This modern county, in existence since 1974 consists of the
old county of Cumberland, parts of Lancashire and Westmorland
(which no longer exists as an administrative county). It is
famous for containing the Lake District - an area of outstanding
natural superb beauty and a National Park.
Blea Water, Cumbria
Much of Cumbrian cooking is based on dishes suitable for a
hard-working community living in a bracing climate. Simple, cheap
and tasty meals were designed to feed hearty appetites and keep
working families well fed for the least possible cost
Meat and Meat Products
The most famous dish from the county is probably the Cumberland
Sausage, a special sausage sold coiled up and bought by
length rather than weight. They can be up to four feet long.
Cumberland hams, although hard to come by, are also worth looking
out for. They are dry-cured, salted and rubbed with brown sugar.
They are usually sold unsmoked.
Huge numbers of sheep are reared on the hill farms and
moorlands of Cumbria. The sheep population of Cumbria is around
three million. Hardy breeds are favoured, which can withstand the
cold winds and bitter winters. The North Country Mule is a cross
breed common in Cumbria. Sheep produce their lambs in spring and
the youngest tenderest meat is available from June to August.
Lambs born later do not reach the shops until further on in the
year and have a more mature flavour. Mutton, the meat of a fully
grown sheep, once staple fare throughout the country but no
longer produced in any quantity, can still occasionally be bought
in the Lake District, where it comes from Herdwick sheep. Many
regional dishes use lamb. Shepherd's Pie
is one national favourite that originated in the North.
The hard life of the North meant that Northerners developed a
thrifty approach to food that still exists today. No part of the
animal was wasted and butchers' stalls are arrayed with all
kinds of offal that are seldom, if ever, found further south.
The wild moors and mountains are home to all sorts of game. Derwentwater
duck is delicious served with piquant Cumberland sauce.
Food from the Dairy
On the lower fields of Cumbria, dairy cattle are kept in large
numbers. Butter production is important in the county. Cumberland
rum butter is a delicious local speciality of butter
flavoured with rum, Barbados sugar and spices. It was
traditionally served to celebrate the birth of a baby, and coins
were placed in the empty butter bowl, where they stuck to the
remains, to ensure a happy and prosperous life for the newborn.
Goats and sheep are widely farmed for their milk too. This
milk is being increasingly used for yogurts and cheeses.
Fish from Sea, River and Lake
The tradition of fishing is well-established in Cumbria. A
recipe for fish stuffed and served with mustard sauce comes from
Cumbria. Freshwater fish, such as trout and salmon, inhabit the
Lakes and many of the rivers that flow down to the sea from the
Pennines and Cheviots. One particular method of fishing still
survives in parts of the northwest, where an enormous net called
a "heave" or "haaf" is used. The nets can be
as much as 18 feet wide and the fishermen have to stand in the
water rather than on the bank to handle them effectively. Fish
farming is a growing business, with trout being the most commonly
An unusual freshwater fish which is found in the deep waters
of the Lake District is the char. A relative of the salmon, char
was left behind in the inland lakes after the glacial waters of
the Ice Age receded. The fish has a delicate flavour and
pink-tinged flesh, and was generally served in pies or potted.
Char are caught with long lines, which plunge deep into the
waters, weighted by bright metal spinners made of bronze, copper
or even silver. It is sometimes possible to buy these fish
The climate of the North is generally unsuitable for fruit
growing, although damsons, known locally as witherslacks, are
grown around Lake Windermere. The damson is a type of plum, much
smaller than the standard cultivated plums and quite sour.
These fruits have a tart flavour, but can be used very
successfully in cooking, in dishes such as Damson
and Apple Tansy. Originally the Tansy would have included the
herb tansy which has a bitter-sweet flavour. The name
"Tansy" is given to a number of egg-based puddings.
All Sorts of Sweet Things ...
Comforting cakes to cheer up chilly afternoons are a
speciality all over the North of England. Kendal Mint Cake from
the Lake District is not a cake at all but a peppermint flavoured
sweet, which is said to be very sustaining and ideal for climbers
and walkers trekking across the hills.
is popular all over the North and perhaps the most famous comes
from the Lake District village of Grasmere. The Grasmere
Gingerbread Shop still exists and the cake is baked on the
premises. It has been made to Sarah Nelsons secret recipe
Rum features as a flavouring in many Lake District dishes,
because the liquor was brought over in ships from the West Indies
during the 18th century. Cumberland
Rum Nicky is a traditional dessert from the area, which is
like a mince pie flavoured with rum.
One of Westmorland's most famous "bakes" was
Pepper Cake. The pepper adds an unusual spiciness to what
would otherwise be a fairly ordinary fruitcake.