Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Cattern Cakes, Lace and Research for a new film script

Cattern Cakes and Lace
Following on from some extensive research around the Lace industry in Devon, in preparation for my next film script idea, I revisited an old favourite cookery book of mine called Cattern Cakes and Lace.  It is a book of a calendar of feasts and I am not even sure if the book is still in print as it dates back to 1987 and was written by Julia Jones (no relation) and Barbara Deer.  It celebrates a series of feast days and comments on why or how they originated, followed by more than a good recipe or two.

I quote:
'November 25th St. Catherine's Day:
Cattern cakes (so called after a corruption of the name Catherine) were, as I explained in the preface, the unlikely catalyst that produced this book, bringing together as they do my interest in festivals, food and lacemaking.

St. Catherine of Alexandria, reputedly one of the most intelligent and beautiful women of her day, was martyred in 310 AD.  her fame reached Europe with the returning Crusaders and the Catherine wheel firework and Catherine or Rose window were named after her.

St. Catherine was taken up as the protector of young unmarried girls, and it was believed that maidens in need of a husband could crown her statue with a wreath of greenery on this day for their prayers to be answered.  The wheel of her death also became the emblem of spinners and lacemakers, for whom St. Catherine became a patron saint.  On her day, lacemakers would hold their annual holiday.'

So here are Julia's authentic recipes one savoury and one sweet:

Rabbit Casserole:
4 rabbit joints
8 oz cooked ham (thickly sliced)
2 medium peeled carrots
8 small peeled shallots
1 pint milk
half a teaspoon of salt
black pepper
quarter teaspoon of grated nutmeg
Fresh parsley
half an ounce of cornflour
2 extra tablespoons milk
half an ounce butter

* Wash the rabbit portions and pat dry
* Arrange in a heatproof dish 
* Dice the ham and slice the carrots and put these into the dish with the shallots
* Heat the milk in a pan
* When it has boiled pour over the rabbit portions 
* Add the seasoning
* Cover the dish and cook slowly until the rabbit is tender (approx one hour)
* Transfer the rabbit portions and vegetables to a clean dish and keep warm
* Strain off the cooking liquid into a clean saucepan (add any of the onions or veg caught in the sieve back into the dish)
* In a small dish, mix the cornflour to a smooth paste with a little cold milk 
* Pour the paste into the strained cooking liquid and stir well, keep stirring for at least three minutes until it comes       to the boil and  thickens
* Remove from heat and add the butter for a glossy look
* Pour over the rabbit and vegetables and garnish with a good handful of freshly chopped parsley

Cattern Cakes:
9 oz self raising flour
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 oz currants
2 oz ground almonds
2 tsp caraway seeds
7 oz caster sugar
4 oz melted butter
1 medium beaten egg
A little extra sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling

Oven:  200 degrees C/400 degrees F/Gas 6

* Sift the flour and cinnamon into a bowl then add currants, almonds, caraway and sugar and
   stir until evenly mixed.
* Add the melted butter and the beaten egg and mix well to form a stiff dough.
* Roll out on a floured board into a rectangle (approx 12 x 10 inches)
* Brush the dough with water and sprinkle with the extra sugar and cinnamon
* Roll up like a swiss roll and cut into slices approx three quarters of an inch thick.
* Place the slices well apart, onto a greased baking tray and cook for 10 minutes (or slightly less in fan oven)
* Remove and cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with a little extra caraway seeds if you like

Julia concludes this section by saying:

'St. Catherine's Day was also chosen to honour good Queen Katherine of Aragon, who was patron of local lacemakers during her imprisonment at Ampthill.  The story goes that the Queen, after hearing the sad plight of the women of Bedfordshire, ordered all her lace to be burned and commissioned new, in order to give work to the local industry.  A certain bobin lace was named 'Katherine of Aragon's lace' after her, and , thereafter, lacemeakers would set aside a small sum of money to provide cakes and tea to be enjoyed on this day.  Festivities would be held in the evening and a meal of boiled, stuffed rabbit and onions was served.'

So now we know...
I have made both dishes in the past but if you are squeamish about using rabbit (as we were because Jo had dear old Toffee, a watership Down bunny with wide eyes and charm) then you can use chicken thighs, although from memory the cooking time was slightly less by about 15 minutes.  The Cattern cakes however, herald the onset of autumn and fill the kitchen with a perfume that can only announce Christmas is coming.


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