Friday, July 29, 2011

Babington, Manor Farm and 16th c. Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemon

Anthony Babington (1561-1586)

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. 

Church of John the Baptist

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.

Mary Queen of Scots (1542-87)

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.

Sir Francis Walsingham (1532-90)

The plot was discovered by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham

Forged Cipher 

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.

Alison Uttley (1884-1976)

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
2 dates
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.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chatsworth, Farmer's Markets and Gooseberry Elderflower Syllabub

I have wanted to visit Chatsworth ever since I saw this photo in an Architectural Digest in the 1985. 

Chatsworth by Derry Moore (with a bit of photoshop to get rid of the magazine fold)

 In it, my favorite architectural photographer, Derry Moore (a blue blood himself since he’s the 12th Earl of Drogheda and a genius behind the lens), shot the house from just beyond the bridge … glowing golden against the greens and blues of the Derbyshire countryside.  This is how I will always think of it.  I copied the image from the old magazine to show you–– like a dream, isn’t it?  I had so wanted to take my own shot of the house and was terribly disappointed when I arrived to find it cocooned in white plastic for renovations (they were cleaning the stone to restore it to its golden glory).  Ah well –– I will always think of it in that Derry Moore shot and that’s not such a bad thing.  Check out his book In House for a treat.

Chatsworth was built by a favorite of mine, the brilliant and strong-willed Bess of Hardwick  (cut from the same cloth as her friend Elizabeth the First), with a garden installed a little later by England’s master garden designer, Capability Brown . It is one of the great houses of England and so much more.

… bedrooms like this

… halls like these

 … libraries like this

 … a statue gallery like this

…full of glorious marble beasts like my lion friends below

that you can walk through and gaze wonderstruck at –– following in the footsteps of Keira Knightley (Chatsworth was Pemberly in her Pride and Prejudice).  It is unfathomably grand, there’s no denying. But there is more.

I was just as thrilled with sights like these…

The beautiful draft horse even has a view!

For you see Chatsworth also has a really laudable farm.  They sell their own produce, meats and even beer as well as promoting local products from neighboring farms.  They even give credit to their suppliers on their website –– celebrity farmers!  Great houses were always supported by their lands, now the farmers are getting due credit for their labors and they are as much a part of Chatsworth as the great house and its riches.

I know when I got to know the farmers at my own Union Square farmer’s market in NYC there was a real sea change in my attitude about food.  The change had begun when I had my own garden and raised fruits and vegetables.  I got to know how the land worked and it gave me fresh eyes on the ways of the natural world … I came to understand the rhythms of the seasons and most certainly what went into making things grow.  Knowing farmers takes it to another level.  At Chatsworth you watch the farmers at work, you see the animals, you watch the sheep grazing contentedly on the rolling lawns.  It changes the way you feel about food to look it in the eye, and I think that was the idea from the start.  You also know there is no misery meat or factory farming.  That is as it should be.

Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire shot by Derry Moore, 1985

One of the things that has always endeared me to Chatsworth is that Deborah, now Dowager Dutchess of Devonshire, started thinking about local, sustainable farming and sharing the bounty of the estate 40 years ago.  That’s a big reason why I wanted to visit here.

1699 view of Chatsworth

She began selling the products of her 35,000-acre estate in the 1970s (it was 83,000 acres before the family had to sell off chunks for death duties in 1950).  It is hard to conceive how big this place is, honestly (roughly twice the size of Manhattan if that helps you).

The beautiful farm and store employs hundreds of locals, supports English agriculture and is magnificent.  In a way, the Dowager Dutchess is just as far-sighted as Bess of Harwicke who built the house in the first place.

Why buy from a farmer's market?  Aside from freshness, by buying directly from farmers, you give them the opportunity to actually make a little money.  Many of us don’t realize that a farmer selling to a middleman gets less than half of the value of his crops, meat or dairy.  So often they make little or nothing on the deal.  For some, it cost more to grow the products than they get for them.  At farmer’s markets it all goes to the farmer and not to agribusiness or giant food chains.  You can actually meet the people who grew the products and get to know their methods and even visit their farms to see what they do (if you can you should… it is a real treat).  Farmer's Markets should be supported by all of us in  the food community.

Now, what to make with the summer’s bounty from New York's Union Square Farmer’s Market that would pay homage to my visit to Chatsworth?  Well I fell head over heels with a dessert I had in England.  It was a gooseberry elderflower syllabub and it was a revelation.   I could even imagine eating it with the Duchess in the Chatsworth dining room

…sitting at this place at the table

 I’ve told you about syllabub before and made the early version of it in its drink form I wrote about HERE  that was spectacular.  Most syllabubs these days are pudding-like and descend from the 18th century ‘solid’ or ‘everlasting’ syllabub that was in turn the precursor to the English trifle.  What’s the thing that stays the same?  The cream has wine in it –– just less than in the more liquid version, although it is sort of like having an after dinner drink and dessert all in one… not a bad thing in my book.  I think what I loved about it was that the cream was sweet and the berry layer wasn’t, so you could make your own ratio of tart to sweet with each spoon… this is my idea of nirvana.   I believe the waitress in Oxford misconstrued my groans of pleasure as gastrointestinal distress at first… I do hope I didn’t embarrass myself completely.  This is a brilliant dessert and a great introduction to the gooseberry if you've never tried it.

Gooseberry and Elderflower Syllabub, serves 4 small or 2 large

1 c gooseberries (save some for garnish)
2 T sugar (I like the tart berry with the sweet cream idea, if you want it all sweet make it 4 T sugar in the berries)
1 T gooseberry jam (from the farmer's market, of course!)
1 T St Germain, elderflower liqueur

1 cup heavy cream
1/3 c sweet white wine (I got a small Moscato)
1 T St Germain elderflower liqueur
¼ cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
½ t vanilla
pinch of nutmeg

Put the gooseberries in a pan with the sugar.  Cook slowly until berries soften… just a few minutes.

Add the jam and liqueur to the berries and put the mixture into the blender.  Strain if you want a more elegant sauce… otherwise it has small seeds.   Allow the sauce to cool.

Whip the cream fairly stiffly with the sugar, lemon zest and vanilla then add the wine.  This has a good deal of liquor in it… although it is milder an hour or so later… if you have any alcohol issues… make it with elderflower syrup and skip the sugar… whip the cream less

Layer the cream and fruit in glasses… ending with the cream


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.

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