Thursday, 2 April 2020

C-19... calling C-19... are you there? Fancy some bread pudding?

It is the 2nd April 2020, London is now more than two weeks into lock-down. I live in the suburbs, on the border of Chingford and Walthamstow, and outside, where it used to be seething with people and bicycles and cars,  it is eerily quiet and looks like the set of a dystopian film.

The streets are empty, the roads pretty much so, since none of us are supposed to leave our homes unless we have somewhere important to go to: food shops, doctors, pharmacy, work related if it is REALLY important. Otherwise, it's all down to social media and Whatsapp to keep in touch. Oh, and maybe Zoom if you are working from home.

Most shops are shut and shuttered, except for food stores, and with the exception of supermarkets, which have socially distanced 6 foot apart queues to get in (since nobody can get a delivery slot, even though that's what we're supposed to do), the food stores, the little ones I only use when I run out of bread or milk, and think to myself when I am in there, 'Who buys all these tins?', are proving to be free of people and a lifesaver.

I've pretty much got a couple of weeks worth of food now, except I'll need some fresh veg later in the week, and probably some milk. I found eggs last week for the first time in nearly a fortnight. I had  some flour delivered on Tuesday this week, and I'm waiting on a delivery of fresh veg and fruit (sadly, still not arrived though promised for Tuesday). Smaller restaurant supply companies who have extended their availability to home deliveries are overwhelmed, and we've been let down twice now for milk and veg.

So we'll see.

In the meantime, I've got some rather stiff bread, and so it's time to bring out my mum's bread pudding recipe.

Quarantine changes:

* no dried fruit? Use chopped up bananas or apples instead.
*no treacle? use gravy browning to add colour (no, really! it's just dark caramel)
*no butter? any fat will do - my mum used to use Atora suet (bit claggy, but if needs must...)


There are great foods in all our repertoires that have taste memories in them. That take you right back to childhood. Sometimes bad, mostly good (I think I have deliberately erased the really bad ones though...)

Bread pudding is one of the good ones for me. I am talking about proper bread pudding, not bread-and-butter pudding. Good as that is, B&B pudding is very much a dessert, a light egg custard held together with slices of buttered bread and fruit (dried, fresh, even jam). Bread pudding is something quite different, a cake to be eaten alongside a cup of tea, to fill the gap between lunch and dinner, to assuage the after-school hunger of growing kids.

It is as old as the hills, a good working class cake, made by people who couldn't afford to waste anything. These days, of course, we don't have to worry about where every last crust will go, and so we make versions that are considerably more luxurious than the ones made in the days during and between the wars. Mine is certainly more fruity and spicey than my mum's.

Less stodgy too. The wartime recipe I was brought up on had suet and flour in to make it solid and claggy. I loved it at the time, but these days, I want something lighter and less fatty on my palate.

I have been asked many a time for this recipe, but it has always been tricky to get the recipe down. It is, after all, a recipe made to use up leftovers, and for this very reason the quantities are variable, depending on what is actually left over. I know what I want the mix to look like, but how to convey this to someone who hasn't been there whilst I have been cooking is very difficult, and I take my hat off to recipe developers around the world.

So armed with a pencil and a now-rather-sticky notebook, I took the trouble to weigh and measure as I went, and this is what I came up with. Now these measures are not written in stone, this kind of recipe is good natured, it doesn't depend on strict ratios to work, you can up and down the various ingredients as you feel fit. The bread/egg/butter ratio is probably best kept roughly to this, but you can add more/less fruit, sugar, spice, to suit your own taste.

300g Stale bread, cut roughly into chunks (I've made this with stale fruit loaf as well as ordinary bread, works beautifully)
50g soft brown sugar
250g dried fruit
1 tbs black treacle
50g butter
1 egg, lightly beaten just enough to mix yolk & white together
1 heaped tsp ground mixed spice

Soak the bread in COLD water to cover until the crusts on the bread are nice and soft. Squeeze the water out of the bread until it is as dry as you can get it. Put the squeezed bread into a mixing bowl, throw the water away.

Roughly break the bread up (sort of squish it between your fingers, like making mud pies)

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and black treacle together (TIP warm the spoon first before you get the treacle out of the tin, then it just slides off the spoon into the pan). You just want it warm and runny, don't let it boil - it turns into toffee pretty quickly.

Add the fruit, egg, sugar and spice to the bread, together with the treacle/butter mix and mix it all up. It should be quite a sloppy mix, very similar to Christmas Pudding.

Turn into a greased and base lined tin - usually people would cook this in a flat traybake tin, but I have recently started cooking it in a 1lb loaf tin, I find that I get more squishy middle bit, which is the bit I like. If you like the crunchy outside, then a traybake will be better for you.

