Food History

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  • 12 grapes for Xmas

    Eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve is the traditional way to welcome the New Year in Spain. The grapes are considered lucky las doce uvas de la suerte (“the 12 lucky grapes”). They are eaten one at a time with each of the twelve chimes of midnight. Clock face on Big Ben Spaniards listen to the bells on the clock tower of the 18th-century Real Casa de Correos in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. UK New Years Eve celebrations centre around the bells of Big Ben above the Houses of Parliament in London. Buying Red Underwear for New Years Eve Each grape represents one of the twelve months to follow and the superstitious Spanish believe that you need to wear a piece of red underwear given to you by someone else while eating them to guarantee good luck. Along with the underwear you need to have swallowed all twelve grapes by the final toll of the bell. Various strategies are suggested to make the grape swallowing easier and quicker: Get small green seedless grapesTry not to laugh (not easy)Concentrate on the bongs, you have about 2 seconds for each grapeGet hold of some authentic Spanish tinned seedless peeled grapes.Line up the grapes and pop them in, in tune with the bongsHalve the grapes beforehand (good for children) By the way, stuffing them all in your mouth at once or starting before the first bong is cheating and you may suffer the consequences. Tins 0f 12 Seedless Peeled Grapes If you can down the grapes while under the influence of alcohol, without descending into fits of giggles, and without gagging while all the time wearing the requisite red undergarment then you deserve the good luck they will bring.

  • leeks

    Well, what do you need to know about leeks? Leeks are a member of the onion family. The Roman Empire grew them for their more refined flavour than the stronger onion. Nero Apparently, Emperor Nero was partial to them as he believed they would improve his voice. He ate so many that he gained the nickname Porophagus (leek eater). Also eaten by the peoples of Ancient Egypt and Greece, leeks are the original superfood. They are high in fibre, vitamin B and other heart-protecting substances like flavonoids and polyphenols. Leeks Saved Wales! Legend has it that the humble leek saved Wales during the Battle of Heathfield in 633AD. The Welsh army was persuaded by a Celtic monk named David that they needed to be identified in battle by wearing an emblem. The emblem chosen was a leek worn in the soldier’s helmet. The Welsh led by King Caldwallader beat the Saxons in battle and the tradition of proudly wearing a leek is continued to this day. David the monk was canonised and he is celebrated each year on St Davids day. During this period the leek also acquired mystic virtues. It was claimed that girls who slept with a leek under their pillow on St David’s Day would see their future husband in their dreams. Leeks and St Patrick The Irish too have their own legend regarding leeks. A dying elderly woman had a vision that showed her a floating herb that looked like rushes. The vision revealed that she must eat the rushes or die. St Patrick consoled the woman and transformed some rushes into leeks, which she ate. Miraculously the woman was cured. Vichyssoise Soup Cock-a-Leekie Soup My Thoughts on Leeks I can’t claim any miraculous cures or battle honours from leeks but I do know they taste really good and make a versatile ingredient in any kitchen. Personally, I like them braised and then finished under the grill with a sprinkling of parmesan. Traditional Fresh Mint SauceBarbequed MusselsEdible Snails – Helix AspersaCatch It and Cook It – CuttlefishCatch It and Cook It – Squid (Calamari)

