East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food Blog

Advertising slogans…

I’m just reading a book entitled Kitchen Memories: food and kitchen life 1837 – 1939* and have been entertained by some of the slogans used to advertise various food products over the hundred years or so that it covers.

There are lots emphasising that the food is ‘absolutely pure,’ or made with ‘all British’ ingredients, or good for various ailments, but here are a few other examples:

Albene – pure vegetable fat: No colour No smell No Taste:. Sold by all Grocers, Stores, Chemists etc. (around 1890)

An advert for Bird’s Egg Powder from around 1900 featuring a parody of This is the House that Jack Built (though I do wonder what people thought the egg powder was made from):






‘DIPLOMA, The English Crustless Cheese, Cheddar or Cheshire’ (1928 – a reminder that until not so long ago cheese came with an inedible rind that had to be cut away, so rindless cheese was seen as better value for money)

‘Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater, Had a wife and he could keep her. He put Kellogg’s Corn Flakes on the shelf, So his wife could enjoy herself’ (1933)

‘Let Green’s of Brighton Brighten your Table’ (1930s ad for sponge mixture)

And finally: MASON’S Wine Essences – Make the festive time more festive! Buy MASON’S Wine Essences for the children’ (1890s – for children’s parties. They included elderberry, ginger and orange, and a 6d. bottle made a gallon of drink).

* E. Drury & P. Lewis, Kitchen Memories: food and kitchen life 1837 – 1939 (The National Trust, 2009)


Community Supported Agriculture…

There is an interesting article in the Spring 2012 edition of the National Trust Magazine (p68-71) on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), in which local communities work with food producers ‘to share the responsibility and rewards of farming’. This is not a new concept – the system is said to have originated in Japan in the 1960s, and to have been introduced in Scotland in 1994 - but has been taken up much more widely in recent years. Consumers pay a fee to join a scheme, which them entitles them to a share of the produce or a discount on prices, as well as encouraging them to feel more ‘connected’ to the land where the food is produced. For farmers, it can offer a secure income and a reduction in the costs of distribution.

Several SCA schemes operate on National Trust land, though I’m not aware of any as yet in the East Midlands. For more information about Community Supported Agriculture in general, see the Soil Association website at http://www.soilassociation.org/communitysupportedagriculture/whycsa.


‘What we eat at home’ exhibition…

A new exhibition at Charnwood Museum in Loughborough is exploring how cooking and eating at home has changed from prehistory to the present day. Among the items on display are a large number of kitchen gadgets and a 1950s kitchen which, according to a recent item in the Leicester Mercury, ‘has caused a few gasps from our younger visitors – they can’t believe people never used to have fridges’.

The exhibition runs until 25 March 2012. For further information, telephone 01509 233754 or visit the museum website at www.leics.gov.uk/charnwoodmuseum.


Colwick cheese…

My MuBu colleague David Amos recently sent me an article on Colwick Cheese from the Selston Parish Community News (Issue 41, p18). The cheese was first made in the early 17th century in the village of Colwick, south of Nottingham, often at home ‘in the shape of a bowl into which fruit, cream or jam could be placed’. It was last made commercially in Carlton, Nottingham around 1970.

‘Ma Bonam’, the author of the article, was reminded of eating the cheese while at an artisan cheese festival where cheesemakers were being encouraged to revive it: ‘This brought home some memories of eating this cheese, not with fruit but with onion and cucumber or watercress. I also remember my Mum making this cheese at home when the milk had gone sour… in the days before we had a fridge’.

If you’d like to try your hand at making it, you can find a recipe for Colwick Cheese in Selston Parish Community News at www.communitynews-selston.co.uk/.


Food, drink and networking at the University of Leicester…

From the University of Leicester Newsblog:

‘Some of the UK’s well-known firms will be represented at a trade show at the end of August which aims to boost exports in the food and drink sector. The Indo-British Trade Council’s UK-India Food and Drink Conference will take place at the University of Leicester between 30 August and 1 September 2011. The conference is as a result of the recent pact formed with the Leicestershire Asian Business Association (LABA) in July. Led by Professor Kevin Schürer, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, the pact marks a major step forward in our strategy to work more closely with business, industry and the professions.

