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Traditional Old English Recipes Book Review
When an editor friend asked me to review her newest e-cookbook, I quickly rallied for her. As a cookbook lover and enthusiastic home cook (more enthusiastic than skilled, I’ll admit), I was anxious to read her family recipes. With global communication, there’s been such an uprising of creative chef inspirations and a melding of international cuisines that it’s often harder to find traditional recipes anymore. I’m all for new taste experiences, but I treasure the traditional flavors, too.
Bettina Thomas-Smith comes from a lineage of English home cooks who have remained true to the old-fashioned recipes. These recipes are historical in nature, really. Quite authentic down to the use of suet (lard) and treacle (golden sugar syrup). If you can't get those ingredients locally, not to worry: Thomas provides more than adequate substitution lists at the end of her book.
In the distant past, English cuisine earned a reputation for being bland with its absence of exotic spices so when I approached her recipe for Fish and Chips that was flavored with only salt and pepper, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed—but impressed I was! Her use of only egg white rather than whole egg kept the batter light. Double-frying the thinly sliced potatoes and drying the slices thoroughly in a tea towel first really are the secrets to delightfully crisp chips. Delicious!
Why was I so surprised? Japanese cuisine is similar in that you simply do not ruin the integrity of the food with distractions of unnecessary spices. I could actually taste the fish (I used a very light-flavored tilapia due to the lack of fresh cod in my area) nestled in the light and crisp coating. How many times have you eaten fish and chips only to taste greasy fried batter? In my own fish and chips recipe, I’d toss in some onion powder, garlic powder and a sprinkle of paprika. While tasty enough, certainly not authentic nor authentically tasty as Thomas’ recipe! I will stick with her version from now on.
Other recipes also are simple yet sure to be surprising in flavor. It honestly will take very little seasoning to bring out the best of the main ingredients like the mutton in the Irish Stew, cheese in the Welsh Rarebit and beef in the Shepherd’s Pie. Authentic English cookery.
I love her conversion charts, too, that explains just how much is in a jigger, gill, penny weight and drachma. There was only one matter that confused me: In the making of apple cider, one step calls for removing the bung. A bung in Asian cooking (I am Asian) is very different from what, I think, Thomas is referring to. After I looked it up on the Internet, a bung in English cooking is a rubber stopper! Phew.
I can't wait to try her mother's famous Christmas cake recipe and chutneys! They sound scrumptious with all the fruit and--there they are!--spices from India. Even if your husband does not have English roots, he will appreciate taking a gastronomic trek with his palate to Jolly Olde England with Thomas’ e-cookbook. It’s a bargain at only $2.95 at Amazon.com.
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