The splendour of a perfect fritter lies in a crisp outer layer – nicely tanned, brittle and light, not too thin and definitely not too thick – surrounding a soft, pale and gorgeously billowy interior." Yotam Ottolenghi
Ok - I'm chickening out again, lacking inspiration and also, I have to confess, lacking energy due to a couple of hours of weeding the dreaded oxalis this morning. So I have turned to my next first recipe - the last of Theodora Fitzgibbons' books that I have. This one is on London.
Now I'm a Londoner, and before I opened the book I pondered on what was a specifically London dish, and all I could think of was jellied eels - for which there is no recipe - and the idea of which I find totally abhorrent. As a child we used to pass by a shop that sold eels - they were displayed in a shallow tank outside the shop writhing around in the water. They gave me nightmares. I believe smoked eel is utterly delicious and I have had some of that, and it was indeed perfectly fine. But that's it for eels for me. London, like most capital cities is of course a cosmopolitan city. Large cities attract people from everywhere, and so the food is also cosmopolitan and probably dependent on which part of London you are in.
Anyway, opposite an old photo of street vendors is a an old recipe for apple fritters from one Samuel Hobbs, a well-known chef of the time, who back around 1886 wrote a book called The Kitchen Oracle of Modern Culinary Art. For some reason Theodora Fitzgibbon chose this very simple recipe for apple fritters. The ones with a hole in the middle. Here it is. The photo is just a random photo from the net. It makes around 40 fritters, so you might like to decrease the quantities unless you are having a party.
4 cups sifted flour
1 egg yolk
1 cup light ale
10 medium sized apples
deep fryer of oil
1/2 cup salad oil
grated rind of 1 lemon
warm sugar for finishing
"First make the batter by putting the sifted flour into a large basin, add the egg-yolk and half the salad oil, beating them lightly with a small wire whisk and gradually adding half the light ale. Then beat in the remainder of the ale until the batter is of the thickness of cream. Add a little more ale if necessary. The slower and more lightly you can mix the oil, flour, ale and egg-yolk the better. Before using it try with the point of your finger which dip into the batter; if it readily and smoothly masks the same it will do. To make the fritters the apples should not be peeled too soon. Cut each into three or four slices, then with a cutter take the centre from each and place them in a plater or in a basin sprinkling the grated rind of a lemon over them. Dip one piece at a time in the batter (meanwhile see that the deep oil is hot) and then into your hot lard. Fry about 8 pieces at a time and place them on a wire sieve until all are done. Then coat them with a little hot sugar and salamander them (put under a hot grill to brown the sugar). Serve them on a napkin, sugar side upwards with cream."
Sprinkling them with sugar and then grilling them is a quirky touch.
I also found an even more ancient recipe dating back to the 14th century and England's first cookery book A Forme of Cury. The recipe can be found on the website A Taste of History with Joyce White. That white liquid the rather pale fritters are sitting in is almond milk - a recommendation of Richard II's cooks. The recipe is similar to the 19th century one, but with the addition of some saffron. The apples are also chopped and added to the batter rather than being sliced. And in the original recipe they are combined with parsnips and carrots. Well to be fair it's not quite clear whether they are all mixed together or whether the same recipe can be used for vegetables too. No sugar though.
So apple fritters have been around a long time, and it's also a world wide phenomenon. The Dutch, French and Germans and they are big in America - or they were anyway. All have their own versions and perhaps the other most well-known cuisine with apple fritters is the Chinese. These seem to be slightly more elaborate with a sugar coating dipped in iced water to make it crispy toffee like, and perhaps sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. I found a recipe for these rather stunning looking Hirshon Shandong candied apple fritters from a website called The Food Dictator. I also found this rather beautiful photograph of Chinese apple fritters, but no recipe to go with it. I would say the main thing here is that the apples must be chopped and amalgamated into the batter.
Ruby Tandoh of the Guardian also has a recipe for this kind of fritter, that she calls Toffee apple fritters but there was no picture.
It seems that fritters date back to the Romans, so we have been eating them for a very long time. Maybe not as much these days if you are health minded, because, of course, they are deep-fried and therefore not at all healthy. And there's sugar too.
The fundamental variations are threefold - the batter, the filling and what you put on the outside if anything. The batter sometimes includes yeast which produces something more akin to a doughnut than a fritter. And I think it's the Americans who are more into this.
I couldn't resist this beautiful photograph from Getty Images, but there is no recipe to accompany it - it's just a pretty photo. The French add liqueurs - most usually Calvados and Brandy to the liquid, there are whisky ones, as in Matthew Evans' Apple and rye whiskey fritters and there is beer, of course. Beer is good for batters, and Jamie Oliver's recipe for Beer and cardamom apple fritters uses it. He adds cardamom to the mix though and dips them in a chocolate sauce.
Jo Cook adapts Claudia Roden's recipe which is Jewish in origin and includes cider and rum. You can find it on the SBS website.
Then you come to the filling and here, like yesterday's cauliflower cheese, modern cooks start doing different things. There are: Quince and apple fritters from Gourmet Traveller, which also has Polenta, apple and ricotta fritters. Then Yotam Ottolenghi pitches in with two versions with fennel in the mix - Apple fritters with fennel and vanilla and Cherry and apple fritters with fennel sugar, but alas no picture of this last one. Fennel is a rather different flavour though.
The lady of the How Sweet Eats website, has a recipe for Salted honeycrisp fritters, which interestingly is very modern in its sprinkling of salt at the end, but also harks back to that 14th century recipe by dipping the finished fritters, in a vanilla flavoured sugared milk. Honeycrisp is apparently a type of apple found in America.
Other things that I saw were suggested to dip them in were maple syrup, cream flavoured or not, sweet ricotta dip like things, and Jamie's chocolate.
It seems that apple fritters are a bit retro. When I looked for a recipe for apple fritters on Donna Hay's website there were none. But there were 35 for savoury fritters of one kind or another. Even Taste.com.au didn't have many. It's a breakfast thing isn't it? Savoury fritters I mean. Or a mezze thing. Apple fritters, in spite of everyone eating far too many fatty and sugary things don't seem to have come back into fashion. Could be a really nice party treat though.