We produce a lot of it, we eat a lot of it and we talk a lot about food. But have we forgotten how good some regional dishes can actually taste? Mary-Vere Parr takes a look.
With so many exotic flavours at our fingertips on supermarket shelves, you might think we risk losing the taste for traditional British foods. But it seems local delicacies have never been more in demand.
See also: Read Farmers Weekly’s Farm Chef recipes
Championed by lone enthusiasts, endorsed by celebrity chefs and sought after by enlightened supermarket buyers, once obscure regional foods are back on the menu, benefitting rural businesses and boosting regional pride. Their success is no flash in the pan – these foods taste as good as they sound.
- Staffordshire oatcakes
- Bedfordshire Clangers
- Jersey Black Butter
- Cumbria damson fruit cheese
- Carmarthenshire Caerffili
- Lancashire Carlin peas
- Isles of Scilly Tattie cake
- Sussex Pond Pudding
- Recipe: Rustic black badger salad
- Recipe: Jersey black butter crème brûlée
Filled with lard, fat or cheese, they were the staple diet of 18th century Staffordshire farmers and, later, of potbank workers. Today, potteries poppadoms or clay suzettes, as the oatcakes are sometimes called, are still synonymous with Stoke-on-Trent.
Chris Bates, who runs the Oatcake Kitchen, Dresden, grew up within sight and smell of The Hole in the Wall Oatcake Shop, Hanley, Stoke’s last oatcake shop where customers queued at the window of a house. It closed in 2012, but today he bakes up to 1,000 of oatcakes a week and there are still 40 oatcake bakers across the city.
Individual recipes are a closely guarded secret. Fillings may vary, but, according to Chris Bates, bacon, cheese and onion is the best.
Filled oatcakes from £1.20
The Oatcake Kitchen, 8-10 Carlisle Street, Dresden, Stoke-on-Trent ST3 4HA
£3.30/doz oatcakes (including p&p) from www.staffordshireoatcakes.com
Part of an international movement that began in 1989 in Italy. Slow Food UK is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to promote good eating, celebrate culinary culture and protect edible diversity. Its Ark of Taste programme features British foods at risk, from unusual fruit varieties to rare breeds of animal and traditional recipes. See www.slowfood.org.uk.
Was it a mistake – a clanger – to mix sweet and savoury fillings together? Or was it a comment on the table manners of Bedfordshire farmers? In Northamptonshire, to “clang” means to scoff.
Traditionally made with Sunday roast leftovers, the clanger is a boiled suet pudding stuffed with meat and potatoes at one end and jam at the other. Eaten cold in the field or left simmering at home, it was the perfect ready meal for Bedfordshire’s 19th century working women.
Gunns Bakery in Sandy is the last baker to make clangers, to a 50 year-old recipe – potato and gammon one end, stewed apples the other. Today the suet crust is baked not boiled but the same symbols – two holes for main, three slits for pud – denote sweet and savoury ends.
Clangers are also available countrywide via BigBarnMarketplace, the self-styled Amazon of local food, started by Anthony Davison, son of a Bedfordshire sprout grower.
Traditional Clanger £2.20
Gunns Bakery, 8 Market Square, Sandy SG19 1UH
Four Bedfordshire Clangers, £8.20 (plus £8.50 p&p) from www.bigbarn.co.uk
Jersey Black Butter
Neither black nor a dairy product, but very definitely made in Jersey, Nièr beurre is a dark brown jammy conserve made of apples, cider, lemons, sugar, liquorice, mixed spice and cinnamon, used in both savoury and sweet dishes.
Three EU schemes promote and protect names of regional agricultural products. Sixty five UK foods enjoy protected status: 38, including the Cornish Pasty, have protected geographical indication and a further 25, including Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb, enjoy protected designation of origin. Traditional turkeys and traditionally farmed Gloucestershire Old Spots pork have traditional speciality guaranteed status.
Recipes for the farmhouse delicacy date back to 1400. In the 17th century, when orchards covered a fifth of Jersey’s arable land and farm wages were part-paid in cider, the islanders simmered the seasonal glut of apples in huge bachins (cauldrons) over a low fire.
Neighbours took it in turns to stir the mixture with a “rabbot” (a long-handled paddle) singing, telling stories and playing cards to keep awake during the two-day process. Woe betide the person who let the butter burn.
By the 19th century, the tradition had all but died out with many of the island’s orchards until, in 2005, the La Mare Wine Estate in St Mary dusted down an old recipe and started commercial production.
Stocked by Fortnum and Mason in London and some Waitrose stores, it has won three Great Taste Award gold stars and is on the cusp of securing protected geographical iIndication status.
£4.38/227g (£20 minimum spend plus £10 delivery charge) from www.lamarewineestate.com
Cumbria damson fruit cheese
The spring road trip to admire the damson blossom in the Lyth Valley in Cumbria with her mum and granny was a childhood ritual for Preston-born Lizzie Smith.
A grown-up career in the NHS intervened but now she’s back in Cumbria living in the hills above Ullswater and making damson fruit cheese.
“I have a passion for historic foods,” she says. “Damsons are a wonderful fruit to work with and I wanted to help keep that tradition going.”
In a family cookbook she found a recipe for damson fruit cheese, made from damson puree and sugar, shaped into a dense loaf mould and sliced like a cheese.
“It’s a strong taste. I grew up eating a slice in a sandwich with cheese, but you can also dissolve a slice in gravies and casseroles,” she says. “It’s a store cupboard ingredient, traditionally kept in a pantry, it lasts six months.”
