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When I was a child we had beef tea. A few substantial beef bones were cadged from the butcher. I well remember the clip round the ear that I got when my mother said its for the dog, you know and I reminded her that we didnt have a dog. The bones were brought to a gentle simmer in a big pan of water and a cheap cut of meat, usually shin, was added. A steam pudding would be cooking above the bones. After an hour or two the tea would be strained from the pan, the bones passed onto a neighbour who did have a dog and the meat would be the main meal of the day. It was called beef tea because traditionally it was drunk out of a cup.
Years later I encountered consommé on restaurant menus. It sounded very posh but was, in fact, my old friend, beef tea. Usually its served up as a clear soup with thin slivers of vegetables or shredded meat to garnish. I remember once being served consommé with raw egg and having to eat rather gingerly round the edges before being forced to confess that I wasnt really hungry.
Few of us these days have got the time to make a consommé from bones and shin of beef and even using the most basic of materials it can work out quite expensive when you take into account the fuel to cook it. I came across the Baxters Beef Consommé quite by accident; I knocked it off the shelf when I was reaching for another can. (It's the usual Baxter's white can with red banner, except the luxury soups have more black on the label.) Now Im never without a can or two in the store cupboard.
Before we go any further though, let me tell you a little bit about Baxters of Speyside Ltd. George Baxter was a gardener for the local aristocracy and left, in 1868, to set up a grocery shop in the local village with the help of a loan of £100 from an uncle. Many of the housewives in the locality paid for their groceries by bringing in their home-grown produce which Georges wife, Margaret, turned into jams and jellies. The rest, as they say, is history, but Baxters are still supporting the local community by buying their produce.
Beef Consommé is one of Baxters range of luxury soups and it usually retails at around 99p a can. The main ingredient is Highland water, but seeing as its made in the Highlands its difficult to think where else theyd get their water from. Next on the list of ingredients is sherry, which gives the consommé a rich, almost nutty flavour. The thickening agent is gelatine this comes out of the tin like a jelly! Then theres beef bouillon concentrate and various extracts which enhance the flavour. There isnt an E number in sight, although there is a warning that due to the methods of production there may be traces of nuts.
So, youre thinking, we regularly have bowls of consommé, presumably complete with napkins and butlers? No, Im afraid its not like that at all. When its drunk on its own its usually from a flask on a winters day when were out with the dogs. One can gives two of us a decent drink and its only 27 calories each. Just heat it until its nearly boiling, stirring all the time and then pour it into the flask. Its delicious. The beef is substantial, the sherry makes for a richer flavour and the seasonings and flavourings are carefully balanced.
Usually though, Im using it because Im being lazy. When I use a recipe which calls for beef stock this is what I use. Be careful to taste though, before you add any other seasonings as the consommé is already seasoned. My favourite dish arose from pure laziness.
When weve had a joint of beef I carve the leftovers into a casserole dish and then add any left-over vegetables and gravy plus a can of beef consommé. Cover and pop it into a medium oven for 40 minutes. Whilst its cooking made some dumplings. Mix 100gr of Self Raising Flour and 50gr of suet, plus salt and pepper. Add enough cold water to bind together. Divide this into four. Remove the casserole from the oven, add the dumplings and return to the oven uncovered for a further 20 minutes. I usually serve it with some peas.
I sometimes use it as the cooking liquid when Im serving rice: just heat the consommé and substitute for your usual quantity of boiling water. If youre making stuffed peppers or serving the rice cold the flavour will be considerably improved.
We have a regular visitor who has a gluten allergy. I know that the consommé will always make a satisfactory starter for him and if we are having roast meat it will also fill his own gravy boat. Im confident that Im giving him the correct food, because the fact that its gluten-free is there on the can.
The final reason why Im never without a can of Beef Consommé is one that Im sure Baxters have never thought about. My husband has a shoulder problem and has to exercise it twice daily whilst holding a weight. The can of consommé is the perfect size and weight and the exercises dont damage the contents of the can. Its extremely annoying though to have to keep retrieving cans from the bedroom!