A to Z Recipes

by Anne Epicure

If you’re ready for a delightful surprise then you’re ready to discover Staffordshire. Stafford, the County Town, is one of England’s most fascinating and beautiful towns and does perfect justice to its splendid setting. Staffordshire is the county just to the north of Birmingham in the heart of England. Nestling on the edge of Cannock Chase, an area of outstanding natural beauty, Stafford is a wonderful place to visit.

The world-renowned potteries lie to the north, in and around the city of Stoke-on-Trent, where you will find Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, and Spode among many others. To the west of Stafford is Lichfield, with its magnificent Cathedral. Also to the west is the town of Burton-on-Trent, the home of Brewing.

Stafford is a town brimming with traditional civic pride and a magnificent array of architectural, cultural and historic attractions. The Victoria Park is the perfect place for a stroll. In the heart of the town there is the tranquil Norman church of St Chad’s and the beautiful collegiate church of St Mary’s. Picturesque Church Lane is a delight with its timbered buildings. The splendid Shire Hall Gallery is also in the centre with its constantly changing art exhibitions and superb balcony café.

One of the best historical buildings in Stafford is the Ancient High House, one of the finest Tudor buildings in England. Once dominating the skyline of Stafford, it is the largest remaining timber-framed town house in England. Built in 1595 and later the civil war refuge of Charles I, the house retains a fantastic collection of period furniture and architectural features. It also houses the Tourist Information Centre.

One of Staffordshire’s most famous culinary treats is ‘Staffordshire Oatcakes’. These are like pancakes made from oatmeal and yeast and are nothing like the Scottish oatcakes, which are more like a biscuit. They are cooked on a hot griddle. Staffordshire oatcakes are a versatile food, beloved of many a potter of the ‘Potteries’ (also known as Stoke-on-Trent or the ‘Five Towns’. They can be eaten hot or cold, for breakfast with eggs and bacon or spread with butter and a sweet preserve for tea. They can also be used to wrap a savoury filling and then placed in the oven to bake.

Documents speak of difficult working and living conditions in Staffordshire towns such as Longton and Stoke in the mid-nineteenth century, when the potters and their families subsisted on such foods as lobby (probably related to Liverpool's lobscouse), hasty pudding (often a mixture of oats or barley, water, suet and treacle, eaten hot or cold), pobs (breadcrusts merely soaked in water or milk and sprinkled with sugar and tea), frumenty (a special treat made from soaked wheat, fruit and spices) and chicklings (chitterlings).

Farmers in Staffordshire have never been averse to bagging the odd rabbit or hare they happened to come across on a weekend's rough shooting. Often these will end up in a pie or a stew.

Another Staffordshire town, Tamworth, has a famous ancient breed of pig named after it.

The Tamworth pig is somewhat smaller than many modern British breeds of pig and is famous for its bright ginger-haired coat. Pork is popular in Staffordshire and there are many places with ‘hot pork baps’ for sale. Baps are soft bread rolls and these are filled with hot roasted pork.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Mrs. Maria Rundell’s best-selling book ‘A New System of Domestic Cookery’ was published. It contained a number of regional recipes including ‘Staffordshire Beef Steaks’. Another recipe from the county is for a rich fruitcake containing black treacle and brandy called ‘Staffordshire Fruit Cake’.

Brewing is also a major activity in Staffordshire. Burton-upon-Trent is a town famous for brewing. There are only a few breweries left nowadays. One of them is Bass which has a working museum of brewing. IPA (India Pale Ale), found on draught in pubs everywhere, derives from the pale ales once brewed at Burton-on-Trent. Burton pale ales were prized for their brightness and clarity, which came from the natural spring water used in their production. In the 1820s Burton brewed an even hoppier ale for export to India; India Pale Ale was so popular that it has been made ever since. Bottled bitters are usually called pale or light ales. Other famous brewers in Burton-upon Trent include Marston's whose 'Pedigree' bitter is one of the finest available anywhere

So next time you get a chance to visit this lovely part of England’s Midlands you’ll find plenty of delicious food and drink, as well as lots of wonderful historic and natural sites to visit!