East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food Blog

Objects from Gumley butcher’s shop…

A quick query. I recently found a newspaper cutting from January 1994 about the auction of items from a butcher’s shop in Gumley, near Market Harborough – ‘The J’s’ - that had operated informally as a museum for more than 40 years. These included domestic pork pie moulds and sausage makers, salting tubs, knives, the butcher’s table, and the poleaxe used to fell the animals. According to the article, these artefacts were likely to be much in demand by agricultural museums, and I wondered if any of them had ended up in a museum in the East Midlands. Probably too long ago for an easy answer – but I just thought I’d ask…


A few curiosities…

As my MuBu scholarship will be ending next month, I thought this might be a good time to share a few of the more unusual things that I’ve come across in the course of my researches – so here are a few curiosities from across the region:

Conviction for snaring partridges on a Sunday

Benjamin Bennett of St Mary’s parish, Nottingham, a framework knitter, was convicted on 24 March 1779 of using ‘a Net and two Dogs called Pointers for the taking of Partridges’ (Records of the Borough of Nottingham, Vol VII: 1760 – 1800 (Thomas Forman & Sons, 1947), 15 April 1779).  Does this mean that it was legal to take partridges on other days of the week? It’s quite possible, as laws against poaching were mainly a feature of the earlier 19th century when landowners claimed shooting rights for themselves and severe penalties including transportation were imposed for taking game – including rabbits, despite the damage they did to crops and their value as food for the labouring classes. 

If you’d like to read how an expert poacher snared his game, see James Hawker’s journal A Victorian Poacher (Oxford University Press, 1962) which recounts his exploits in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.  Don’t be tempted to follow his example, though… In 2007 two men from Bargoed, Caerphilly were prosecuted under the Poaching by Night Act 1828 and fined £385 each for shooting rabbits to feed their pet hawks. While transportation has long since been abolished, they could still have received a sentence of three months hard labour under the Act.

Exemption from the ‘restrainte of eating flesh in Lent’

From the parish register of Mackworth, Derbyshire: ‘Whereas the right worshipfull Francis Mundy of Markeaton… for the avoiding of the penalties and dangers of the laws and statutes made for the restrainte of eating flesh in Lent and in consideration that he hath in his house at diett or table the right worshipful Mrs. Dorothy Poole gentlewoman about the age of four-score years, who is very weak and sickly, not able to go or stand without help, hath desired me to grant licence to and for the said Dorothy Poole to eat flesh for and during the time of her sickness, which I have thought fitting and in regard I know the considerations aforesaid to be most true, I do hereby grant unto the said Dorothy Poole to eat flesh for and during the time of her sickness according to the laws ans statutes of this realm in that case made and provided…’ (Edward Hinchcliffe, Vicar of Mackworth, 9 February 1618).

The Mayor of Northampton opens oysters with his dagger

According to William Andrews in Bygone Northamptonshire (Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co Ltd, London, 1891), p214: ‘He is said to have done this to keep them a sufficient distance from his nose’ – Northampton, says Dr Fuller, ‘being eighty miles from the sea, fish may well be presumed stale therein. Yet, I have heard (says the Doctor) that oysters, put up with care, and carried in the cool, were weekly brought fresh and good to Althorp, the house of the Lord Spencer, at equal distance’.

Beware of the knives

According to John N. Merrill in Derbyshire Folklore (Footprint Press Ltd., 1995), p114: if two knives cross when laying a table, this is a sign of a quarrel that will arise ‘in the immediate future’. In Lincolnshire folklore, ‘to leave knives crossed is to court calamity’, while ‘to sharpen a knife after supper is to make the way easy to the burglar and cut-throat’. It was also said to be unlucky to have a crowing hen – but more of the folklore of poultry on another occasion.

