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The Curious Foods of Buckinghamshire

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The south of England is sometimes regarded as an undifferentiated mass of quaint villages, wealthy landowners and heritage sites.

Yet each of the counties in this part of the world has its own culture, history and character, and Buckinghamshire is no expection. Bordering on seven other counties, it has connections with all of them and boasts some spectacular scenery, thanks to the River Thames and the chalky uplands of the Chiltern Hills. A largely rural county until the early 20th century, its proximity to London means that it is also one of the best connected regions in England, with multiple rail and road links.

Lying in such a central position at the heart of the south, Buckinghamshire has inevitably been involved in many of the most important aspects of English history. There is some evidence of settlements in the area dating back to Neolithic times, and by the time of Saxon rule, it had become a prosperous part of the kingdom of Mercia.

That prosperity came at a cost, including the clearance of the heavily forested Chilterns which were largely gone by the early 17th century. In later decades, the county also saw the creation of some of the most beautiful country homes and parks in England, including the Stowe and Cliveden estates.

In the modern era, Buckinghamshire has made a significnat contribution in a number of areas,  including the world renowned Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, which is well known for its treatment of spinal-cord injuries and which has the distinction of hosting the forerunner of the Paralympic Games, the World Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Games since 1948.

The Industrial Revolution didn’t have the same dramatic impact on Buckinghamshire that it had elsewhere, although there were printing firms and light manufacturing in the Aylesbury area during the nineteenth century and the town of Wolverton was known for its railway workshops.

Yet in the second half of the twentieth century, the county had an economic boost thanks to the development of the new town of Milton Keynes. This town absorbed some of the smaller towns in the vicinity and developed into a significant economic hub, as well as being the home of the Open University, which was launched in 1971.

Despite these modern changes, however, Buckinghamshire retains a distinctly rural feel and that is reflected in the variety of traditional dishes that the county has become known for.  

Bacon Badgers

Traditional English cuisine is particularly well known for its unusual names and few are stranger than Buckinghamshire’s very own Bacon Badger!

In many ways, this dish is similar to the neighbouring county’s Bedfordshire Clanger, but is an altogether more substantial product. It gets its unusual name from the strangely domed appearance of the finished product which is said to resemble the profile of a badger’s back.

You will be relieved to hear that there are no badgers in the Bacon Badger! The dish is made from a dough that is formed from suet, which is then filled with a mixture of bacon or gammon, potatoes and onions. The whole thing is rolled up and steamed for several hours until it is ready to it. This is a surprisingly versatile dish, and can be eaten warm or cold and as a result, it is ideal for a picnic or summer lunch.  

Grenadier Apples

These days the dominant English cooking apple is the Bramley, but prior to the supermarket era, there was a much wider choice when it came to cookers, and one of the most popular of these was the Grenadier, grown in many places throughout Buckinghamshire, the county where it originated.

The Grenadier, which ripens by the middle of August, was first discovered during the middle of the nineteenth century but fell out of favour commercially as it doesn’t store well and has an unattractive appearance, with a ribbed effect to its surface. But when it comes to producing apple-related recipes, the Grenadier has few equals. It has a subtle, but delicious apple flavour, and is perfect for apple jam or an apple pie or crumble.

It also benefits from being fairly easy to grow in the garden, and is resistant to most apple diseases, making it a popular variety in English gardens. The fact that it is an early ripener means it can be harvested gradually, while the weather is still good, overcoming the fact that it is a relatively poor performer when it comes to storage.  

Buckinghamshire Dumpling

This is another of those English suet-based savoury dishes. The Buckinghamshire Dumpling is essentially a distinctive but tasty pasty that would have been ideal for agricultural workers returning home from a hard day in the fields. 

It is made by rolling out some suet pastry and then piling it with a combination of bacon rashers, onions, and pigs liver, along with seasonings such as sage, parsley and pepper. The pastry is then folded up into a parcel which has to be steamed for up to three hours. Best served hot, it offers a nourishing warmth and rich taste that makes it a firm favourite among meat eaters.

Cherry Turnovers

Buckinghamshire is among other things, famous for its cherry orchards, so it is no surprise to find this cherry dessert speciality hailing from the county.

The turnovers are made using a very light pastry, which is then wrapped around rip and tangy cherries. Cherries tend to peak between July and August and this is a recipe that calls for the freshest fruits that can be found, so is best enjoyed in those months. Cherry turnovers can be eaten warm, with cream or custard, or cold as part of a picnic, and are always popular with guests.

Aylesbury Duck

Aylesbury is the county town of Buckinghamshire and it has been known for its duck rearing since the bird that has taken the town’s name was bred in the early 18th century. In fact, the duck has become so well associated with Aylesbury, that it features on the town crest.

Just 40 miles from the well known meat markets of Smithfield, Aylesbury was the ideal place to raise ducks as they could be easily driven to market without losing condition on the way. The duck was one of the most popular breeds in England, thanks to its fleshy characteristics and its pleasing appearance, and its white feathers were in strong demand for pillow filling.

In terms of its meat, the Aylesbury is less fatty than the Peking duck, which was introduced towards the end of the 19th century, while its flesh is less tough and stringy than some rival breeds. It is also known for laying plenty of eggs, which was another attractive feature for farmers.

The Aylesbury is perfectly suited to a range of traditional British duck dishes. It can be stewed with peas, served with onion sauce, added to a pie, or served with a cherry sauce that helps to complement the fattiness of the meat. In fact one family in the Vale of Aylesbury still rear ducks as their ancestors did, allowing them to feed naturally among their cherry orchards.

Stokenchurch Pie

Stokenchurch Pie is an unusual traditional English dish as it uses macaroni, although pasta was known to English cooks from the Plantagenet era. It is another example of the versatile approach of English cooking, as it can effectively be made with any sort of meat.

The dish is made by lining a layer of pastry with cooked macaroni, followed by chopped meat, hard boiled eggs, and another layer of macaroni and meat. The top is then covered and the pie is backed. Taking its name from the old village of Stokenchurch, it is a carb-heavy dish that is almost a meal in itself!

Staffordshire’s Food History

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Situated at the heart of England, the old county of Staffordshire once made up much of the region of the Midlands that has since become known as the Black Country, where the Industrial Revolution became most strongly established. Yet the county has a much longer history.

You can find traces of both Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements in the county, most notably in the northeast of the county, where visitors are able to explore a range of Neolithic burial mounds. Among the most notable Iron Age hill forts in the county are Castle Ring, which is found on Cannock Chase and Bury Ring, which is near to the county town of Stafford.

Staffordshire was considered to be a vital region by the Romans who built roads through the ancient forests that covered most of the county, and the meeting place of two of their most famous roads, Watling Street and Ryknield Street, became the basis for the City of Lichfield.

Following the retreat of the Romans, the area became important politically as it was at the centre of the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Mercia, and saw much fighting throughout the 10th and 11th centuries, first when the Anglo Saxons sought to repel the invading Danes, and later through a local rebellion against Norman occupiers.

From the eighteenth century onwards, the history of the county is built around industry. In fact, coal and iron were first mined on the upper River Trent and in the area of Cannock Chase as early as the thirteenth century, but it wasn’t until the late eighteenth century that the region developed into an industrial powerhouse. This was the time when the pottery industry in northern Staffordshire rose to fame through the efforts of Josiah Wedgewood and at the same time, the brewing industry based in Burton upon Trent also expanded rapidly.  

Above all, the growing network of canals and railways led to the development of the southern areas of the county, where coal mining, steel mills and other industrial activity thrived throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, making a major contribution to the wealth of England.

But although the county is best known for its proud industrial heritage, it remains largely agricultural, with the dairy farming industry being particularly prominent. The north of the county has been heavily associated with the modern replanting of trees, while the ingenuity and industry of Staffordshire has enabled it to recover from the decline of its heavy industry. This has included making the most of its heritage, particularly in the Potteries region, but there has also been an upsurge of interest in Staffordshire cuisine. The traditional food of this county has plenty in common with the hearty dishes of another famous industrial region, Lancashire, but with an added agricultural twist.  

