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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.

The Distinctive Flavours of Bedfordshire Cuisine

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It’s one of the smallest counties in England, but Bedfordshire has had a big influence on the history and cuisine of the nation. Situated at the crossroads of the South East, the East and the Midlands, it borders on the counties of Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire and offers a diverse landscape, from the rural north to the city of Luton, which is situated in the south of the county.  

There is a long history of human settlement in Bedfordshire, going back all the way to the beginning of the Bronze Age. In fact there is some evidence to suggest that the Beaker People, who were believed to be immigrants from the eastern Mediterranean region, with a highly developed culture, settled in the area of the Ouse valley in what is now Bedfordshire, around 1800 BC.

When the Romans came to England, they regarded the south of the county of Bedfordshire as particularly important and concentrated their building in the area of Dunstable, which they knew as Durocobrivae, and which went on to become a vital trading centre in the Roman road network.

After the departure of the Romans, the area was invaded by Saxon and later Danish tribes, and it was in fact the Danes who founded the county town of Bedford, although Bedfordshire didn’t get its own distinct identity until it was officially named as a shire in the later Saxon period.

Since then, the county has been defined by two important qualities: its rural traditions and its proximity to London, which has made it the ideal area for many of the landed gentry of England to make their home over the centuries. The county is steeped in history, yet is just 35 minutes from London by train, so is also considered the perfect place for a day out for tourists.

The county boasts a museum dedicated to one of the most significant early writers in the English language, John Bunyan, who wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress. Band leader Glenn Miller took off for his final flight from RAF Twinwood Farm in December 1944, and the site, which is no longer used as an airfield, now hosts the Glenn Miller Museum in the original control tower.

Near Bedford, there are the ever popular attractions of Woburn Abbey, one of England’s most famous stately homes, and Woburn Safari Park. Another stately home, Wrest Park, is the venue for an annual St George’s Day festival, which is held in the Park’s magnificent gardens. The county is also home to two popular transport museums. The Shuttleworth Collection showcases more than 50 aircraft which demonstrate the development of aviation in England and around the world, and the Stondon Transport Museum near Henlow contains a full size replica of Captain Cook’s ship, Endeavour.

Although the south of the county is best known for the town of Luton, with its history of light industry and connections with London, the north of Bedfordshire still retains much of its old rural character, , including the Barton Hills National Nature Reserve, through which runs the Icknield Way, which extends to Norfolk to the north east and Wiltshire to the south west. This rural heritage has also given rise to some fascinating Bedfordshire dishes as well as a culinary culture that continues to add to England’s store of unique dishes to this day:

Willow Tree Gin

The artisanal gin boom of the last 15 years has led to some remarkable English takes on the traditional drink and Bedfordshire is home to one of the most distinctive. Willow Tree Gin is produced in the small hamlet of Thorncote Green, created in small batches from a unique selection of botanicals, which includes herbs freshly picked from a family farm. The ingredients are selectively smoked and this handcrafted gin has a delightfully clean finish.

Apple Florentine Pie

This is among the more unusual desserts in English culinary history. It is essentially a dish of apple slices that is combined with lemon and sugar which is then baked under a paste crust. It sounds similar to an apple pie, but there is an interesting twist. Once the pie is cooked, the crust is removed and cut into portions, and hot ale, spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon, is then poured over the apple filling. The pastry is then replaced and the dish is served.

It seems likely that the Apple Florentine Pie was a traditional Christmas dish, and there is some evidence that it was enjoyed in the town of Potton in Bedfordshire as early as the late 18th century. Modern versions go without the ritual of the pastry and feature the spiced ale in the original filling mixture, but the end result is still a hearty and warming dessert.

Catterning or Catherine Cakes

Another famous Bedfordshire dish, Catterning Cakes were made in order to celebrate St. Catherine’s Day on the 25th of November, though they are sometimes also known as Catherine Cakes after Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, who lived in the county.

St Catherine’s day gave rise to the traditions of Catterning, which have some similarity to those of All Souls Day on November 2nd. They were first mentioned in 1730, and involved beggars or children going from door to door singing and asking for cakes and bread, though sometimes the gifts given were beer and apples. The cakes themselves are similar to scones, but are traditionally made in a swirl pattern and contain dried fruit, spices and carraway seeds. Best eaten warm, they are especially delicious on a winter’s afternoon or eaten with a glass of mulled wine.

Humbers Home Made Preserves

Bedfordshire is the base for a number of successful modern food makers, including Humbers Home Made Preserves, which is based in Flitwick. This small family firm was set up in 2007 by Vickie Humber, a jam-making enthusiast. The business has gone from strength to strength and Humbers now supply their range of jams, curds, chutneys and jellies to a range of local delis, hotels and farm shops, as well as visiting dozens of farmers markets to sell their wares. Humbers have won numerous awards and are a modern day English culinary success story.

Bedfordshire Clanger

We could hardly write about the foods of Bedfordshire without mentioning the most famous export from this part of the world, the Bedfordshire Clanger. Bearing some similarities to the Cornish Pasty, the Bedfordshire Clanger is a traditional dish that dates back to the 19th century and began life as a as a boiled suet pudding with a savoury meat filling at one end and a sweet fruit filling at the other.

It was a popular food with agricultural workers of that era, who could take a Clanger out to the fields and eat it cold during the day. The word Clanger has two possible origins. It may refer to the unusual nature of the dish that combines sweet and savoury foods, which may have been considered a culinary ‘clanger’ by some. It could also come from the local dialect, in which the word ‘clang’ means to eat with a voracious appetite.

As for the Clanger filling, the savoury part is usually made of gammon and potatoes, while the sweet part is filled with fruit jam or stewed apples. These days, short crust pastry is employed rather than suet, and there is a pastry partition separating the two halves. Clangers remain popular in Bedfordshire and can be a filling snack that is almost a complete dinner in one dish.

