The East Midlands county of Nottinghamshire has long been considered one of the most important in English folklore, not least because it was the reputed home of the outlaw Robin Hood, but it has also played a vital part in the nation’s industry, economy and ecology.
The county itself is defined to the west by the eastern slope of the huge Pennines mountain chain, with the result that the land slopes generally from west to east. In the shadow of the Pennines, the land was for a long time notable for its extensive coal field. As a result, a scattering of mining towns and railway lines were established in that part of the county, while the central regions, which were once covered by the great forest of Sherwood are made up mainly of woodland and heath, while the eastern part of the county is shaped by the valley of the River Trent and the Vale of Belvoir.
The majority of Nottinghamshire’s modern day population is in the south west of the county, where the city of Nottingham itself and the coalfield areas were once at the very heart of a thriving economy that included steelmaking, mining, engineering and textile operations. Other industrial centres in the county included the towns of Worksop, Mansfield, Ashfield and Newark-on-Trent.
The central regions of the county, by contrast, are relatively lightly populated. The ancient forest of Sherwood was slowly converted into a number of grand estates over the centuries, while the land that had been cleared was used to sculpt grand gardens and imposing mansions such as those that can still be viewed to this day at Wollaton, Newstead and Welbeck.
Agriculture in the centre of the county was hard to maintain, requiring extensive irrigation, but there is plentiful and more fertile land to the east where dairy farming thrives, together with the production of cereal grains, in addition to a thriving sugar beet industry, which is based around Newark.
Archaeologists have found multiple prehistoric settlements in Nottinghamshire. The Romans largely settled in the low-lying eastern part of the county, where they built part of the Fosse Way, one of their most important English roads. Nottinghamshire was later part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, and, following the Danish invasion in the 9th century, Nottingham became part of the Danelaw, becoming one of five Danish boroughs. Later, during the 16th century a number of English dukes were given large swathes of northern Sherwood Forest, building the grand estates that are sometimes known collectively as the Dukeries.
The county was transformed dramatically during the industrial revolution, when coal mining, textile production and other industries developed, although much of that industry has been lost and replaced in the decades since the end of the Second World War. Tourism, to Sherwood Forest in particular, remains an important part of the Nottinghamshire economy, while the county’s agricultural and food producing traditions have remained intact and thrived in recent years as new artisanal producers have flourished, supplementing the traditional food makers of the county.
Mushy Peas and Mint Sauce
Mushy Peas are a popular food throughout the UK, usually eaten with fish and chips, but Nottingham has its own version on mushy peas, involving mint sauce. This delicious local dish is particularly popular during cold winters and you can find market stalls in the city Nottingham serving it, complete with a small wooden spoon. This dish is prepared using dried marrowfat peas, which were once an ideal source of storable nutrition for poor rural and industrial farm workers. The peas are soaked before being boiled and mint sauce added to make a delicious snack.
It was once hard to imagine any fridge or food cupboard in England not containing a bottle of HP Sauce. The HP stands for Houses of Parliament, and it is arguably as recognisable an institution as its namesake. This distinctive sauce, which was first made from tomatoes, malt vinegar, tamarind spice and molasses, was invented by grocer Frederick Gibson Garton of Nottingham.
Garton sold the recipe in 1895 to Edwin Moore, who created the Midlands Vinegar Company. Moore had learned that a restaurant close to Parliament was selling the sauce and he had a plan to rename it. The result was a wave of national popularity and the rise of HP sauce to natural popularity, serving as the perfect accompaniment to a bacon sandwich or a plate of fish and chips.
Screech Owl Ale, Castle Rock Brewery
Produced by Castle Rock Brewery in Nottinghamshire, Screech Owl Ale was set up in 2008 as one of a number of beers created to mark the campaign by the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust to promote the preservation of endangered species. The beer proved so popular that it was named as the
Society of Independent Brewers (Midlands) Supreme Champion Beer when entered at the Robin Hood Beer Festival, an accolade that was followed by the SIBA National Strong Bitter title along with a bronze Strong Bitter (Champion Beer of Britain) medal in 2013. Screech Owl is a well hopped IPA that is brewed to export strength and is enjoyed throughout England.
The thriving dairy industry in the east of Nottinghamshire has given England a number of enduringly popular cheeses, not least the famous Stilton variety. Stichelton has some similarities to Stilton in that it is an English blue cheese that is made using cow’s milk and animal rennet, but is an exclusively Nottinghamshire creation, and made with raw not pasteurised milk.
Of course, Stilton is a protected brand, so this soft and creamy cheese was given the name Stichelton, which is taken from the Old English word for a style, stichl and tun, which means village. It has a nutty, sweet and spicy taste, along with a rich aroma and is perfect with stout or tawny port.
The name could perhaps confuse you but although since 2010 a version of this cheese has been made in Shropshire, it is in fact a Nottinghamshire creation. It was technically invented in Inverness by a cheesemaker, Andy Williamson, but he had learned his trade in Nottinghamshire.
The cheese was given the name Shropshire as it was considered that this would be more attractive to customers, and it is now widely produced in Nottinghamshire. It is made from pasteurised cow’s milk and takes as long as 12 weeks to age, developing a natural rind that covers the creamy textured, carrot coloured cheese, complete with blue veins and an intense flavour.
Brakeman Best Bitter
Established in 2017 initially to brew Prussia Lager in collaboration with a partner brewery in Kaliningrad on the Lithuanian border, Headstocks Brewery based in Nottingham expanded their range in 2018 to include a range of real ales. The first two real ales to be added to their repertoire were Canary Pale Ale and this beer, Brakeman Best Bitter. It is a warming traditional best bitter that offers a delightfully subtle undertone of caramel and nuts.
The humble sausage has been part of English culinary tradition for centuries, and some regions of England have created their own types of sausage, including Cumberland and Lincolnshire. Nottinghamshire also has its take on this English classic, invented by a company called the Country Victualler, who use only certified products. It combines two of Nottinghamshire’s most famous ingredients: venison and Bramley apples, with pork and herbs. The result is a deliciously rich, meaty and fruity sausage that is versatile enough for use in a variety of meals or eaten on its own.
Nottinghamshire Batter Pudding
The Bramley cooking apple has long dominated English greengrocers and is used all over England in the baking of everything from baked apples to apple pie, but it has its origins in the Nottinghamshire town of Southwell, around 200 years ago. In fact, it is possible to visit the original Bramley apple tree, which still bears fruit to this day, and the Bramley Apple heritage trail is a popular Southwell tourist destination, as is the Bramley Apple pub in the centre of the town. There is even an annual Bramley Apple Festival, which takes place in October, when visitors can try a variety of appropriate foods including Bramley Apple crumble ice cream or even Bramley Apple martinis.
This versatile cooking fruit has had many uses in food throughout the decades, but one distinctively Nottinghamshire spin on the Bramley Apple is the Batter Pudding. This is produced from a selection of apples, which are cored, and then stuffed with butter, sugar and species, before being cooked in a sweet pudding batter, and then served with cream, custard or ice cream, for a rich treat.