Staffordshire Oatcakes

The most famous of the Staffordshire food exports, the oatcake is a delicacy that has been part of English cuisine for hundreds of years, but while the production of oatcakes is a tradition passed down through the generations, the history of the dish is shrouded in mystery.

The Staffordshire Oatcake is an unassuming food, with an ordinary looking appearance and texture, but it packs a delicious and hearty punch. Originally popular among pottery workers, who needed a filling food for their meals during their long and arduous working days, Staffordshire Oatcakes are an extremely versatile and popular food, and can be eaten on their own or combined with a variety of fillings or toppings, ranging from jam to bacon and cheese.

Lobby

Life for those who worked in the Staffordshire pottery industry in the Victorian era was tough, and popular foods of the time were based around making the most of what was available. This tradition led to the creation of an unusual dish known as Lobby. Made from the leftovers of meals such as Sunday roasts, Lobby was a type of stew, that used cattle or poultry bones for flavour.

As most families could only buy cheaper offal and gristle cuts of meat, these formed the basis of the stew, and on occasion the dish was also spiced up with a splash of ale. Those who were lucky enough to have a little land of their own where they could grow vegetables, could throw in some fresh carrots or potatoes to add to the mix. Lobby also became popular after the Second World War, when the easing of post war austerity in the 1950s led to a revival of the dish, this time though with the addition of better cuts of beef, as well as Marmite and pearl barley.

Branston Pickle

One of England’s best known food products, and a staple of the Ploughman’s lunch and of countless packed lunches and picnics, Branston Pickle production began in the east Staffordshire town of Branston, during the 1920s.  

The key ingredient for many in the perfect cheddar cheese sandwich, Branston Pickle was created in 1922, and is made from a unique mixture of cauliflower, carrots and swedes, all of which are grown locally, and which are then enhanced with the addition of tomatoes and spices, according to a closely guarded secret recipe. The result is a famous and enduring English preserve.

Staffordshire Yeomanry Pudding


The Staffordshire Yeomanry was a military unit that was originally considered as part of the Queen’s Own Regiment, until the 1970s, when it was amalgamated with the Queen’s Own Mercian Yeomanry.

It is believed that the recipe for Staffordshire Yeomanry Pudding was first created at the height of the Boer War, when civilians in England tried to provide a luxurious welcome-home spread for their returning soldier relations, featuring a variety of cakes. The Staffordshire Yeomanry Pudding is essentially an egg custard tart, which is made of egg custard layered onto jam, which is then encased within pastry, and it has proven popular throughout Staffordshire and beyond. 

Groaty Dick

A recipe that was initially popular in the southern part of Staffordshire, a region later known as the Black Country, Groaty Dick is a strange but tasty concoction, resembling a savoury porridge. It is made using beef, onions, leek and pinhead oats, along with some fried bacon. The whole mixture is then covered with stock and cooked for several hours. It was traditionally served alongside boiled potatoes or bread and it can be a tasty and filling meal on a cold winter’s day.

Staffordshire Cheese

The region’s flourishing dairy farming industry has produced a variety of types of dairy product, and Staffordshire has the distinction of being one of a few English food products to have earned EU protected status, alongside such famous foods as Cornish Pasties and Newcastle Brown Ale.

There is a long tradition of cheese making in the county, which dates back over 700 years, to a time when the moorlands in the north of the county, particularly around Leek, were home to a thriving religious community of monks. Staffordshire Cheese is perhaps best known for its pale appearance and creamy texture, along with a distinctive, strong flavour, and its unique taste is likely to be down to the lush moorland environment where cattle in the county are allowed to graze.

One of the most successful cheeses from the Staffordshire region is Innes Log. Produced in the town of Tamworth, it is produced using raw goat’s milk, which is shaped into a log. The cheese presents with a bloomy rind, though underneath the texture is dense and creamy, while this fresh-smelling cheese also offers grassy and nutty flavours. It has won a number of medals at the British Cheese Awards and is one of the most popular of Midlands Cheeses.

Another Staffordshire cheese worth looking out for is Bosworth. Produced by the Highfields Farm Dairy this cheese is made using raw goat’s milk and is aged for a total of three weeks. In fact there are two versions of this cheese. Bosworth Leaf is wrapped in a chestnut leaf, while Bosworth Ash Log is first rolled in ash and then shaped into a log.

This delicious cheese has a white rind, with a dense and crumbly texture, with an interesting combination of sweet and salty flavours and is distinctive enough to be worth eating on its own.

Food from the Heart of England

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For many overseas visitors, Oxfordshire is the quintessential English county. This picturesque region sits at the centre of the south of England. Consisting of a broad vale, which divides two upland areas, the North Oxfordshire Heights, and the Chiltern Hills, it is located almost entirely within the Thames basin. That famous river runs north-eastward and then southward beyond the city of Oxford, winding slowly in the direction of London, passing through some idyllic English towns.  

The area is notable for many sites of historical significance. Archaeologists have found evidence of Paleolithic and Mesolithic settlements, and you can find a number of Neolithic structures, including the famous Rollright Stones, which are on the border with Warwickshire. The county was an important strategic area for the Romans, and was later settled by the Saxons, who built many settlements in the Thames valley. The county formed part of the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex, and then it fell under the control of the Danes, before the Norman invasion.

By that time, the city of Oxford was already known as a centre of learning, and throughout the medieval period, Oxford was the site of many beautiful and grand buildings, including the famous Iffley Church, just south of the city. During the English Civil War, the county was staunchly Royalist, particularly the cities of Banbury and Oxford, which were both besieged by Parliamentarians.

Although Oxfordshire has undergone a degree of industrialisation, including thriving sites such as Cowley, which is famous for its production of cars, the county has been essentially defined by its agriculture and by its association with learning. It is also famous for its wool production, as well as its dairy herds, and for the produce from a variety of fertile orchards. 

Often described as the ‘Writer’s County’, Oxfordshire has of course been the home to many gifted scholars and writers, including Seamus Heaney, T.S.Elliot and Lewis Carroll.

And it has also earned a reputation for the quality of its dining and cuisine. In fact Oxfordshire can claim several famous food producers, including Frank Cooper, who created the popular Oxford Marmalade, and the baking firm Brown’s of Banbury, who devised the Banbury Cake. Here are some of the highlights of Oxfordshire cuisine:

New College Pudding

This is one of the oldest of Oxfordshire’s dishes. Developed in the 17th century, it is a luxurious old fashioned dessert that retains its popularity with those who live in the county in the 21st century. The original recipe, which started with a mixture of sherry, flour, suet and eggs, has been updated to include nutmeg, candied peel and currants. The dough has to be left to rest for up to 20 minutes before it is shaped into spheres and then shallow fried in butter, which turns the outside brown. Traditionally eaten along with jam, marmalade or butter, these cakes are delightful.  

Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade

The Grand Café that stands on the site of 83, The High, Oxford, is a destination for many curious tourists, who are keen to take a look at the old greengrocer shop of a man called Frank Cooper. His fame was quite unexpected and the credit belongs to his wife Sarah-Jane, who drew up the Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade recipe while experimenting with different techniques. Having made a huge quantity of marmalade, the Coopers sold the excess produce and it proved so popular that by 1900, Frank Cooper had developed a factory. These days, the rich, tart flavour of Frank Cooper’s marmalade can be found across several varieties and is a regular feature of the English breakfast table.

Oxford Artisan Distillery

The Oxford Artisan Distillery is one of the most successful whisky, gin and vodka producing operations in England. Their range of traditionally distilled drinks is made from grains that are grown in organic and sustainable ways. The distilling process is carried out in specially made copper stills, and the result is a range of drinks known for their caramel flavours and malty qualities.

