Gravadlax and Rye Bread

Gravadlax is something I have wanted to try for a while. I love the taste and texture of smoked salmon, but unless somebody I know buys a smoking house, or I disable all the smoke alarms in the house, I’m not making smoked salmon at home anytime soon. Consequently, gravadlax, as cured salmon, provides a nice compromise, with a similar texture and depth of flavour to smoked salmon.

I went to Denmark recently, where preserved fish is a cultural phenomenon, so I had plenty of fish while I was there. On return I wanted to try to cook a few bits of Nordic cuisine myself, so I felt it was time to try making gravadlax myself. Particularly, I wanted to create a ‘smørrebrød’, the Danish open sandwich (see picture below). Seen everywhere in Denmark, the open sandwich is a slice of (usually rye) bread, topped with egg, prawn, ham, steak, etc.- whatever leftovers you have from last night’s dinner. I thought I could combine making of the gravalax and having a go at some rye bread, to then assembling them into my own open sandwich.

Gravadlax (laks is Danish for salmon) is created by mildly curing salmon. The fish is covered by a spice mix of salt and sugar, which is absorbed into the fish over a period of time, and draws moisture from the fish. The curing process here is not one that will preserve the salmon for long, but just enough to allow flavour to develop, and a slight fermentation. The environment created is undesirable for bacteria, with acid and salt, which is why the fish is preserved for a short while. There is a huge amount of dill used- the recipe I have calls for 300g- but it’s only flavouring in the dish. If you are using dill from a garden, make sure you wash it properly, as bacteria from the dirt can get in. I really like the dill flavour, though, and it really works with the salmon, so don’t worry about it.

To finish off the smørrebrød, there was the mustard and dill sauce (see below) and egg from a friend’s chickens, but most importantly, there is the rye bread. In Denmark I had a lot of rye bread- not usually my favourite, given how dry it is. But the flavour and texture of the Danish rye bread makes you see why it is such a big deal over there- I heard it said that each man has his own opinions on rye bread, and that arguments can form over different styles. So on the way back, I had to pick up some rye flour to try some myself. As it turns out, the basic version is very easy to make. The flour does not have a lot of gluten in it, so does not rise very well, not surprising when you consider how heavy rye bread is. Consequently, once you have mixed the ingredients together, there is not much left to do. The heavy bread the rye flour made provided a solid base for the smørrebrød, and a background for the flavours, so to speak.

But what surprised me most is how straightforward this all was to make. The gravadlax is very easy to do at home; it is almost the same as marinading the salmon in spices and dill. Similarly, the rye bread was the least difficult bread I’ve made, as it doesn’t need much managing to get to rise the correct amount. Overall, given it can be prepared in advance, if you are organised gravadlax, or the whole open sandwich, will make a very fun dinner party starter.


I used an entire side of salmon here, knowing that the leftovers would make delicious sandwiches. However, I ended up cutting them up into fillets anyway, so you could just use a couple of fillets instead. The quantities are for a whole side, scale down if you want less gravadlax. The recipe is taken from The Scandinavian Kitchen.

1 side salmon (skin on, ideally)
300g dill, chopped
4tsp course sea salt
2tsp sugar
2tsp ground black pepper

1. Make the gravadlax.  Mix the salt, sugar, and pepper together. Chop the salmon into fillets. In a large tray (big enough to put all the salmon in), spread half of the dill on the bottom of the dish. Place the fish on top, then cover with the spice mix, then the rest of the dill. Cover with cling film, and put something heavy on top (I used books). Leave for 48 hours in the fridge, turning once if possible (I didn’t).
2. Create the slices. Take the gravalax out of the dill/spice mix, and scrape it off. Using a filleting knife, cut into slices.

Mustard and Dill Sauce

This is the traditional accompaniment. I found it a little hot and overwhelming (partly because I got hold of some nice mustard), but the flavours worked together well.

100ml Dijon mustard
50ml double cream
50g dill
1tsp cider vinegar
4tsp dark brown sugar

1. Make the sauce. Just mix all the ingredients together!

Simple Rye Bread

The recipe is adapted from one from The River Cottage Bread Handbook. I brought rye flour back from Denmark, I am not sure about its availability in the UK.

