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Yorkshire’s Food Heritage

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Yorkshire’s Food Heritage

As a nation, England is relatively small, but this island packs a wealth of regional variation into its landmass, which ranges from accents and music to language, history, and cultural traditions.

Another key distinction between the various parts of England can be found in the array of dishes and food products that the island produces. Each region and indeed, each county has its own culinary traditions, and it is not surprising that one of the most distinctive regions of the country can offer us an array of local foods that have a unique and attractive flavour.

Yorkshire is the largest county in England. Technically, Yorkshire is made up of four counties, North, South, West and East Yorkshire, which between them cover an enormous area roughly east of the Pennines, from Sheffield in the south to Richmond in the north, and from the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales right across to the town of Scarborough and the city of Hull on the east coast.

Some of the countryside in Yorkshire is spectacular, and the Dales and the Yorkshire Moors are two of the largest National Parks in the country, while the region offers a huge diversity of economies, ecology, culture and forms of industry.

The county has been shaped by a variety of influences. The once-forested region was settled by a Celtic tribe, known as the Brigantines, before the arrival of the Romans, and there is a strong Viking influence throughout the region, which dates from the Viking occupation from the mid 9th century onwards. Yorkshire was also a thriving hub of the Industrial Revolution, with coal mining, steel production, wool and cloth manufacture all contributing to an economic upheaval that transformed huge areas of the county forever. And in the second half of the 20th century, increasing immigration to the county brought a new range of cultural influences to the mix of Yorkshire life.  

That long and varied history has inevitably led to the development of a unique variety of culinary contributions. And the sheer size of the county means that there is always plenty for the discerning foodie to choose from. In fact, the Yorkshire food and drink sector includes more than 1,100 companies of all sizes, employing over 50,000 people and producing a fascinating selection of much-loved food products, some of which are popular all over the world. To help you explore the best of Yorkshire, here are the highlights of Yorkshire’s contribution to English cuisine:

Yorkshire Pudding

We could hardly mention Yorkshire without discussing one Yorkshire food that has become ubiquitous. The Yorkshire Pudding is a dish that has travelled the globe, spreading the name of Yorkshire to many different cultures.

The Yorkshire Pudding may be a simple dish, which is made from nothing more complicated than eggs, flour and milk, but it is important to remember that a genuine Yorkshire-made Yorkshire pudding is a cut above the sometimes generic versions you may find in your local supermarket. The beauty of the Yorkshire Pudding is that it is such a flexible dinner option.

Typically, the Yorkshire Pudding is eaten with a roast dinner, either as a small addition to the plate, or as a larger base for the whole dinner. But its versatility means that it can also be the basis for all kinds of savoury snacks, while some even see it as a dessert, served with jam or golden syrup. Few dishes have achieved such widespread success as the humble Yorkshire pud.

Yorkshire Curd Tart

Out of all the tasty dishes to emerge from the county of Yorkshire, the Yorkshire Curd Tart is one that deserves a much wider appreciation. Surprisingly little known outside the county, this is a delicious delicacy with a history that can be traced all the way back to the 1750s. By tradition, the Yorkshire Curd Tart was baked for the celebration of Whitsuntide, or Pentecost, in May, a day that was marked by fairs throughout the county.

It is made from Yorkshire curd cheese, with just a hint of added lemon curd to give it an extra citrus edge and is served throughout the tea rooms and coffee shops of Yorkshire, and in some select establishments in the surrounding counties. These days the Yorkshire Curd Tart is eaten all the year round, and it’s sweet and refreshing combination of flavours makes it the perfect alternative if you’re looking for something different or more sophisticated than a cheesecake.

Wensleydale Cheese

First made in the Yorkshire village of Wensleydale, Wensleydale cheese has earned widespread admiration both for its subtle taste and crumbly texture. It is believed that the cheese was first made by Cistercian monks in the valley of Wensleydale in the 12th century, and it wasn’t made on a large scale until 1897. Nowadays, Wensleydale is produced throughout the county and is so distinctive and popular that it has earned European Union Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, putting it in the same distinguished category as the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie and the Cornish Pasty.

Chilli Jam

Some of the most famous Yorkshire foods are backed by centuries of tradition, but the thriving Yorkshire food sector has shown the ability to regularly produce new classics, and Chilli Jam is a perfect example. A fascinating alternative to traditional fruit-based jam, it was produced by chef Simon Barrett, who perfected the recipe over many years. The result is a tasty and award-winning jam that has since inspired a range of other creations including Mango Bhutney and Jammonaise.

Forced Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a simple fruit, but it has a versatility and richness that has made it a favourite for centuries, and Yorkshire represents the pinnacle of English rhubarb growing: the so-called Rhubarb Triangle, a roughly nine-square mile area that is located between Morley, Wakefield, and Rothwell known for its production of forced rhubarb; a version of the fruit that is both sweeter and more fragrant than regular rhubarb. Yorkshire can certainly lay claim to being the capital of rhubarb, in fact at one point in its history, the county of West Yorkshire produced 90 per cent of the world’s rhubarb production.

The significance of the region’s rhubarb industry is celebrated every year in the Wakefield Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb, which is held in late February. This is a rhubarb-lovers delight, and showcases everything from rhubarb gifts and souvenirs to entire rhubarb-themed menus.

Yorkshire Parkin

England is known for its celebration of cakes, biscuits and sweet treats, and another high profile Yorkshire contribution to that history is the Parkin cake. This is a classic local sweet treat that is believed to have been created during the Industrial Revolution. Traditionally eaten on Bonfire Night, November 5, Parkin was first made in the West Riding of Yorkshire, from a recipe that employs flour, butter, oatmeal, ginger and black treacle, although there are other variations on the basic recipe, including an East Yorkshire version, which produces more of a biscuit-style texture.

Whichever version of Parkin you favour it is the perfect hearty, filling food for a cold winter, and ideal served either with butter or eaten at tea time, with a cup of rich Yorkshire tea.

Yorkshire Beer

English beer brewing goes back many centuries, but there are few counties of the UK where the brewing industry has flourished as well as it has in Yorkshire. Indeed, there are many towns in Yorkshire primarily associated with the brewing industry. One example is the market town of Tadcaster in North Yorkshire, which is home to no fewer than three thriving breweries: John Smith’s, Samuel Smith’s and Molson Coors Tower Brewery.

Another small town, Masham, in North Yorkshire, is closely associated with the art of brewing beer and has the distinction of being home to two internationally known breweries: Theakstons and Black Sheep Brewery. In fact, these breweries are run by members of the same family. The Black Sheep title may hint at a family feud or the town’s history as a major sheep market, while Theakston’s Old Peculiar, one of England’s favourites ales, has a fascinating etymological basis. During the medieval period, the Archbishop of York designated the parish of Masham as a ‘Peculier’ which meant that it could govern its own affairs, a decision that could partly have been made so that church officials could avoid taking the dangerous journey up to Masham.

Henderson’s Relish

While Worcestershire Sauce may have its supporters throughout England, Yorkshire folk have their own version of distinctive brown condiment in Henderson’s Relish,

This spicy sauce was developed in Sheffield at some point in the 19th century, and like its Worcestershire equivalent, is a tasty and versatile kitchen additive. It has an astonishing range of potential uses, from sauces for meats to marinades and soups. And although it has some obvious similarities to the more southerly sauce, Henderson’s Relish has a distinctly warming flavour that adds depth and heartiness to a variety of dishes.

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