Portable picnic friendly dishes are needed this month, as April presents us with a bit of a travel theme. I’ve chosen two vintage recipes that fit the bill nicely. The first one is for Caraway Seed Straws; this old fashioned ingredient is normally associated with a good seed cake. Here the use of seeds makes a delicious alternative to cheese straws, I warn you though, they’re very “moorish”. My second recipe is for the very timely Queen Cakes. These sweet little fairy cakes are incredibly quick and easy to make. Both recipes meet the picnic criteria, they are not too wet, messy, sensitive to heat and are easily moveable and quaffable - job done.
At the end of the month I’m off to the Leeds Symposium on Food History and Traditions, held each year in York. The theme of this year’s one day event is “Eating on the Move”. Guest speakers will be covering subjects ranging from the ubiquitous sandwich, medieval traveller’s food, everyday Tudor and Stuart street food and travelling food on British railways and lots more. I shall report back here as to how it all went and hopefully have some recipes and stories to share with you.
The following day, on Sunday 24th April, Jubilee Park in Woodhall Spa is hosting “County Wheels Lincolnshire 2016”. This family friendly fun day is open to the general public from 11am to 3pm. As well as the cars on display, there will be quizzes, country fare and other activities.
Organiser Malcom said “Last year was our first year and display cars started to arrive from 8am. We ended up with 600 vehicles on display, not all old cars but any interesting vehicles and included tractors, motorbikes and trucks through from 1904 to current Ferrari’s and a McLaren P1!”
To build on the success of last year, this year they are planning some very special displays, so keep watching Twitter and Facebook for details. This year heralds the annual award of the Petwood Cup, awarded to the most interesting vehicle. This gives everyone a chance of winning, as it isn’t necessarily the oldest, most exclusive or pristine!
To tie in with the event there will be a showing of The Italian Job at the Kinema in the Woods at 3.30pm on the day. For further information and to purchase tickets for The Italian Job screening, please visit www.CountyWheels.uk
In line with our travel theme, today marks twenty years since I went backpacking around the world. Back in 1996 a group of friends and I shared a house together near Exeter in Devon. All of us were twenty somethings and had professional jobs. I worked for the Commercial Radio Station - Gemini Radio. For reasons that still mystify me today, one of my housemates and I decided we should pack in our jobs and go travelling for a year. This ridiculous notion began to crystallise and started gathering momentum at an alarming pace. Saving, selling, arm numbing inoculations and trying to justify our seemingly unbalanced decision to family and friends. We employed a highly scientific method of choosing our route, involving several bottles of Chablis and selecting pink countries on the map, that we assumed would sell Clarins. Despite our woeful planning, naivety and arrogance, we somehow survived. It’s astonishing how our means of communication has changed in the last two decades. Back then we had no access to email, no mobile phones, no texting and definitely no skyping. The world seemed a much bigger place; contact home was a weekly phone call using a BT phone card, (paid for by Mum and Dad).
April 1996 and off we set, sporting our shiny new boots and rucksacks. First stop was Hong Kong, staying with a friend Jo. She was a civilian teacher for the British Army and conveniently had a beautiful apartment with balcony overlooking Repulse Bay. The view of the archipelago of islands in the South China Sea was breath taking. You only ever see the skyscraper images of Hong Kong, but Southern Hong Kong Island is beautiful, with beaches and little markets. It was a magical place and after a wonderful couple of weeks there, we bid our farewells to Jo and set off once more. Next stop Singapore, staying with another friend who had an even more luxurious apartment, this time with “staff” and a pool. Can’t say we had exactly been “roughing” it, that lay ahead in a cockroach infested hell hole in Kuala Lumpur (but that’s not a story for a family paper)!