500g rye flour
300ml warm water
1.5tsp salt
1.5tsp dried active yeast
20ml olive oil

1. Make the dough. Mix all the ingredients together. Knead for 5 minutes, or 3 minutes in an electric mixer. Put to rise in a warm place for around 90 minutes.
2. Bake the bread. Heat the oven to 200ºC. Wait until it is up to temperature, then cook the bread for 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.


Does living a ‘gastronomic lifestyle’ save money?

One of the knocks on organic food is that it is more expensive. Similarly, farmers’ markets are thought more expensive, as is buying meat from butchers, fish from fishmongers, and bread from bakers. Supermarkets have thrived because of economies of scale, being able to build consistent supply lines to produce groceries at a lower cost, as well as the convenience of being able to do a weekly shop there (or even have it delivered).

But what you also get in supermarkets is pre-prepared food, and you have to pay extra for that, as somebody has to prepare it (see my post on Sandwich Ham for example). So on the one hand, you have convenience, and on the other, quality and effort. And the effort part of it is not to be understated- when you do buy food that isn’t pre-prepared, you do have to spend extra time and effort making the dish. I know there are evenings when I don’t feel like cooking, and evenings where we just grab a pizza from Tesco and the only cooking that is involved is putting it in the oven. It’s a balance, and you want to figure out where on the gastronomic scale you want to be.

Here, though, I want to look at the financial side of things. What motivated me to look at this was a justification I made for buying an expensive stand mixer: “if I made bread in it for the next three years it will pay for itself”. Perhaps an overconfident justification (but so far so good), it does raise the further questions of how this effort/convenience balance works out for other foods, from a financial perspective. So, I decided to work it out.

To look at the costs associated with gastronomy in more detail, I’ve suggested three strategies: the regular stategy (RS), the effort strategy (ES), and the lazy strategy (LS). The RS consumer likes good food- buying quality products- but will buy basic, regular ingredients sometimes, and pre-prepared food sometimes. The ES consumer will buy the ingredients from Tesco, but make almost everything themselves. The LS consumer picks mostly based on convenience. I would imagine that each of us is a mix of these things, depending on what it is they are cooking. I’ve tried as hard to be fair to each one as possible, but there isn’t really enough room to show how I did these calculations (nor would you want to read about them), so if you think I’ve gone wrong somewhere let me know. Cost is over a year, to feed two people, and all prices come from Tesco. Here are ten examples:

1. Bread/Sandwiches
RS: Buys bread and meat, makes sandwiches. Cost: £620.36
ES: Makes bread, makes meat, makes sandwiches. Cost: £459.16
LS: Buys a sandwich for lunch each day. Cost: £819.00

2. Breakfast Cereal
RS: Buys good cereal. Cost: £234.00
ES: Makes own breakfast like granola/muesli. Cost: £140.40
LS: Buys reasonable cereal. Cost: £156.00

3. Cakes/Biscuits
RS: Makes 50% of cakes and biscuits. Cost: £274.82
ES: Makes all cakes and biscuits. Cost: £357.24
LS: Buys all cakes and biscuits. Cost: £192.40

4. Lasagne
RS: Buys red and white sauce, makes otherwise. Cost: £423.28
ES: Makes all except lasagne sheets. Cost: £340.08
LS: Buys all ready made. Cost: £156

5. Pizza
RS: Buys good pizza. Cost: £208
ES: Homemade pizza. Cost: £102.96
LS: Buys reasonable pizza. Cost: £104

6. Roast Dinner
RS: Makes dinner except stuffing and gravy, medium joint. Cost: £179.66
ES: Makes all, good joint. Cost: £248.38
LS: Buys frozen roast dinner. Cost: £114.40

7. Soup
RS: Buys fresh soup. Cost: £119.60
ES: Makes soup from scratch. Cost: £62.40
LS: Buys tinned soup. Cost: £41.60

8. Stocking up the storecupboard
RS: Some to buy here. Cost: £208
ES: Lots to buy here. Cost: £312
LS: Not much to buy here. Sauces perhaps. Cost: £78

