Eating In: Lest we forget

It would be a shame to let traditional dishes such as Fat Rascals and Bedfordshire Clangers slide into oblivion, says Michael Bateman. So let's hear it for the new Domesday book of British food
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
SIX YEARS ago, Brussels paid for the compilation of a massive Domesday book of the foodstuffs of European Union countries. The idea was to identify - in Euro parlance - the PDOs (Protected Designations of Origin) and PGIs (Protected Geographic Indications) of each nation's native dishes.

The Brussels Domesday books were published in French as Euroterroirs and then translated and published by all the member states - except Britain. We chose to ignore it. Neither the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food nor its agency, Food From Britain, funded its publication.

But should we care? Surely we have moved on. Our children have international and not regional tastes. They are familiar with pizza and pasta, not spotted dick and brawn; are more at home with Tandoori chicken and stir- fry than with pease pudding and faggots.

That's exactly why we need such a book, according to Tom Jaine, a former restaurateur, and partner with Joyce Molyneux in the Carved Angel, Dartmouth. He used to publish an impassioned newsletter about regional foods which inspired the Consumers' Association to recruit him to edit the Good Food Guide. Now he has retreated to deepest Devon, where he runs a small publishing house producing seriously non-commercial books. His latest is a dictionary of food and drink that unlocks the national psyche.

Drawing on the raw material of the Brussels report, which was prepared by Laura Mason and (in Scotland) Catherine Brown, Traditional Foods of Britain is a stunning record of our gastronomic patrimony.

"Today it's not fashionable to look at our traditions," says Jaine. "People argue that we have always had a magpie mentality, stealing what we want from around the world. But we should be squirrelling away memories of our food heritage to be explored when fusion food, Afghan spices and Polynesian cooking methods excite us no more. We'll be grateful to the intrepid souls who can still bake a real custard tart."

Traditional Foods of Britain is a hymn of praise to the good things that are British - some plain daft, many glorious and great. Forty of the best of our British cheeses, for instance, such as Beenleigh Blue, Appleby's Cheshire, Bonchester, Caerphilly and Cornish Yarg.

It is a proud roll-call of UK animal breeds: sheep such as Soay and Shetland, Southdown and Welsh Mountain, Manx Loghtan and North Ronaldsay, Cheviot and Hardwick. Great beef herds, such as Aberdeen Angus and Galloway, Hereford, Lincoln Red and Welsh Black. Fine porkers such as Gloucester Old Spot and Tamworth.

Pork products too, from the wonderful to the weird: Bradenham and York hams and Ayrshire bacon, black pudding, tripe, brawn, Bath chaps (pig's cheeks) and chitterlings (pig's intestines).

This is a book with a cast of hundreds, the bit players every bit as interesting as the stars. The character actors are our traditional cooked foods: fruit breads, spiced buns, muffins, pikelets, bannocks, oatcakes, griddle breads; biscuits such as fairings, knobs, Bath Olivers; doughnuts, brandy snaps, parkins, gingerbreads, dumplings; teacakes such as Fat Rascals and maids of honour; cider cake, simnel cake, custard tart, Yorkshire curd tart, Eccles cake, shortbread, petticoat tails ...

As I read these entries, memories come flooding back. The sweetshop with its butterscotch, humbugs, Edinburgh rock, Pontefract cakes, tablet and toffee apples. And the drinks of childhood: Tizer and Vimto, dandelion and burdock.

I wonder if perhaps we haven't been too hasty and exchanged the family silver for a supermarket shilling. But, no, I wouldn't want to put back the clock. All the same, it is good to be aware of the comfortable rock on which our modern freewheeling gastronomic culture has been built. Every school library in the country should get a copy. Perhaps it should be a set text?

`Traditional Foods of Britain' by Laura Mason and Catherine Brown, with photographs by James Ravilious (pounds 19.50), is available to Independent on Sunday readers for pounds 17 including p&p from Prospect Books, Allaleigh House, Blackawton, Totnes, Devon TQ9 7DL (01803 712 269)


For the shortcrust pastry (or 240g/8oz frozen puff pastry)

70g/212oz unsalted butter

120g/4oz plain flour

12 teaspoon caster sugar

a little iced water

For the filling

4 tablespoons each of strawberry and apricot jam

2 tablespoons ground almonds

85g/3oz unsalted butter

55g/2oz caster sugar

3 egg yolks

1 large lemon

70g/212oz soft white breadcrumbs

1 egg white

pinch of salt

Cut butter into small pieces. Rub into flour and sugar with your fingertips. Add water to make a soft dough and roll flat. Line 25cm/10in tin with pastry, rolled quite thin. Spread with jam. Sprinkle with ground almonds. Beat butter and sugar to a cream. Beat in egg yolks, the juice of the lemon and its grated peel, breadcrumbs, and egg white well beaten with salt.

Pour mixture into pastry shell and bake in pre-heated oven at 350F/180C/Gas 4 for 40 minutes or until set. Lower heat if jam boils. Serve warm or cold.

From Ruth Lowinsky's recipe in Arabella Boxer's Book of English Food (Hodder and Stoughton)


Bedfordshire Clangers suet-crust pastry, filled with savoury and sweet ingredients at opposite ends, usually cured pork and sweet apple

Dock pudding Boiled chopped spring leaves, such as dock, nettle and dandelion, strained and cooked with oats (north of England)

Bara brith (speckled bread) enriched bread, sometimes with eggs, always with dried fruit (Wales)

Beremeal bannocks buns made with bere, a form of barley (N Scotland)

Black butter apple `cheese', a puree of apples and sugar

slow cooked to evaporate moisture and eaten as a preserve (Jersey)

Cow heel rags of creamy white skin and gristle prized for gelatinous content, enriching stews (North)

Fidget pie raised pie containing cooked pork, apples, potatoes, stock. Eaten hot or cold (Midlands)

Glamorgan sausage two parts breadcrumbs to one part cheese, bound with egg yolk, rolled in flour and fried

Haslet pork meat loaf, well-seasoned. Sliced and eaten cold with salad for high tea (Midlands)

Lardy cake round cake of bread dough rolled flat and spread with layers of sugar, lard and dried fruit with mixed peel (Wiltshire)

Irn Bru bright orange soft drink, containing 0.002 per cent iron as ferric citrate (Scotland)

Mendip wallfish snails. Ten of Britain's 60 snail farmers operate in the West Country

Patum Peperium pounded salt and anchovy paste perfected by John Osborn in Paris in 1828

Shetland sassermeat raw, salted spiced beef and fat moulded into square sausages

Red herring whole herring, heavily salted and cold-smoked for four to six weeks for an intense, flavour (East Anglia)

Stotty cake yeast pancakes "stotted" or thrown on the floor of the oven. Can be stuffed like pitta (North-east)