Home Blog Page 2

Essex: An Underrated Culinary County

0

The south eastern county of Essex doesn’t have the best reputation in the UK, but the brash stereotypes the county is associated with don’t reflect the reality.

Essex occupies a vitally important position geographically, making up the coastline from the Stour to the Thames estuaries, and the traditional county capital at Chelmsford, located roughly in the middle of the county, is itself an important historical site.

Essex extends all the way to the River Lea in the west and southwards to the confluence of the Lea and the Thames, and many areas now considered part of London were historically considered to be in Essex, including the areas of Havering, Newham and Waltham Forest.

The county is essentially flat, a low-lying region, with a coast that is made up of a variety of islands and tidal inlets. The clay soils that predominate in Essex originally supported a huge hardwood forest and early settlers found the soil hard to work until as late as the Iron Age. There is a remaining trace of that forest heritage that can be found today in Epping Forest.

Essex became hugely important to English life when the Romans arrived. It was the home of the Trinovantes, regarded as the most powerful British tribe in the country at the time of the Roman invasion, and the Trinovantes were pivotal in the famous revolut of Boudica in 60AD. After the native tribes were subdued by the invaders, the Roman settlement at Colchester became one of the most important in the newly conquered territory, and there were additional major Roman sites situated at Great Chesterford, Rivenhall and Chelmsford.

Essex’s position also made it a key region during the subsequent invasions of the Saxons and the Danes, and these two sides fought a famous battle at Maldon in 991. The county has also produced many famous historical characters, perhaps the most notable being the former priest from Colchester, John Ball, who was a pivotal character in the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt.

Colchester was the key economic force for Essex, as it became a vital cloth-weaving centre during the Middle Ages, but agriculture become increasingly important to the county’s economy as the marshes to the south east were reclaimed, for this new land proved particularly fertile. With the arrival of the railways, Essex also became a major holiday and retirement destinations, while in modern times, the county has been a popular base for commuters forced out of London by high house prices. Sailing fans enjoy the inlets and coastline of the county as the ideal location for their pastime, while tourists are drawn to the historic market towns of the interior.  

The geological reality of Essex produced a scarcity of stone, making timber the key material used in building in the county during the Middle Ages. This has left a legacy of many remarkable timber-framed houses that survive to this date. From Tudor times, brick was increasingly the material of choice, and the popular Audley Manor is a great example of Tudor Essex architecture.

Over the centuries, Essex has been increasingly affected by the expansion and development of London, particularly as the port of the capital has expanded eastwards, as far as the lower Thames at Tilbury. Major petrol refineries have been built on the Thames marshes, two of which have since been converted to deepwater container ports, while the port of Harwich, in the north east of the county is a vital shipping hub, conveying goods and traffic to Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

Yet despite this closeness to the capital and the extensive development, Essex has kept its rural character, including a wide variety of crops and livestock farms, while numerous market gardens, nurseries and food festivals display the county’s culinary variety.  

Ongar Ham Cake

This is an unusual old English recipe and is rarely seen these days, but it has a long association with Essex. The first available references to the Ongar Ham Cake mention a ‘Veal and Ham Mould’ which is said to be a traditional dish enjoyed in Ongar, Essex.

The original recipe uses minced ham, which is thickened with bread and ale and then bound together with egg. It is variation on the traditional ‘potted’ meats that can be found in various parts of England. The mixture of meat, which was probably also seasoned with pepper, mace and dry mustard, was then pressed into a ceramic pot and baked in a water bath, creating a meat loaf that could be enjoyed  hot or cold and that was a great way to use up scraps and leftovers.

Wilkin and Sons Preserves

The combination of a proud and diverse agricultural base and easy access to shipping has made Essex an ideal exporter of food, and among its most successful local producers is Wilkin and Sons, a company that has been exporting its range of preserves since 1885.

They now export their jams, marmalades and other conserves to over 60 countries, and the company’s mini jars can be found in many of the world’s leading hotels and restaurants, including in China and the Middle East. Their success is rooted in their use of the best quality fruit and their focus on the quality of the final product. The fact that they have held a Royal Warrant from the reigning monarch since 1911 has also helped to boost their reputation. Among their many products worth sampling are Tiptree Honey, Wild Blueberry Conserve and their Salted Caramel Spread.

Maldon Salt

Essex is an perfect location for the production of sea salt, and Maldons has become one of the country’s best known food producers. At one time, Maldon Salt was regarded as such a luxury that it was only stocked by Harrods and Fortnum and Mason. These days it is sold all over the world, an expansion that was boosted by the award of a Royal Warrant in 2012.

Maldon Salt is known for a distinctive appearance and a particularly soft and crumbly texture, which is very different to the standard hard rock salt. It also has a mild and slightly sweet quality that differs from the harshness associated with regular salt, which makes it a more subtle additive when used in most dishes, and which helps to bring out the flavour of your food.