Banbury Cake

Full of delicious mincemeat and wrapped in flaky choux pastry, Banbury Cake is a traditional winter alternative to the standard mince pie, but is much older, perhaps by as much as 400 years. The recipe may have been created during the Crusades as a hearty pudding that could provide a filling meal, yet could also be stored for transport on long journeys. The filling, which features currants, sugar, all spice and lemon rind, was sometimes also flavoured with cinnamon for an extra kick and then wrapped in a round of flaky pastry. The recipe itself was first published in 1615 but it may be derived from the Holy Cakes that were eaten in the Middle East as early as the 7th century.

Hook Norton Brewery

Situated in the Cotswold Hills Hook Norton is an independent family business that takes traditional brewing techniques and combines them with modern innovations to produce a range of real ales that have proven extremely popular. Hook Norton’s full range has won numerous awards, including prizes for its Hooky Gold, Hooky Mild, Haymaker and Flagship brands.

Oxfordshire Sausages

Sometimes known as Oxfordshire Skate, though we cannot be sure why, Oxfordshire Sausages were developed in the 18th century by a butcher called John Nott. His inspiration was to use lean veal and combine it with fatty pork, along with numerous herbs and nutmeg. The sausage meat was then shaped into a ‘C’ shape, using the stomach lining of a Gloucester Old Spot pig, which is thought to add to the texture of the sausage. His recipe was very popular and to this date, Oxfordshire Sausages remain a frequent feature of Oxfordshire farmer’s markets.

Oxford Bishop

A warming winter drink, Oxford Bishop became popular after writer Charles Dickens who featured the drink in A Christmas Carol. It is on occasions compared with mulled wine and is just as rich and strong smelling, though usually served in a steaming mug, with a touch of brandy. The name comes from the purple colour, which is caused by the addition of port, which is similar to the purple of a bishop’s robe. The drink is ideal for cold winter evenings and is often enhanced with allspice berries, lemon rind, cinnamon or cloves.

Cotswold Dumplings

Savoury dumplings that are shaped from balls of dough have long been a part of English cuisine. By tradition, they are formed from a combination of self raising flour and suet, bound together by cold water and seasoned with salt and pepper. But unlike ordinary dumplings, which are dropped into a stew or a soup, Cotswold dumplings are mixed with breadcrumbs and cheese, with the dough rolled in breadcrumbs and then fried. Crunchy and light, these dumplings are a perfect accompaniment to many meals, but are a delicious snack on their own, or served with a salsa or similar sauce.

Faggots, Peas and Birmingham Soup: Savour the West Midlands’ Food Tradition

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Many of the areas of the country that feature on this site have a deep and lasting rural tradition. Yet country life is only part of the English story. Go back 150 years and the heart of England could be found not in the fields and country lanes, but in the factories, furnaces and coal mines of the Midlands, South Wales and North England.

That industrial heritage has shaped England in profound ways and continues to do so to this day. It has also given rise to a distinctive and remarkable range of culinary traditions.

One of the most famous industrial areas of England is the West Midlands. This area encompasses both the Black Country and the Birmingham conurbation, as well as parts of Staffordshire. It was a grim landscape of smoke, soot and fumes, but the industrial activity in this region helped to propel England and the United Kingdom as a whole to the summit of global prosperity.

The West Midlands area, which can roughly be said to include south Staffordshire, the northern parts of Worcestershire and the western districts of Warwickshire, had always been an essential part of England, not least because so many roads and rivers pass through it.

At one time, it was the central territory of the Saxon kingdom of Mercia, a state that at one point was the most powerful Saxon territory of all. Later, as the fortunes of Mercia waned, the West Midlands was split between the English and the Danes, who occupied much of the east of England.

The territory was divided once again during the English civil war, when many of the towns and cities sided with Parliament, particularly in the east, yet rural areas and western towns tended to favour the King, and both armies manoeuvred extensively in the Midlands counties as they sought victory.

Yet the West Midlands is undoubtedly best known for its role in the Industrial Revolution. The shift from rural to industrial economy had many roots, but the most significant early developments took place in the county of Shropshire, at Ironbridge, a famous part of the Midlands, that is now a tourist attraction. As the industrial technology developed, the abundant geological riches of the West Midlands, together with the proximity of major roads, and the River Severn, made it an ideal location for the building and developing of heavy industry, which ranged from coal, gravel and stone mining, to iron working, smelting and ironmongery.  

The precise boundaries of the West Midlands will depend on what context you are using the location in, but they are broadly considered to include two main regions: the Black Country (which was so named due to the heavy smoke that lingered over the whole region as a result of unrestricted industrial production) and Birmingham, which culturally was a very different territory.

As the relevance of heavy industry was reduced during the 20th century, the fortunes of the West Midlands fell. The area has experience hard economic conditions over the years, but in recent decades, new industries including a thriving food and hospitality sector have helped to lead a revival. Part of that revival includes a celebration of the unique food traditions of this vibrant area.

Chitlins

Chitlins is one of many dishes that come from a time when meat was relatively difficult to come by and all parts of an animal were used. In fact, chitlins is short for ‘chitterlings’ or pigs’ intestines. Preparing a dish of Chitlins was a time consuming business, and the smell during cooking is pretty powerful, but the end result is a surprisingly tasty dish, that is often served with onions.

Lambswool

Few English drinks can boast a stranger name than Lambswool. This sweet, spicy punch is produced from baked apples and may come from an old Celtic celebration called La Mas Ubhal, or the Day of the Apple, a November ritual that was held under the oldest tree in an orchard, though there are some suggestions that it may also be linked to Lammas, the Saxon word for the harvest festival. The drink was also part of the Christmas tradition of wassailing, when locals went door to door singing, and giving gifts in exchange for a drink. Lambswool was originally produced with ale, before baked apple, nutmeg, brown sugar and ginger were added to the brew.

Bread and Dripping

A regular feature of working class homes in the West Midlands, Bread and Dripping was nothing more elaborate than the use of a chunk of white bread to soak up the juices of the Sunday roast before being sprinkled with pepper and salt. Bread and Dripping became a popular dish in the Second World War, when rationing was imposed on England. It fell out of favour in the 1970s and 1980s as people were concerned about avoiding animal fats, but has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years.

Balti

Modern Birmingham has become synonymous with the Balti, a form of curry that is cooked and served in a two-handled steel bowl and traditionally served with an accompaniment of naan bread. Although it has clear South Asian origins, the Balti was created in Birmingham by Mohammed Arif, who owned a restaurant called Adil’s. The dish was made using a collection of spices and herbs combined in a traditional Northern Kashmir fashion, and it proved to be so popular that other Balti restaurants sprang up in the Birmingham area, creating the so-called Balti Triangle.

Birmingham Soup

This dish comes from a time when the population of England were dependent on a good harvest for their sustenance. In the late 18th century, a series of bad harvests caused a severe food shortage. In response, Matthew Boulton, one of England’s foremost industrial pioneers, created a broth that was full of nutrients for his workers. The soup was made using vegetables and stewed beef, and then served with bread. The basic recipe has been tweaked over the years, and the modern version involves a long and complicated process, but the end result is a hearty, filling soup.

Pikelets

Pikelets are well known throughout the West Midlands and are an ideal snack or breakfast dish. Technically, there is a difference between a pikelet and a crumpet, and the pikelet is the most popular version in the West Midlands. Made by dropping batter into a pan, pikelets are thinner than crumpets, and they don’t contain the extra baking powder found in the yeast dough of crumpets, so they produce a flatter, more versatile, yet equally tasty option.

Brummie Bacon Cakes

Brummie Bacon Cakes are a relatively obscure West Midlands recipes: savoury scones that feature cheese and crispy bacon. Both tomato ketchup and Worcestershire sauce can be added to the mix, along with milk, to provide extra tanginess. A traditional recipe that was resurrected when it was found in an old cookery book from the Women’s Institute, the Brummie Bacon Cake can be cut in half and eaten with butter at tea time or as part of a hearty English breakfast.