Bevistan Cheeses

Bedfordshire’s cheese industry is well known and packed with local diversity, but one of the most popular local cheesemakers is the Bevistan Dairy, famous for its sheep cheese. They have a range of cheeses, such as the Bevistan Tomme, which is a versatile cheese well suited to eating with biscuits or for use in many dishes. Bevistan Dairy Smoked Cheese is another popular Beviston product, as well as Carlton Sheep Cheese; an artisan semi-soft cheese that is delicious when baked whole.

Cumberland’s Fine Food History

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Cumberland is a historic English county located at the extreme north west of England. Traditionally, it is considered to be the area bounded to the north by Scotland, and to the east by the historic counties of Durham and Northumberland, and in the south, it joins the counties of Lancashire and Westmorland. Since 1974, Cumberland has been incorporated into the larger county of Cumbria, though you will still often see references to Cumberland.  

The area is home to England’s highest point, Scafell Pike, a 978 metre peak in the Cumbrian Mountains, which serve as the backdrop to the famous and picturesque Lake District. The aptly named Vale of Eden is located at the centre of the county, and in the east of Cumberland, the county capital of Carlisle stands on the northern plain, beyond which are the Pennines, which mark the traditional border with neighbouring Northumbria.

The archaeological evidence indicates that Cumberland was of great significance in ancient times, with the noticeable being the Bronze Age stone circles that were discovered at Little Selkeld and Keswick. The region was also famous for being the site of one of the most remarkable and historically significant building projects of the ancient world, when the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a wall that ran from Bowness on Solway to the settlement of Wallsend in Northumberland, primarily as a defence against invasion from Scottish tribes north of the border.

During the Roman era, Cumberland was occupation by an invading army and over the centuries, it continued to be the site of much upheaval. Christianity came with St Ninian at the end of the 4th Century, and the area of Cumberland continued to be a remnant of pre-Saxon Britain, populated as it was by Celtic-speaking Britons, known as the Cymry or Cymru, who gave their name to the county of Cumberland and later to the country of Wales. 

Cumberland was eventually conquered by the kingdom of Northumbria in the 7th Century, and also suffered badly at the hands of the Danes and Vikings, who attacked the region from their bases in Ireland and the Isle of Man. From the time of the Norman conquest, the county changed hands many times, belonging to the Earls of Northumbria, then the Scots.

Eventually, in 1177, Cumberland was established and incorporated into England, though the bloodshed continued. Wars between England and Scotland, followed by the English Civil Wars and the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745 produced regular battles and upheaval, but in the decades after 1745, peace came to the county. Roads were built or improved, and trade was boosted, as well as tourism, and the Lake District has become one of England’s most popular destinations.

The northern borders have a long and proud tradition of cultural mixing and the result of that is a fascinating culinary heritage, shaped by such factors as life on the rugged moors, hills and coastlines, along with the rural traditions of pastoral valleys, meadows and forests. In the case of Cumberland, that natural diversity combined with a long and turbulent history has led to the development of some tasty and memorable cuisine. Here are some of the highlights of Cumberland food.

Grasmere Gingerbread

There are many version of gingerbread in English cuisine, but the Cumberland version is no ordinary gingerbread. It can probably best be described as strongly ginger-flavoured shortbread which is topped with sugar and gingery crumbs. This delicious dish has been produced in the small Lakeland village of Grasmere since the 1850s, in fact it is still made in the same small building that was once the village school. The recipe itself is a closely guarded secret and this form of gingerbread is only available through the shop, but it is a delicacy to be savoured if you can get it.  

Kendal Mint Cake.

 Another famous Cumberland products, Kendal Mint Cake is a glucose-based sweet, that is flavoured with peppermint. According to this food’s legend, it is the result of a Kendal sweet maker taking his eyes off the cooking pan while he was making clear mints. The result was that the mint mixture became cloudy, rather than clear, and when this was poured out, the result was the first Mint Cake. It has been made in Kendal since 1918 and is extremely popular among climbers and mountaineers throughout the UK as a quick and easy source of energy. In fact, Sir Edmund Hilary and Sirdar Tensing, who became the first men to climb Everest, ate Mint Cake on top of the mountain, something that further increased its popularity as a snack among climbers.

Salt Marsh Lamb

Lambs that can graze on the salt marshes in the region of Cartmel, close to the edge of Morecambe Bay have the chance to eat the wild grasses and herbs including marsh samphire and sea lavender, which are untreated by chemicals. The result is a meat that has more flavour than traditional lamb that is sold elsewhere in the UK, and there is a strong demand for it throughout the UK.

Cumberland Damsons

The fertile valleys of Cumberland are particularly well known for their fruits and the Lyth and Winster Valleys between Kendal and Windermere are famous for the quality of their damson orchards. This is the home of the Westmorland Damson, which is used in a wide range of various damson products including Damson Gin. The Westmorland Damson is technically a member of the plum family, possibly a type of Shropshire Prune, but has been altered by the unique conditions in Westmorland and through pollination by wild plants. The result is a delicious fruit with a taste that is second to none.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky toffee pudding is a quintessentially English steamed dessert that consists of a very moist sponge cake, made with finely chopped up dates or prunes, which is then covered in a toffee sauce and is often served with a helping of vanilla custard or vanilla ice-cream. The dessert’s origins are something of a mystery, but according to tradition, it was created by Francis Coulson at the Sharrow Bay Country House Hotel on the shore of Ullswater in 1960. This dessert is popular everywhere in the UK and the town of Cartmel is known to sell some of the best sticky toffee pudding.

Cumberland Sausage

Cumberland sausage is not just a popular Cumberland food product, but one of the best known of all English foods. The sausage is traditionally very long, and is presented as a flat, circular coil. The sausage itself is made with only natural ingredients and selected cuts of pork, and the meat is usually chopped rather than minced, so it produces a distinctive chunky texture.