9. Vegetables
RS: Buys selection of vegetables. Cost: £520
ES: Buys Abel and Cole veg box. Cost: £624
LS: Buys pre-prepared vegetables. Cost: £364

10. Wine
RS: Buys 2 bottles/week at £5. Cost: £520
ES: Buys 2 bottles/week at £7. Cost: £728
LS: Buys 2 bottles/week at £4. Cost: £416

If you add up the totals for the different strategies, the clear winner is the LS, with £2441.40. In some sense this is not surprising, as you can easily use economies of scale to your advantage. But it was clear when looking at the products bought just how inferior they were from a taste perspective. More interesting, though, was the RS and ES totals- £3324.72 and £3374.62 respectively- as near as makes no difference. The extra quality and cost you were getting in the wine, meat cuts, and vegetables was offset by cheaper sandwiches, pizza, and home-made meals. So that extra quality for extra effort, but no extra cost.

So of course, the model is flawed in many ways, not taking into account cooking equipment, meals eaten out, and the costs are massive estimates, therefore you can’t put too much stock in the conclusions. But the idea that there is a good amount of money to be saved by making the “basic” meals- breakfast and lunch- youself, I think that’s still valid. Similarly, buying sauces and other simple ingredients often puts the cost noticeably higher than making them from scratch. And that all frees up money for the more exciting things- wine, good fresh fruit and vegetables, and quality meat and fish. A change in strategy in one of these areas could make a significant difference. Who knows, I might be able to afford that expensive stand mixer after all.

Chicken and Mushroom Soup

It’s surprising what you can get out of one chicken. We bought a large chicken from Tesco for around £5, roasted it, and had enough leftovers for a chicken korma and a chicken rogan josh- 8 generous portions of chicken at under a pound a portion, that is, if you don’t mind getting your fingers messy picking at the chicken after you have roasted it. And that’s also what you get- the carcass. The carcass, and any bits of meat you’ve left behind will make an excellent stock, which can be the base for a soup or sauce. With stock cubes, it’s easy to not worry about keeping a stock pot or making stocks out of leftovers,- it’s easy to make stock when you need it. But, when making the stock yourself, not only do you get something that tastes a lot better, you’re showing good gastronomic principles, using all parts of the animal to contribute to meals, and not throwing away leftovers.

If you haven’t tried making stocks before, they are actually pretty straightforward. You simply take the bones, roast them (if not already roasted), add some herbs and spices, cover with water, and simmer for a few hours. Once made, the stock should keep for around the week in a fridge, so if you are making a velouté or other stock-based sauce later in the week, you can use your pre-made stock then. Equally, which is what I have done here, you can make it into a soup. This recipe is for a very simple stock, as in my opinion chicken and mushroom soup should be a simple soup, but you can emphasise different flavours if you want. The soup is very flexible- if you like your soup more or less creamy, adjust the amount of cream, if you like it more or less mushroomy, add more mushrooms, or even leave them out all together.

Cream of Chicken and Mushroom Soup

Makes around 4 portions. Should keep for a few days in the fridge. Serve with fresh bread.

1 chicken carcass, most skin removed
1 bouquet garni (bay, parsley, thyme)
250g chestnut mushrooms
200ml double cream
A few litres of cold water
Salt and Pepper

1. Make the stock. Put the chicken carcass in a stock pot or large pan and fill with water. Add the bouquet garni, and simmer over a low heat for a few hours. Strain through a muslin and reduce the stock down to around 600ml.
2. Make the soup. Fry the mushrooms, getting rid of as much moisture as you can. Blitz them with a hand blender until as smooth as possible. Add the blended mushrooms and double cream to the stock, then season to taste.

I like my soup mushroomy.

Danish Cuisine in Pictures

This last week I spent in Denmark, mainly visiting Aarhus University, but I also spent a few days in Copenhagen beforehand to explore a little. There were plenty of foodie things to do- the excellent Torvehallerne KBH food market in Copenhagen was a morning well spent: a large market of boutique food and drink shops, bakeries and eateries, and local farmers and traders coming in to sell their wares. In Copenhagen I also found ‘Fiskens Dag’ (fish day), a mini festival where many local fishmongers and retailers were there with samples to try and get local people to learn about and eat more fish. In Aarhus there was plenty to do, with great restaurants, local cuisine, and I always enjoy looking around foreign supermarkets- an underrated way to learn about a country’s eating habits and gastronomy.

