Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire form the northern part of the
region known as "the Midlands", although
Nottinghamshire sometimes gets grouped with Leicestershire and
Lincolnshire to make up "the Shires" and north
Derbyshire is sometimes linked with South Yorkshire as part of
"the North" where the central spine of the Pennines
runs down to the Peak District.
Between them these counties offer a wide geographical variety
from industry and coalfields (although not many left now) to rich
agricultural land along river valleys and high sheep country in
the Peak District.
Like most cattle country Derbyshire produced its own special
cheese. The plain version is something like Cheddar with a
strong, ripe flavour. It is often sold when immature although it
is better left to age. A variation of this plain cheese is Sage
Derby although sometimes if does not taste very much of the herb.
In earlier times it was made by putting freshly chopped sage
leaves between layers of newly-prepared curd before it was put
into a press. Sometimes the colour was enhanced by adding spinach
juice. A refinement of this was Figure Derby where green
ornamental designs were inserted into the white cheese like
marquetry in a piece of wood. Another variation produced,
especially at Christmas time, was Chequerboard Derby where
squares of sage-green cheese were alternated with golden ones
tinted with marigold juice. If you are looking for a good Sage
Derby today, make sure that it contains streaks of natural green
sage. It makes a very good soufflé when added to your favourite
recipe as the sage gives additional flavour and colour.
Like many Midlands counties Derbyshire has its gingerbread,
for which Ashbourne is particularly famous, and Buxton has its
pudding. This is made by mixing flour with milk, boiled till
thick, then allowed to cool. before adding butter, sugar, egg
yolks and lemon rind. The mixture is put in a dish and baked.
Perhaps the countys most famous sweet dish is the Bakewell
Tart, although here it is always called a Bakewell Pudding
and bears little resemblance to the modified object resembling a
cross between a pastry flan and a cake which we buy in other
parts of the country. It uses the plentiful dairy products
available and has a base of puff pastry. They are still produced
in the Olde Original Bakewell Pudding Shop in the town of
Bakewell where they originated in 1860. The story goes that the
first one was produced by accident when a cook at the Rutland
Arms Hotel misunderstood some instructions. Another cook heard
how well these erroneous puddings were received and stole the
recipe to start making them herself in what is now the Olde
Original Pudding Shop. However similar confections were known at
least a hundred years earlier, and were sometimes called the Duke
of Cambridge Pudding.
In industrial towns where money was short people had to make
best possible use of economical cuts of meat, and as in
Lancashire which I have already written about dishes evolved
using offal, offcuts and cheap parts of the animal. Even today,
these tradition dishes have survived and butchers' stalls in
the markets still sell, cow heels, pigs trotters, chitterlings,
faggots and ready-made pies.
Talking of pies, Nottinghamshire has its own variation of the
Melton Mobray Pie from neighbouring Leicestershire. However this
was a one made, unusually for a sweet pie, with sweetened
hot-water crust pastry, raised like a Melton pie but filled with
gooseberries set in a clear apple jelly. They were once very
popular at Mansfield Fair.
In earlier times fairs were a very important annual event for
many Midland towns with charters granted hundreds of years ago.
The Nottingham Goose Fair is reckoned to be among the oldest in
the country, going back to the thirteenth century. Held during
the first week in October hundreds of geese were brought in from
many miles around and, after being sold, were walked to London in
time to fatten up for Christmas. It was also an important social
event for country people to meet and attracted all sorts of food
producers selling novelties like biscuits, brandy snaps and
raised gooseberry pies. Now only a fun fair, with no geese, it is
still a popular event. Nevertheless we continue to associate roast goose
with Michaelmas as well as Christmas and Nottingham Roast Goose
is still a favourite dish. The skin of the goose is rubbed with
salt and pepper and the cavity filled with a stuffing of chopped
cooking apples, sage and breadcrumbs. The skin is pricked twice
during the cooking and the excess fat drained off to give a crisp
Bramley cooking apples originated in Nottinghamshire and a
good way of using them is to make a Nottingham Batter Pudding.
For six people peel and core six medium-sized Bramley Apples, put
them in a dish and fill the centres with a mixture of butter,
sugar and spices. Make a batter using four egg yolks and then
fold in the stiffly-shisked egg whites. Pour over the apples and
bake in a moderately hot oven for about 50 minutes. Sprinkle with
caster sugar and serve with cream.
The clear waters of the Peak District have led to the
production of mineral water on a commercial scale. Two of the
most famous being at Ashbourne and Buxton.
Linking traditional dishes of the north and south of England,
these two counties, nevertheless, have their own individual
traditions and specialities which have much to offer in variety