When I was young, I stayed in hotels when I traveled. It was a different world. Without computers, you were bound to travel agents who were able to connect with the world through the magic of the Telex (a sort of proto-text message system in real time with hard-copy sends and replies).
When I got ready to take a trip, I would ask the agent about places I’d read about in papers or magazines like the NYT travel section, Travel and Leisure, Gourmet magazine or places that friends told me about and then the travel agent would take care of the arrangements.
Manor Farm, Dethick
Everything is different now. Thanks to the internet, the wonderful world of Bed and Breakfasts is at my fingertips. Almost all of them have their own websites so you can really see what the places are like. Although there is something wonderful about room service, maids and concierges, there is also something grand about historic houses with rich ancient character owned by charming people. One such place was The Manor Farm at Dethick run by Simon and Gilly Groom. I stayed there when I went to visit Chatsworth as Dethick is near to many of the great houses in Derbyshire. Everything I read about the place drew me there.
The village of Dethick is a small circle of ancient buildings scattered around the Church of John the Baptist that was built by Geoffrey Dethick in the beginning of the 13th century… captivating.
The Manor Farm was built in the 15th century but was rebuilt in the 16th century by the Babingtons. If you are an English history buff like me, that name will ring a bell. Anthony Babington was born here in 1561.
He is forever remembered for being part of the plot to kill Elizabeth the 1st in an effort to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne of England.
The plot was discovered by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham.
It involved smuggled secret letters, forgery, ciphers and codes worthy of a Le Carre novel and came to be known as The Babington Plot. Young, passionately Catholic Anthony had fallen under the thrall of the romantic figure of Mary Queen of Scots and might have even met her when he was an impressionable teenaged page at Earl of Shrewsbury’s house where she was being held (she was moved from one to another of Shrewsbury’s holdings during her captivity). Her charisma was the stuff of legend. Babington was executed in 1586 at barely 25 years old for his role in the treason in a most horrible way (you really don’t want to know) even though there were letters to Mary that showed he had reservations about killing a queen.
It comes as no surprise that Manor Farm and its Tudor inhabitants inspired children’s book writer Alison Uttley (who wrote The Little Gray Rabbit) who grew up nearby in another idyllic village called Cromford. In her 1939 best seller, A Traveller in Time, a dreamy, sickly child named Penelope is sent to recuperate at a country house called Thackers –– a thinly disguised Manor Farm. There she is transported back and forth to Elizabethan times and becomes involved in the Mary Queen of Scots plot herself… trying to save the family and Mary from disaster. I can totally see why the enchanted house inspired Uttley to write the book (the present owners are hosting an Alison Uttley Festival at the farm August 26-29 this year if you’re a fan).
All this history is held in the golden stones of the place –– you can feel it like a ghostly pulse. Here time softens every edge –– burnishing the colors of walls and fences.
But it is alive in the present as well. It is also a 170-acre farm with an ancient breed of piebald (black and white) sheep called the Jacob as well as heritage breed cattle.
I arrived just as they were finishing the shearing… a great racket of bleating could be heard from the very vocal sheep, obviously not amused by the indignity of the shearing. They looked much lighter as they trotted away and none the worse for the experience.
Simon and Gilly Groom are the current owners of the farm. Both had worked for the BBC and took the place over from Simon’s parents a few years ago. It’s a warm wonderful house with breakfast served in a Tudor kitchen …cooked on an old AGA cooker that stays on all the time. It is one of those things I’ve always dreamed of having but never quite pulled off… they weigh as much as a truck and are very pricey over here in the states... the big ones are over $10 grand and the on-all-the-time part might be a problem in 100º heat. I remember looking into it for my NYC loft and discovered it would have to be craned in through the 5th story window and that the delivery would cost nearly as much as the stove–– oh well. Still, it was great seeing one in action again.
The good English breakfast was wonderful as Gilly uses the best locally sourced products. She told me that she had even started a farmer’s market in her old town before moving here so she knows her stuff. Also, the place is just inspiring –– the air is positively perfumed with flowers, herbs and grasses.
