Food & wine

A taste of history

We asked award-winning food writer Felicity Cloake to find inspiration in traditional dishes from 1924, marking the first 50 years of The Wine Society, that you can make easily and enjoy today.

Potted shrimp

Mrs Beeton may recommend boiling broccoli for half an hour, and savoy cabbage for even longer, but Victorian and Edwardian food's dreary reputation is unjust – one only has to think of the feasts in Dickens and Downton Abbey to realise that there was more to their cooking than grey vegetables and even greyer mutton. Indeed, this could fairly be described as a golden age of British gastronomy, before large-scale industrialisation and rationing left their mark on our diets. While French cuisine was all the rage amongst the upper classes during this era, the majority valued good ingredients, simply prepared as in the recipes featured here.

Bear in mind this would have been a fairly modest offering by the standards of the time, when grand dinners would have kicked off with hors d’oeuvres, followed by soups (always paired with sherry or madeira), hot hors d’oeuvres, fish (usually with Sauternes, Chablis, Graves or sherry), sauced meat dishes, large joints of meat or game birds and vegetables, chased up by salad, dessert, fruit, cheese and savouries, accompanied by claret, port and sherry. A mere three courses, in Mrs Beeton’s view, qualifies as ‘a plain family menu’ – but the flavours are anything but.

Recipe 1: Potted shrimp with watercress butter

A new twist on a classic crowd-pleaser, still beloved of Pall Mall clubs but given a new twist by incorporating the Victorians’ beloved watercress in place of the usual clarified butter.

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1⁄4 tsp mace
  • 1⁄4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1⁄4 tsp cayenne pepper, plus extra to serve
  • 1⁄2 tsp Gentleman's Relish or 2 anchovies, finely minced
  • Juice of 1⁄4 lemon
  • 200g cooked and peeled brown shrimps
  • 50g watercress, roughly chopped, plus extra to serve
  • Thinly sliced brown toast, to serve

Method

  1. Melt 100g of the butter in a pan (a light-coloured one makes life easier) over a low heat until the first dark spots appear. Strain through muslin or clean kitchen paper into a jug.
  2. Wipe out the pan and pour the butter back in. Add the spices and anchovy paste plus a pinch of salt. Cook on a very low heat for 5 minutes, then allow to cool slightly and stir in the lemon juice. Divide the shrimps between 4 ramekins.
  3. Pour the spiced butter over the top of the shrimps and put in the fridge to set. Meanwhile, use a good processor or stick blender to whizz the remaining 50g butter with the watercress.

  4. Divide between the ramekins, smoothing the top, and put back in the fridge. Bring to room temperature and add a sprinkle of cayenne pepper before serving with extra watercress and brown toast.

Recipe 2: Stewed duck and peas

Stewed duck and peas
Stewed duck and peas

Duck and peas went together in the 19th-century mind like bangers and mash, or pie and liquor – indeed, the pairing goes much further back – but seems to have fallen from favour in recent years. Here I’ve cut the cooking time by using confit legs instead of a whole bird, which also provides a deliciously rich, salty contrast to the sweetness of the peas. Don’t be alarmed by the lengthy cooking time for these; what you lose in vibrant colour is more than made up for in buttery flavour.

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 4 confit duck legs and their fat
  • 100g unsmoked thick-cut bacon, cut into lardons (optional)
  • 1 soft lettuce (preferred) or 2 little gems
  • 500g garden peas, defrosted
  • 8 small shallots or pickling onions, peeled (and halved if large)
  • Small bunch of mint, leaves picked
  • 75ml chicken stock
  • Nutmeg or mace
  • 1⁄2 lemon

Method

  1. Heat a wide frying pan for which you have a lid on a medium high flame with a blob of fat from the confit duck and then fry the bacon until the fat is golden. Remove the lardons and set aside. Take off the heat.
  2. There should still be plenty of fat left in the pan – if not, add a little more. Use the outer lettuce leaves to line the base. Top with the peas, shallots, bacon, half the mint and the stock. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of ground nutmeg or mace.
  3. Put the duck legs on top, then cover with the remaining lettuce leaves, so the duck and peas are encased.
  4. Put the pan on a medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cover , turn down the heat as low as possible and leave to cook very gently for 30 or so minutes, until the peas are very soft. Heat the grill towards the end of this time.
  5. Place the duck legs on a baking tray and grill for about 5-10 minutes until the skin is golden. Scoop out the vegetables and bacon with a slotted spoon into a warm serving bowl, leaving the liquid in the pan. Bring to a simmer and reduce until thickened slightly. Add lemon juice and season to taste.
  6. Scatter with the remaining mint and top with the duck legs, serve with the sauce. Good with mashed potato.

The Society's Corbières 2021

France
Carignan Grenache
0 star rating 0 Reviews
Dark and brimming with hedgerow fruit and a touch of spice, this is a full-bo...
Price:£8.95 Bottle
Price:£107.00 Case of 12

Recipe 3: Cabinet pudding

Cabinet pudding

A variation on a tipsy pudding, with its layers of boozy cake, fruit and custard, this once wildly popular dessert is rather like a steamed trifle. Feel free to play around with the cake and fruit elements to suit your tastes. Candied citrus can be easily found online (or in grocers with leftover Christmas stock), or made at home, but you can leave it out if you prefer.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 50g dried apricots
  • 50g dried sour cherries
  • 50ml of either amaretto, brandy, dark rum, sweet sherry, whisky or liquor of your choice
  • 3 eggs
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 500ml single cream
  • Grated zest of unwaxed lemon
  • Knob of softened butter 3 candied orange slices (see note)
  • 200g sponge cake or about 10 trifle sponges
  • 5 amaretti biscuits, roughly crumbled

Method

  1. Roughly chop 3⁄4 of the apricots and soak these and 3⁄4 of the cherries in the alcohol for at least an hour.
  2. Beat the eggs with the sugar, and then whisk in the cream and lemon zest to make a custard.
  3. Butter a 1.15 litre (2 pint) pudding mould generously and then arrange the orange slices on the base, and use the butter to stick the remaining unsoaked fruit randomly around the sides of the mould.
  4. Slice or tear the cake into pieces and use to line the mould, patching up as necessary, then sprinkle with a little of the fruit soaking liquor. Fill with layers of soaked fruit, crumbled amaretti and cake. Drizzle with the remaining liquor.
  5. Pour the custard on top, then cover with a greased lid, or a pleated piece of parchment paper and foil. Leave to sit for 20 minutes. Boil a kettle and find a pan deep enough to hold the mould with a lid on top.
  6. Put a trivet or small heatproof plate in the bottom of the pan. Fill the pan with boiling water to halfway up the pudding basin and cover tightly.
  7. Steam for 1 hour 15 minutes, then allow to cool slightly before turning out.

Moscato d'Asti, La Caliera 2023

Italy
Muscat
0 star rating 0 Reviews
From a family-owned historic producer in Piedmont making brilliantly balanced...
Price:£7.95 Bottle
Price:£95.00 Case of 12
Felicity Cloake

Guest Writer

Felicity Cloake

Felicity Cloake is an award-winning writer specialising in food and drink and has a regular column with The Guardian.

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