Potted shrimps with toast and pickled cucumber by Kai Chan Vong / Flickr CC BY 2.0
The Balfour go-to at Eastertide is potted shrimps – with just a hint of spice By Tessa Balfour
One of the happiest memories of my childhood was spending Easter at Carlton Towers in Yorkshire where my grandparents lived. The old hall dates back to the 14th century but was remodelled by Edward Welby Pugin, whose architect father Augustus Pugin was part of the great Catholic Revival of the 19th century. Pugin re-faced the house, adding turrets, gargoyles and the Beaumont coat of arms – and so Carlton Hall was reborn as Carlton Towers. My youngest brother Gerald (Fitzalan-Howard) and his lovely wife Emma live there now and have made it into a very successful wedding venue.
My parents, uncles and aunts would all gather at Carlton Towers at Easter. The ritual I still remember with such amusement was the fasting on Good Friday, particularly at lunch. Fasting was taken very seriously by them all.
I will never forget the large heavy set of kitchen scales that sat in pride of place on the dining room sideboard. These were the old-fashioned type with many different weights ranging from 1/2oz to 10lbs. It must have taken two kitchen maids at least to lug this weighing contraption up from the kitchen which was far away in the basement.
The 4oz weight was put on the scales and each male family member then weighed the 4oz portion of fish pie and glumly put it on his plate and ate it feeling very virtuous. A final grace was then said and then we all went down to the church in the village in time for Stations of the Cross, another three-line family whip Good Friday event.
Many years later, I returned to Carlton Towers for a family Easter with my husband Roddy. We were newlyweds. As Rod was not a Catholic, he looked on incredulously at the “weigh in”. As he saw the fish pie being weighed I could see him thinking, “What on earth have I married into?” But this was soon followed by a look of relief as, being rather greedy, he soon realised there would be more food for him.
We now usually spend Easter at our home in Sussex, usually with lots of children and grandchildren. Our own Balfour tradition is to have potted shrimps for supper on Holy Saturday, so here is my recipe (the original came from my daughter, Jubie).
If you put the potted shrimps in a 10cm kilner jar, you can feed six to eight easily. I serve it in the jar with just the lid taken off, along with a long-handled spoon so everyone can serve themselves, with some lemon wedges on the side, along with brown toast. If you want something different, try toasted pumpernickel (German rye bread) which is equally delicious.
The shrimps freeze beautifully and I often take a jar to give to our hosts for a weekend house party. I have found they go down well with members of my husband’s family. Christopher Balfour (known as Curly) once said: “My dear, so delicious and such a treat to have any leftovers to put into my Sunday supper omelette!”
Tessa’s potted shrimps
290g little brown shelled shrimps
(I usually get them from Waitrose, 4 packs)
200g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground mace
Sprinkle of dried chilli flakes (be sparing: you can add more if you like them more spicy)
A pinch of salt
Put all the shrimps into the kilner jar. Melt the butter and spices in a pan and pour over the shrimps. Seal the jar and pop in the fridge until needed. Serve at room temperature when the butter is just soft but not too runny. Leftovers make the perfect filling for an omelette.