Kelly Bronze Turkeys

Named after owner Paul Kelly, this company has won awards for its remarkable success in developing a thriving export business. The East Anglia region is known for its poultry farming and the company founder learned the traditional methods of turkey farming, before using them to build a brand that exports around the world.

The company focuses on the production of high quality meat, with a distinctive flavour that is completely different to the bland turkeys often found in supermarket shelves, and this focus on quality has ensured a dedicated following and a large global customer base.

Colchester Native Oysters

Colchester has long been seen as one of Europe’s most important areas for oyster production. It is thought that the Romans were the first to farm oysters on a significant scale in Essex, and stocks remained high until the late 1800s. These days, care has to be taken to preserve the supply and oysters are only harvested from September to May from the shallow creeks off Mersea Island.

Colchester Native Oysters are famous for their flat shell and their firm flesh, which offers a rich, salty taste, due to the marsh-dominated environment where they are bred.

Essex Apple Dowdy

English cuisine has plenty of recipes that make use of the abundance of apples produced by the large number of orchards in parts of the country and the Essex version is the Essex Apple Dowdy.

This is a dish made of stewed apples beneath a crust that is broken during the cooking to enable the juices to make a semi-caramelised topping. The apples are then combined with bread and butter, as well as sugar, nutmeg and golden syrup and the top is finally covered with a lid or a plate before it is baked. The result is a delightful, warming dessert that can be served cold or warm.  

Swish Swash

There is a long tradition of mead production in England and one of the most distinctive versions of this sweet alcoholic beverage is Swish Swash, an Essex version of the drink. This particular mead is made with a combination of honeycombs and water, which is then further flavoured with pepper and spices. The result is a delicious warming drink that is perfect on cold winter nights.

Enjoy the Best of Wiltshire Food

0

The county of Wiltshire has an important place in the history of England, and has a case for being the most significant archaeological region of the country. The county holds a vast and impressive collection of Stone Age flint and stone tools, which are preserved in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, and is also the site of Stonehenge, with its imposing circles of giant stones, and Avebury, with its fascinating avenues of monoliths, earthwork and enclosed circles. These two sites are know as the largest and most famous megalithic works in Europe.

Wiltshire has been able to keep much of its archaeological tradition due to a long and mostly peaceful history, although it has endured times of conflict, such as the fighting in the years following the departure of the Romans, when Wiltshire was the scene of a bitter struggle between the invading Saxons and the defending Britons. In fact the Saxon conquest of Wiltshire began around 552 AD with the victory of the Saxon leader Cynric against the native Britons at a site near Old Sarum. This opened the way for the Saxons to cross Salisbury plain and four years later, Cynric earned another victory, at Barbury Hill, adding more territory to the West Saxon Kingdom, known as Wessex.

Aside from its involvement in siding with Parliament during the English Civil War, Wiltshire has been mostly untroubled in the centuries since, remaining an agricultural heartland, with its key urban area situated around the town of Swindon. At its peak, Swindon, Wiltshire’s largest borough town was known to be a bustling market place, famous for the widespread selection of cured meats, pork belly and sausage varieties, and cattle were herded from the surrounding countryside to be sold at the huge market.

The association with pigs is a historic one. In fact, the town’s name is believed to have come from the word ‘Swine-toun’, and pigs have grazed in Wiltshire for almost 1,000 years. Surrounded by oak forests and low moorland, the local environment provided locally farmed swine with a rich and organic diet, which produced succulent, textured ham of excellent flavour.

Unlike some English counties, Wiltshire was not greatly impacted by the Industrial Revolution, and although this meant that the county was relatively poor for much of the Victorian era, it also ensured that the region maintained its heritage of agriculture. In turn, this has also led to a rich and varied cuisine. The food that is particularly popular in Wiltshire is largely based around dishes that are both homely and filling, and is strongly influenced by the thriving pig farming industry, though there are many rich and tempting foods associated with the county. Here are some of the best of Wiltshire foods.

Lardy Cake

One of Wiltshire’s most famous products, the Lardy Cake certainly packs in an impressive number of calories per slice as well as more sugar than your average chocolate cake, so we can say this is a product that definitely belongs in the luxury foods section. It is also a testament to the tough lives that were endured by those living in Wiltshire in the 1700s, for whom high fat, cheap food products offered the most effective way to keep up their energy through the long hours working in the fields.

Lardy Cake is made with a relatively simple bread dough, which is then filled with pockets of lard, dried fruits and sugar before being seasoned using spice or cinnamon for extra flavour. The dough is then kneaded into a deep oven dish and baked until it is golden brown. It was often served hot, perhaps with a little milk, if it was available, and is a delicious, hearty and filling dish.  

