A very vegan xmas

Fear not. I’m not referring to mine. I have quite a few deep-seated objections to veganism, on a number of levels. However, I am always up for a challenge, and The Kitchen Cabinet from Stonehenge presented a very vegan one. We covered alternatives to meaty meals, specifically entirely animal-product free alternatives. It’s not easy being veggie at this time of year, and TKC is nothing if not inclusive and relevant to everyone. (Expect kale lovers, to be fair, but we have tried to be nice about kale several times). Anyway. Christmas is a time for feasting, and feasting usually means meat. It goes back a very long way. Meat was expensive (and good meat from well-cared for animals still is, rightly). Meat showed prestige, hospitality in action and, if it was beef, which was the main Christmas dish from the 17th century to the 19th century, it showed British patriotism. Voluntary vegetarians were regarded as weird, vegans even more so. They existed, certainly, often called Pythagoreans after the 1st century BC mathematician and philosopher. But they were usually religious cranks, who believed that meat eating made us warlike and bloody, and whose suggested alternatives were decidedly horrid. It made no sense in a time before cheap meat protein was readily available to all, to decide to eat like the poor. After all, the vast majority of people ate little or no meat because they simply couldn’t afford it. It’s only when meat became plentiful and, eventually, intensively raised, cheap and in some cases pretty nasty, that first the mainstream vegetarian movement and, in the 1960s, the vegan movement, really took off. It only looks like a protest if you don’t do what everyone else does, right?

For The Kitchen Cabinet, we wanted to come up with viable alternatives to the overwhelming focus on meat at Christmas. Frankly I’d far rather eat good vegetarian food than the usual horrendous turkey on offer anyway (and usually do, at the unending mass-catered Christmas lunch scenarios which are the lot of a public speaker from time to time). Just….no eggs? no cheese? No. But I will do anything for that show.

My pick? World War II, when meat was scarce and eked out inventively, and when nutrition and its application to a population at war was a genuine preoccupation of the government. My source? Ambrose Heath’s New Dishes For Old (1942). Here is the original:

heath 1942

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Basically, vegetable roll wins on nutrition and is delicious and hearty. Um.

I’ve tried quite a few WWII recipes. Most of them are vile. Limited fat, sugar, dried eggs….And I’m totally unconvinced that the exotic ‘meat substitutes’ like mock goose and mock turkey were really ever cooked. Too much hassle, not enough time, and let’s face it, it is never going to look or feel like goose. When cooking this for TKC, I wanted it to taste nice. Really taste nice. And by and large the verdict was good (I’m still trying to live down the Anglo-Saxon poverty pottage, which we don’t ever talk about). If you do want to have a crack at it – or, indeed use any wartime recipe as a basis for something you’d actively want to eat – here’s what I recommend.

  1. Forget there’s a war on. There isn’t anymore, or at least, not one involving rationing. So don’t scrimp on the fat, and for god’s sake don’t scrimp on the spice.
  2. Seasonings are VITAL.
  3. I used butter beans, boiled, blended with raw garlic, salt, pepper, cayenne, and tonnes of parsley and thyme and olive oil to make a sort of aioli for the base. It was very spicy by the time I’d finished.
  4. For veg, texture is key. Boil some, fry some, bake some. Err on the side of hefty flavours – celeriac, Jerusalem fartichoke, actual celery, carrot, cabbage. Nothing too watery. Heath boils stuff in stock. I used water and then added my usual standby of mushroom castup. I also used shedloads of marmite, but in all honesty, I can’t remember whether I added it to the veg, the beans or everything.
  5. The sage and onion/leek stuffing down the middle is a very important thing.
  6. I did it in a loaf tin through fear of crackage. If I hadn’t been going all out vegan, I’d’ve added some eggs for binding purposes.
  7. Nuts would be nice as well as rolled oats on the outside.

That’s about it. It certainly isn’t roast beef and yorkshire puddings. But it was nicer than bad, over-cooked, brown beef with freezer burn roast beef and flaccid yorkies, which I have to admit I’ve experienced more than I’d like to have done. All in all – credible. And good cold for lunches (especially fried in dripping with a bit o bacon on the side…)

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Savoury Vegetable Roll. These ones were done for a talk on rationing food at Wakefield Museum and got a mixed reception. They were quite spicy…

 

Further reading:

-Colin Spencer, The Heretic’s Feast – an excellent history of vegetarianism
-Lizzie Collingham, A Taste of War – harrowing and detailed account of wartime food policy and its impact on the various nations involved in WW2
-The You Are What You Ate project (Leeds Uni, Bradford Uni, Wakefield Council and The Wellcome Trust – a brilliant project linking past foodways to modern eating habits)

 

 

Carrot jam (several ways)

Another James Martin: Home Comforts-related post, this time about carrot jam, the recipe for which I have had several requests. I first cooked carrot jam for a laugh. A friend emailed me the recipe for it as published in an 1858 copy of the English Domestic Woman’s Magazine. The EDWM was one of Samuel Beeton’s titles, and Isabella Beeton, of The Book of Household Management fame, cut her culinary writing teeth within its pages. She compiled a column called ‘Cookery, Pickling and Preserving’, out of which would eventually come the idea of the Book of Household Management. It’s still the best known historic recipe book in Britain, and had never been out of print, despite its many, many flaws. One thing is does have going for it is that it does tend to have a recipe for everything, including carrot jam. Beeton’s version, which will either have been plagiarised, as per most of ‘her’ recipes or, possibly, given it appeared first in the EDWM, sent in by a reader, is a rare thing when it comes to her recipes – it’s brilliant. Plus, the instructions are spot on. She tells you straight that it won’t last without brandy: it doesn’t. Blue mould, folks! Here’s her recipe.

This one is from an c.1888 edition of the BoHM, but the text is the same as that in the English Domestic Woman's Magazine in 1858
This one is from an c.1888 edition of the BoHM, but the text is the same as that in the English Domestic Woman’s Magazine in 1858

This is classic mock cookery, and it works, If you don’t tell people it’s carrot jam, they will ponder, purse their lips, and eventually guess at apricot, mainly because it looks orange (and the almonds and brandy are confusing). It’s also indicative of a strong tradition of lower class cookery which isn’t always talked about as much as middle and upper class cuisine now. We tend to rely on books as sources for recipes. Cookery books are usually aspirational and/or didactic, and they rarely reflect the everyday – just think about whether any one, or indeed, several, cookery books on your own shelves, taken out of context and without you saying things like ‘I’ve never cooked that’, or ‘I don’t use that recipe because I’ve got one in my head that’s better’, would give an accurate view of what you eat over the course of a week. Plus, the stuff that’s fancy is more interesting for people to watch on TV.

Carrot jam is a very practical recipe. No need for expensive fruit – sugar is pretty cheap by the end of the 19th century – and carrots glut and don’t keep that well. And it’s tasty, so everyone’s a winner. The recipe knocks about for a while, but disappears from the 1930s editions of Beeton and, we can only presume, the wider culinary repertoire (if it was ever part of most people’s repertoire, which is impossible to tell. The fact a recipe is in a book is no guarantee it was ever cooked). Then comes the Second World War and, with it, rationing, the Dig for Victory campaign and a massive carrot glut. Cue carrot madness. The Ministry of Food wanted people to eat the glut, so promoted carrot recipes through the various channels at their command – The Kitchen Front on the BBC, the official pamphlets, and by spreading the rumour that carrots help you see in the dark. They encouraged the idea that that was how Allied bomber pilots were so accurate in night flying, which also helped muddy the waters of exactly how far advanced experiments with radar were. Meanwhile, to help with gluts of fruit, extra sugar rations were available for jam making…the stage was set for a carrot jam comeback!

Whenever I cook carrot jam, I’m greeted with nostalgia and cries of ‘that’s a wartime recipe’. And so it is – but the wartime version was a adaptation of a somewhat earlier recipe. (The same is true of many rationing recipes – poverty cooking has always made use of grown or foraged ingredients, and ever lacked fat, sugar and meat). The wartime version omitted the brandy and the almonds, and just contained sugar and carrots. There’s slightly less sugar to carrot pulp, and the lemon flavour was provided by lemon essence, or boiling apple peel in a bag.

The version I made for James Martin: Home Comforts, was the wartime one, which can be found here, on the website of the endlessly fascinating World Carrot Museum. If you really want to make it at home though, I’d recommend the Beeton one above, substituting a few drops of almond essence (check the label and try and get bitter almond essence) for the bitter almonds, (which can be challenging to obtain due to the bit where they contain cyanide). I’d also suggest using jam sugar (the stuff with added pectin), so that you get a decent set – it’s quite sloppy otherwise – and taking the whole lot a couple of degrees above the standard set point of 104.5c. I never bother with the wrinkle test – a decent digital thermometer is every cook’s friend. Have fun.

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Jam pan in action. TKMaxx sometimes has them, if you really really want one of your own.
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Looks like apricot preserve….

Here is the full clip, which is now up permanently on the James Martin: Home Comforts website, thanks to the lovely BBC listening to all your comments about wanting the recipes and deciding it would be a good idea. Stuffed Lettuces and Kedgeree are also up.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02jtywc/player