East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food Blog

July in the garden and the hen house


The 1930 edition of the Tit-bits Yearbook included month by month advice about gardening. In July, ground cleared of early crops had to be cleaned over and raked up ready to plant winter greens, and loose soil pulled from around shallots ‘to hasten ripening’. Parsley running to seed should be cut back to encourage new growth, and herbs gathered as they came into flower, to be tied into bunches and dried for use in the future.

Gooseberries ready to pick

More salad vegetables could be sown ‘to provide succession crops’, and the growth of  ’backward’ vegetables encouraged by watering them with a solution of nitrate of soda, ’one ounce to the yard row, applying it after rain or watering with clear water’. Thinning of fruit should be continued, removing small or malformed fruits, and windfalls gathered up and burnt ‘for many will contain insect pests’.

Gardeners were also advised to give their potatoes a second spraying with Bordeaux mixture. I discovered from a gardening blog (see http://blog.gardenersworld.com/2010/04/16/potato-blight-and-bordeaux-mixture/) that this was commonly used as a fungicide in vineyards as well as to prevent potato blight – hence the name. It consisted of a mixture of copper sulphate and hydrated lime, and despite concerns about its poisonous nature and the time the copper sulphate takes to break down in the soil, a quick search of the Internet reveals that it is still freely available.

The same Yearbook also had monthly advice for poultry keepers, including ‘Reduce rations for two- and three-year old fowls in order to encourage early moulting, but as soon as the first feather is seen to drop, feed them generously’. Laying pullets should be given a summer ration of grain (equal parts of wheat and oats) and a wet mash consisting of five parts of middlings (a mixture of bran and coarsely ground wheat), two and a half parts of Sussex ground oats, two parts of maize meal, half a part of bran, one part of clover meal, and one and a half parts of meat and bone meal. Growing birds had to be separated according to their sex as they ‘must not run together after fours months of age… Allowing them to have full liberty over a meadow or about a large run or even over the lawn in the garden keeps back precocious pullets. Pullets must not commence to lay until they are about six months old’.

If there are any gardeners or poultry keepers among you (I am neither, as you might suspect) does this advice still apply now? I’d be interested to know.

Many museums and historic houses in the East Midlands have gardens, and July is a great time to visit some of them. The Workhouse at Southwell, for example, has a recreated working 19th century garden (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-theworkhouse/). At Calke Abbey in Derbyshire there are walled gardens with flower and kitchen gardens and an orangery (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-calkeabbey/), while the 12 acre site at Easton Walled Gardens near Grantham has been cultivated for around 400 years (http://www.eastonwalledgardens.co.uk/). There are lots more – see http://www.gardens-guide.com/maps/eastmid.htm for a few ideas.


Gooseberry Pork Pie…


(Mansfield Museum)

Really? Well, nearly…

Melton Mowbray may be famous for its pork pies – but Mansfield had its own version of this regional delicacy. The pie crust was the same, but the filling consisted of young gooseberries that ripened around the time of the traditional July Fair and were still firm enough not to make the pastry soft. Even so, to prevent the fruit and juice from falling out, the two halves of the pie had to be turned on their backs as soon as it was cut.

The fair itself dated  from 1377 under a charter granted by Richard II, but was last held in the 1920s. In 1927 two pies filled with 60 pounds of gooseberries were baked for the occasion by Councillor J. H. Mann, one cut during the fair in the Market Place by the Mayor, Alderman D.H. Maltby, and the other despatched to the town of Mansfield in the USA. Smaller pies were also sent to Mansfield people living elsewhere. The Mansfield gooseberry pie tradition is being revived this year. For more information and pictures of the pies being made, visit http://www.ourmansfieldandarea.org.uk/page_id__241_path__.aspx and http://www.mansfield103.co.uk/shows.php?s=85.

Don’t forget the number – get your divi…

One of the comments on my previous blog set me thinking about the Co-op – and yes, I can still recite my mother’s ‘divi’ number (97790)…

Co-operative societies were an important source of food for working class families from the 1840s, when the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers’ Society first established a successful retail co-operative. They have their own museum (see http://museum.co-op.ac.uk/) - but the local Co-op also features in a new exhibition at Long Buckby Museum (see www.longbuckbymuseum.co.uk/). I’m sure there must be others in the East Midlands – let me know.

Long Buckby was the first co-operative society to be established in Northamptonshire, perhaps not surprisingly as the local shoemakers had a tradition of radical politics. Still earlier, the Derby Co-operative Provident Society was founded in 1850 by twelve working men with capital of just £2, and others followed in the 1860s: Leicester, Northampton, Ripley and Ruddington (1860), Lincoln and Hinckley & District (1861), Nottingham and Desborough (1863), and Mansfield and Hucknall (1864), Kettering (1866) and Long Eaton (1868). There is a Jubilee Souvenir of the Desborough Society (published in 1913) online at http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924092618549.

By buying in bulk, the Co-ops were able to provide food at lower prices than commercial traders, though they often met with local opposition. In its early years wholesalers refused to supply the Leicester Co-operative Society after other customers threatened to take their business elsewhere. The formation of a national co-operative wholesale society in 1863 helped to solve this sort of problem, and by 1866 the Leicester society had opened its first branch store. This was followed soon after by two bakehouses, making it more independent and still more economical. Other Co-ops set up piggeries and poultry farms, butchery departments, dairies and fishmongers to supply food to their customers – in truly vast quantities!

The Diamond Jubilee history of the Kettering Industrial Co-operative Society in 1926 gave details of the quantities it sold in an average week, including 924 pounds of biscuits, 6,480 pounds of butter, 4,480 pounds of cheese, 11,080 pounds of bacon and ham, 5,600 pounds of lard, 44,800 pounds of sugar and 2,851 pounds of tea. In 1925 the Society had also baked 1,634,268 loaves of bread (31,428 a week) and used 11,299 sacks of flour weighing 280 pounds each. These were the staple items of a working class diet at the time, but the quality of the food – pure and unadulterated, as Co-op adverts often said – was also important. 

It wasn’t unusual in the 19th century for food to be adulterated, or poisonous chemicals added to ‘improve’ its appearance: for bakers to add chalk to their flour to make whiter bread, for instance, or potatoes to give it more bulk; for milk to be diluted with water; or for a copper solution to be added to soaked peas to make them look greener. As well as protecting their customers against such practices, the Co-operative Societies also paid any profits back to them in the form of a ‘dividend’ on purchases – which was why remembering your Co-op number was so important. This had to be given every time you bought something from the Co-op, so as a child ‘they used to drill it into you. “Don’t forget the number”, get your divi…’ (C. Brown, Leicester Voices, Tempus Publishing, 2002, p113).

By 1935 sales by the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) to local co-ops amounted to £90 million, and it was operating 120 factories to produce a great range of food and other goods. However, as the CWS noted in a souvenir guide for children for the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary in 1935, co-operation was not just about cheap and pure food: ‘your society cares for other things besides trading. You have an education committee… Very likely your society has men’s and women’s guilds, and you belong to a junior class… It is very delightful for us to know that in buying such delicious things as C.W.S. sweets, jellies, biscuits, jams, chocolates etc., we are not only getting the best of value for our money and adding to our dividend, but are at the same time… building happiness for homes like our own through increasing co-operative employment’.   


About this Sponsor

A research project that looked at various aspects of food in the East Midlands, linking them with museum displays and objects in the region, and making the results available to as many people as possible in different formats.