Alan's Cookbooks


Product of the month Christmas Pudding .December ! -    
The Christmas pudding Is the traditional dessert with over 25 million of them being consumed in the UK each year.

The forerunner of this pudding dates back to the mediaeval times and it was then known as “Frumenty”.

Frumenty was a spiced porridge that was enjoyed by the rich and poor alike.Its’ origins in a Celtic legend was of the harvest God, “Dogda” who stirred a porridge made of all good things on the earth.
This pudding was usually used to describe a type of sausage hence, black pudding, but gradually came to mean anything cooked in cloth or casing. 

As time moved on and recipes developed, the fruit pudding became associated with Christmas when it was introduced and enjoyed by Prince Albert around the Royal Christmas table.
Not wishing to show my age, but can you remember finding a coin or a trinket in the pudding? a practice that stopped many years ago in fear of choking upon the hidden surprise (Elf and safety !!). 

This hidden surprise derived from Rome, where the concealing of a particular object in food during the Roman festival of Saturnalia was often in the form of a dried bean. The finder of the bean would be perceived as being lucky (unless they choked and died of course).

Whilst on this slightly morbid side of festivities, it leads me to drag in a few sprigs of holly that today is so often used in decorating the Christmas pudding. This tradition has no culinary representation whatsoever, but the holly is believed to hold magical powers that can drive demons away. 

In medieval times, people would tie the holly to their beds to help guard them against ghosts or devils.The general population at that time was immensely afraid of the supernatural, especially at Christmas when the powers of the underworld were more active than usual.

 Whilst the list of festive ingredients is great, I will finish with the traditional mince pies. Mince Pies descended from a huge pie from the medieval period that was baked on Christmas Eve, and contained chopped beef suet, fat, nuts, spiced and dried fruits, whole dried plums were also an important part of the pie.
The pie was originally baked open but as time wore on, a crust was added on top on which a pastry effigy of the infant baby Jesus was laid to represent him laying in his cradle.
It was this lid that nearly buried the mince pie forever as Oliver Cromwell banned them in the 17th century.

In 1647 the English Parliament passed a law that made Christmas illegal and all holidays and festivities banned.
The ban was eventually lifted when Cromwell lost power in 1660; the humble mince pie was reborn !.  
Ingredient of the month November "Onions" -    
in 1750 BC the laws of Hammrobi ruled that the poor and needy be provided with a monthly ration of bread and onions.
In Ancient Egypt onions were used to decorate the eye socket of egyptian mummies and during the middle ages they were used as a charm against the plague !

In Ancient Greec, Rome and Egypt they were once used to treat heart problems

If cutting onions makes you cry place a peeled onion into the freezer for 10 -12 mins , this will chill ans weigh down the airborne vapours that usualy head for the eyes and nose.

Keep away illness this winter with " onions " ! - 09/10/10
 
ONIONS In 1919 when the “flu” killed 40 million people there was a Doctor that visited many farmers to see if he could help them combat the illness.  Many of their  farmers and their family had contracted it and many died. The doctor came upon one farmer and to his surprise, everyone was very healthy.  When the doctor asked what the farmer was doing differently, the wife replied that she had placed a peeled onion in a dish in the rooms of the home, (probably only two rooms back then). The doctor couldn't believe it and asked if he could have one of the onions.  She gave him one, which he placed under the microscope.  He found the 'flu virus in the onion.  It had obviously absorbed the bacteria, thereby keeping the family healthy.   Another story regarding an hairdresser  said that several years ago many of her employees were coming down with the flu and so were many of her customers.
The next year she placed several bowls containing onions around her shop and, to her surprise, none of her staff got sick.  It must work... and no, she is not in the onion business. The moral of the story is, buy some onions and place them in bowls around your home.
If you work at a desk, place one or two in your office or under your desk .  Try it and see what happens  this winter.  
If this helps you and your loved ones from getting sick, all the better.  If you do get the flu, it just might be a mild case.  What have you to lose?  Just a few quid on onions..!!!  
 
Another article I read whilst doing some food archaeological research was that onions and garlic placed around the room saved many from the black death / plague years ago.  They have powerful antibacterial and antiseptic properties.
The Ancient Egyptians refused to work  on the Pyramids  unless they had a daily supply of Garlic as they believed that it gave them strength and kept away ill health .
In Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome onions were used to treat heart problems .
They also used them to rub on cuts to clean the wound and even on acne
This general natural medicine was also used clear sinus problems and today doctors have acknowledged that they may help reduce cholesterol and help prevent blood clotting !
The Romans also used to hand out onions to the poor who used to eat them as we do apples today !. 

Just a note of warning , never use a saved onion as the onion will have drawn in airborne bacteria and this will then  be found in the onion, causing potentially ill health or even food poisoning !    

The word Onion comes from the Latin Unio meaning single pearl and union , coming from the fact that the onion is made up of a variety of circles making one whole!.

There are over 500 different varieties of onion with relatives such as leeks, chives spring onion and garlic .

Have a healthy winter !
 
Ingredient of the month " Chilli " -    
Chillies  What’s in the name?   Chilli comes from the early inhabitants of Mexico.  Historical   Chillies are natives of tropical America, they have been found in pre-historic Inca remains from Peru and were in regular use by the Aztecs.  Christopher Columbus returned with one of the first shipments back to Europe from the Americas in 1492, he found that local tribes had been cultivating them for nearly four thousand years. From Europe, the chillies were taken to Africa, Asia and the Middle East and everywhere they landed, they instantly became a staple flavouring.  

