Saturday, 19 November 2016

A Lincolnshire Feast

     I am a Lincolnshire lass, born on the Greenwich Meridian in Louth.
     Lincolnshire is the second largest county in England and one of the most rural and sparcely populated. The Lincolnshire dialect is said to be the nearest to the Anglo Saxon language and has many unique words and phrases: a hodmadod is a snail, if someone is hirpling about, that is a cross between a limp and a hobble, and a tall person can be referred to as a great long tetherum.
     At one time great swathes of Lincolnshire were marsh or bog and this is reflected in place names such as Maltby-le-Marsh and meant that communities were isolated and it was not a good place for strangers to travel if they didn't know the safe paths to take.
     This in turn meant that Lincolnshire developed its own foods and ways of eating them too.
     I saw on the TV the other day that Lincolnshire Sausages had been denied protected status, which would have meant that only sausages made in the county of Lincolnshire would have been able to call themselves 'Lincolnshire Sausages'. To be honest I was not surprised at this as there is no one traditional recipe for these delicious pork treats. Every Lincolnshire butcher has their own recipe, closely guarded and unique. All I can say with certainty is that those bought in the supermarkets are but a pale and insipid imitation of the true Lincolnshire butcher's sausage, which are spoken of with nostalgic wistfulness by anyone who is a true sausage connoisseur.
     I make my own version which has to have good sausage meat, plenty of chopped sage and a good amount of black pepper. But the proportions and the extra 'secret ingredients' will vary from maker to maker. Some of the possible additions are parsley, nutmeg and a pinch of mixed spice.
     Another Lincolnshire speciality is Plum Bread which is a sort of cross between a fruit cake and a loaf. The fruit has to be soaked over night in cold tea, which plumps them up and gives a nice moistness to the end result. I would imagine that originally dried prunes would have been used, as these are dried plums, but these days it is more likely to be sultanas, with possibly some mixed fruit and candied peel. It is eaten sliced, buttered and with cheese. And is delicious.
     The Lincolnshire Christmas Cake was also a much richer and denser creature than the sponge-cake-with-fruit that passes for a fruit cake these days.
     It had to be made a couple of months in advance and was so stuffed with fruit (soaked in alcohol!) that is was mainly fruit held together with a matrix of cake. The cake was kept in a tin and regularly 'fed' with brandy, dark rum, or whatever spirit was to hand. I remember my mum with a long skewer poking holes in the top of the cake then drizzling brandy into the holes. The brandy both preserved the cake and meant that the flavour was rich and very boozy.
     I can still see Aunty Laura bringing the cake to the table, decorated with a layer of marzipan and covered in royal icing made to look like snow. And cutting slices no more than 1/4 inch thick - and yes they held together - of the rich, black cake. It was an acquired taste and very strong and bitter. The icing and marzipan providing a hint of sweetness. It was not really a cake that children liked, but the adult faces lit up when they were handed a slice, and offered a slice of cheese to go with it.
     Lincolnshire High tea was also rather special and I suspect unique (unless you know different).
     In a farming community meat and potatoes are plentiful and cheap, but fruit and sugar rare and costly treats. So the way we eat our meals today reflects our farming roots. We eat our savoury meat and potatoes first, filling up on the cheap part of the meal, and follow this (possibly) with a sweet treat, the smaller portion of the expensive fruit and sugar.
     But a Lincolnshire High Tea turns this on its head.
     We start with fruit and cream, with bread and butter. I realise this might sound strange to many people. I know Graham was a bit dumbfounded when my mum presented him with a bowl of strawberries and cream, then offered him the plate of sliced bread and butter.
     But just try it. Crush the fruit up into the cream with a fork so that the juice, cream and sugar all combine. Then dip a slice of bread and butter into the liquid, pile some fruit on it and take a bite. It is heavenly.
    The Lincolnshire High Tea shows that you have wealth and status by allowing you to eat the expensive fruit and sugar first, while you are hungry and likely to eat more. However this is craftily offset by giving you (cheap) bread and butter at the same time. We aren't daft!
     When you had eaten your dessert, the table would then be set with the savoury course. In this case sliced ham or other cold meats, salad and more bread and butter. If you were very lucky you might have another Lincolnshire speciality, stuffed chine.
     Chine is a cut of pork from near the back bone. It is sliced across the grain and the slices filled with finely chopped parsley, then cooked and sliced afterwards so you have a meat with stripes of green.
     To be honest it is one of those foods which you either adore or can't stand - and it was never one of my favourites. But my dad, sister and Graham all love it.
      Earlier I mentioned eating fruit cake with cheese and just recently I saw an episode of the antique programme 'Flog It' from Grimsby, where the presenter Paul Martin was offered Plum Bread with cheese and he remarked that he had never eaten fruit cake with cheese before.
     This is one of those combinations made in heaven. Any fruit cake can be used, and yes you can butter the cake too. Use a cheese such as Cheddar, Red Leicester or Wensleydale.
     Fruit cake with butter and cheese, Lincolnshire High Tea and a pork based economy .... I was never destined to be skinny!

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