East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food Blog

More childhood memories of food…

Here are some more memories of childhood food from people attending the recent Good Food Fair at Belgrave Hall Museum.

What was your favourite food as a child – and why did you like it?

Belgrave Hall Museum - Good Food Fair 2010

Not surprisingly, there were as many answers to this questions as people I asked! It was interesting, though, to see how the answers varied with the age of the person, and how often grandmothers featured in these memories as the cook of the favourite food: ’My Nan’s fruit cake!’ , or ‘Gran’s Yorkshire puddings – she used to hum to herself when making them’. Grans were also remembered as letting the child make something simple but satisfyingly messy that maybe wasn’t allowed at home - cheese scones with flour flying all over the kitchen and more grated cheese on the floor than in the bowl; rice crispie cakes that don’t quite set and fall apart when you pick them up; and lop-sided sponge cakes with runny icing and half the tub of hundreds and thousands on top of them. I’ve made all these with my granddaughter, and great fun it was too – even cleaning up the mess…

Dried egg powder was the favourite of one person who was a child during the Second World War, when so many foodstuffs were rationed or simply not available: ‘It tasted wonderful to me. Also a sandwich spread with white lard and pepper’. Two visitors now in their 80s remembered eating boiled ‘light’ pudding that could be made with bread (which wasn’t rationed) rather than white flour that was in shorter supply: ‘light but chewable’.

Other favourites included ‘My Mum’s cauliflower cheese – good strong cheese fom Simpkin and James [a high class food shop in Leicester] that made a really toasty, chewy top crust’; ‘Mum’s bread pudding’; ‘custard – comfort food’; mushrooms fried in butter; ‘potatoes and cabbage, pickled herring, sprouts’; and plums and apples.

Was there anything you really hated?

While one person loved roast dinners on a Sunday, these were another visitor’s pet hate: ‘the smell, especially the gravy!’. Cheese, celery, parsnips, swedes and turnips, liquorice, and Carnation milk and cream also featured in the list of hated food, along with tripe (with or without onions), ‘Mum’s stuffed marrow – it defied description!’, and ‘My Mum’s white sauce on cauliflower or onions made without fat because she learnt to cook during the war’. Interestingly, though, lots of people told me that they now loved the food they used to hate as a child, maybe because their tastes have literally changed, or because once they weren’t forced to eat it they tried it again and came to like it.

There were also lots of memories of school dinners, which have an interesting history of their own. I’ll save them for another time…


About apples…

Apples - but what variety are these?

Did you know that the famous Bramley cooking apple originated in Southwell in Nottinghamshire? The story is that apple pips were planted by two ladies, the Miss Brailsfords, in their garden in Easthorpe, near Southwell in 1809. Eventually one grew into a tree and bore fruit, and in 1856 the then owner of the cottage, a butcher named Matthew Bramley, was asked by a local nurseryman, Henry Merryweather, if he could take a cutting from the tree to propagate it. Mr Bramley agreed on condition that any apples grown from the cutting should be known by his name. The original tree is still growing in a garden not far from the Bramley Apple pub in Church Street, Southwell. An interpretation board was unveiled in the town in 2009 to mark the 200th anniversary of the tree - and there is an annual Bramley Apple Festival in Southwell which takes place on 23 October this year. See http://www.southwellcouncil.com/events/view-450 for more details.

A number of other apple varieties also originated in the East Midlands. These include the Annie Elizabeth, possibly a seedling of a Blenheim Orange, raised by a Samuel Greatorex in Knighton near Leicester around 1857 and reputedly named after an illegitimate baby daughter; and the Barnack Orange, raised at Belvoir Castle in 1904 by the Head Gardener, Mr W.H. Divers. The village of Barnack was then in Lincolnshire and is now part of Cambridgeshire – but a rather different speciality is traditionally associated with Finedon in Northamptonshire.

Finedon Dried Apples were produced by drying apples in slow ovens and pressing them at intervals over a period of several days. An account from the Northampton County Magazine  (Vol. 5, 1932, p53) describes the process:

‘The apples were placed on trays and put into the baker’s oven some hours after the bread was withdrawn. When taken out they were carefully pressed between finger and thumb, special pains being taken not to break the skin, and were placed away to cool. The next day they were again put in the oven, again pressed, and again left to cool. This process was continued for nine or ten days; the apples in the end being pressed quite flat, being only about half-an-inch thick. If the skin should be broken the apple would be spoiled. They were then packed into boxes ready for sale. If properly prepared they would keep for months; and they were used for dessert… One of the chief vendors of Finedon dried apples in Northampton was Mr. J. Abel, who had a music depot at Northampton…’.


