Friday 13 March 2009

It doesn't get Leadbetter than this...

Yesterday’s trip down memory lane to dinner parties past inspired me to revisit some of my early culinary experiments, so here they are, more or less as I made them 30 years ago with a bit more booze and a bit more seasoning thrown in to mark the passing of the years. And to celebrate being old enough to drink.

Gingernut log

I remember going to Chittock’s on Newgate Street to seek out sweet, crunchy, fiery crystallised ginger from Mr Chittock, a proper, white-coated grocer as neat as his immaculately ordered shelves. If you ever find yourself in Bishop Auckland, you should drop in. I think his daughter runs the shop now, selling lovely Wensleydale cheeses, pease pudding, and delicious ham.

Chittock's used to sell carlins too, also known as maple peas or pigeon peas (because they were fed to the ubiquitous pigeons). In the North East, Carlin Sunday precedes Palm Sunday. Traditionally the carlins were soaked overnight then boiled up with perhaps a ham bone thrown into the pot for extra flavour. Then the peas were fried in butter or dripping, seasoned with salt and pepper and a splosh of malt vinegar.

Anyway, I digress… onto the sweet treat that is the gingernut log. I made this from memory, adding the sherry to make it a little more interesting. You know, it wasn’t bad! Margo would have been proud…

350ml double cream
160g gingernut biscuits, about 3 per person
1 tbsp of ginger syrup from a jar of stem ginger (optional)
50ml of sherry – I used Palo Cortado, but any medium sherry would do
A few tablespoons of crystallised ginger, roughly chopped
40g dark chocolate

Serves 4

Lightly whip the cream with the syrup until it forms soft, cloudy peaks. Spoon a line of the cream down the middle of your serving plate – this will form a sort of ‘glue’ which will stop your biscuits rolling all over the place.

Next, pour a good couple of slugs of sherry into a bowl and quickly dip a biscuit into it – don’t soak it in the bowl, the sherry and the biscuit should have only the briefest flirtation, any longer a courtship and the biscuit will crumble into mush. Spread a good spoonful of cream onto the biscuit and then stand it on its edge on your serving plate.

Continue dipping and spreading, sandwiching the biscuits together on the plate to form a log. Next, spread the remaining cream all over the biscuits in a generous coating then scatter over the crystallised ginger. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and then spoon it over the log. Chill for at least four hours before serving in fat slices.

Tuna pâté

When I made this as a child, I think all it involved was beating a can of tuna into a paste with the same weight of butter and a dash of vinegar. Hmmm. There’s only so far down memory lane a girl is prepared to go. I made this today, it's more of a spread than a pâté – the kind of thing you could probably throw together from the things in your cupboard. It’s good as an open sandwich and would be quite tasty on small bits of toast to go with drinks. If I’d had any dill, I think that would have been a good addition too.

100g of tinned tuna, drained weight from a 160g tin
40g unsalted butter
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 spring onion, very finely chopped
A good squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toast and chopped hard-boiled egg and gherkin to serve

Beat the butter, mustard, spring onion and lemon juice together until smooth. Stir in the tuna, breaking up the bigger chunks. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Serve on hot toast, with chopped boiled egg and gherkins.


  1. Your recipes read like a story in themselves. You are the mistress of food as a story

  2. That tuna pate is something I would make, and yes, using items on hand. That is my favorite way to prepare foods as it requires ingenuity!

  3. Hello Mimi,

    I love using what I have too, satifyingly thrifty and rather modern in these difficult times. And then I blow it all with a craving for lobster or sirloin. Oh well, the palate wants what it wants and a girl can't be good ALL of the time...

    Love and a licked spoon,



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