WHITBY FISH PIE

Whitby is a charming, seaside village in north Yorkshire.  Although we have visited quite a few times, there’s no real reason for most people to have heard of Whitby … unless you’ve followed the career of Captain Cook or have read Bram Stoker’s novel DRACULA.  Actually, quite a few literary geniuses have lived or visited Whitby during their careers.  In addition to Bram Stoker, you may have heard of Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell or Lewis Carroll among many others.  Today, tourism is what keeps this quiet, little fishing village alive … well, that and “fish pie”.

As with most regional recipes, it comes down to whatever is available, and whatever the cook decides to do with it.  In Whitby, it’s the ‘catch of the day’.  For me, it was a quick trip to the grocery store, after which I decided to use cod.  And pulling from my bookshelf of resources, it was Paul Hollywood’s BRITISH BAKING which inspired this beloved regional dish.

I was a bit hesitant … not all of my attempts at Hollywood’s recipes have been successful … but this one certainly was.  We all loved it.  A hearty, satisfying dish, flavorful and delicious.  Perfect for a Sunday supper on a wintry night.  Serve it up with a tossed green salad and bottle of white wine.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

WHITBY FISH PIE
Serves 6 to 8.  Bake at 425º for 30 to 40 mins.

The crust (or purchase a pre-made pastry crust)
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup icy cold water

The filling
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper
1/2 diced white onion
2 stalked celery, diced
2 cups spinach, washed and chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 lbs. solid white fish, skinned, cubed
2 boiled potatoes, peeled and cubed (optional)
1 egg, beaten

I know after reading this list of ingredients, it seems like a lot of time and work, but it really isn’t.  We all know a good pie starts with a good crust.  They are super easy, but if you don’t feel comfortable making one, store bought crusts have come a long way.

When ready to cook, make the filling in one large saucepan, beginning with a roux, adding leftover cooked potatoes if you have them.  Dump it all into a large pie plate or casserole.  Then top it with the pie crust and bake for about 40 minutes.  Done!
____
The details:
To make the crust:
Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl.  Add the chilled butter and cut in until the flour resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the beaten egg and, with a fork, mix together quickly adding the cold water as needed …

OR … put all the dry ingredients in your food processor and pulse for 10 seconds.  Add the cubed butter and pulse for another 10 seconds.  Add the beaten egg and as much water as needed to hold it together and pulse for a final 10 seconds.

The flour mixture should stay together.

Whichever method you use, when it comes together, turn out on a floured board and form a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

The filling:
In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter.  When melted, stir in the 1/2 cup of flour and cook til all combined.  Slowly add the milk and whisk until smooth and creamy.  This will take two to three minutes.  Season with cloves, salt and pepper.

The bechamel should be nicely thickened.

Next, stir in the diced onions and celery.  The heat should be medium to low.  Then add the chopped spinach and parsley.  Taste to adjust the seasoning.  You may need to add a bit more salt.

Add the cubed fish and fold in gently.  You don’t want to break the fish up.  If you have leftover boiled potatoes, add them now … or any leftover veggies you may have.  Turn off the heat and dump everything into a large casserole or pie plate.

Take the pastry out of the frig and, on a lightly floured board, roll it out to fit the casserole or pie plate.  Be sure to cut an air hole in the center of the pastry for the steam to escape.

Brush the edges of the casserole with water or the beaten egg and put the pastry crust on top.    Press the pastry onto the rim of the dish to adhere.  Decorate as you’d like, or not.  Brush the beaten egg all over the pastry crust.

Be sure to put the casserole onto a baking tray to catch any spillage … and there will be spillage.  Bake at 425º for 40 to 45 minutes until golden brown and bubbly.


Take it out of the oven and serve right away.  A simple green salad and glass of white wine … maybe some crusty bread, perfect!  This is an old-fashioned supper dish and it doesn’t disappoint.  WHITBY FISH PIE … a steaming pie full of goodness and nutrition.  If you make it, please let me know.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References:  Wikipedia, Visit Whitby, Paul Hollywood,

JAM ROLY POLY

I’ve been hearing the name “JAM ROLY POLY” for years but have never been quite sure what it was.  I thought it might just be a silly name for an English version of a jelly roll cake or a rolled pastry filled with jam.  With a name like that, it definitely has to be a children’s dessert, right?  Well, I was partly right.  What I’ve learned is that, not only was it one of hubby’s favorite school foods which tugs at the heart strings of most Brits, it has a fascinating history.

If you search online, as I did, for JAM ROLY POLY, you’ll find unappetizing names likedead man’s arm ordead man’s leg, and shirt sleeve pudding‘  which just didn’t provide much information and only continued to confuse me.  To learn more about this strangely named childhood favorite, I actually had to go all the way back to Great Britain’s Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution began in Britain around the latter part of the 18th century with the invention of the steam engine.  Up until that time most goods were made by craftsmen and power was created by water or animals.  Now with the advent of the steam engine, machinery and technology became the catalyst for mass production.  Before long,  an increase in global trade created a greater demand for these manufactured goods and factories were built in all the urban areas.

