I am going to England in July. To Oxford for the Food Symposium and then driving around the Cotswolds and Cornwall soaking up history and all that gorgeous English countryside and FOOD! Planning my trip got me to thinking about all things English and my mind wandered toward that British institution, Constance Spry (1886-1960), whose cookbook had come to my attention a few months ago thanks to the wonderful blog The Aesthete Cooks . Through the wonders of world commerce, I got a copy through Amazon UK in no time at all (the book was £2. It is available in the US for a few dollars more, just click the link!). I discovered that THE CONSTANCE SPRY COOKERY BOOK is considered the bible of English cookbooks (not unlike Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in America). Large (1200 pages) and thorough (2000 recipes), it was written in the 50s when Spry reached the height of her success with her floral work on Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, and with her Coronation Chicken (a creamy curried salad) made for luncheon for the visiting dignitaries and devised with Rosemary Hume, her partner in a home sciences and finishing school, Winkfield Place. Although Hume was the more accomplished cook, Spry supplied the star power for the school. She was the Martha Stewart of England for generations.
Spry was most famous for her flowers and entertaining advice and not as much for food and The Aesthete Cooks does a great job telling the story of her work (as does The Design Museum ) and her influence on flower arranging as she moved arrangements from stodgy to interesting (with clever containers) inspired by 17th c Dutch still lifes. This is how I knew of Spry… as a society florist to clients like The Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Spry once said “I do feel strongly that flowers should be a means of self-expression for everyone.” Starting with her first, Flower Decoration in 1934, most of Spry’s books were on flower arranging and all were written clearly and concisely advocating the use of common plants (like Kale!!) in designs and full of sensible information like how to make flowers last as well as professional florist’s secrets.
During WWII she advocated growing and eating your own food in Come Into the Garden, Cook. Other later books like Hostess gave tips for everything from preparing food to running a household to entertaining weekend guests but in my mind Spry had always been about flowers.
She was to English flowers what Gertrude Jekyll was to English gardens. She had a rose named after her! That she was connected to a cookbook was a delightful surprise.
With so many recipes to choose from, it was difficult to know where to begin (I will be sharing more of these recipes with you!) but I decided on a lovely fish mousse called Supremes de Poisson Parisienne. It is a delightful first course or luncheon dish with a spectacular sauce somewhere between a veloute and a hollandaise that is all languorous velvet and luxury in the mouth. They can be made in a mold or simply in quenelles (tablespoon shaped dumplings). They are light and elegant and a fitting introduction to Spry’s mid-century world. It is a perfect dish for all those table-scapers out there…pull out the luncheon china, fine napery, polish that fish set and arrange those flowers!
Honestly, although it seems fancy, it can be made in less than an hour! I made the quenelles too and then reheated them with some capellini tossed in the sauce for a lovely leftover.
Supremes de Poisson Parisienne
½ lb. boneless, skinless white fish (haddock or sole)
2 small egg whites
½ c cream
S + P
¾ oz butter (1 ¾ T)
½ oz. flour (2 ½ T)
¾ c fish fumet (fish stock with wine*)
¾ c cream
1-2 T lemon juice to taste
Tarragon sprig, optional
2 egg yolks *
1/3 c cream
12 shrimp, sliced in half
4 shitake mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 T butter
1 T lemon juice
Put fish in processor and process until paste, add eggs then cream and salt and pepper.
Put into 4 small molds and drop into slow boiling water to cover about 7- 10 minutes OR make into Quenelles with 2 tablespoons (it makes 8-10). Put into slow boiling water and poach for 5-7 minutes, turning once.
For the sauce: Melt butter and add flour and cook for a few moments. Slowly add the fumet until a sauce is formed. Add the cream and lemon juice to taste. You can leave a sprig of tarragon in the sauce while it sits for flavor or chop the tarragon and sprinkle on top as you serve. Just before serving, warm, add the beaten egg yolk and cream and warm a few moments for a silky yellow sauce (my pasture-raised eggs have insanely yellow yolks).
For the Garnish: Saute the shrimp and mushroom slices in butter, toss with lemon juice and sprinkle on the plates. Pour sauce over all.
* I always save fish bones (white fish like cod, trout etc) and shrimp & lobster shells in the freezer till I get enough to make a pot of fish fumet. That way it’s nearly free. Saute a little onion, garlic, carrot and celery in butter and add the bones and shells, bay leaf and peppercorns then toss in 2 c white wine to around 8 cups of water (the liquid should just cover the bones) and cook for 90 minutes at a slow simmer (if you have a hot plate you can make it outside if you don’t like that fish smell in the kitchen) then strain, pushing on the solids. Let it sit for a while and the solids will settle to the bottom, then package. Put it in 1 c bags and store in the freezer and then you can make lovely fish sauces in a flash!
*the eggs from Grazin Angus Acres in Union Square make the sauce this color... they are fabulous eggs
Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!!!