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A-Z of lost ingredients

An A–Z of Britain's historic ingredients

by Great British Chefs 11 May 2015

Britain's culinary landscape has moved forward immeasurably over the last couple of centuries, leaving behind quite a few ingredients that no longer enjoy the same popularity. We take a look at some of these endangered foods and the recipes that are bringing them back to the fore.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

A – Angelica

Historically, angelica has been used as a cure-all herb and has been cultivated for centuries. It is most commonly seen in its candied, luminous emerald green form, where it is usually used for cake decorating. It’s hard to track down fresh angelica in shops, but is fairly easy to grow. It has a faintly juniper-like flavour, with the roots, leaves and stems all edible after blanching.

B – Black butter

Black butter has been produced in Jersey for hundreds of years and is interwoven with the island’s culture. Apple production was vast between the 1500s and 1600s, and making black butter (a conserve and ingredient made from concentrated cider and apples) was an annual event for women in Jersey. You can still buy it, though only a handful of people still make it on the island. If you get hold of some, try making Mark Jordan’s Black butter ice cream.

C – Caboc

Boasting the title of Scotland's oldest cheese, Caboc is made from double cream. The recipe dates back to the 1500s and is top secret – passed down between mothers and daughters in the family since Mariota de Ile brought the recipe to Scotland. It is rolled in pinhead oats after shaping, giving it a nice nutty crunch.

D – Dandelion

Most people’s culinary experience with this plant is consigned to the divisive soft drink dandelion and burdock, but these widespread weeds have been eaten throughout history. The bright yellow flowers make a wonderful homebrewed wine, while the roots can be used for making an exquisite caffeine-free coffee and the leaves have been rediscovered by foraging chefs to be used as a bitter ingredient in a salad.

E – Einkorn

Einkorn is a historical variety of wheat, with a rustic flavour and low gluten levels. This, along with its high protein content, has prompted its renewed popularity in these diet-conscious times. It dates back to 7500 BC and is one of the earliest and purest forms of cultivated wheat.

F – Flaxseed

Also known as linseed, flax has been cultivated since the Stone Age to make textiles. The seeds have been beloved by health food fans for years thanks to its omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant content. Now, thanks to chefs like Simon Hulstone, this nutty seed is making a reappearance, particularly on menus focusing on seasonal, foraged British produce. It's also popular in vegan baking, as it can be used as an egg substitute.

 
 

G – Greengage

Greengages have been around in Britain since 1724 and feature heavily in traditional British cuisine. Although it’s unlikely you’ll be finding them on the shelves of your nearest supermarket, venture out to a pick-your-own farm in late summer or visit a decent greengrocer to get your hands on these sweet, delicious fruits.

H – Hop shoots

Otherwise known as ‘poor mans asparagus’ (which is ironic, considering they are rather expensive to buy), hop shoots are the tips of hop plants, only appearing for a short amount of time in March and April. They are picked before they grow into the adult plants (whose buds are used for beer production) and you can treat them like asparagus: eat simply blanched, grilled and buttered.

I – Ivy (ground)

Ground ivy is a commonly seen plant with a habit of going a bit wild in gardens, but few people know of it’s gastronomic properties. Before hops became the key means of flavouring beer, ground ivy (or alehoof) was used to clarify and flavour ale. It is eaten as a salad leaf in many countries, noted for it’s peppery, delicate flavour, and is sometimes used as a substitute for rennet in cheesemaking.

J – Jersey ormer

The ormer is a well guarded treasure in Jersey, and rightly so. Since a bacterial disease decimated the population, there have been incredibly strict regulations on ormers to help protect the species. According to fans of this elusive mollusc, ormers are ‘the ambrosia of the sea’ and after tenderising can be slow-cooked for several hours.

 
 

K – Kentish cobnuts

The cobnut is a variety of hazelnut grown in Kent since the 1830s. When they are young and green, they have a mild coconut flavour, then as they mature and brown, their flavour comes closer to the standard hazelnut varieties.

L – Laverbread

 
 

Laverbread is actually not bread at all, but a form of seaweed and a Welsh delicacy. A true superfood, it is high in iron, iodine, vitamin B12 and protein, as well as being low in calories. If you're a fan of nori then you'll love this –nori is just the Japanese word for laverbread.