Street sellers of bananas and celery fined in Leicester

There were a number of reports in November/December 1932 of fines imposed on sellers of bananas and celery in Leicester who were trading in violation of local bye-laws. They were often ex-servicemen who claimed, in the words of one, ‘I cannot live on fresh air… It’s the only chance I’ve got of getting a living’. After being fined 2s 6d, another said: ‘I shall still go on doing it. How can my wife’s dole money keep eight of us?’. Several of the sellers were unable to pay the fines, or refused to do so on principle, and were sent to prison. The whole episode caused such strong feeling – with one local councillor paying the fine of one of the sellers, and the family of another being visited by a lady in a ‘luxurious limousine’ with food parcels – that the Markets Committee of the Borough Council eventually agreed to let them rent stalls on non-market days (Leicester Mercury).

The ‘outward beauty’ of an apple pie

And finally, a few lines from a poem in praise of apple pies from the Northamptonshire County Magazine (Vol 1, 1928, p55):

Of all the delicates which Britons try,

To please the palate, or delight the eye;

Of all the several kinds of sumptuous fare,

There’s none that can with apple-pie compare,

For costly flavour or substantial paste

For outward beauty or for inward taste…


Knobbly veg…

From the latest edition of the National Trust Magazine: ‘The Trust and the magazine delicious. have teamed up to front a campaign that aims to get supermarkets selling fruit and veg in all shapes and sizes. ‘We Love Knobbly Veg’ asks consumers to vote with their purses by buying less-than-perfect-looking produce. At present, large numbers of knobbly, scuffed or dirty fruit and vegetables are classed as Class II and consigned to processing or animal food, while much ends up as waste’. See http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-chl/w-countryside_environment/w-food_farming/w-food-we-love-knobbly-veg.htm for details.


On the subject of chocolate…

Well, if you didn’t get any cheesy chocolates for Valentine’s Day, neither did I – but here’s advance notice of a ‘Chocolate Indulgence’ meal at Donington le Heath Manor House on Saturday 2 April 2011 at 7.30 pm. The menu has chocolate in every course, and there will also be a display of the art of the chocolatier. The cost is £30, and pre-booking is essential. Telephone 01530 817214 to book. There is a different kind of food-related event at Donington le Heath on Sunday 13 March 2001 from 10 am – 1 pm. At ‘Orchard Activities’ you can help the Hall’s gardener to plant new trees, and learn the techniques of apple tree grafting and pruning. This event costs £20, and pre-booking for is also essential. Telephone 01530 278444 to book.


Cheesy chocs for Valentine’s Day…

Something a little different as a Valentine’s Day gift… Long Clawson dairy in the Vale of Belvoir, best known as makers of Stilton cheese, has produced a limited edition range of chocolate covered cheese especially for Valentine’s Day: white chocolate and Stilton with apricot, white chocolate and Stilton with blueberries, milk chocolate with aged Red Leicester, and dark chocolate with Blue Stilton. They have already sold out – but you can feast your eyes on the images at http://www.clawson.co.uk/products/savoury-blends/cheddarwithspicyfruitchutney.

You still have time to make the more traditional gift of Valentine buns, with caraway seeds, plums or raisins, or the gingerbread that was given as a gift in Uppingham. Here’s a recipe for the ’plum shuttles’ made more widely in Rutland for Valentine’s Day

Rutland Plum Shuttles

1 lb plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 oz butter

4 fl oz warm milk

2 fl oz warm water

1/2 tbsp caster sugar

1 egg

8 oz currants

1/2 oz fresh yeast, or half tsp dried yeast

Sieve  the flour and salt into a bowl. Cream the yeast and sugar together, mix with the water, and allow to stand for about 20 minutes until frothy. Melt the butter in a saucepan with the milk, and beat in the egg. Add the yeast mixture to the flour and salt and then mix in the currants, making a smooth dough. Knead well on a floured board and cover. Leave to rise for around 30 minutes until double in size, then knead the dough again. Divide the mixture into 12 pieces and shape each one into a small oval. Place them onto a greased baking tray, cover with a damp cloth, and leave them to rise for 30 minutes in a warm place. Brush with beaten egg, and cook in a pre-heated oven at 200°C, 400°F or gas Mark 6 for around 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

If you don’t feel like making your own, you could always try your luck at the ‘big house’ as the children in Belgrave near Leicester did in the 19th century, visiting Mrs Vann at the Hall on Valentine’s Day to sing a rhyme, ‘after which they were rewarded with pennies and buns’: 

Good Food Fair, Belgrave Hall Museum

‘If you’ve got a penny in your pocket

Slip it into mine.