Inventors were creating more and more machinery to push productivity.  Coal now became a major player to fuel the engines.  The critical element necessary for success to operate all of this machinery was, of course, people.  Three quarters of Britain’s population, at that time, were craftsmen and farmers who lived in the countryside.  But with these rural cottage industries closing, they had no choice but to pack up and move to the cities in search of jobs.

Although British productivity soared, the overwhelming competition for jobs kept the wages low. Some individuals became very wealthy.  Too many people, however, lived in overcrowded slums with little or no food or comforts.  With so little income, parents had no choice but to send their children to work in the factories as well.  Children were welcomed by the factory owners and managers, not only because they were cheap labor, but because their small statures and nimble fingers made them suitable for many work situations.

Prior to this time, education was not free.  Poor children eked out whatever education they could.  In 1833, the government passed the Factory Act, the first of many legislative attempts to improve conditions for children working in factories. In addition to limiting the hours a child could work, this Act made mandatory two hours of education a day.  This did not, however, ensure that these rules would be followed.  Children were wage earners and to have them attend school and not work placed a huge financial burden on the family.  Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy captured the brutality of this era in the storytelling of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.

In 1844, the Ragged Schools Union was set up to provide free education to poor working class children.  The success of these “ragged schools” demonstrated that there was a demand for education among the poor and in 1870 public funding began to be provided for free elementary education.  Although Britain’s economy was flourishing, the health of its people was not.  One third of its children were malnourished.  Infant mortality was on the rise.  Men were deemed not fit to serve in the Armed Services.  But it wasn’t until 1889 when a report was published which indicated that over 50,000 pupils in London alone were attending school without having eaten anything at all which prompted two school board members to take action. Margaret McMillan and Fred Jowett persuaded Parliament to introduce legislation which would encourage free school meals for children.

Mrs. Macmillan was passionate about improving the welfare and education of children and encouraged others to see children as the future of the nation.  Her belief was that children couldn’t concentrate on their lessons because they were starving.  Although charities had been feeding the hungry for years, a formal program was now put in place to feed schoolchildren.

Breakfasts for the school children consisted of bread with jam and milk.  Lunch (or dinner as it is called in Britain) consisted of a porridge or stew, pudding, bread and butter and milk. Puddings have been an integral part of the British diet since the middle ages.  They began as a savory item made with suet to bind all the ingredients together and then steamed in muslin cloth (hence, the reference to ‘shirt sleeve pudding’ or ‘dead man’s arm’).

A typical school lunch program from the early 1900’s:

Monday: brown vegetable soup, jam roly-poly pudding, sauce;
Tuesday: savoury batter, beans, gravy, semolina pudding;
Wednesday: potato and onion soup, ginger pudding, sweet sauce;
Thursday: stewed beef and gravy, mashed potatoes, baked jam roll;
Friday: fish and potato pie, parsley sauce, peas, sago pudding.

As you can see, meals had to be inexpensive, filling and something the children would eat.  To get them to eat the more nutritious porridge or stew, a sweet “pudding” was always served.  The one they liked the most … JAM ROLY POLY!

A roly-poly is a pudding made with a suet dough, which is then spread with raspberry or strawberry jam, rolled up, tied in a muslin bag and boiled or steamed.  First published in 1861, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management included a recipe called jam roly-poly pudding and so began the British love affair with this sweet, stodgy pudding served with lashings of hot custard.

Now that we’ve uncovered the origins of the JAM ROLY POLY, do we really want to make one?  Maybe … maybe not!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References:  Health.co.uk, Wikipedia, BBC, National Archives, Intriguing History, British Food History, the Nosey Chef, Food Timeline, Economic History Association

_____________________________________________________________________________

Why Was the Hatter MAD?

Who doesn’t love the nonsensical story of a bored little girl, Alice in Wonderland?  This classic book, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, written by Lewis Carroll (Charles L. Dodgson) in 1871, has been translated in over 100 languages, has never been out of print and from which 17 movies have been made, the first being filmed in 1903.

I’ve written about Alice before … to mark her 150th Anniversary.  Check out the link if you are interested in learning more.  This time, however, I’m more interested in the less-than-subtle character of The Mad Hatter. You have to admit Carroll’s characters are incredibly delightful and entertaining.  Each character is a vivid portrayal of the people in Charles Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll) world.  As Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Oscar Wilde, etc. each wrote about people with whom they were familiar, interesting characters who were actually part of their lives. How could you not love the Queen of Hearts (Queen Victoria) or the Cheshire Cat?  Of course, the tea party wouldn’t be complete without the Dormouse and the March Hare.

My favorite, and apparently Tim Burton’s as well, is The Mad Hatter.  But my question is, “why was the Hatter mad?”  In the book, he was never referred to as The Mad Hatter.  He is referred to only as “The Hatter”.   It is certainly apparent, however, with his constant barrage of questions, reciting silly poetry and songs, darting in and out of seats at the never-ending tea party, that he is without a doubt, MAD as a HATTER.   Where did this catch phrase and this character come from?

After visiting a “living history” (their words, not mine) museum this past weekend, I learned that “hat manufacturers” from the 18th and 19th century were ‘mad’, with acute cases of dementia, tremors and the like.  It seems the chemicals used to cure the felt used in hat-making included mercurious nitrate.  And we all now know the dangers of being exposed to mercury.  Mercury poisoning from the prolonged exposure to the vapors of mercury causes uncontrollable muscular tremors, distorted vision and confused speech, not to mention hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms.  Dementia was a common ailment for Victorian-era hat makers.  Hence the term “mad as a hatter”.

Theophilus Carter – 1824-1904

Carroll knew one such interesting character by the name of Theophilus Carter, who, it is believed, could have been the inspiration for “the hatter”. Theo wasn’t actually a ‘hatter’ himself, but rather an upholsterer and furniture maker, and a very eccentric and flamboyant one at that.  Often seen standing at the door to his Oxford shop with his infamous top hat perched on the back of his head.  Could Theo have come in contact with mercury vapors while making and upholstering furniture?  Possibly.

How did the process for using mercury to cure felt begin?  It seems that it can be traced back to the Middle East where camel hair was used for the felt material from which fez hats are made. The demand for these hats was tremendous after Sultan Mahud made them fashionable and mandatory for his military.  It was discovered, quite by accident, that the felting process could be hurried up if the pelts were soaked with urine, camel urine to be specific.

19th Century Hat Making

The fashion for felt hats moved north into Europe and with it the manufacturing.  But, camel urine was unavailable.  It is believed that workmen in France, not having camels handy, used their own urine.  Interestingly, one workman in this particular French factory seemed to produce a consistently superior felt. This workman, it was discovered, was being treated for syphilis, with regular doses of a mercury compound.   The connection between the mercury in his urine and the improved fibers of the felt were made and thus began the widespread use of mercury nitrate in felt making.

As a result, mercury poisoning became endemic with hat makers.  Although the hatters were exposed to the mercury fumes in the making of the felt, the wearers were not.  The vapors would have dissipated long before the hat was worn. Needless to say, this process is now banned in the U.S. and Europe.  And now we know why “the hatter was MAD“.

~ ~ ~
“In that direction,” the Cat said, waving its right paw round,
“lives a Hatter: and in that direction,” waving the other paw,
“lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.”

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here.
I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be, said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

 

The March Hare and the Hatter put the Dormouse’s head in a teapot, by Sir John Tenniel.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

References:  Wikipedia, Corrosion Doctors, Alice in Wonderland, American Chemical Society,

Bath …. a fascinating city!

We try to visit England as often as we can and each time we do we select a different region or city.  Hubby remembered visiting Bath once when he was a child.  So, Bath it is!  From the moment we arrived, I knew I was going to love England’s only World Heritage City.  It might sound strange to describe a city this way, but, for me, it had gravitas.

We chose a small, older hotel, centrally located, directly across the street from the train station. It couldn’t be more perfect.  Bath is a ‘walking city’ and we were able to do just that … with quick stops back to the room to refresh and relax for a moment before eagerly conquering our next destination.

Before our visit, I had no idea the reason the city is called “Bath” is simply because of the natural mineral springs around which the Romans built not only a massive temple but an entire city, over 2000 years ago.  This magnificent structure rivals anything I had seen in Italy.  It took over 4 centuries to complete this work of art.  After falling into disrepair over the years, thankfully, it has been meticulously restored by the generous donations of countless organizations.

There are four main areas that comprise the Great Bath: the Sacred Spring, the Temple, the Bath House and the Museum.  From the moment you descend the steps into the Great Bath, you start to imagine yourself part of the privileged class who would have indulged in the ritualistic bathing that was so important to the Romans.  With your attendant in tow,  you would pay your entrance fee, leave your clothing, don a toga and enter the palaestra or gymnasium for some exercising.  From there you would enter the tepidarium, or warm bath room, where you would be scrubbed clean before entering the caldarium, or hot bath room (sort of like a sauna).   You would then have another attendant massage you with oils.  After your massage, it’s time to cool down in the frigidarium and then off you’d go to socialize around the swimming pool.

Overlooking the Great Bath.

Overlooking the Great Bath.

