Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: The Very Best of British

“24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Blog Posts.” This is the idea behind the global ‘live-blogging’ event organised by Foodbuzz. The team called for entries from bloggers around the world. The task? to create a unique meal, an ‘ultimate meal’, in fact. Now my ultimate meal changes on an almost daily basis but something I always feel passionate about is the fabulous cooking history we have in this country, which often gets a bit of a bad rep. So, get yourself comfortable with a glass/mug of your favourite tipple and let me tell you a little food story about a few things British.

When I first started this blog, I chose the name Food Stories because I wanted the name to reflect the way that food experiences form such an intimate narrative running throughout my life. The dishes and ingredients we are surrounded by obviously play a part in shaping our tastes and culinary identities and although I enjoy cooking and eating food from cuisines the world over, I think it is important to celebrate the produce that can be found right on my own doorstep.

So why did it take so long for people to realise that the UK has some truly wonderful ingredients on offer? For some reason, people in Britain were not always interested in eating high quality, slow, seasonal food – my how times have changed! Now you have to think about getting up early to race to the farmers market and beat the crowds as eager shoppers crowd around the new season’s asparagus and Jersey Royal potatoes. People are demanding higher standards and are more interested than ever in the provenance of their grub. There is a resurgence of interest in traditional dishes  – check out my British One Hundred for a personal list. I for one can’t get enough of this UK food revolution and I am so happy to be cooking this meal, an opportunity to champion some fantastic ingredients and put a twist on some traditional dishes.

The British summertime has now well and truly drawn to a close and the past couple of weeks have brought a chilly nip in the air. Despite this, today is bright and sunny, which is what I had my fingers, toes and everything else crossed for, as this meal will be eaten al fresco. Throughout the summer, my partner and I have enjoyed so many evenings together on this balcony, lingering over good food and wine, chatting until the sun sets and listening to the sounds of the city in the background. This meal is like a farewell celebration of summer evenings and a nod to the changing seasons, welcoming the new autumn produce.

As I said, this year the weather has already turned cooler and we have experienced more than our usual share of rain. You might not think it, but there have been benefits to this unusual weather and one of those is an extended samphire season. For those of you not familiar, samphire is a succulent, which grows around the British coastline and has the most wonderful flavour of the sea. It is fantastically unique, has a totally addictive crisp texture and is the perfect (and I am not exaggerating when I say perfect), accompaniment to fish. It is delicious when cooked simply with butter but for this meal, I am using it in a warm salad together with spinach, lemon-scented, tangy sorrel and – a really traditional British snack – the humble cockle. Did you know that a cockle is actually capable of jumping? Not just a pretty face.

I have always had a fascination with the (sadly dwindling!) UK seafood stall, where you may also purchase delights such as whelks, mussels and eels. Eels? Yes, really. As many of you know, I am a Londoner but even I can’t really stomach the jellied variety. Prepared differently however, the humble eel can be totally delicious, which is why I am including a piece of smoked eel as the crowning glory to this salad. And so the first course is nearly finished – just a warming through of the leaves, samphire and cockles in butter and a splash of malt vinegar for a British sea side feel. Oh, and a final sprinkling of seaweed salt, because I’m feeling well, a bit flash.

The main event this evening is a dish that has many memories for me – it is a stargazy pie (an updated version – not the traditional pilchards…). My Dad’s side of the family are Cornish and I spent many summer holidays there as a child. I remember quite clearly the moment I found out about the Stargazy pie.  A quick phone call to Dad and he told me the name of the pub (of course it was in a pub) – the Ship Inn at Mousehole. Yes it is a real place but no, it’s not pronounced as it sounds – more like “mowzel” and is renowned for fishing, not mice. The stargazy pie is traditionally baked on Tom Bawcock’s Eve (23rd December), when the residents of Mousehole gather to celebrate the efforts of previous resident Tom Bawcock who reportedly made efforts to relieve the tiny fishing village of famine.

My childhood memories aside, the pie recently came to public attention when Cornish chef Mark Hix revamped it for The Great British Menu using rabbit and crayfish and won through to cook for an Ambassadors dinner at the British Embassy in Paris. The dish not only captured the heart of the British public, but also my partner Chris who demanded we re-created it when we visited his family recently in France. They already had a rabbit and some langoustines when we arrived – it was meant to be. The final pie was stunning (the pic below is pre-baking). I would like to claim the glory but it was Chris’s mum who did the lions share. Just check out the way those langoustines are holding hands.