More about Mr Straw’s House…

Part of the store cupboard on the second-floor landing

More about Mr Straw’s House and its connections with food, as promised…

William Straw was a grocer and seed merchant with a shop in the Market Place in Worksop. He moved to 7 Blyth Grove with his family in 1923, having bought it in 1920 for £767. 2s. 6d and rented it out for two years before having it redecorated for their occupation. William and his wife Florence (nee Winks, the daughter of a local butcher) had three children, William (1898), Walter (1899) and David, who died in infancy in 1903.

After serving in the army in World War 1, Walter joined the family business and William became a teacher in London. The mulberry tree planted in the back garden in 1925 and the orchard and allotment established across the road from the house a little later supplied fresh fruit and flowers for the shop, along with ingredients for the preserves and fruit juices sold there. There are detailed plans for the orchard and allotment covering the period from 1926 – 1983 in the archive at the house, changing from year to year. That for 1948, for instance, included beds for asparagus, celeric, parsnips, tomatoes, ‘curled greens’, cucumbers, marrows, peas, lettuce, rhubarb and raspberries, along with three rows of ‘greyhound’ cabbage (an early summer pointed variety that can be sown in succession over a period of several weeks).

Other produce for the shop may have come from the ‘show’ allotments in the town where William Straw senior and other local gentlemen with a similar interest worked their plots. As the name suggests, experimentation with new varieties of seed and gardening methods that could be ‘shown’ to a wider public might have been combined here with an element of competition!  

Walter continued the business when his father died in 1932. William, having made some very successful investments over the years, gave up his teaching post after the death of their mother in 1939 and returned to Worksop to look after the house. From the very detailed records that he kept we know that he did a weekly bake on Saturdays, including bread for the coming week, and used his mother’s recipes for cakes and other food – as do the staff and volunteers at the House for the tea and cakes provided once a month when the property is open to the public, or for ‘Tasting the Past’ events. Other records show that by growing several varieties of the same vegetable in the same year – cabbages for instance -  his own experiments in gardening also provided the household with a year-round supply.

Very little was changed in the house or thrown away in the sixty years before William Straw’s death in 1990, when he left the contents and most of his estate to the National Trust. Along with the drawers and cupboards full of clothing, the family photographs and books, you can see tools of the family grocery trade, jars and jars of seeds, and a vast number of Kilner jars, accumulated over a forty year period for preserving fruit and vegetables, some complete with contents. One of the most fascinating exhibits is the store cupboard on the second floor landing with modern tins and jars of food alongside others of much greater vintage – Cerebos salt, Camp coffee, packets of Bovril and ‘concentrated lemonade’, and a jar of goose grease from 1932 - all mixed in with cleaning materials. William Straw kept inventories of the cupboard, but curiously never made any attempt to group tins and packages of the same food together on the shelves.  

There is some really fascinating material in the archives at the House, including records of Walter’s studies for a qualification from the Institute of Certificated Grocers, account books giving an insight into the shop’s customers and the wider social context of the time, and William’s attempts to grow liquorice. They also show how deeply involved both brothers were in other aspects of life in Workshop, including their interest in its history.

They deserve a blog of their own – to follow soon – but in the meantime Mr Straw’s House will be open from Tuesday – Saturday until 30 October 2010 before the winter break. You need to pre-book for visits. See the website at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-mrstrawshouse/ for details of opening times and ring 01909 482380 to book.

Many thanks to Megan Doole, the Custodian at Mr Straw’s House, for her interest in the MuBu East Midlands Food project and her help in making connections that I might otherwise have missed.


Childhood memories of food….

While I was at the Good Food Fair at Belgrave Hall yesterday I asked some of the people there about their memories of food as a child. Here are Adam Miller’s answers to my questions.

What was your favourite food as a child – and why did you like it?

Coconut ice. I used to make this with my Grandma, amongst other things. Great fun making, and I built up a reputation for ‘licking out the bowl’!

Was there anything you really hated?

Mushrooms – despite my Mum always placing some on my plate. I have no logical explanation. I think it might have been the texture.

Do you have any memories of school dinners?

Not a great deal as I began to have packed lunches fairly early on. I do remember the large tin, green, water jugs. Oh, and a teacher on duty who always drank hot water!

Many thanks to Adam for his contribution, and for allowing me to add his photo! I’ll pass on some more memories of childhood food soon.