Denmark, and Nordic countries in general, seem to have a healthy attitude towards food and cooking. In my experience, Danes cooked with the seasons, ate what was locally produced (organic if possible), and supported small traders and bakers. I didn’t see a lot of fast food eateries at all. But what I found particularly surprising was that Danish people ate Danish food- students were sitting in the common room putting pickled fish onto rye bread and eating it- I certainly don’t eat steak and kidney pudding, roast beef, or spotted dick very often. There’s too much in Nordic gastronomy to discuss in detail here, but if you’re interested, an excellent book I have is The Scandinavian Kitchen, by Camilla Plum, who seems to be the Nordic version of Delia Smith. But to get an idea of Danish cuisine, here’s a taste of my trip, in 10 pictures.

Smørrebrød at the Torvehallerne KBH food market in Copenhagen.

1. Smørrebrød- The Open Sandwich
Seen everywhere in Denmark, the open sandwich is a slice of (usually rye) bread, topped with egg, prawn, ham, steak, etc.- whatever leftovers you have from last night’s dinner. Often they have a condiment with them, like mayonnaise or remoulade, to help counter the dryness of the rye bread. Nicely presented, but not posh food, I saw a good few Danes eating these for lunch. I enjoyed the ones I had.

An ‘Overskåren’ from the Torvehallerne KBH food market in Copenhagen. A combination of chocolate, icing, and custard.

2. Danish Pastry and Bread
The thing I was most surprised about was the quality of the pastry and the bread- it was really, really good. Denmark has many signature pastries, like the cinnamon danish and cheese danish, so I was expecting good things, but the croissants, for example, were as good as I’ve had in Paris. The breads too- It would be tough to beat the grainy breads, like spelt and rye, found in Denmark, even those in a Danish supermarket. People just ate rolls by themselves, which was fine by me.

Loganberries from one of the local traders at Torvehallerne KBH food market in Copenhagen.

3. Berries
Denmark, and certainly other Scandinavian countries are famed for their berries, not surprising, given the climate. I found drinks, liquers, and jams based on loganberries, blueberries, hawthorn, elderflower, and rosehip, as well as the usual strawberries and raspberries. There seems to be a strong tradition of family trips to gather berries, then using the finds in meals at home. Commonly made into tarts seen in bakeries, they have a real depth of flavour which is not to be missed.

A Carl’s Special I had in central Copenhagen.

4. Danish Beer
Carlsberg is the most famous of the Danish beers, and rightly so, considering the key role they played in patenting and standarising strains of yeast. Not many people there drink the regular stuff, though. Popular was the beer on the right, a Carl’s special, a lovely red ale, full of hoppy flavours. But it was the stouts that I loved. Denmark produces very good darker beers, few of which are exported, sadly. One I liked in particular was made from muddy river water, for those extra flavours. It’s not uncommon to see ABV shoot up as well, with one boutique beer I had at 10.5%, a Hornbeer ‘Black Magic Woman’. So good is the beer, there is a dessert made of rye bread soaked in beer, that is meant to be a favourite of children.

Frikadeller in the Torvehallerne KBH food market in Copenhagen.

5. Frikadeller- Danish Pork Meatballs
How can you object to snack which is basically just a mound of meat? My first experience with Frikadeller was from Ikea, but the real ones stand up much better. For breakfast, in Denmark these meatballs are served with spiced red cabbage and a liver pâté, but you’ll find them for lunch and dinner too, in salad bars, or just as a side dish if you fancy more meat. Which I usually did.

Large jars of pickled fish with dill in a Danish supermarket.

6. Pickled Fish
Given Denmark’s huge coastal regions, it’s not surprising they have a culture of eating fish, and if you want to preserve fish, pickling is a good way to go. I stumbled on a “fiskens dag”, a fish day, aimed to promote people eating fish, and tried some pickled herring. If you are into pickled fish, I imagine it would be quite nice, but otherwise… not so much. The fresh and smoked fish I had was delicious though, particularly the smoked salmon

Danish cheeses in the Torvehallerne KBH food market in Copenhagen.

