One thing I had never considered doing with blackberries is making a sauce for grilled meat. Leave it to the good people of the United Kingdom to surprise me. Try this one next time you grill or broil pork chops or a good steak:

Charlton’s Sauce (from A Taste of England: Traditional English Food: Where to Find It and How to Cook It)

  • 1 lb fresh blackberries
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 tbs beef stock
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cook chopped onions in half the butter until golden. Add remaining ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon, crushing blackberries, until cooked. Add stock or water if too thick, and serve over grilled meat.

The pectin in the berries makes the sauce thicken up fast, so it’s wise to have a little stock on hand if it has to sit for a while. Perfect for your next summer barbecue!

It should be noted that this recipe was contributed by Truffles Restaurant, of Manchester, England (which is either a beautiful old city or an urban hellhole depending on whom you ask – never having been there myself, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt). I can’t verify that the restaurant still exists, as there are about a zillion Truffles’ Restaurants in the UK – note to British restaurateurs: please fixate on more than one French ingredient- and I can’t pick out the one on Bridge Street connected with this sauce.

If the correct Truffles does still survive, they have my thanks for contributing this recipe. Perhaps one day, when I take my rightful place at the side of my first adolescent love, Doctor Who actress and actual Mancunian Sophie Aldred, we shall dine on fine beef and Charlton’s Sauce at Truffles, and the world will be a happier, better place.

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I have returned from my conference in Bethlehem, PA two cookbooks richer courtesy of the Moravian Book Store.

Another Bethlehem landmark I was hoping to investigate in detail was The Sun Inn, which has been a part of the local townscape since 1758 and has a lengthy 18th Century celebrity guest list. I had found out about The Sun via Debbie Nunley and Karen Jane Elliott’s A Taste of Pennsylvania History, which I picked up back when I moved to the Philadelphia area five years ago. Time has not been kind to this book…when I showed it to some other librarians at breakfast they went through it and pointed out all the places which had burned down or gone out of business since.

The Sun’s still there and still intact, but the restaurant aspect of the site is defunct, and if you want to eat there you need to rent it out and hire a caterer. It’s still a beautifully restored building, however.

Denied my chance to dine by proxy with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and the Marquis de Lafayette (one day I need to find out where Sir William Howe, Lord Cornwallis, and Lord Hugh Percy had dinner…the imagined conversation would be much more congenial), I was left with the two recipes the Sun had provided for the cookbook. My girlfriend’s allergic to shellfish, so Gouvernor Morris’ Crab Soup was out and Benjamin Franklin’s Almond Trout was in. 

I ended up not being able to get the almond menthe the recipe called for (in Pennsylvania we are at the mercy of the State Liquor Control Board), so I crossed my fingers and tried Amaretto instead. This worked so well that I named my Almond Trout variant after Franklin’s Loyalist nemesis, Pennsylvania’s own Joseph Galloway.

Almond Trout Joseph Galloway

  • 2 tbs butter, divided
  • 2 tbs sliced almonds
  • 2 8oz rainbow trout fillets, boned
  • 3 tbs Amaretto
  • 1 cup heavy cream 

Heat 1 tbs butter in skillet. Add almonds and trout and cook for 2 minutes. Place 1/2 tbs butter on top of each trout fillet and broil for 7-10 minutes. For sauce, light Amaretto in a medium saucepan. When flame goes out, add cream and simmer to thicken, stirring constantly. Place one fillet on each of two plates and top with sauce.

This is actually a tremendously fast recipe…the longest part of it is waiting for the sauce to thicken and even with that it took me only about 25 minutes to get it all prepared, so it’s good for a work night.  

Potatoes are a natural side for fish. This is my new potato cheat.

Very Easy New Potatoes

  • 6-10 new potatoes
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp paprika or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a small baking pan with foil. Add olive oil to pan and sprinkle spices on top. Roll pan to coat evenly. Cut potatoes in half and place cut side down in pan.  Bake for 45 minutes or until tender.