West Midlands Mild

The rise of the artisan brewing industry in recent years has produced a renewed interest in a variety of beer genres, including Bitter, IPA and Lager. But in the West Midlands, Mild has always been the preferred beer. Mild is a low gravity, low alcohol, dark beer that comes in a surprising variety of styles from light thirst quenchers to darker, more subtle flavours. Mild can also be combined with bottled brown ale to create a drink known as Brown and Mild or a Boilermaker.

Frumenty

It was a tradition on Mother’s Day across England for workers and staff to get a day off and visit their mother, taking along what was known as a Simnel cake; a form of light fruit cake topped with balls of marzipan. Tradition had it that in return, they would be given a meal of Frumenty, one of the oldest dishes in England. The word is Latin for ‘grain’ and the dish itself was a form of porridge made from boiled wheat, to which were added a variety of ingredients including sugar, eggs, almonds, plums, currants and milk, making the perfect comfort food.

Pease Pudding

For those who found Frumenty a little too sweet, there was a savoury version, known as Pease Pudding. This was made using peas that had been boiled with bacon or ham, then seasoned with salt and a variety of spices. This was another popular dish in the West Midlands, and often served up on Mother’s Day. It was also sometimes known as Pease Porridge or Pease Pottage.  

Faggots and Peas

Arguably the most famous culinary export from the West Midlands, Faggots and Peas (or ‘pays’ if you’re a local) is definitely a dish that can be described as an ‘acquired taste’. The ingredients are simple, as you’d expect for a dish eaten by impoverished workers in an industrial setting. Pork offal is combined with breadcrumbs, seasoning and onions, before being minced, then shaped into balls and cooked. Faggots are usually served with a rich, meaty gravy, mashed potato and mushy peas.

Pork Scratchings

The humble Pork Scratching, the staple snack in many traditional pubs, are thought to have come from the West Midlands, at a time when it was common for workers to keep a pig or two as an alternative source of food; a remnant of the agricultural heritage that workers brought with them into the cities. It is also a reminder of the importance of the principle that no part of a carcass could be wasted. Highly salted and deep-fried, they go perfectly with a pint or two.

Pigs Trotters

Another dish that will definitely divide opinion is Pigs Trotters. This has long been a classic dish served in the West Midlands and from time to time, it enjoys a revival in the more upmarket restaurants of the region. As well as the nature of the dish, the fact that it needs a long time to prepare can be a deterrent, but at the height of industrial England, this was a warming and filling dish that provided welcome nutrition to hard-pressed workers.

Groaty Dick

An obscure Black Country dish, Groaty Dick is a form of stew made from cereals, beef, onion, leeks, and stock, which is baked together for around 16 hours. Although the end produced wasn’t particularly appetising to look at, the taste was apparently worth the wait. Traditionally, this was a dish eaten in the winter, most commonly on Bonfire Night, and a good way to stave off the cold.

Essex: An Underrated Culinary County

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The south eastern county of Essex doesn’t have the best reputation in the UK, but the brash stereotypes the county is associated with don’t reflect the reality.

Essex occupies a vitally important position geographically, making up the coastline from the Stour to the Thames estuaries, and the traditional county capital at Chelmsford, located roughly in the middle of the county, is itself an important historical site.

Essex extends all the way to the River Lea in the west and southwards to the confluence of the Lea and the Thames, and many areas now considered part of London were historically considered to be in Essex, including the areas of Havering, Newham and Waltham Forest.

The county is essentially flat, a low-lying region, with a coast that is made up of a variety of islands and tidal inlets. The clay soils that predominate in Essex originally supported a huge hardwood forest and early settlers found the soil hard to work until as late as the Iron Age. There is a remaining trace of that forest heritage that can be found today in Epping Forest.

Essex became hugely important to English life when the Romans arrived. It was the home of the Trinovantes, regarded as the most powerful British tribe in the country at the time of the Roman invasion, and the Trinovantes were pivotal in the famous revolut of Boudica in 60AD. After the native tribes were subdued by the invaders, the Roman settlement at Colchester became one of the most important in the newly conquered territory, and there were additional major Roman sites situated at Great Chesterford, Rivenhall and Chelmsford.

Essex’s position also made it a key region during the subsequent invasions of the Saxons and the Danes, and these two sides fought a famous battle at Maldon in 991. The county has also produced many famous historical characters, perhaps the most notable being the former priest from Colchester, John Ball, who was a pivotal character in the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt.

Colchester was the key economic force for Essex, as it became a vital cloth-weaving centre during the Middle Ages, but agriculture become increasingly important to the county’s economy as the marshes to the south east were reclaimed, for this new land proved particularly fertile. With the arrival of the railways, Essex also became a major holiday and retirement destinations, while in modern times, the county has been a popular base for commuters forced out of London by high house prices. Sailing fans enjoy the inlets and coastline of the county as the ideal location for their pastime, while tourists are drawn to the historic market towns of the interior.  

The geological reality of Essex produced a scarcity of stone, making timber the key material used in building in the county during the Middle Ages. This has left a legacy of many remarkable timber-framed houses that survive to this date. From Tudor times, brick was increasingly the material of choice, and the popular Audley Manor is a great example of Tudor Essex architecture.

Over the centuries, Essex has been increasingly affected by the expansion and development of London, particularly as the port of the capital has expanded eastwards, as far as the lower Thames at Tilbury. Major petrol refineries have been built on the Thames marshes, two of which have since been converted to deepwater container ports, while the port of Harwich, in the north east of the county is a vital shipping hub, conveying goods and traffic to Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

Yet despite this closeness to the capital and the extensive development, Essex has kept its rural character, including a wide variety of crops and livestock farms, while numerous market gardens, nurseries and food festivals display the county’s culinary variety.  

Ongar Ham Cake

This is an unusual old English recipe and is rarely seen these days, but it has a long association with Essex. The first available references to the Ongar Ham Cake mention a ‘Veal and Ham Mould’ which is said to be a traditional dish enjoyed in Ongar, Essex.

The original recipe uses minced ham, which is thickened with bread and ale and then bound together with egg. It is variation on the traditional ‘potted’ meats that can be found in various parts of England. The mixture of meat, which was probably also seasoned with pepper, mace and dry mustard, was then pressed into a ceramic pot and baked in a water bath, creating a meat loaf that could be enjoyed  hot or cold and that was a great way to use up scraps and leftovers.

Wilkin and Sons Preserves

The combination of a proud and diverse agricultural base and easy access to shipping has made Essex an ideal exporter of food, and among its most successful local producers is Wilkin and Sons, a company that has been exporting its range of preserves since 1885.

They now export their jams, marmalades and other conserves to over 60 countries, and the company’s mini jars can be found in many of the world’s leading hotels and restaurants, including in China and the Middle East. Their success is rooted in their use of the best quality fruit and their focus on the quality of the final product. The fact that they have held a Royal Warrant from the reigning monarch since 1911 has also helped to boost their reputation. Among their many products worth sampling are Tiptree Honey, Wild Blueberry Conserve and their Salted Caramel Spread.

Maldon Salt

Essex is an perfect location for the production of sea salt, and Maldons has become one of the country’s best known food producers. At one time, Maldon Salt was regarded as such a luxury that it was only stocked by Harrods and Fortnum and Mason. These days it is sold all over the world, an expansion that was boosted by the award of a Royal Warrant in 2012.

Maldon Salt is known for a distinctive appearance and a particularly soft and crumbly texture, which is very different to the standard hard rock salt. It also has a mild and slightly sweet quality that differs from the harshness associated with regular salt, which makes it a more subtle additive when used in most dishes, and which helps to bring out the flavour of your food.

Kelly Bronze Turkeys

Named after owner Paul Kelly, this company has won awards for its remarkable success in developing a thriving export business. The East Anglia region is known for its poultry farming and the company founder learned the traditional methods of turkey farming, before using them to build a brand that exports around the world.

The company focuses on the production of high quality meat, with a distinctive flavour that is completely different to the bland turkeys often found in supermarket shelves, and this focus on quality has ensured a dedicated following and a large global customer base.

