food

Haggis Lasagne

I’m not much in the habit of blogging about food (usually because I’m too busy stuffing it into my mouth to pause long enough to actually consider it) but I mentioned my husband’s plan to make haggis lasagne on Twitter over the weekend and… well, it seemed like it was a thing people liked the sound of. A lot.

So. I’m pleased to report that haggis lasagne, as a thing, works. It’s pretty easy to adapt a standard lasagne recipe to make it (there’s also a variation here, plus the Guardian’s article on ideas for leftover haggis) and we based ours roughly on my mother’s lasagne. I’ve probably left a dozen things out of the recipe, but you’ll get the idea…

Haggis

HAGGIS LASAGNE

 

– for the ragu –

2 shallots

1 stick celery

1 red pepper

1/2 green pepper

Handful cherry tomatoes, chopped

2 tins chopped tomatoes

Tomato puree

Flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Red wine

Worcestershire sauce

Haggis (we used two MacSween 3-person haggises – haggii? – which came to about 1kg in total)

Oregano

– for the béchamel sauce –

Butter

Flour

Milk

– to finish –

Lasagne sheets

Grated parmesan (or similar)

Nutmeg

Salt & pepper to taste

—-

(more…)

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Resurrection Cheese

Best. Name. Ever.

If you want to make cheese, you need a cheese press – but in 19th Century West Wales, not everyone could afford to buy one.

So, what do you do?

You improvise.

What’s big and flat and heavy, and easy to come by if you live in a semi-rural area…?

Yeah. That’d do it.

The full story…

Resurrection cheese is what resulted when, in the 1860s, a townsman of Llanfihangel Abercowyn, in the Carmarthen county of Wales, wanted to make cheese but didn’t have enough money for the proper equipment. He didn’t make a deal with the devil in exchange for a cheese-press; rather, he called upon his resourcefulness, made a trip to the abandoned graveyard in town, and with a few fallen headstones he fashioned his own cheese press.

Farmhouse cheeses were large — sometimes nearly two feet in diameter — and circular; and evidently, able to easily copy the inscription of a headstone. When this townsman sold his cheese at the market, with a clear gravestone inscription, one of his customers exclaimed, “You have resurrected this cheese from Llanfihangel churchyard!” From then on, its “official” name was resurrection cheese.

Soul Food

A while back, I blogged about funeral biscuits and arval bread – a custom I’d not long come across.

I’ve just seen this article on the Guardian blog, which partly covers some of that – but goes on to ask what food would best suit your funeral. Not in the sense of what’s sensible or appropriate, given the circumstances, but what you think would best sum you up.

Me? I have a sneaky feeling it’d be cocktails and pizza. With extra cheese.

What about you?

Bread of Heaven?

Here’s something new and exciting I learned about this week: funeral biscuits. Well, when I say new and exciting, I mean that it’s something I’d never come across before, and the concept is a fascinating one.

I stumbled across a mention of “arval bread” in relation to biscuits either eaten at, or after a funeral (it was all a little vague)–or in some cases, given out beforehand as a sort of invitation–and, because I’m a nosey old soul, I had a poke around the internet to see what it could tell me.

Arval bread is, in fact, quite often a kind of biscuit, particularly associated with Yorkshire funeral customs in the 18th & 19th Centuries. The biscuits were small, usually flavoured with caraway or molasses, and wrapped in paper (sometimes printed with lines from a hymn or Psalm) and sealed with black wax. The specific recipes used varied wildly, even from town to town, as did the time & method of distribution. In some cases, the biscuits were more like small cakes; in others they resemble shortbread or oatcakes, stamped with cherubs, hearts, crosses or death-heads, and were served with a type of sweetened spiced (and occasionally “burned”) wine.  All the combinations, however, connect to ancient funeral practices found on the Continent.

The term “arval” appears to stem from the Nordic tradition of providing  “averil”, or “heir-ale” at a funeral, toasting the eldest male and heir to the household or title as he took possession of his inheritance.

In the Germany of the Middle Ages, there was a slightly different tradition: that of the “corpse cake”. Here, mourners would gather at the home of the deceased for the laying out of the body, and the traditional wake (which, of course, was once a vigil lasting the night before the funeral). Once the corpse had been washed and arranged, a dough was prepared and then placed on the linen-covered corpse’s chest and left to rise. It was believed that the dough would absorb some of the deceased’s qualities, which would in turn be passed on to the mourners when they ate the bread, recalling both the superstition of sin-eating, and the ritual of ceremonial cannabalism.

The tradition spread to the US with settlers: recipes from Dutch communities in the Hudson River Valley (a place with a reputation for the gothic, thanks to Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow“) survive, and describe the preparation of “doot coekjes” or “death cookies”.

With the progression of the Victorian Age, funerals–like weddings–became a commercial enterprise, and just as wedding cakes were big business, so were funeral biscuits. However, unlike wedding cakes, the funeral biscuit began, appropriately, to die out, and “averils” became entire meals: funeral feasts and teas… which have, in turn, become the modern wakes we recognise today.

(The accompanying picture, by the way, is of funeral biscuits reproduced by Historic Faux Foods: a research project which aims to accurately reproduce historical foods & room settings for museums and other exhibitions). You can find bits on funeral biscuits here, here and here; as well as a fascinating blog post about funeral food, which goes on to talk about Southern funeral cooking, and which can be found here.