 2 bunches beets, separated into stems and leaves, both chopped
1 cup vegetable broth or water
1 fillet cod

Heat the drippings in a sauté pan that’s about 2 inches deep until the drippings are hot. Add the potatoes and brown on one side. Flip the potatoes and brown on the other side. Reduce the heat and add the garlic. When it becomes translucent, add the beet green stems and sweat. Add the leaves of the beet greens after 5 minutes, then add the vegetable broth or water. Cook until the potatoes are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Season the cod with the salt and put it on top of the bed of potatoes and beet greens. Cover the pot and steam until the cod is just beginning to flake around the edges, about 5 minutes. If you prefer, you can also finish this dish on the oven after you’ve added the broth. Serve the cod on the bed of beet greens and potatoes.

Day 24: Curried Cauliflower

7 Feb

Did I have way to much fun taking photographs of cauliflower? Yeah, a little bit. Cauliflower is a misunderstood vegetable. All it wants in life is to covered in something flavorful (like curry oil) and to be cooked until a little charred around the edges. At Grandaisy Bakery in New York, they serve a cauliflower pizza – thin crust pizza dough topped with small florets of cauliflower that are just perfectly charred on the edges. I can never pass by the UWS location without picking up a slice. If you choked down cauliflower as a kid like I did Brussels sprouts, trust me, this pizza will change your mind. I took my cue for this recipe from the charred cauliflower on top of that pizza.

Curry powder was featured in a lot of 1940s recipes since it was one of the few dry spices that were widely available during the war. It’s really not an Indian spice mix at all but a product of English tastes in India, but it is colorful and aromatic forms a nice crust when it coats the cauliflower in this recipe.

Curried Cauliflower

2 to 4 Servings

1 head cauliflower, cut into tennis ball-sized florets
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or drippings
2 tablespoons curry powder

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Blanch the cauliflower in boiling salted water for 1 minute, then shock in ice water. Heat the oil in a small sauté until it’s warm then add the curry powder and heat until the oil becomes aromatic and smells a little toasty. Toss the cauliflower in a large bowl with the curry oil and salt, and transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for about 5 minutes, then turn the broiler on high. Broil until the edges of the cauliflower are a little charred, then remove from the oven and serve.

Day 23: Soft Beer Pretzels

5 Feb

Pretzel bread may be of Austro-German origin – not the obvious choice for a blog on British rations – but it’s also one of my favorite breads and unlike brioche is fairly undemanding on the fat/egg side. I used a recipe from Portland, OR restaurant Grüner (click here to  view it). Ed gave me a hand with forming the pretzels. Braiding or shaping dough is a little tricky and my efforts are underneath his superlative pretzel. But I did get the hand of it eventually! Practicing helps a little.

This is a beer pretzel – who doesn’t love beer and pretzels on game day? To my mind, they’re the most exciting thing about superbowl anyway. Now I’m going to spend the evening at a superbowl party…and hoping like hell there’s someone else there who could care less about football…or as we call it in the UK, American football. Take pretzels, add mustard and more beer and you have a superbowl survival kit for even those as un-sports-fan-sy as me.

Day 22: Fish Pies

4 Feb

Today I’m trying out yesterday’s potato pastry for a savory recipe – fish pies! And by fish I mean, yes, another salt cod recipe. It’s so versatile and the meaty texture of the salt cod is great with vegetables.

Fish Pies

4 ounces all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
4 to 7 ounces smooth mashed potatoes
1 1/2 ounces butter, cubed
1 tablespoon drippings
1/2 onion, medium diced
1/2 medium carrot, peeled and medium diced
1/4 cup celeriac, peeled and medium diced
1 stalk celery, peeled and medium diced
1/2 small turnip, medium diced
2 tablespoons salt cod, soaked overnight in several changes of water and cooked
Freshly ground black pepper

Put the flour in the bowl of a standing mixer with a dough hook attachment. Add the salt and mix thoroughly. Turn it on the lowest setting and add the butter and potato until the dough achieves a short crust pastry consistency. Do not overmix. Remove the dough from the mixer and refrigerate, covered in plastic wrap. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Heat the drippings in a sauté pan and gently sweat the onion, carrots, celeriac, celery and turnip until just partially cooked. Do not allow to brown. Remove from the heat and add the salt cod and pepper. Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick, using a little flour. Using a large cookie cutter, about 2 to 3 inches in diameter, punch circles out of the dough. Put a little of the salt cod mixture in the center of half of one of the circles. Dampen the edge of the circle and fold it over to seal it into a semi-circle pie. Bake on a parchment-lined sheet tray until golden brown.

Day 21: Pear Pockets

3 Feb

My Granny’s pastry prowess is one of the thing I envy the most – when I stayed with her as a child, we’d make apple pies together. She’d make beautiful pastry roses to decorate the top and used to let me play with the scraps. I clumsily squished them and made greyish, unappetizing approximations of her pastry flowers, which she dutifully baked, even though they looked like something the dog did. Years later, I’ve learned a lot about pastry but still don’t have that effortless hand with it that she did.

On top of that, pastry during the war had an added challenge – fat, one of the main components of a good short crust pastry (what the English use for a lot of our pies and tarts) was in short supply. While researching on the internet, I came across this recipe  on the Discovery Channel site, and decided to try it for a dessert. It looks to be a multipurpose pastry, equally good for savory and sweet. It’s nice and crisp in terms of pastry, and if you’re one of those health conscious people, it does reduce the amount of fat in the pastry slightly. Here I used it to make pear pockets.

Wartime Recipe from

Pear Pockets

4 ounces all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
4 to 7 ounces smooth mashed potatoes
1 1/2 ounces butter, cubed
1 Bosc pear, peeled and small diced
Cinnamon sugar
Confectioners sugar

Put the flour in the bowl of a standing mixer with a dough hook attachment. Add the salt and mix thoroughly. Turn it on the lowest setting and add the butter and potato until the dough achieves a short crust pastry consistency. Do not overmix. Remove the dough from the mixer and refrigerate, covered in plastic wrap. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick, using a little flour. Cut the dough into 2-inch squares. Combine the pear and enough cinnamon sugar just to coat the pear in a bowl. Put a little of the pear mixture in the center of one of the squares. Dampen the sides of the square and top it with another square. Gently press the edges to seal and put on a parchment-lined sheet tray. Bake until golden brown. Dust with confectioners sugar.

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