Monday, April 23, 2007

St George’s Day.

Today, April 23rd …

Today is the feast day of St George, the patron saint of England. In honour of the day, Sam at Becks‘n Posh has challenged bloggers to demonstrate why English food is not a joke.

A joke is something open to ridicule, not to be taken seriously, a laughing-stock. I put it to you that English food must be taken very seriously. There is nothing ridiculous about oysters from Chester, cheese from Wensleydale, bacon from Bath (especially that from the cheeks or chaps of the local pig), apples from Somerset, and roast beef from just about anywhere. Sure, the names of some English puddings are good for a laugh – Spotted Dick comes to mind – but a laughing stock they are not. One might gasp with delight at a fine summer berry pudding or an apple pie (with clotted cream from Devon, please) but they demand to be enjoyed most seriously.

Given the fantastic range of fresh produce, wild game, artisanal cheeses,and specially bred stock in the various (and varied) regions of England, plus a written corpus of historic recipes dating back to the fourteenth century – what to choose to make my point?

Naturally I am inclined to provide a recipe with some historic significance today. In spite of a huge range of possibilities, I made my choice easily. Hare Soup has a fine lineage, and is particularly associated with St George, or at least with St George’s Day dinners – although I have no idea why. The famous French chef Antonin Carême (1784-1833), the man referred to as “the chef of kings and the king of chefs” was for a short while the Chef to the Prince Regent. He made Hare Soup from an English recipe, and it is said he dedicated it to St George – perhaps that is where the association developed.

Here is a recipe for it from the very English Mrs Elizabeth Raffald’s book, The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769).

To make a Hare Soup.
Cut a large old hare in small pieces, and put it in a mug with three blades of mace, a little salt, two large onions, one red herring, six morels, half a pint of red wine, three quarts of water. Bake it in a quick oven three hours, then strain it into a tossing pan. Have ready boiled three ounces of French barley or sago in water. Scald the liver of the hare in boiling water two minutes, rub it through a hair sieve with the back of a wooden spoon, put it into the soup with the barley or sago and a quarter of a pound of butter. Set it over the fire, keep stirring it but don’t let it boil. If you don’t like liver put in crisped bread steeped in wine. This is a rich soup and proper for a large entertainment where two soups are required, almond or onion for the top, and hare soup for the bottom.*

* Hannah is referring to the placement of the soups at the top and bottom of the table. Dishes were arranged on the table in her day with geometric precision in strict formal order, in the form of service known as service à la française. The method may have produced an impressive display, but the food must have had plenty of time to cool by the time guests sat down.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Chocolate Malted Milk Cake.

Quotation for the Day …

[Soup] … must be the agent provocateur of a good dinner. Carême


Anonymous said...

Great post in defense of English food. The quote is perfect. I love reading your blog. Thanks.

Sam said...

thank you for your entry - it made it to the roundup in time


Anonymous said...

English food is not well known around the world, which is a shame. But then again, those things that are not popularized nor globalized have a chance of being most pure and wonderful in surprising and fulfilling ways.

I smile at English food sometimes, in a good way, in a way that makes me happy in my heart as well as in my tummy. I hope that it never loses this sort of appeal, one that is purely its own, one that belongs to the British Isles, one that has a certain sense of personality.

So here's to St. George and all he represents!

I'd love to see you start a book solely on British Cookery, Janet. That would be very nice.

Anonymous said...

I think the epitome of British food is roast beef (regardless of French scorn). Delish! What I do not like are British sauces (thin and too watery for my American taste) and the current trend of British cooks to whip a sauce into an airy foam to crown their dish. Too reminiscent of haute cuisine! Ban the foam! And I agree - you ought to write a book.

Free Samples said...
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