Colchester Native Oysters

Colchester has long been seen as one of Europe’s most important areas for oyster production. It is thought that the Romans were the first to farm oysters on a significant scale in Essex, and stocks remained high until the late 1800s. These days, care has to be taken to preserve the supply and oysters are only harvested from September to May from the shallow creeks off Mersea Island.

Colchester Native Oysters are famous for their flat shell and their firm flesh, which offers a rich, salty taste, due to the marsh-dominated environment where they are bred.

Essex Apple Dowdy

English cuisine has plenty of recipes that make use of the abundance of apples produced by the large number of orchards in parts of the country and the Essex version is the Essex Apple Dowdy.

This is a dish made of stewed apples beneath a crust that is broken during the cooking to enable the juices to make a semi-caramelised topping. The apples are then combined with bread and butter, as well as sugar, nutmeg and golden syrup and the top is finally covered with a lid or a plate before it is baked. The result is a delightful, warming dessert that can be served cold or warm.  

Swish Swash

There is a long tradition of mead production in England and one of the most distinctive versions of this sweet alcoholic beverage is Swish Swash, an Essex version of the drink. This particular mead is made with a combination of honeycombs and water, which is then further flavoured with pepper and spices. The result is a delicious warming drink that is perfect on cold winter nights.

Enjoy the Best of Wiltshire Food

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The county of Wiltshire has an important place in the history of England, and has a case for being the most significant archaeological region of the country. The county holds a vast and impressive collection of Stone Age flint and stone tools, which are preserved in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, and is also the site of Stonehenge, with its imposing circles of giant stones, and Avebury, with its fascinating avenues of monoliths, earthwork and enclosed circles. These two sites are know as the largest and most famous megalithic works in Europe.

Wiltshire has been able to keep much of its archaeological tradition due to a long and mostly peaceful history, although it has endured times of conflict, such as the fighting in the years following the departure of the Romans, when Wiltshire was the scene of a bitter struggle between the invading Saxons and the defending Britons. In fact the Saxon conquest of Wiltshire began around 552 AD with the victory of the Saxon leader Cynric against the native Britons at a site near Old Sarum. This opened the way for the Saxons to cross Salisbury plain and four years later, Cynric earned another victory, at Barbury Hill, adding more territory to the West Saxon Kingdom, known as Wessex.

Aside from its involvement in siding with Parliament during the English Civil War, Wiltshire has been mostly untroubled in the centuries since, remaining an agricultural heartland, with its key urban area situated around the town of Swindon. At its peak, Swindon, Wiltshire’s largest borough town was known to be a bustling market place, famous for the widespread selection of cured meats, pork belly and sausage varieties, and cattle were herded from the surrounding countryside to be sold at the huge market.

The association with pigs is a historic one. In fact, the town’s name is believed to have come from the word ‘Swine-toun’, and pigs have grazed in Wiltshire for almost 1,000 years. Surrounded by oak forests and low moorland, the local environment provided locally farmed swine with a rich and organic diet, which produced succulent, textured ham of excellent flavour.

Unlike some English counties, Wiltshire was not greatly impacted by the Industrial Revolution, and although this meant that the county was relatively poor for much of the Victorian era, it also ensured that the region maintained its heritage of agriculture. In turn, this has also led to a rich and varied cuisine. The food that is particularly popular in Wiltshire is largely based around dishes that are both homely and filling, and is strongly influenced by the thriving pig farming industry, though there are many rich and tempting foods associated with the county. Here are some of the best of Wiltshire foods.

Lardy Cake

One of Wiltshire’s most famous products, the Lardy Cake certainly packs in an impressive number of calories per slice as well as more sugar than your average chocolate cake, so we can say this is a product that definitely belongs in the luxury foods section. It is also a testament to the tough lives that were endured by those living in Wiltshire in the 1700s, for whom high fat, cheap food products offered the most effective way to keep up their energy through the long hours working in the fields.

Lardy Cake is made with a relatively simple bread dough, which is then filled with pockets of lard, dried fruits and sugar before being seasoned using spice or cinnamon for extra flavour. The dough is then kneaded into a deep oven dish and baked until it is golden brown. It was often served hot, perhaps with a little milk, if it was available, and is a delicious, hearty and filling dish.  

Devizes Pie

There are many English traditional foods that are an acquired taste and the offal-rich Devizes Pie is certainly one of them. There is some evidence to suggest this pie was being made in the 1400s, but it seems it was lost to the history books for more than 500 years before being revived during the 1960s, and it then reappeared at the Devizes Food and Drink Festival of 2006.

The ingredients include a variety of unusual meat cuts, including calf’s head and tongue. The offal was usually seasoned with plenty of herbs and spices, before it was encased in pastry made from a blend of flour, suet and boiling water, which made a tough, chewy outer shell. Modern versions of the pie usually employ more palatable cuts, such as bacon, veal and ham, and the result is surprisingly tasty.

Wiltshire Bacon

No list of Wiltshire foods would be complete without mention of the famous Wiltshire Bacon, cured in the town of Calne. Bacon curing was a key tradition in Wiltshire but before the 1840s, there had been very little experimentation with different methods of preserving the meat, as most curers opted for the cheap method of using salt to extend the life of the product.

That changed thanks to the Harris curers of Calne. With a reputation as experts, they sought alternative methods that would help preserve the longevity of meat, and improve its flavour. Their most successful experiment involved leaving the bacon to brine for a few days before they added either sugar or molasses to prolong its shelf life. The meat was left to hang in an ice-packed attic during the winter months. The result was a stronger, sweeter and yet more naturally salted bacon that has remained popular throughout England.

Urchfont Mustard

This Wiltshire food product is the unique creation of food tester William Tulberg. A relatively modern condiment, it was influenced by the writings of Surrey-born diarist John Evelyn. In his search for a spicy relish to bring out the rich flavour of pork sausages and pies, Tulberg experimented with a range of recipes before he decided on a chilli-based wholegrain recipe, which is then enhanced with vinegar.

Made with organic, local ingredients, Tracklement Urchfont Mustard caught on well, and is enjoyed across the country. Coming from the small village of Urchfont near Malmesbury, where it was first popular, Urchfont Mustard is a remarkable modern Wiltshire product.

Wiltshire Loaf

The name might put you in mind of a baked dish, but the Wiltshire Loaf is actually a cheese. To be precise, it is a semi-hard cheese, which is smooth and creamy outside and yet crumbly in the centre. Sometimes known by the name of North Wiltshire Loaf, this cheese was at the height of its popularity in the 1700s and early 1800s. It even had a mention Jane Austen’s Emma.

Made in Wiltshire, it was usually transported to London along the Thames. Production of the cheese died out with the arrival of the railways when it became more viable to transport raw milk in bulk instead of small amounts of cheese, but it has seen a revival in recent years thanks to the efforts of the Brinkworth Dairy, which makes it from a hand-written family recipe, and which has landed numerous cheese award including prizes for Best Territorial Cheese and a Gold Medal at the British Cheese awards 

A Foodie’s Paradise: The Taste of Suffolk

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You would be hard pressed to find a more beautiful English county than Suffolk. Nestled on the east of the country, between the counties of Essex and Norfolk, the county of Suffolk encompasses a quite remarkable range of landscapes and scenery, from the beautiful sandy beaches and the dramatic cliffs of the Suffolk coast to the gently rolling hills and broad fields that characterise the west of the county. To the north, Suffolk shares a border with the haunting waterscapes of the Fens and Breckland to the east offers long rows of ancient trees and rich, expansive heathland.

From the beginnings of human activity in the land now known as England, Suffolk has been a thriving part of our civilisation. There is clear evidence of flint mines that date from prehistoric times in the Breckland area, while the famous Mildenhall silver treasure, which is now displayed in the British Museum, reveals to us the wealth of the area at the time of the Roman occupation. Later on, in the era of the Saxons and Danes, the county was part of the kingdom of East Anglia, and throughout this era and the Middle Ages, the sea trade and the wool industry gave Suffolk considerable economic power and influence.  

