Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pichet Ong's Kabocha Squash Pie with Ginger Butterscotch Sauce

Kabocha Squash

Time flies, doesn’t it? It’s hard to believe that it’s been 8 years since I clipped this recipe from the NYT's one Wednesday before Thanksgiving (remember when you got the ‘paper’ everyday and clipped recipes?). I made the pie for a huge Thanksgiving bash for a bunch of orphan film folks and fell in love with the recipe, Kabocha squash and pastry chef, Pichet Ong. He’s a genius. The guests at the party were swooning. You know that eyes closed, reverent slow tasting response you always hope your food will elicit? Yep, it happened. Everyone asked for the recipe.

Until I found Kabocha squash pie, I made my old Gourmet Magazine classic pumpkin/pecan pie nearly every Thanksgiving and loved it. I always used those little sweet pumpkins that I split in half, baked and pureed.

Pichet Ong’s recipe called for a new technique and a new squash, steaming a little kabocha––the squash that I only knew as the delicious orange-red slice on a vegetable tempura plate. I’d never used it to make a dessert. Mr. Ong said I was missing out on something. He was so right.

Kabocha squash is a Japanese variety of winter squash. It has a dense, sweet flesh with a hint of chestnut to the texture and flavor. Although all squash are from the new world (they probably arrived in Japan with Portuguese in the 16th c via Cambodia), they have taken their place in Japanese cuisine. They should get a better food hold in the American pantry if you ask me.

This kabocha pie is one of the best desserts in my repertory. I have a cook crush on Pichet Ong.

Ong didn’t start out as a pastry chef. He started out with a degree in English and Mathematics and got a masters in architecture (you can see that influence in the construction of his desserts) –– a similar trajectory to my own, sans the math and the end result of his becoming a great pastry chef!!

His work with Jean George Vongerichten is what propelled him into the upper atmosphere of the NY restaurant scene. Vongerichten knows pastry talent –– Johnny Iuzzini hit his stride as pastry chef at Jean George .

After I made this recipe I visited Spice Market with new eyes and tasted some of his work instead of skipping dessert. I got his cookbook when it came out.

Pichet Ong's The Sweet Spot: Asian-Inspired Desserts is hands down one of the best dessert books around. You will drool over his dragon devil’s food cupcakes (frosting made with Lapsang Souchang tea, star anise and bourbon) or the coconut cream pie with a toasted jasmine rice crust, best tofu cheesecake ever, green tea ice cream, mango pudding –– well you get the idea.

When my 5-Star Makeover group’s monthly topic was squash, this was the dish I wanted to make –– I didn’t have to think about it. This is the recipe that was in the NYT in 2004. The only thing I have added is the lime cream. I like the tangy contrast with the sweet dessert. His original recommendation is for plain Crème fraîche. Don’t add sugar. The dessert needs this addition so don’t skip it.

I bet you will make this your favorite squash/pumpkin pie recipe too. I actually buy a few of these Kabocha in season and freeze the puree.

If you can't find kabocha, you can use a small pumpkin but you may have to drain it after pureeing.

Kabocha Squash Pie, Adapted from Pichet Ong and NYT (serves 10-12)

For the filling:

1 medium kabocha squash or small pumpkin, about 3 pounds

10 ounces (1 1/3 cups) cream cheese, at room temperature
 (the original NYT recipe calls for 10oz, his cookbook calls for 8 oz cream cheese, I only bought an 8oz package and added 2 oz of cream and the texture was lovely.
1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

3/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (about 1/4 of a nutmeg)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons brandy

2 eggs at room temperature

For the crust:

3/8 cup (2 ounces) walnuts

1/2 cup, packed, light brown sugar

3/8 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 7 crackers)

Grated zest of 1 lime

3/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
 3/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

 Lime cream or Crème fraîche, for serving
Ginger butterscotch sauce, for serving (see recipe).

1. For pie filling, bring an inch of water to a boil in a large covered pot fitted with a steamer basket or rack. Put in squash, cover and steam, replenishing water as needed, until fork tender, about 1 hour. Turn squash over halfway through steaming. Set squash aside until cool enough to handle.