The pie was that good with langoustines that I wanted to make it again and so came up with an all-fish version, harking back a little more to the original. I used chunks of monkfish for a rather decadent pie (best eaten as an occasional treat, due to concerns over stock levels) and finished with those beautiful pink langoustines. To accompany the pie – what could be more British than mushy peas? I am going to arouse controversy now by saying I actually prefer a lighter mushy pea to the traditional marrowfat version. I like the fresh flavour and bright green colour. To finish the dish, I made a fennel scented version of the famous cockney parsley sauce known as ‘liquor’. The sauce is traditionally served with pie and mash, to form a meal which has been eaten all over London since the 18th century. Pie, mash and eel shops can still be found in London, mainly in the East End, including Manzes which has been going since 1902.

When I started to think about a finish to the meal, I just couldn’t get the idea of a summer pudding out of my head. Traditionally, the pudding is a glorious combination of summer fruits, such as raspberries, redcurrants and strawberries, encased in a layer of white bread (or brioche, if you like that kind of thing – which I do). The pudding is then left to rest (preferably overnight) while the bread absorbs all the wonderful berry juices and stains a dark pink. It essential that you serve the pudding with cream. As I said, it’s no longer summer in Blighty but I still came across some plump raspberries, which are also enjoying the benefits of a rainy summer. I supplemented them with some blackberries and blueberries and served the pudding with clotted cream infused with an elderflower liqueur.The beautiful perfume of the elderflower works really well with the summer pudding and would actually be even better (I think) splashed in with the berries.

By this point the sun is setting behind our flat and is casting the most incredible light across the park in front of us – an orangey-red glow. We muse about the meals we have enjoyed together on the balcony and also the food we have grown there, tomatoes, salad leaves, herbs and (almost) potatoes. I feel proud of the meal I’ve created because many of the ingredients bring back dear memories. The day has been pretty much perfect, shopping at Borough Market this morning for the ingredients (here’s my photo tour) then home to the kitchen for a good few hours of non-stop cooking with a few glasses of good wine. Out to the balcony to enjoy some unexpected but oh so welcome September sunshine, conversation, laughter, wine and of course, some damn fine fare…

Salad of Cockles, Sorrel, Spinach and Samphire with Smoked Eel

Simply warm through a handful each of spinach, samphire (blanched), sorrel and cockles in a little butter, adding a splash of malt vinegar at the end. Heap onto a serving plate and warm through bite size pieces of smoked eel. Sprinkle with seaweed salt.

Stargazy Pie with Monkfish and Langoustine

I adapted the recipe from Mark Hix’s version here. Instead of the rabbit, I added monkfish when the sauce was cooked and replaced the crayfish with langoustine. I also used a litre less stock.

Mushy Peas

Bring a pan of water to the boil and cook two peeled garlic cloves for 10 minutes. Add 3 generous man-handfuls of frozen petit pois and cook for 3-4 minutes, then drain. Return the peas and garlic to the bowl, then add 2 heaped tablespoons chopped mint, a knob of butter, some seasoning and a splash of milk. Pulse with a blender.

Parsley Liquor with Fennel (adapted from this recipe)

I followed the recipe to the letter, although I softened some very finely chopped fennel in the butter at the beginning, before adding the flour. I also added a touch more malt vinegar.

Summer Pudding
I made two puddings in 12 cm moulds. Each pud was enough for 2 people

Take 400g berries (I used raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, which is unusual. Normally red summer berries and currants are used) and add to a pan with 1 tablespoon water and 50g caster sugar. Heat through very gently until the sugar is dissolved and the juices of the berries have started to run. Line the pudding dish first with cling film – leaving a large overhang and then with slices of brioche, taking care to overlap and patch where necessary. You don’t want any juice leaking through. Fill with the berry mix – almost to the top (saving some for sauce) and seal with more brioche. Spoon some of the remaining juice onto the top, seal up with the cling film and put something like and unopened can on top to weigh down. Leave in the fridge overnight.

For the cream, I just mixed a good dash of elderflower liqueur with some clotted cream. To serve, loosen the pudding by pulling gently at the cling film and turn out onto a plate. Spoon some of the remaining juice and fruit on top and round then edge and finish with a dollop of cream.

Category: Blogging Events 37 comments »

37 Responses to “Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: The Very Best of British”

  1. Peter G

    What a wonderful feast Helen! Looks absolutely delicious. This really highlights not only your creativity but the best of good UK produce. Well done!

  2. Christie@fig&cherry

    Congrats Helen! Your entry is outstanding, so personal. I absolutely adore samphire and think your salad combination is a winner.

    Plus I looooove your little garden. I’ll be hassling you for an invite when I’m over that part of the world ;)

    Congrats again, brilliant job. xx

  3. Marija

    I love that eel salad! It looks so beautiful on that flower table :) Congratulations on being part of the 24s!

    Marijas last blog post..Chocolate Dimply Plum Cake

  4. Peter

    Helen, congrats and I love the langoustines…talk about dramatic.

    Ya make me wanna sing God Save the Queen (Sex Pistols version, of course)!

