You won’t find many more beautiful English counties than the county of Derbyshire, which has everything a tourist could want, from wild moorlands and lovely hills to picturesque valleys and rugged mountain hikes. The area is dominated by the Peak District National Park, which effectively marks the southern edge of the Pennines, and the dramatic scenery of the county has attracted travellers, ramblers and other tourists for centuries.
It is a county that has a long and proud history, as evidenced by the variety of prehistoric remains discovered in the territory, including a Paleolithic site at Cresswell Crags and a remarkable early Bronze Age circle of flat stones located near Youlgreave.
During the Roman occupation, Derbyshire was considered an important region as the invaders set up a military network of roads and forts throughout the county. They also founded the spa town of Aquae Arnemetiae, which has now become known as Burton.
Following the departure of the Romans, Derbyshire became an important territory in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, but the region was also partially occupied by the Danes, who took control of Repton, which was an important Mercian religious centre. In fact, it was the Danes who founded the first ever borough of Derby.
For most of its history, Derbyshire was consisted a pastoral county, with some small scale mining and quarrying, although it was the site of considerable lead deposits, first discovered and mined systematically by the Romans, which were in big demand during the Middle Ages.
But with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, Derbyshire became a major hub of activity, particularly in the east of the county, where iron ore deposits were exploited on a huge scale throughout the eighteenth century. Derbyshire was actually the site of the first modern factory in the country, a silk mill, which was built in the city of Derby in 1717. Cromford in Derby was also the site of the first water-powered cotton-spinning mill, unveiled by Sir Richard Arkwright in 1771.
The valleys of Derbyshire went on to become important sites for textile mills, and all of the eastern and southern coalfields were intensively exploited, ensuring that the towns of Chesterfield, Bolsover, Alfreton, and Ilkeston became trading and cultural hubs.
This industrial heartland declined in the 20th century, although the county retains a role as an important engineering centre, and a leading producer of limestone. And as industry has declined, tourism has become increasingly important. The rich and fertile countryside is a big attraction, and the county also boasts a variety of stunning and architecturally important buildings, including the great houses at Haddon, Hardwick, Chatsworth, Bolsover, Sudbury, and Sutton Scarsdale, along with its share of tourist-friendly picturesque villages and hamlets.
That distinctive blending of agricultural and industrial heritage has led to a unique and homely tradition of cuisine. Here are some of Derbyshire’s most famous contributions to the food of England.
No visit to the county of Derbyshire would be complete without trying the famous local dessert, Bakewell Pudding. This sweet treat has been savoured and enjoyed in the Peak District market town of Bakewell as well as throughout England since it was invented in the 1860s.
The story of the origins of this dish, which consists of a set almond and egg custard on top of a layer of strawberry jam, in a crunchy, butter puff pastry case, lie in a misunderstanding between the owner of the White Horse Inn and her cook. A group of wealthy visitors had asked for a strawberry tart, but the cook mistakenly spread the egg mixture onto the top of the jam, rather than into the pastry itself, creating a distinctive and delicious pudding, that was keenly taken up by locals.
To this day, you will find a shop baking hand-made Bakewell Puddings to the original recipe in the town, and the dish has proven to be an enduring and hearty dessert throughout England.
Spicy and warming, gingerbread has a special place in English food culture and the town of Ashbourne has a proud history of producing some of England’s finest gingerbread. According to local legend, the recipe for this delicacy was taken from French prisoners of war who were held captive in the town during the Napoleonic Wars. In fact, one tradition even suggests that it came from the chef of a French general.
Ashbourne Gingerbread makes a delicious treat and is often given as a gift. It is sold throughout Derbyshire, but the best place to buy it is at the timber-framed Gingerbread Shop in the town, which may date back as far as the 15th century.
Stilton is one of England’s most famous cheeses, but it has a complicated history. Though the association with the Cambridgeshire village of Stilton is obvious, the cheese long ago became associated with the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. In fact, officially Stilton can only be made in those counties, and has earned protected status through the European Union, one of only a handful of English products to earn that label.
Derbyshire has its own take on Stilton, thanks to the efforts of the small Peak District village of Hartington, which at one point in its history, was responsible for a quarter of the world’s supply of Stilton. The history of cheese making in Hartington goes back to the 1870s. Local cheese production was halted in 2009, but was relaunched by a team of dedicated enthusiasts and local business people who established the Hartington Creamery in 2012. The relaunched cheese making operation has since won awards for its range of cheeses, but the Stilton remains its most popular product.
Produced through allowing air inside the cheese during the maturation process, the distinctively blue-veined cheese has a crumbly, yet soft and salty flavour, and is usually the star of any cheeseboard, though it is also available in a white version, that is often combined with fruit.
A local Derbyshire delicacy that has been around since the 17th century, Derbyshire Oatcakes are best described as a cross between a crumpet and a pancake. They are round, soft and considerably thicker than the form of oatcake found in neighbouring Staffordshire.
As the name indicates, Derbyshire Oatcakes are made with oats that are grown on the harsh Pennine landscape, which are then combined with flour, salt, water and yeast to produce a wholesome and versatile baked snack. They are widely made throughout Derbyshire and are an ideal food for combined with sweet and savoury items as a tea time or lunch treat.
Derbyshire Fidgety Pie
Harvest time has always been the most important part of the rural calendar, and the Derbyshire Fidgety Pie reflects the legacy of the county’s agricultural past. This hearty dish was created in South Derbyshire, where it was traditionally made to use up the apples that were left over from the autumn harvest. It combines potatoes, apples, bacon and onions, which are then topped with shortcrust pastry, creating a delicious meal. It is believed that the pie’s name came from the word ‘fitchet’, which is the name for the five-sided dish that the pie was originally cooked in.
The Bakewell Pudding isn’t the only Derbyshire contribution to the English tradition of homely, warming desserts. The Old Buxton Pudding Company of Furness Vale has won many awards for its modern take on the traditional Buxton Pudding. This recipe comes from the early 19th century, and consists of a sweet pastry base, which is then topped with raspberry jam and a sponge cake layer. The dessert is usually eaten warm with either custard or cream.
Few English cakes have a more interesting name, but the title of this dish doesn’t derive from the famous Norse god. The name is believed to have come from the Old English word ‘theorf’, which can be translated as ‘plain’ or ‘unprocessed’. Thor Cakes are made with a blend of oats, spices, black treacle and dried fruit, producing a hearty and distinctive tea time snack. The Thor Cake is typically associated with the autumn, and was often served on Bonfire Night or Halloween.