My girlfriend Cat and I recently celebrated our first Valentines’ Day. Sadly, we did it apart since she’s currently living about two hours away from me in Harrisburg. When she came up this past weekend, I decided to do something special in order to make up for it: cook a miniature 18th Century meal for her.

To do this, I needed to get stocked up on seasonings and basics, most importantly the ubiquitous beef stock and mushroom catchup for gravy creation. Mushroom catchup, you ask? Prepare yourself, unsuspecting blog reader, for a whirlwind tour of condiment history

Tomato catchup, as we 21st Century folks know it, did not exist at all in the 18th Century. At that time, the tomato was the innocent victim of two vicious urban legends: firstly, that it was poisonous (this may have been the result of acidic tomatoes interacting with poorly cleaned copper and cast-iron cookware), and secondly that it was an aphrodisiac (that’s why it’s still occasionally called the “Love Apple”). These myths weren’t dispelled until very late in the period.

In the meantime, the catchup people were using was more closely connected to its roots as the East Asian fish sauce ke-tsiap, which was brought back to Britain by merchants competing in the Spice Trade. There was both a light, vinegar based variety and a darker mushroom variety, both of which were used to flavor gravies and made dishes, and in a pinch combined with hot water to form a sort of thin sauce of their own. I was able to get a bottle of the light sauce from Deborah’s Pantry, but had to make the dark stuff myself. Fortunately, recipes abound. The one I prefer is from Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, and it’s a more modest scale reworking of one of Hannah Glasse’s 1747 recipes:

To make Catchup to keep twenty years: Take a gallon of strong stale beer, one pound of anchovies washed from the pickle, a pound of shalots peeled, half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of cloves, a quarter of an ounce of whole pepper, three or four large races of ginger, two quarts of large mushroom-flaps rubbed to pieces; cover all this close and let it simmer until it is half wasted, then strain it through a flannel bag; let it stand until quite cold and then bottle it. You may carry it to the Indies. A spoonful of this to a pound of fresh butter melted makes a fine fish-sauce, or in the room of gravy sauce. The stronger and staler the beer is, the better the catchup will be.

For this recipe I had access to my reenacting buddy Dave Woolsey’s home brewed 18th Century porter, so my beer base was very strong indeed. Don’t worry…Cat and I still had a bottle each for dinner.

Once scaled down to more reasonable amounts (the original recipe is directed at ship captains and so of course makes a tremendous lot of catchup), all of these ingredients boiled together make a flavorful, spicy, and slightly fishy sauce somewhat reminiscent of the Worcestershire sauce that would usurp its place in the 19th Century. They’re so reminiscent, in fact, that you could easily make some of this sauce without ever attempting to do anything “period”, just to use it with steak or meatloaf, or whatever else you’d normally use Worcestershire sauce for. You can also, in reverse, use Worcestershire where you’d use mushroom catchup in 18th century food, though it won’t have quite the same flavor.

essential gravy element

Mushroom Catchup

  • 1 pt strong stale beer
  • 10 anchovies, or 1 can anchovy fillets, rinsed
  • 4 shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 5 oz. large flap mushrooms
  • 1 two inch piece fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp mace
  • 10 whole cloves

Put everything into a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer gently about 30 minutes. Strain and bottle.

I should note, for those of you of the vegan persuasion, that there is an all plant/fungus product version of this recipe in Maxime de la Falaise’s Seven Centuries of English Cooking. It’s based on a later recipe (1811) and has to sit in the fridge for a day or so, but it achieves much the same effect without anchovies. 

Fish-Friendlier Mushroom Catchup

  • 8 cups mushrooms
  • 2-3 tbs salt
  • 1 cup port
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp mace
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

Mash mushrooms, toss with salt, and leave in the fridge for about 2 days until juice is extracted, stirring occasionally. Strain juice and put in a saucepan, add all other ingredients, and bring to the boil. Simmer about 15 minutes. Bottle when cool.