M – Medlar

Medlars are a contrary fruit – when they are ripe, they are actually at their worse and inedibly tart. But after they have spoiled, turned brown and look rotten, they have a beautifully mild, sweet, apple-like flavour.

N – Northdown clawnut

The Northdown clawnut is part of the walnut family, bearing nuts that are up to twice the size of the walnuts you’ll find in supermarkets. They have a large, uneven shell – similar to a walnut – with a small, sweet white kernel inside. Incredibly versatile yet sadly underused, they can be eaten pickled, wet or dried out, and should be picked between June and October.

 

O – Ox tongue

Although many people still balk at the idea of eating tongue, the hefty cut is still sold in some supermarkets and is coming back into fashion. They can weigh up to two kilos each and serve up to ten people, making it a brilliantly thrifty cut. Traditionally, ox tongue is cold pressed with gelatine before being eaten, but can also be braised or pan-fried.

P – Periwinkles

Periwinkles (or winkles) are small edible sea snails, mostly found in the north-eastern areas of the Atlantic Ocean. They have been a highly regarded seafood delicacy in Scotland since 7500 BC and are still prized by some today. Look out for winkle sellers in coastal areas of Scotland and Ireland, from whom you can buy paper bags packed with these juicy morsels.

 

Q – Quince

Quinces may seem like the more exotic relation of apples and pears, but were actually first recorded in Britain in 1275, when Edward I planted four quince trees near the Tower of London. Thirteenth and fourteenth century recipes involve eating pie crusts filled with quinces, honey and ginger. Remaining popular throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, quinces started to fall into obscurity when apples and pears became more common in the twentieth century.

 
 

R – Rosehip

Rosehips are the red-orange fruits of the rose plant and ripen from summer through to autumn. They have been used in a plethora of recipes including herbal teas, jams, pies, soups, breads, ice creams and wines. High in Vitamin C, the British Medical Journal promoted the use of rosehips in syrups to help children’s growth during World War II.

S – Salad burnet

A favourite herb of philosopher Francis Bacon, this delicate salad herb has fallen into the culinary abyss over the years. No one can quite tell why – it has a subtle, light cucumber flavour that chefs are (thankfully) once again starting to embrace, as Alyn Willians does in his beef carpaccio recipe.

T – Tansy

A flowering plant that is native to Europe and Asia, tansy was originally used to help flavour puddings and, strangely, biscuits specifically baked for funerals. Chef Simon Hulstone likes the plant so much that he named his daughter Tansy.

U – Umbilical cord

A true ingredient to test your mettle! The umbilical cords of calves were originally gathered then boiled with onions, stock and milk to make 'muggety pie', a dish that found popularity in the West Country.

 

V – Verjuice

Verjuice is simply the juice from sour grapes or crab apples. Often used in Medieval and Tudor cuisine, it acted as an alternative to lemon juice in salad dressings and marinades. It has made a bit of a comeback in recent years, with chefs revelling in its clean, bright flavour.

W – Wormwood

Wormwood is a fairly notorious plant; previously used to flavour most famously absinthe but also mead, vermouth and ale. Its notoriety comes from its hallucinogenic qualities, for which it has been banned in several countries due to the (potentially toxic) levels of thujone, a mild hallucinogenic chemical found in wormwood. Some EU countries still permit the sale of wormwood-infused absinthe, but the thujone content must be less than 35mg/kg.

X – Xmas brawn

We may be scraping the barrel a little here, but it is true that brawn (head meat) used to be a key feature of a Christmas menu. In medieval times it was often made from wild boar head, shaped and served at the table in the actual skull. Brawn has enjoyed a bit of a revival in the wake of nose to tail eating, and people are starting to appreciate the dish's intense flavour.

Y – Yarmouth bloater

Found off the coast of East Anglia, Bloaters are a preparation of herring, left with guts in, lightly salted and lightly cold-smoked. The bloater is so popular in Great Yarmouth that Great Yarmouth Town F.C. are nicknamed 'The Bloaters'. Bloaters are jokingly referred to as ‘Yarmouth capon’.

Z – Zander

Typically a fish found in eastern Europe, zanders have also been spotted since the twentieth century in East Anglian waters. Its meat is firm and tender and the fact it has few bones deems it a great option for making sushi and sashimi.

 
 
 

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