7. Cheese
Denmark produces a good number of cheeses, but apart from the Danish blue, many don’t make it out of the country. At a restaurant I had a platter of Danish cheese, which were very nice, some reminding me of Gruyere or Comté, a smoked cheese, and some softer ones, almost like sheeps’ milk cheese in flavour. Often, it seems, it’s just a slice of cheese with a roll. Worth trying some if you get the chance, though.

A hot-dog cart in central Copenhagen. I suppose every country is allowed a culinary vice.

8. Hot dog carts
Much more common than I would have expected are the Danish hot dog carts, which I saw frequently around Copenhagen and Aarhus. Serving a German style frankfurter in a roll with various condiments, they didn’t seem much better than their American counterparts. But when discussing with Danes, they recommended trying one as part of the cuisine, and I did see Danes eating there. Also common were Shawarma huts, basically kebab houses, but I didn’t make it to one of those.

A beer fridge at the Computer Science Fredagscaféen in Aarhus.

9. Fredagscaféen- Friday bar
A ‘gastronomical tradition’ is the Friday bar. At around 3pm on Fridays, departments will host a student-run bar in a classroom, much like a student-run bar in the UK, I suppose. You can do a “department crawl”, checking out different bars, as each one has a strong culture. We spent most of our Friday at the Computer Science bar (more fun than it sounds, I promise).

“Danish-bacon, Danish-bacon, yummy yummy yummy yummy yummy yummy yum.”

10. Danish Bacon
Last but not least, Danish bacon. Perhaps the one food here not eaten so much in Denmark, but bacon and other ham products provide one of Denmark’s key food exports (as well as a memorable marketing campaign). Large co-operatives have been formed for exporting bacon, to help keep costs down, and they even breed a ‘UK pig’, according to UK legislation, particularly for the British market. The UK has imported Danish bacon since the industrial revolution, when Britain became no longer self-sufficient in food, and pork products were a large part of a worker’s diet. However the pork products are in the UK, the ham and bacon I tried in Denmark was very good quality, I can see why the British wanted it.

Cajeta and Cinnamon Ice Cream

Ice cream is a great way of taking leftover dessert you’ve made and getting another dessert out of it. Any sauces you’ve made, like a caramel sauce, fruit purées, or melted chocolate will all go into an ice cream for a second life. You might want to make double quantity of the sauce you’re planning so there is some left at the end. Similarly, if you’ve got some fruit close to the end of it’s life, an ice cream is a good place to go. Given how easy ice creams are to make, and how long they keep in the freezer, you can make ice cream whenever you want, and keep it for a rainy day. So when I had a lot of cajeta made over from making a tres leches cake, that’s exactly what I did.

When making ice cream with something you have leftover, the one thing you have to be careful about is the sugar content. It’s important to have enough sugar in your ice cream to get the creamy texture you want, but equally way too much is going to make it taste unpleasant. With the cajeta, there is already a lot of sugar present, so I haven’t actually added any at all, and the texture was absolutely fine. With a fruit purée, you’ll have used a little sugar in making the purée, so you’ll want to reduce the amount of sugar added in afterwards. A bit of experience is helpful here, but it is hard to go too wrong with ice creams, you’ll always get something fun to eat- it’s cream and sugar after all.

Some notes on ice cream making from ‘Blackberry and Port Ice Cream’: “You can make ice cream without an ice cream maker, but it is tricky. The keep to making a good ice cream is to get small water crystals forming, as this creates the smooth texture you want. Ice cream makers work by churning the ice cream as the cream mixture is freezing, to stop large water crystals forming, and to create this churning effect by hand requires a lot of patience- you put the cream in a tub in the freezer, then every ten minutes, give it a good stir with a fork, then put it back. I’ve had ice cream made this way, and the texture has been fine, but the effort that goes into it is considerable. I use this Cuisinart ice cream maker, which I got for Christmas a couple of years ago, and I’ve been very pleased with it. It requires pre-freezing a bowl, typical among the cheaper ice cream makers- so make sure you get a large bowl that can cool down your cream quickly. The bowl with this machine is quite large, make sure your freezer can fit it inside.”