The seasonings used in its preparation vary according to which producer is making the sausage, and the finished sausage meat is then put into natural pork casings. The Cumberland Sausage has such a reputation that in 2011, it became one of a handful of English food products to earn Protected Geographical Indicator status from the EU.

Welcome to the Hearty Foods of Hampshire

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Hampshire can claim to be one of the bigger counties of England, and it features a variety of scenery and landscapes ranging from broad chalk downs to the heaths and woodlands of the north and south of the county. And in the Solent, it boasts one of England’s most important waterways.

The region has long been heavily involved in the development of England. There were widespread prehistoric settlements in the area, and it is also possible to find the remains of Bronze Age farms and Iron Age hill forts in the county. Historians believe that at one time there was considerable trade between the region and the European continent, and the town of Christchurch was at the heart of much of this economic activity.

Hampshire was among the first areas conquered by the Romans when they came to England and they went on to create important settlements at Silchester and Winchester, as well as founding the town of Southampton, which in later centuries become one of the biggest ports on the south coast. The Romans were also responsible for building many villas in the county. The legacy of their involvement in Hampshire is evident in the town walls at Silchester and Porchester Castle, parts of which date from the Roman era and Silchester is still an important site of Roman artefacts.

As the Roman influence declined, the county came under attack from Saxons and Jutes, and by the time of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 755, Hampshire had become the base of the kingdom of Wessex, the powerful territory that played such a pivotal role in defeating the Vikings and uniting the English nation.

Hampshire has enjoyed a relatively peaceful existence since Medieval times and has thrived from its combination of a strong agricultural tradition and a thriving import and export trade based on the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth. Dairy and corn remain the mainstays of modern agriculture in the county, but there is also a thriving market garden sector, and the county can boast large areas of woodland, most notably in the former Royal hunting area of the New Forest.

Hampshire has a great deal to offer the keen foodie, not least in July’s four-week celebration of the county’s food. Much of the county’s food culture is based around Winchester, which not only boasts an impressive cathedral, it is also the location of the largest farmers’ market in Europe, held every two weeks, which provides an impressive array of all the food and drink that Hampshire has to offer.

The depth of food options available in Hampshire is underlined by the remarkable success of the village of Stockbridge. The high street of this small village features a host of highly regarded eateries, including butchers, delis and greengrocers. The nearby River Test makes a contribution, in the form of a steady supply of trout and there is a notable local smokery.

Back in Winchester, the thriving restaurant scene draws diners from across the county and the south of England to enjoy the finest modern cooking. Hampshire has done better than most counties when it comes to bringing together the old with the new and produces food and drink that is steeped in tradition, yet which offers plenty of appeal to the modern palate. Here are just a few of the foods for which the county of Hampshire is well known:

Rasher Pudding

The New Forest territory in Hampshire has long been the ideal territory for raising pigs, as there have always been plentiful acorns and vegetation to forage through. For the families who lived there, pigs were often a valuable source of sustenance, which led over the centuries to the development of some distinctive local dishes, including Rasher Pudding.

This unusual dish is formed from a suet dough, which is then covered with bacon rashers, onion slices and sage, before finally being rolled into a sausage shape and boiled over a stove. The attraction of stove-simmered puddings was the fact that they were easy to make and that they could be left to cook for hours while families were working or foraging in the forest.

Tunworth Soft Cheese

Hampshire has not always been known for its cheese, although it has a strong dairy tradition, but a number of modern cheesemakers have been helping to raise the profile of the county with some award-winning examples, including the famous Tunworth Soft Cheese.

This cheese was created by Stacey Hedges, who learned the cheese making art while working at a cheesemongers and who came up with the idea of producing a version of Camembert. Basing her operation near the hamlet of Tunworth, she began to make Tunworth Soft Cheese using traditional techniques, which include the use of hand-ladling and slow acidification, as well as specialised moulds and yeasts. The result is a delightful cheese with a rich flavour that has landed numerous prizes including Supreme Champion award at the British Cheese Awards in 2006 and 2013.

Lyburn Gold

Another famous Hampshire modern cheese comes from the Lyburn farm, which is on the northern edge of the New Forest, along the Blackwater river. The farm has been run by the same family for more than fifty years and is located in some of the most beautiful countryside in England, rich with ancient oak woodlands, heather and gorse.

The farm makes several popular cheeses, and their Lyburn Gold has proven to be one of the most successful. It is a washed cured cheese that offers an unusual degree of creaminess for a traditional hard cheese. In fact, it can be considered as closer to continental cheese such as a Gouda than an English cheese, and is matured for 8-12 weeks, though it is often described as semi-hard because it doesn’t fully set until after ten weeks. Ideal for melting, it has also won its share of prizes.

Rother Valley Organic Steaks

Rother Valley is a family run farm and butchery, that switched over to organic farming in the early 2000s. At around the same time, they began to focus on the breeding and selling of the famous Aberdeen Angus cattle, thanks to a deal to sell beef to Waitrose. The farm has since extended its range to other meats, and runs a successful meat box scheme, that delivers organic chicken, beef burgers, meatballs and beef burgers, to homes around the country, although they are perhaps best known for their grass-fed Aberdeen Angus steaks.

King John Ale

Andwell Brewery is a thriving riverside micro-brewery that was set up in the hamlet of Andwell and which specialises in real ales, lagers and IPAs. They focus on employing the best possible ingredients to make a high quality product, and their King John Amber Ale is one of their most popular.

This is a pale ale that draws its name from the castle that was built in 1207 by King John and situated near the site of a previous version of the Andwell Brewery. In fact, the castle holds the distinction of being the place from where King John rode out to sign the Magna Carta.

The beer made in his name is certainly memorable. It offers a deep amber colour and contains a blend of crystal malt and pale ale, while the combination of hops in this brew makes a bitter, fruity aroma.

