I was thinking, like you do, that while we are waiting for the eldeflowers to er, flower, then it might be good to make some wholegrain mustard ready for all of those summer barbeques. It is very easy to make, as it requires zero cooking but what actually is it?
Strictly speaking, wholegrain mustard is a condiment made from a combination of seeds, both yellow and brown/black, and any number of other ingredients, including the preservatives, vinegar, sugar and salt. However,that description doesn’t really do justice to the complexity of flavours that develop and the depth of the pungency.
Wholegrain mustard as we know it was almost certainly brought to these shores by the Romans although their sophisticated approach far outweighs the remnant we produce today. With upwards of twenty five ingredients the seeds and spices were mixed with red wine must to form a paste which was rolled into balls and dried in the sun. These power-packed mustard balls would be carried by the individual in a leather pouch and then crumbled and sprinkled onto food or mixed with the red wine must again.
As well as leaving a legacy on their travels through France, which ultimately led to the development of the mustard industry in Dijon, the Romans also deposited their expertise in Tewkesbury in UK which is still renowned for mustard today. Part of its appeal in Northern Europe was, of course, that it could be grown locally, when all other spices had to be shipped from the West Indies or beyond.
It is a cool season broadleaf crop, with bright yellow flowers and the majority of the modern UK crop is grown in East Anglia. Although popular as a rotation crop as it enhances the yields of wheat and barley, it is also useful to break the disease cycles in cereal crops.
Now for the scientific bit - it turns out that as well as all of those other benefits mustard is also very nutritious. It contains between 28-36% protein, and its oil also makes up 38-36% of the seed and is as nutritious as other similar vegetable oils. It contains something called Tocopherols which helps to prevent rancidity which means mustard has a long shelf life.
Mustard oils are the characteristic flavour of mustard whether whole seed, ground seed, or mustard flour. The essentials oils naturally inhibit the growth of the main spoilers - yeasts, moulds and bacteria which explains the powerful preservative properties of mustard. Every time I make it I am astonished all over again that it keeps indefinitely without cooking and without refrigeration.
Now, when my friend Kev came to The Old Smithy, together with Sarah Lyon from our local county magazine, we had a playschool day - making mustard balls, just like the Romans. I put the placcy cloth on the table, got out every single herb and spice that we have, plus some more things bought in specially like fish oil and anchovies, and we got mixing. We made some excellent concoctions and they smelled wonderful - mine were like the best pizza you have ever had. So its a great little experiment on a rainy day, an exploration of tastes and flavours using your senses and common sense to cook up something truly original. ( I say cook, there was no heat involved )
So, back to making some wholegrain mustard with beer - use a bottle or can of your favourite tipple or something unusual. Put the seeds into a large bowl, pour on the beer and leave to soak overnight. Next day, add in all of the other ingredients and whizz in the goblet of a liquidiser until the consistency that you like. Best to do this bit in small batches and then combine for jarring up - I like the Orcio jar best for this. Keep for a couple of weeks before using - if you can. There you are, no cooking, keeps indefinitely. Make several different varieties once you are confident and then make sure you use them as an ingredient, not just a condiment.