‘The event is being supported by large firms such as Tesco, Asda, Walkers Crisps, Samworth Brothers of Melton, Cofresh of Leicester, Loughborough University, Birmingham Airport and UK Trade and Investment. An estimated 150 businesses will attend, approximately 40 of which will be from India, with the intention to attract buyers for Indian and British products from each of those countries and in general increase exports.

‘The aim of the three-day event is to bring together industry professionals, buyers, regulators and leading experts to disseminate some of the latest perspectives and opportunities in the food and drink industries. It will provide firms with advice about innovation, sourcing ingredients, cost, the delivery of goods, distribution channels, meeting quality standards and dealing with legislation. It will also give small and medium-sized enterprises an opportunity to forge alliances with buyers and companies from the UK-India trade  partnerships. Presentations by leading experts, workshops and networking opportunities are scheduled for the three days, including a workshop on Food and Drink Packaging led by Professor Paul Monks from our Department of Chemistry’. 

More details at http://www2.le.ac.uk/news/blog/2011-archive/august/food-drink-and-networking-at-the-university-of-leicester.



A few weeks ago I did a blog on the Sowing New Seeds project which enables people to grow ‘exotic’ crops that are not traditionally grown in the UK. Quite by chance, I recently met Sue Roberts, a student at Nottingham Trent University, who is actually involved in the project, and asked her if she would do a ‘guest blog’ about it. Here’s her account of growing callaloo:

Nobody had to force me to eat my greens, I have always loved them. Perhaps it is something to do with Popeye cartoons, getting strength from guzzling spinach from a tin or more likely the delicious home grown cabbage my Irish grandmother served us with Sunday dinner, the zing of brussels sprouts at Christmas and the crunchy lettuce we had for summer teas. This year I decided to try some new greens after attending Sally Cunningham’s lecture at the Nottingham Organic gardeners’ meeting in April and hearing about the Sowing New Seeds programme. Of the many plants being grown I was most interested in Callaloo, a celebrated member of the genus Amaranthus which also includes Laf Sag, Lalshank and Tangerio, and is grown all over the world. 

 We had been given callaloo by friends Win and Ronald who grow it as a traditional part of their diet, and we enjoyed it wilted with olive oil, lemon juice and a hint of garlic, delicious with steamed fish. When we asked them where they got their plants from it turned out to be the same St. Ann’s gardener, Don Howe, mentioned in Sally’s lecture. The Caribbean soup called Callaloo has it’s roots in Africa. Recipes vary from island to island and family to family and the soup is valued for it’s health giving properties and even reported to inspire love:

Calaloo, Strange Calaloo

Mysterious curious roux

Try as you might to avoid the hoodoo

Sooner or later we’re all in the stew.

(Jimmy Buffet, “Callaloo” from ‘Don’t Stop the Carnival’)

It’s based on a mix of greens (principally callaloo) and other kinds of vegetables with ham and/or seafood added, and seasoned with garlic, spring onion, thyme, and scotch bonnet pepper. 

Here’s our diary of growing callaloo so far:

May- We get seven callaloo plants from Win and Ronald, so strictly speaking we have not sown the seed but planted some seedlings. Hopefully though we will be collecting some of the shiny round seeds of the Amaranthus later in the year. They are also edible (after careful washing to remove their saponin content) being high in protein and gluten free. We send back pumpkin,fenugreek and coriander in exchange. We plant them in an open site in the south facing part of the raised bed in the back garden.

Callaloo is an attractive plant. Its leaves are slightly shiny and pointed with deeply creased veins, more like Busy Lizzie than spinach. The plants settle in well and put the beginnings of new leaves out before a week is up. I reward them with organic seaweed feed and feel smug.

