Le Serre Nuove – Thoughts from Glasshouses

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Tales from Wales and Speckled Bread

Some things I have always found hard to resist, and most of my food memories growing up involve my Nan in some way or another. It is not necessarily the variety of the food, most of it was very traditional – e.g. meat, potato and veg sort of affair – and even pasta would be considered exotic. The thing was it always felt homely and always properly cooked. My parents considered me a fussy eater as a kid, I tend to thing that I just do not like badly cooked food and that was the case when I was young too, but my nan got me eating things (basically green veg) without so much hassle. I think I’ve mentioned before that she used to send me Welsh Cakes to me in the post whilst I was a student; they were always a great treat and something that never used to last long with either me or my housemates.

Bara Brith

But my favourite thing I’ve always got from her, and she always makes me one whenever I come down and see her, is Bara Brith. It is supposedly translated to ‘Speckled Bread’ and is a type of tea cake. It could be said that it is a variation on a Selkirk Bannock cake but it doesn’t have butter or milk in it, and likewise the Bannock isn’t soaked in tea or use eggs. Bara Brith originated, or so the story goes, from adding fruit to the surplus bread dough when baking once a week. Some also say that there are South and North Wales variants, I slightly disagree with this, but it is certainly true that the adapted recipe that my nan uses does originate from South Wales as way to bake the cake without using yeast to make it easier for industrial (i.e. miners) families to bake it. I think I actually prefer it this way too because it makes it a lot more richer. I am not sure whether there is any sort of originality in this recipe, I certainly know it is old, but how old I am not sure. To quote my Nan (yes, she did say that): “I got it from Mrs Jones, who used to live on Llandaff Road, a long time ago.” I am probably certain it is from either the late forties or early fifties when my grandparents used to run a grocery shop, as this was typical of the stories she used to tell me from those days. It is a simple recipe, but simply delightful.

Bara Brith – Speckled Bread

SimplesSoak Overnight

1/2 lb Dried Fruit (traditionally sultanas / currants) in 1/4 pt + 2 tablespoons of hot tea (any will do but try Earl / Lady Grey)

Next Day

4 oz Brown (or Demerara) Sugar

1/2 teaspoon of mixed spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice or cloves and ginger)

1 beaten Egg

8 oz of self rising flour

Mix all the above ingredients into the soaked tea and fruit. Grease a tin loaf (you may use parchment paper too) and preheat the over to 170°C. Add all the combined ingredients to the tin loaf and bake for one and half hours, ensuring that a knife can come out clean if inserted into the cake. Slice and serve with butter, with a pot of tea.


Welsh Curiosity

There are certain things that the forces of nurture impress upon you. Growing up with a Welsh Dad, and with members of family still living in Cardiff, for me that was alcohol, socialism, rugby and laverbread. Being Welsh or more specifically scouse born, home county raised, half Welsh, these things were unescapable,  as they were traits that emerged at certain times of the year. Most obviously whenever the six nations came about (particularly 1993 and Ieuan Evans’ try), they would lurk in the background and shoot at me when I least expect it. During my student days too, I would invariably get packets in the post from my Gran containing a whole heap of goodies – predominantly her Welsh Cakes. They are unequalled. Period.

Talking of my Gran, she used to threaten me with laverbread whenever I came to stay. Laver is seaweed found on the Gower coast plucked from the rocks at low tide. To make Laverbread it is boiled for several hours and then minced. I think the notion of eating seaweed would always put me off, and that it looks like black mush. Then she cooked me a traditional Welsh breakfast (you get it with cockles nowadays but this is a traditional South Wales miners breakfast) of laverbread, bacon, mushrooms and sausages, when I was about 18 and boy did I realise how good it is. I was amazed about how fresh it tasted and how it tasted like the sea. I found it quite salty, but it compliments the meat really well. With seaweed being increasing popular with the rise of sushi and the significant health benefits it brings, it is a great thing to cook with and something that I really enjoy, particularly when I now go down to the Valleys. Steven Terry is a big fan (from the Hardwick Inn) and here is a great recipe of his here. Below is a great dish I have made a couple of times and I think helps show how versatile the dish is, and what a curiosity it is.

Monkfish & Laverbread Cakes

Monkfish fillets
100g fresh or tinned laverbread
35g fine oatmeal
10g Parsley
6 rashers of bacon (keep the fat)

Grill the bacon over a medium heat, ensuring you keep the fat, until cooked.  Place on a paper towel to remove excess fat. Dice the cooked bacon, and combine the laverbread, parsley and oatmeal in a bowl. Shape into 6 small cakes, about 5cm wide and 2cm thick.  Heat the bacon fat in a frying pan (or use the same pan as you cooked the bacon in), and gently slide the cakes into the hot fry, turning occasionally until crisp on both sides. Drizzle with some lemon juice just before serving if you wish.

To roast the monkfish, season the fillets with salt and pepper, heat a large ovenproof frying pan with some olive oil, and fry the fillets in the pan for 2 minutes. Turn them over and put the pan in a preheated oven (about 220°C) for 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets. Serve with the laverbread cakes.

Yr un peth eto, os gwelwch yn dda.

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