We used to come at eight o’clock

But now we come at nine’. 

Or you could just go out and buy some cupcakes in the 21st century tradition. Here’s a sample from the Good Food Fair at Belgrave Hall Museum earlier this year… I’ll be giving a talk there on my MuBu researches next month – more of that later. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day in the meantime. You never know, some of those limited edition cheesy chocolates may be destined for you…


February in the garden and the hen house…

A last-but-one visit to the 1930 Tit-Bits Yearbook before the Mubu East Midlands Food project ends next month:

Now is the time to sow early peas, broad beans, parsnips and onions ‘as the soil and the weather permit’. On a warm border you can also sow early cabbages and cauliflowers, spinach, turnips, lettuse and radishes. Other vegetables such as leeks, celery and marrows can be advanced by sowing in boxes in a frame. Crops sown earlier need to be protected as they appear through the soil.

Towards the end of February, plant your shallots, garlic, early potatoes, autumn-sown onions and chives (the potatoes need to be on a warm border). Outdoor rhubarb and kale can be forced by placing large pots or boxes over the crowns and banking up manure around them. Dust seedlings with soot or lime as protection against birds.

You can now resume your fruit planting, but only on the ‘right sort of day…it is bad to plant on water-logged or frozen ground’. Fruit pruning should now be ‘hastened along’ so that it can be finished by the end of the month. Clear grass and weeds from around the trees, as ‘you will not get good fruit from trees which have not a clean circle of soils above their roots’.

In the hen house, incubating ‘should now commence in earnest’, as birds hatched in March (‘so far as heavy breeds are concerned’) make the best layers. Make sure the birds’ water doesn’t freeze in cold weather by refilling the containers two or three times a day. At the end of the month discontinue the artificial lighting of the laying-houses – by which time we will all be hoping for a few more hours of sunlight…


Selstonia – or where’s me snap…?

57 The Breach, Lawrence's home 1887 - 91

I recently spent a fascinating day in Eastwood with my fellow MuBu scholars, Dave Amos and Lucy Veale, visiting the D.H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum and other sites relating to Lawrence’s life there. The kitchen was the heart of the house for miners and their families, as it was for many other working class people – usually the warmest room in the house, with food cooked over an open fire or on a cast-iron range. Cleaning and black-leading the range was hard work, but it was great for food like rice puddings and stews that needed long slow cooking, and for making bread in the days when working class women made their own rather than buying from a baker.

Dave has recently been working on a heritage project in Selston, in the Ashfield area of Nottinghamshire, recording people’s memories of life in the village and of work in agriculture, mining or textiles. Along with Estelle Liley, he has compiled a book on food in Selston, with recipes and memories of rationing, local delivery rounds and the Co-op, and school dinners. One woman remembered her school dinners as ‘great. No choice of dishes, just wholesome, tasty, filling fresh food… Some days it was difficult for me to get up from the table I was so full. After the pudding had been devoured, tables had to be cleared and a damp cloth from the hatch was used to wash and wipe the now empty surfaces down ready, if this was the ‘first sitting’, for the second one… Each day brought a totally different menu so there was always something you liked. No one ever went hungry…’.

Here’s a wartime recipe for cheese pudding from the book – just use fresh eggs in place of the dried ones!

Cheese Pudding

Half a pint of milk

2 eggs (2 level tbsps dried eggs mixed with 4 tbsps water)

4 oz grated cheese

1 breakfast cup breadcrumbs

Salt & pepper

Quarter tsp dried mustard

Add the milk to the egg mixture and stir in the other ingredients. Pour into a greased dish and cook for about 30 minutes in a moderately hot oven until brown and set. (Serves 4).    