Devizes Pie

There are many English traditional foods that are an acquired taste and the offal-rich Devizes Pie is certainly one of them. There is some evidence to suggest this pie was being made in the 1400s, but it seems it was lost to the history books for more than 500 years before being revived during the 1960s, and it then reappeared at the Devizes Food and Drink Festival of 2006.

The ingredients include a variety of unusual meat cuts, including calf’s head and tongue. The offal was usually seasoned with plenty of herbs and spices, before it was encased in pastry made from a blend of flour, suet and boiling water, which made a tough, chewy outer shell. Modern versions of the pie usually employ more palatable cuts, such as bacon, veal and ham, and the result is surprisingly tasty.

Wiltshire Bacon

No list of Wiltshire foods would be complete without mention of the famous Wiltshire Bacon, cured in the town of Calne. Bacon curing was a key tradition in Wiltshire but before the 1840s, there had been very little experimentation with different methods of preserving the meat, as most curers opted for the cheap method of using salt to extend the life of the product.

That changed thanks to the Harris curers of Calne. With a reputation as experts, they sought alternative methods that would help preserve the longevity of meat, and improve its flavour. Their most successful experiment involved leaving the bacon to brine for a few days before they added either sugar or molasses to prolong its shelf life. The meat was left to hang in an ice-packed attic during the winter months. The result was a stronger, sweeter and yet more naturally salted bacon that has remained popular throughout England.

Urchfont Mustard

This Wiltshire food product is the unique creation of food tester William Tulberg. A relatively modern condiment, it was influenced by the writings of Surrey-born diarist John Evelyn. In his search for a spicy relish to bring out the rich flavour of pork sausages and pies, Tulberg experimented with a range of recipes before he decided on a chilli-based wholegrain recipe, which is then enhanced with vinegar.

Made with organic, local ingredients, Tracklement Urchfont Mustard caught on well, and is enjoyed across the country. Coming from the small village of Urchfont near Malmesbury, where it was first popular, Urchfont Mustard is a remarkable modern Wiltshire product.

Wiltshire Loaf

The name might put you in mind of a baked dish, but the Wiltshire Loaf is actually a cheese. To be precise, it is a semi-hard cheese, which is smooth and creamy outside and yet crumbly in the centre. Sometimes known by the name of North Wiltshire Loaf, this cheese was at the height of its popularity in the 1700s and early 1800s. It even had a mention Jane Austen’s Emma.

Made in Wiltshire, it was usually transported to London along the Thames. Production of the cheese died out with the arrival of the railways when it became more viable to transport raw milk in bulk instead of small amounts of cheese, but it has seen a revival in recent years thanks to the efforts of the Brinkworth Dairy, which makes it from a hand-written family recipe, and which has landed numerous cheese award including prizes for Best Territorial Cheese and a Gold Medal at the British Cheese awards 

A Foodie’s Paradise: The Taste of Suffolk

0

You would be hard pressed to find a more beautiful English county than Suffolk. Nestled on the east of the country, between the counties of Essex and Norfolk, the county of Suffolk encompasses a quite remarkable range of landscapes and scenery, from the beautiful sandy beaches and the dramatic cliffs of the Suffolk coast to the gently rolling hills and broad fields that characterise the west of the county. To the north, Suffolk shares a border with the haunting waterscapes of the Fens and Breckland to the east offers long rows of ancient trees and rich, expansive heathland.

From the beginnings of human activity in the land now known as England, Suffolk has been a thriving part of our civilisation. There is clear evidence of flint mines that date from prehistoric times in the Breckland area, while the famous Mildenhall silver treasure, which is now displayed in the British Museum, reveals to us the wealth of the area at the time of the Roman occupation. Later on, in the era of the Saxons and Danes, the county was part of the kingdom of East Anglia, and throughout this era and the Middle Ages, the sea trade and the wool industry gave Suffolk considerable economic power and influence.  

Horse racing has also added another dimension to the history and character of the county. Although Suffolk is also known for the production of a fine breed of draft horses, which has become known as Suffolk Punch, the county has also earned a reputation as the beating heart of thoroughbred flat racing, ever since royals and aristocrats began to gather on Newmarket Heath in the 17th century, and the town of Newmarket is a hive of equestrian activity.

Tourism has also played a key role in the development of the county over the last two hundred years as visitors have flocked to the area to enjoy the stunning scenery. At the same time, Suffolk has managed to retain its farming character. For many centuries, agriculture has been the lifeblood of Suffolk, which produces a huge variety of crops ranging from cereals and vegetables to dairy, sheep and pork farming, not to mention a thriving seafood industry along the coast.

