Thursday, May 7, 2020

Jane Grigson's English Food and Pancakes

It's quite hard to talk about lockdown because the one thing I'm realising more clearly by the day is that I don't know 2 people who are having the same experience. What does seem clear is that nerves and tempers are becoming more frayed, making it all to easy to unintentionally piss people off or upset them.

For me the last 7 weeks have been a sort of golden bubble of sun, and peace, but there's a nagging anxiety about what the future is going to be and how I'm going to find a job which is increasingly hard to avoid. I want lockdown to ease enough so that I can see at least a couple of people (actual social interactions have mostly been shouting across to strangers about how beautiful their dogs are) and start finding a new normal but after all this time alone I'm not sure how easy that's going to be.

I wish I could congratulate myself on how productively I've used this rare opportunity to have weeks of time with no particular responsibilities - but I've spent a lot of time looking longingly out of the window instead. The one thing I have really done though is start cooking properly again and after a decade of fitting meals around a not very accommodating work rota that is something I can quietly celebrate.

I love cooking, but it had become a chore when I didn't get home until around 9 at night and had to be back at work for 8am the next day. As food is currently a source of real excitement in my day all of that joy in cooking has come back in spades. Not being able to buy exactly what I want when I want it has made me much more adventurous as well. Cookbooks are no longer gathering dust and what the hell, I might as well celebrate the positives where I can find them.

When I was looking up different recipes trying to trace the difference between drop scones and pancakes I had a good look through Jane Grigson. I didn't initially expect to find much, but she's a joy to read and it turned out she did have things to say about pancakes. Both of the recipes she gave are high on my list of things to do when I can cook for other people again. They are 'Pancakes for the Rich' and 'Harvest Pancakes for the Poor'.

Grigson explains that these kind of recipes are still commonplace in France, but seem to have more or less disappeared from English cooking. She also differentiates them by pointing out that in France the rich mans pancakes would be a Sunday treat, the harvest pancakes an everyday family dish.

Pancakes for the rich are a crepe like affair made with 125g of butter, 300ml of single cream, 90g of flour, 1 large egg, 2 tablespoons of brown sherry (probably amontillado or oloroso) 1/2 a grated nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon of either rose water or orange flower water. Melt the butter over a low heat, add to the cream, and with remaining ingredients make a pancake batter. Cook in your preferred pancake pan keeping them nice and thin.

Harvest pancakes call for 150g of flour, 300ml of milk or mild ale, a medium egg, 1/2 a teaspoon of powdered ginger, and lard to grease the pan. Mix the flour to a batter with the milk or ale and the egg, flavour with ginger, and fry in lard in a heavy pan. Try out a small pancake first to see if the consistency is good adding more liquid if it's to thick. Chopped apple was sometimes added to enliven the pancakes.

The result should apparently be quite solid and heavy, and were originally reckoned as a substitute for both bread and meat. Grigson says they make an excellent picnic food particularly if you wrap them around a fried sausage or a finger length of pate, or cream cheese with chives. If you have a griddle suitable for outside cooking they also sound like a great thing to cook on a beach or over a campfire (which is something else to look forward to).

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