Goosnagh cake, sea lavender honey, medlar butter - forgotten foods making a comeback


A double confession. Goosnargh cake (a buttery, sweet/savoury shortbread with caraway and coriander seeds) and medlar butter is my new favourite treat. What’s more, despite considering myself pretty worldly wise when it comes to more recondite ingredients, both are delectable new tastes for me, brought to my attention by Slow Food UK announcing its “Forgotten Foods” in advance of Slow Food Week from 1-9 June.

“I’m delighted we’ve even introduced you to something different,” says Catherine Gazzoli, Slow Food’s UK MD. “It’s as simple as eat-it-or-lose-it when it comes to rarer foods produced on a modest scale by small producers.”

Slow Food’s way of protecting Britain’s edible biodiversity is to raise awareness of such ingredients with challenging and interesting flavours and  to re-awaken demand.

There’s a worldwide “Ark of Taste” network, which counts more than 1,000 products from more than 60 countries and, to date, Slow Food UK has saved 61 forgotten foods.

Slow Food UK’s National Art of Taste Commission, comprised of chef Richard Corrigan, Neal’s Yard founder Randolph Hodgson and food writers Matthew Fort and Charles Campion, identifies which endangered foods are a priority for saving and reviving.

The latest additions are badger-faced Welsh mountain sheep (they have distinctive black stripes); British lop pig (there are only 200 registered floppy-eared breeding sows left in the UK); Cornish saffron cake (a yeast-based cake speckled with dried fruits originally using Cornish saffron grown near Bude); and sea lavender honey collected from coastal mudflats around East Anglia (a hard-set honey with a smooth texture and aromatic taste).

Slow Food’s growing UK Chef’s Alliance is leading the way in showcasing not only the latest forgotten foods but all those within the Ark of Taste when in season. “It’s all about genuine and authentic flavour that has survived the test of time and is produced with care,” enthuses chef José Pizarro. 

Carina Contini, of Centotre in Edinburgh, adds: “The special ingredient is always the story. Understanding where ingredients come from and how they got there allows us to connect with our environment and food chain and we love sharing this knowledge with our customers.” Contini likes to support produce from the most rural parts of Scotland. A key discovery has been beremeal, a pure variety of barley cultivated since Viking times.

“The producer is so small and remote that sometimes he has problems with the mill and struggles with his erratic electricity supply,” explains Chris McGowan, head chef at Corrigan’s, in Mayfair, at a truly memorable preview Slow Food lunch.

Such special foods inspire curiosity and are produced with passion. Formby asparagus, with its gorgeous purple tips, produced only on fine, sandy soil dunes at Formby, near Liverpool, by a handful of producers, tastes extraordinarily verdant and gently earthy. McGowan serves up Formby asparagus with fellow forgotten food, Grimsby smoked haddock, wrapped in the lightest of pancakes with a runny pheasant-egg sauce.

McGowan says: “We’re finding that our customers really want to know about such hidden producers. It is so important to make our edible diversity real and not waste our culinary heritage.”

Chef Anna Hansen’s menu for Slow Food Week illustrates how versatile and modern even the most traditional “forgotten foods” can be. It includes einkorn (the earliest cultivated grain dating back to 7500 BC, with low gluten and a distinctive rustic taste) and beremeal flatbreads with raw-milk salted yoghurt and black Jersey butter; cider apples with lemon, spices including liquorice and Jersey cider boiled over an open fire with a rabot/paddle; badger-faced lamb shoulder, seven-spice and pomegranate molasses stuffed with beetroot pilaf and shredded Good King Henry sumac.

Hansen is evangelical: “You can really taste in the texture and deliciousness that these are well-looked after slow-reared, less-stressed animals.”

At Benares restaurant in Mayfair, Atul Kochar has been readily converted to the superior taste of rare breeds introduced to him by Slow Foods. “It’s good to introduce customers to a higher level of quality that really tastes unique. The badger-faced lamb meat fibre is very tender and juicy and superb in Punjabi lamb chops with spinach black cardamom and clove.”

“It’s about far more than simply putting food on the plate,” insists Neil Forbes, of Edinburgh’s Café St Honoré, whose favourite ingredients include beremeal that makes incredible, crisp bannocks bread, mixed with bacon fat and Orkney North Ronaldsay sheep that feed almost entirely on seaweed.

Forbes adds: “I really enjoy doing my homework on the latest forgotten foods, and a large part of what we’re about is teaching about sustainability. It is really important to get young chefs to understand cooking should be fun, convivial and about forging relationships, not just about profits and egos. Traceability and integrity are so important, even in the more austere times.”   

Yet surely such hidden gems are not only by their very nature hard to track down but likely to only reach a select diner. John Pratt, chef of Yorkshire’s The Traddock, is optimistic: “We’re attracting a new breed of ‘food tourist’ customers who are after ingredients very specific to the locality that adds to the experience of a stay, and year-round all our menus have forgotten food emblems that encourage diners to ask questions and understand the heritage. Char from Lake Windermere, for example, was popular with the Victorians – there was a special refrigerated train to deliver the fish to London and Fortnum & Mason.”  

Reaching out wider still, Restaurant Associates, one of the UK’s top contract caterers, has officially partnered with Slow Food UK for the past six months and is serving forgotten food dishes such as Herdwick lamb Middle Eastern meatballs and Montgomery cheddar Welsh rarebit to around 70 clients, including Google and Citibank.

As I furtively polish off another Goosnargh cake and medlar butter, I recall the gentle admonishment of Glynis Brown of Highways Farm, producer of medlar butter and jelly: “We need to encourage more people to enjoy eating our food history. I don’t want medlar to become a fruit dodo.”

A new initiative for Slow Food UK Week 2013 is to encourage people to host a “leftovers” dinner supplemented by forgotten foods and fresh, seasonal ingredients and charge a £5 donation to Slow Food.

Medlar butter and jelly: Highways Farm, 07887 668445; sea lavender honey: London Farmers’ Markets,; goosnargh cake: Tina’s Corner Bakery; 01772782514. Also on sale throughout Slow Food Week at Androuet London, Formby asparagus:

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones