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Staffordshire’s Food History

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Staffordshire’s Food History

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.

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