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First, buy a sheep’s head

08 February 2013

Glyn Paflin pays tribute to the culinary arts of 'Henri', the Church Times cookery columnist of the 1950s and '60s

IT IS a distinction for a priest's death to be recorded under his name in the Index to the Church Times. It a greater distinction, however, if he appears under a nom de plume; for it means that he must have been a household word to our readers.

Such was the fate of "Henri", lone Church Times cookery contributor, week in, week out, for 17 years, from the tail end of rationing until that of the increasingly affluent 1960s.

Indeed, his identity had not been revealed until 1965, when, owing to ill-health, Henri - the Revd Stanley Longworth - was about to leave his "well-instructed" rural congregation for the sea air of Bridlington.

At the outset, anonymity may have had something to do with the dignity of a priest's calling. Cookery was not widely viewed as a recreation; and it was still the era when an Anglican priest might well have a housekeeper, if he had no wife, to look after him. If it was known that he had time to ice a sponge, wouldn't the archdeacon want to inspect the registers?

A FRENCH pseudonym had a suitable cachet, of course; but by 1965 an unmarried priest might well have had to cook for himself. So Fr Longworth was ripe to be flushed out; and his photo featured in the "Portraits of Personalities" series.

"Picture the long grass rippling under the onslaught of the cold East Riding wind in an overgrown vicarage garden. In the rambling house, in a large old-fashioned kitchen, a priestly figure ministers at the stove. He is making a delicious raspberry flan. He is 'Henri' of the Church Times," ran the item.

"The hour has come to reveal his identity: not a Frenchman; not a woman in disguise; but the Rev. Stanley Longworth, Vicar of Swine, near Hull. . .

"Cooking and bee-keeping are the Vicar's hobbies, but he has not put all his art into them. He is a wonderful parish priest - the present Archbishop of Canterbury has commended his pastoralia as well as his pastry. . .

"He learnt his job the hard way and the thorough way under Fr Dilworth Harrison at Ringley in Lancashire. . . And then he went to Central Africa for another three years' hard, returning to Thornaby-on-Tees, where the work that he did in the years of depression still lives.

"From there he moved into the slums of Hull to re-open a derelict church - old St Bart's - which had been closed for 14 years. It was just like a shell, with no furniture or anything; so with the help of unemployed dock labourers, he worked day and night to get it going."

In the midst of all this urban toil, Fr Longworth was rushed into hospital and told that he had arthritis of the spine; and so he went reluctantly into the country. Before Swine, he looked after Scawton for 20 years. "The sound teaching and pastoral care are things unseen but known and remembered."

This portrait was by Alan Shadwick, another northerner, who, in 1970, paid the last tribute: "I shall always think of him over a hot-pot or potato pie - not that you ever get the latter in the South of England unless you make it yourself. Naturally the northern dishes were his forte, and his standards were not too high for me."

Henri's standards were not high enough for all. At the Church Times's 125th anniversary in 1988, Margaret Duggan recalled a recipe involving tinned salmon, white sauce, and cream crackers, and commented: "I am afraid that he never did much for my family's diet."

IN SEPTEMBER 1969, when Henri's last recipes appeared, they were stuffed marrow, kedgeree, "fish-with-spuds", and damson conserve. To put this in context, Graham Kerr had just begun his popular TV series The Galloping Gourmet - sloshing cream, red wine, and clarified butter about with abandon.

Nevertheless, Henri's column had looked promising enough for Mowbray's to publish, in 1960, Seasonal Fare: Economical recipes contributed to the "Church Times".

In a foreword, Bishop Philip Wheeldon of Whitby had written: "Three Archbishops and four Bishops have eaten at Henri's Board. They have known and enjoyed the real Henri. It is one thing to have been introduced to Henri through his recipes, and another to see the happiness he finds in putting his recipes on the table for you as a finished article - each dish a finished work of art."

The curtain-raiser in the book was tomato soup - a recipe that promised to make six pints econom- ically, using one large tin of Italian tomatoes.

First, "Buy a sheep's head, complete with tongue and brains. Wash it well in cold water, seeing that all the passages are cleaned out. . . Simmer it gently. . . When the head is cool enough, remove the tongue and skin it. This, along with slices of meat cut from the cheeks, should be put aside and used when cold for those round-the-fire sandwiches. . . If you want extra nourishment, use 2 sheep's heads. Two heads are always better than one - even if only sheep's!"

A hare was economical, too - in 1960, one was 7s. - but it was similarly not for the squeamish. "Skin and clean the hare, reserving the blood in a basin. Do not bother with the head. Chop that off, and throw it away with the skin. . ."

In contrast, however, at the mention of mushrooms, Henri was treading on eggshells. "Do you like mushrooms? An acquired taste, certainly, but how well worth the acquiring. For a good deal of the year they are rather expensive, but a ¼ pound can be made to go a long way. . ."

That's right, Father. Don't terrorise us with mushroom soup, when offal is the key to domestic economy: "With your finger scoop out any blood clots from the cavities . . ." (Sheep's Hearts).

YET Henri could be before his time. By 1960, he already stretched to Spaghetti Bolognese - a dish that had to wait until 1962, and the eve of the Second Vatican Council, to be featured by Robert Carrier in the Sunday Times magazine.

And, unlike Carrier, Henri used garlic - but with a warning for Anglican innocents: "If you have not used garlic before, remember that a clove of garlic is one of the small knobs inside the outer skin." Moreover, dietary discipline still applied: "If it is a day of abstinence, do the whole recipe - omitting the minced beef."