This world-class museum also houses a collection of archeological finds that just boggle the mind.  Included in this exhibition is the recent discovery of over 17,000 Roman coins dating back to the first century.

After the Romans left in the 5th century, the city was claimed by the Saxons and then by the Normans, which left the city in ruins.  A revitalization effort was begun in the 1500s when people began to flock to these mineral springs in the hopes of curing whatever ailed them …. like leprosy!  Oh my!!    But the real recovery didn’t come until the late 1700s when Richard “Beau” Nash, an opportunist and inveterate gambler, made the city a hub for the fashionable elite.   Nash brought with him wealthy investors who built the Grand Pump Room, the Circus and the Royal Crescent among others, and created an atmosphere of elegant social life.

The original Georgian-style Grand Pump Room, built directly above the Roman Baths, was a “gathering” room for the wealthy … to see and be seen.  As more and more people began flocking to this beautiful structure, it was deemed too small and was demolished.   In 1796 a magnificent new building was constructed on the very site – eighty-five feet long, forty-six feet wide, and thirty-four feet high – which is the Pump Room you can visit today.  Not only can you “take the waters” (which simply means you can drink a sample of the mineral water, for a fee), you can indulge in the most sumptuous of all classic Afternoon Teas while swaying to the music of the Pump Room Trio.  Divine!

 Completely revitalized the city attracted musicians, writers, artists and royalty. People like Charles Dickens, Thomas Gainsborough, Franz Liszt and Jane Austen.   Actually it was Jane’s parents who moved their family to Bath in 1801. Jane was a young, talented novelist who used Bath as the setting for three of her six novels. Who hasn’t read (or at least seen the movies) Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.  More successful after her death than during her lifetime, the enormous popularity of Jane’s novels has led to multiple adaptations for movie and television screens.  Sir Laurence Olivier starred as Mr. Darcy in the first version of Pride and Prejudice in 1940. The most recent  film’s impressive cast included Keira Knightley, Donald Sutherland and Dame Judi Dench.

For fans of Jane Austen, a visit to the Jane Austen Centre is a MUST.  We were greeted by Mr. Darby himself upon entering the Centre!  From the classic Georgian town house, to dressing up in any of the Regency costumes, including top hats, bonnets and fans, and then of course, enjoying a pot of tea with a savoury or two in the Tea Room on the second floor, you will catapult yourself back in time – just as it was in her novels.   This memorable treat should not be missed.

The city is resplendent in nature with sprawling open parks and meticulously-groomed gardens.   Crossing over the River Avon, Bath’s Pulteney Bridge is one of the world’s most beautiful bridges in the world.  Just like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, not only is it magnificent in its neoclassical architecture, it has shops built right into it … a perfect place to indulge in a little souvenir shopping.  After picking up that memorable bauble, enjoy a relaxing cruise along this peaceful river.

 

A visit to the Bath Abbey has to be on your list of places to visit.  This imposing Gothic structure was built in 1499 on the site of two previous Abbeys, both of which had been destroyed in battles.  This is actually one of the last medieval cathedrals to be built in England, and one of the most unique.  Of course, you can marvel at the resplendent architecture and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere, but for a real treat take the tour up to the Bell Tower.   Although there are areas where you can stop and rest, this memorable trek is not for the faint-of-heart or vertigo-afflicted. The steep 212 steps will take you behind the clock face, stand on top of the vaulted ceiling and visit the bell chamber room.  Bring your camera, because the views are simply amazing.

 Where do you go after visiting the Abbey?  Well, Sally Lunn’s, of course!! If you aren’t familiar with Sally Lunn, Sally was a young refugee coming from France in 1680.  Finding work was almost impossible, but Sally (originally Solange Luyon) did have one skill, she knew how to make rich, French brioche rolls.  A small bakery on Lilliput Alley (the oldest house in Bath) hired her to make these buns and sell them on the street corner. The buns became so popular, customers would visit the bakery to buy them fresh from the oven.

The bakery, now known as the Sally Lunn House, is part tea room and part museum.  Although it is said to be built in 1482 the excavations on display in the north cellar show that the house actually existed during the Roman occupation.  Because it is conveniently located close to the Roman Baths, it is believed this site could have been an inn for Roman travelers.  Again, put this bakery/tea room/museum on your MUST visit list.  It is a unique and wonderful place to enjoy one of Sally Lunn’s rich buttery buns and a hearty cuppa.

There is so much to see and do in this World Heritage City.  I’ve just touched on a few.  From the Roman Baths to the Jane Austen Centre, the Bath Abbey and Sally Lunn’s Tea Room to name just a few, Bath has to be one of my most favorite cities in England.  I can’t wait to come back!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References:  Roman Baths, British Express, Jane Austen Centre, Bath Abbey, Sally Lunn’s House, World Heritage Cities