Britain arguably boasts one of the
Britain arguably boasts one of the most interesting food histories in the world. So last year during British Food Fortnight a nationwide competition was held to find the foods and recipes that have been lost in the sands of time.
Try a repast from the past with the grey squirrel casserole, or even a fish custard
By Terry Kirby, Chief Reporter - The Independent
Rook pie and Bath chaps, grey squirrel casserole and fish custard might not be familiar options in most homes or on the menu at fashionable restaurants.
But a once distinctly "unfoodie" nation, now celebrated for its culinary diversity, its obsession with television chefs and its embrace of foods ranging from chicken tikka masala to seared tuna, should not forget the past. So, campaigners for real food say, bring back rook pie ("take four dead rooks and skin ...") and Bath chaps (first, pickle your pigs'' cheeks in brine for two or three weeks ... ) to celebrate Britain''s culinary heritage.
The recipes have been collected in a competition by the Guild of Fine Food Retailers, which represents specialist food producers and the Countryside Alliance, as part of the latter''s campaign to promote the virtues of our farm produce.
But they also remind people there was time before chicken tikka masala, when Britain did have a rich and diverse national cuisine based on the heaving tables of the Victorians and Edwardians, before it was largely eradicated by Thirties depression and post-war rationing.
And parts of that cuisine live on, in farmers'' markets, specialist and farm shops and in some rural and working-class communities. The winner of the competition, Leanne Eadle, makes the Bath chaps at her family''s free-range pig and chicken farm near Oxford, selling them at farmers'' markets in Oxfordshire, Reading and London.
Bath chaps are also regularly on the menu at the St John restaurant in central London, where Fergus Henderson, an enthusiast for such dishes, serves them pan-fried as main course or cold and sliced as a starter.
Other dishes in the top 10 chosen by the Guild include the Henderson-style dish of faggots, still widely eaten, particularly in the Midlands and the North, and the fish custard, flaked fish in a white sauce thickened with eggs.
Roman Pie, a recipe in an Edwardian cook-book, is more obscure and, since it involves layering boiled rabbit with macaroni in pastry case, must represent a pioneering example of what would become our obsession with pasta.
Elizabeth Burt, the spokeswoman for the guild, said: "This teaches us how we used to eat more different bits of animals than we do now and how these were once part of family life. Mrs Eadle''s Bath chaps typify the ideal. We hope this will help rekindle interest in individually produced, artisan and traditional foods, which is needed in a society dominated by fast foods and the mass-produced supermarket culture.''''
Even before the Victorians, Britons had an adventurous cuisine. The 17th-century recipe for A Grand Sallett, discovered by the guild, involved figs, currents, capers, almonds, olives, oregano, beetroot and lemons. Just the dish for some enterprising modern chef to claim as their own creation and serve with the seared tuna.
The Top Ten Long-Forgotten British Foods
The Winner is: "Eadles" Bath Chap
Mr and Mrs Eadle, Redways Farm, New Inn Road, Beckley, Oxford OX3 9US
- 01865 351331
Eadles Bath Chaps are pigs cheeks taken from our own outdoor reared Landrace/Duroc Pigs. The pigs cheeks are cut off, pickled in Brine for 2-3 weeks, then soaked in fresh water over night then the next day put into a cooking bag and then boiled for 3-4 hrs. Leave to cool in the fridge, skin them off and roll in bread crumbs. Serve cold with salad or slice thinly and fry in butter for an usual delicacy. "Bath Chap" may originate from Bath although we are not sure. Some restaurants in London use Bath chaps.
The Runner up: Mrs Grieve''s Fish Custard
1lb smoked haddock (skinned and boned)
1 pint milk
2 dessertspoons cornflour
knob of butter
salt and pepper to taste
Place the fish in a shallow pan, add 2/3 of milk cover and poach gently until the fish is cooked. Remove the fish from the pan and keep warm. Mix the cornflower with the remaining milk and add to the warm milk until it thickens. Add rest of the milk and the butter until a smooth sauce is formed. Beat the eggs until light and frothy and very slowly add to the white sauce, stirring all the time to prevent curdling. Do not boil. Flake the fish and remove any bones. Add to the custard, season to taste, warm gently and serve with new potatoes or thick crusty bread.
3rd -Mrs Langlands'' Faggots
1lb pig''s fry (lites, liver, heart, melt etc)
1 pig''s caul
3 small onions
3oz breadcrumbs (or boiled potatoes)
5 parts salt
1 part ground white pepper
1 part ground ginger
1 part ground sage
1 part ground pimento
Soak caul in tepid water. Cover pigs fry and onions with water and simmer for 45 mins. Drain off liquid, pour a little on crumbs, keep remainder for gravy. Mince fry, onion and breadcrumbs, add seasoning to taste and beat to a smooth paste with a fork. Cut caul into 4 inch squares. Form meat into balls and place caul on top of each. Place in greased tin and brown quickly in hot oven. Cool and freeze in packs of 4 or 6. Use within 4 months.
4th - Grey Squirrel Casserole
Grey Squirrels are regarded as a pest by many people but having been dispatched by shotgun and gutted and skinned their very "organic" meat is very tasty having been stewed with old English cider, onions/shallots, meadow mushrooms and freshly due carrots. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with jacket potatoes and steamed young stinging nettles. Pick the leaves from young nettles and steam. They taste just like spinach and are very nutritious. Grate nutmeg on top.