One of our more intrepid trips involved going to Changi Prison (Nick Leeson was a guest at the time). We got the bus, the driver, despite his obvious reservations deposited us outside the gates. As expected, the prison was intimidating - high walls topped with coils of barbed wire all around the perimeter. Guards stood at the gates eying us, machine guns slung across their chests. We decided that “curiosity killed the cat” and was about to leave, when one of the guards walked towards us and started gesturing for us to come in. Silently we followed him, what else could we do? When we got through the gates and inside the grounds, we could hear music and singing. Still without speaking a word, the guard kept urging us to follow him and what appeared to be the source of the music. After about five minutes of walking through the tropical grounds, we finally stopped and there before us, was what appeared to be an open air church service. Pews were packed with an enthusiastic congregation of about fifty men and women, animatedly singing and dancing to gospel music. There was an archway at the front bedecked with pink and white fragrant flowers to form the altar. The vision was so incongruous and utterly unexpected that we couldn’t really process what was going on. The guard had disappeared and the Reverend smiled and waved for us to join in, so we did. Alongside the pews were rows of tables laden down with all sorts of foods, some familiar, some not. When the service was over we were asked to join them to eat. Communication was challenging, but we muddled through, food and hospitality a universal language. It transpired it was Pentecostal Sunday and the guard must have just assumed we were guests, why else would we be there! We thanked the Reverend and our hosts (inmates?) for their kindness and we made our way back to the barbed wire gates and the armed guards, who to our overwhelming relief sent us off without incident. The same bus driver picked us up for the trip back to Orchard Road, looking quizzically at our little parcel of cake in a Napkin! To this day it is one of the most surreal experiences of my life and one which I will never forget. Looking back to my travels I realise that most of my memories are intertwined with the food and hospitality of the people I met.
Thank you for indulging my trip down memory lane. We’re not quite in the present yet as the vintage recipes I have chosen are adapted from the fabulous 1936 book – “Picnics for Motorists”, by Mrs CF Leyel and Cooking without a Cook, of the same era. These books were aimed squarely at the privileged, moneyed classes. Evocative of those halcyon days between the wars, images of endless summers travelling through the countryside in your open top motorcar.
“Picnics for Motorists” begins with a chapter on suitable drinks. It makes for pretty alarming reading for us now. Mrs Leyel advises the driving picnicker “that beer will go excellently with any of the meals I have suggested, but if wine is preferred a white Anjou or Chablis would be delicious with any of the menus containing fish. Sauterne also would be suitable for any or all of them and claret if drunk after the fish……….If liqueur is wanted, cherry brandy is a very appropriate one.” I should think you would be that pickled that you wouldn’t really care what you ate, let alone be fit to get behind the wheel. Many of Mrs Leyels menu choices are rich and decadent (much I imagine, like her)! – Eggs stuffed with caviar, Foie Gras pie, Cold lobster cardinal, cold devilled mutton with nasturtium sauce and more. Many of her recipes are ghastly affairs, covered in aspic and set like concrete with copious amounts of gelatine. The first recipe I tried was for a Salmon Loaf – bleh! Be thankful that I made and tried it, so you don’t have to. There’s a reason why I’ve got to the age I am and not dealt with tinned salmon before!
Makes 24 Queen Cakes
6oz Caster Sugar
12oz Self Raising Flour
4 Beaten local free range eggs
6oz of either currants, raisins, sultanas or chopped glace cherries.
Drop of milk if required
Preheat fan oven to 170c
Line two fairy cake tins with cases, you will get 24 from this recipe
Cream Margarine and Sugar together until pale
Slowly whisk in beaten egg
Sift in the flour and fold in with metal spoon
Mix in your choice of dried fruit (you could always split the batter and do an assortment)
If the mixture is a bit stiff, add in a little bit of milk. It should be nice dropping consistency.
¾ fill your paper cases and level mixture with a knife
Bake for approx. 20 minutes or until golden brown and spring to touch
Best eaten on the day made
Caraway Seed Straws
5oz Butter or Margarine
8oz Self Raising Flour
Sea Salt Flakes
I egg yolk
Preheat oven to 190c
Mix the Marg and Flour together and mix to a stiff dough with enough water to bind it
Roll out on a floured work surface into a rectangle, about 5mm depth and trim sides to make straight edges as if you were making cheese straws.
Before cutting, glaze with the egg yolk, scatter the caraway seeds over the top and the sea salt
Cut into straws, I find a pizza wheel the best for this
Use the mix up the same way
Bake at 190c for 20-25 min or until golden brown.
Cool on a rack
Best eaten on the day they are made
Sadie Hirst is a member of Select Lincolnshire and the British Society of Baking. She is a monthly food columnist for The Target and regular contributor to Good Taste Magazine. For all of her previous recipes, please visit www.rjhirstfamilybutchers.co.uk You can follow Sadie on Twitter at Sadie Hirst@RJHirstbutchers