  • spam fritters

    SPAM History Let’s go back in time to World War II. Fish was unavailable so we Brits made SPAM fritters instead for our weekly deep fry with chips. SPAM is canned pork luncheon meat made in the USA by Hormel, introduced in 1937. It became popular during WW II because of the difficulty in getting fresh meat to front line troops. Wherever US troops served it became popular with the locals and part of their diet. Monty Python SPAM became so deeply embedded in British culture the Monty Python team even wrote a song about it! They went on to produce a musical called Spamalot, a stage version of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. A very tongue in cheek take on the Arthurian legend. SPAM Facts The billionth can of SPAM was sold in 1959, the year I was born. In 2006 pre-packaged SPAM fritters made a return to the shops. However, SPAM fritters are really easy to make and you can’t beat the taste of homemade beer batter. If you fancy trying another British classic, have a look at Toad in the Hole. Black Pudding Fritters in Beer BatterBest Chips EverGoulash with Mash aka GoumashMashed PotatoCatch It and Cook It – Skate Recipe – SPAM Fritters SPAM Fritters Slices of SPAM deep-fried in beer batter 350 g Spam (1 can)130 g Plain Flour240 ml COLD Beer1 tsp Baking Powder¼ tsp White Pepper¼ tsp Sea saltOil (for deep frying)Optional:8 slices Cheddar cheeseDijon mustard (as needed) Remove spam from tin (follow instructions on can, make sure it comes out whole). Place on chopping board and slice into 8 equal sized wedges. I find this easiest by halving (2), halving those halves (4), then halving each of those (8).Lay each wedge flat and very lightly spread with dijon mustard (not too much, just enough for the cheese to stick ~½ tsp). Lay each slice of cheese on top and firmly press down so it sticks to the spam.Combine flour in a bowl with baking powder, white pepper and salt. Making sure the cheese stays intact, carefully (but thoroughly) coat each fritter in flour.At this point pour 750ml-1litre oil in a deep pan and heat it to 180°C/356°F.Once all the fritters are coated in the flour pour in the COLD beer. Use a whisk to stir (don’t over beat or the bubbles with burst, some small lumps are fine). If you go OTT with the beer and it’s too thin just mix in a few pinches more flour, vice versa with the flour. Again, you want the batter as airy and cold as possible so don’t beat the hell out of it.Use a fork to lower the fritters into the batter, allow them to fully coat, then carefully transfer into the hot oil. Work in batches of 3-4. You want to work fairly quickly as you want the batter to be as cold and bubbly as possible.Once the fritters are in the oil the temp will drop, so try and keep it at a steady 180°C/356°F (increase the heat as needed). Allow them to fry for a couple of minutes, then flip and continue cooking until golden. Remove one by one and place on a wire rack with paper towels UNDERNEATH (don't place them straight on paper towels or they'll go soggy). Repeat with the second batch. Main CourseBritish Mushy Peas For a truly authentic experience serve your fritters with a helping of mushy peas. I was first introduced to mushy peas while working in Manchester, North West England in the 1980s. I have to be honest, I didn’t like them then, and I still don’t. Credits: WikipediaHormel

  • black and white pudding

    My wife’s parents were Irish, mother from Dublin and father from Newry, lived in London, and following regular visits “home” would always return with some genuine white pudding in their suitcase. Their return was looked forward to with great excitement and no sooner had the suitcase been opened, the frying pan was on and white pudding on toast was being devoured with great pleasure. Irish pudding on toast Black pudding (blood sausage) may be more popular worldwide, but white pudding is very popular in Ireland and an important part of an Irish breakfast. White pudding is similar to black pudding, but it contains no blood—only pork, spices, and usually oatmeal. Clonakilty black and white puddings from County Cork are our preference with quite a peppery taste. They have been making black pudding since the 1880’s using an unchanged recipe to this day. Their white pudding is a relatively new addition only sold since 1986. Clonakilty black and white puddings If you fancy a proper fry up Irish style, Rachel Allen makes a fine breakfast in her book Rachel’s Irish Family Food, © 2013 Harper Collins Publishers Irish weekend fry up Credits: Wikipedia black and white puddingFX Buckley Butchers white pudding

  • morcilla black pudding

    Spain’s answer to our black pudding is a mile from the slice you’ll get with your fry-up. It’s a spiced blood sausage, delicate, with a gentle tang. Recipes vary across Spain from the loose, rice-flecked morcilla from Burgos to morcilla de Arroz, the variety made with onion and rice. Morcilla pronounced mor-thee-ya, is generally much less firm than our British black pudding (try the ‘Bury’ variety if you can find it), and as such is great for stirring through dishes. Another favourite way to serve morcilla is stuffed into squid – a classic combination. If you’re one of those who can’t bear the idea of black pudding, then morcilla may be for you – most people visiting Spain will try it and love it before they know what’s gone into it. It’s worth sourcing a good one -try for a tasty version. They freeze well too- so when you get them, freeze them into batches of two for quick and easy use. Taken from an article by deliciasburgos. Credits:

  • sprouts in a bowl

    Sprouts and Christmas dinner, a great British tradition which divides opinion. Rather like Marmite you either love or hate them. Anyone who has had an overcooked soggy green ball on their plate knows what I mean. Perhaps “I’m a Celebrity” could use them in an eating trial? Modern stir fry style recipes incorporating bacon and nuts hopefully have consigned soggy bitter sprouts to the past. Explosive Sprouts I have the distinction of being the only person to my knowledge of being asked to leave a posh London restaurant for starting a food fight involving Brussels sprouts loaded into party poppers and used as offensive weapons. It takes a bit of patience, but you remove the cardboard shield in the party popper and insert a suitably sized sprout. The restaurant in question had high painted ceilings which we used quite successfully for target practice! Sprouts at Christmas But how and when did the British tradition of sprouts with Christmas dinner come from? Brussel sprouts belong to the Brassica family of vegetables – other members include cabbages, broccoli, kale and kohlrabi. Brussels sprouts are not native to the UK – they were actually developed from wild cabbage and originate from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. They weren’t introduced to the British Isles until the late nineteenth century. The vegetable was named after the capital of Belgium after becoming a popular vegetable back in the sixteenth century. One of the reasons they are perhaps so popular is because the weather conditions in the UK are optimum for sprout production. They grow best in temperate climates observed in Northern Europe, (between 7-24 degrees) and are ready for harvest 90-180 days after planting. Sprouts have traditionally been harvested in late November, early December so perhaps the abundance of sprouts just before Christmas meant they were plentiful, when little else was available? Nutrition Whatever the reason, sprouts are a superfood. They contain more vitamin C than an orange and half a pound contain just 80 calories. Providing of course, all the goodness isn’t in the cooking water left behind. Sprout facts: In the UK, around 40,000 tonnes of Brussels sprouts are eaten every year.We eat more sprouts than anyone else in Europe and the industry is estimated to be worth around £650,000.Never give leftover sprouts to your dog unless you are prepared to deal with the consequences. The smell is absolutely awful!They really are named after Brussels, the capital of Belgium, where they were a popular 16th-century crop.Wayne Sherlock holds the world record for eating 33 sprouts in 60 seconds, set in 2019.Chances are that if you’ve eaten a Brussels sprout over the last few years, you’ve eaten one of farmer John Clappison’s. He grows one in 20 of all sprouts sold in the UK, producing 175million of the little beasts each year.Farmers use a state-of-the-art sorter which uses three digital cameras to take six pictures of each sprout with the fat or ugly ones being blasted off the conveyor using a jet of compressed air.In December, supermarket Morrisons sells about 650 tonnes of sprouts each week. That’s more than the take-off weight of an A380 Airbus.Bernard Lavery, of Llanharry in Rhondda Cynon Taff, has held the record for the heaviest Brussels sprout since October 1, 1992, when he grew a monster that weighed in at 8.3kg. Imagine that on your table!Packed full of folic acid and anti-cancerous properties, there are plenty of health reasons to eat sprouts.There is actually a genetic reason why you and your family may love sprouts whilst your partner and in-laws hate them? It’s all down to a gene: TAS2R38 which controls whether we taste the chemical PTC. This is the chemical responsible for the taste of bitterness.An area equal to over 3,200 football pitches is covered by Brussels sprout fields in the UK.In 2014, Stuart Kettell pushed a Brussels sprout up Mount Snowdon with his nose for charity. The climb took four days 22 hours and used 20 sprouts.  Christmas GravySweet ChestnutsMashed PotatoCatch It and Cook It – Conger Eel

  • pastel de nata

    Pastel de Nata, an egg tart pastry dusted with cinnamon, has become very popular and widely available in the last few years. They go down really well with a cup of coffee.

  • coffee-beans

    Why? That was my first thoughts on discovering that you can buy coffee beans from animal poo!

  • garden snails

    All snails in Britain are edible. They’re essentially the same creatures that the French, Spanish and Italians devour by the tonne.

  • caracois

    The snail is a delicacy in Portugal and every May they celebrate them with the Festival do Caracois! Snails in Portugal are really good. Snails are flavoured with olive oil and/or butter, garlic, piri-piri sauce, and a lot of oregano. Some restaurants will add extra ingredients but this list covers the basics, and the little creatures take on the flavour from their sauce. Author with caracois in Quateira Come May, locals begin looking around for signs claiming ‘há caracóis’ (there are snails). after a week or so, it seems like every small restaurant, known as a tasca, has that sign or another, ‘temos caraóis’ (we have snails). Even the larger restaurants and some cafés (especially trendy, seaside cafés) will sell snails. Actually, the entire country seems to go snail crazy. Eating caracóis is a social affair. Either as an appetizer before a meal, as a late afternoon snack alongside a happy hour drink, or as an addictive bite while watching a sporting event and drinking beer. A Portugese caracois They probably sound like escargot, but Portuguese snails are a bit different than those served in France. First, caracóis are rather tiny, and even caracoletas or larger caracóis are generally smaller than escargot. Second, these tasty little bites are drowned in broth as opposed to dry herbs or sauce. And don’t confuse them with periwinkles (which are also served in Portugal, but maybe not with so much gusto); caracóis are land creatures while periwinkles are marine intertidal. The Portuguese love them so much that bags are even sold in the grocery store. Before being brave and picking snails to try cooking them at home, keep in mind that they’re thoroughly rinsed and cleaned before hitting the pot. You can find out about our native edible snails in the UK. Caracois text reproduced courtesy of Nina Santos @