Horse racing has also added another dimension to the history and character of the county. Although Suffolk is also known for the production of a fine breed of draft horses, which has become known as Suffolk Punch, the county has also earned a reputation as the beating heart of thoroughbred flat racing, ever since royals and aristocrats began to gather on Newmarket Heath in the 17th century, and the town of Newmarket is a hive of equestrian activity.

Tourism has also played a key role in the development of the county over the last two hundred years as visitors have flocked to the area to enjoy the stunning scenery. At the same time, Suffolk has managed to retain its farming character. For many centuries, agriculture has been the lifeblood of Suffolk, which produces a huge variety of crops ranging from cereals and vegetables to dairy, sheep and pork farming, not to mention a thriving seafood industry along the coast.

This combination of tourism and food production has given rise to a fascinating food culture and more recently to a thriving modern food industry. Suffolk is home to countless festivals held every year, such as the Beccles Food and Drink Festival in May and September’s Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival. The county has a strong claim to be one of the best to visit for foodies and fans of artisanal produce. Here is just a sample of the culinary delights that Suffolk has to offer.

Suffolk Sausages

Sausages have long been considered a Suffolk specialty. Perhaps the most famous of the county’s sausage exports is the Newmarket Sausage, which has been awarded the much sought-after Protected Geographical Indication status by the European Union, putting them alongside such English classics as Plymouth Gin and Cornish Pasties. Musk’s Sausages, produced in the county, have also earned Royal approval and the sausage-making industry in Suffolk is celebrated by two separate occasions: the Framlingham Sausage Festival in October and Jimmy’s Sausage and Beer Festival, held every July.

Foggers Pear Cyder

Produced by Stoke Farm Orchards, this Suffolk pear cyder is a heady concoction, and represents the finest of Sussex’s pear cyder brewing tradition. It’s a traditional farm style of cyder, that presents with a golden brown colour and is packed with real orchard flavour. The drink is produced from pears harvested across two acres, made up of Conference, Comice, Beurre Hardy and Williams varieties. The fruit is carefully crushed, pressed, mixed with cider yeasts and is then fermented, before being drained off after eight months and bottled.

Mustard and Pickles

Condiments are a long standing tradition in the eastern counties of England, and there are numerous examples of the craft to be found in Suffolk. One of the most famous examples is Stokes’ Cider and Horseradish mustard, an award winning combination of three long established local flavours, which is best served with pork. And for pickle fans, Suffolk Pickle offers a tangy, fruity combination of pickled vegetables, molasses and spices, which goes perfectly with a lunch of bread, butter and cheese.

Baron Bigod Cheese

Suffolk has a thriving artisanal cheesemaking industry that has been responsible for a variety of celebrated cheeses, from Suffolk Gold and Suffolk Blue to the quirkily named Baron Bigod. The latter cheese is a brie-style product, made from the raw milk of Montbeliarde cows and is aged for up to eight weeks in a cave-like environment. The result is a cheese with a white bloomy rind and a smooth, creamy, and soft texture beneath, creating earthy aromas and a savoury taste. The ideal addition to any lunch, it is best served with fresh crusty bread.

Wyken Bacchus

Wyken Vineyards in Suffolk, has earned a reputation as one of the finest vineyards in the East of England. The vineyard is part of a working agricultural estate with over two decades of wine making success behind it. The eponymous and fragrant Germanic grape variety really thrives on the soil in the area and combined with considerable winemaking skill, produces a sophisticated white wine that offers hints of herbs and apples along with floral aromas, a combination that was good enough to the Wyken Bacchus a 2009 Best White Wine award.

Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale

Greene King are one of the famous brewers in England, with their IPA and Abbot Ale products proving popular across the country. Less well known is the Greene King Strong Suffolk, which actually contains two ales: Old 5X, which is allowed to mature in 100-barrel oak vats for at over two years, and BPA, a dark, full-bodied fresh brewed beer, which is added just before bottling. The result is a punchy, elegant beer packed with alcohol and offering a dark, rich and fruity taste.

Suffolk Mutton

In the Waveney Valley in the area of Bungay, close to the Norfolk border, Pied Bridge Farm has established one of the most celebrated meat producing operations in the county. The farm is well known for the quality of its lamb, but it has also done much to promote the return of mutton, which is technically meat from two year old sheep. Mutton provides a deeper flavour and much more texture than lamb, and the sheep in this region, which are allowed to forage on local pasture offer a distinctive mutton flavour that is worth seeking out.

Suffolk Rusks

Suffolk Rusks are a traditional Suffolk food. They have some similarities to scones but are oven dried, which gives them a crisp exterior and quite dense yet soft interior. The rusk is made using a relatively simple recipe, but the real skill is in the careful preparation and precise baking. Suffolk rusks are twice baked and then divided into two halves after the first bake before being returned to the oven again to harden before they can be eaten, a delicate operation that produces a tasty tea time dish.  

Somerleyton Venison

As with mutton, venison is an old-fashioned product that is enjoying a resurgence in England, and Suffolk has been at the forefront of the revival, thanks partly to the dramatic increase in deer numbers that has been seen in the county in recent years. Venison is one of the healthiest meat options and an interesting and more sustainable option than lamb or beef, versatile enough to be used in a variety of recipes. Somerleyton Estate is the base for one of the county’s leading venison production operations, and they produce a fascinating variety of venison cuts, from speciality cooking cuts to venison sausages and venison pies.

The Culinary Heritage of Northamptonshire

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The county of Northamptonshire is an English region that is sometimes overlooked but it is one of the most beautiful regions of England, with an impressive cultural and culinary tradition. Much of the food that is distinctive from this area of the country reflects the local produce and history of the region, which has always been one of England’s most important and respected agricultural counties.

The county itself is relatively large, and has a wide variety of landscape, which range from the basin of the River Nene in the south to the Northampton Sands that lie on a ridge of low hills. There are woods and well-watered valleys in the county, which was an important early settlement in England, with evidence of pre-Celtic and Roman towns.

The archaeological evidence suggests a strong Anglo Saxon influence in Northamptonshire, with a number of churches in the county that date from the 7th century at the time when it was part of the kingdom of Mercia. Later, Northamptonshire was invaded by the Danes, who may have shaped the boundaries of the shire. These traditional boundaries have remained more or less unchanged since the time of the Domesday Book.

The main feature of the county’s architecture is the impressive variety of country houses and mansions, a group that includes Barnwell Castle, Sulgrave Manor, which was the ancestral home of George Washington and Castle Ashby. St Peter’s Cathedral, in Peterborough, which was once considered part of Northamptonshire, contains a famous Anglo Saxon sculpture, the Hedda Stone, which is 1,200 years old, along with the tomb of Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII.

Although the county was home to a variety of wealthy squires, it largely backed Parliament in the English Civil War, and was also the scene of one of the most decisive battles of the war, at Naseby, in 1645, which effectively ended the Royalist cause.

Although Northamptonshire was not affected in a major way by the heavy industry of the Industrial Revolution, it has developed a distinctive economy, which is notable for a range of smaller industrial centres, including a number of boot and shoe manufacturers, as well as its lace making industry. But the county has also retained its reputation as a rural idyll with several grand country estates, and many areas of pastoral land. This agricultural heritage has produced a variety of fascinating traditional dishes. Here are some of the best to look out for.

‘Ock and Dough

One of the county’s most popular dishes, this can be cooked in many different ways, and each family is likely to have their own twist on it. It was essentially a suet encased mixture made of pork scraps, onions and other vegetables. One method of adding more substance to it was to put the whole hock into the dish rather than just the meat, as the jelly from the hock had a thickening effect on the water and if allowed to get cold, would produce a similar texture to a pork pie. This dish was usually prepared at home and sent to the local baker for cooking in a big oven.

Belflair Chocolate

Northamptonshire has its share of artisanal modern producers, including Belflair chocolates. This company was founded in 2001 and represents the work of a Brussels-trained Master Chocolatier, Stefaan Moyaert and his wife, Mervi, who have established a luxury chocolate business in the south of the county, that has earned an impressive reputation for excellence.

