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A TASTE OF WILTSHIRE:
Lardy Cake, Bacon Fraise and Ham

by Dawn Copeman

Wiltshire is famous for one thing in the UK: ham. Wiltshire ham is renowned throughout the UK and Swindon, which became a large industrial town with the arrival of Brunel and his railway, and originally means 'Swine down' or 'pig hill', after the herds of pigs that used to graze there.

From the earliest times to the arrival of the industrial era, most of the rural population kept pigs. These pigs would be lovingly cared for throughout the plentiful food seasons of spring and summer and then slaughtered in autumn to provide food for winter. Every part of the animal was used. The flesh to make roasting joints and bacon and the legs to make hams. The trotters were boiled (and eaten!) and the liquid used for boiling them was in turn used to set the pork in the Wiltshire pork pie. (A modern recipe not using trotter liquor can be found at: http://www.cdkitchen.com/recipes/recs/45/WiltshirePorkPie65843.shtml) Even the intestines and entrails were eaten. The blood was used to make black pudding and as for the fat, well, that was the most useful part of all; this was stored for use throughout the year and is a key ingredient on our first regional speciality, Lardy Cake.

It is very hard to trace the origins of Lardy Cake; it just appears to be one of those recipes that have been around ever since people first settled on the Wiltshire Downs. This cake is a delicious mix of lard, bread dough, sugar and dried fruit. It is somewhat time-consuming to make, but is worth the effort as when the cake is cooked, the sugar creates a lovely toffee taste -- delicious, and very fattening! I've included a recipe for you below, but if you come to Wiltshire you must try several portions as each chef has their own recipe.

Now, whilst most of the traditional Wiltshire pork dishes have, thankfully, died out, you can still buy a variety of delicious pork products in Wiltshire today including the famous Wiltshire and Bradenham hams. Whereas the poor of the county would eat whatever parts of the pig they could, for the gentry only joints, hams and bacon would suffice. Rumor has it that one Lord Bradenham created the cure for Bradenham ham. Both of these hams are dry cured. Wiltshire ham is traditionally cured with bacon and molasses, which produces a mild, sweet tasting ham. Bradenham ham, however, is very distinctive, as it is black on the outside and bright red on the inside, but don't let the appearance put you off. The blackness comes from the cure of a secret mixture of molasses, coriander and juniper berries and the ham is then hung to mature for six months. The result is a unique, sweet ham with intense flavours.

And to accompany your hams, what could be better than a mustard from Tracklements? William Tullberg, who started the firm in 1970, wanted something to accompany all the pork products he had to taste as part of his job. Traditional English mustard was too sharp, so he looked around for inspiration to create his own mustards. He found it whilst reading John Evelyn's diaries, which referred to a recipe for old English mustard. He made the first batch at home using a coffee grinder and soon it was in demand from local pubs and restaurants. Today the company sells its hand-ground, hand-made mustards worldwide. You can buy a 7oz jar of Tracklements Beer Mustard, (which like all their mustards is free from artificial colors and preservatives) from igourmet.com for $6.99 (http://www.igourmet.com/Shoppe/search.aspx?qry=Wiltshire).

One thing you can't buy in the States, or anywhere outside Wiltshire for that matter, is Wiltshire cheese. This cheese was very popular throughout the UK in the 18th century but the dairy farmers of Wiltshire stopped making their cheese when demand for milk in London made it more profitable for them to concentrate on milk production instead. Today you can only buy North Wiltshire Cheese Loaf from a few traditional cheese makers, such as Ceri's Cheese, who sells it at farmers' markets.

Another dish you might have to work hard to track down is Bacon Fraise. This is a delicious, but again fattening, breakfast dish that dates back to the 15th century when agricultural workers would have needed the fat from this dish to help them get through their day. Basically, it is bacon that is fried and then covered with an egg batter and baked. It makes for a pleasant change from the traditional British fry-up. A recipe can be found at: http://www.eatdangerously.com/thorough_cook/entree/bacon_fraise.html.

One dish you will easily find is Devizes pie. This, again, naturally contains pork but this time it is accompanied by lamb, veal, tongue and vegetables. It is a very filling pie that is traditionally eaten cold. If you fancy adding this to your picnic hamper this summer, there's a recipe at: http://www.visitkennet.co.uk/features/christmas-past/devizespie.htm.

But, if you're not really into pork, then Wiltshire has many other specialities that you ought to try, such as Marlborough Cake and Druids Cake to name but two. In fact, Wiltshire is so proud of its regional food that two festivals of Wiltshire food are being held this year: The Salisbury Food & Drink Festival on the 23rd of September and the Marlborough Festival of Food from the 20th - 27th of October. So, come along, and even if you don't like pork I'm sure you'll find something delicious to eat here.

