The counties at the northernmost edge of England may have changed their names over the years but they’ve retained their traditions, including that for good food using simple and local produce.
Damsons thrive in the Lyth and Winster Valleys in Cumbria despite the sometimes harsh weather conditions that the area can undergo. There are a number of traditional Cumbrian recipes using witherslacks, as damsons are known locally, including this one for a modern-day tansy. (Named after the herb, tansy is an egg-based dessert, sometimes described as a sweet omelette. In olden days the recipe would have included leaves of the tansy plant.)
- 2 cooking apples
- 2 mugfuls of damsons
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- ground cinnamon and cloves
- 4 eggs
- 3 tablespoons crème fraîche
Peel, core and thinly slice the apples. Cut the damsons in half and remove the stones.
Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the prepared fruit with half of the sugar. Simmer gently until the fruit is soft. Add a pinch of cinnamon and of cloves, stir, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
While the fruit is cooling, separate the eggs. Whisk the whites until stiff. In another bowl beat the yolks and crème fraîche. Stir into the fruit. Fold in the egg whites. Return to the heat and cook gently until just set.
Sprinkle the remaining sugar over the tansy and brown under a hot grill.
Northumberland’s famous singing hinnies are flat scones, cooked on a griddle. In case you think they sound rather unromantic for such a poetic name, here’s the story behind the naming: a Northumberland housewife was cooking Scones for her family one day when her children came into the kitchen. Amazed by the sizzling arising when the fat-rich cakes met the griddle, the children asked their mother what the cakes were doing. ‘They’re singing, hinnies,’ their mother replied, using the old Geordie term of endearment to address her sons and daughters. Now, doesn’t that want you to bake some?
- 225g (8oz) plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 50g (2oz) butter
- 50g (2oz) lard
- 25g (1oz) currants
- milk or soured cream
Sieve together the flour, baking powder and slat. Rub in the fat until you have a breadcrumb-like mixture. Stir in the currants and add enough milk to make a stiff dough. Roll out in a circle to a thickness of about ½”.
Grease the preheated griddle and carefully place the scone on it. When the underside is brown, carefully turn over using a palette knife or fish slice. When both sides are cooked, divide into wedges and serve split, spread with butter.
In 1974 the county of Westmorland disappeared from the administrative map, becoming part of the new county of Cumbria. Fortunately for us traditional recipes aren’t so easy to lose! Westmorland Pepper cake is a simple Boiled Fruit Cake made unusually spicy by the addition of pepper.
Westmorland pepper cake
- 175g (6oz) dried fruit, a mixture of raisins and currants
- 110g (4oz) caster sugar
- 75g (3oz) butter
- ¼ pint water
- 225g (8oz) self-raising flour
- pinch salt
- pinch ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon freshly and finely ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons milk
- 1 egg
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC, gas mark 4. Grease and line a 7” round cake tin.
Put the fruit, sugar, butter and water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
Sieve the flour and spices into a large bowl. When the fruit mixture has cooled slightly add it to the flour along with the milk and beaten egg. Stir thoroughly but don’t over-beat.
Place in the tin and cook for about 45 – 50 minutes or until golden-brown and firm to the touch.
Turn out and leave to cool on a wire tray before serving cut into generous wedges.