2. Heat oven to 325 degrees. For crust, place walnuts on a baking tray, and toast in oven, stirring once or twice, until fragrant, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

3. In a food processor, combine walnuts with a few tablespoons brown sugar and pulse a few times, until nuts are coarsely ground. In a large bowl, whisk nuts with graham cracker crumbs, remaining brown sugar, lime zest, spices and salt. Pour melted butter over this mixture, and mix with your fingers until butter is distributed. Press evenly into a 10-inch glass pie plate. Bake crust until lightly browned, about 12 minutes, then set aside. Keep oven at 300 degrees.

4. When squash is cool, cut it in half and scoop out seeds and pulp. Scoop squash flesh into a measuring cup until you have 2 1/2 cups.

5. In a food processor, process cream cheese with sugar, spices and salt until light and smooth. Scrape down bowl, add squash and process until smooth. Mix in brandy and then eggs, one at a time. Finish mixing with a rubber spatula.

6. Place pie plate on a baking sheet and scrape filling into crust. Bake until just set in center, about 1 hour. Let cool before serving, topped with crème fraîche and drizzled with butterscotch sauce.

Yield: 8 servings.

Lime Cream

1 c cream or crème fraiche
Juice of 1or 2 limes depending on size, juice and your taste... I like it tangy~

Combine cream and lime juice and set aside. Serve on the Pie with the butterscotch sauce.

Adapted from Pichet Ong 


1 pound dark brown sugar 

2 1/2 ounces (about 4 inches) fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced into coins 
*** or use 2 or 3 drops of Aftelier Ginger essence and skip the ginger root
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, pulp scraped 
(or 1 t vanilla extract)
10 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, cubed 

2 cups heavy cream 
3/4 teaspoon salt. 

1. Place sugar, ginger and vanilla pod and pulp in a heavy pot set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is molten and fragrant with ginger and vanilla, about 8 minutes (if using vanilla extract put it in at the end). (It won't melt entirely but will be somewhat crumbly.) Add butter (stand back, it will foam up), and stir until melted and smooth, about 2 minutes. 

2. Pour cream and salt into pot, stirring, and bring to a simmer. Let sauce bubble until thickened, about 8 minutes. Let cool for at least 1/2 hour, then strain out ginger and vanilla pod.

Warm sauce before serving.

*** if you use Aftelier Ginger Essence, add to taste after you make the sauce.

* this makes an enormous amount of sauce. You can freeze it. I use about half of it for the recipe.

This sauce will keep for up to 2 weeks in refrigerator. 
Yield: 3 1/2 cups.

Stop by the 5 Star roundup on Friday and you will see a great group of cooks being creative with squash.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lancelot de Casteau, Crisp Tuna and Cremone Mustard

I think one of the coolest things about the remarkable explosion of e-information is the availability of texts.  Once upon a time at the very least you would have to go to a big city library or at worst to travel to far away places to be able to look at rare texts –– and you would have to have some academic creds to be able to do that.  For most of us this just couldn’t happen.  Now, these texts from all over the world are at your fingertips–– and what a world has opened before us.

Ouverture de Cuisine is such a book.  Just one copy of the book exists –– ONE.  It had been thought to be lost until the 1950s when one surfaced.  Until that point, it was a legend with attributions to its content throughout the centuries.  When you see it, you understand what all the hubbub’s about –– these recipes are gorgeous, and innovative.

My friend Ken Albala wrote about Lancelot’s recipes in his masterful Cooking in Europe, 1250-1650 .

Cooking fat by Pieter van der Heyden said Merica (c. 1530-1575) (this was in the article and I had to share… )
I asked Ken about him and he told me,  I think Lancelot is the sole example of late 16th and early 17th century cooking written in French. It is remarkably cosmopolitan, with recipes from England, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal, even some delightful ravioli recipes and Italian Sausages. I seriously suspect he knew Scappi well since there are some recipes that appear to be adaptations. But overall I think in the early 17th c. Spain was dominant in cuisine, and you see that even here in capilotade, adobe, Oylla Podrida. This influence makes perfect sense since the area came under direct rule of Spain after 1555. So while it is not much of an indication of French cooking at all, it is virtually the only thing written in French between the mid 16th and mid 17th century.”

Lancelot de Casteau was responsible for the book and aside from a few spotty facts (he worked for a few bishops, was born in Mons, lived in Liège and died there in 1613) we know precious little about him. It seems he did well cooking for a succession of Bishops for some time and accrued property and some wealth but when his commission lapsed, so did his wealth.  In the end he was reduced to moving in with his daughter and son-in-law who supported him.

