Regional Recipe Series - East Anglia
During the first lockdown, like many others, I found myself unexpectedly house-bound for a few months. I had recently relocated back home to Ipswich to be closer to family after having spent the best part of two decades based in Nottingham, having originally moved there to study journalism at university. I had job interviews lined up, expecting to be able to find work fairly swiftly. However when lockdown was announced last March (2020), those job interviews were all cancelled within the space of a day, while the plans I had made to take my festival food stall out to summer events were dashed all at the same time. It ended up taking me three months to find a job which I was very lucky to secure. I also felt very grateful that I was able to claim Universal Credit during that time, the first time I had needed to in my life. I applied for roles constantly during those three months, but the economy was at a standstill and I did not get a single reply.
So that’s when all the projects came out that I had been meaning to get round to but had never quite found the time for. I was up to all sorts of creative bits and bobs, trying to make constructive use of the time I now found myself with, while also doing some online training to update my employability skills for when the economy opened back up again. Like many others during that anxious and stressful time, I turned to baking. I bought some traditional East Anglia cookbooks online, which were only a few pounds each. It had been a conversation about traditional Suffolk recipes with my mother that had triggered the idea of trying to make some of them, and on a whim I had made what felt at the time like a bit of a frivolous purchase. But at less than £10 for three fantastic books, I definitely do not regret it. They are fascinating and I will cherish them always.
I got the following – A Taste of East Anglia (compiled by Julia Skinner, illustrated with historical photographs from The Francis Frith Collection), Suffolk Country Recipes (compiled by Molly Perham) and Favourite Suffolk Recipes (by Dorothy Baldock). All three of the books contain beautiful photos or illustrations, their yellow faded pages invoking a feeling of nostalgia for a bygone era. My mother and I both spent a long time sitting and reading them from cover to cover, chatting about the recipes, which triggered all sorts of interesting conversations with my parents about the history of the region.
There are so many delicious recipes in them that I ended up bookmarking pretty much every single page to earmark things to cook, by which point the bookmarking system became almost redundant. I want to list them all here but there are just so many. I became overwhelmed and almost crippled by choice paralysis, so decided to start with the most simple recipe which featured in all three of the books, and for which I already had the ingredients for, as lockdown meant I could not just dash out and buy things on a whim.
I was also thinking each recipe should be made in conjunction with when the locally sourced ingredients are in season. My plan was then to work my way through the recipes one by one and eventually cook all of them. I started with Suffolk rusks. That was 18 months ago! I managed one recipe then that was it for a while, as I found a job and my recipe challenge was put to one side. Until now! I have got them back out and have devised a strategy on how to tackle this ambitious endeavour.
One quandary I was faced with was whether to religiously stick to the exact ingredients and methods, or to improvise. When I first made the rusks during lockdown, I improvised. They turned out amazingly. So I am going to take each recipe as it comes and decide as I go. In most cases I aim to cook the original recipe, or as close to it as I realistically can bearing in mind ingredients and cooking methods, then in some cases go one step further by creating new recipes that bring them more in line with modern day tastes, using the originals as inspiration. My logic for not necessarily sticking religiously to the exact recipes is that when people were making them originally, they were using what was to hand and available to them at that time, and may not have gone far out of their way to source ingredients that were not convenient, within their budget or locally available to them. This also goes for the methods used to cook and prepare the dishes - I will be using methods that utilise the equipment available in our much more advanced kitchens!
Being a Patisserie and Confectionery NVQ L3 student at Suffolk New College, I have found myself drawn towards the desserts sections of the books, fascinated with the ingenious ways cooks over the years have devised ways to create the most delicious sweets from the most basic ingredients and cooking methods available.
Now that we live in a time where we can get pretty much anything we want any time we want, I could pay through the nose for obscure ingredients or order them on the internet, but in the times these recipes originate from, would the people of East Anglia have gone to such lengths or would they have improvised based on what was most easily available? I suspect it was a mixture, so that is my plan and I’m sticking to it!
So Suffolk rusks were first. I had started out just exploring the recipes from my home county of Suffolk, however the recipes from the rest of the region were just too tempting not to stray over the county borders, so I am now encompassing the whole of East Anglia. I am then working my way through the recipes depending on the season the ingredients are most likely to be available locally, making them in the order that makes most sense.….plus the ones I want to eat first! The process of actually cooking all of them may take me a few years as there are so many delicious recipes, but I can think of worse ways to spend my time. I am not setting myself a time limit in which to complete this, but I will aim to try a new recipe every month or so, learning as much as I can about the produce and food of the region and hopefully meeting other local foodies along the way.
#1 SUFFOLK RUSKS
Kicking off my challenge to cook traditional East Anglian recipes on a regular basis, from some lovely old books I have acquired. Are they crackers, biscuits, stale scones?? Have a try making them and you decide!
#2 BLOATER SAVOURY
A recommended topping for the Suffolk rusk, this smoked fish paste is traditionally made by bloating a herring.... Thankfully there was a cheats version available in the book, which I deferred to on this occasion....
#3 THAPE PIE
A sweet yet tarte pie eaten with custard, this gooseberry pie is traditionally eaten on Whit Sunday. I then created five more recipes using the surplus berries, all suitable for a Platinum Jubliee afternoon tea. It was so much fun!