This combination of tourism and food production has given rise to a fascinating food culture and more recently to a thriving modern food industry. Suffolk is home to countless festivals held every year, such as the Beccles Food and Drink Festival in May and September’s Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival. The county has a strong claim to be one of the best to visit for foodies and fans of artisanal produce. Here is just a sample of the culinary delights that Suffolk has to offer.

Suffolk Sausages

Sausages have long been considered a Suffolk specialty. Perhaps the most famous of the county’s sausage exports is the Newmarket Sausage, which has been awarded the much sought-after Protected Geographical Indication status by the European Union, putting them alongside such English classics as Plymouth Gin and Cornish Pasties. Musk’s Sausages, produced in the county, have also earned Royal approval and the sausage-making industry in Suffolk is celebrated by two separate occasions: the Framlingham Sausage Festival in October and Jimmy’s Sausage and Beer Festival, held every July.

Foggers Pear Cyder

Produced by Stoke Farm Orchards, this Suffolk pear cyder is a heady concoction, and represents the finest of Sussex’s pear cyder brewing tradition. It’s a traditional farm style of cyder, that presents with a golden brown colour and is packed with real orchard flavour. The drink is produced from pears harvested across two acres, made up of Conference, Comice, Beurre Hardy and Williams varieties. The fruit is carefully crushed, pressed, mixed with cider yeasts and is then fermented, before being drained off after eight months and bottled.

Mustard and Pickles

Condiments are a long standing tradition in the eastern counties of England, and there are numerous examples of the craft to be found in Suffolk. One of the most famous examples is Stokes’ Cider and Horseradish mustard, an award winning combination of three long established local flavours, which is best served with pork. And for pickle fans, Suffolk Pickle offers a tangy, fruity combination of pickled vegetables, molasses and spices, which goes perfectly with a lunch of bread, butter and cheese.

Baron Bigod Cheese

Suffolk has a thriving artisanal cheesemaking industry that has been responsible for a variety of celebrated cheeses, from Suffolk Gold and Suffolk Blue to the quirkily named Baron Bigod. The latter cheese is a brie-style product, made from the raw milk of Montbeliarde cows and is aged for up to eight weeks in a cave-like environment. The result is a cheese with a white bloomy rind and a smooth, creamy, and soft texture beneath, creating earthy aromas and a savoury taste. The ideal addition to any lunch, it is best served with fresh crusty bread.

Wyken Bacchus

Wyken Vineyards in Suffolk, has earned a reputation as one of the finest vineyards in the East of England. The vineyard is part of a working agricultural estate with over two decades of wine making success behind it. The eponymous and fragrant Germanic grape variety really thrives on the soil in the area and combined with considerable winemaking skill, produces a sophisticated white wine that offers hints of herbs and apples along with floral aromas, a combination that was good enough to the Wyken Bacchus a 2009 Best White Wine award.

Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale

Greene King are one of the famous brewers in England, with their IPA and Abbot Ale products proving popular across the country. Less well known is the Greene King Strong Suffolk, which actually contains two ales: Old 5X, which is allowed to mature in 100-barrel oak vats for at over two years, and BPA, a dark, full-bodied fresh brewed beer, which is added just before bottling. The result is a punchy, elegant beer packed with alcohol and offering a dark, rich and fruity taste.

Suffolk Mutton

In the Waveney Valley in the area of Bungay, close to the Norfolk border, Pied Bridge Farm has established one of the most celebrated meat producing operations in the county. The farm is well known for the quality of its lamb, but it has also done much to promote the return of mutton, which is technically meat from two year old sheep. Mutton provides a deeper flavour and much more texture than lamb, and the sheep in this region, which are allowed to forage on local pasture offer a distinctive mutton flavour that is worth seeking out.

Suffolk Rusks

Suffolk Rusks are a traditional Suffolk food. They have some similarities to scones but are oven dried, which gives them a crisp exterior and quite dense yet soft interior. The rusk is made using a relatively simple recipe, but the real skill is in the careful preparation and precise baking. Suffolk rusks are twice baked and then divided into two halves after the first bake before being returned to the oven again to harden before they can be eaten, a delicate operation that produces a tasty tea time dish.  

Somerleyton Venison

As with mutton, venison is an old-fashioned product that is enjoying a resurgence in England, and Suffolk has been at the forefront of the revival, thanks partly to the dramatic increase in deer numbers that has been seen in the county in recent years. Venison is one of the healthiest meat options and an interesting and more sustainable option than lamb or beef, versatile enough to be used in a variety of recipes. Somerleyton Estate is the base for one of the county’s leading venison production operations, and they produce a fascinating variety of venison cuts, from speciality cooking cuts to venison sausages and venison pies.

The Culinary Heritage of Northamptonshire

0

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

0

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

0

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

0

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

0

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

0

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

0

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.