My thanks to Dave for a copy of the book: Food for Thought, or where’s me snap, compiled by Estelle Liley & David Amos (Selstonia Living Heritage Booklet No. 2).


Marmalade Fiesta at Doddington Hall…

Doddington Hall in Lincolnshire will be holding its third Marmalade Fiesta on Saturday 19 February 2011. There will be free recipes to take away and cook at home, and ‘super orangey’ dishes on the menu in the cafe (reservations recommended – call 01522 688 581). The shop at the Hall now has Seville oranges in stock if you live in the area and would like to make your own marmalade – then you  can enter it in the free competition on the day. Entries need to be submitted by 2 pm, and the winners will be announced at 3 pm. 

The marmalade must be made by yourself and presented in a jar without your name on it. The prize will be a Family Ticket giving one-day entrance to the House & Gardens that can be used on any day that they are open. The makers of the second and third placed marmalades will receive a one-day entrance ticket for two adults to the House & Gardens which may also be used on any day that they are open to the public. For more details, see http://www.doddingtonhall.com/calendar/event/612.

Nigel Slater’s recipe for marmalade can be found at http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/jan/25/seville-orange-marmalade-recipe.


Burns Night in Corby…

It was Burns Night earlier this week – the anniversary of the birth of the Scottish poet Robert Burns on 25 January, which is celebrated wherever in the world Scots are gathered together. 

I’m sure it’s well known that a lot of people moved to Corby in Northamptonshire from Scotland in the 1930s when Stewarts and Lloyds opened their new steelworks there, and again after the Second World War when the works were extended. There are two Church of Scotland churches there - St Andrew’s, built in the 1930s and St Ninians in the 1960s - and Glasgow Celtic and Rangers supporters’ clubs. Corby still has an annual Highland Gathering, and Burns Night is also celebrated there with traditional food such as haggis and neaps (swedes) and tatties (potatoes). The 200th anniversary of Burns’ death in July 1996 was also marked with an exhibition of his life at the Highland Gathering, an evening of verse at Corby Library, a social evening and ceilidh, and a memorial service at St Ninian’s church.

Polish shop, Corby Old Village

People from other parts of the UK and Europe also migrated to Corby to work in the steelworks, and established their own religious and cultural organisations. In the years after World War II Corby had one of the largest Latvian communities in the country, with its own Lutheran church and library, and classes in the Latvian language and culture for children.

The steelworks closed in 1980, but in recent years more migrants have come from Eastern Europe to work in Corby’s newer manufacturing and service sectors. Food has always been an important part of the culture of migrant communities. In the 1930s local shops were soon advertising ‘Scottish specialities’ such as haggis, clootie dumplings and Scottish black pudding, and in Corby Old Village there is now a shop selling Polish food. The Old Village is also the site of the new Corby Heritage Centre that will be opening soon in the former Manor Farm on the High Street, dating from the early 17th century and now Corby’s oldest surviving residential building. 

There are two MuBu projects based in Corby: Our Young Corby at http://www.digitalengagementnetwork.org/ouryoungcorby/ and Cypher, in which young people are collecting images and articles about Corby and adding their own thoughts about what Corby means to them. Find this at http://www.digitalengagementnetwork.org/cypher/.

And if you’d like to try neeps and tatties for yourself, there’s a recipe at http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1677/neeps-and-tatties.


Riot and tumult…

Bell Inn, Nottingham

The Bell Inn on Angel Row in Nottingham was originally the refectory of a Carmelite monastery and became an alehouse after this and other small monasteries were dissolved in 1536 by order of Henry VIII. What has that to do with riot and tumult? Well, rioting over shortages of food and the increased prices that usually resulted were very common in the past, particularly in the case of grain, flour and the bread that was such a large part of working class diets; and you would have had a ‘grandstand’ view from the Bell Inn of one such riot on 12 May 1792. This was provoked by the high price of butchers’ meat, when:

‘a number of people ‘assembled in a riotous manner in the Market-place… After a stout endeavour to regain possession of their property, when further resistance might have proved dangerous, the butchers retreated from the Shambles, and left the mob in undisturbed possession. It being Saturday, the stock of meat was large, and in a few moments the whole of it disappeared. The magistrates at once called out the military, and by the expostulations of the Mayor, and the firing of the soldiers in the air, the mob dispersed, and the military returned to their quarters.