    Peters last blog post..Greeked-Up Jalapeño Poppers

  5. Núria

    Congrats for being one of the 24! That summer pudding picture is stunning!!! Berberechos (cockles) are one of my favourites, although I would like to taste your langoustine Pie :D

    Núrias last blog post..Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24. A Spanish Menu – My gift to the Winners of the Olympic Games.

  6. Lizzie

    What an amazing meal, Helen. I love your balcony too. I think perhaps today might be our last summery day, although there is a bit of a nip in the air. I’m firing the bbq up!

    Lizzies last blog post..Smoked Haddock & Spinach Risotto

  7. Helen

    Peter – Thank you! I really enjoyed cooking with some of my favourite ingredients.
    Christie – Thanks! Yes, it was a very personal meal for me. You are welcome to visit any time, it would be my pleasure.
    Marija – Thanks! I am so glad I got picked, it was a great opportunity to think about something really close to my heart.
    Peter – Ha ha! You always make me laugh. I for one would love to hear your rendition – you tube?
    Nuria – I am so glad you are a fellow lover of cockles! Or berberechos. yay!
    Lizzie – Thank you. You have just inspired me to fire up the BBQ today. Just checked and we have some coals too – it was meant to be!!

  8. FoodJunkie

    I don’t know about the others, but I love traditional British food. Good food doesn’t have a country

    FoodJunkies last blog post..24, 24, 24: Hot Weather Lunch

  9. Sylvia

    Oh Helen,what amazing entry. I love English cuisine. See .since I know, i always love to cook , my favorite toy were plastic pans, ovens , and my first book was a English cookbook.So my first recipe was a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.In my first visit to London I tasted kidney pie, honestly I didn t like the fill, but I love the crust.As you see I love traditional English dishes, specially for what they means .It was so nice learn more about. Congratulations ! great, great entry

    Sylvias last blog post..Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 : From matambre to empanadas an argentine dinner

  10. Nik Snacks

    You’re right! Good Food doesn’t have country. Only a wandering soul. This was an excellent post, indeed. I would have loved to have been there to try your menu. Many of the things you have, I’ve never seen or tried. And I will indeed, post my rejected menu…soon. Thank you for the inspiration.

    Nik Snackss last blog post..Bob’s Country, This Of Thee

  11. Jenny

    What a great feast! It came together so beautifully too. And the dishes are simply inspiring. Beautiful!

  12. Laurie

    Congratulations! I love English food and am always looking for new recipes, thank you for the story and pcs.. and the mushy peas, Love it!! :)

    Lauries last blog post..Cranberry Almond Chicken Salad in a Choux Pastry Shell

  13. JennDZ_The LeftoverQueen

    This was a beautiful post, Helen. It made me teary-eyed in a few places, actually. I mean, as Americans, we really don’t have a national cuisine, and it is really quite sad. Of course there are regional things, in some places, which I loved about living in New England, but there is definately something missing there.

    I really enjoyed this post and I am glad that you and Chris had a wonderful evening together!

    JennDZ_The LeftoverQueens last blog post..September 19, 2008 – Finest Foodies Friday

  14. Helen

    FoodJunkie – Yes, I agree with you about good food not having a country and it’s good to hear a bit of appreciation for British fare!
    Sylvia – I am happy to hear your first experience was roast beef and yorkshire pudding – that is pretty adventurous for a first attempt!
    Nik Snacks – I am really looking forward to seeing your entry.
    Jenny – You are very kind – thank you.
    Laurie – Mushy pea aprreciation – love it!

  15. Helen

    Oh Jenn you are so lovely! I think what you do have in America is a regional appreciation as you say, for example, Mexican food. You know so much more about Mexican food over there – I only just made huevos rancheros!

  16. kittie

    This is fabulous Helen – well done!!

    I adore samphire, and look forward to trying this salad. I’ve been desperate to try stargazy pie ever since I saw GBM too – seriously, nice work :D

    And hasn’t it just been a beautiful weekend for it!

    kitties last blog post..Think Spice: Fenugreek Poached Fish with Saag Aloo

  17. Cakespy

    Yum, what a delicious entry! I wish we could have had you over for dessert! We could have used some of this savory deliciousness (OK, we’d take the dessert you made too!). Great to learn a bit culturally and see such a lovely take on the fare.

    Cakespys last blog post..Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: A Sweet Trompe l’oeil

  18. maybelles mom (feeding maybelle)

    fantastic post; it was so fascinating.

    maybelles mom (feeding maybelle)s last blog post..Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Eating Art: A Tasting Menu Inspired by Masterworks of Art

  19. Deeba

    Well done Helen…what a celebration of English cuisine this is! Just beautiful. Congrats on being part of the 24!!

