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A TASTE OF LANCASHIRE:
Eccles Cakes and Hot Pots

by Dawn Copeman

I'm in trouble with my family for writing this month's column. Why? The War of the Roses, that's why. Even today, this war for the throne of England, which was fought between houses of Lancaster and York over the years 1455 - 1487, causes sour relations between the two counties. The people of Yorkshire still haven't forgiven the Lancastrians for winning.

There have been many attempts to end the rivalry between the two counties. My dad, for example, served in the York and Lancaster Regiment in the British Army. But this centuries-old regiment, decorated in many wars and now disbanded, united the two counties in name only. It recruited solely in Yorkshire; my dad didn't serve with a single Lancashire soldier.

For the sake of culinary pursuits, however, I will put this to one side. After all, there are some fantastic foods from Lancashire, the most famous being Eccles Cakes and Lancashire Hot Pot.

Eccles cakes are small, flat, pastry-based cakes filled with raisins. The word Eccles is believed to come from a Greek word "ecclesia", meaning assembly. The church at Eccles held an annual service known as the Eccles Wakes, after which a fair was held and food and drink, including Eccles cakes, were consumed.

When the Puritans came to power in 1650, both Eccles Wakes and Eccles Cakes were banned, the cakes because they were too rich and sumptuous. Thankfully, the cakes as well as the King were restored during the Restoration.

Originally, just as with Yorkshire puddings, each Lancashire family once had its own recipe for making Eccles Cakes. Many of the earlier recipes included the use of mincemeat, yeast, rum or brandy. The first modern Eccles Cake was made in 1796 by James Birch, who set up a cake shop opposite Eccles Parish church. It is thought he took his recipe from Mrs Elizabeth Raffaid's 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper. In her book the cakes were known as "sweet patties". Whatever the origins of the modern Eccles Cake, they soon became a top seller and as early as 1818 they were being exported to America and the rest of the world.

Recently, Eccles cakes have hit the headlines again, with proposals being put to the European Commission to prevent bakers from calling cakes "Eccles Cakes" unless they have actually been made in Eccles. This follows from previous battles over Champagne and Sherry. For the record, British Sherry is now called British Fortified Wine -- such a snappy name! So if you want to make your own Eccles Cakes, act quickly, before we have to call them something else -- flat, raisin-filled pastry cakes, perhaps?

Lancashire Hot Pot, thankfully, is not under threat from the EU and can be made anywhere. The Hot Pot is a type of stew, normally made with lamb, but other meats and even oysters can be used. Like many traditional Lancashire dishes, the Hot Pot had to be made from whatever ingredients were available at the time and was meant to be economical and filling. The name Hot Pot itself is thought to derive from the earthenware dish in which the stew was cooked, for after being in the oven it would be a very hot pot!

Originally the Hot Pot was a type of soup; then, during the 19th century it developed into a meat stew. It was certainly this latter version to which Elizabeth Gaskell was referring, when she has Mr Thornton dining on Hot Pot in her book North and South.

Had Mr Thornton owned a mine instead of a mill, he would no doubt have been dining on Lancashire Foots instead. These semi-circular pastries, filled with a variety of savoury fillings, were popular with miners. You can still buy them at market stalls today; they are a northwestern version of the Cornish pasty.

Lancashire cheese is a popular filling for the Lancashire foots. Lancashire cheese is made from the curds of one- or two-day's milk. Like all other English regional cheeses, its unique texture and flavouring is produced by the environment in which the cows graze. Young Lancashire cheese is moist, slightly salty in flavour and very crumbly; as the cheese matures it becomes less crumbly and the flavour becomes stronger.

Lancashire cheese is a favourite among devotees of Welsh rarebit or cheese on toast, as it melts into a soft, velvety consistency that is full of flavour. It is a wonderful cheese to cook with. Singleton's Dairy of Lancashire has been exporting Lancashire cheese to the USA since 1996. Check out the following link for a list of their distributors: http://www.somerdale.co.uk/usadistributors.htm. Alternatively, Butler's Cheese (http://www.butlers-cheese.co.uk) sells cheese hampers, but you need to e-mail them for details of delivery to the USA.

Another Lancashire treat you can buy at the market is the Bury Black Pudding. Black pudding is an English version of blutwurst -- blood sausage. Apparently it was brought to Bury in Lancashire by European monks who had originally settled in Yorkshire. (Why they felt like leaving that glorious county is beyond me!)

