books · Britain


My sister, bless her heart, knows that I am lacking in British cookbooks, and with a British husband, this is a problem.  Now I know there are those of you who are “hip” to English culinary sensibility who recognize instantly that if you just add raisins to it, you could pass anything off as edible to an Englishman.  Spam with raisins — I’m sure George II had it on his dinner table frequently.  Raisins and whitefish in a port reduction; a favorite at Chatsworth.  And who could forget the quintessential British street food, Fish and Chips and Raisins?  

Back to my lovely sister and her great gifts — she has blessed me with several Nigella Lawson cookbooks.  Nigella speaks N. American, but always with a British accent; her food is rooted in English traditions, but she helps translate it for American palates. 

The first tome my sister gifted me was How to Be a Domestic Goddess, a book heavy on desserts; the perfect cookbook!  There are a smattering of non-sweet offerings and one that I had been itching to try was tucked away as the penultimate recipe, Brown Sauce.

Steve has Brown Sauce on his potatoes, although you can find it in American supermarkets on the shelf with steak sauces.  The brand name is HP (Houses of Parliment) and I discovered it decades (yes, I’m that old) before I met Steve.  Rebekah A. gave me a rhubarb start this year and it was the perfect excuse to try the recipe.

I include Nigella’s commentary because I love the last line.

Brown Sauce, adapted from
How to be a Domestic Goddess
Nigella Lawson

I know that the ingredients that follow hardly look like the stock constituents of brown sauce, and I should own up and say that this didn’t start off life as brown sauce.  It was conceived to be a rhubarb chutney, only I added too much liquid and what with one thing and another, I decided the only way to salvage it was to whizz it in the blender and turn it into a sauce.  This isn’t just a case of making the best of a bad lot; this is one of my favorite recipes in the whole book – for its depth of flavor, its full-toned ranginess—and a reminder that cooking is often about what you do, unplanned, in response to the here and now, not merely the careful application of culinary formulae.

  •  2 ¼ pounds rhubarb
  • 1 pound red onions (about 5 small ones)
  • 2 long red chilies, deseeded
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 medium cooking apple
  • 1 ounce (about 1 inch) fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1Tablespoon paprika
  • 2/3 cup or 5 ounces golden raisins*
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries
  • 2 ¼ cups red-wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 2 ¼ pounds demerara or turbinado sugar

2 1-quart jars and 1 1-pint jar or equivalent

Trim the rhubarb, chop it very roughly, put it in to the food process, and chop finely, but don’t turn it into a mush.  You may want to do this in stages, or else just cut the trimmed rhubarb into ¼ inch slices by hand.  Tip the chopped rhubarb into a large heavy-bottomed pan.  Now process the onions, chilies and garlic until finely chopped and transfer these to the pan with the rhubarb.  Chop the apples the same way and add to the pan.

Stir in the minced fresh ginger, the ground ginger, paprika, raisins, dried cherries, red-wine vinegar, salt and sugar.

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until everything has turned to an undulating but still just nubbly pulp –about 45 minutes.

Take the pan off the heat, let cool for about 10 minutes and then, a ladleful or so at a time, liquefy or process until smooth.  If you have an immersion blender, you can do the whole batch at once — just make sure there are no lumps.  Pour into the sterilized jars, let cool, cover and store away, with joy and satisfaction in your heart.

Makes about 2 ½ quarts.

* If you were to have read this recipe in the original, the raisins would have been called Sultanas.  Britain and the United States are 2 countries separated by a common language.  Most of the issues revolve around nouns, although the British use of “revising,” meaning to study for an exam always makes me scratch my head.


3 thoughts on “Essentials

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