Violet Cookery

  When the railway line at Dawlish washed away back in 2014, the last things on most people’s minds were little purple flowers. A century ago it would have been a different story. The spring ‘violet train’ would have been unable to pick up Dawlish’s sweet-smelling harvest. Eliza Doolittles at Covent Garden would have had…

Beet Crazy

Beetroot divides the world. You love it or hate it. For those who love it, the sweet, earthy tones are equally complimentary with crunchy salads and sharp pickles. It is the base ingredient of Eastern Europe’s favourite soup, Borscht, obligatory cubed with every French dish of crudites, and the default relish on the Great Australian Burger…

Tart or Pud? The Bakewell Conundrum

There are several mysteries to do with Bakewell, at least two of them down to its most famous sweet treat. Is the world-famous Bakewell Tart the authentic dish or should we be lauding the less well-known Bakewell Pudding? And why does virtually every bakery and tea shop in the town claim to be the first-ever…

The Royal Chocolate Kitchen

Hampton Court Palace. Thomas Tosier is pounding roasted cacao beans to a paste on a hot granite slab. He is wearing full periwig, breeches and a long waistcoat. The slab has taken an hour and a half to heat up but that’s nothing to the 30-odd hours it will take to grind the beans to…

Colston Bassett Stilton

The tiny English village of Colston Bassett boasts a ruined Norman church, a market cross, a picturesque country pub – and what some might call the Emperor of the kings of British cheese. Stilton is, perhaps, the most distinguished cheese of all, with its thick yellow crust, sumptuous web of blue veins, crumble-cream texture and rich, piquant…

Maids of Honour

Some say Hampton Court, some say Richmond Palace. You pays your ha’penny and you takes your choice when it comes to legends about Henry VIII’s eating habits, especially when it comes to melt-in-the-mouth pastries dainty enough for a nursery rhyme. The story goes that the king, visiting his queen du jour in her apartments at…

Coddle up for Winter

When I was a kid, my mum used to make us ‘poached eggs’ using a frying pan-like saucepan with little shallow cups simmering over water. She’d put a dab of butter in each cup, break an egg into each then let them boil to a soft set. I grew up sincerely believing that that was what…

Skirret – the Forgotten Tudor Vegetable

“The sweetest, whitest and most pleasant of roots,” raves gentleman gardener John Worlidge, in his 1677 Systema Horticulturae Or The Art of Gardening. “Pleasant and wholesome,” agrees Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. Yet the subtle sweetness of the modest skirret, noted by Pliny as the Emperor Tiberius’s favourite and a mainstay of Tudor tables, is all but…