Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Good Old Idea.

April 3 …

I know I have said this before, but I am constantly surprised that cooks and chefs do not look to the past for inspiration when trying to invent ‘new’ dishes. For those of you in this situation professionally, I dedicate today’s story.

The English Folk Cookery Association was founded in 1928 in “an attempt to capture the charm of England's cookery before it is completely crushed out of existence.” The Association actively sought local and national recipes which were in danger of being lost. In 1930, the following story was submitted by Miss Janet Esdaile, from the charmingly-named Milton-under-Wychwood, in Oxfordshire.

‘The other day my landlady served me with a delicious vegetable. It looked like very young and tender asparagus in the dish, but peat colour instead of pale green, and it had rather a strong smell. I was quite at a loss to identify it by colour and smell except that it reminded me of walking past a root field. Its taste was not unlike parsnips but not nearly so sweet and it melted in the moth. It was swede shoots. My shepherd landlord told me he picked them off the sprouting roots when he unearthed the bury. They keep their delicate orange colour till they reach the light. The can only be had just at this time of the year (April) and round here the gentry consider them a great delicacy. "Us poor folk don't trouble about 'em," were his words.’

This is surely a good old idea worthy of making new again? Swede shoots could be the new micro-salad (is white asparagus passé yet?). Just remember folks, you heard it (or re-heard it) here first.

The swede is, of course, a turnip. A large sweet yellow turnip to be sure, a type said to have been introduced first to Scotland from Sweden in the early 1780’s. Until you can buy swede shoots at the local market, you will have to be satisfied with the mature root. Any plain turnip recipe can be made more colourfully with the swede, although the white would clearly be preferable to mimic pears, as in the following recipe, from Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (circa 1870’s).

Turnips, Glacés.
Select a few firm turnips; turn, in the shape of pears, a sufficient number to cover or fill the dish; stew them in a little broth with a little sugar, which reduce to glaze, and add to it a little glaze. When equally glazed, dish them; take a spoonful of Spanish sauce to detach the glaze that remains in the stewpan, with a small bit of butter twice as big as a walnut, which work with the sauce. Pour the sauce over the turnips after you have given it a good seasoning.

[The cookbook does not indicate whether you should try to pass the glazed turnips off as glazed pears. It seems a shame not to, after all that carving. ]

Tomorrow’s Story …

To solve the dinner problem.

Quotation for the Day …

The turnip is a capricious vegetable, which seems reluctant to show itself at its best.”
Waverley Root.

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