Hyden Farm Cured Bacon

Another Hampshire producer that has chosen to focus on organic methods is Hyden Farm. Hyden produces most of their own meat, although they will buy in chicken and beef from other trusted farms where this is required. They produce a full range of meat products, that includes lamb, organic fillet steaks and Aylesbury duck, but perhaps their most popular products is their Cured Bacon. This bacon is cured by hand with cider and bay. The curing process also involves the use of high quality juniper berries, and with no artificial preservatives, this salty bacon is a delicious organic breakfast treat.

Caramelised Red Onion Chutney

Winchester is the food capital of the Hampshire, and it is home to a thriving food producing scene, which includes the remarkably successful Hampshire Chutney Company. This producer uses locally sourced fruit and vegetables, bought from gardeners, allotment holders, farmers and wholesalers, and provides a great example of how modern food companies can work with suppliers in a mutually supportive relationship. They produce a fabulous range of jams, marmalades and chutneys, and their delicious caramelised red onion chutney is ideal with meats and picnics.

Watercress

Hampshire is particularly notable for its watercress. The plant is indigenous to the county, growing freely because of the many clear streams in the area and from the early 1800s locals began cultivating it commercially. At one point, in 1890, there were a total of five watercress growing operations along the river Arle at Alresford, and that town remains the heart of the county’s watercress growing. At one time, the crop was sent by stagecoach to London, but later was transported by train along the so-called Watercress Line, which still carries tourists to this day.

The Fascinating Foods of Hertfordshire

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Those English counties that surround the metropolis of London can sometimes be overshadowed by the enormous cultural and economic influence exerted by the capital, but all of them can boast a rich and distinctive history, including the county of Hertfordshire, situated to the north west of London.

This is a county located in what is known as the London Basin and much of the area of Hertfordshire effectively drains south to the Thames River through the county’s two main rivers: the River Lea in the east and the River Colne in the west. Both rivers have carved out valleys that have been the setting for many settlements throughout history, including the early creation of water storage pits.  

Although the countryside of the county of Hertfordshire has been eaten away by the irresistible expansion of London, the scenery retains much of its gently rolling character and it also features some of the country’s most interesting archaeological history. There are a number of sites of historical interest in the county, including excavations dating from the Neolithic, the Bronze Age and the Belgic. Above all, the county was shaped in the early centuries by the Romans.

Many of the roads that the Romans built from London, including Ermine Street and Watling Street, went straight through the region and each was marked by a variety of important settlements, including St Albans, known as Verulamium by the Romans. The site was later developed by the Saxons for an important abbey, which was then rebuilt by the Normans and became St Albans cathedral.

Outside of the centre of St Albans, Hertfordshire developed in a familiar way that will be recognisable for anyone with a passing awareness of the southern English counties. The area was the base for a variety of country estates, which included Hatfield and Knebworth, as well as thriving towns Hertford and Hitchen, which were the bases for popular local markets.  

Although the county has always been a strongly agricultural region, Hertfordshire was not entirely able to resist the effects of modernisation and it saw some significant changes in the 20th century, most notably with the construction of two new cities: Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City, as well as four of the eight towns built around London at the end of the war. While this development continued, the transport links between London and Hertfordshire were growing rapidly, and as travelling became quicker and easier, Hertfordshire became a commuter hub.  

Like many rural and agricultural parts of England, the pandemic has impacted Hertfordshire significantly, but the resilience of Hertfordshire producers has been impressive and they will be a key factor in rebuilding after what has been a difficult eighteen months. The county of Hertfordshire has a long and proud history to draw upon and a distinctive variety of local foods.

Cure and Simple

The difficulties of the last few months have placed extra value on the ability to get your food delivered, and one local business in Hertfordshire has proved particularly popular. Located in Great Hormead, Cure and Simple are expert bacon and pork providers. Their pork is spiced with a host of home recipes and includes such mouth watering options as Black Treacle and Whisky Smoked.

All of their bacon is cured using traditional methods to produce streaky, back and steaks that require no additional water to make them bigger. The business operates on a club basis and can deliver your preferred bacon choices direct to your home.

Braughing Sausages

Hertfordshire’s long history of family food producers has not only provided valuable income for local communities, it has also produced some distinctive local food products.

A classic example is Braughing Sausages. This meat product was created in the early 1950s by the  butchers Douglas and Anna White. Their sausages proved to be so popular that they caught on throughout Braughing and East Hertfordshire and beyond the county. The recipe for Braughing Sausages remains a closely guarded secret, but apparently has not been altered since it was devised and even though the business is under new ownership, the sausages are still made in the old way.

Cream of Cucumber and Green Pea Soup

Bringing together cucumber and pea is not the most obvious option for soup, but in fact this dish was an extremely popular food with people in Hertfordshire at the start of the twentieth century, and in many ways it represents the proud agricultural tradition of the county and its farms and markets.

The recipe actually has its origins in a range of reforms made to the diet of those who lived in the county’s workhouses: notorious institutions set aside for the poor and homeless. In 1900, the Local Government Board reformed the diet of the workhouses, and in 1901, they published the first official workhouse cookery book, which included a range of new dishes for greater nutrition.

One of those dishes was pea soup, but individual workhouses were allowed to exercise some discretion over the addition of new ingredients, which is why cucumbers came to be added. Why cucumbers though? Well, Hertfordshire was one of England’s leading market garden centres and cucumbers were and remain a particular speciality. In fact, the county was famous for its fields of cucumbers and the crop is still a vital part of the agricultural economy of the Lea Valley. The combining of cucumber with green peas created a refreshing and nutritious soup that is still enjoyed in the county and across the south of England.

Pope Ladies

English cuisine is no stranger to unusual sweets, but few cakes are odder than the Pope Ladies of St Albans. These are sweet cakes that are distinctively flavoured with rose or almond water, and traditionally are made into the shape of human figures, complete with dark fruits for eyes.