Gourmet Spice Co

Another new local business, Gourmet Spice Co, was created by Mark Hughes in 2011, after he left corporate life to pursue his passion for food. Initially, he produced a range of new products and took them along to a local food festival, and his success there was only the beginning. The range of oils he has produced have proven highly popular in the county and beyond.

Clangers

This is another famous dish from the south of England that comes in a range of varieties. The clanger was widely popular in Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire, particularly with farm labourers. Unlike factory workers, these men didn’t always work near enough to home to get back for lunch, hence the creation of the clanger. It is a pastry-encased pasty, with some similarities to a Cornish pasty, although it had two parts: a meat-based half and a sweet half, usually involving jam, producing two courses in one pasty.

Earls Barton Leek Pie

It has long been a tradition in the Northamptonshire village of Earls Barton to make a leek pie on Shrove Tuesday, a ritual in which the whole village takes part. The leeks were first washed and then fed into the chaff cutter on the village green, before being added with chopped pork and beef to a pastry case, built up in layers of meat and leeks. Gravy was added before the pie top and then the prepared pies were eventually taken to the local butcher for baking. The local pubs in the area still serve similar pies on Shrove Tuesday but these days they can also be enjoyed all year round.  

Long Buckby Celebration Pudding

Made to mark the annual August feast day, this pudding could be made overnight and then served cold, so the cook could enjoy the celebrations. Celebration puddings are a rich product, using bread, suet, milk, eggs, dried fruit, mixed spice and candied peel. As with the Leek Pie, they were made annually in local bakeries, and they were often enjoyed by people who were returning to the village on the celebration day to spend time with their relatives and friends.

Treacle Beer

The recipe for Treacle Beer was created by a Dr James Stonehouse for the Northamptonshire Mercury and published in 1757. At the time there was a severe national shortage of wheat that led to widespread hunger, and Dr Stonehouse was famous for publishing recipes that were designed to help poorer families. Treacle Beer is brewed from barley, hops, boiled water and a substantial amount of treacle, and the result is a memorable dark, strong beer.

Cattern Cakes

Lace making was a prolific cottage industry across Northamptonshire, and St Catherine was the patron saint of the lace makers, so on November 25, St Catherine’s day, lace-makers celebrated by eating rabbit casserole and by taking a drink from the ‘Cattern Bowl’. This feast was concluded with a few Cattern Cakes. Spiced with cinnamon, and lightly fruited, these cakes also contain caraway seeds and the recipe has changed little since Tudor times.  

The Bad Boy Cider Company

Northamptonshire is not known for its cider, but this is a local producer that has been changing that reputation. Founded in 2016, the company uses 100% British apples, specialising in single varieties with the Dabinett apple being the basis for their main original cider. And in keeping with the times, their range of ciders are available to be delivered straight to your door.

Food from the Royal County: The Taste of Berkshire

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Many English counties are known for a particular industry, food or historical event, but in the case of Berkshire, it is best known for its links with royalty. The presence of the Royal residence of Windsor Castle within the county borders has long given Berkshire an association with the aristocracy, and that reputation has been strengthened over the centuries.

Although known as a rural region, the county has a surprisingly varied landscape. At the eastern end, Berkshire is shaped and defined by the Thames and by acres of forested land, including the famous Windsor Forest. In the west, there are beautiful chalk downs, which reach a height of nearly 1000 feet in some places. The county’s proximity to London has also meant that it is connected with multiple railway and road networks to the capital city and is home to many city commuters.

The significance of the county goes all the way back to prehistoric times, when the Berkshire Downs supported a number of prehistoric settlements, many of which were linked by ridgeways, including some that led to Stonehenge in the neighbouring county of Wiltshire. Berkshire also has a major archaeological monument of its own in the Iron Age Uffington White Horse, a dramatic shape that was carved into the chalk of the White Horse Hill.

Archaeologists have also uncovered plenty of evidence of settlements in the river valleys to the east of the county, which date from the Iron Age, while there is a famous Belgic site at Silchester, which later became an important point in the Roman road network through the south of the country.

Berkshire was fiercely contested in the years after the Romans departed, and was alternately claimed by the great Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex with the latter also having a link to Berkshire through Alfred the Great, the first king of England, who was born in Wantage in 848.

After their conquest of England, the Normans understood the importance of the Thames when it came to the economy and to strategic position and this led them to build the original Windsor Castle, which subsequently became the principal residence of the British royal family outside of the capital. Towns such as Wallingford and Abingdon thrived during the Middle Ages, and the famous private school of Eton was founded in Berkshire in the 15th century.

While Berkshire was minimally affected by the Industrial Revolution, its proximity to London has always meant the county has been influenced by events in the capital and over the last two hundred years that has included the various waves of new urban development. The county town of Reading was the centre of much of that development, while Slough became an important industrial location following the end of the First World War. At the same time, a number of towns in the county became significant commuter bases and centres of high technology and software development.

Yet despite these changes, the western half of the county has retained much of its agricultural nature, along with its history of horse racing, associated with the Newbury and Lambourne areas. Cereal crops in particular are an important part of the county’s economy and there is a flourishing food trade, which includes many high-end restaurants promoting the best of Berkshire cuisine.

Eton Mess

Perhaps the most famous of Berkshire’s culinary contributions is a delicious summer dessert that was named after the prestigious public school where it was reputedly created. The story has it that during an Eton versus Harrow cricket match in the late 19th century, strawberries, meringue and a cream pudding were dropped and when the resulting ‘mess’ was scooped up, the result was an extremely delicious and refreshing dessert. Whether that story is true or not, the Eton Mess has become one of England’s best loved sweet treats and the archetypal summer dish.

Windsor Pudding

Windsor Pudding may not quite have achieved the same level of fame as the Eton Mess, but it has plenty of fans in England. It is not clear whether it gained its name purely for being created in Windsor or for the Royal connection, but either way, it is a delicious comforting foods made from breadcrumbs and suet, to which is added chopped apple, currants, raisins, sweet wine and eggs. The whole thing takes around three hours to cook and traditionally it was boiled in a cloth bag, before being served with sugar and white wine sauce.

Wigmore Cheese

This is a delightful, creamy, crumbly cheese that is made in the village of Riseley, on the outskirts of Reading. It’s a semi-soft cheese created from unpasteurised ewe’s milk, and crafted using traditional methods for hand-washed curd cheese, with the result being a vegetarian, natural rind

The curd is handwashed, which means that whey is reduced and the acid minimized, helping the cheese to keep its characteristic smooth texture and gentle taste. Wigmore can be quite crumbly early on, but with age it mellows and matures to a velvety texture, which is similar to Brie, though without the tendency to become runny. Delicious when sampled with a glass of Burgundy, Wigmore has won numerous prizes at the British Cheese Awards.

Berkshire Faggots

Faggots are one of those English dishes that can filed under the heading ‘acquired taste’ but they have been enjoyed by generations of workers all over the country. It is fair to say that the most famous version of the faggots recipe comes from the West Midlands, but the county of Berkshire has its own faggots tradition. Berkshire faggots are made using off cuts of pork, which are then seasoned with sage, pepper, salt and chopped onions, shaped into balls and then baked or stewed, producing a nutritious and filling meal.

Berkshire Bacon Pudding

Sometimes known as Berkshire Bacon Rolly Poly, the Berkshire Bacon Pudding is a tasty made from bacon and onion, which is then wrapped in suet pastry and steamed. There are some variations in the additional ingredients that can be used, with some cooks preferring to add sage to provide a more complex taste, but this stodgy yet filling pastry treat is usually prepared simply and served as a lunch time snack.

Barkham Blue

As well as the award winning Wigmore, Berkshire is home to another popular cheese, produced by the Two Hoots cheese making company. They produce a range of high quality cheeses, having started their business as a hobby, but their most famous is undoubtedly the Barkham Blue. This is a rich, salty blue cheese classic, that has built up a strong following, not just in Berkshire. It has also won several awards including the award for Best Blue Cheese in Britain.

