Friday, August 27, 2010

Lacock Abbey, Fox-Talbot, Harry Potter and a Cherry-Sherry Cocktail!

Most people know Lacock Abbey as a location for the stratospherically successful Harry Potter movies.

Lacock Abbey was owned by the Talbot family for generations, beginning shortly after the Dissolution of the Monasteries when it was turned into a private house in 1539. The abbey had occupied the space since 1232 and the beautiful village of Lacock was part of the estate. Matilda Talbot (grand-niece of H. Fox-Talbot) gifted the village and the abbey to the National Trust in 1944.

H. Fox-Talbot photograph, 1844

It is because of this gift that Lacock Village has been the location for Pride and Prejudice, Cranford, Emma and so many other wonderful BBC productions as well as the location for Harry Potter’s parents’ house.

Cranford Street from the BBC Production

No wonder it is such a popular place to film, the village has a gentle, timeless quality. There are no antennas or overhead wires to mar the fabulously preserved 15th to 18th century buildings.

But there is much more to Lacock than just a great place to film. This is where H. Fox-Talbot did something remarkable--and without Talbot’s work-- there might never have been filming anywhere.

You see, before movies or television-- even before Edison and Lumiere invented moving pictures, there was Talbot, the owner of Lacock (a true polymath who was also interested in astronomy, botany, chemistry, and mathematics, philosophy, philology Egyptology, and art history) Henry Fox-Talbot, one of the pioneers of photography.

William Henry Fox-Talbot 1800-1877

It so happens that 175 years ago, the first photographic negative was created by H. Fox-Talbot at his ancestral home, Lacock Abbey. The negative allowed copies to be made of images. Before his discovery, only single images could be made.

Today, there is a museum on the estate that explores his achievement and includes fascinating displays of some of the devices that made it possible.

1835 Negative


From behind this window

Soliloquy of the Broom, 1843

William Henry Fox-Talbot was something of a wonder. He worked on all variety of devices but was most known for his work at the dawn of photography. He first called his process “photogenic drawing” but then decided on “calotype” from the Greek, kalos, for beautiful… and so they are, from the first moment I saw his photographs in the book The Photographic Art of William Henry Fox Talbot, I was in love. It was as if you were eavesdropping on time… you weren’t supposed to see these images just yet (this is a quality I love in film and music…sends chills).

Twenty-four of them were collected by Talbot in 6 volumes published between 1844-46 entitled “The Pencil of Nature”, that spoke of the poetry and science of his discovery.

The Ladder, 1843

Trafalgar Square, 1844

Articles of Glass, 1844

I thought of Fox-Talbot, a Victorian-age alchemist performing a new magic with chemicals and light in his ancient studio and decided a drink was in order … a little mixology to honor Talbot and the anniversary of his achievement. The beautiful collection of decanters in his photograph, “Articles of Glass” made me think of Sherry. I went looking through the 1869 book, Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks 1869 Reprint and the Sherry Cup #11 caught my eye. As I was staying in England just days before the celebration of National Cherry Day in the UK (July 17th), cherries seemed a perfect ingredient (and I love them truly madly deeply!).

The drink is a smashing combination of sherry and cherry shrub with lemon and soda. Sarah from All our Fingers in the Pie made a rhubarb shrub with great results… I was dying to try a cherry shrub. I found a recipe for it in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 classic, The Bartender's Guide (although the same recipe appears in an 1855 cookbook by Mrs. A.L.Webster!!!). The shrub is also great with wine or champagne (like a cherry kir)

Here’s a crimson toast to Mr. Fox-Talbot and his invention!

Sherry Cup #11 for 2

3/4 c dry sherry (or white wine or sparkling wine)
3-4 T cherry shrub* (to taste)
splash soda
squeeze of lemon to taste.

Add the sherry, cherry shrub and soda together and squeeze lemon into the mix. Taste it and add more cherry or lemon as desired. Serve over ice. The original asks for a bottle of soda or a bottle of lemonade.

*FOR CHILDREN: Make the shrub sans alcohol… but it will not keep so must be used quickly. Use ginger ale or sparkling lemonade instead of soda and wine with more of the cherry mixture and you have a lovely healthy cherry drink!

*Cherry Shrub

“Pick ripe acid cherries from the stem, put them in an earthen pot; place that in an iron pot of water; boil till the juice is extracted; strain it through a cloth thick enough to retain the pulp, and sweeten it to your taste. When perfectly clear, bottle it, sealing the cork. By first putting a gill {1/2 cup} of brandy into each bottle, it will keep through the summer. It is delicious mixed with water. Irish or Monongahela whiskey will answer instead of the brandy, though not as good”

4 c of cherries makes 1 ½ c of liquid so add ¼ c of brandy to that

When you put the shrub and the rest together it makes a great drink!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Glastonbury, King Arthur and Lamb Aloes

Legend has it that King Arthur and Guinevere are buried at Glastonbury Abby.