Cajeta and Cinnamon Ice Cream

This will make a litre of ice cream. I’ve included the cajeta/dulce de leche recipe from before, for completeness. This ice cream is delicious by itself, but would go well with roasted winter fruits like pears, figs, or apples.

1.5 litre cows’ milk
1 litre goats’ milk
450g caster sugar
1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 stick cinnamon

1. Make the milk mixes. Put aside 500ml of the cows’ milk. In one bowl, put 100ml goat’s milk with the baking soda. Stir until dissolved. In a large pan, place all the other ingredients, and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
2. Make the cajeta. Bring the large pan to the boil, and simmer for approx 30 minutes. When it is beginning to brown, add the baking soda milk. The mixture will begin to froth, so move off the heat if necessary. Continue simmering and reduce down to approx 750ml.
3. Make the ice cream. Add 500ml cajeta to the 500ml milk that you put aside earlier. Put in the fridge to cool overnight, then make into ice cream with an ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Old Cookbooks

Looking through boxes from an attic is not usually a task I find enjoyable. Going through boxes, deciding what is worth keeping and what isn’t… not often an afternoon well spent. But when sorting through boxes which used to be in my grandparents attic, I stumbled across a box of old cookbooks, some a good few generations older than my grandparents themselves. After looking through everything  else, I spend a good couple of hours looking through this box, all the recipes, and discovering a good deal about culinary lifestyles, and lifestyles in general- many years ago.

Most of the recipe books aren’t actually that helpful for cooking- which goes for classics like Escoffier as well. A lot of the recipes assume you have good cooking skills already, and know a lot of the techniques you’ll need for the meal. For example, in ‘Cookery For Every Household’ by Florence Jack, published 1938, on a stuffed bass:

…prepare some oyster forcemeat, according to recipe 1275. Put this into the fish and sew it up… Bake in a hot oven, basting occasionally with the bacon fat. When ready, remove the fish carefully to a hot dish and draw out the trussing needle.

No cooking times, few techniques explained- of course you have gutted, cleaned and scaled the fish yourself before you even start the recipe. Many of the recipe books are just like this. Huge, exhaustive tomes of thousands of recipes, they are fantastic if you already have a good knowledge of food, good technical skills, and are likely to be dedicating a lot of time to cooking, most days for the rest of your life. Of course, I liberated a few of these, not really to cook from, but for posterity’s sake. But there were also a few ‘interesting’ books and pamphlets that I saved as well, some of which I think are worth sharing.

‘The Stock Wartime Cookery Book’ (published unknown) is just that: how to make the most of rations, how to use every scrap of food in the house, and, as seen above, how to save your dinner in the case of emergency. At first thought it seems incredible that, when an air raid struck, the thing you would think about would be saving your dinner. But of course, if you didn’t, you may lose the day’s meal for your family. Also containing patriotic recipes like “Army Cake” and “Air Force Cake”, made without ingredients like currants (that would have been tough to get hold of at the time, due to rationing), you can see how everybody was swept up in the war effort, trying to keep up morale “for families grown suddenly large … [and] temporarily small”. The whole thing is fascinating to read. For those interested in some of the ways to save your dinner if air raids come:

[T]he first thing to do is to stop the heat, that is, turn off the gas or electric current or close the dampers of a kitchen range. If you do this your food cannot get burnt, and we will tell you how to continue the cooking when you can come back to the kitchen.

Meat is the easiest to deal with. Leave a roasting joint in the oven. The heat that will remain for some time in a gas or electric oven will be enough to go on the with cooking for a time, but not enough to burn the joint. When you come back to the kitchen, you may find that the meat is cooked. If it needs more cooking, start the oven again, baste the meat well with hot fat, and finish the cooking. Your own common sense and your knowledge of how long the meat has been in the oven will help you here…

Cakes. If by chance you have left a cake in the oven, leave it where it is, after turning off the heat, and test it with a knife, just as you test your baked pudding, to see if it is cooked. If the knife shows any dampness or stickiness, bake it for a little while longer, and in many cases you will find it none the worse. If, however, the cake is heavy when cut, or if it sinks in the middle, you can always make it into a pudding. There are two good recipes for a pudding…

On no account throw any food away if there is any way of using it. After a few experiments, and perhaps one or two failures, you will find ways to rescue food that has had to look after itself for a time, and I am sure your successes will outnumber you failures.

