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While we were visiting Abbey Home Farm, we also dropped in for a look at nearby Bibury, a gorgeous small village in the Cotswolds, which claims to be home to the most photographed view in Britain.  And here it is:


This is Arlington Row, first built in 1380, but converted into weavers cottages in the 17th century, and now owned by the National Trust.

Modern Bibury attracts tour buses and is unfortunately dominated by a trout farm (picturesque as that trout farm may be in this setting!), which is a visitor ‘attraction’.  However, we did manage a lovely wander round the village, a couple of purchases in the gift shop and a good veggie lunch in garden of the Catherine Wheel pub.  All that gorgeous Cotswold stone, a babbling brook and a couple of black swans, all make Bibury well worth the visit.

the bridge in the centre of Bibury

the bridge in the centre of Bibury

The end of Arlington Row

The end of Arlington Row

We did another of the National Trust’s Great British Walks a few days ago and discovered some new territory with an industrial past, but which today is peaceful and relaxing.  The circular walk which includes Pyrford Lock and Papercourt is 7 miles long and takes in a couple of small villages as well as the river, a canal and a two nice pubs!

The River Wey is a tributary of the Thames, joining it at Weybridge.  Its industrial past took the form of mills, 22 of them, used for a variety of businesses including grinding grain and making paper and gunpowder.  On this walk you pass Ockham Mill, now a lovely looking house, which had us seriously considering a move!

The Anchor pub at Pyrford Lock is a great place to stop for lunch, with views over the canal and lock, and a good selection of vegetarian dishes.  Nearly all of their desserts are labelled as suitable for vegetarians too.  The pub was pretty full, so think about getting there early!

The Ham House from Kingston walk features in the National Trusts collection of great walks

The Great British Walk is the initiative of the National Trust to get people out and about this autumn.  Using their click-able map, you can choose a download from 1,285 walking trails.  The walks on the National Trust website are in pdf format and have a clear, easy to follow layout.  The ‘Ham House from Kingston Walk’ for example is 8 miles long and takes in a lovely, wooded stretch of the River Thames, 17th Century Ham House and the open space of Richmond Park.  This is one of my favourite parts of London and proved to be a great day out.  The print outs also include information about the sights along the way.  Of course the walks tell you about facilities available at National Trust properties (in this case Ham House), but this walk takes you very close to Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park with a cafe and accompanying facilities available without an entry ticket!  Still these walks all look like a great opportunity to get out in the autumn sunshine (hopefully!) and take in heritage at the same time.

National Trust Great British Walk

Oh, and if you join the National Trust at the moment, there’s a deal for 3 months for free!

The food writer Nicholas Clee has written an article on the Guardian blog, saying the idea that recipes can be followed to the letter and result in a perfect dish is a modern myth.  I’m not sure this makes recipes a swindle exactly, but it is undoubtedly true that they all need a degree of interpretation, and that you won’t be able to follow a recipe until you’ve learnt some basics about how cooking works.  In Clee’s book Don’t Sweat the Aubergine, he therefore provides ‘why you do it’ sections and information in the belief that understanding how a dish works is more important than a set of instructions.  His blog The Sceptical Cook has extracts from the book, including a brilliant piece on how to cook aubergines.

When preparing ‘Early Vegetarian Recipes’, which re-produces recipes from as early as 1690, exactly as they first appeared, I was very aware that the instructions often made no sense to the modern chef, since there were no stoves and pans had to be placed ‘on the fire’ for hours at a time to cook the dishes.  And whenever I talk to people about the book there are some who say the book would not be for them as they would be unable to interpret the recipes.

Nonetheless some of the recipes do contain very detailed instructions and one of my favourite recipes in the book is not a favourite because I use the recipe, but because it is a lovely piece of historical food writing.  It is an 1866 recipe for Toast in ‘Vegetarian Cookery by a Lady’:

Procure a nice square loaf that has been baked one or two days previously, and with a sharp knife, cut the requisite number of slices, about a quarter of an inch in thickness; place a slice of the bread on a toasting-fork, about an inch from one of the sides; hold it a minute before the fire; then turn it, hold it before the fire another minute; by which time the bread will be thoroughly hot; then begin to move it gradually till the whole surface has assumed a yellowish brown colour; turn it again, toasting the other side in the same manner; then lay it upon a hot plate, spread rather less than an ounce of butter over, and cut it into four or six pieces; if three or four slices are required, cut each slice into pieces as soon as buttered, and pile them lightly upon the hot plate on which they are to be served, as often in cutting through several slices with a bad knife all butter is squeezed out of the upper slice, and the lower one is found swimming in butter.

Warming the bread gradually on both sides, greatly improves the quality of the toast, and makes it much lighter.

The butter used should not be too hard, as pressing it upon the toast would make it heavy.

Dry stale bread may be dipped in warm water, and toasted gradually before being buttered.

Another of my favourites from the book is a recipe I do use a lot, but which I am constantly re-interpreting, so that it turns out differently each time I do it!  It’s a recipe for Lancashire Spice Nuts, biscuits flavoured with ginger, treacle and caraway seeds.  Sometimes they come out hard, the texture of ginger nuts, which I guess is how they were intended, but sometimes I get something similar to German Lebkuchen with a soft, cakey interior, which suits the spices and which I rather like.  One of these days I’ll come up with my own definitive version, but in the meantime, here’s the original, by Charles Walter Forward from 1891:

1 ½ lbs flour
½ lb treacle
¼ lb butter
¼ raw sugar
1 ½ oz ground ginger
½ oz caraway seeds
½ oz carbonate of soda
3 oz orange peel

Warm the treacle, add to it the butter melted, the sugar, spices, soda and orange peel minced fine.  Pour the mixture into the flour, knead into a dough, roll it out and cut into rounds with a small cutter.  Bake on greased tins in a slow oven for about 10 minutes.

It seems that even in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the world of cookery books was dominated by celebrity chefs, when cooks employed by royalty or those who ran famous eating houses were the main beneficiaries of the boom in the publishing of cookbooks.  There was also a rise in the number of vegetarian cookbooks published during the 19th Century and the writers of those were often already known too.  Mrs Bowdich for example, who published ‘New Vegetarian Recipes’ in 1892, was the owner of a vegetarian restaurant on Gray’s Inn Road in London.

To celebrate all this, the Keats House Museum in London has been showing an exhibition of the period’s celebrity cookbooks, from the collection at the Guildhall Library.  This coming weekend is the last chance to see the exhibition as it closes on 26th February.

This is a recipe from one of the featured books ‘The Complete Confectioner’ by Frederick Nutt, and what I love about this is the instruction to include carraway seeds, ‘as many as you think proper’!

Judges Biscuits by Frederick Nutt, 1819

Take six eggs and break them into copper pan, yolks and whites together, whisk them well for above five minutes, mix half a pound of powdered sugar with the eggs, and whisk them for ten minutes, put as many carraway seeds as you think proper, and half a pound of sifted flour, mix it well with a wooden spoon, and put three papers on your plates; then take a spoon and drop them on papers about the size of a crown-piece, sift some powdered sugar over them, let them be rather thick in the middle, and the oven rather sharp, and when they come out, cut them off the paper while hot.

Keats House Museum

Regency ‘Celebrity’ Cookbooks
Keats House Museum 
until 26th February 2012
Keats Grove, Hampstead, London NW3 2RR UK

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