Vintage Feasts: English Food by Jane Grigson

Stuffed monkey (it's a cake!)

This is March’s entry in my Cookbook Challenge, but I got a bit behind, because I had so much else to do. The book lay on the coffee table for weeks with a scribbled list of recipes next to it. I’ve had this book so long and used it so much that the copy I have is almost pristine; the first one completely disintegrated and had to be replaced.

First published in 1974 and endlessly reprinted since, it’s a true classic; unlike Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson wears her scholarship lightly and is a comfortable companion in the kitchen, rather than a somewhat alarming and superior presence. Nevertheless, there is a lot of historical information here along with authentic regional recipes from the Middle Ages onwards. It is a reminder of the regional traditions Britain seems to have lost; many recipes here are truly rooted in a place and its local ingredients, and Jane Grigson makes you want to cook them.

So, I love this book (along with Good Things and Grigson’s Fruit and Vegetable books it’s one of my all-time favourite cookbooks). There are already a few Jane Grigson recipes in my blog, including my best-ever pudding, Springfield Pear Cake, and the famous Chinese Yorkshire pudding featured in English Food — a must-try if your Yorkshires always flop.

I’d planned to do something I hadn’t done before, but time was pressing so I ended up plumping for one of my oldest favourites for the main course: pulled and devilled chicken. This is simplicity itself to make, and, says Jane, “there is no better way of using up the Christmas turkey with the glory it deserves.” You can use any poultry though, including pheasant, chicken, or guineafowl. You basically separate the leg and breast meat, tearing it into rough quills. The leg meats is spread with devil sauce, left to marinate, then grilled, while the breast is heated through in a thin, creamy sauce flavoured with lemon. The two are served together, with crispy toast. Don’t do vegetables with it, just serve a salad afterwards.

For the starter, I decided to make individual leek tarts, because I had some puff pastry that needed using up. “I’ve lost my Michelin star!” I wailed as I struggled to prise them out of the tart tins. They looked a bit of a mess on the plate, but they did taste good. I think if I made them again, I wouldn’t use a top crust, and I’d add more cheese (which was supposed to be Wensleydale or Lancashire, but hey, this is rural France — I had to use Gruy√®re).

For pudding, I’d have liked to make the gorgeous syllabub-topped trifle, but it’s just impossible to make syllabub with French UHT cream, as I have discovered to my cost. This book also has the original sticky toffee pudding, credited to Francis Coulson at Sharrow Bay. Then there’s the famous Sussex Pond pudding, heart-attack-on-a-plate stuff. In the end, I made Stuffed Monkey, which isn’t really a pudding, but I liked the name. It’s a very sugary, buttery pastry filled with chopped candied peel and ground almonds stirred into melted butter. As I slid it into the oven I realised the filling was supposed to have an egg yolk in it too. Oops. No wonder it wasn’t very spreadable. Still, the recipe worked despite this, a crisp browned crust surrounding a crumbly filling. It’s very rich even without the egg, so you only need small pieces served with coffee; the peel and almonds give it a Christmassy flavour. Although actually it’s a Jewish recipe, credited to Florence Greenberg.

Stuffed Monkey

175 g plain flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
125 g butter
125 g soft brown sugar
1 egg, separated
50 g butter, melted
60 g chopped candied peel (or dried fruit)
30 g sugar
60 g ground almonds
1 egg yolk

Preheat the oven to 190C. For the pastry, rub together the butter and flour. Stir in the sugar and then the lightly beaten egg yolk. Bring the mixture together with your hands as best you can. “Roll it out and cut two rounds to fit into an 8″ sandwich tin” instructs Jane. It was nearly impossible to roll out, so I pressed half of it into the bottom of a loose-based flan tin, using wet hands. For the filling, just mix the melted butter with the rest of the ingredients (preferably including the egg yolk!) and spread over the base. Use your hands, a rolling pin, or anything else you can think of to pat out the rest of the pastry; if it falls apart, just put the bits on top of the filling and press them together to make a lid. Brush the top with egg white.

Put in the oven for 30 minutes; cool in the tin. Using a loose-based tin did mean it was very easy to get it out of the tin. Cut into small slices and serve with tea or coffee (though I fancy a glass of Muscat or ginger wine wouldn’t go amiss either). It is said to keep well.

Stuffed monkey

5 thoughts to “Vintage Feasts: English Food by Jane Grigson”

  1. Looks delicious and I love the name! I’ll have to try this. I wonder if there’s some sort of equivalent in the States with a different name?

  2. An amazing menu – I love the sound of the Pulled and Devilled Chicken. You know, I don’t have this book? I must rectify this immediately, as Jane Grigson is a most sensible cook.

  3. My “English Food” has gone missing! I wanted to make Stuffed Monkey for some French friends and I was glad to find the recipe here. It is fine enough for sophisticated palates; very delicious, very rich and dense. Small slices are plenty. I use home made candied orange peel (recipe from English Food) which give a good flavour. I think substituting dried fruit would not be nearly as good.
    It is hard to make as the pastry breaks easily – rolling it between waxed paper helps – but the result is well worth the difficulty.

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