Flashing the pan: Love in the time of Le Creuset

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Volcanic Orange is Le Creuset’s trademark colour, graduating in tone to a deep burnt orange at the pan’s bottom. This tin advert dates back to 1925.

After a rather un-profitable car boot sale 13 years ago, I sloped off from my wonky pasting table and decided to blow my earnings on someone else’s junk.  Stacked together on the grass under a Renault exhaust pipe were three cast-iron cooking pans, pillar-box red, with a cream inner lining, coal black rim and thick, smooth wooden handles. Embossed with circled numbers on their enamel-bases, they looked suspiciously posh and with one rogue lid between them, I figured they’d at least brighten up a communal uni kitchen. The legacy lives on in ‘the best tenner I ever spent’ story and My Le Creuset pans have travelled (and split many cardboard boxes in the process), to seven flats and houses since, and seem perfectly at home on various landing stoves, under the culinary watch of a rotating cast of housemates; bubbling away, heavy as a sack of potatoes, surviving weeks of baked-on white sauce and scrubbing up a treat every time.

The physical and metaphorical weight of this iconic brand dates back to 1925. Starting life in a French foundry headed by two Belgian industrialists, Armand Desaegher and Octave Aubecq, one of Le Creuset’s first designs was the cast-iron La Cocotte (French Oven) that today remains the company’s best-seller, available in a coveted spectrum of retro colours including teal, a creamy almond, and Volcanic Orange – officially Le Creuset’s signature shade.

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Published in: on February 11, 2013 at 10:37 pm  Comments (3)  

Elizabeth David and a very good chocolate cake

Illustration: Sophie MacCarthy taken from Italian Food by Elizabeth David (The Folio Society)

Illustration: Sophie MacCarthy, from Italian Food by Elizabeth David (The Folio Society)

The cool stillness of the first day of autumn and the kitchen feels like a nice place to be. Using a recipe from my friend, home economist and food stylist Sue Ashworth, I’ve been trying to perfect lemon curd – my lifelong crush of the preserve world. Fresh farm eggs and a slab of Cornish butter mixed with sugar, lemon juice and a soft mound of zest is never going to taste and smell anything short of amazing when it hits the hob, melting and thickening into a silky, lemony spread. Practice is all part of the fun. I just need to amp up my zest levels (thanks, testers) then it’s on to lime and raspberry in time for Christmas potting.

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Published in: on September 21, 2013 at 7:03 pm  Comments (2)  

Seaside charms

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Cold meats, a freshly baked cake, and bottles of ginger beer; I spent my childhood dining out on Enid Blyton’s mouth-watering food descriptives – from suppers shared around the family kitchen table to the gloriously naughty midnight feasts squirreled away in the shadows of the common room. I was then happier than Darrell Rivers herself to stumble over some pristine Enid Blyton story books while on a family weekend in Margate this month – including a 1972 edition of ‘The Children of Cherry-Tree Farm’ (1940). After their parents leave for America, siblings Rory, Sheila, Benji and Penny are sent to the thatched farm-house of Uncle Tim and Auntie Bess, whose wholesome home cooking underpins the children’s new-found appreciation of country living…

‘Auntie Bess had made them a lovely picnic lunch. There were ham sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs in their shells, each with a screw of salt beside them, slices of sticky gingerbread, last autumn’s yellow apples, and half a bottle of milk each.’

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Published in: on August 17, 2013 at 6:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Great Scott

The Gilbert Scott Book of British FoodThe grandeur and sheer opulence of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is usually something I appreciate in Charlie Bucket-like measures – all misty-eyed on passing research trips to the British Library up the road. My metaphorical golden ticket this week was a copy of The Gilbert Scott Book of British Food, based on the menus and traditional culinary methods that have been shaping up Marcus Wareing’s resident food haunt, The Gilbert Scott Restaurant & Bar.

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Published in: on July 7, 2013 at 12:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

The proof is in the pudding

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Warning: any home-bake may pale into insignificance in the presence of such hues, fonts and descriptives

When I saw this wrapping paper by Cavallini Papers and & Co in the Kew Gardens gift shop, I knew it was never going to cover anything other than my kitchen wall. ‘Sweet Treats’ is a collection of 16 mouth-watering cakes and desserts featuring Grape Jelly, Lemon Cream, Iced Oranges and a small layered mountain of Apples a la Parisienne. Printed on Italian cream-laid paper stock, I’d like to think these beauties could feel as at home on an Italian Renaissance-inspired banquet in the 16th century as on the dessert menu at a doomed yet delicious wedding feast in the literary realms of Westeros.

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Published in: on June 30, 2013 at 6:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

To market, to market

2 Poster - Produce Market smlA lazy bank holiday weekend has been punctuated by several excellent cake and pastry pit stops. An iced pain au raisin from the Blackbird Bakery in Crystal Palace kicked off a sunny Saturday, with greedy forethought to bag a Chelsea bun encrusted with sugar for afternoon tea. Both were delicious, however the star of the show was waiting in The Albion deli, attached to its hearty English caff in east London. Multi-checkered layers of rosewater sponge cemented with raspberry jam amounted to one of the finest pieces of Battenburg I’ve ever tasted – only to be seconded by one of the signature all-star chocolate brownies.

In hindsight, I should have saved some cake space for the Crystal Palace Food market, which saw a tiny back street off the Triangle alive with home-made produce for the second week running – pedaling everything from home-grown herbs and local honey to organic meats and Moroccan soul food. I took home a box of biodynamic eggs that had been laid at Brambletye Farm in East Sussex, about an hour’s drive from south-east London. After poaching and popping creamy yolks the colour of sunshine on toast – and looking up the term biodynamic: (like an extension of organic where holistic methods of farming are applied to nourish the earth) – I’m not sure there’s any going back to Sainsbury’s for my next half a dozen.

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Published in: on May 27, 2013 at 8:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Battenburg Cake

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This is one of my favourite recipes from my book The WI Vintage Teatime and seems to perfectly suit these drizzly May afternoons. Pretty as a picture, this chequered sponge, which is cemented by jam and covered in home-made marzipan, is said to have first been baked to celebrate Price Louis of Battenburg’s marriage to Princess Victoria in 1884. Miniature versions of these almondy delights are popping up on afternoon tea menus across the country.

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Published in: on May 14, 2013 at 8:41 pm  Comments (1)  

Hot cross buns

Hot Cross Buns

Studded with dried fruits and gently spiced, a warm buttered hot cross bun has become far too tasty for Easter alone. Most of the big supermarkets have noted the pulling power of the doughy delights, offering perennial six-packs of the basic bun alongside shelves of pimped up versions for the holiday season – from the bejewelled cranberry and orange to the sticky luxury versions full of plump, juicy fruits and that irresistible shiny glaze.

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Published in: on March 26, 2013 at 12:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

There’s something about Mary

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Fledgling WI Judges weigh up the perfect cake as part of stringent tests to earn their judging badge certifiable. They as being assessed in the Livingstone Room, Denman College

Judging cake is a serious business. We’ve all seen Calendar Girls. The self-crucifying repercussions of taking short cuts down M&S’ sponge aisle to claim the glory of a home win is a nod to the unwaivering regulations in place at real life village and county shows across the UK, brought in to measure fair play for both the home producer and the white-coated judge. The picture above (circa 1950s) is one of my all-time favourites, depicting members of the Women’s Institute in training to become certified WI Cookery Judges under the watchful eye of the WI Trainer. Their bible-like reference manual, the Produce Guild Guide and Handbook, underwent several interpretations and revisions over the years and is now known as ‘On with the Show’ which, if you’re thinking of putting your best loaf forward this summer, is a pretty invaluable place to start for show-perfect produce. I wax on about this here.

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Published in: on January 12, 2013 at 12:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Christmas Cake for Brides

Catherina Maria Heyns marries Cecil Ernest Helm at Groot Doornrivier

Catherina Maria Heyns marries Cecil Ernest Helm at Groot Doornrivier, South Africa – 19 December 1942

My New Year’s Resolution is to blog like clockwork, which starts a few weeks early. I blame the lack of posts on my wedding blessing last month; a small and beautiful candlelit ceremony in Cumbria that, despite having just 30 friends and family members in attendance, still managed to kidnap all my brain cells and hold them to wedding ransom. ‘Candles…will there be enough candles?’ I have to thank a spirited (and visually sound) congregation for its rousing take on Jerusalem by tea-light.

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Published in: on December 9, 2012 at 11:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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