Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche … Apparently

This well known saying stems from the book on stereotypes about masculinity, ‘Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche’, by Bruce Feirstein, published in 1982.

I do sort of get it – if I saw the hunkiest of men standing at the other side of the buffet table and I walked up to him while he was delicately forking his way through a slice of quiche I may think again! When I think of quiche I think of bits of it squashed in a lunch box or picnic hamper or a large one sweating on a buffet table. My memories of it at cookery school are of dread – short crust pastry and egg cooking. There is no way of hiding a badly blind baked tart mould or a souffleing centre. Bad quiche has got to be the most terrible thing known to man. The cheap ones you can buy for pennies in supermarkets are all one shade of beige and its seems as if they have gelatine in them. However, you can now get fancy quiches – 8cm in diameter and about £5 a slice from a posh Notting Hill delicatessen. Anyway, I now am a big fan of the quiche and here is why.

You can have it hot or cold, veg or non veg, and everyone will try one slice at least (even the real men). You can have it in summer or winter and it’s good for all ages etc. etc. Basically I’ve now decided it’s fantastic!

Elizabeth David had a rant in an 1985 edition of The Tatler about everyone calling any open-faced pie a quiche. She longs for the traditional delicious “golden, blistered, alluring cream tarts” and detests the ‘modern’ Quiche Lorraine, which breaks all the rules including the addition of cheese! David cries that “it’s too late now to restore the ravaged image of the quiche as we know it”. She insists that to find the real thing you have to “go to Lorraine and eat them on the spot. The pastry is always very thin; it’s always baked in shallow tart tins, the filling is always composed of eggs and cream, it never contains gruyere or parmesan cheese, and usually there is a small amount of streaky bacon.”

The definition of a quiche is a savoury custard pie, which sounds dreadfully unappealing. “Although quiche is now considered a classically French dish, it actually originated in Germany. It started in the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, under German rule, which the French later renamed Lorraine. The word ‘quiche’ is from the German word ‘kuchen’, meaning cake.” The bottom crust was originally made from bread dough which Elizabeth David feared would have a renaissance in the 80s. She advises us to “keep that from the pizza houses or the next thing we know there will be Pizza Loraine”. The bread dough base has long since evolved into a short-crust or puff pastry crust. “Quiche became popular in England sometime after WWII, and in the USA during the 1950s.”

At the end of the day I think life is too short – if you want cheese in your quiche – you go for it!

HERB QUICHE (WITH CHEESE) WITH THYME AND PARMESAN SHORT CRUST PASTRY.

Pastry –

245g plain flour, pinch of salt, 115g chilled butter, 25g finely grated parmesan, 2 tablespoons chopped thyme, 2 egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of cold water mixed together.

Sift the flour and salt into the bowl of the blender, and add the parmesan and thyme. Cut the chilled butter into cubes. Add the butter to the four. Pulse the blender until the butter and flour resembles breadcrumbs.

Add a tablespoon of the liquid mix to the breadcrumb mixture and start the blender. Slowly add a few tablespoons of the liquid mix at a time until the dough comes together as a whole.

Tip the pastry onto clingfilm, wrap and put in the fridge for half an hour.

Roll out your pastry and line a 24cm flan ring.

Chill the lined pastry case in the fridge until very firm.

Heat the oven to 200c and blind bake the pastry with a cartouche and baking beans for 20 minutes. Then remove the cartouche and baking beans and bake for a further 10 minutes.

Reduce the temperature of the oven to 150c.

Filling –

2 small leeks finely sliced, 2 tablespoons each of finely chopped marjoram and parsley, 30g butter, 100g finely grated gruyere cheese, 3 eggs, 350ml double cream.

Melt the butter in a small pan. Wash the leeks then cook in the melted butter with a wet cartouche until soft.

Drain the leeks. Mix the eggs and cream together well with a fork and then sieve. Add the leeks, herbs and cheese. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Pour the mixture into your blind baked pastry case.

Bake on the bottom shelf of the oven for 45 minutes. It is done when there is still a small wobble in the centre but no liquid remains.

Garnish with red amaranth, chopped parsley and freshly ground black pepper.

Parmesan and Thyme Shortcrust Pastry

Parmesan and Thyme Shortcrust Pastry

Herb Quiche with Red Amaranth

Herb Quiche with Red Amaranth

http://www.puckles.com.au/pages/a-history-of-quiche

Real Quiche by Elizabeth David in TATLER, September 1985 Volume 280 Number 8

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Mead, Honey and ‘The Idler’ Bee Weekend

Recently I have discovered mead, which is an almost forgotten alcoholic drink made from fermented honey and water. It can be a little sweet and too rich for me but actually I was lucky enough to try some dry mead recently, which was absolutely delicious.