Ice age food…

Here’s something different! A fellow MuBu blogger from Creswell Crags has just posted a fascinating blog on ice age fish cookery. Get out your bone harpoon and go to http://www.digitalengagementnetwork.org/creswellcrags/2010/09/15/is-anyone-hungry/ for the recipe.


Waste not, want not…

Did you see the recent television programme ‘Great British Waste Menu’, in which four top chefs cooked a banquet for sixty people using food that would normally have been thrown away? If you did, then you will know that around a fifth of all food bought in the UK is thown away  because we buy more than we need, or it isn’t stored properly, or it looks as if it has ‘gone off’ when it is still safe to eat, or because we don’t understand the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’.

Speckled but still fine to eat...

A vast amount of food is also binned by supermarkets because it has passed its ‘sell-by’ date, or by food producers because it doesn’t meet the specifications of supermarkets or consumers ‘don’t like the way it looks’ – such as some perfectly edible parts of fish.

A survey by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in 2008 found that 1.3 million unopened pots of yoghurt and around 5,500 whole chickens were thrown away each day, along with 440, 000 ‘mixed foods’ like ready meals, the latter making up 21% of the total cost of food waste. In all, we throw away about 8.3 million tonnes of food a year, most of which could actually be eaten.

So if you’d like to do your bit to reduce this waste and its environmental effects, and save yourself some money in the process, why not check out the ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ website at http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/. This has lots of recipes for using leftovers as well as advice on storing food (keeping bananas with other fruits, for example, can make them ripen more quickly) and those confusing ‘sell by’, ’use by’ and ‘best before’ labels. You can also see what particular initiatives may have been introduced in your local area.

Finally, here are a few ideas about what to do with those speckled bananas:

Fruit bowl buns

Banana ice ceam

Banana and peanut milkshake

Mushy banana sourcream pancakes

Banana & walnut bread

Find these and recipes for other ‘rescue’ dishes at http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/recipes/list?food=10-banana.


Food dates for September…

Belgrave Hall Museum and Gardens will be holding its annual Good Food Fair on Saturday and Sunday, 18 -19 September, from 11 am – 4 pm, and I will be going along to talk to people about their memories of food in the past. Now in its fifth year, the Fair is an opportunity to taste and buy fresh and organic food from local suppliers, and to visit the Hall which will be open as usual. Admission is £1 for adults; children free. See http://www.leicester.gov.uk/your-council-services/lc/leicester-city-museums/museums/belgrave-hall/.

British Food Fortnight runs from 18 September – 3 October 2010, so here are some other food dates for your September diary:

Rutland Food Festival - the first ever Rutland Food Festival takes place on 18 September at Sykes Lane, Rutland Water. Exhibitors will range from small family run farm shops to traditional bakeries and award winning butchers. You can sample ciders and beers, pork pies and cheeses, and freshly cooked sausages and Dexter old spot burgers. There will also be a food demonstration from Sean Hope, Food Ambassador for Rutland, Michelin star chef and owner of The Olive Branch Pub, Clipsham. See http://www.discover-rutland.co.uk/site/whats-on/rutland-food-festival for details.

Calke Abbey, Derbyshire - ‘the Calke Show: Pot to Plate’ will be held on Saturday 18 September. You can enter your own home-grown, seasonal produce in the vegetable, fruit and flower show, and meet local food producers. The Calke Abbey chefs will also be giving demonstrations. See http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-calkeabbey/.

Nottingham Food & Drink Festival - 23 – 26 September in Nottingham City Centre. There will be a Celebrity Chef’s Theatre in Old Market Square featuring Ainsley Harriott, Gino D’Acampo, Sat Bains, Atul Kockhar and Momma Cherri, who will demonstrate their recipes on stage. Other demonstrations and masterclasses from local and regional food and drink suppliers are also on offer, along with a regional market showcasing some East Midlands specialities. For more information see www.wearenottingham.co.uk/foodanddrink.

Great Central Railway Beer Festival - featuring more than 30 guest ales picked from the route of the Great Central main line between Sheffield and London. This takes place on 24, 25 & 26 September at Loughborough Central Station, Great Central Road, Loughborough. This preserved railway has been operating for over 30 years and runs from Loughborough to the Leicester North station. It is the only double track, main line heritage railway in the UK, and trains run every weekend, at Bank Holidays and daily in the summer. You can also visit its museum at Loughborough station. For more details, ring 01509 230726 or visit www.gcrailway.co.uk.

Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire - two events here in September. ‘Some Like it Hot’ takes place on 25 September when the Garden staff will show you how to grow sweet, bell and chilli peppers, and showcase the fruits grown this year in the Walled Kitchen, where local, heritage and unusual fruit and vegetable crops are grown. The Head Chef will also demonstrate some ‘hot’ recipes. The event starts at 11 am. There is no additional charge and no need to book in advance. ‘Seasonal Plot to Plate’  will be held on 30 September starting at 10. 30 am. Clumber Park’s Head Chef will cook dishes created with food from the Walled Kitchen Garden. A three-course meal will be served after a tour of the Walled Garden with the Head Gardener. This event takes place on Thursday 30 September and costs £35. Pre-booking is essential – see http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-clumber_park-2.htm for more information about both events.


Mr Straw’s House…

Mr Straw's House, Worksop

I had a great visit earlier this week to Mr Straw’s House (in Worksop) where there are lots of links to food. More of those soon – but why not visit the house yourself? It was the home of the Straw family who had a grocery business in Worksop itself. Being of a generation for whom ‘waste not, want not’ was a way of life, they lived without many of the modern comforts that became available from the 1920s and threw very little away: ‘Photos, letters, Victorian furniture and household objects can still be seen exactly where their owners left them’.

You need to pre-book for visits. See the website at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-mrstrawshouse/ for details of opening times and ring 01909 482380 to book.


Cook for HRH & the Hairy Bikers…

British Food Fortnight was established in 2002 as a flagship event to bring food promotions, fairs and other events to the public notice. This year the dates are 18 September – 3 October, and there is lots of information about it at http://lovebritishfood.co.uk/blogcategory/british-food-fortnight-2010/. You can also add your own events to the website.

Each year the event includes challenges for schools. This year it has teamed up with Ted the Tractor for the Pre and Primary Schools Challenge, to liven up school milk by designing ‘the ultimate school smoothie’! The Secondary School Challenge is to design and cook a meal based on recipes that would have been used in the past in the locality of the school – one that includes all the food elements the body needs to be healthy, and also uses the minimum in air miles. The winning school will be invited to London to cook their meal for HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and the Hairy Bikers, whose BBC2 series in 2009 took them to 30 counties across Britain – including Lincolnshire, Derbyshire & Leicestershire – to visit local food producers and cook a ‘signature’ dish from each area. See http://www.hairybikers.com/index.php?hairybikers_food_tour_of_britain.

So for a local starter from the East Midlands here’s a nice simple recipe for ‘filling and wholesome’ Butter Bean Soup from Rosemary Ruddles Rutland Recipe’s* 

Butter Bean Soup 

1 lb dried butter beans

2 leeks or onions

1 small carrot

Bunch of mixed herbs

1 pint milk

2 quarts water


Bunch of parsley

Soak the beans all night in cold water. Put them on to boil for an hour in 2 quarts of fresh water with a little salt. Chop the vegetables finely. Add them and the herbs to the beans and simmer for another hour. Add the milk. Rub through a sieve.

*Leicestershire Libraries & Information Service (1976)


September in the garden and the henhouse…

There’s no respite in the vegetable garden according to this month’s advice from the Tit-Bits Yearbook for 1930. Spring cabbages need to be planted out, and growth of winter parsley encouraged by cutting down a patch of parsley, giving the bed a dusting of soot and placing a frame over the bed. Marrows should be cut ‘as frost ensues’ and stored in nets in a frost-proof place, and carrots, turnips and beets also lifted and stored. Frames vacated by them can be filled with lettuces and cabbages, and by sowing radishes, spinach and more carrots. Late tomatoes should be put into their fruiting quarters in the greenhouse, and late-sown cucumbers planted there in beds. 

Time to pick your ripe fruit

Towards the end of the month, lift and store potatoes. Pick out those intended for ‘seed’ and store in a single layer in trays in a light frost-proof place. In the fruit garden, ‘continue to test fruits for ripeness and pick all that are ripe’. Orders for new fruit trees should now be drawn up and sent to the nurseryman as soon as possible to ensure delivery in November.

From the hen house, select birds to be used as breeders during Spring ‘but do not mate them yet…[They] should not be encouraged to lay until December is out, therefore being given full liberty’. Pullets should be brought into the laying-house now as ‘the confinement will tend to hurry them on and bring them into lay sooner than if they were at liberty’. If you really want the recipes for the grain and wet mash on which to feed them, let me know…


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.