Paper poppies are everywhere this time of year – pined to jackets, peddled on the streets or available in all the shops for a modest donation. Known as Flanders Poppies, they are symbols of remembrance for those in the armed forces who have died in the line of duty. These soldiers are commemorated on November 11th, the anniversary of the Armistice that ended WWI.
Flanders Poppies were made famous by the poem, In Flanders Fields. It was written in 1915 by Canadian physician and soldier, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. The first verse says it all:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
Coincidentally, I recently ran across a digital copy of The Belgian Cookbook, also published in 1915. It is a collection of recipes from Belgian refugees in the United Kingdom. Because Belgium was a war zone during WWI, many civilians fled their country between 1914 and 1918 – scores to France and the Netherlands, and over two hundred thousand to Britain.
The Belgian Cookbook is available for download from Internet Archive. Click on title or the image of the front cover and it will take you to the Internet Archive list of available copies of the book. It is a interesting read for any one fascinated by history and old cookbooks.
Several of the recipes from the book are versions of a classic Flemish dish. It is one of my favorite winter stews – Carbonnade Flamande or beef stewed in a dark beer. It seemed appropriate to make it in honor of “Poppy Day”.
Since the instructions in The Belgian Cookbook are rudimentary, I’ve expanded on one of the recipes and made some modifications, relying heavily on Delia Smith’s version as a guide (no, not Julia Child’s version, which is equally as good). Warning: the stew takes several hours to cook and the delicious smell may drive you crazy. But, it is well worth the wait.
- 2-1/2 lbs. braising beef
- 1-3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large onions
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt & pepper
- 2 Tablespoons flour
- 18 oz. (2-1/4 cups) dark ale or stout (traditionally a dark and sweet Belgian beer)
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Cut the meat into 1 inch cubes. Finely chop the onions.
On the stove top, heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a large cast iron casserole and brown the meat in batches – adding more oil if required for each batch. Remove the meat when browned with a slotted spoon. In the same pot, fry the onions to “deglaze” the pot, scrapping up the bits stuck to the bottom from browning the meat – the bits with all the flavor.
When the onions have become transparent and are beginning to take on color, add the garlic. Stir and then return the meat and any juices to the pot, adding the thyme, bay leaves, and seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the flour and stir until it has absorbed the oils and juices. In the old recipe, the carbonade was thickened with bread smeared with mustard, but I’ve used flour as a thickener and added the mustard separately.
Gradually pour on the ale or stout (it will foam a bit) and add the mustard. Do not stint on the quality of your beer as it is the key ingredient in the recipe. Stir to mix, making sure the flour has been dissolved in the beer. Bring to a simmer then turn off heat.
Place a tight lid on and put in the center of the oven. Cook for 2 and a half hours, during which time you should not lift the lid from the pot. The beer will be transformed into a heavenly sauce. If the gravy requires further thickening, bring to a bubbling simmer top of the stove with the lid removed for a few minutes.
Traditionally served with boiled or fried potatoes, but good with mash, baked potatoes or even crusty bread – anything to sop up every last drop of the herb-beer gravy.
- Remembrance Poppies (ramblingratz.wordpress.com)
- Carbonnades à la flamande… and a cold. (themusicalchef.wordpress.com)
- Carbonnades à la Flamande (Beef and Onions Braised in Beer [aka a Reason to Love Fall]) (airrunn.wordpress.com)