Lizzie freezes her damsons and makes the cheese to order year round for both the M6 Westmorland Services and the supermarket Booths, which stocks the cheese as part of its Forgotten Foods initiative.
£1.90/100g from the Booths cheese counter or from www.thesweetmeatcompany.co.uk
We have the introduction of milk quotas in 1987 to thank for this award-winning velvety cheese made by Carwyn Adams at Caws Cenarth, Pontseli, Lancych. Carwyn’s parents, dairy farmers Gwynfor and Thelma, started making cheese from their herd’s surplus milk to keep within their quota.
Today Carwyn makes both a young and a two-month matured, rinded Caerphilly from his grandmothers’ recipes, but he buys in organic milk from his cousin’s farm.
“I prefer the younger fresher cheese because it’s more traditional,” he says. “My dad remembers eating the cheese when it was a day old.”
“The Crumblies” were also eaten by Welsh miners to replenish lost salt and is probably named after the mining town where it was sold. It fell out of favour in post war Britain because it didn’t keep well but has found new aficionados at farmers markets and independent delis across the UK.
Caerffili wedge 180g £2.75 (plus £4.95 p&p) from www.cawscenarth.co.uk.
Lancashire Carlin peas
As many stories as names surround the Carlin pea, the seeds of which are believed to have washed up with a 16th century Spanish shipwreck.
It is known variously as the black badger, maple or pigeon pea (yes, it is sold as pigeon feed in pet shops), and has a brown colour and a nutty taste.
On Bonfire Night (5 November) Lancastrians tuck into parched peas, soaked and slow boiled (parched) to a mush – often sold at fairgrounds and traditionally eaten with a spoon from a cup with salt and vinegar. In the North-east, they will eat their peas fried with butter and maybe seasoned with rum on Passion or Carlin Sunday, the Sunday before Palm Sunday.
Now Hodmedod’s, a Norfolk company, is on a mission to get more of us eating little known UK-grown peas and beans as a substitute for imported pulses.
Mark Lea, an organic farmer in Kemberton, Shropshire, is trialling several varieties of peas for the company; white, blue and marrowfat as well as the Rose Carlin pea, a lighter version of the dark brown black badger pea.
Try rustic black badger salad, a distinctly sun-dried tomato take on the humble Carlin Pea.
Black badger whole dried peas 500g with recipe book cost £2.45 (plus £3.50 p&p) from www.hodmedods.co.uk
Isles of Scilly Tattie cake
When Prince Charles visited the shop on Bryher, the smallest of the five inhabited Scilly Isles in 2012, he asked if he might buy a piece of the Scillonian speciality to eat on the helicopter home. The astounded shop assistant asked if he’d like it wrapped.
Although the helicopter no longer operates from the islands, slices of the sugary potato-based fruitcake still fly off the shelves. The full tattie cake recipe is a closely guarded secret, but it is basically potato based with flour, sugar, dried fruit and eggs.
“I bake about nine cakes a week, double that in the summer,” says Zoe Dan who runs the shop and whose mother reintroduced the recipe to the island. Potatoes come from a farm on neighbouring St Mary’s but the eggs are local.
The cake was once the field food of flower pickers and each island had a slightly different recipe. Today Zoe Dan’s version fuels the hardy souls from the island campsite.
Scilllonian Tattie Cake £1.95/slice from the Bryher Shop
Sussex Pond Pudding
Delia Smith describes Sussex Pond Pudding as “one of the truly great British puddings which has, sadly, fallen victim to the health lobby”.
A suet pudding encasing a whole lemon and large amounts of sugar and butter may not be the dieter’s friend; the health lobby may baulk at the way the buttery juices spill out of the pudding when it is opened to create the pond, and the time-starved may shy away from at the three to four hours simmer, but you can microwave it.
Controversy also surrounds the addition of fruit to the mix. Lemon may be a modern innovation, currants may turn the Sussex Pond into a Kentish Puddle or even a Kentish Well. Sophie Grigson muddies the waters further with a lime version and there is even a ginger one out there somewhere.
First recorded in Hannah Woolley’s The Queen-Like Closet (1672), it may not be the daintiest pie to serve before your family, but the lemon-treacle-tart-flavoured goo won mine over.
Recipe: Rustic black badger salad
- 200g Black Badger peas
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2tbsp olive oil
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- Pinch of chilli flakes
- 50g sun dried tomatoes, chopped
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Basil, chopped
- Salad leaves to serve
- Soak peas overnight in a large saucepan, rinse, then cook for about 45 minutes and drain.
- Add garlic, chilli, oil and lemon juice. Mix well.
- Add the other ingredients, mix carefully and place in fridge to develop flavours.
- Serve with crusty bread.
Recipe: Jersey black butter crème brûlée
- 250ml milk
- 250ml Double cream
- 6 Large egg yolks
- 80g Soft light brown sugar
- 100g Jersey Black Butter
- Sugar for glazing
- Heat together milk and cream.
- Mix egg yolks with sugar.
- Add heated milk and cream to the egg mixture and stir well.
- Pass through a fine sieve and then stir in the Jersey black butter. Sieve again to remove any lumps.
- Place 4 ramekins on a 4 sided tray and fill ramekins with brûlée mixture.
- Fill tray with boiling water until two-thirds up the side of the ramekins and bake in a preheated oven at 100C for approximately 1 hour or until set
- Place in fridge until chilled.
- To finish: Sprinkle lightly with sugar and glaze with a blow torch or under a hot grill.