Time to share another vintage recipe, this time from the Constance Spry Cookery Book by Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume, first published in 1956.
Ms Spry (1886-1960) was a well known society florist before the outbreak of world war II. During the war, drawing on previous experience as a teacher of cookery and sewing she wrote Come Into The Garden, Cook which contained fairly radical advice for the time.
“Here we are in the middle of the war, rationed and restricted as never before, with economy and belt tightening the order of the day, and yet I want to cry out about the food.
It would be safe enough if I meant to paint a dim picture, to accentuate difficulties, to concentrate on leftovers and the best use of roots.But I don’t mean to do that at all; I want to emphasize that we have better ingredients than almost any other country and that we frequently treat them abominably”
It was unashamedly aimed at upper middle class women who were, probably for the first time, going into the kitchen and having to cook. She hoped that cooking would become an enjoyable and fashionable hobby for these women and that the enjoyment of good food would spread down the social classes from there….
After the war, with her friend Rosemary Hume, she opened Winkfield a domestic science school ( where coronation chicken was invented for the coronation of Elizabeth II) Where she was able to return to her love of flowers and spent many years cultivating antique roses.
The Constance Spry Cookery Book is a fantastic collection of recipes and I would put it on the list of essential books for anyone with a passion for good food. It’s still in print but I have an eye catching bright pink copy from 1967.
Monte Carlo potatoes are a deliciously savoury supper dish but they took a lot more work than I expected, make sure it’s not your turn to wash up!
Monte Carlo Potatoes serves 4
4 large (but not supersized) baking potatoes
2 fillets of white fish (I used river cobbler which was half the price of cod or haddock and isn’t as powerfully “fishy” as pollock can be, it’s very much like a white trout)
2 sweetcorn cobs or a 300g tin of sweetcorn
1 onion or a couple of shallots
200ml milk and extra for poaching
1 tbsp plain flour
a slice of bread whizzed into crumbs
hard cheese such as cheddar
lots of butter
salt and pepper
Two and a half hours before you want to eat, wash the potatoes and put them in the oven to bake. Wrapping them in foil is unnecessary and please, please don’t microwave them, it makes them tasteless and tough.
After one and a half hours have passed, lightly season the fish with salt and pepper and poach gently in milk until cooked. Set aside.
Chop the onion or shallots finely and fry in about 25g of butter and a tsp of olive oil, until translucent. Slice the kernels off the corn cobs and add to the pan, season with a pinch of salt and fry until everything is lightly browned. Set aside.
Make a white sauce by melting 15g of butter in a saucepan and adding the flour to make a roux. Let it cook for a minute, stirring all the time. Off the heat gradually add the 200ml of milk. Return to the heat and stir continually until the sauce has thickened. Add a tsp of mustard, wholegrain would be best but most other mustards would work just fine. Set aside.
The potatoes should be done by now, take them out of the oven, cut each one in half and scoop the middle into a bowl, leaving the skins intact. Mash the potato in the bowl with a large knob of butter and a splash of milk, until smooth. Set aside.
Put the empty potato skins on a baking tray and divide the sweetcorn mix between them. Flake the fish and divide it up between the skins. Top each filled skin with some mustard sauce. Now divide the mashed potato equally between the skins. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and some grated cheese and return to the oven until the tops have browned. Phew!
Constance designed the flower arrangements for the Queens coronation in 1953
David Austin’s first commercially available rose was named after her.