The origins of the Pope Ladies are not clear, but in 1900, a Reverend Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer suggested one possible source in his book British Popular Customs. He told the story of how a clock-tower light in the city led a wealthy lady and her servants to safety and out of gratitude, she paid the local monastery to make and produce cakes for the populace on the same day every year.

Another suggestion comes from the myth of Pope Joan. Legend has it that Joan was a woman who served as Pope for a number of years in medieval times, having posed as a man. The story has it that her true sex was revealed only when she gave birth and that the cake was made in honour of her.

Other suggestions include the idea that the dough cakes were originally eaten by Romans at their Saturnalia festival, while others maintain that they are a variant on the popular hot cross bun, yet made to resemble the Virgin Mary. Whatever the truth of their origin, Pope Ladies are a delicious sweet treat enjoyed throughout the county.

Veal Kidney Pie

England can offer many examples of offal-linked foods, and while these are not always popular with the modern consumer, you don’t have to go back far in history to find a time when they were enjoyed by people of all classes.

Veal kidneys are an unusual choice, but they are said to possess a rare and distinctive taste that includes more sweetness than you will find in the traditional kidneys used for pies. Veal kidney pie was often made with root vegetables such as turnips and potatoes, and as a result offered a rich and nutritiously valuable dish for agricultural workers and townsfolk alike.

Pork Plugger

Pork recipes are popular throughout England, but the Pork Plugger, although it has some similarities to the famous Clanger of the neighbouring county of Bedfordshire, is a distinctive Hertfordshire take on the always-popular combination of pork and pastry. The Pork Plugger is essentially a mixture of chopped bacon and onion that has first been steamed and then wrapped in a suet paste roll. It takes a while to prepare this dish, but as locals will tell you, it is well worth the wait! The Pork Plugger is particularly associated with Bishop Stortford, one of the county’s most important market towns.

Hasty Pudding

The Hasty Pudding is another dish from Hertfordshire that has a long and fascinating history. In fact there is evidence that a dish of the same name existed as far back as the 16th century. It was made using wheat flour that was first cooked either in water or boiling milk until it reached the consistency of porridge. The dish was remarkably versatile and it could be made with bread, eggs and sugar or with a blend of raisins, currants, butter and cream, and it was even famous enough to earn a mention in the first edition of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary in 1755.

More than Worcestershire Sauce: the Flavour of a Fruit-Growing County

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The famous old county of Worcestershire lies at the intersection between the West Country, the picturesque scenery of Cotswolds, the industrial areas of the West Midlands and the border with Wales, and it is this varied heritage, together with the variety of agricultural environments that can be found in the county that have given it such a fascinating culinary history.

At the heart of Worcestershire you will find a fertile lowland plain, which is drained by the rivers Avon and Severn, as well as by their tributaries, the Teme and the Stour. In the west the county of Worcestershire borders Herefordshire, and in the south west, touches on the Forest of Dean. To the south is the neighbouring county of Gloucestershire, and this region is known for its clay soil that is ideal for both market gardening and fruit orchards. To the south east lie the Cotswolds, while the north of Worcestershire borders on the heart of industrial England.

In prehistoric times, this part of England was heavily wooded and as a result it has produced fewer sites of prehistoric settlement than many other counties, although exceptions exist, most notably the Iron Age earthworks discovered among the Malvern and Bredon Hills.

The Romans settled in the county, mainly around the town of Worcester, and after they departed, Worcestershire was occupied by the Anglo-Saxon Hwicce tribe. The tribe eventually created its own diocese, based on Worcester, which over the decades developed into a crucial trade and military hub between Wales and England, as well as one of England’s most important ecclesiastical bases. Eventually, it was absorbed into the Mercian kingdom and was the scene of prolonged conflict between the Danish invaders and the Anglo-Saxons.

During the Middle Ages, monastic life was central to Worcestershire, which included as many as thirteen monastic establishments by the 13th century. The monks of Evesham and Pershore may have been responsible for starting the traditions of growing flowers, fruits and vegetables in the fertile Vale of Evesham. At one point, the church owned more than half the land in the county, which helps to explain why landed aristocracy was not as entrenched in the county as it was in some regions.

To this day, Worcestershire is known for its heritage of architecture dating from the Middle Ages, which include the ruins of Benedictine abbeys in both Pershore and Evesham, along with a remarkably well-preserved priory church in Malvern, while Worcester Cathedral, which was completed in the 14th century, draws visitors to the city from all over the UK and beyond.  

Worcestershire has had its share of English history. Two of England’s most important battles were fought in the county. In 1265, at Evesham, Simon de Montfort was killed by the forces of Edward who then became Edward 1, and it was at Worcester in 1651 that a Parliamentary army commanded by Oliver Cromwell defeated the Scottish army that supported Charles II, ending the Civil War.

Up until the 17th century, the city of Worcester and much of the south of the county were responsible for its prosperity, thanks to the production of wool and woollen cloth, but coal and iron had long been mined in the north, and as the new canals and then railways opened up the region, the northern borders of Worcestershire were affected by some of the dramatic change of the Industrial Revolution.

Although there are several large commuter populations in the north of Worcestershire, and some light industry in Redditch, Kidderminster and Worcester, the county has a flourishing agricultural sector. Fruit and vegetables are grown throughout the south, together with cereals and dairy. Fruit canning, cider production and milk processing are also widespread, and there is a thriving farmers market and farm shop sector, along with artisanal producers of beer, cheese and wine, all of which exemplify the diversity and richness of Worcestershire’s culinary heritage.  

Vale of Evesham Asparagus

The south of Worcestershire is famous for its fruit and vegetables, and Vale of Evesham asparagus is among its main exports. Grown exclusively in this area, and produced only between April and July, this sough after vegetable is shaped like a spear and can be harvested at lengths of up to 22 cm. It can be eaten raw, when it has a brittle, crunchy texture, but it is particularly tasty when cooked. The vegetable is so important in Worcestershire that there is an annual festival, called Asparafest, held every June, in order to celebrate the Asparagus harvest.