Glastonbury Abbey With The Tor Beyond by George Arnald (1763-1841)

It’s a wildly romantic notion to be sure but then Glastonbury is steeped in legend and ancient magic with the crossing of very powerful telluric leylines occuring there. One such crossing occurs between the high altar of the abbey and the tomb of Arthur and Guinevere.

Glastonbury is also the site of the first Christian church in the world, if legend is to be believed. It is said that Joseph of Arimathea founded a church there in the first century on a site of great importance to pagan Britons (those leylines divined sacred sites to the pagans). The Abbey was founded in the 7th century and was the richest in England by 1086. It was destroyed in a fire in 1184 and then rebuilt almost immediately. The bodies of Arthur and Guinevere’s were discovered in 1191 in a hollowed oak trunk with a lead cross bearing the inscription: Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia meaning “Here lies interred the famous King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon".

Lady Chapel today

Glastonbury Abbey was ultimately torn down by Henry VIII when he seized the church’s property in the Dissolution of the Monasteries . In 1539. its beautiful stones were used to build houses of those favored by the king in the neighborhood and the church’s lands sold. Two of the Abbey’s manors were sold to John Thynn who created Longleat on the old church property. It is still home to Alexander Thynn, the Marquis of Bath nearly 500 years later…all 8000 acres of it and the Abbey records are stored at Longleat.

A mile or so away is another crossing of the lines at the Chalice Well. Its iron-red water has never run dry and is said to have healing powers. Once again the pagan and Christian mythologies intersect as this is also related to Christ and the legend of the Holy Grail brought by Joseph of Arimathea to England.

The last important intersection is at Glastonbury Tor, the single remaining tower of an ancient church that stands alone on a giant hill above everything on the landscape. Until 2 millenia ago, the sea would have come to the foot of the Tor which must be why the Celtic name for Glastonbury was Ynys-witrin, the Island of Glass… it would have appeared to be an island in the dawn of man’s time here. As the sea receded, it was replaced by a lake -- the fabled lake of Arthurian Legend as described in such romantic classics as The Once and Future King, Le Morte D'Arthur and The Mists of Avalon

The lake too has disappeared in the passing centuries… into the mists of Avalon's legend . What remains is a rather startling hill, thrusting up from the flat surrounding fields with 7 terraces built into its steep slopes by ancient Pagans. Walking up the hill following the 7 maze paths is said to have curative calming powers… undoubtedly the magnetic currents flowing through the site have something to do with it.

American Indian O’odham Basket 1900

The circles form a powerful universal symbol of the female using the same design seen in Cretan unicursal mazes, American O’odham baskets and on rocks at Tintagel. You can feel an earth pulse here …a throbbing connection to past and present and other civilizations on our shared earth in this remarkable place.

But wait, Arthurian legend, magnetic leylines, mazes, Tors, Abbeys… I’m here to talk about food, aren’t I?? Yes, and so I will. After food for thought, food for the stomach, and so, back down the hill to Glastonbury Abbey!

The only surviving building in Glastonbury Abbey is the Abbot’s Kitchen.

At the Abbey we were told the reason may have been that the giant stone that is perched atop its center chimney opening was too big to move and that the roof itself was stone and not the usual lead (that would have melted with the heat) – it was too much effort to remove it and didn’t have the value of the lead that had covered the Abbey’s roofs (lead being a very expensive status symbol). The other reason may have been that the kitchen supplied the food for the workers destroying the abbey so it was left standing.

Abbot’s Kitchen Chimney ‘lantern’ with giant covering stone which vents the smoke in the room brilliantly.

The interior is fragrant with drying herbs and faint scented ghosts of thousand ancient fires. A costumed guide is there to tell visitors about the workings of the place from bread making to food storage to the water system. It must have been a hive of activity in its heyday when this kitchen fed wealthy pilgrims as well as the abbot himself. It was a staggeringly wealthy abbey with miles and miles of lush fields that provided for a renowned standard of fine dining for the rich and powerful. Living was good there.

One of the dishes that was surely served at the Abbey kitchen would have been Aloes. Martha Barnette in her book, Ladyfingers and Nun's Tummies: A Lighthearted Look at How Foods Got Their Names says alou is old French for Lark (alouette). In English it became aloes and later still ‘olives’. It is a dish that surfaces in many cuisines with slightly different ingredients. Italians do braciole with beef and cheese, the French do a classic paupiette (although they are also known as alouettes sans tetes!) with veal stuffed with mushrooms and vegetables or forcemeat.