    Deebas last blog post..Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: EAT LIKE A KING; FEAST FOR A MAHARAJA

  20. katie

    What a fantastic meal! I wish I could have been there. For the record, I have always loved (good) British food.
    And that summer pudding… I remember once, in London with friends, calling restaurants, one after the other, to find one making summer pudding before we would book…

  21. Kian

    Great menu! I’ve always wanted to try a stargazy pie ever since I saw it on “Two Fat Ladies.” I’m so glad to see a modern interpretation. That picture of the pie looks absolutely delicious.

  22. Cynthia

    For some reason, people in Britain were not always interested in eating high quality, slow, seasonal food – my how times have changed! Now you have to think about getting up early to race to the farmers market and beat the crowds as eager shoppers crowd around the new season’s asparagus and Jersey Royal potatoes. This thought can be echoed in many places. A food revolution is taking place.

    Really enjoyed this post.

    Cynthias last blog post..Too much Liming

  23. michelle

    Congratulations on pulling it all off! I absolutely love the look of your Stargazy pie (and the name – that’s just perfect). You’ve really opened my eyes about British food too – I had no idea about many of these dishes and found your post really interesting and informative (not to mention great food porn!), especially because I have some British blood in me somewhere! My favorite thing, though, has to be your quote “this evening is like a farewell celebration of summer evenings” – well said, my dear!

    michelles last blog post..Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: `Aha`aina – Recapturing the Global Flavors of the Luau

  24. Giff

    This was really interesting, thank you so much for doing this and sharing — and I loved the photos from the market as well. Congrats!

    Giffs last blog post..Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: From Provence to the Catskills – a Voyage from David to Bertolli

  25. robin @ caviar and codfish

    How very interesting! I love the sound of monkfish and langoustine pie!!

    Great, great job!

    robin @ caviar and codfishs last blog post..Keepin’ it real.

  26. Maggie

    What a fabulous meal! I love the pie. It looks great baked and hilarious unbaked!

    Maggies last blog post..The nitty gritty of making grape jelly

  27. Dave

    That was brilliant. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Gabi

    Excellent showing on the 24, 24, 24! So glad that UK cookery is getting a nod and that the demand for quality ingredients is growing! Brilliant job :)

    Gabis last blog post..The Garden Moves Toward Autumn

  29. farida

    Everything looks so good! I 24/24/24 sounds like a fun event to join!

  30. noobcook

    For some reason, my previous comment isn’t showing (please delete the previous one if it suddenly resurfaces hee)

    Congrats on your 24 feature and you did a lovely job showcasing British seasonal food ingredients. I love your outdoor balcony too, how nice to have a place to grow some greenery and enjoy a meal alfresco in the comforts of your home, hehe

  31. Y

    Fabulous post! I love the picture of the langoustines holding hands..hehe. Have wanted to make a stargazy pie ever since seeing Mark Hix’s version. Yours looks perfect and I love all the other dishes you made as well.

    Ys last blog post..Flavours of Cheesecake : Lemon, Raspberry and Ginger

  32. Helen

    Kittie -Thank you and yes, it has been a fabulous weekend. weather wise. I was so lucky.
    Cakespy – I am so glad that I highlighted British food a little.
    Maybelles Mom – thanks!
    Deeba _ thank you, I had great fun taking part
    Katie – that is some serious dedication to summer pudding!
    Kian – I had no idea the two fat ladies did it – I must look out for the repeat! Was it the traditional version?
    Cynthia – I couldn’t agree more, it is happening almost everywhere, isn’t it wonderful?
    Michelle – thank you, i am so glad you enjoyed the post and you felt you learned something about british food, I couldn’t ask for more.
    Giff -Thanks! It is such fun at Borough Market too, so easy to take great pics
    Robin and Dave – Thank you.
    Gabi – Yes! Some British food really does deserve praise
    Farida – Yes I had so much fun making it (and eating it!).
    Noobcook – I have no idea what happened to your comment, I looked in my sam catcher but couldn’t find ti there either – lost in the blogosphere. Thank you for your comment. I had such fun and yes, the balcony is lovely isn’t it? We are lucky to have the space.
    Y – Yes, that was my partners mum that did that! I laughed a lot too.

  33. Hugging the Coast

    Ah clotted cream infused with an elderflower liqueur! I love clotted cream. And what you did with the smoked eel sounds lovely!

  34. Foodies

    Hi, this is dondon of mustlovefood.com a social network of foodies like you meet and chat.

    Would you be interested if we do a link exchange? Please shoot me an email (linkbuilder@twobudz.com)

    Thanks a lot and hope to hear from you.

  35. them apples

    That pie looks both delicious and macabre. Superb stuff.

  36. James

    Wow – only just caught up with this…… bit slow I know. But how amazing everything sounds, and looks. Smoked eel is delish – you’re right, and elderflower liquer – got to try making that next summer.

    Jamess last blog post..Assiette of desserts

  37. zerrin

    These are excellent! You have very unique recipes here and Congrats on 24,24,24 Event!


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