Food preservation potted

The British Tradition of Potted Foods – A Preserving Technique Worth Preserving

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There are some foods that are just undeniably good and have stood the test of time, and potted meats, fish and vegetables are one of them. They are comforting, relaxed, and when you tuck into some potted mushrooms with a hunk of good, crusty bread you can’t help but congratulate yourself on your excellent choice of meal. Potted delights also make a rich rustic lunch, perfect supper, and are fantastic for picnics. Our food histoiran Seren Charrington-Hollins invites us to dig in.

 

Potted Food History

Before the age of refrigeration, meat was preserved in a variety of ways: cured in salt, smoked, doused in honey, and even buried in ash. But one of the tastiest preservation methods was ‘potting’, form of preservation in which cooked meat and fish was placed in a pot, packed to exclude air, and then covered with hot fat. By the Medieval period, the tradition of preserving meat and fish under a layer of clarified fat was in use. Small game birds and sometimes fish would be preserved whole by boiling them before dipping them in fat and then laying them is a pot and filling it to the top with more melted fat.

Soon it was discovered that when the meat was pounded and mixed with butter and spices before being sealed with clarified butter, it not only acted as a preservative but created a delicacy. Through potting, surplus food could be kept for a future date without the fear of it turning rancid. Indeed, the early tradition of potting was an expensive treat that combined costly spices with a way of preserving the best cuts of meat.

Sir Hugh Plat an English inventor, writer on agriculture and avid collector of recipes was a great advocate of potting and wrote during the Stewart period that potted meat would keep ‘sweet and sound for three weeks’ even in hot weather. With the promise of long keeping and flavoursome results cooks were quick to start potting all kinds of fish and fowl. There was no shortage of options when it came to potting, recipes to pot everything from swans to venison existed, whilst pigeon preserved in claret and butter was reported to keep for a quarter of a year.

Food preservation

Potted foods make for a rustic lunch, easy supper, and are fantastic for picnics

As the spice routes opened and spices became more affordable and accessible to more householders, the world of potting became available to an increasing audience and was no longer the preserve of the rich. Records show that the foods potted included meats (ham, beef, veal, tongue, and game), poultry (chicken, turkey, and swan), small birds (woodcock, quail, lark, and pigeon), fish (char, tench, trout, and eel) shellfish (lobster, crab, and shrimp), mushrooms and cheese (also termed Pounded Cheese).

Potted goods were staples in the coaching inns and taverns of the 18th century, where a steady flow of unannounced guests meant that a successful landlady relied on a larder stocked with potted delights to create meals at short notice. Indeed I must admit that where impromptu suppers are concerned you can’t beat some bread and potted meats, cheeses and mushrooms.

With the widespread availability of refrigeration potting may no longer be a necessary form of preserving, but it is a method that yields absolutely delicious results and one that combines tastiness with thriftiness, indeed the forgotten art of potting is long overdue a revival.

Cheese is one of my favourite things to pot and it is an excellent way to use up odds and ends of cheese that you find lurking in the fridge. Simply grate up cheddar or any other cheeses you have and combine with melted butter equating to a quarter of its weights. Add cayenne pepper, ground mace and nutmeg to taste, and a slosh of sherry before potting-up. This works well with the addition of a bit of Stilton and is a good way of making a little cheese stretch further.

Finally, no supper is complete in my opinion without some hot toast topped with potted mushrooms. My recipe below is adapted from a Victorian one and is best enjoyed in the company of a roaring fire and a glass of something warming. It is certain that if you spend time potting, you will soon have a larder filled with delectable delights and that you will never again be left wondering what to have for a snack or feed an unexpected guest.

Below is my recipe—great for using up surplus mushrooms and never manages to last for four weeks in my household. This will keep three to four weeks refrigerated and can be frozen.

Food preservation potting

Seren’s Potted Mushrooms Recipe

Ingredients:

30g butter

800g mushrooms

Pinch of salt

1⁄4 tsp Black pepper

1⁄4 tsp celery seed

1 tsp mace

50 ml dry sherry,

Zest of 1 lemon

Clarified butter for sealing  

(Clarified butter is butter from which all milk solids has been removed. The result is a clear yellow fat that has excellent keeping quality. To make, place the butter in a heavy saucepan over a very low heat and melt gently. When completely melted, cool slightly and then skim off all the froth from the surface. You will then see a clear yellow layer on top of a milky layer. Carefully pour the clear fat into a jug, leaving the milky residue in the pan. The milky residue makes a nice addition to soups and risottos, but it is important not to allow it into your yellow clarified butter as it will impair the keeping quality)

Method:

Finely chop the mushrooms or pulse for a few moments in a food processor. Heat a large pan over medium heat, and then add the butter. Stir to melt then add the chopped mushrooms, sprinkle with the salt and spices. Stir to coat with butter. Increase the heat to medium high, cook until soft and beginning to colour. Add the sherry and the lemon zest and stir well to combine. Cook out until the sherry has evaporated and then pot into suitable containers and top with clarified butter. Refrigerate at least four hours to let the flavours develop and the butter set.

Take out of the fridge at least an hour before serving.

***

Author bio: Seren Charrington-Hollins

For more  travel and culinary inspiration visit BeSeeingYou

Seren Charrington-Hollins
Introducing Seren Charrington-Hollins Seren runs a bistro and cafe bar in Mid Wales, but she is not your run of the mill caterer or restaurateur, instead she is a mother of six and an internationally recognised food historian that has created banquets and historical dinner parties for private clients and television. Her work has been featured on the BBC and ITV and she has appeared in BBC4’s Castle’s Under Siege, BBC South Ration Book Britain; Pubs that Built Britain with The Hairy Bikers and BBC 2’s Inside the Factory, Channel 4’s series Food Unwrapped, Country Files Autumn Diaries,  BBC 2’S The World’s Most Amazing Hotels and Channel 4, Food unwrapped.  She is the author of The Dark History of Tea and Revolting Recipes from History. Her work has also been featured in The Guardian, The Times, Sunday Times, Daily Mail and The Telegraph.

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