St Oswald Cheese

St Oswald is a traditional English cheese made in Broadway, in the Cotswolds. This tasty product is made using cow’s milk and is left to age for as long as three months. The result is a cheese that has a sticky rind but underneath is soft and supple. St Oswald has an array of pungent aromas and rich, full flavours, including a strong hint of onions. As the cheese ages, the flavours become stronger, and this is a perfect food to match with a full-bodied red wine.

Worcestershire Plums

Over the last few decades, Worcestershire has become famous for its plums and the Vale of Evesham in particular is synonymous with plum growing. Several plum varieties originated in the county, including the Pershore plum. It came from a chance seedling found in Tyddersley Wood near Pershore around 1871 and went on be a widely propagated plum, admired for its hardiness and disease resistance.

It is oval in shape with a very firm, dry, yellow flesh that has an almost mealy texture and is ideal for cooking, jam making, canning, pies and tarts. At one time it was the main plum of the jam and canning industries around Evesham. It has a short shelf life, but is well worth seeking out.

Double Worcester Cheese

Double Worcester is basically a Worcestershire version of the famous Double Gloucester but with a fresh taste of its own. This cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s milk together with annatto and is usually aged for up to seven months. Underneath the hard natural rind, the cheese has a firm and flaky texture and it has an array of complex flavours including citrus and nuts. Double Worcester has become a big favourite in England and won a silver medal at the 2001 British Cheese Awards.

Malvern Cheese

This is a traditional English cheese made in the Severn Valley close to Malvern. It is made using raw sheep’s milk and has a texture that is semi-hard and dry, that stays creamy and dense on the palate, with a mix of intriguing sweet, herbaceous flavours. Generally aged for up to four months, it has a relatively high fat content, so is best eaten sparingly, but is delicious grilled or grated over salads and pastas, and won a silver medal at the British Cheese Awards back in 1997.

Worcestershire Sauce

Perhaps Worcestershire’s most famous export, Worcestershire sauce is a pungent and savoury sauce that is made mainly from anchovies fermented in vinegar. To this base is added a range of other ingredients, including chili, garlic, sugar, onions and salt. It was created in Worcester by chemists John Wheeley Lea and William Perrins who were asked by Lord Sandys, the Governor of Bengal, to produce a recipe he brought back from India. Their attempt to recreate the sauce was regarded as a failure and the results were kept in a cellar, but when they subsequently tasted it, they were amazed at the distinctive flavour and began selling it in 1837.

To this day, the precise recipe remains a secret, but bottles are sold all over the world, and the sauce is used in everything from Bolognese sauce to Bloody Mary cocktails.

Worcester Pearmain

England is known for its many varieties of apples and Worcestershire is home to many orchards and fruit varieties. One of the county’s most popular apple varieties is the Worcester Pearmain. This is an early season apple that was cultivated by a Mr. Hale of Swanpool, back in 1874. It was once the most popular of the early autumn harvest apples in England and is still popular today.

Used widely in apple breeding, this red fruit has a taste that is almost strawberry-like and its smooth, sweet taste makes it perfect for eating fresh or for use in stewed apple recipes, while the trees also produce beautiful blossoms. The Worcester Pearmain earned national recognition in 1993 when it was granted the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.  

Malvern Gold Cider

The proud orchard heritage of Worcestershire has led to a thriving cider industry, and the county has created one cider in particular that has been enjoyed around the world. Malvern Gold, created by the Malvern Cider Company, which owns an orchard at Crumpton Oaks Farm, to the north of the town, won first prize at the World Cider Awards in 2019. A medium-dry style of cider, produced from a combination of Yarlington Mill, Dabinett and Three Counties apples, it offers lots of depth and flavour and is completely organic, made without the use of any artificial ingredients.

The Dairy Farm of England: Devon’s Food Heritage

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The county of Devon is both one of the oldest counties in England, and also one of its biggest, geographically speaking. The territory is believed to have been one of the first parts of the country to be settled after the end of the last Ice Age. The area of Dartmoor contains some of the oldest buildings in England with more than 500 Neolithic sites, making it a crucial county for archaeologists and those interested in understanding more about England’s history.

Devon probably got its name from translations of the name of the most numerous Celtic tribe in the area, the Dumnonii, or ‘deep valley dwellers’ and after the Roman invasion, it was regarded as one of the most important territories in this part of the Empire. The Romans stayed in Devon for 300 years, and after they departed, it formed part of the Kingdom of Dumnonia, which lasted until the Anglo Saxons secured control of the area by the late 9th century.

Alfred the Great took steps to fortify the county to protect it against Viking raids, and over the next few centuries, the county was the scene of many battles and raids from the French as rival Norman and Plantagenet monarchs and nobles fought for territory. Throughout, Devon has sustained itself largely through sea trade, mining and rural activities, although during the 20th and 21st century it has also developed a thriving tourist trade, drawing visitors from all over the UK and the world.

Devon is famous for its mariners, particularly those of the Elizabethan era, including Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake, thanks to the port of Plymouth. It was at Plymouth that Drake famously continued to play bowls after the Spanish Armada had been sighted and this was also the port from where the Mayflower set sail, bound for the New World.

Along with the long history of sea trade, Devon has also been sustained by its ample deposits of lead, silver, manganese, iron ore and copper, all of which have attracted miners and prospectors over the centuries, though these had largely been worked by the end of the 19th century.

The backbone of the county’s culture, however, has long been its dairy industry. Devon’s low lying pastures in combination with its mild year-round climate ensures that the fields and meadows in this area are rich grasses, high in nutrients, which in turn ensures that the quality of the milk that is produced by local herds is of the highest quality. The result is that Devon can claim to be the dairy capital of England, with a range of tasty dairy products becoming popular nationwide.