I cooked for a ‘Bee Weekend’ hosted by the fantastic magazine The Idler last month where bee and honey enthusiasts spent the weekend learning about bee keeping and discussing all things honey. For dinner on Saturday night I made a honey banquette using delicious honey which came in a huge bucket!

It’s lovely that honey from different parts of England, and obviously the world, have completely different tastes. The honey I was using had come from the coast so the bees there had taken pollen from plants that are covered in salt and can survive the harsh winds. I also tried some urban honey that had been made in hives on the roof of a house in West London. They definitely had their own unique flavours.

Honey has been around for an very long time. According to the Honey Association “cave paintings in Spain from 7000BC show the earliest records of beekeeping, however, fossils of honey bees date back about 150 million years.” Furthermore “the earliest record of keeping bees in hives was found in the sun temple erected in 2400BC near Cairo. The bee featured frequently in Egyptian hieroglyphs and, being favoured by the pharaohs, often symbolised royalty.” The Romans and the Greeks were both fond of using honey in their cooking. They used it as a sweetener as well as using it to make cakes as an offering to the gods.

Mead can be traced back to nearly 40,000 years ago. Unfortunately it’s not readily available these days. I had to go to Jerry’s Liquor Shop in Soho to buy a bottle. Other than that you can get it online. I was very proud of my bottle of mead and carried it in my hand on the train journey to Gloucestershire for the Bee Weekend. I needed it specifically for a pudding that I was planning to cook; Pears Poached in Mead.

Recipe-

Firstly, peel the pears (one per person), leaving the stalks on.

Put the pears in a large cooking pot, lay each one flat on one side and pour in your prize bottle of mead. You want the liquid to come half-way up the pears. If it needs topping up do so with water. Add a few bay leaves and a few tablespoons of honey and simmer on a low heat.

After 30/45 mins feel the side of the pear that has been submerged in the mead. When it is soft to the touch turn the pears over and cook them on the other side for the same amount of time. Once the pears are soft through remove them onto a dish and keep warm. Return the liquid to the heat and reduce until syrupy.

IMG_2552

To serve: put one pear in a bowl with a few tablespoons of the mead syrup. I served it with some vanilla ice cream and an edible flower (after all there wouldn’t be any mead if it wasn’t for the pollen from the flower!).

Now I have been looking out for it I have noticed that a few pubs in the countryside are serving mead as a speciality drink. Hopefully we are experiencing a renaissance in mead, as it is both delicious and a great cooking ingredient.

IMG_2565

http://www.honeyassociation.com/index.asp?pid=9

http://www.medovina.com/history.htm

Starters in the Sixties

When I go to a restaurant with friends I know that it’s either a particularly special occasion (or we must all be really hungry) if we order starters. If we are just going for a catch up, and the wine is more important than the food, then it will be one course each – hoping that it will be enough to soak up some of the booze and therefore preventing potential headaches the following morning. But if it is a foodie outing, and we are going to settle in at a restaurant we have been discussing and been looking forward to, then we will never have less than 3 courses, with wine and probably a cocktail as well!…

Typical Italian starters that I adore are beef carpaccio, melanzane alla parmigiana, fried whitebait and bresaola. We might have nachos before a Mexican dinner and perhaps some edamame and tempura before Japanese. All of this is pretty substantial and exotic, but well worth the time and money.

At a Chinese restaurant the appetisers like spring rolls and prawn toast are my favourite part!

I’m baffled by the selection of starters that were around in the 1960’s. Don’t get me wrong – prawn cocktail is fantastic and now getting the label of “so untrendy it’s trendy”! Most of the other options have completely left the restaurant tables of Britain. For example, a glass of fruit juice (tomato or orange and not even fresh) as a starter seems so peculiar now. Half a grapefruit with a maraschino cherry (now seen as a breakfast fruit) was one of the few things on the first-course menu at the tables of the 1960’s.

Starters in the 60's - Grapefruit with a Maraschino Cherry

Starters in the 60’s – Grapefruit with a Maraschino Cherry

Everyone seemed to be obsessed with melon in those days. It often appears as an option for a starter and pudding on the same menu (for instance at The Hungry Horse in Fulham in 1968). The ‘melon baller’ was essential in all kitchens – a tool that has nearly disappeared now.

