Lobscouse and Witches, 1936

Today is the day for “Lobscouse and Witches” as I discovered from this magical-sounding 1936 article. The 11th January 1936 being a Saturday, it’s talking about Tuesday 7th January, the day after Twelfth Night. The day when an old-fashioned Northern tradition apparently meant that people ate lobscouse, drank lamb’s wool and set fire to their wheat to scare witches away.

Bath Chronicle, 11th January 1936

Bath Chronicle, 11th January 1936

Living in Liverpool, I am well acquainted with lobscouse. These days it’s simply called scouse, a beef or lamb (or both) stew for which every family had their own recipe. Being an adopted Liverpudlian, I had to create my own, and after a few attempts, this is now my family recipe. I prefer the old-fashioned taste of an oxo cube here.

Scouse
350g each of cubed beef and lamb
2 onions
Squirt of brown sauce
Squirt of tomato ketchup
5 large carrots, chopped
1.5-2 kg King Edward potatoes, in small and larger chunks
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
4 oxo cubes
Water to cover

  • Brown the meat in oil, add the onions and soften slightly.
  • Stir in a good squirt of both ketchup and brown sauce.
  • Add the rest of the vegetables, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, crumble the Oxo cubes on top and add enough water to cover.
  • Simmer for two hours, adding more water if needed. The smaller pieces of potato will have disintegrated to thicken the stew.
  • Serve with pickled red cabbage and bread and butter.
Bowl of Scouse

Bowl of Scouse

Lamb’s Wool is something I’ve never tried before – it’s spiced apple pulp mulled with sugar and ale. I used the recipe from the Oakden recipe archive. The origin of its name is a matter of debate. In the article above, it comes from “Lamb of God”.  But other explanations suggest it comes from either the wooly-looking froth on top of the ale, or as a derivative of the ancient Celtic pagan festival of La mas ubal, meaning ‘Day of the Apple Fruit’.

I used Ghost Ship ale for this, the name appeals to me ever since my investigations into the Ourang Medan. I also made a non-alcoholic version using ginger ale, but you don’t need the extra sugar for that. Together the scouse and the lamb’s wool are quite a combination to keep the winter chill out.

Lamb’s Wool
1.5 Litres of real ale or cider
6 small cooking apples, cored
1 nutmeg freshly grated
1 tsp ground ginger
150g brown sugar

  • Preheat the oven to 120C, core the apples and bake for about an hour on a lightly greased baking tray, until pulpy and the skins come easily away.
  • In a large saucepan add the sugar, cover in a small amount of the ale or cider and heat gently. Stir continuously until the sugar has dissolved. Then add in the ground ginger and grate in the whole of the nutmeg. Stir, and keeping the pan on a gentle simmer, slowly add in all the rest of the ale. Leave for 10 minutes on a gentle heat.
  • Take the baked apples out of the oven to cool slightly for 10 minutes – they should now be soft and pulpy. Scoop out the baked flesh into a bowl, discarding the skin. Then take a fork and mash this apple pulp up, while it is still warm, into a smooth purée with no lumps. Add the apple purée into the ale, mixing it in with a whisk.
  • Let the saucepan continue to warm everything through for thirty minutes, on a very gentle heat, until ready to drink. When warmed through use the whisk again for a couple of minutes (or use a stick blender) to briskly and vigorously froth the drink up and mix everything together. The apple and light froth will float to the surface, and depending on how much you have whisked it, the more it looks like lamb’s wool. Note: to traditionally froth drinks up they were normally poured continuously between two large serving jugs to get air into the drink.
  • Ladle the hot Lambswool into heat-proof mugs or glasses and grate over some nutmeg, or pour the drink into a communal bowl (with several thick pieces of toast in the bottom) to pass around if wassailing.

And a glass of Lamb’s Wool

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