During the reign of the Tudors, the English used mutton, leg of mutton. I used lamb. It is sliced thin and then filled and rolled so that the little packages resemble small birds with heads and feet tucked in against a cold night. The stuffing is a complex and delectable combination of herbs, saffron and dried dates and raisins with a celestial sweet/sour richness. They are bite size powerhouses of flavor.

To make mine I combined the recipes of 2 cookery books written 20 years apart, A Proper New Booke of Cookery from 1575 and The Good Huswife’s Jewell from 1596. I include both after my recipe should you wish to give it a go yourself as proportions are not mentioned very often and every version will be a little different.

Lamb Aloes
Serves 4

1 pound leg of lamb, sliced very thin and pounded if needs be…makes 10- 12 slices
2 cooked egg yolks
2 T chopped parsley
2 T chopped thyme
2 T chopped savory
1/3 c raisins
1/3 c pitted dates
good pinch saffron
¼ - ½ t mace (to taste)
½ t pepper
¼ t cloves
½ t smoked salt
4 T butter
1 T vinegar

s & p to taste


¼ cup ruby or tawny port
½ t ground ginger
pinch cinnamon (optional)
¼ c vinegar

Pomegranate seeds

Combine the herbs and fruits with the spices and vinegar and one tablespoon of butter…you can use a food processor to do this with a few pulses. Lay out the slices of lamb and pound them to thin them if necessary (mine were around 2 ½ “ x 4”). Put a teaspoon of filling in each one and fold together bringing the sides up first and then bringing up the bottom before rolling them up. Secure them with toothpicks if necessary and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fry the aloes in the rest of the butter on medium heat. If you can, it would be best done on a grill… so a lovely a smoky smell can envelope the aloes… skewered and done on the cool side and basted in butter with a drip pan as they were originally cooked. Either way you choose, when they are done, take the port, vinegar and ginger and deglaze the pan and serve the aloes with the sauce. They were great on a bed of pomegranate seeds although you could make a pie of them and serve them that way (think 4 and 20 blackbirds) as the 1575 recipe instructs.

Proper New Booke of Cookery

To make a pye of Aloes.

Take a leg of Mutton, and cut it in
thin slices, and for stuffinge of the same
take persely, time, and savery, and chop
them small, then temper amonge them
three or foure yolkes of hard egs chopte
small and small raisins, dates, [cut?] with
mace and a litle salt, then lay all these
in the stekes, and then rolle them toge-
ther. This done make your pye, and lay
all these therin, than season them with a
little suger and cinnamom, saffron, and
salte, then cast upon them the yolkes of
three or foure hard egges, and cut dates
with smal raisins, so close your pye, and
bake him. Then for a Syrop for it take
tosted bread, and a litle claret wine,
and strain them thyn together, and put
therto a litle Suger, Sinnamom, and
Ginger, and put it into your Pye, and
then serve it forth.

The Good Huswife’s Jewell

To make Aloes.

Take a legge of veale or mutton, and slice
it in thin slices, and lay them in a plat-
ter, and cast on salte, and put thereon the
yolkes of tenne Egges, and a great sorte of
small raisons and dates finely minced, then
take vineger, and a little saffron, cloues and
mace, and a little Pepper, and mingle it to-
gether, and poure it all about it, and then al
to worke it together, and when it is tho-
rowly seasoned, put it on a spit, and set plat-
ters vnderneath it, and baste it with butter,
and then make a sauce with Vinegerm and
ginger, and suger, and lay the aloes vpon it
and so serue it in.

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodies Friday

Friday, August 13, 2010

Chipping Campden and The Pudding Club’s Blackberry Exeter

Before leaving on my England trip, I came upon a list of the most beautiful villages in England. Remarkably, quite a few of them were on my route. Bibury was the first I visited and it won my heart. Now I knew this list was solid gold (or at least whoever wrote it had similar tastes to mine). Then there was Lacock… also a perfect gem of a village. Chipping Campden was the last one I stopped at and, true to the advertising, it was a beautiful village filled with the nicest people and lovely places to stay. How can you not want to visit a place where stone fences have no hard corners so sheep (the source of the wealth for the town as it was for Bibury) wouldn’t snag their fleece as they were taken from place to place (the term wool gathering comes from picking up snagged wool--you look like you are noodling around when you are in fact gleaning!)?The word Chipping comes from the old English Ceping that means market and true to its name, leading citizen Baptist Hick’s 1627 Market Hall takes pride of place in the center of town.


Interior of Market Hall

The city was a hub for the Arts and Crafts movement in the early 20th century. You can certainly see the effect the village would have, it is an omphalos of that style.