5th - Rook Pie
3/4lb Puff Pastry
½ teaspoon of Liebig Company''s extract of meat
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon of salt
½ pint of water
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Skin the Rooks, cut out the back-bone and draw, remove the head and feet, and wing bones to second joint. Soak in milk water with salt for 4 hours; divide the steak into strips, mix the flour, mace, salt and pepper on a plate. Roll each piece of steak in the seasoning, put a small amount of butter in each and lace on the top of the steak, pour in a little of the water, with the pastry, brush over with beaten egg, make 2 or 3 holes in the pastry to ventilate the pie and bake for 90mins in a moderate oven. When cooked add the remainder of the water, boiling, in which the Liebig Company''s Extract of meat has been dissolved and serve.
6th - Rabbit with Prunes
· 1 Rabbit, jointed
· ¾ pint of either beer cider stock or water
· 1oz of butter
· ½ oz of flour
· 1/2lb of prunes (stoned)
· 2 onions chopped
· Thyme, bay leaf, salt & pepper
For the marinade:
1 tsp vinegar to pint of water
Cut the rabbit into pieces, place in dish and cover with marinade the night before. Remove from the marinade, dry the pieces and gently fry in oil until coloured. Remove rabbit from pan and fry chopped onions until brown. Add flour to pan and then slowly add some liquid stirring until smooth. Return rabbit to pan with the rest of the liquid, herbs and seasoning. Bring to boil and then simmer for 30 mins. Put in prunes and continue simmering for another 30mins. Now its ready for eating!
7th: Fife Brooth
A few ribs of pork
¼ pearl barley
Put the ribs of pork into a saucepan of cold water with the barley and boil for 21/2 hours. Then add the potatoes (cut into quarters) and boil again until these are tender. Season and garnish with some chopped parsley
8th: Roman Pie
One boiled rabbit (boned)
2oz boiled marcaroni
2oz grated cheese
¾ pint milk thickened with cornflour
short crust pastry
Line a pie dish with pastry, a layer of macaroni, one of rabbit, and one of cheese. Repeat to the tope of the pie, pour in the thickened milk, cover with pastry. Bake in hot oven for 1 hour
9th: Sixteenth century pancakes
English pancakes nowadays are usually thin and crispy, folded into four, sprinkled with sugar and lemon juice. Delicious but more limited than the Shrove pancakes and fritters used to be, described with such loving attention by Samuel Pepys. These involved apples, beer, spices of many kinds and, as usual, a competition between various households. Here is a very simple recipe for spiced pancakes but a certain care is advisable. The alcohol fumes can hit you unexpectedly.
Make the batter in the usual way, using 4oz plain flour, 1 egg, a pinch of salt, 2 crumbled cloves, a generous pinch each of powdered ginger and nutmeg, just under ½ pint light ale and 2 tablespoons of sherry. Heat the thick-bottomed frying pan that you use for normally for pancakes and pour in a tablespoonful of the thin batter. Spread it to cover the pan; as soon the batter bubbles and sets, turn it. After another minute turn it on to a hot plate. The pancakes will come out light and lacy. Stack them on the plate, putting a little butter, brown sugar and a sprinkling of cinnamon on each layer. When the stack is high enough cut it into wedges and serve it like a cake with some extra melted butter and sugar at the table.
The addition of alcohol to the batter improves the taste of the more traditional pancakes as well. The seventeenth century housewife, Lady Fettiplace, recommended "as much sacke [sherry] as milcke". While that may not suit every taste, a spoonful or two of sherry or a half milk-half ale liquid is worth trying in pancakes and fritters.
10th - A Grand Sallet, A salad from Robert May''s cookery book published in the seventeenth century
Slice some fresh figs (oh yes, they do grow in this country) and place them in the middle of a large dish. Surround them with a handful of currants, some capers, blanched almonds and raisins. Then form another circle of olives, sliced cooked beetroot, lettuce leaves, sliced cucumbers and lemons. Pour over it a dressing of three parts olive oil to one part vinegar. Then, says May, garnish the brims of the dish with orangado, slic''t lemon jagged, olives stuck with slic''t almonds, sugar or none. The decorations are probably superfluous, but dishes in his day were constructed on an artistic basis and the colour combinations were important. The proportions of the vegetables must be left to each creator.
For details of delicatessens and speciality food retailers running special promotions in your region during the fortnight, please contact The Guild of Fine Food Retailers: over 250 of the Guild’s member retailers are running British food promotions during the fortnight. They will be decorating their stores with BFF posters and bunting and will be introducing at least six new regional British foods to their existing food range for a special promotion during the fortnight. Please contact:
For details of quality butchers running special British meat promotions in your region during the fortnight, please contact Ross Muir, The Guild of Q Butchers: promoting the fortnight in 200 butchers across the country. firstname.lastname@example.org 01383-432608.
For details of restaurants running special promotions and menus in your region during the fortnight, please contact: Victoria Borrows at Les Routiers or Camilla Woods at the Restaurant Association: email@example.com, 020 7370 5113; firstname.lastname@example.org 020 7404 7744
For details of Farm Shops in your region, please contact Rita Exener at the Farm Retail Association: Tel: 0845 230 2150 or www.farmshopping.com
For details of Harvest Festivals and related events in your region please contact:
The Arthur Rank Centre
Tel: 024 7685 3060