Sheffield is one of the most distinctive industrial cities in the UK, famous for its steel, but it also has a unique culinary history that is worth exploring.
The city is based in the county of South Yorkshire. It was first founded as an Anglo Saxon village, at which point it was little more than a small clearing in the forest, and it is remarkable to think that it has since expanded to become the fourth largest city in England.
The name of the city comes from the words ‘Sheaf’ which is the name of the river that passes through the city and ‘feld’ meaning field. For much of its history, Sheffield remained little more than a small town or large village, but that began to chance with the Industrial Revolution and the connection of the settlement with the canal network that enabled the transportation of goods across the country.
The rapid growth of population in the city led to a change in its status. In 1843, it became a borough and improvements were gradually made to the town’s sanitation, health and education systems. It was eventually recognised as a city in 1893, though alongside its grand cathedral and city architecture, Sheffield still retains some of the features of a market town, including daily markets.
Sheffield was one of the leading industrial cities in England and is still known as the Steel City across the UK and around the world. This link between Sheffield and steel began in the 1740s when Benjamin Huntsman, a clock maker, came up with a new form of crucible steel processing that produced a better quality of steel than had previously been available. Huntsman’s process remained dominant until 1856 when Henry Bessemer invented the Bessemer converter, but production of crucible steel continued for special uses, as it was a higher quality than the Bessemer steel.
Also in the mid 1700s, Thomas Boulsover invented a technique for fusing a sheet of silver onto a copper ingot which produced a new form of silver plating that was known as Sheffield Plate. Originally this new plate was used for making silver buttons. Then in 1751 Joseph Hancock, who had previously worked as apprentice to Boulsover’s friend Thomas Mitchell, used it make kitchen and tableware and went on to build one of the earliest factories in England, in Sheffield. As late as 1912, Sheffield was still leading the way when Harry Brearley created stainless steel.
One of the results of these innovations was Sheffield’s reputation for producing cutlery, leading to huge experts of cutlery and utensils all over the world.
Although Sheffield, along with many other northern cities, suffered from the decline in the UK’s manufacturing industries after the Second World War, it has continued to be a significant producer of steel, adapting to new technologies and new demands. The city has also developed a reputation as a cultural centre, and a number of food producers based in Sheffield have firmly established themselves as English institutions. Here is just a sample of the taste of Sheffield:
Henderson’s Relish is a famous condiment that is still produced in Sheffield. It has some similarities to the equally famous Worcestershire Sauce, though it contains no anchovies. It is made from a combination of water, sugar and spirit vinegar with a selection of spices and colouring.
Henry Henderson started making sauce towards the end of the 19th century. Until 2013, Henderson’s Relish was still being made within a half mile of the location of the production of the first ever bottle. Known locally as ‘Hendos’ it is a versatile addition to a wide range of dishes.
The principle of coating a piece of fish in breadcrumbs is well known in English culinary circles, but one distinctively Sheffield take on this dish is the Sheffield Fishcake. This consists of two large slices of potato, with minced fish, usually Haddock or Cod in between. The whole sandwich is then battered and deep fried for a carb-heavy but delicious dish. Sheffield Fishcakes are often served on a bun or with mushy peas and a dash of Henderson’s.
Sheffield Honey Company
The Sheffield Honey Company has won awards for the quality of their premium local English honey and their wider range of beeswax products. Their range includes delicious Blossom, Soft Set, Borage, Blueberry, Bell Heather and Ling Heather honey available in different sizes. The company has become so successful that they are the bulk supplier to restaurants, bakeries and the brewing industry as well as offering a wide range of honey-themed gifts.
Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts
Bassett’s are one of the most famous sweet producers in the UK, but arguably their most popular product was made by accident. In 1899, Charlie Thompson, one of Bassett’s sales representatives, was said to have tripped over and dropped an entire tray of samples he was showing to a client, with the result that the sweets became jumbled up .The client expressed an interest in the accidental combinations and Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts were born.
They proved to be an instant hit and later inspired the creation of the company’s mascot, Bertie Bassett, who has featured in the branding of the sweets since the 1920s. The sweets have been so popular that Bassett’s have also released two varieties of Allsorts that do not feature any liquorice: Fruit Allsorts and Dessert Allsorts. They’ve also released a brand of Red Allsorts, with fruit-flavoured liquorice, which have been relaunched since their original appearance in the 1990s.
Sheffield can claim to be the real ale capital of the UK and is home to some of the most talented and popular artisan brewers, including Kelham Island Brewery and The Sheffield Brewery Company.
Abbeydale is another of these Sheffield breweries that has grown rapidly. Founded in 1996, they have expanded on their original pale and hop-dominated products to meet the demands of the ever-changing beer industry. They now produce more than 880 casks per week across as many as fifteen different ranges, including their popular local brew Moonshine, which has won numerous awards, and their famous Brewers Emporium range.
Henry Dixon started his Sheffield-based company in 1885 with the aim of producing high quality traditional boiled sweets. The sweets are still made by hand and using recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. A Sheffield food producer with a proud local heritage, their latest packaging shows the very first workforce outside Henry Dixon’s original Sheffield factory. Dixon’s are particularly well known for their rock, and their Mint rock is especially popular.