As well as the thriving dairy industry, Devon also has a long tradition of growing seasonal berries, which are usually in strong demand by supermarkets, all of which helps to preserve the heritage of fruit farming in the county. The traditional Devon approach to farming also means that crops and produce grown in this part of the world have a reputation for wholesomeness and great flavour.

Not surprisingly, then, Devon’s food festival calendar is among the most popular and busiest in England. Exeter Food Festival is one of the largest in the county, held in April every year. It is an ideal venue for showing off the best of local foods and you can often find celebrity chefs travelling down to Devon to take part. There is also a host of smaller festivals worth visiting, including the Clovelly Herring Festival, the Sausage and Cider Festival in Honiton and South Devon Crab Month.

The county of Devon is home to some of the tastiest and best loved foods in England, with a strong dairy flavour. To help you get started on exploring this county’s culinary heritage, here are some of the most interesting dishes and food products to look out for.

Harbourne Blue

The fascinating dairy tradition of Devon has led to a rich variety of cheeses and one of the most loved is Harbourne Blue. Produced close to Totnes, it is made from pasteurized goat’s milk, and has a remarkably distinctive natural rind along with a delightful crumbly texture, which often reveals pale light blue veining. This tasty cheese is also known for its floral aromas, and for its intriguing variety of flavour, that appears to vary with the seasons. A real luxury cheese, Harbourne Blue is quite a treat and is often best savoured with a glass of port or Sauternes.

Vulscombe

This is another popular Devon cheese that comes from the Tiverton region. A rindless cheese, like Harbourne Blue, it is made using pasteurized goat’s milk and it has a creamy, soft texture, a herby aroma and a mild taste that offers a hint of spice. Interestingly, although it is available in a plain version, Vulscombe can also be found in a variety of flavours, including versions that are flavoured with herbs and garlic, sun-dried tomatoes or black peppercorns. And all the herbs used to make the cheese are picked from local gardens.  

Ticklemore

Ticklemore may be the most famous of Devon cheese. Made in the south of the county, by Ticklemore Dairy, it is a semi-hard goat’s milk cheese, with a pleasant and natural white rind that surrounds a crumbly, open, though firm-textured cheese. The cheese is hand-pressed into a colander, which leaves it with the shape of a squashed sphere. It is then dry salted and allowed to mature for a full ten weeks, with the result being a delightfully fragrant cheese that gives off a mild and grassy aroma, along with complex flavours of herbs, lemon and mushrooms.

Beenleigh Blue

Another product of the Ticklemore Cheese Dairy, this tasty blue cheese is made from pasteurized sheep’s milk and is based on a Roquefort recipe. Produced between the months of January and July using the milk of Dorset-Friesland sheep, it is then matured for a full six months.

The result is a striking cheese with a white, grey, and blue rind, which has a dense, smooth, crumbly yet moist texture, with nutty aromas and flavours that are both salty and spicy and with a hint of burned caramel. A perfect luxury cheese, it goes well with port, mead or a glass of merlot.

Hog’s Pudding

This is certainly one of the more unusual delicacies to be found in English cuisine. Hog’s Pudding is a sausage-like dish that features a strong spicy flavour thanks to the use of a variety of herbs and spices that include basil, garlic, cumin, and black pepper. The sausage is traditionally made from pork meat or offal, along with pork fat, bread, suet, pearl barley or oatmeal. The ingredients are stuffed into an ox gut casing, and the sausage fried, although it is sometimes oven-baked.  

Curworthy

Curworthy is another popular cheese originating from Devon, where it has been crafted at the Stockbeare Farm since the late 1980s. This cheese is made using cow’s milk and it has a natural rind as well as a fresh aroma and a creamy, supple texture, complemented by buttery flavours.

When it is aged, the cheese takes on even more flavour and mellowness, and the good news for fans of this cheese is that there is a range of Curworthy types, the most popular of which is called Devon Oke. The cheeses can all be found in specialist cheese shops and local farmers markets.

Devonshire Custard

Of the multiple dairy-related products that come from Devon, among the most popular and enduring is Devonshire Custard. A famous Devonshire brand, Ambrosia, was set up in Lifton and although this is now part of a major food producing corporation, the custard is still made at the same village creamery that was built in 1917. Unlike traditional custard, which came to England via France in the Middle Ages, Devonshire custard does not use eggs. Instead, it is made using fresh clotted cream and  cornflour with the result being a versatile consistency and a delicious buttery flavour.

Devonshire Split

Devonshire split is a long established form of sweet bun that originates in the county. The buns are traditionally made from a combination of flour, salt, sugar, yeast, butter, along with milk or cream. Once the dough has been made, it is divided into small round buns that are then baked until the crust of the buns becomes pale and golden.

The buns are often rubbed with butter as well as icing sugar and the result is a bread that is light and slightly sweet. Devonshire splits are traditionally split and filled with clotted cream and jam.

Devonshire Cream Tea

As any visitor to Devon will tell you, no trip to this part of the world is complete without trying one of the region’s famous Cream Teas. The story of the Cream Tea indicates that it goes back to the Benedictine monks of Tavistock Abbey. Following the defeat of the Vikings in A.D 987, the local monks employed a team of builders and craftsmen to carry out the extensive rebuilding work on the Abbey. The work was difficult, and the weather was hot, and the monks made a snack of bread, Devonshire clotted cream and raspberry jam to enable the workers to maintain their energy.

The combination proved hugely popular and has been enjoyed by millions of visitors to the region. Scones are the usual basis for the cream tea, though Devonshire Splits (see above) are also a popular Cream Tea option.  

Deep Fried Cheeses

This popular Devon specialty brings together the two areas of food the county is most known for: fresh berries and dairy produce. It can be produced using a variety of cheeses but typically it is made from one ounce portions of a number of different cheeses, which are then coated in a mixture of flour, egg and breadcrumbs. The coated cheeses are deep fried until they are crisp on the outside, while retaining their shape inside. The dish is usually accompanied by a gooseberry sauce which creates a delicious contrast between the creamy cheese and tangy berry flavours.