Lancelot’s claim to fame was a giant banquet for incoming bishop, Robert Berghes in 1557.  I read the particulars of the dinner on a site run by the Université de Liège   and Ouverture de cuisine lists the entire menu for which he was justly proud.

The dinner comprised 146 different dishes divided into four services.

The article points to the fact that his menu was a departure from 15th century menus in that it was not all roasts and was quite diverse… including vegetable dishes as part of the fare.  I think you’ll agree, it was quite a feast with a collection of butter sculpting centerpieces at the end that is mind-blowing (thank heavens it was done in December).  What follows comes directly from THIS translation of Ouverture de Cuisine

“THE BANQUET OF THE ENTRANCE of Monsieur Robert de Berges Count of Walhain, Esquire & Prince of Liege, made in the palace in Liege, the year 1557 in the month of December, as follows.

There was in the palace accommodation for fourteen plates of meat: the table of the Prince was of five plates.

The second table was of six plates.

The third table of three plates of meats.

First service.

Guinea fowl boiled with oysters, & cardoons, Spanish salad.
Roast bustard. Tart of blanc mangier.
Boiled leg of mutton.
Sweet kid, & roasted oranges.
Marrow of beef in pottage.
Suckling pies of partridges.
Fat roasted veal in adobe. Roasted heron.
Hare in pottage. 
Cold venison pie.
Roasted crane with olives. Boiled partridge
with capers. Roasted crane bird.
Roasted boar. Breast of veal
stuffed and boiled.
Roasted mutton & remorasque.
Boiled redressed veal. Roasted plovers.
Stag in pottage. Capon in Hungarian
pottage. Roasted water pegasine.
Little birds in pottage.
Roasted duck in dodine sauce.

Second service.

Roasted pheasant, royal sauce.
Fat roasted veal. Pies of kid.
Roasted stag. Ravioli of beef
marrow. Roasted hulpe.
Crane bird in pottage.
Roasted begasse. Capon pies.
Roasted bittern. Boar in pottage.
Roasted goat.
Creamed veal tart.
Roasted partridges in pine nut sauce.
Roasted hare.
Roasted swan in Cremonese sauce.
Roasted egret. Roasted wood fowl.
Blanc mangier ravioli leaves.
Roasted lepelaire. Redressed roasted veal.
Angry pie. Kid in pottage.
English pies.
Stuffed boiled pigeon. Duck in pottage.
Roasted cerselle. Redressed leg of
mutton. Roasted wild birds.

Third service.

Redressed wood fowl pies.
 Cold roasted bustard. Pheasant pie.
Molded blanc mangier.
Dressed, molded jelly.
Cold roasted wild swan.
Pork jelly.
Redressed partridge pie.
Cold roasted guinea fowl.
Partridge pie, roasted crane.
Oysters in pottage, pigeon pies.
Bologna sausage. Boar pies.
Mushrooms in pottage. Roasted stag.
Boiled sturgeon. Goat pies.
Leg of Mayence.
Boiled Boar hurres.
Heron pie. Boiled Potato.
Stag pies. Lace jelly.
Anchovies. Bustard pies.
Trout in adobe. Lobster.
Guinea fowl pie. Larded jelly.
Hulpe pie. Roasted oysters.
Bittern pie. English brenne.
Seulette in adobe. Duck pie.
Egret pie. Turbot in adobe.
Sturgeon cafiade. Hare pie.
Smoked beef tongue. Roasted
Boar. Red deer in adobe. Mushroom fritters,
Crane pie. Boiled piece of Boar.

All the cold roasted venison was with gilded feet, & all the redressed pies gilded, & carrying banners.

All the lords were defrayed, each came to the palace seeking their raw meat, & all that they had need, spices & sugar.

Fourth service.

Large gilded marzipan. Genua pie.
Liquid sweets. Sugared waffles
Quince pies. Roman pipes.
White marmalade. Clear white jelly
Pistachine. Royal tart.
Long pipes. Orange pie.
Almond lard. May butter.
Wafers. Clear red jelly.
Sugared almonds. Apple pie.
Candied cinnamon. Moustacholle.
Dried sugar. Bugnole fritters.
Sugar pies. Samblette.
Palamitte. Molded marmalade.
Cream tart. Fish preserves.
Orange preserves with flowers.
Ice jelly. Offal puffs.
Large sugared biscuit, Eel fritter.
Sugared crenelle. Large castelin.
Candied capers. Candied pears.
Snow on rosemary. Raw apples.
Anise. Parmesan. Hungarian candied 
prunes, puff cakes. Chestnuts.
Morquin. Rosquille. Biscotelle.

