Most of us are familiar with Eccles cakes – dried fruit (mainly currants) encased in circles of pastry. If you’re interested in regional cookery you may have heard of the similar Chorley cake and Coventry God cakes. I had never heard of the Yorkshire pasty before, though a quick Google shows that many from the Yorkshire area remember their mothers and grandmothers making these treats from carefully handed down family recipes.
What stood out and made me want to try them was the addition of fresh mint to the usual currant and spice combo. The recipe isn’t terribly helpful, so I had to improvise a bit. Also I’m not keen on currants, so I used raisins and sultanas. Candied peel from supermarkets can be hard and bitter, if you can make your own that would be best, otherwise the best you can afford. If you hate the stuff, use grated orange zest instead.
As for the shape, there doesn’t seem to be any strict rules; you could go for any of these:
Quite honestly, although I could happily have eaten several, each bite was such a taste surprise it was hard to say if I actually liked them. I guess I must have!
Yorkshire Mint Pasty
1 sheet of shortcrust pastry or homemade pastry made with 120g plain flour and 60g fat ( this could be butter, vegetable fat, margarine or lard)
7 tbsp Mixed dried fruit, or your own blend of raisins, currants, sultanas and candied peel (I used 3 tbsp raisins, 3 tbsp sultanas and 1 tbsp candied peel
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1 or 2 tbsp Chopped fresh mint leaves
1. Mix the fruit, peel, sugar, mint and spice in a bowl.
2. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface. Cut into shapes if you want, though you can just sprinkle the filling over half of the pastry, fold it over, and cut into rectangles (a bit like a Garibaldi biscuit).
3. Divide the mixture between the pastry shapes. Dot with little blobs of butter. Seal the pasties with a little water. If you like they can be glazed with egg and sprinkled with sugar.
4. Bake at 180/160 fan/gas mark 4 until golden brown around the edges. Cool on a wire rack.
Coventry God cakes were traditionally given to Godchildren by their Godparents at the start of the new year.
This book review has been a long time coming because I’ve been busy doing studenty things at university; now it’s lockdown/holiday, let’s see if we can catch up a bit. Actually lockdown has been a good opportunity to catch up on the recipes in this book, because there are like, a lot…
In the early 1930’s Florence White was concerned that the English way of life was going down the drain; people couldn’t cook properly anymore and were eating too much fancy foreign muck. I wonder if she read the Daily Mail too?
Before our precious traditions were “crushed out of existence” she endeavoured to compile a book of traditional and regional recipes. Some came from older books, others were sent in by the man (or woman) on the street. Strangely enough these traditional recipes include various curry and pillau dishes, and lump in Stotch, Irish and Welsh dishes under the general banner of “England” but we’ll gloss over that.
The methods aren’t always clear, some ingredients are nigh on impossible to find, some recipes are just gross; but it was interesting to see how, and indeed how little, English food has changed over the centuries. So here goes..
Good Things in England by Florence White. First published 1932
Why did you buy the book?
I think it’s mentioned as one of the all time classic cookbooks in NicolaHumble’s marvellous book Culinary Pleasures, an excellent reference for beginner collectors.
Judge a book by it’s cover…
It’s naff, but it was the seventies so we’ll let them off. You’ve never seen a less appetizing salmon roll in your life.
Do you use it?
Not necessarily to cook from, but as a useful reference when researching vintage recipes.
What did you make?
A bunch of stuff. There are a lot of sections, so I tried to cover a bit of everything, which is probably why it’s taken me six months. Ok, we tried mock turtle soup (but without the calf’s head) which was nice, could be used a an interesting starter for a themed dinner party; baked fish with bacon and peas, mock hare – basically a fillet of beef seasoned like game – then ‘Hindle Wakes’ a slow cooked chicken flavoured with lemon and prunes, then coated with streaky bacon and finished in the oven, I recall that one being pretty good. For pudding we had apple pie scented with rosewater, Ripon ginger cake, Shrewsbury cakes (actually biscuits), Gypsy bread and Yorkshire mint pasties (more on those later). I wanted to make the older version of Bath buns but you just can’t get caraway comfits anymore!
Is it still in print?
Surprisingly, yes. It must really be a classic then.
Is it worth buying?
That’s a tough question. You won’t find it much good for everyday cooking. Modern tastes and reliable supplies of food mean we’re unlikely to be making brain sauce or rook pie anytime soon; we don’t need seven ways to cure meat or sixteen varieties of gingerbread. However, it is interesting from a historical or research point of view, or if you like collecting vintage books.
Henry I died from a “surfeit of lampreys”, a gross slimey fish.
Do you suffer from soggy bottom? Does blind baking give you a burnt crust? Our discreet and confidential blog can help you with your pastry problems.
It makes me sad that most recipes for pies and tarts start with telling you how much ready made pastry you will need, or worse a pre baked case, when homemade pastry tastes so much better and really isn’t as hard or mysterious as some baking T.V shows would have you believe. Unless you are an expert I would recommend buying ready made puff or filo pastry; but shortcrust, sweet pastry, suet crust and rough puff can all be made successfully at home.
I’ve always been pretty good with pastry, which I put down to two factors:
Impatience: Being keen to get that sucker in the oven prevented overhandling. I didn’t know this for years, but overhandling pastry warms up the fat too much and activates the gluten in the flour, so you end up with pastry that is greasy and tough. Likewise, gathering up and re-rolling the scraps too many times will give you tough pastry that shrinks in the case.I try not to re-roll more than twice.
