Thursday, November 21, 2013

Recipes from Guernsey

Wait, Thanksgiving is how far away? Dang, that came up fast.

Well I suppose I should be grateful for the simplicity of this week's meal then, because I have a 22 pound turkey in my freezer and that's about all the prep work I've done so far. Of course, I'm not the one who makes the Thanksgiving roast (that's my husband's job!) but my house sure could use a deep clean and I've got groceries to buy and pies to bake, too.

So thankfully (haha) this week is an easy meal, and tasty, too. It's from Guernsey, another one of those places that's not really a country but is on my list anyway. I like those places because they generally get left out of discussions of world cuisine, and sometimes they have great recipes to share. Guernsey is a good example of this.

If you've heard the name "Guernsey" and are not sure where, it may be because of its primary claim to fame: the Guernsey Cow. Guernsey cattle are known for producing milk with a rich flavor, which is golden in color, has a lot of butterfat and is particularly high in beta carotene. But of course you can't just walk into a supermarket and buy it, because that would be too easy.

 Castle Cornet, Guernsey. Photo credit: neilalderney123.

Anyway, besides having good milk and butter, Guernsey has a unique cultural identity, too. Guernsey is an island located in the English channel, about 27 miles from the coast of France. It isn't part of France, though, but is rather a dependency of the British Crown, and has been since the middle ages, when the island was also used as a base for pirates. Both English and French are spoken there, as well as several distinctly regional languages including Guernésiais and Sercquiais.

I know I'm always going on about how small some of these places are, but Guernsey really is small. At 30 square miles it's roughly the same size as the Davenport, Iowa city bus route. As with all small places, sources for recipes are limited but I think I hit on a pretty good combo with the menu I ended up with. Here it is (all recipes come from

Guernsey Bean Jar
  • 1 lb navy beans
  • 1 lb lima beans
  • 1 lb pork belly*
  • 1 lb onions
  • 1 stock cube (I used beef)
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
* Pork belly is not actually an easy cut to find in a typical supermarket. You might be able to get one at an Asian market, or ask your butcher for one. Since I'm really trying to avoid feeding my family a ton of fat (pork bellies are really fatty) I chose a moderately fatty pork loin instead.

Guernsey Biscuits
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter*
  • 1 cup warm milk*
  • 2 1/2 tsp sugar

*Naturally, this recipe called for Guernsey milk and Guernsey butter. If you can find it, I'm sure these biscuits would be even more delicious than they were without using Guernsey dairy products. But my supermarket doesn't carry Guernsey milk and I'm pretty sure it would be expensive to order, so I had to settle for plain ole ordinary milk.

Gâche Mélée
(pronounced "gosh mel-are")
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 1/2 lb apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1 cup demerara sugar
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp British mixed spice*
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
* I have mixed spice in my pantry, 'cause duh, British husband. Fortunately there's really nothing weird in it, so you can whip up a batch pretty easily using spices you probably already have on hand.

Fortunately this all comes together really quickly, provided you do a little planning ahead.

First, you have to soak the beans in cold water overnight. Then switch out the water for fresh and boil for a half hour. Now add the pork, onions and stock cube.

Keep boiling for another 20 minutes. Now spend the next 20 minutes picking all the black bits out of the pot because you didn't use enough water and everything burned.

Transfer the whole lot to a slow cooker and cook on low for 4 to 5 hours, or simply add more water and cook over low heat for another three to four hours. The dish is finished when the beans are tender and the meat is falling apart.

Now for the biscuits. These are yeast biscuits so you need to start them about 2 1/2 hours before dinner time.

First sift the flour together with the salt. In a separate bowl, cream the butter with the sugar and, yes, with the yeast. That seemed a bit strange to me too but I got good results, so go with it. Add the warm milk and let stand for 10 minutes to give the yeast time to become active.

Add the flour and knead. For me, this made a perfect dough. It was exactly the right consistency--not sticky at all but not crumbly, either.

Let the dough rise in a warm place for about an hour and a half, then transfer to a floured surface and punch down. Separate into balls (you should get about a dozen and a half biscuits out of this recipe). I actually rolled the dough out and cut them with a biscuit cutter, but how you do it is up to you. When you're done, transfer to a greased baking sheet and let rise in a warm place for another 20 minutes or so.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden.

And now for the gâche mélée:

Preheat your oven to 275 degrees. Mix the flour and the butter with your fingers like you would a pastry dough, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Add the rest of the dry ingredients and the apple. Mix until the apples are well-coated. Now stir in the egg and water.

Transfer this mixture to a 7-inch square baking pan. Sprinkle with a little extra sugar and then bake for two hours or until golden.

As simple as this meal may seem, it was really perfect in almost every way except for the occasional black bits that remained after my earlier blunder. Other than that, the beans were really delicious. I can't really even pinpoint why because there was nothing to them. I guess you can't go wrong with beans and a nice, marbled piece of pork.

I really enjoyed the biscuits. In fact, 18 biscuits disappeared into the Robins family over a span of about 10 minutes, so we must have all liked them. They came out so perfectly that I will probably use this recipe the next time I decide to make yeast biscuits.

Now what can I say about the gâche mélée. First of all the name makes me smile, because I think it's probably what Leave it to Beaver would call an apple pie of he were, you know, a pirate. "Gosh mel-ahrrrrrrrrr." I know. Sorry.

Seriously though this was a good apple pie. I liked how the pastry was incorporated right into the apples, making it a lot simpler to create than a standard American apple pie. And of course I wasn't the only one who loved it--my kids did too, though they insisted on eating it with Cool Whip which I'm pretty sure isn't something they do in Guernsey, but shhh I won't tell if you don't.

So yeah there were some keepers this week, too. I really am on a roll!

Next week, Guinea.

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


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