“There were four parks of two feet square, environed in a hedge of butter.

The first was Adam & Eve made of butter, a serpent on a tree, & a running fountain, with little animals all around of butter.

The second park was the love of Pyramus & Thisbee, the lion by the fountain, & the trees all around environed in a hedge of butter.

The third park the hunt of Acteon, & the nymphs with Diana at the fountain, & then of the little dogs of butter.

The fourth park was two wild men, who battled one another with the masses by a fountain, & little lions of butter all around: each park had four banners.”

You must agree, that is one heck of a blowout -- the butter parks are remarkable.

What to make from Lancelot’s book?   What brought me to his book in the first place was his recipe for the original ‘Mostarda” or in this case “Cremone Mustard” that caught my eye when I made Verdi’s salad.  It is a bit different from the modern version with orange marmalade, quince and the amazing rose addition.  I had to make it.  By using bought marmalade, it just takes a minute to do.  Quinces are lovely this time of year.  Whenever I buy them in the green market, other people huddling around the mostly  apples and pears vendor always ask me “what do you do with a quince?”  This is a perfect recipe for the fruit.

Once the mustard was made, I looked in his book for something to use it with. I decided to make “Tuna of another sort” or Tonine d'une autre sorte.  This is the original fish finger but terribly good and couldn’t be easier. The crispy mustard crust is genius and I loved the mustard as a dipping sauce as well –– gilding the lily.  Perfect.

Tunny of another sort

1 pound fresh tuna (I cut  a portion size of tuna into 3 pieces)
½ c flour
 (I added 1 t salt and ½ t pepper)
3 T mustard ( I used a spicy mustard for this)
1 c bread crumbs
4 T butter
Toss the tuna in flour on top and bottom. Spread mustard on the top of each slice. Press the bread crumbs into the mustard.

Fry the crumb side of the tuna first.  When done, flip to the flour side.  Serve with cremone mustard.

Tunny of another sort (original recipe translation)

Take slices of flattened tunny a half finger small, & dredge in flour on two sides, fry in hot butter, when frying one side put mustard that the slice will be covered in mustard, then have grated white bread, sprinkle thereon the slice, & press a little with the finger so that it will stick with the mustard, then turn the bread thereunder, & let it fry again along side the bread, & then serve three or four pieces on a plate.

To make Cremone mustard

½ pound of marmalade
½ pound of quinces
1 c of mustard (I hydrated dry mustard but jarred will do just fine)
reserved liquid from the quinces
1 -2 drops Aftelier rose essence or 2 - 3 t rose water

Combine all ingredients except the rose and cook for a bit to combine.  Add the rose to taste and then

Cremone Mustard, original recipe translation

Take half a pound of orange peels candied in sugar, half a pound of quince preserved in sugar or marmalade, & chop them all well together very small: then take half a pint of mustard well thick, then take melted sugar with rose water, & put therein some turnsole, & let it boil together to give good red color, & let it boil like syrup, & mix therein that which you have chopped, & mix the mustard with, put enough syrup, & serve in little plates three or four spoons for setting at the table with roasts."


3 oranges
4 c sugar
juice of 1 lemon, or t of citric acid
drop of Aftelier Petitgrain essence.

Take the skin off the oranges and cook in water till tender.  Chop into thin strips.  Over a bowl with a strainer, chop the oranges into small pieces and use a food mill to extract the pulp and leave the rough bits behind.  Put the accumulated juice and the pulp with the chopped peel into a pot with the sugar.  Cook for about 20 minutes.

Check the texture on a plate you have put in the freezer… put a spoon on the plate and see if the texture is right


2 quinces, peeled and cored and sliced.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Put the quinces in a pan with the sugar and water and cover.  Cook till done, 10 or 15 minutes… depending on how you like them.  Reserve the liquid.

Please go over to Amazon and look at Ken’s latest book,

It’s a blast to read and a lovely tribute to old school methods before every kitchen task involved an electrical appliance.