June -Two weeks later new leaves are out, but despite the slug repelling cabbage collars I’m having trouble with something nibbling the outer leaves. The plants are netted so it’s not pigeons. The answer lies nearby. The winter Runder Schwarzer radish plants are now 3ft high due to the dry March and April weather and covered in flowers and tasty green peppery pods, half way between a green pepper and a radish. Very nice, but they have skipped the round black radish stage altogether. The flowers are loved by the bees and what is this? A large extended family of cabbage white caterpillars, natty in their green stripes, lying vertically along the plant stems sunbathing, after having helped themselves to some callaloo no doubt. I make it easy for the birds by picking the caterpillars off and putting them on a dish in the front garden. What? That’s not cruel, they’ve got a sporting chance and so has my callaloo…



Plant cultures…

Here’s another interesting and unusual project relating to food in which Leicester City Museums Service is a partner. Plant Cultures is collecting information, images and stories exploring the different uses of plants used in South Aia and their influence on British culture. Some examples include tea, cardamom, garlic, black pepper, mango, turmeric and betelnut. The project website has a section on stories contributed by people who grow, eat or are just interested in plants from South Asia, along with a picture gallery spanning 400 years of images, and a range of activities for schools. You can also find out from the website where different plants can be seen growing in the UK, or find instructions for growing them yourself. The website is at www.plantcultures.org.uk.


Sowing new seeds…

There is an interesting three year project in the East Midlands aimed at enabling people to grown ‘exotic’ crops that are not traditionally grown in the UK. These include black-eye beans, chick peas, white maize and dudi, kodu and other gourds. Entitled ‘Sowing New Seeds’, part of the impetus for the project came from the fact that, over the past 40 years:

‘people from all over the world have settled here and grown their own vegetables in gardens and allotments throughout the Midlands. These growers are frequently isolated from traditional gardening networks. As they grow older they are less able to work in their gardens. There is a risk that they, and also the wider gardening community, are losing both the special non-traditional crop seeds and the specialist knowledge of how to grow them’.

The project thus aims to collect and make available seeds of exotic plant varieties, to safeguard them for future generations, to gather and publish information on how people are growing exotic plants, and establish an exotic crops garden at Ryton Gardens near Coventry. It will also hold ‘seed swaps’, demonstrations and community events around the Midlands. There is more information about the project at www.gardenorganic.org.uk.


Eating out…

You might expect to find oyster bars in coastal towns, but thanks to faster rail travel and refrigeration they were also quite common in inland towns such as Leicester by the later 19th century – as were fish and chip shops, the staple of the working class ‘fast food’ market. These are just two examples of the growing range of restaurants, cafes and ‘takeaway’ establishments that appeared in response to the rising real incomes enjoyed by many Victorians from the mid-19th century, leaving them with more money to spend once the essentials such as rent, fuel and household food were paid for. Here are a few other examples from Leicester, but all these establishments had their counterparts in towns across the East Midlands.

In 1891, for instance, the ‘Silver Grill’ at the Central Luncheon Bar in Granby Street pointed out its ‘great convenience’ for people who ‘object to lunching at an ordinary public house, and equally as much to patronising a place where neither a glass of wine of ale can be obtained… here a happy combination of the two is found’. The exterior of the Luncheon Bar boasted a large glass acquarium in which ‘among water plants of various kinds, an interesting collection of gold fish, carp etc., disport themselves’. Rather then being potential menu items, the fish were designed to ‘attract the attention of the passer-by’, and although ‘snacks’ of salmon and other fish were served, meat dishes such as chops and steak ‘for which this house if celebrated’ dominated the menu (Leicester – Illustrated, 1891). We are also told that:

The 'well-appointed grill' at the luncheon bar

‘According to the most modern ideas of cleanliness and perfection, these chops and steaks are cooked on a silver grill, by a competent chef, the cooking being performed at the further end of the private bar, on a well-appointed grill… This is, par excellence, the method of cooking chops and steaks and those who have enjoyed them pronounce them to be tender, juicy and very delicious’.

