Category: Seasonal cooking

Salt Beef & Pickles

Salt Beef Brine Preperation
Salt Beef Brine Preperation

When I first moved to London many moons ago I worked as a secretary for an ex bare-knuckle boxer who ran a business based on Hatton Garden.  Back then, the area was still populated with hundreds of small studios all involved in the gem and jewellery trade. From buyers to setters to designers everyone’s prosperity revolved around bling. The street was filled with a mix of glitzy showrooms and the mansion blocks that housed the worker bees in their one room workshops.

When all the punters had left for the day and the merchandise was safely locked away the pubs came alive with the gossip, quarrels and trades of the day. With a taste for gold and a love of the extraordinary I was drawn to the characters and community that circled around this little London village.  I made lots friends amongst the diamond-geezers and always had someone to share a drink with at the end of a long day. Chief amongst them was Ricky.  He was 6ft 4, rough, tough, very East London but blissfully fabulous.  One night he didn’t turn up for our allotted wine’o’clock meet, nor the following night.  It was a week later when one of the setters told me that he’d been found dead in his studio having apparently taken his own life with a shot gun.  We all knew that there was no way this was suicide but  the long arm of the law didn’t reach as far as the gold squabbles.

About 6 months later I was sitting in a cafe at the very end of the street when a beaten up red Fiesta pulled up onto the pavement and 2 middle aged men jumped out.  “Lucy – we’ve been looking every where for you doll” one of them shouted.  “Shame about Ricky, but these things will happen when you don’t do as you’re told.  Now, Phil tells us you’ll be wanting to take over Ricky’s work – interested?” My simple answer –  “NO!”

Salt Beef
The Beef

My brush with a life of gem crime was (thankfully) incredibly short but my time on Hatton Garden did leave me with a love of Salt Beef sandwiches served on sour-dough with lashings of wallies (gherkins to the rest of us).  This Christmas I decided to have a go at making my own – a long but relatively simple process which I’m hoping will have delicious results.  I’ve taken inspiration from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for this recipe but made a few of my own changes / additions.


For the Brine

  • 5 litres of water
  • 500g of dark brown sugar
  • 1.5kg of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons of juniper berries
  • 8 bay leaves
  • A handful of fresh thyme

The Beef

  • 2kg of Beef Brisket
  • 1 carrot chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stick, chopped
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 1/2 garlic bulb

Put all of the ingredients for the brine into a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to the boil and let it simmer for about 2 minutes.  It doesn’t matter if all of the salt doesn’t dissolve. Take off the heat and let the brine cool completely.

When the brine is cool, place the beef into a non metallic container and pour the brine over it.  If the beef floats hold it under the brine with a heavy non-metallic object – a piece of wood works perfectly. Leave the 2 kg piece of beef in the brine for 5 days (no more).

Remove the beef from the brine and soak in fresh water for at least 24 hours; changing the water at least once.  When you’re ready to cook the beef put it into a pan with the vegetables and garlic, cover with water and bring to the boil.  Simmer for around 2-2.5 hours on a low heat.

We’ll be serving the Salt Beef on Boxing Day with The Blonde’s sour-dough bread and loads of homemade pickles made by the divine Tamsin.  The perfect antidote to left over turkey.  I wonder if I’ll have a new set of diamonds to compliment the feast?!


Muffin’s Famous Christmas Cake

I’m not normally one to name and shame but sometimes I feel the need to warn the world (and by the world I am in fact referring to my small but perfect Somerset existence)  about a truly disastrous eatery.  This place is The Enmore Inn on the outskirts of the divine little village that I call home.Christmas cake

From the outside the pub looks like a broken down miners welfare club and inside does no better.  I was greeted by the new landlord who was smoking by the entrance in a dirty chef’s coat illustrating last night’s service in streaks reminiscent of a poor man’s version of the dessert trolley.

What really upset me though was the smell when I walked through the door.  It made me gag and wish for rescue, I couldn’t breathe and was momentarily struck dumb by the waves of vile odour. It was I fear, my own version of the stench of Elizabethan London and put me off time travel for good. If Peter Capaldi ever comes calling I know now what answer I’ll be giving. Cigarette smoke mixed with stale beer, bad food, deep fat frying and dirt was all around me clinging to my skin, clothes and coating  the inside of my throat.  What ever food they were serving I was not eating and will never be going back.

This little trip did however get me thinking about smells and how they invade our memories and drive our desire to eat (or not!).  I once had a bad bout of flu that started while I was making slow cooked lamb which has put me off sheep for life while the smell of garlic butter transports me to The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport where we ate lobster till we popped, drank, swam and swayed all summer in this perfect All American paradise.

As Christmas approaches we’re bombarded with the scents of pine, cinnamon, clove, ginger and orange.  Richly warm and intensely evocative, to me these are the memories of my childhood.  This made me decide to share with you all my Grandmother’s Christmas Cake recipe that we’ve been making here as a family for many many years and is as famous to us as all of the other traditions we hold dear as a family.  We affectionately called her Muffin hence the title of this post.


  • 14oz of self raising flour
  • 8 oz of rich Somerset butter
  • 10oz of soft brown sugar
  • 1 pound of mixed fruit and cherries
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 a pint of milk.  This can be substituted for Somerset Royal Cider Brandy, freshly squeezed orange juice or a mixture of all three.
  • 4/5 teaspoons of mixed spice


  • Soak the fruit in the liquid over night or for 12 hours in a cool dark place and keep well covered.
  • Melt the butter and sugar in a heavy bottomed pan.
  • Add the fruit with it’s liquid  and the spice.
  • Simmer on a very low heat for 15-20 mins.
  • Allow to cool
  • Beat the eggs
  • Add the eggs and the flour and stir in well with a wooden spoon until the mixture is combined.
  • Poor into a deep cake tin (size will depend on how you want your cake to look – either short and fat or tall and graceful!).
  • Bake on a low heat (150 degrees) or in the bottom of the AGA for 1.5 to 2 hours.
  • Half way through the cooking place a piece of baking parchment over the top to prevent burning.

When the cake is cool place in a cake tin and feed with your cider brandy once a week until Christmas Eve.  You can follow your own traditions either by covering in marzipan and icing and a jaunty little Christmas scene or by studding with more fruit and nuts.  The Blonde is a huge fan of marzipan and I’m an ever bigger fan of jaunty little scenes (and brandy) so you know which way we’ll be jumping!

Thank you to for the scrumptious image.

To buy Somerset Royal Cider Brandy go to