‘Very unexpectedly, in the course of the evening, the depredators reassembled, and bearing down upon the Shambles with renewed force, destroyed and conveyed away every door, shutter, implement, and book they could find in the shops, and made a great bonfire of them in the Market-place, yelling and shouting round it like savages. The fire was burning from eleven at night till one in the morning when the military succeeded in extinguishing it, and tranquility was restored. For several days after, symptoms of a recurrence of the disorder were apparent, but the vigilance of the authorities at length finally suppressed them’ (Henry Field, The Date Book of Nottingham, 1884).

A few years later, on 1 September 1800, the Records of the Borough of Nottingham* tell us that there were more ‘riotous proceedings’ occasioned by the high price of provisions; and ‘as far as lies in their powers’, local magistrates declared that they ‘will be glad to concur in any Steps that may be thought eligible to lower the price of Bread, but all measures for that purpose will be vain so long as Rioting and Tumult prevail’. The ‘mob’ first ‘did some mischief at several Bakers’ Houses’ until they were dispersed by a party of the Blues’ (Royal Horse Guards), but next morning ‘seemed Disposed to plunder the Warehouses and some Boats laden with corn’. Mills at Basford, Lenton, Radford and Wollaton were also attacked and damaged.

The rioting was provoked by shortages of flour and ‘the price at which the small Quantity that could be procured was obtained’. Late rain had delayed the harvest and the price of corn had risen from £4 a quarter to £7 – 10. As a consequence, the magistrates noted, the poor of the town had:

‘struggled with dreadful Hardships from the high Price of Provisions with unexampled Patience up to the period of the Harvest from the hope of the produce of it alleviating their miseries… [Flour was obtainable] with extreme Difficulty… at any price. This appears to have Driven them to absolute Despair and nothing can exceed the violence of their behaviour… [We are] apprehensive that nothing short of some general Regulations by legislative authority will be commensurate to the Magnitude of the Evil’.  

In the absence of any help from central government, and being ‘anxious for the suppression of the riots… without the effusion of blood’, the magistrates themselves purchased flour and ‘sold it out to the Poor under the management of several Gentlemen in the Town who very handsomely came forward to assist them’. The losses made on the flour were covered by public subscription and the ‘Corporation purse’, and by 16 September there seemed ‘no occasion to fear any further Tumult’.

Nottingham was by no means alone in experiencing this kind of disturbance – in 1766 there was a major riot in Leicester over the price of cheese, of which more some other time – but this was very typical of food riots in the 18th century and beyond. Although there is no specific mention of them here, women were often prominent in food riots, having the ultimate responsibility for feeding the family and making ends meet ; but the mob’ was not nearly as undisciplined as the term suggests. On the contrary, its attacks were focused on the houses, warehouses, mills and other property of the bakers and suppliers of flour, who were seen as the culprits in terms of the high prices.  

Local magistrates traditionally had a role in controlling prices and ensuring supplies of essential provisions to maintain public order, and their response and that of other ‘gentlemen’ of the town when the military failed to quell the rioting was also fairly typical – though this sort of intervention became less common in the earlier 19th century when newer theories of political economy came to condemn it as undesirable ‘interference’ in the free market economy. 

However, historians have argued that the actions of the so-called ‘mobs’ were based on a strong sense of a ‘moral economy’: of traditional rights and customs that they were defending when they resorted to rioting and took direct action against what they saw as the cause of their problems. If you’d like to explore this interpretation at more length, see E.P. Thompson, ‘The moral economy of the English crowd in the 18th century’ in Past & Present, 50 (1971), 76-136; or George Rude, The Crowd in History: popular disturbances in France & England 1730 – 1848 (Serif, 2005 edn.). 

* Vol. VII, 1760 – 1800 (Corporation of Nottingham, 1947)

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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.