Having discovered Saffron Gin recently I was surprised to learn that you can grow saffron here in the UK. England was a major saffron producer in the 14th century during the reign of Edward III. The price rocketed as saffron based medicines were thought to protect against the Black Death. It's thought that the saffron came to England via Rhodes as the Moors introduced saffron to France in AD 732.
Saffron was cultivated throughout Norfolk, Suffolk and south Cambridgeshire as well as Essex. The town of Saffron Walden got its name as a saffron growing and trading centre. Its name was originally Cheppinge Walden and the name was changed to show the importance of the crop to the local area; and today the town's arms feature crocus blooms.
During the 16th and 17th centuries many people holding a small amount of land planted saffron as a cash crop. You can still see vestiges of our saffron producing past in place names such as Saffron Hill in East London, where the plant was grown for over 500 years. British saffron was produced at a farm in Wrexham in north east Wales up until the late 1990s but now many people are growing it themselves. Apparently the flavour of home-grown saffron is mellower and richer than that grown in a hotter climate. Suttons sell the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus, and it can survive well here as it is tolerant to summer heat and winter cold.
Saffron has a strong perfume and a metallic, honey-like taste that some people say reminds them of sweet hay. The recipe that I thought would go best is Rabbit With Saffron but if you don't want to use rabbit you could use chicken.
Rabbit with Saffron
1 large rabbit cut into pieces
10 saffron threads
4 small leeks
30 cl dry white wine
20cl single cream
1 chicken stock cube
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Chop the leeks into small strips (I like to use the green as well as the white parts). Brown the rabbit pieces in a mixture of oil and butter. Sprinkle the rabbit pieces with flour. Add the wine, 20cl of water and chicken stock cube. Then add the sliced leeks. Bring to a boil, then cook over low heat for one hour.
Then, in a bowl, mix the cream, mustard and parsley together. Add the saffron. Pour the sauce into the pan containing the rabbit and simmer for 10 minutes at very low heat.
This will pair beautifully with M de Malle. It's a lovely wine: bold, brilliant green tinted gold with hints of white blossoms, passion fruit, quince, spice and a good burst of lemon acidity. M de Malle is made in the Graves vineyards of the Sauternes Second Growth Château de Malle, owned by the Comtes de Bournazel who have 400 years of wine making experience – it really is wine with a touch of class! It's also good with chicken, duck, pork, feathered game such as guinea fowl and pheasant, salmon, seafood, creamy pasta dishes and soft cheeses.