Fact   There are hundreds of varieties of chilli now available and more than 200 identifiable varieties in Mexico alone.

 In1912, there was a scale developed to measure the average hotness of chillies, created by Wilbur Scoville. The units were crude measurements of the amount of capsicum a pepper contained. The scale ran from 0 (sweet peppers) up to 300,000 for the hottest (habanero). Today, the Scolville units are refined and run from 0-10.  Health & Fitness   Chillies are richer in Vitamin C than many citrus fruits. They have also been proven to help relieve nasal congestion. An old Arabic pot washer, of which I once had pleasure working with, would often munch hot fiery chillies, whole, as a snack claiming that they cleansed the stomach.  Such a claim may not quite be so daft, after scientists recently found that eating chillies may cause the stomach to secrete a mucus that protects its lining against irritants such as acids.  

Kitchen Science   The attraction to hot fiery food is down to the brain releasing endorphins, painkilling compounds at high levels give a sensation of pleasure.

 The chilli comes from capsalcin, a compound found mainly in the ribs and seeds.  It is for this reason that many recipes suggest that seeds are removed before adding the chilli to a dish.  Hints & Tips   When purchasing chillies, a rule of thumb is ‘The fatter the chilli, the more mild they tend to be, the smaller, the hotter and the darker in colour, the fiercer the bite’. Also, before handling chillies, lightly oil your fingers to form a barrier between your skin and the capsicum.  After chopping the chilli, simply wash your hands in warm soapy water.
Product of the month :Blackberries -    
Blackberries , also known as the bramble and is the fruit of a wild shrub grown mainly in the Northern parts of Europe and North America.

In the UK the season for blackberries starts in mid to late August through to early October.

I love fresh blackberries sweet and juicy and like to add them to a pie with the other seasonal favourite Apple.
This combination with a hint of cinnamon and a splash of pastis/pernod makes Autumn worth looking forward to.

I also incorporate blackberries with smoked meats and game such as smoked duck, and smoked pigeon, the strength and flavour can carry them of perfectly .
They are equally as good in a leaf and herb salad, and not forgetting the blackberry jelly for that wobbly Sunday treat with thick crème fraiche or clotted cream !  

The word berry comes from old English meaning Fruit without stone .
The alternative name bramble also comes from Old English "Braemel" meaning prickly and refers to the actual bush from which it is picked .

In old Folk law it is forbidden to eat blackberries after the 29 th September ( st Michaelmas day ) because Lucifer was supposed to have passed by on that night and spit on the bushes, presumably on his way to hell from heaven .
(St Michaelmas day was the day he was expelled from heaven  ! )
Product of the month :Avocado -    
 Avocado 
  What’s in a name?   The name derives from the Spanish aguacate via the Aztecs who name it ahuacatl, meaning “testicle tree”, a reference to its shape. 

  Historical   The avocado comes from a tree originating in Central America.  The Spanish noted its existence as early as 1519 but did not become popular until the 20th Century. In many producing countries, they were given to babies as their first solid food, and were referred to by sailors as midshipman’s butter. Avocados were planted in the United States around 1833, but commercial production did not take place until the turn of the century. 

  Fact   There are more than 500 varieties of this tropical tree.  Some of the fruits are no bigger than a human thumb; others can weigh up to several pounds. Their shape also differs from that of a pear to that of a sausage. This subtropical tree is a member of the laurel family and main exporters around the world include Israel, South Africa and Mexico. In nature, avocados drop before they ripen; this is due to an inhibiting agent in the leaves preventing it ripening on the tree. 

 Health & Fitness   The flesh contains more than 25% fat and has more protein than any other fruit. The downside is they may contain up to a400 calories per fruit, so look out if on a diet. On the vitamin side, they are a rich source of Vitamin E, an anti-oxidant that prevents free radical damage that might lead to cancers, and potassium, that helps to control blood pressure and Vitamin B, good for a healthy nervous system.  (Low levels of B6 may also be associated with morning sickness). 

 Hints & Tips   If your avocado is a little too firm and unripe, try placing it into a brown paper bag with a ripe banana, and then seal the bag.  The gases produced by the banana will help the avocados to ripen and will be ready to eat in less than 24 hours.   
Product of the month : Cherries -    
Cherries  What’s in a name?   Our word Cherry evolved from the Mediaeval Latin “Ceresia” and that eventually became ‘cerise’ in French.  The English dropped the se at the end due to it sounding plural, and ended up calling it ceri.  Historical    First distributed through Europe by the Romans in 100 AD, Lucillus, the Roman general and bon viveur brought the cherry tree from the city of Cerasus hence also its name. The type of cherries known then would have been the sour varieties and used mainly for medicinal purposes.  Fact   There are more than 1,000 varieties of cherries and are divided into two groups, the sour cherries such as Morello and the sweet cherries like Napoleon and Bing. It will be the sour varieties that are found in jars, or dried, the sweet are usually reserved for eating fresh. In French cookery, any game, poultry or sweet dish called “montmorency” has a sauce of sour cherries.  

Health & Fitness   The raw varieties of cherries are a good source of potassium, which helps to regulate the heartbeat as well as keeping the skin healthy.

 They also contain a good amount of vitamin C. In alternative medicine, cherries are used to help cure joint inflammation and in particular – gout – helping to lower levels of uric acid in the blood. It is also believed that they have a cleansing effect and is able to remove toxins and cleanse the kidneys.  Hint & Tip   When buying fresh cherries, check out its stalk.  It should be green and liable, as it ages the stalk dries and withers.


 









For a in-depth introduction to Ready in Minutes click here

For a newspaper review of Ready in Minutes click here