Restaurants

The Rose and Crown
Harnham Road, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP2 8JQ, +44 (0) 870 832 9946
http://www.legacy-hotels.co.uk/legacy-roseandcrown/
Lovely wood-paneled restaurant in a hotel that was originally a 13th-century coaching in. Lovely views of the Avon and the Cathedral; after dinner, stroll through the rose garden. Entrees average around 15-20 per person.

The Vine Restaurant at the Red Lion
Milford Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP1 2AN, +44 (0) 1722 325 756
http://www.the-redlion.co.uk/TheVineRestaurant.asp
Choose dishes with a traditional British or more European flavour in this elegant dining room, paneled with dark woods and hung with rich draperies. Lots of antiques on display to admire while you await your food (see, for example, the photo of the antique clock at Timeline: Salisbury. Prices tend to be a bit on the high side, so consider this for a special night out.

The Conservatory at Grasmere House Hotel
70 Harnham Road, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP2 8JN, +44 (0) 1722 338 388
http://www.grasmerehotel.com/restaurant.htm
A nice family-owned restaurant that makes good use of local produce. Offers a variety of British and international seasonal specialties, such as breast of wood pigeon filled with a rabbit and pistachio mousse, or cassoulet of game with pheasant and venison. In good weather, dine on the terrace for a spectacular view of the cathedral. Entrees average around 17.

One Restaurant at the Haunch of Venison
1 Minster Street, Salisbury, +44 (0)1722 411313
http://www.haunchofvenison.uk.com/
Fantastic restaurant offering modern, locally sourced, British food above a pub that dates back to 1320. Fixed Price Menu £9.90 for 3 courses, a la carte from £16 - £35 excluding wine. It also offers a children's menu.

Red Or White
Evolution House, 46 Castle St, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, BA14 7AY, 44(0)1225 781666, FAX: +44 (0)1225 776505
http://www.redorwhite.biz/intro.htm/, info@redorwhite.biz
Fresh, local, seasonal produce used to create modern British and European dishes. Wine menu lists over 600 wines. Early Bird Special Offer available between Monday and Thursday 6pm until 7.30pm, Two Courses £11.75, Three Courses £14.95. Otherwise starters around £5, mains £11 - £16, desserts, £4 - £7.

The Lamb Inn
Hindon Wiltshire SP3 6DP, Tel: 01747 820 573, Fax: 01747 820 605
http://www.lambathindon.co.uk, info@lambathindon.co.uk
Modern British dishes made from locally grown, seasonal produce. Lunch approximately £18.00 per person, dinner £30.00 per person.

Lardy Cake

1 teaspoon dried yeast
Two and two thirds cups strong flour
Three quarters of a cup of warm milk
Quarter of an ounce of salt
Quarter of an ounce of butter
Half a teaspoon of sugar
One stick of lard
1 cup sugar
1 cup mixed fruit (sultanas, currants or raisins)
Half a teaspoon of mixed spice
Third of a cup of milk
1 oz sugar for glaze

  1. Stir the half-teaspoonful of sugar in the warm milk until it dissolves. Sprinkle yeast onto mixture and leave for ten minutes or until frothy.

  2. Mix flour and salt together and rub in the quarter of an ounce of butter.

  3. Make a well in the flour mix and pour in the yeast mix, stir to form a dough.

  4. Knead dough on a floured surface until the dough is smooth then form into a ball shape and leave to rise in a clean bowl covered with a tea towel.

  5. Knead again until the dough is firm then roll out into a 10 inch x 6 inch rectangle shape.

  6. Cut the lard into small flakes and spread one third of the lard onto two thirds of the rectangle.

  7. Sprinkle a third of the sugar over the lard.

  8. Fold the uncovered dough down onto the middle of the rectangle, and then fold the remaining covered dough on top to form a rectangular parcel. Turn the dough through ninety degrees and roll out again and repeat steps 6 and 7 and this time add half the fruit to the top before folding up into a parcel.

  9. Repeat step 8 again adding the last of the lard, sugar and fruit.

  10. Roll out and fold again. Then roll the dough to fit a 7-inch greased, square cake tin.

  11. Cover the tin with a tea towel and leave again for about half-an-hour.

  12. Remove the tea towel and score a criss-cross pattern over the top of the cake and bake it in the oven at 450ºF, 230ºC or Gas Mark 8 for 25 - 30 minutes.

  13. Just prior to removing the cake from the oven, dissolve the 1 oz of sugar in the milk and then brush this all over the top of the cake when you remove it from the oven.

  14. Leave the cake to cool for 2 - 5 minutes, then turn the tin upside and remove cake from the tin, spooning over any remaining syrup.

  15. Serve upside down cut into slices.

More Information:

Restaurants in Wiltshire
http://www.e-travelguide.info/wiltshire/eatingout.htm

Details of Farmers' Markets in Wiltshire
http://www.wiltshirefarmersmarkets.co.uk/

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


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 © 2007 Dawn Copeman

 

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