And what about egg mayonnaise? I understand an egg mayo sandwich but a pile of cold mushed up egg and mayonnaise when you are out for dinner (even with a consoling glass of wine) seems completely alien to me.

It’s interesting how some of these these starters have disappeared in just over fifty years, overtaken by culinary history. I was thinking of testing them out on friends but I can’t help thinking that my guests would get confused as they took their seats at dinner, the wine having being poured, while I set down a small glass of ‘tomato juice cocktail’ for each of them. They would probably think I was handing out Bloody Marys to cure their hangovers from the night before…

Bloody Mary Cocktail

Bloody Mary Cocktail

Did the elite strata spark a renaissance in food in the 1950s and 1960s?

I want to assess the influence the elite strata had on food, the spread of foreign food in Soho post war and whether there was a food renaissance. I will compare this to their impact in the eighteenth century when they made dining out fashionable

To define the ‘elite’ I will use Ross McKibbin’s description: “They are the members of the extended royal family and senior functionaries of the court, the old aristocracy, the political elites… a good part of the gentry… numerically this class was small… but in social and political power it was very large indeed.” Even Edward Shils, the American sociologist, who was extremely critical of the upper classes in Britain, could not deny their influence on culture. He wrote in the 1950’s: “the culture which has now regained moral ascendency… is the culture traditionally inspired by those classes.” The question remains whether the elites experienced a decline or a renaissance in post-war Britain. Some argue that they had a rebirth because their ‘rituals’ influenced ‘cultures of other social groups in a society that was heavily urbanised and manifestly porous’.

In the nineteenth century the well-known chef Escoffier brought haute cuisine to London via the Savoy Hotel. He had some trouble doing this at the start, as eating out, especially for women, was neither fashionable nor respectable. He succeeded by using human advertising.

Lady de Grey was a “glamorous leader of society, extremely grand and extremely avant-garde”. She was “the first to hold a lunch party at the Savoy and once she had done it everyone else had to join in. It was like Coco Chanel having a tan.” In 1950’s and 1960’s upper-class cook Elizabeth David introduced food and recipes from the Mediterranean. Before David “in 1949 olive oil and wine and aubergines may have sounded expensive and exotic in the England”. David wanted to put a stop to people believing that there was a “commandment which says that meat must me served with two veg and potatoes.” Over time David’s books were “enthusiastically received” and she had a column in Harpers and Queen which spread the word about Italian cooking.

Elizabeth David travelled extensively around France and Italy to get inspiration for her recipes. When she was in Italy she was “itching to get home, to tell everyone that Italian cooking consisted of a good deal more than spaghetti with veal and tomato sauce”. Although rationing was still a problem this began Britain’s adoration of Mediterranean cuisine. Judith Walkowitz states that David “spearheaded the post war revolution in culinary taste in favour of the Mediterranean diet”. Another commentator (Mort) said that this new taste “was pivotal to Soho’s commercial renaissance during the late 1950’s”.

So the ‘elite’ (and specifically their media presence) were indeed influencing culture. Where you ate and what you ate was still seen as an indication of social status. The magazine Man About Town featured reviews of restaurants flagging up the restaurant culture that existed among the upper classes post-war. This would have spread to anyone aspiring to be the ‘man about town’ as well. As Sutherland writes, at the time, there was scarcely “a restaurant opened which did not do so in a flurry of publicity connected with one well-known name or another”.

It could be argued that this phenomenon is alive and well these days in the form of our ubiquitous “TV celebrity chefs”…

Cooper, Artemis. Writing at the Kitchen Table: The Authorized Biography of Elizabeth David, (London, 2011).

Gibbs, Philip. The New Elizabethans, (London, 1953).

Logan, Peter. The Encyclopaedia of the Novel, Volume 1, (Oxford, 2011).

Lowenstein, Adam. Shocking Representation, (Sussex, 2005).

Maccarthy, Fiona. The Last Curtsey, (Ebook, 2010).

Mandler, Peter. The Rise and Fall of the Stately Home, (England, 1997).

McKibbin, Ross. Classes and Cultures In England 1918-1951, (Oxford, 1998). 

Mort, Frank. Capital Affairs, (London, 2010). 

Oxford DNB, Ben Pimlott, last accessed 20.04.13.

Shils, Edward. ‘The Intellectuals’, Encounter, (1955), pp.5-16.

WalkowitzJudith. Nights Out: Life in Cosmopolitan London, (London, 2012).

Williams, Kate. The First Master Chef: Michel Roux on Escoffier, Broadcasted BBC Four, 14 Apr 2013