What should I make with the house in mind? I’ve been in a baroque frame of mind lately (btw, the word baroque comes from the Portuguese and means rough shaped pearl, not overly done as we have come to understand it) so I headed to the 17th century cookbook aisle. Cuisine of the baroque era was expansive and I have found rich new fields of spicing combinations there… unlikely to our modern sensibilities but accessible and really delicious.
Our modern cuisines have set patterns. I see the same ideas recycled over and over. And as I said to my friend Lazaro at Lazaro Cooks, new for new’s sake isn’t for me. However, tripping down less traveled pathways is always invigorating… especially when there is history involved.
I’ve cooked from A new booke of cookerie Wherein is set forth a most perfect direction to furnish an extraordinary, or ordinary feast, either in Summer or Winter. ... cutting vp any fowle. By Iohn Murrell. (1617) before. It was originally published in 1615 by John Murrell who declared “herein is set forth the newest and most commendable Fashion for dressing or sowcing, eyther Flesh, Fish or fowle.” It really is a gem and inspires each time I open it. What particularly caught my eye this time was a chicken recipe at the beginning that appears uncredited (yes, they were doing it that long ago) in 1657 in The Compleat Cook:
To boyle a Capon larded with lemons.
“Take a fair capon and truss him, boyl him by himselfe in faire water with a little small Oat-meal, then take mutton broath and half a pint of white-wine, a bundle of herbs, whole mace, season it with Verjuyce, put marrow, dates, season it with sugar, then take preserved lemons and cut them like lard, and with a larding pin, lard in it, then put the capon in a deep dish, thicken your broth with Almonds and poure it on the capon.”
Here is the 1615 original:
I thought it would be wonderful for a warm summer meal. Although the recipe states the chicken is done in a French fashion, you can feel the winds of North Africa in the use of preserved lemon. The sweet and sour quality of the dish is really gorgeous, sort of a proto-barbeque sauce. I did make a few changes. Not having mutton broth handy, I went for chicken broth… the ground almonds make the sauce creamy which is lovely. Also, and this is purely personal, I am not crazy about boiled chicken –– so I roasted my chicken and was pleased I did –– the skin is crisp and addictively fragrant with warm spices and the hint of preserved lemon. Also, those lemon peel ‘suckets’ are so delicious, a few of them were snatched away before they could be put on the platter!
Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemons inspired by Murrell's 16th Century Recipe
1 3 ½ to 4 lb chicken
1 preserved lemon, skin cut into thin strips (reserve the pulp to put in the cavity)
1 t black pepper
1 to 2 t salt
¼ t mace
¼ t nutmeg
3 -4 c chicken stock
1/2 c white wine
1/2 c white wine
1 T currants
2 T ground almonds
a bunch of herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, hyssop, parsley… what you will –– you can buy a mixed package of herbs at Whole foods easily)
2 T verjus or sherry vinegar or sour green grape juice
1 t sugar
additional fresh herbs for garnish
1 T dried barberries, plumped in sugar syrup for 10 minutes (optional- I did find them at Whole Foods)
2 T candied lemon peel (this is easy to do, cut the peel and cook in sugar syrup for ½ an hour then allow to dry… they are delicious and addictive)
Preheat oven to 450º
Rub the chicken with the pepper and spices. Stick the preserved lemon peel under the skin of the bird and put the lemon pulp inside the cavity. You can also put some of the herbs in the cavity and under the flesh with the lemon. Try not to tear the flesh. Sprinkle the salt over the bird (remember, preserved lemons are salty)
Pour 3 c stock and verjus in the pan, add herbs, currents, dates and ground almonds.
Place the chicken in the pan on a rack over the liquid.
Roast for 1 hour, check the liquid level so it doesn’t dry out… add extra stock if necessary. Remove the chicken and let rest for 15 minutes. Pour out the contents of the pan and remove any excess fat and the herb bundle. Taste for seasoning…. Add the sugar if you would like, I didn’t think it needed it.
Serve with barberries and lemon peel and the sauce
Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday
Please go visit my friend Laura Kelly at her blog, Silk Road Gourmet
She's hosting a cooking challenge. You get to make your own version of
ancient recipes... it's a great idea.