A Roman Heritage: The Food of Cheshire

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Cheshire may be one of the smaller counties in England, but it is renowned as one of the most beautiful and it has a long history as one of the most important areas in the nation.

Effectively sandwiched between the West Midlands and the industrial hub of the south Lancashire and Manchester region, Cheshire has sometimes been overlooked, but this proud county has a distinguished history, which goes all the way back to the time of the Roman occupation.

Although the Romans left their mark in many locations around England, their presence in this part of the west of England produced some of the most remarkable structures and ancient history. The Romans were in occupation of the county of Cheshire for almost 400 years, from 70 AD, and while they were there, they founded one of their most important settlements, the town and fort of Deva Victrix, which is now known as Chester.

Following the departure of the Romans, Cheshire came under the control of Mercia, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, but it was also subject to invasions from the Welsh and the Vikings, before it was finally occupied, together with the rest of the country by the Normans in the years after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Cheshire was later to play a key role in the English Civil War, when it was a Royalist stronghold, but the most profound changes came with the Industrial Revolution. The rise of new industries and forms of manufacturing led many farm workers moved north to the industrial centres of Manchester and Lancashire. These changes were offset to an extent by the arrival of the canals and then the railways that linked Cheshire with the Midlands and the North West.

This fascinating combination of influences, has helped to shape this predominantly rural county, that has long been known both for its dairy farming and salt mining. The county has developed a rich and fascinating culinary history, that enables it to stand out from its neighbours, and that is still celebrated with an array of food and drink festivals to this day, including the Chester Food and Drink Festival, held at Easter, the International Cheese Awards, the Nantwich Show and food festivals based in Arley Hall, Congleton and Tatton Park. But if your knowledge of Cheshire food is lacking, here are a handful of the dishes and food products that have helped to shape Cheshire’s cuisine:

Cheshire Cheese

It would not be possible to talk about Cheshire and not mention perhaps its most famous culinary production. Cheshire Cheese has been such a fixture of English cuisine that its fans can justifiably claim it to be the oldest cheese produced in England. Although the earliest recorded mention of this cheese comes in the Domesday Book of 1086, there is evidence to suggest that it pre-dates the rule of William the Conqueror. Some historians even believe that it was the Romans who first began to produce cheese in and around the county’s famous salt marsh hot spots. The theory is that the curd made from the milk of cows grazing in the area took on a rich flavour due to the salt.

Cheshire Cheese is a pleasant, attractive looking product, of a pale colour, with a delightful nutty and intense taste, which also packs a healthy dose of salt. Matured over eight weeks, this distinctive cheese is eaten all over England and it is also widely exported. In fact, it has the distinction of being one of the few English food products to have become popular in France.

The Cheshire Pork Pye

As a mainly rural county, Cheshire has been able to retain many of its old food customs, which includes the fascinating Cheshire Pork ‘Pye’. Everyone is familiar with the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie, a dish that has earned European recognition, but the Cheshire Pork Pye can claim to be an even older creation. It has the familiar appearance of the pork pie, but has a tasty filling consisting of prime pork loin, white wine, pepper, nutmeg and sugar.

The Cheshire Pork ‘Pye’ by tradition, is related to an original Roman dish which may have been called ‘cust’. It seems that cust uses a treated meat that is cased in a combination of oil and paste, which is then cooked slowly, retaining the moisture of the meat inside. The Cheshire ‘Pye’ traditionally involves shortcrust pastry and is usually served with garden peas for a cheap but wholesome and filling meal.

Chester Pudding


The story of the Chester Pudding is relatively complicated, as there are two separate dishes made in the county that bear this name. The most commonly known Chester Pudding, and the oldest, is a version of a steamed suet pudding, which is believed to predate its rival for the name by as much as 200 years. This Chester Pudding is a relatively simple dessert, which is made with breadcrumbs and suet but what helps it to stand out is that it includes blackcurrant jam. It was a staple dish for many years, as the simple ingredients made for a cheap and yet filling and tasty meal.

The later Chester Pudding is an invention of the Victorian era. This is a meringue-based dessert, with a shortcrust pastry base and a filling of sugar, butter, egg and ground almonds, with the meringue topping finished with a milk glaze to produce a golden-brown finish. Some prefer one type of Chester Pudding to the other, but both are worthy of a place in the English food Hall of Fame!

Rabbit Brawn

From traditional Cheshire recipes with plenty of modern appeal to one that might not be for everyone. Rabbit Brawn is not as widely eaten these days as it once was, although it retains a fascination for food connoisseurs. In essence, this is a meat stew, made with a simple recipe, from rabbit meat and pigs trotters, with some allspice thrown in.

What makes this stew stand out is the fact that traditionally, the rabbit was cooked whole, before being deboned and then added. The pigs trotters were also boiled before being added, producing a thick and distinctive stew, often served with home grown Cheshire potatoes and whichever vegetables were available at the time.

Cheshire Soup

Cheshire Soup is distinct from the common types of broths associated with other counties of England and was mainly regarded as a meal for the poor. The stew-like soup was based around vegetables, meat offal, oatmeal and tripe, and the mixture would then be reheated with cheese curdled into the pot, in order to thicken out the soup, making it more filling.

The tradition of adding cheese may also predate the widespread use of meat-curing and salting that began in the late 18th century, as a way to disguise the spoiled taste of the meat, and the ready availability of cheese in the county made it a good option. This may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is a distinctive and memorable dish.

Cheshire Ice Cream

Given Cheshire’s heritage as a dairy county, it is no surprise to find that there is a proud tradition of ice cream in the county. Cheshire ice cream is popular throughout the region, and there are a wide variety of Cheshire ice cream makers and attractions, including the Cheshire Ice Cream Adventure Park at the Ice Cream Farm. No summer trip to Cheshire is complete without sampling the local ice cream, and Cheshire ice cream makers supply restaurants and shops throughout England.