Cold Hands: Normally a problem, but great for pastry. All ingredients should be cool or chilled, to prevent the fat melting. Once the pastry has been kneaded till smooth (but not too much remember!), chill in the fridge or a cool place for half an hour. Try not to chill for much longer or you will have the problem of the pastry being too hard to roll out. If you suspect it has been over chilled, let it warm up for 15 mins.
Lets do a bit more troubleshooting.
Fat: All butter pastry sounds great, but it really isn’t ‘all that’. All butter can be overly rich with a surprisingly bland flavour and cloying texture. Keep ‘all butter’ for your sweet pastries. For normal shortcrust pastry with a nice crisp texture use a 50/50 blend of butter and another hard fat, either lard or white vegetable fat (such as “Crisp ‘n’ Dry”). I strongly advise against margarine unless you have some kind of dietary issues that mean you can’t use butter.
Suet crust is amazing the day it is made, but goes tough and mealy the next day. Beef or vegetable suet are both good but beef tastes better.
Soggy bottoms can be avoided in two ways. First and most common is ‘blind baking’ where you cover the inside of the pastry case with baking paper or foil and weigh it down with ceramic baking beans or actual dried beans. Don’t use rice, if any gets stuck to the pastry it’s really annoying to get off. The biggest problem is the exposed crust gets baked during this process and then burns when the tart is cooked. You can cover the edges with foil, or a special silicone thingy made for this purpose. I’ve never used one, so I don’t know how effective they are. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Talisman-Designs-Adjustable-Crust-Shield/dp/B005FYC9XM
Second, and my prefered method, is to make smaller, indiviual sized pies and tarts. These don’t need blind baking at all. Just fill ’em up and bake, putting them on a baking tray to aid even heat distribution. It may seem like a hassle to make individual tarts but it’s worth it. You also don’t get the problem of all the filling squidging out when you cut the first slice.
Remember to cool the tart for 10 mins or so in the tin, but then take it out to finish cooling on a wire rack or the trapped steam will make your crispy bottom moist again!
Ratio: Half the weight of the weight of the flour, in fat. So if you have 260g of flour (which will make four 15cm tarts or pies) you will need 130g of fat, preferably 75g each of butter and white vegetable fat. Some rich pastry recipies might suggest more, that’s ok, but it will be much more delicate and require careful handling.
Lining the case: Rolling the pastry out nice and thin and then trying to transport it to the tin draped over the rolling pin often leads to tearing, breaking and anger. Use this handy method stolen from Mary Berry:
Puff Pastry was invented circa 1645 by apprentice pastrycook Claudius Gele
The yearly consumerfest that starts in late October. It’s not Christmas yet dudes.
Each to their own though eh?
Let’s consider for a moment the modern mince pie. Over sweet, too rich, too many raisins with bits of stalk or pips, enough allspice to choke a horse and in the case of factory produced pies, that awful pastry that is thick and cloying or dissapears into unpleasant dust when you bite into it. Do people actually like mince pies or is it just cultural indoctrination, you have to eat them because that’s what you do at Christmas right?
And yet, properly made home made pies with fresh mincemeat, no suet, proper spices and crispy pastry are a thing of unsurpassed beauty.
Try it, and I give you special permission to eat them any time of year!
A Better Mince Pie
For the pastry:
10 oz (270g) plain flour
2.5 oz (45g) butter
2.5 oz (45g) hard vegetable fat or lard
pinch of salt
Rub the fats into the flour and salt, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Gradually add small amounts of cold water and stir around with a knife until the dough starts to clump together. Using your hands, bring the clumps together into a ball (adding a touch more water if it’s too dry) and knead briefly until smooth. Chill the dough in the fridge for half an hour.
For the mincemeat:
1 apple, any kind
1oz (30g) raisins
1oz (30g) sultanas
0.5oz (15g) flaked or chopped almonds
1oz (30g) brown sugar
1tbsp booze, whiskey, rum, brandy or suchlike, I used whiskey
1tbsp soft butter
¼ tsp each of ground cloves, ground cinnamon and ground mace (or nutmeg but mace is nicer)
the grated zest of one lemon
1tbsp lemon juice
Grate the apple into a bowl. Add all the other ingredients and mix well. You could replace the almonds will any other dried fruit or nut if you like. Leave covered at room temerature for half an hour for the flavours to blend.
Grease a 12 hole patty tin. Pre heat the oven to 190°c/170 fan/gas mark 5.
Roll the pastry out on a floured surface to the thickness of a pound coin. Cut out 12 circles large enough to cover the holes in the tin. A 3.5 inch cutter will probably do it, it depends on your tin and your cutter. Put a teaspoon of mincemeat into each pie, don’t overfill or it will ooze out in the oven. Roll out the pastry again and cut out 12 more, slightly smaller circles. Put one on top of each pie and press down gently.
Poke a small hole in each pie to let the steam out. Brush with milk or beaten egg and sprinkle with a little granulated sugar.
Bake until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.
The problem with pies is getting the first slice out of the dish. The pastry falls to bits as you try to dig it out, then of course (unless you have a super thick filling) the inside comes oozing out to fill the gap.
Individual pies are the way forward folks. The filling stays in the middle and no one can complain that someone else’s bit is bigger than theirs (you know who you are!) They’re easier to make too. Less pastry to handle in one go and no need to blind bake.
Talking of pastry, for a simple rustic fruit pie don’t bother with a sweet or all butter pastry. Half the weight of the flour needs to be fat. I use equal amounts of butter and hard white vegetable fat, though you could use lard. This will give you a lovely crispy pastry with a slight savoury edge that complements a sweet but tart filling nicely.
Finally, the secret of making good pastry? Cold hands!