A to Z Recipes

by Marion Watson

Although some parts of Lancashire were lost in the local government reorganisation of 1974 there is still plenty of it left to be proud of and since food knows no boundaries I may, at times, stray into what is now Cumbria or Merseyside.

Like many Northern dishes, those from Lancashire are often based on economical ingredients and were designed to feed hard working people who had big appetites with tasty, economical dishes. When incomes were low nothing could be wasted, everything had to be used up to keep a family well fed in a cold, bracing climate. But Lancashire is by no means wholly industrial. Although it has more than its share of manufacturing towns large areas of the county are given over to farm land, with cattle being bred on the lowland pastures and sheep on the hills.

Some of the milk produced by the cows goes to make Lancashire Cheese. This is the softest of the hard English cheeses so it melts well and is excellent on toast, for making Welsh Rarebit, or in cooking. It has a crumbly texture, white colour and a full, slightly salty taste. The farm house variety was first made in 1913 and uses the curds from two days’ milk although the factory sort uses only one day’s. Pan Haggerty (pictured below) is traditionally made with Lancashire Cheese.

In attempting to use every possible part of the animal to make cheap, nourishing dishes all types of offal were sold which were rarely seen in other parts of the country and are still popular today, for example, tripe, often served as tripe and onions. This is the stomach lining of a cow. There are two main types, blanket tripe which is smooth and comes from the first stomach and honeycomb tripe from the second stomach which is usually considered to be the better sort. Tripe dressing involves cleaning and boiling it prior to selling. After purchase it is cut in strips and simmered in milk with onions and seasoning for about two hours.

Other offal includes brains, chitterlings (pigs’ intestines turned inside-out, cleaned, plaited and boiled), elder (cow’s pressed udder), lamb’s fry (testicles), sweetbreads, pigs’ trotters and cow heel. The last two enrich stews and pies and result in a good jellied stock. Black Puddings are a great favourite. Made from pig’s blood and oatmeal many places claim to make the best ones, including Bury. There are lots of secret recipes and international competitions take place each year. Potted meats make use of small pieces set in savoury jelly. Faggots are made here, (as well as in Wiltshire) and boiled pressed tongue or brisket are popular. Hot pies, both sweet and savoury, are another favourite, sold from stalls and popular at football matches. They are often sold in fish and chip shops too. A special favourite is the Lancashire Meat and Potato Pie. A Lancashire Foot was a traditional type of pasty often taken down the pit by miners. They were made in pairs, roughly semi-circular in shape so that they fitted into an oval carrying tin.

Fish is caught off the Lancashire coast and there were important fishing ports such as Fleetwood. Shellfish is plentiful, although sadly the small brown shrimps found in Morecambe Bay are becoming scarce. Salmon and salmon paste are also very popular.

Whilst fruit does not grow well in Lancashire’s rather harsh climate, vegetables do. Potatoes thrive as do root vegetables and salad plants. Golden Vegetable Soup uses a variety of these to produce to make a tasty, warming dish.

Golden Vegetable Soup

C Anne Wilson, in her book Food and Drink in Britain suggests that the Irish influence accounted for the cultivation of potatoes in Lancashire. She points out that here, as in Ireland, oats were a common cereal and potatoes were received more readily by oatbread eaters than they were in the wheat bread areas. Potatoes were being grown by Lancashire smallholders soon after the middle of the seventeenth century and before long Lobscouse was invented and became the traditional dish of the region. There are many variations of this dish but by the beginning of the nineteenth century it was described as being made from potatoes ‘peeled or scraped raw, chopped and boiled together with a small quantity of meat cut into very small pieces. The whole of this mixture is then formed into a hash with pepper, salt, onions, etc.’ At about the same time another Northern potato dish was described as ‘boiled, then mashed, and the pulp boiled again in milk, in which they stir some flour and eat it like hasty pudding’. Another dish which uses potatoes and has survived to the present day is Lancashire Hotpot. Again the Irish influence is at work¸ but whereas the neck of mutton, onion and potato was originally cooked in a pan over a fire when ovens became more commonplace the ingredients were layered up in a casserole and baked in the oven, with the lid removed for the final half hour to brown the potato topping. The potato makes an excellent ‘blotting paper’ to absorb the fat which melts from the meat. When oysters were cheap and a poor man’s food they were sometimes added to this dish. Although purists may maintain that it should be limited to the three basic ingredients, like Cornish Pasties, everyone has their favourite recipe and may add other vegetables, even red pickled cabbage.

Northern folk love their cakes and pastries. Perhaps they are necessary to keep out the cold and if you are staying in that area you may be offered some sort of baked goods with a bedtime cup of tea. Eccles cakes are make from flaky pastry filled with dried fruit, sugar and spice. Each circle of pastry is gathered up round the filling like a little bag, turned over and gently rolled into a circle until the fruit just begins to show through the pastry. Two or three slash marks are cut in the top and then the cake is brushed with egg white or water and sprinkled with sugar before baking in a hot oven. The Puritans banned the eating of Eccles Cakes at religious festivals when the people of the town of that name danced on the green. However they ignored the embargo and continued to make and eat them in secret. They are still associated with fairs in the district. Chorley Cakes are very similar but sometimes larger and oblong or oval in shape. Sad Cakes are another variation, being found in the Rossendale area. There children were said to refer to them as ‘Desolate Cakes’. Sometimes they are like large Eccles Cakes and sometimes the fruit is mixed into the pastry and rolled together¸ others are folded round the filling, envelope fashion.

‘Corners’ are large circular pies cut into quarters to give an individual portion. Having been an oat growing part of the country Oatcakes come in all shapes and sizes. They are made with fine oatmeal to give a pliable texture but pitted surface. Barmcakes are usually made with wholemeal flour and are rather like baps. Barm is the old word for the froth on liquid which contains yeast. Sometimes they are made with white flour and are then called ‘flour cakes’. Teacakes are made from sweetened rich dough, often toasted and buttered. Goosenargh Cakes originated in the village of that name near Preston and were more like biscuits. They were flavoured with caraway seeds or coriander and were traditionally sold at Easter and Whitsun and eaten with ale. Curd tarts are made in Lancashire as well as in Yorkshire.

Gingerbread is another Northern favourite and so is Parkin which is made wholly or partly of oatmeal instead of flour. It sometimes has candied fruits added and feels quite heavy because it contains black treacle and should be moist when eaten. It improves with keeping for some days before serving. It is traditionally eaten on Guy Fawkes night, 5th November, and sometimes it is served with a slice of Lancashire Cheese. Early gingerbread was a crisp biscuit, similar to the mixture used to make gingerbread men today, and was often sold at fairs. Oval ginger biscuits peculiar to Lancashire are called "Bobbie’s Feet".

Simnel cakes, traditionally made for Mothering or Easter Sunday throughout the country are sometimes called Bury Simnel Cakes.

Many famous sorts of confectionery originated in Lancashire including various types of toffee and candy. Treacle toffee is especially popular and there is a speciality known as Liverpool Toffee or Peggy’s Leg which is made from light and dark treacle toffee rolled, pulled and twisted together and sliced into chunks. Everton toffee, on the other hand is crisp and flavoured with lemon. It is sold cut into squares and tradition says that is was invented by someone called Molly Bush in Everton in the last century.

Industrial towns and open country side, rich and poor, local materials and imported goods, old traditions and new introductions have all contributed to this diverse range of dishes that we call traditionally Lancashire.