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Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire
by Marion Watson


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.

Bakewell Pudding

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 county’s 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 result.

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 and flavour.