What’s good for the goose …
Reporter ANDY KEOGH conjures up a tasty Christmas condiment
WHAT happens if you cross a traditional cranberry sauce and port wine recipe with ginger, spices and a healthy dose of orange zest? Christmas Cumberland sauce!
Having been given the assignment of uncovering the origin of Cumberland sauce and establish, if possible, a link to the festive season, Herald reporter Andy Keogh decided the only way to tackle this would be to take a hands-on approach.
His parents, Chris and Jo Keogh, of Country Flavour, have been making jams and preserves at their home in Kirkby Stephen for nearly 40 years, but Cumberland sauce was not something they had previously taken to market.
“We’ve often been asked for Cumberland sauce, but we have never found a satisfactory recipe,” said Mrs. Keogh.
While the Internet is fast becoming the first port of call for all things to be carried out in the name of “research”, sometimes a good old-fashioned cookery book can be just what is required.
First published by Dalesman Books in 1969, Lakeland Cookery contains more than 150 recipes supplied by readers of Cumbria magazine, including one for Cumberland sauce with redcurrant jelly and port wine at its heart.
The same is also true of the recipe in Carole Gregory’s Favourite Lakeland Recipes, which she suggests serving with ham, lamb or game. But neither shed any light on whether the sauce is so called because it has its origins in Cumberland.
Elizabeth David, in her book, Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, states that “Cumberland sauce is certainly one of our most delicious sauces”.
She draws readers’ attention to a story that it was named after Ernest, Duke of Cumberland — brother of George IV, who became the last independent ruler of Hanover — but concludes that nobody had ever fully explained the link.
The Gastronomic Regenerator (1846), by Alexis Soyer, however, does include a recipe for a port wine-based Cumberland sauce to be eaten with boar’s head. He acknowledges it to be the “German method” of making the sauce and the recipe includes orange peel, redcurrant jelly, seasoning and “half a pint of good port wine”.
Mrs. Keogh said there were lots of different recipes and every one seemed to have something a little bit different in them, but it was felt the addition of cranberries would make the condiment especially appealing at Christmastime.
Along with a port wine jelly, which has a redcurrant jelly base, Mr. and Mrs. Keogh’s range also includes cranberry sauce and a cranberry and port wine sauce.
So, in order to make a Cumberland sauce especially for Christmas dinner, it was decided that a combination of the two — plus the addition of orange and lemon zest, ginger and mixed spices — would be an interesting take on an established traditional classic.
Cranberries are a North American fruit, although they are grown in Europe now, and have long been consumed at Thanksgiving dinners in the States, with legend having it that they even made an appearance at the first Pilgrim Fathers’ feast.
It has been argued that cranberries were given their mass market popularity as a Christmas condiment by Delia Smith. Few people, they say, knew the merits of the humble cranberry before Delia revealed its secrets back in 1995. The result was a national cranberry shortage.
The red berries are now believed to have exceptional health properties. Besides being rich in vitamin C and sodium, potassium and phosphorus, they have a high amount of polyphenol compounds, such as flavonoids, and may even help promote healthy levels of good cholesterol and heart health. But with the sugar content required to make and preserve the Cumberland sauce, most of those benefits will be subsumed.
Research done, it was time for the practical experiment to begin. With the cranberries bubbling nicely away, it was soon time to pour in the port wine and add the juice and zest of oranges and lemons. With the addition of ginger and mixed spice, it was impossible to get away from the fact that it smelled just like mulled wine.
It was felt that redcurrant jelly and white wine vinegar needed to be added in order to give the Christmas Cumberland sauce an added stamp of authenticity — and before long it was time to test to see if the mixture was going to set.
A tiny blob, no bigger than a five pence piece, was put on a plate and left for a few minutes. After it became clear that it was not going to go anywhere, it was hailed as a success.
But what was it going to taste like? Once it had cooled, it continued to taste like mulled wine in a jar, with a tantalising hit of orange coming through at the end.
The next question was whether it was going to be all the rage on its first outing at Keswick market? And, again, the answer was a resounding “yes”.
One customer, buying on behalf of Dominic Gordon, of Waternook Lakeside Accommodation, Howtown, snapped up four pots to go into Christmas hampers for guests at the five-star Lake District getaway, which is set within a private 27-acre estate.
Mr. Gordon said the Christmas Cumberland sauce was a “super product” so it perfectly complemented the quality and refinement which was offered to Waternook’s guests.
“We are full over Christmas and the luxury hamper is offered to all our guests who stay and is complemented by other local handmade chocolates, breads, cakes, preserves and prosecco. We always try to add season’s additions as well,” he added.
In total, all 10 jars which were for sale at Keswick were snapped up, with one customer, following a taste of it on a cracker, describing our reporter’s seasonable treat as “mouth-watering”.