A whole section was devoted to maigre dishes, in fact, and one or two seem very maigre indeed. A "nice supper dish" of Cheese Meringues looks fairly light on cheese, but at least they are fried.

Many of the dishes would strike younger readers today as impossibly time-consuming (but then so would many recipes demonstrated by today's celebrity chefs). Henri did not expect Church Times readers, some of whom still wrestled with variable stipends in large and draughty parsonages, to be armed with the kind of labour-saving electric gadgets that Marguerite Patten had demonstrated in Harrods. "No kitchen is complete without a flan tin," Henri advises modestly. Chocolate soufflé? "I hope you possess a rotary whisk."

But perhaps Church Times cooks had more time on their hands than people have now - and gave things a little more forethought. "For the bachelor with only a gas ring to perform on!", a Quick Snack begins: "The day before you want your snack, buy a small fillet of fresh haddock. . ." It would have to be fresh, because the bachelor was unlikely to own a refrigerator.

And a section on "T.V. Tray Snacks" shows that the couch-potato diet was just around the corner. Henri acquiesced in this trend - eventually to prove fatal to more than just Sunday evensong - by suggesting Bacon Rolls. "Television is driving more and more people to have hand-round snacks instead of a sit-down supper. For those who like it that way, here is a recipe that might help." It did, however, involve the exertion of making some shortcrust pastry (which, from the obesity point of view, is better than flaky or puff).

BUT the most conspicuous feature of Henri's cookery is that the pudding is still king: Rhubago, Hot Pineapple Sweet, Apples in Batter, Angel's Breath (for Michaelmas), Norwegian Cream, Lemon Meringue Pie, German Pudding - to name just a few.

Henri was aware of the hazards, however: "No doubt you have had [Summer Pudding] served to you at some time or other - so solid and mountainous - that you never wanted it again. The reason for that is that usually people put in too much bread."

Afternoon tea was still an institution; and you might do well to call on the Rector, rather than he on you: Date and Walnut Loaf, Lighting Chocolate Cake, Orange Cake, Russian Sandwich, Kensington Cake, Simnel Cake, Yule Bread . . . and: "For the month of May, we must have Mary Buns" (a variant on fairy cakes).

His sandwich ideas are inclined to austerity ("Left-over cold mashed potatoes can be used by moistening them well with mayonnaise and finely chopped chives, or the green part of a spring onion"); but, in lieu of his "delicious raspberry flan", for which I cannot find a specific recipe, I offer you this selection.


Franciscan bread

Here is something worthy of St Francis. It is quite economical, easily made, and delicious. Its colour is that of a Franciscan habit. It will keep fresh for about two weeks. Cut in thin slices with just a smearing of butter.

½ lb sultanas
½ lb currants
½ lb Demerara sugar ½ pt plus three tablespoonfuls  of cold strong tea (without   sugar and milk, of course)
1 egg
1 lb self-raising flour
1 level teaspoonful mixed spice
2 oz chopped mixed peel

Put the sugar, fruit, and cold tea into a bowl, and leave overnight. Next day add the well-beaten egg, candied peel, and spice. Gradually sift in the flour, and mix well. Put into 2 well-greased 1 lb loaf tins and bake in a moderate oven for about 2 hours. Turn out on a wire rack to cool.


Potato pie

Cut up 1 lb of lean stewing-steak into small pieces. Put it into the dish with a cut-up small onion. Well cover with cold water, and season with pepper and salt. Put a fire-proof plate over the top and cook gently in a moderate oven till tender.

When the meat is cooked, fill up the dish with potatoes cut up into small pieces. Stir it up to distribute the meat and potatoes evenly, and return to the oven. When the potatoes have softened, remove from the oven, and allow to cool a little.

Make a crust of short pastry, using 6 oz of self-raising flour, 1½ oz of lard, 1½ oz of margarine, a pinch of salt, and a little cold water to mix. Roll out about ½ inch thick. Grease the edge of the pie dish, and put a ring of pastry round. Moisten the pastry with cold water and put on the crust, pressing the edges firmly together. Make a small hole in the middle. Lightly brush over with milk, and bake in a fairly hot oven until faintly brown - about 30 minutes.

Serve with pickled red cabbage or beetroot.

Ask your butcher for a small piece - roughly 4 or 5 oz - of "melt". He may know it by some other name - lungs, for instance. Cook this whole in with the meat and remove before adding the potatoes. It helps to make a rich gravy, but must not be eaten.


An Easter sweet

Cut up a stale sponge-cake into cubes, and place the pieces evenly over the bottom of an entrée dish. Pour over this the syrup from a tin of apricots, and allow it to soak well in. Arrange the apricot halves on top, rounded sides upwards. Use about 15 pieces of apricot - though, of course, this will depend on the size of your entrée dish - leaving a small space between the pieces. A dish about 10 inches by 8 is a good size to use.

Make a white sauce with 2½ level teaspoonfuls of cornflour, ½ pint milk, 2 dessertspoonfuls of sugar, and small knob of margarine. Pour this carefully in spoonfuls over the apricots and sponge, until the whole is thinly coated. A drop or two of almond essence may be added to the sauce if desired. Leave to set and serve cold. The finished product has the appearance of poached eggs, and will keep the children guessing.

Method for making the White Sauce. Mix the cornflour with a little of the milk into a smooth paste. Place the remainder of the milk, with the sugar and margarine, in a pan over a gentle heat, and bring to boiling point. Pour this over the cornflour mixture, and stir thoroughly. Return to pan, and cook for a few minutes, until it thickens and coats the spoon. Stir all the time.


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