Oysters – a ‘succulent delicacy’ – were also available here, while at the bar patrons could also be provided with ‘fine Burton ales and stout, foreign wines or cigars of the best brands; and altogether the place is one that a hungry man may congratulate himself on having lit upon when seeking to satisfy the cravings of nature’. No doubt this was one of the places where the middle class males of the town talked business, though one does wonder how fit they might have been for an afternoon’s work after lunching in such substantial and convivial style. 

As this extract suggests, however, Victorian social conventions were reflected in who ate where. Ladies who lunched were catered for by cafes like Winn’s Oriental Cafe in the Market Place, serving cold luncheons and soup, and afternoon tea or coffee and cakes; but according to an advertisement in 1897, there were also separate ‘comfortable and commodious smoke rooms’ in the cafe for the men, along with new billiard and chess club rooms and two ‘splendid new Tables fitted with the patent pneumatic cushions’. The cafe stayed open from 10 am – 10. 30 pm, with men and women more likely to be found dining together in the evening.  

Even in the 20th century cafes such as Winn’s were more of an occasional treat for working class men and women rather than a daily resort. One woman recalled that:

Winn's Oriental Cafe in 1897

‘There were endless cafes where you could go in and have a coffee, or tea. It was a thing to go out and have the afternoon tea, and you’d have a nice pot of tea, a little carton of cream, a dish of cakes – and I mean a dish of cakes, it was piled high. You didn’t just have one brought round to you, and that was it. Scones and butter and perhaps cream and strawberries, and you met your friends in town, but of course nowadays I suppose that has gone, and the cafes have closed, because the majority of women went to work’ . (C. Brown, Leicester Voices, Tempus 2002, p35).

Open air cafes are now a common feature of city life, but as the Leicester Guardian noted on 30 July 1904; ‘our insular weather… does not always encourage enterprise in this direction, yet who would not have welcomed an al fresco ice, during the recent tropical spell?… now our bands give periodical performance on the parks, the open-air restaurant might become a part of this very excellent but insufficient institution’.

The Victoria in 1863

Coffee and cocoa houses were popular with both middle and working class patrons in the 19th century. Originally intended for the latter, as a cheap but comfortable and sociable alternative to the pub, they were often established by Quaker businessmen who, as well as advocating and practising temperance, were also importers of the beverages sold in these ‘houses’. There were 12 of them in Leicester by 1901, including the Eastgates near the Clock Tower, the Victoria in Granby Street, and the Highcross on the corner of High Street and Highcross Street, near the Great Central Railway Station. In that year a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate, a glass of milk, a plate of potatoes, hot sausages, a ‘Scotch Scone’ or a cheesecake could all be bought for just one penny each, and soup for 2d a basin. Dinners were also served daily, including steaks and chops ‘on the shortest notice’, and at the Victoria a refreshment room had recently been opened in the ‘first’class department… for the exclusive use of ladies’.


Bananas and art…

After so many other eccentric examples, it will come as no surprise that there is a museum devoted to bananas – not in the East Midlands but in Auburn, Washington in the USA. This features around 4,000 items, along with a very distracting dancing banana on its website home page at http://www.bananamuseum.com/.

Ayscoughee Hall Museum & Gardens

You can take a virtual tour of the museum from here, but I wanted to mention bananas in a different connection. Geest Line Limited (formerly Geest Bananas Limited) which employs a large number of people in Spalding, has sponsored an art gallery at Ayscoughee Hall Museum in the town. The gallery can be hired free of charge by local artists, and exhibitions change every month. The museum, with five acres of gardens, also features displays on Fenland life, and an audio guide is available – so it’s well worth a visit for all these reasons. Download an information leaflet at www.tourismleafletsonline.com/pdfs/Ayscoughfee-Hall-Leaflet.pdf, and visit the website at www.sholland.gov.uk/leisure/ayscoughfee/ for news of exhibitions and events.


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.