Poor Knights of Windsor

Bearing a similarity to French Toast, this is a dish with a long history. The origin of its name is unclear although similar dishes in other parts of Europe have also earned the name ‘poor knights’. The basic dish is produced with white bread that is soaked in cream and fried with eggs and nutmeg until it is golden, before being served with cream and sugar. The first example of this dish appeared in a cookbook of 1658, which suggested serving it with rosewater, butter and sugar, although there is a later version, from the middle of the nineteenth century that recommends eating it with a wine sauce.

Reading Sauce

There are few more unusual foods in English regional cooking than Reading Sauce. Technically known as Cocks’s Reading Sauce, it was created by the fishmonger James Cocks, who opened his shop in Reading in 1789. By 1802, Cocks was supplementing his fish selling business by marketing the new sauce that he had created with his wife, Ann.

It is roughly in the same tradition as Worcestershire sauce, with a distinctive combination of unusual ingredients, though the taste is entirely different. Reading Sauce features shallots, walnut pickle, anchovies and cayenne pepper, as well as chillies, garlic, mushroom and soy sauce.

Remarkably, this combination of ingredients became a household staple in England and around the world, before it began to decline in popularity in the first half of the 20th century. It famously featured in Jules Verne’s 1872 novel Around The World In Eighty Days, in which the hero, Phileas Fogg, breakfasts on broiled fish with Reading sauce at the Reform Club in London. The sauce has largely fallen out of favour, but it remains part of Berkshire’s distinctive cuisine.

Heavies and Churdles: The Cuisine of Sussex

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Few English counties have been as significant in the history of the nation as the county of Sussex, which has been the site of so many invasions and attempted invasions, with the most famous of all, in 1066, being one of the most momentous events in English history.

The importance of Sussex to England is underlined by the history of the Paleolithic settlements marked by a range of materials found in raised beaches in the region of Slindon and in the river sediment near Pulborough. The county was once home to primitive agricultural communities which endured from the Neolithic era right up to the time of the Romans, particularly on the higher chalk hills, with Whitehawk Hill near the coastal city of Brighton being a particularly notable example.

Sussex can also boast its share of Bronze Age history, including the distinctive round burial mounds which are known as bell barrows and which can be found in sites in the area of Treyford and Worthing, while there are also many Iron Age hill forts near Goodwood, Cissbury, and Lewes. It seems that both timber supplies and iron-ore deposits were the motivation for many of the early settlements, and as the local economy and society grew, Sussex later became an important base of operations for Celtic chieftains, including Cogibdubnus, who was later rewarded by the Romans, with whom he made an alliance, with a kingdom based around Chichester.

After the departure of the Romans, Saxon invaders were the next to arrive in England, coming ashore near Selsey and fighting their way eastward across the region in the 5th century. These South Saxons, from whose name the county title is derived, were later conquered by the neighbouring kingdom of Wessex, but six hundred years later, in 1066, the Anglo Saxon era was ended by the dramatic events of that year, culminating in the arrival of William of Normandy, who fought what is arguably the most important battle in English history, at Hastings following his landing at Pevensey.

Subsequently, the Normans built numerous abbeys and castles in Sussex, including Arundel and Pevensey Castle, and the county flourished with many towns including Chichester, Lewes, Hastings and Rye becoming wealthy, and that trade growth was boosted by the iron industry of the Weald which also flourished. Sussex was largely left untouched by the Industrial Revolution, but in recent centuries, the county’s growth has been driven by coastal development, particularly with tourism, and the resort towns of Bognor Regis, Eastbourne, Worthing and Bexhill have thrived.

This fascinating and distinctive history has given rise to a unique range of local foods, many of them dating from the earliest period of English history. Here is a selection of the best of Sussex cuisine.

Sussex Churdle

The word churdle apparently means pie and it is believed that this derived from the phrase ‘to churn’. The Churdle is a hearty pie that is usually filled with liver and bacon and that was regarded as the ideal lunch for agricultural workers who often needed something nutritious to keep them going throughout a hard day’s work in the fields.

The dish may date back as far as the seventeenth century, and it is made with hot-water crust pastry, which is derived from strong flour. The pie itself is filled up with a distinctive mixture of chopped, lightly cooked liver, bacon, and herbs, and is often supplemented with the addition of apple or mushrooms.

The filling is then placed in a circle of pastry and the sides are pulled up around it and pinched together, before they are topped with a mixture of grated cheese and breadcrumbs. The dish is then allowed to rest in the fridge for a couple of hours and in some versions, overnight, before it is baked and can then be enjoyed hot or cold.

Sussex Bacon Pudding

Sussex Bacon Pudding is another of the county’s hearty traditional local dishes that is believed to date all the way back to the Anglo-Saxon period. The dish is made up of a tasty combination of bacon, onions, sliced apple and a rich, smoky gravy, all of which is encased in a suet crust. Historically, this dish was served along with cabbage as a meal that would keep the agricultural workers of the county warm during the long winter, as it brought together a number of cheap but homely ingredients in a single filling dish that would provide both sustenance and warmth.

Chiddingly Hotpot

There are a number of local variations on the hotpot throughout England, and Sussex also has its own take on the dish, which is named after the town of Chiddingly. Tradition has it that the dish was first created there in 1917, by a man named Edward Shoosmith, and this country dish has continued to be a favourite with diners in the county and the wider south coast region. Essentially, this is a luxurious stew, made out of a combination of cubed beef, sliced potato, celery, olives and spices, which is finally topped with potato slices and then baked.

Sussex Pond Pudding

Every English county has its take on the English dessert tradition and Sussex is no exception. The Sussex Pond Pudding is an extremely unusual steamed or boiled pudding that is made from a rich suet pastry filled with a combination of brown sugar, butter, and a whole lemon.

As the pudding cooks in the oven, the lemon softens and adds its sharp flavour to the butter and sugar which then form a sharp sauce that drizzles from the pudding when it is cut open. Often served at the end of a Sunday lunch, the Sussex Pond Pudding combines a hearty and filling texture with the sharp taste of the lemon for a memorable and delicious dessert treat.

Steak and Kidney Pie

This satisfying and comforting dish is among the most famous of British foods, featuring beef steak and kidneys cooked inside a flaky, buttery pastry shell, and Sussex has a strong claim to be the place where it originated. It was first recorded in 1861, in the famous Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton, and was attributed at the time to a Sussex local.

Originally prepared with a suet pastry, these days the steak and kidney pie is usually produced with butter pastry, and using beef, lamb, or pork kidneys. The combination of soft beef meat, earthy-flavoured kidneys, and rich gravy inside the delicate pastry case have made this pie one of the favourite traditional English delicacies enjoyed throughout the country and overseas.

Sussex Cheeses

Sussex is not as well known as other counties when it comes to cheese making, but this is a pity because you can find some delicious examples of this dairy craft in the county. Sussex Slipcote is a particularly popular type of soft fresh cheese that is available in a variety of flavours, while Sussex Charmer, which has a similar texture to cheddar, also has its fans. The most successful Sussex cheese is probably St Giles. This is a mild and creamy cheese with a distinctive edible orange rind. Produced by the High Weald Dairy, it made the top five at the 2009 World Cheese Awards.

Sussex Plum Heavy

Sussex Plum Heavies were originally made using plain flour, which presumably gave rise to the name, and are essentially a form of scone that was once popular with shepherds, farmers and woodmen. The original version of the Heavy may have employed prunes, and sour milk was also sometimes used, although these days, the main addition to the basic mix is likely to be currants.

Banoffee Pie

Banoffee pie is a relatively modern English dessert concocted from cream, bananas, and toffee on top of a pastry shell or a base made from crumbled biscuits. The name of the dish is a simple combination of the words banana and toffee, and it was created in the 1970s at the Hungry Monk restaurant in East Sussex, by Nigel Mackenzie and Ian Dowding. The dish soon became extremely popular with their regular customers, and that popularity spread throughout the country and the world.