Run a fork over the top surface to roughen it up, and sprinkle with a little extra sugar - demerara is good if you have any, or just ordinary granulated.

Bake at medium temperature (roughly Gas Mark 4, 350/180 degrees but (in particular if you have a fan oven) do check the temperature and timing, the raisins can turn into little charred bullets if your oven cooks hot), for about an hour. It won't rise much, and when you test it it will probably still be a little damp, that's ok. Sprinkle with a little more sugar if it isn't crunchy enough on the top for your liking. Let it cool in the tin before taking it out - it is quite delicate, and it will break apart if you take it out whilst it is still hot.

Oh, by the way... I fibbed about it only being a cake. The pudding name is quite right. It is also delicious hot with cream or ice cream as a REAL pudding.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

The best of a Greedy Piglet: Oh please... have a heart

I was prompted to re-blog this old post from the old Greedy Piglet site, as someone on Twitter using #JackMonroesLockDownLarder had mentioned they'd picked up some hearts. This was a calf's heart I got at a farmer's market, but all the points go for lambs' hearts, too. Ox heart, if you find it, needs the same low, slow, braising but for even longer than lambs' hearts. Let me know if you need any help!


One of the exciting things about Farmer’s Markets is picking up unusual hard-to-find meat from the farmer who is doing the producing. Walthamstow has some very interesting meat, a couple of whom are selling rose veal, which I love.

Lucy’s Veal was at Walthamstow this last weekend, and I picked up a calf’s heart from them. Now it might be that you are not used to eating offal, but as a child, I think roughly half our meals were made up of these bits and bobs – they are both cheap and tasty. We had tripe, kidneys, liver and, one of my favourites, heart. I have never got the taste for sweetbreads or brains – I think because even back then, these were delicacies and too expensive for our table. When we had hearts they were never calf's hearts (I don't think I ever saw one, and to be honest, since getting this, I've never seen one again), always lambs' hearts (nice and portion sized) or ox heart (quite tough and needs really long cooking).

Veal in the 1960s was frantically expensive milk veal imported from Holland, and I don’t think we ever ate it. It is such a pity that rose veal wasn’t about then.  Now, with the rise in popularity of ethically farmed rose veal, which allows farmers to raise the bull calves they would have slaughtered as worthless in the past, fresh veal and liver are not as frighteningly expensive as they once were. When you consider that our dairy herds are producing calves in order to continue to produce the milk we want, you can see that this must have meant a disgraceful waste.

Heart needs long slow cooking, and although you may read that it can be roasted, I think this is never successful. Unless you really enjoy eating a rugby ball (both in looks and texture) then I would recommend a long, slow, braise.

So, coming to the heart of the matter… here is how I cook it.  I paid just £2.40 for a decent-sized heart which weighed around 700g untrimmed. You have to allow for trimming, and you have to expect the heart to look like a heart. If you're using lamb's hearts reckon one to one-and-half per person. Don’t imagine you will get neatly cut pieces in a polystyrene tray. This is what eating real meat is about, and we all need to accept that our meat is a body part and comes from a real animal.. (rant over…)

Trim away all the tubes and stringy bits from the top third of the heart, leaving yourself the meaty lower part. This is the same for lamb's hearts, by the way. Ox heart tends to be already cut into slices.

Slice this meaty part into thin slices, roughly 15mm thick, and soak this in cold water with a tablespoon of vinegar for around 10 minutes. This will clean out any bits of blood that may have been missed in the butchery.

Whilst the meat is soaking, slice up a couple of onions, some carrots, turnips and swede, and pop all the vegetables in the pressure cooker, or into a flameproof casserole dish if you are cooking this in the oven. Drain the meat and add to the vegetables, mixing well. Add around a pint and a bit of water, some stock powder or a stock cube, a tablespoonful of Lea and Perrins and a good shake of dried thyme. Stir it all up.

If you are using a pressure cooker, bring to high pressure and cook for 45 minutes (an hour for ox heart). If cooking in the oven, bring to the boil, then transfer to the oven and cook for 3-4 (5-6 for ox heart) hours at Gas Mark 3 ( 165 C).

Thicken lightly with flour (depending on how thick you like your gravy around a tablespoon of flour, slake with cold water and add some of the hot stock before mixing into the main part of the stew to avoid lumps) and simmer for a further 15 mins whilst you cook some potatoes and fresh green vegetable of some kind (I used spring greens).  Serve in nice deep soup plates with a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

This should feed a not too hungry family of four (two adults and two children) or me and my starving husband…..