All the Fun of The Circus! – Giffords Circus was started by Toti and the late Nell Gifford and has toured the south of England ever since for the last 19 years. A traditional village circus with uniquely British charm, blended with extraordinary acts from all over the world, it also has a travelling restaurant, Circus Sauce, headed by chef Ols Halas. It’s normally held in a beautifully decorated tent, on-site, for circus goers to satisfy their appetite after all the fun of the performances. Every week, Circus Sauce has offered a new menu using seasonal and local produce from the surrounding area with Ols and the kitchen team even throwing in a performance of their own.
I’ve always wanted to go to Giffords Circus but never quite seemed to manage to get tickets (or we were away when it is in town – Chiswick House in particular). Of course, with the dreaded Covid-19, it won’t be in town this year, but the big top will, in fact, go up soon at Fennells Farm near Stroud if you are ‘staycationing’ in that area. There will be a socially distanced all-singing, dancing circus show and of course a dining extravaganza.
It is that dining extravaganza – The Feast – that has, in particular, appealed to this foodie. The idea of sitting in the big top at the dining table, enjoying a three-course feast, while being entertained by circus acts and performers sounds enchanting.
Well, folks, I’ve found the next best thing: The Giffords Circus Cookbook, Recipes & Stories from a Magical Circus Restaurant. It was published a few months ago by Quadrille and celebrates two decades of delicious communal cooking alongside the story of the circus itself and its vibrant community. Full of colour, personalities, stories and images of the circus and its slow journey through the English summer countryside, the book’s 100 recipes include plenty of hearty fare. These include Pork belly baps with poached rhubarb and Braised beef short ribs with sticky dates and hazelnuts; fresh and light sharers of Salmon goujons with laverbread tartare and cauliflower, and lots more! Well, I’ve had a browse through the book and chosen a couple of recipes to share with you – pickled vegetables (perfect for this time of year with our garden harvests) and the Giffords Circus legendary chocolate brownies.
“Circus is our job, our life, our love. Come to Giffords Circus and be part of this magic.” Nell Gifford
“The mason jars reappear from storage and we get on with filling them with pickled veg, chutneys, jams and salts. It’s a brilliant feeling popping open a jar and releasing the tastes and smells that capture the feeling of when it was made.”
Pickled Vegetables (makes 1 large jar)
“Don’t blame us if you find yourself standing in front of the fridge after midnight, with your hand stuck in the jar, prising out the last vegetables from the bottom. They’re strangely addictive.”
750g mixed vegetables, washed and trimmed
2 bay leaves
250ml white wine vinegar
30g caster sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 garlic cloves
Run a 1-litre Kilner jar (or several smaller jars) through a dishwasher to sterilise.
Slice any larger vegetables nice and small before packing them into the sterilised Kilner jar with the bay leaves. Put the rest of the ingredients into a nonreactive saucepan with 250ml water and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, let cool slightly, then pour into the jar to cover the veg and seal the lid.
These will keep, unopened, for 5–6 months and once opened, will keep in the fridge for up to a week.
Chocolate Brownies (makes 6–8 portions)
Consider this just a base to which you can add numerous other ingredients to make things more interesting, such as glacé or fresh cherries, mint, white chocolate, coffee, vanilla, Maltesers, anything you like! Do what you will with your brownies – just don’t ever overcook them. There’s quite simply nothing worse than a dry brownie, as Lil Rice will tell you!
225g unsalted butter
225g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
350g caster sugar
4 large eggs
pinch of salt
175g plain flour
Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a 30 x 20cm brownie tin with baking parchment.
In a saucepan, melt the butter and bring almost to boiling point before removing from the heat and whisking in the chocolate until smooth. The residual heat from the butter should be enough to melt the chocolate but if not, scrape the mixture into a non-metallic bowl and pop it into the microwave for a few seconds.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and eggs with a pinch of salt until light and fluffy – this is easier in a stand mixer. Slowly add the melted chocolate and butter and keep mixing until fully incorporated. Sift in the flour and gently fold into the batter.
Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 20–30 minutes, depending on how set you want your brownies – but make sure there’s still a wobble in the centre, so you get a nice smooth texture with no graininess. Turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool a little before cutting into 6 pieces.