Lostpastremembered Note:

I will be off on a movie so will not be posting as regularly or visiting my favorite blogs as much as I'd like.

Follow Me on Pinterest

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Andalucia and a Brilliant Medieval Chicken Sausage

I found a recipe a while ago that I love.  It is a great chicken sausage from a 13th century Andalucian Cookbook that doesn’t use fat to get flavor –– WOW.  

When I think of Andalucian cuisine I think of Gazpacho and Ajo blanco (the white gazpacho that I wrote about HERE), honey pastries, tortillas, fried fish, ham and Sherry. You may not know that many of the iconic foods of the region were inspired by the rich and ancient cuisine of Africa and the Middle East.  

Andalucia is located at the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula.  Cordoba, Granada, Malaga and Seville are its best-known cities.  The area has a history that has been touched by the Romans, Vandals, Visigoths and Byzantines –– but the Moors left my favorite cultural footprint.

Their music, games, literature and science left an enormous mark but so did their architecture –– they left Andalucia some of the most remarkable structures in the world –– think lace made of stone.

Carl Curman Cynotype 1878

The name Andalucia comes from the word Al-Andalus (an Arabized version of Vandalusia – meaning land o f the Vandals).  The Moors governed the territory from 711-1492 (the word ‘Moor’ has many possible roots, from meaning dark to meaning coming from Mauretania).  The Moorish occupation had actually had some perks.  Cordoba had irrigation and streetlights in the 10th century.

One of the great wonders of the world, the Alhambra (Al-amra in Arabic – meaning ‘the red fortress’) was built between 1333-54 by Yusef I and Mohammad V in Granada.  Poets described it as “a pearl set in emeralds” because of the contrast between it’s formerly whitewashed lace structures (now an ecru to soft red color) set in a dense green wood originally planted with roses, oranges and myrtles that also provided perfumed air.  Nightingales and running water provided the soothing soundtrack. 


The carved arabesques and tiles are what makes the magic.  Light plays on the structure in an astonishing way. 

The muquarnas (a stalactite-like decorative element first seen in Iran) became a central point of the ceilings in the Alhambra.

You can imagine such an elegant culture would have an equally elegant and complex cuisine and you’d be right.  It is a brilliant cuisine with subtle flavors.

An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the Thirteenth Century (translation by Charles Perry and available online HERE) is quite a remarkable book that was written shortly before the Alhambra was  built. The recipes are exquisite.

This particular sausage is richly flavored without any added fat, nuts supply the rich texture –– making it a perfect sausage for today.  It is simple to make with a food processor –– you can make patties if you would like to skip the step of stuffing sausage casings.  The flavor and texture will surprise you.

The recipe was redone on Godecookery's site with lavender instead of spikenard,  a delicious substitution if you are not one of a handful of people who keep spikenard in their spice cabinets.  I made them both ways to see the difference.  The spikenard is a dark flavor and is very different from lavender.  If you want to have a closer flavor, I'd say dried mushrooms and a bit of oregano would come close.  They are delicious dunked in mustard.  

The apples are amazing. In the original dish the apples were added to a meat dish.  I decided to do the apples separately as a side to my sausages. Who knew saffron would be great with apples?   I can see these apples being used as a great side dish to pork, a thanksgiving turkey dinner or even a light dessert.

Andalusian Chicken Sausage from the 14th Century for 3 or 4

1 1/4 oz almonds
1 1/4 oz walnuts
2 T pine nuts
1/2 t caraway seeds
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t black pepper
1 t salt
1/2 to 1 t lavender (crushed) or 1/2 t spikenard 
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped in big chunks
1 T honey
1 egg
sausage casings
oil for frying

Put the nuts and spices into the food processor and chop till well ground (or to taste--- less if you want them chunkier)

add the meat, honey and egg and process till well ground.

Put the sausage in the casings as your machine requires (I use a Kitchenaid attachment) or make into patties or rolls... the mixture will be very moist.

If you have made sausages, simmer them for 20 minutes then store till ready or fry in the oil.  If you made paddies or sausage shapes, chill then fry.