Our next dish is a toffee -- Everton toffee to be precise. Everton toffee has a slight lemony flavour and was first made commercially by Molly Busshell. In 1761, fifteen-year-old Molly Cooper married James Busshell and soon had a large family. Molly had to struggle to feed her family and pay the bills. One day a doctor was called to visit the house and he was so impressed by her budgeting skills that he gave her his recipe for a toffee, which he had found useful in soothing sore throats.

Molly began to make the toffee at her home and soon people were coming from miles around to buy the sweet. She had to move to larger premises to keep up with the demand. The business continued to grow and stayed in the family until 1894, when it was sold to a firm called Nobletts.

This firm designed a trademark for Everton toffee depicting Molly Busshell, whom they later referred to as Mother Noblett, in keeping with the new name of the firm. Molly Busshell still lives on, though: she is the mascot for Everton Football team, who, incidentally, are known as the Toffees. Everton toffee is now surrounded by a layer of mint and known as Everton Mints. They can be bought online for 1.99 for 250g at http://www.thegreendoorsweetshop.co.uk.

If you visit Lancaster then you'll be able to taste some of the other Lancashire specialities that I simply haven't got room to describe here, such as Morecombe Bay Potted Shrimp or Lancashire Bun Loaf. Finally, regarding the War of the Roses, we were robbed!

Restaurants

Northcote Manor - Northcote Road, Langho, Blackburn
Modern versions of traditional Lancashire recipes.
http://www.northcotemanor.com

Lancaster House Hotel/Gressingham Restaurant - Green Lane, Ellel, Lancaster.
Reservations: Lancaster@elhmail.co.uk

Elliot's Restaurant - 64 Market Street, Lancaster.

Recipes

Lancashire Hotpot

One and a half pounds of middle end of neck of lamb
Two pounds of potatoes, peeled and cut into slices
2 lamb kidneys
2 large onions, sliced
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
2 pints lamb stock
Salt and pepper
One stick lard or butter, or one tablespoon olive oil to fry lamb
A casserole dish

  1. Melt a third of the lard or butter in a pan and gently brown the lamb on all sides.
  2. Grease the casserole dish with some of the remaining butter or lard.
  3. Make a layer of potatoes and carrots, then put a layer of meat on top, then a layer of onions. Season each layer as you go. Repeat until casserole is full, ensuring that the top layer is of potatoes.
  4. Pour in the stock.
  5. Brush the potato topping with a little melted butter.
  6. Bake in the oven at 325° F, 170° C or Gas Mark 3 for one and a half to two hours. Brush top with more melted butter and cook for a further twenty minutes.

Eccles Cakes

Half a pound of puff pastry
Half a cup of Demerara sugar
Half a stick of butter
One cup of raisins or currants
1 teaspoon mixed spice
Half a cup of mixed peel (optional)
A little water and castor sugar to glaze

  1. Roll out the pastry a quarter of an inch thick. Cut into rounds approximately 4 inches in diameter.
  2. Melt the butter and add the sugar, mixes spice, raisins and mixed peel. Mix well.
  3. Put a spoonful of the mixture into the middle of each round, wet the edges, draw them together and seal them in the centre. Turn the parcel over, and flatten gently with a rolling pin.
  4. Make two or three slashes across the middle of the cake with a knife.
  5. Brush with a little water and sprinkle with castor sugar.
  6. Bake on a greased baking tray for 20 minutes at 425° F, 220° C or Gas Mark 7.

Related Articles:

For more great recipes, see the rest of Dawn Copeman's Taste of Britain series.

Lancaster, by Elizabeth Ashworth
http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/towns/lancaster.shtml

Timeline: Lancaster, by Darcy Lewis
http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/towns/lanctime.shtml

Pace Egging - A Lancashire Tradition, by John Ravenscroft
http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/history/pace-egging.shtml


Dawn Copeman is a freelance writer and commercial writer who has had more than 100 articles published on travel, history, cookery, health and writing. She currently lives in Lincolnshire, where she is working on her first fiction book. She started her career as a freelance writer in 2004 and has been a contributing editor for several publications, including TimeTravel-Britain.com and Writing-World.com .
Article © 2005 Dawn Copeman

 

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