Friday, August 31, 2007

Food from the Fens.

Today, August 31st

Today I am in Norfolk, renewing my acquaintance with my cousin and her family. I guess that is as good an excuse as any to discuss the specialties of this flat waterworld on the bumpy bit of the East coast of England.

We have, come to think of it, often dined here in the second half of the nineteenth century with the delightful Parson James Woodforde, who lived in Norfolk for over forty years. His diary is a delightful record of the time and the place and his dinner table. Perhaps we should get more specific today. I understand that a trip to the Colman mustard shop is on the agenda prepared by my cousin Jo. The Colman family have been making mustard in Norfolk since 1814, so I expect the shop to be fun - I’ll report back on that after my visit.

Norfolk has a long coastline and a lot of waterways (‘The Norfolk Broads’) and some of its fish and shellfish are famous: where would history be without Yarmouth herrings? Oysters from Colchester oysters were so beloved of the Roman invaders that they sent them them back to Rome using teams of runners who took only four days to deliver their cargo – a feat that gives a whole new meaning to the concept of “food miles”. And where would chefs around the world be without Maldon sea-salt?

The Norfolk food joke is the ‘Norfolk Dumpling’ – which has somehow taken connotations of an ethnic slur – I am not sure why that is, as it is essentially no different from dumplings or suet puddings or any other carbohydrate and fat heavy ‘filler’ enjoyed by hungry peasants and farm workers for centuries. Perhaps a Norfolk historian can suggest an explanation?

The aristocracy have to eat too, of course. Here is an elegant take on rice pudding (or is it rice pie? Rice custard pie?). Please don’t stint on the quantity of brandy and Madeira, I am sure the Duke would be upset.

Duke of Norfolk’s Pudding.
Take six eggs, separate the yolks from the whites, beat up the yolks with a glassful of brandy, and flavour well with nutmeg and sugar. Boil a large cupful of the best Carolina rice in a pint of Madeira for half an hour; add one dozen ratafia cakes and the egg mixture, and beat all together. Have ready a dish lined with puff paste, and bake slowly for three-quarters of an hour.
[Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, 1870’s]

Monday’s Story …

Magna Carta Cake.

Quotation for the Day …

I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.
Mary Anne Radmacher Hershey


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

How long would it take to run some of those oysters to New York? That is a pudding fit for a duke!

Lapinbizarre said...

Odd you should come up with the Norfolk dumpling at this point. Just a week ago I was searching for English dumpling recipes. A friend had made Southern "Chicken & Dumplings" (just the thing for 102F weather!). His "dumplings", made to his grandmother's recipe (he's from mountain, rural E. Tennessee), were just seasoned flour & water, rolled to about 1/8" thick, and cut into rectangles - 1" or so long on the longer side - and added to the stew). Bit dull. I decided to show him how to make English suet dumplings - which I have never before made and have not eaten since the early 60's, tho' I do keep suet in the freezer for the occasional expatriate recipe. Trawling for recipes, I came across two or three for Norfolk dumplings, which I'd never heard of. A principal element of the dish is evidently the absence of shortening (one very basic recipe did not even use self-raising flour or baking powder - E. Tennessee style, but gobular). In short, they did not sound all that appetizing.

As is often the case, Mrs. Grigson came through with a good recipe. I will probably add suet dumplings to my cold-weather repertoire (there are lots of things you can chop up and mix in with the basic recipe to "improve" them).

While we're on the topics of Norfolk and Mrs. Grigson, her "British" cook book (the larger-format, illustrated one, not the "English" book published by Penguin), has an excellent section on East Anglian food. Seems there's nothing whatever for Norfolk folk to be ashamed of.

Envy your being over there. Roger