Apples based on those in Tuffâhiyya 

1 large apple, peeled, cored and sliced into 12 slices
3 T sugar
1 or 2 drops camphor or 1 or 2 sprigs of mint
pinch of saffron and coriander
1 drop Aftelier rose essence (available HERE)
 or 2 t rosewater

Put the apples and the sugar in a pan with the saffron in about a cup of water and cook till tender ( I did 10 minutes but it depends on the type of apple you use).  Then add the camphor or mint and rose.  Bathe the apples in the flavored syrup and serve warm or room temperature.

Original recipe:

Dish of Chicken or Whatever Meat You Please
If it is tender, take the flesh of the breast of the hen or partridge or the flesh of the thighs and pound very vigorously, and remove the tendons and pound with the meat almonds, walnuts and pine nuts until completely mixed. Throw in pepper, caraway, cinnamon, spikenard, in the required quantity, and a little honey and eggs; beat all together until it becomes one substance. Then make with this what looks like the 'usba' (intestines with meat) made of lamb innards, and put it in a lamb skin or sheep skin and put it on a heated skewer and cook slowly over a fire of hot coals until it is browned, then remove it and eat it, if you wish with murri and if you wish with mustard, God willing.

Tuffâhiyya , a dish made with apples

Take meat as mentioned in the recipe for safarjaliyya [Take the flesh of a young fat lamb or calf; cut in small pieces and put in the pot with salt, pepper, coriander seed, saffron, oil and a little water; put on a low fire until the meat is done] and prepare the same way; then add tart apples, peeled and cleaned, as many as needed... [Huici Miranda estimates 4 words missing] and when you take it to the hearthstone, put in a little sugar, and cut with musk (Adoxa moschatellina - Moschatel) and camphor dissolved in good rose water. The acidity is most efficacious in lightening and strengthening the heart and it can be made with the flesh of birds, such as fat hens or young squabs of the domestic dove or stock-dove and then it will be finer and better.

Follow Me on Pinterest

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Penshurst Place, Tall Tales and Filet Otherways with Orange and Rose

I felt a throb of sympathetic connection with Elizabeth Warren this week when I heard what she said about undocumented family histories:

“When I was a little girl, I learned about my family's heritage the same way everyone else does -- from my parents and grandparents.

“My mother, grandmother, and aunts were open about my family's Native American heritage, and I never had any reason to doubt them.”

Most of what I knew about a quarter of my heritage came from a grade school memory and barely an hour spent with my grandfather –– making him uncomfortable with my cub-reporter questions. For decades the story seemed pretty nebulous.  How would I stand up to a grilling?

My grandfather was a classic reserved WASP –– he wasn’t warm and cuddly or a big talker and certainly didn’t talk about his family history( I was terribly fond of him). I vaguely knew that his family came from the East, that my great grandfather had been a judge (we still have a very cool old gavel), that my very feisty great-grandmother HATED the Midwest and shot Indians off the back porch and that my grandfather’s brother had been a sensitive artist who committed suicide.  His brother's painting of a melancholy, Dante-esque “dark wood where the straight way was lost” kind of forest hung in my grandparent’s living room as a constant reminder of his lost brother yet my grandfather wouldn’t speak of him (I never knew him as he died after WWI –– I can't help but think the family disconnect was because of the tragedy). I might never have known much more about that history if a teacher of mine (and DAR member) hadn’t assigned me to research my family and report about it.

To accomplish my assignment, I sat my grandfather down and took up my notebook and asked him about his family.  That afternoon I found out that I had a Revolutionary War General in my past as well as towns and counties and streets named after a few of my ancestors in Eastern cities (for years I didn’t remember what state – it was always “in the East”). There was also some vague relationship to a famous English family although we had been in America "forever".  I remember the teacher was terribly impressed.

This all stayed wrapped in tissue paper in my brain until after my grandfather had passed away.  I unwrapped a tiny memory of that history when I found a 1713 engraving of  Francisa Sidney (in most places spelled Frances) and sort of adopted her as a hero as she was a brave champion of learning (founding a college at Cambridge) and a brilliant, well-read woman in the style of Elizabeth I and Bess Hardwicke –– I was thrilled that there seemed to be an ancient connection, albeit a nebulous one. The engraving still sits above my desk.  

When my ex and I decided to get a house upstate, the door to my family history was finally flung full open as we toured around the ‘Southern Tier” looking for a place after a friend had gotten a house up there.  Suddenly I looked at a map and found those towns and streets with my family names and as I toured the area I even found statues honoring my Revolutionary War ancestor.