There are so many perfectly preserved buildings… everything from the 16th century market in the center of town to the 15th century church and all the thatched roof houses (the thatch being improbably thick and luxuriant with fancy crown tops in a style particular to the area – my great regret was that I was driving and couldn’t take photos of these extraordinary thatched roofs!).

This was a healthy, wealthy and vivid little town that never lost its charm. Its most prosperous citizen, 16th century silk merchant Sir Baptist Hicks, built many important structures that dot the town, even though his own 1613 house was destroyed during the Civil War in 1645 (to keep the revolutionaries from staying there). What remains on the estate, the 2 Jacobean Banqueting houses and 2 ‘pepperpot” lodges at the entry gate, have been restored and are extraordinary. You can even book a night’s stay in one of them through the National Trust! Ivan Day at Historic Food did a spectacular recreation of a table as it might have appeared during the heyday of the house using period cookbooks (did I mention he is a master in antique techniques and teaches courses during the year on the subject at his place in the Lake District that I can't wait to take!!!).

The other thing that this gorgeous little village has nearby is The Three Ways House Hotel.

The Pudding Club was created twenty-five years ago at this hotel in 1985. The idea of the club was to “prevent the demise of the traditional great British pudding.” What began as a charming notion has spawned a cookbook, The Pudding Club Book: Luscious Recipes from the Pudding Club and even sells 6 ready-made puddings under the Pudding Club label (available at markets in Britain) .

The hotel hosts Pudding Club events, tastings and dinners and its rooms now have pudding names like “The Spotted Dick and Custard Room” (ahem!) where you can stay when you are in Chipping Campden. I missed it when I was there this summer, (it is slightly out of town) but look forward to giving it a try next time I am there since the place looks like fun and the restaurant gets high marks.

One of the puddings on the Pudding Club site is called Blackberry Exeter. I loved the idea of apples and blackberries with my favorite custard sauce. Served warm, it had a luscious, melting texture and the golden scented pool of cool custard flavored with rose geranium and madeira was a delicious complement. The one thing I learned is that the inside shrinks a bit and it’s a good idea to have extra blackberries to fill up the spaces if you are particular about the presentation. I also found that you should try to make the sides as even as possible and take care that there is enough pastry at the bottom so it doesn’t collapse when you un-mold it. May I add it's also great reheated in the microwave!!

Blackberry Exeter with Custard Sauce from the Pudding Club

2 C self-raising flour (2 c flour plus 1 ½ t. baking soda) I used 1 ½ c white and ½ c whole wheat
½ c shredded or grated suet ( or 1/2 c butter or vegetable shortening if you would like added in small bits)
a pinch of salt
2 T milk
Water to mix (around ½ c)


1 cup chopped apple
1 cup blackberries
2 T maple syrup
3 c bread crumbs
3 T butter
¼ c honey
¼ t. nutmeg

Mix suet with the flour and add enough water to make a stiff dough make 2 pieces, 2/3 for bottom and 1/3 for top and chill. Roll out and line a greased 1.1 liter (6 c.) pudding basin. Try to make it as even as possible leaving the edges flopping over the edge of the bowl.

For the filling, combine the breadcrumbs, butter and honey and nutmeg. Combine the fruit and maple syrup and put ½ into the basin, then add half the bread crumbs and then the rest of the fruit and the rest of the crumbs. Put the lid on the basin and close it up as well as you can … wetting the edges for the best adhesion.

Take a piece of parchment and creating a fold in the center (and squaring the rectangle to make it stronger), cover the dish. Put a piece of aluminum foil over that. Using a rubber band, secure the parchment and foil as snugly as possible. Place the pudding in a pot of boiling water with a rack at the bottom ( or crumpled foil), the water going about 2/3 up the bowl and steam at a low simmer for 2-3 hours) The pastry will not be soggy but firm… kind of amazing!

My Favorite Custard Sauce

2 c milk (to make it richer, 1 ½ c milk and ½ c cream)
4 egg yolks, beaten
¼ c sugar
1 or 2 rose geranium leaves (optional)
½ t vanilla
2 T maple syrup
2 T Madeira (Rare Wine Co. Savannah Verdelho)

Warm the milk, beat the yolks and sugar till golden and add the hot milk to temper the yolks and put back in the pan with the geranium leaves over a low flame or a double boiler for 8-10 minutes. Strain. Add the vanilla, maple syrup and Madeira or Scotch and serve with the pudding.

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!

Also, I wanted to tell you about my friend Tracy Nasca's Cookbook. It was made for a good cause and the profits go to Sleep Research. Do stop by and give the Pay It Forward/Talk About Sleep Cookbook a look. Many people involved in the field donated precious family recipes that are sure to please.

Go HERE to order