February is the cruellest month, so the sayings goes, and yet for me I can almost sense spring stirring; the garden birds are definitely in courtship mode, as well as searching for suitable nurseries to raise their young – in trees, shrubs and old stone walls. Yes, we have had snow, but then we have also had the pleasure of peeping snowdrops……..those beautiful harbingers of snow and spring at the same time. The nights and early mornings have been frosty, but aromatic fruit wood fires have kept my soul and body warm.
February is also the month of pancakes, as well as love – Shrove Tuesday has come and gone, and I hope you all had a flipping good time; I certainly did and made my traditional pancakes served with marmalade, as I have been sleeping with my copper preserving pan lately!
Valentine’s Day has also disappeared into a snowy and frosty month now, but I would like to keep that loving sentiment alive in my February article and talk about bread…….the original food of love in my opinion, as well as aromatics, which we use almost daily and enhance our homes, kitchens and our food.
Bread, the staff of life, an ancient food that has been made for thousands of years in some form or another; for me there is no greater show of love than to make a home-made loaf of bread for the family table. The aroma itself is captivating and provokes loving cuddles and “oooohs” and “aaaaaahs” from my family as it is baking. Then there is the tearing of the first piece, usually a “knobby” as we call it, the crust, which is always fought over with yeasty and greedy passion. It’s a simple alchemy of water, yeast and flour and yet it is pure magic.
Bread comes on all shapes and sizes, as well as sweet and savoury; when I am at my home in SW France, I love nothing more than a buttery, flaky croissant for my breakfast – although not every day, as I would be the size of a house! I have a superb local patisserie where I can buy fresh croissants from, but I love to make my own too, and the whole experience is soothing and very fulfilling. There is nothing as delicious as a fresh croissant, served with home-made jam and butter and of course a nice cup of “grand café crème” to accompany it. It’s a treat and one that I indulge in every now and then.
Then there is our daily bread, a bread loaf that is unassuming and yet the doyenne of the bread world – the one that is toasted for marmite, eggs, beans and cheese; a bread that can be made into classic puddings, or is found in the school lunch box with savoury fillings of egg, tuna and salad…..the mainstay of the family supper and breakfast table. Our daily bread can be brown, wholemeal, and white or even an old fashioned milk loaf, and I tend to make one of these “plain Jane” loaves of bread every other day.
Moving on from bread to aromatics; the term is a broad expression for herbs and spices, but, it can also mean the vegetables that are used as the base of soups, stews and sauces; the most common being onions, celery and carrots which make up the traditional “Mirepoix” of French cuisine, and if you replace the carrots with red peppers (bell peppers) than you would have the “Holy Trinity” of Louisiana and Cajun cooking fame.
I love my aromatics and use them on a daily basis in the kitchen, and especially in preserves, such as my mixed currant and lavender jelly recipe, a jelly that is still bringing sunshine to my winter table some eight months after making it.
My favourite winter aromatics are the “English Trinity” of sweet pudding spices – a home-made mixed spice blend or cinnamon, nutmeg (or mace) and cloves. I use these spices in fruit breads, savoury casseroles, curries and tagines, as well as steamed and baked puddings too. Aromatics are wonderful in bread, and of course the next big bread bun on the scene is the Hot Cross Bun, which, should be heavily scented with mixed spices, as well as peel and fruit. One of my most popular spiced and fruited bread recipes is Lincolnshire Plum Bread, a rich and heavily spiced, fruited bread that is often baked in place of a Christmas cake, but, is available all year around.
The recipe I would like to share with you today is a classic Yorkshire recipe, a savoury bread pudding recipe which is also called Yorkshire pudding, and mistakenly confused for the more commonly known batter pudding we eat with roast beef and as part of “toad-in-the-hole”. Its other name is “season pudding” and this savoury bread pudding is an excellent “filler”, as well as being thrifty but extremely tasty. It is usually a vegetarian pudding, made with foraged herbs and nettles, but, I have suggested adding bacon for a more substantial dish that only needs onion gravy to complete the culinary picture! (Please omit the bacon if you are vegetarian)
I have named my pudding, “Scarborough Fair – Savoury Herb Bread Pudding”, as just like the old folk song, it contains parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme in it. I DO hope that some of you will try the recipe, and I love to read your comments, so please leave your thoughts in the comment box below. Have an aromatic and bread filled February, and I will be back on March with some ideas for making the most of your freezer.
Thanks for reading!