It was great fun discovering my heritage on the hoof.  When my parents died 3 years ago, I came across a fragile document, written in a fine, feathery 19th century hand detailing and verifying most of what I remembered of my family tree.  Eureka.

Still, there was one piece of the puzzle that was hanging like a bad participle.  What about the Sidney connection? 

Penshurst Place 1907

For years I tried to visit Penshurst Place, the ancestral home of the Sidney family.  Every time I was in England SOMETHING happened to keep me from going till last year.  I finally got to walk the hallowed Sidney halls but also found out the sad truth.  My ancestor wasn’t a titled Sidney that had run away to America for love or to find adventure –– well at least not one from the right side of the blanket.  Most likely it was a servant who had appropriated the name when he started a new life in a new country or a poor distant relation of the illustrious family (a few Sidneys came to the New World in the mid-17th century, landing in Virginia but not from the Penshurst Place branch of the family that I could see). Maybe I waited so long to find this out because I was fond of the myth. 

My youthful daydream of hobnobbing with the Sidney family was not to be.  I had based this hope on the experience of a friend with a very unusual and ancient English name who had mentioned it to the docent on the house tour when she visited England for the first time. This wasn’t a cozy cottage, by the way –– it was one of the great stately homes of England.  The docent had her wait when the tour was over, disappeared for a while and on her return, offered my friend an invitation to tea with the family in the private quarters.  She got to see amazing things, found the ancestor who had left England to go to America on the family tree and was treated like, well, a long lost relative.

My dreams on that front were slightly battered but not completely broken  –– it’s a cool family with amazing history and I got to see a fabulous house that I had been wanting to see forever. 

I was much saddened that photographs were not allowed in the house. It’s great to have professional photos of houses to look at, but my eyes follow their own paths and some things that I find fascinating are not visible in large photos.  I’m sure many of you feel the same way when you tour houses.  I did get a few splendid snaps of the exterior.  It was a perfect day, all in all.


Flag Garden

Idyllic views abound

Sidney symbol, the Porcupine – a modern creation

My favorite place inside the house is the most ancient and one of finest examples of 14th-century architecture extant.  Although many great halls had fire pits in the center of the room, the great hall at Penshurst Place still has its pit and uses it for special occasions (well ventilated, I hope – the original opening in the roof was capped centuries ago).

The pair of 20’ trestle tables are original to the room and the oldest tables of that type known to exist.  I tried to find a close-up of the tables but could not… just the texture of the wood of the table top is a work of art.  Originally the servants sat at these tables and the lords of the manor sat at a table set on the dais at the end of the hall.

Most of the lovely interior photos are by Will Pryce from Country Life , some are taken from a book  that I got at Penshurst. The exterior photos are mine.

The Baron’s Hall (CL)

1915 Photograph of The Baron’s Hall

The hall is 62’ x 49’ and rises to a dizzying 60 feet covered by a magnificent chestnut ceiling with life-sized figures of peasants and workers decorating the braces.



Penshurst Book

Although something had been on the site since at least the 12th century, the bones of the house we see now was built in 1341 by Sir John de Pulteney ) and thought to have been built by the architect and carpenter of King Edward III   (William de Ramsey III and William Hurley), not a surprise since t he relationship with the king was strong –– he was beholden to the terribly rich Pulteney who had shared his wealth with the crown when needed. 

Lots of crenelation

That same year a license was issued to crenelate the house – more for show than for defense. Crenelations are those square notched ‘teeth’ on the top of walls ( I love crenelation –– the word and the technique).  Back in the day you had to ask permission from the crown to add defense-enabling details to your house. 

Curtain walls and turrets were added by the new occupant, John Devereux as a true defense measure (to protect against peasant revolts and foreign invasions) in 1380.

After Devereux, the house was passed on to John, Duke of Bedford then to the Duke of Gloucester then the Duke of Buckingham  who hosted a bash to end all bashes for Henry VIII in 1519, spending an astonishing £2,500 (£1.2 million in todays money) on the event.  That didn’t do him much good.  Henry saw him as a threat and had “proud Buckingham” beheaded in 1521.

The Sidney family took over the estate in 1552 thanks to a grant by Edward VI  (1537-53)  – a gift to his tutor, William Sidney (it was said that Edward died in the arms of William’s son Henry who had been Edward’s constant companion). It has remained in the family for 450 years with new additions through the centuries.