The Palmine Cookbook (published 1909) is a recipe book for a revolutionary type of butter: vegetable butter, which we are of course all familiar with today. A little internet research suggests this really was one of the first implementations of vegetable butter- Wikipedia states “Procter & Gamble researchers were innovators when they started selling cottonseed oil as a creamed shortening, in 1911”, post-dating this book by two years.

Objection to the use of animal fats in the modern kitchen has opened the road for a fat produced solely from a Vegetable origin. “Palmine” – the latest and most perfect production- is extracted from the fruit of the Palm- Cocoanuts- and is absolutely free from those qualities that render animal fats objectionable. Lard, the fat of pork, for instance, retains the flavour of pork throughout, in spite of any purifying process to which it may be subject, and this flavour obtrusively manifests itself during cooking.

With a lot of the recipes you would expect to see in any modern day cookbook, like puff pastry, cup cakes, royal icing, and tomato sauce, it’s also a little surprising to see how little some of our cuisine has changed in the last hundred years- Victoria sponge is still a popular cake, for example. Equally the idea that everybody would already know how to make a lot of these recipes- the book is really only demonstrating they can be done with this fat substitute- just shows how eating habits and gastronomy have changed.

The Radiation Cookbook (published unknown) looks at how to cook with modern “New World” gas cookers, issued by a company called Radiation Limited. The construction of the cooker looks very like our modern cookers, with burners, taps, and a griller. It’s hard to tell quite what features are new in this oven, compared to other products on the market at the time, as the book is also trying to sell the oven. However, with a tagline of “For perfect cooking by gas”, it does suggest that cooking by gas may be a relatively new thing in domestic kitchens. The recipes are nothing special, but with several diagrams on how to use the gas ovens most effectively, it makes for an interesting historical read.

It’s only when you start to read books like this that you really appreciate how society has changed in only a couple of generations- my grandmother grew up without a freezer, unthinkable now, but completely normal then. International ingredients like ras-el-hanout and other spice mixes, sushi ingredients, and gram flour are all available in supermarkets now, but would have been very hard to find when my parents grew up. I wonder what will be the equivalent in several generations time.

Book Review: Hot Sun, Cool Shadow- Savouring the Food, History and Mystery of the Languedoc

The Languedoc is a region in the south of France with a rich gastronomical history. Perhaps this is not surprising, though, when you consider the proximity to Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean, and the wars that were fought there whenever the religion of the day swapped. Hot Sun, Cool Shadow- Savouring the Food, History and Mystery of the Languedoc looks to tie some of these ideas together, considering the food, the food’s origins, and how the Languedoc developed. The author and her husband moved to the region after having spent several summers there, and discovering the local towns, markets, and restaurants. Each chapter is based around one or two local dishes, like cassoulet or duck confit, using the food as a springboard to discuss a certain area of the region, or cooking tradition, and one or two recipes are provided at the end of each chapter, should you wish to try to create the experience for yourself. Since the region has contributed a lot to French cuisine, there are plenty of things to talk about.

Hot Sun, Cool Shadow- Savouring the Food, History and Mystery of the Languedoc is a well written book, very easy to read, well researched, and full of interesting facts- did you know Vermouth was invented around there? You really do want to go out to the supermarket to buy the food which is focused on in the chapter you are reading, and a cottage for a couple of weeks in the south of France is something I’ll be looking at for my next holiday. The book doesn’t talk about wine very much, if at all, which is a little disappointing, as the wine trade has been a key characteristic for the region over the last 40 years, going from producing cheap plonk to becoming an up-and-coming wine region; I think you need discussion of wine for a complete picture of the region. But overall, a fun read, and I learnt a good deal, well recommended. 8/10.

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