Penshurst Book

The Queen Elizabeth Room –another favorite of mine (Penshurst Book)

The fabulous furniture of the Queen Elizabeth Room – the Queen held court there when she was at the house.


I love this

Upper Long Gallery built in 1601(cl)

Neo Jacobean library in President’s Tower (CL)

The Tapestry Room (CL)

Vaulted Octagon and ground floor corridor (CL)

The Paneled Room in the base of a tower by the Baron’s Hall with a magnificent bed (Penshurst Book)

The Page’s Room  —a 19th century concept to show off the family’s 17th and 18th century porcelain collection (CL)

The remarkable family china on display in the Solar/Dining Room (Penshurst Book)

The Solar/State Dining Room  -- the withdrawing room of the Medieval house

With a history as long as this one, my path was wide open for a dish to share with you that might have been served at Penshurst Place. For me, choosing food to suit a place is like choosing elements for a movie set … you use your imagination to make a connection to the place and the time and the characters (after tons of research).  What could I imagine being eaten at that table?

Here, I see myself walking through the time of the 2nd Earl of Leister in the mid 16th Century when I offer up a stunning preparation for filet mignon (although it would work with any good steak).  The recipe comes under the heading “To Roast a Fillet of Beef” and follows as the second method…  titled “Otherways” Not a sterling heading but what a dish.

Before there were tomatoes for barbeque style sauces there were ‘otherways’ to get the sweet and sour flavor that we crave with meat.  In the mid-17th century, in his brilliant cookbook, The Accomplisht Cook (1660) chef Robert May (I wrote about him HERE used flavored vinegars for the punch… but they were refined, floral vinegars that are easy to copy today.  The result is a delicious filet –– this is seriously sexy beef with the dark sorcery of subtle perfume to the elegant sauce.  Although I didn’t grill it, it would be delicious done that way, basted in butter with a drip pan.  A little smoked salt adds that flavor to the meat.  A second preparation titled equally inauspiciously “or thus” had the filet stuffed with herbs, beets and ‘spinage’ and I decided to serve my beautiful filet on a bed of them instead of using it to stuff the meat.  I used individual filets but a large roast of the whole filet was the way it was originally done.  All in all, a dish fit for meal at Penshurst Place.

To Roast a Filet of Beef “otherways” from the Accomplisht Cook

2 filets of beef
1 T rose-vinegar *
¼ c red wine
1 T elder-vinegar, strained **
pinch of cloves, nutmeg cinnamon, ginger, coriander, fennel seed
Smoked Salt and Pepper to taste

3 T butter
juice of orange ( if you use lemon the sauce will be very sour… I liked orange best)

2 Beets, sliced
1- 2 cups cooked spinach as you would like
loose herbs, strewn artfully (parsley, thyme, savory, marjoram)

Marinate the filets for an hour in the vinegars, wine and spices with salt and pepper.

Heat a skillet till hot (cast iron is good).  Add 1T butter and the steaks and sear, browning well on all sides (I turn them with a tongs – depending on the thickness of the filet, you may want to do the sides as well as top and bottom if they are quite thick).  I cooked mine RARE so when it was browned it was done. Leave it in the pan a little longer for Medium – sautéing more than searing. 

When they are done, remove them to a warmed plate and cover lightly.  Add the rest of the butter and the orange juice and strained marinade to taste (if you want texture and a stronger flavor, don’t strain).  Reduce a little and pour over the steaks on a bed of beets and spinach.

*Rose Vinegar
½ cup white wine vinegar
1-2 t rosewater or 1 drop Aftelier rose essence (available HERE)

½ c white wine vinegar
1 t elderflower tea or one tea bag*

Steep the elderflowers in vinegar for a few hours.  I just left mine in and strained it when I needed to use it

Elderflower tea is available at health food stores… make sure you get only elderflowers and not tea with elderflowers – elderflowers are delicious and good for you.  I tried making it using fresh elderflowers but frankly liked the tea version better.

Both vinegars are delicious on salads… especially fruit salads.  I can't recommend Aftelier's Rose enough... it makes everything better.  You really should add her products (there are many HERE like bergamot, jasmine and lemongrass -- all the real deal) to your cooking arsenal... REALLY!!