Posts tagged food


Earlier this month, Staffordshire-based production team THE 7TH TOWN released its first feature length documentary called Oatcakes!

It’s a film about local pride and the people of the Potteries directed by Robert Burns and produced by Toby DeCann.

Local delicacy the Staffordshire oatcake (posts passim) features prominently in the film, as do the ales produced by Burslem’s Titanic Brewery (Edward Smith, captain of the ill-fated RMS Titanic, was born in Hanley. Ed.).

There are fine renditions of the local accent too, as well as lessons in Potteries history, heritage and culture.

It may be 1 hour and 45 minutes long, but if you have an interest in the food and/or people of the Potteries and North Staffordshire, it’s well worth watching.

Coming soon: St Werburghs Christmas Market

St Werburghs Community Centre will soon be holding its famous indoor Christmas Market, running this time in the evening between 5 and 8pm on Friday 12th December.

publicity poster for Christmas market

On offer will be gourmet burgers from the Stovemonkey Smokehouse, fresh Italian coffee and homemade cakes from Rolling Italy, St Werburghs Community Centre’s very own Glühwein and mulled apple juice, plus festive live singing from the brilliant BYOB and Bartones choirs. There will be 45 stalls offering a wide variety of unusual festive gifts, clothes and art, etc., plus mask-making and face painting for the kids and other games, as well as a tombola stall.

For further details, contact 0117 955 1351 or email heather (at)

Happy birthday, ECC!

I’ve been using Easton Community Centre almost as long as it’s been open. I’ve also watched the changes to the building and its users over the years with great interest.

Reaching its quarter century is a great achievement for any community project and the Centre will be celebrating its 25th Anniversary later this month with a tea party on Friday, 24th October from 3.30-6.30pm.

There will be free tea and cake, as well as a children’s disco with a £1 entry fee.

poster for ECC 25th birthday

Staffordshire oatcake to get protected status?

Will the Staffordshire oatcake be joining Melton Mowbray pork pies, the Cornish pasty and Newcastle Brown Ale by having its status protected by the European Union?

Filled Staffordshire oatcakes

Filled Staffordshire oatcakes. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The BBC reports that the the West Midlands Labour group of MEPs is promising to apply to get it protected by the European Union if re-elected.

One of the candidates, Sion Simon, is reported as saying: “They’re part of our heritage and culture in the West Midlands and they should be protected in the same way other European countries protect their food products.”

Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates are also said to be broadly supportive of the proposal, although UKIP are being curmudgeonly and refusing to support the move (another reason not to vote for Nigel’s Little Englanders? Ed.).

However, I cannot help wondering if this proposal is a local Labour response to the rise of UKIP, particularly amongst Labour’s long-term core voters – the traditional white working class – the people it has taken for granted for far too long.

It is unclear from the BBC’s article which type of protection – PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) or TSG (Traditional Speciality Guaranteed) – will be sought, although my feeling is that it should be one of the first two.

I hope this is not just another manifesto promise from Labour that, like so many others, will be quietly dropped after the election when they have served their purpose.

Bristol’s most tuneful planter

Ever since it reopened a couple of years ago with Peter Gibbs behind the bar, The Volunteer Tavern in the St Jude’s district of Bristol has gone from strength to strength and now provides excellent beers and fine food in a quiet oasis amid the city’s bustle.

I was there on Sunday and noticed what is possibly the city’s most tuneful planter full of bedding plants.

Piano used as a planter

I’ve heard of a player piano (also known as a pianola. Ed.), but never a planter piano!

How old is the Staffordshire oatcake?

I’m currently reading Portrait of the Potteries by Bill Morland, published by Robert Hale Ltd. in 1978.

Being a local delicacy, oatcakes (posts passim) get an honourable mention. Indeed on page 25 Mr Morland does more than praise them, he speculates as to their origin (although he hyphenates oat-cakes. Ed.):

It is nothing like the Scottish oat-cake, but is rather like a brown and nobbly pancake made from draught-porridge. Incredibly economical to product, oat-cakes are very nourishing and sustaining. They are a symbol of the isolation and conservatism of the valley, since they appear to be an iron-age survival.

Staffordshire oatcake before filling

Oatcake awaiting filling

However, Mr Morland provides no evidence of the Iron Age origins of the Staffordshire oatcake, although one would have thought that, as an archaeology teacher for Keele University’s Adult Education Department at the time of publication, he would have realised the importance of empirical evidence.

If anyone can shed light on the (pre)history of the Staffordshire oatcake, please feel free to comment below.


pack shot of sausagesToday for breakfast I indulged in some sausages; not just any sausages, but Sainbury’s Outdoor Bred Pork Sausages. They were delicious and disappeared off the plate in double-quick time.

However, there was one thing that stuck in my throat: the product name.

Can inanimate objects – even ones made of once living matter – breed?

If so, I should congratulate Sainbury’s on this fine achievement in the field of al fresco coitus? If not, should I condemn their marketing department for coming up with an idiotic product name that’s a complete physical impossibility?

Digging further into this term, it is apparent that Sainsbury’s are not the only sinners here, as a quick image search for “outdoor bred” sausages will reveal. Moreover, if I had my way, Tesco, Waitrose, Rankin, Morrison’s, Marks & Spencer, Asda and many more suppliers should all be standing in the corner of the room with Sainsbury’s trying on the dunce’s hat for size. 🙂

Nevertheless, my suggesting that all these corporate grocers are a bunch of illiterates is perhaps being a bit hasty and an over-reaction. Time for some final research.

Consulting the Good Housekeeping Institute’s site, I find that outdoor bred actually has a specific meaning in food labelling terms, as follows:

As with Outdoor Reared, this tends to apply to pork and means the pigs are born outside. However, after a few weeks they’re brought inside for fattening.

So, outdoor bred is a proper food labelling term, although I do wish people would think more clearly about the connotations of naming products.

How to make pancakes, 16th century style

The Good Huswifes Jewell was an English recipe book written by Thomas Dawson which appeared in the late 16th century, of which the British Library has helpfully provided a transcript of the page covering pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known in secular Britain as Pancake Day.


The transcript of the pancake recipe is as follows:

To make Pancakes

Take new thicke Creame a pine, foure or five yolks of egs, a good handful of flower and two or three spoonefuls of ale, strain them together into a faire platter, and season it with a good handfull of sugar, a spooneful of synamon, and a little Ginger: then take a friing pan, and put in a litle peece of Butter, as big as your thumbe, and when it is molten brown, cast it out of your pan, and with a ladle put to the further side of your pan some of your stuffe, and hold your pan …, so that your stuffe may run abroad over all the pan as thin as may be: then set it to the fire, and let the fyre be verie soft, and when the one side is baked, then turn the other, and bake them as dry as ye can without burning.

This is the first time I’ve ever come across a pancake recipe featuring ale. 🙂

As regards the author, Thomas Dawson wrote a number of popular and influential recipe books including The Good Huswifes Jewell (1585), The good Hus-wifes handmaid for the kitchen (1594) and The Booke of Carving and Sewing (1597). These books covered a broad range of subjects, including general cookery, sweet waters, preserves, animal husbandry, carving, sewing and the duties of servants.

Bristol Post Balls – mixed messages

The screenshot below from today’s Bristol Post reveals an interesting succession of articles – the first on biscuits and and the second on obesity.

What point is the online editor trying to make?

screenshot of Bristol Post website

Piper and penguin

I’ve been aware of Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton et al. and their expeditions to Antarctica since my childhood and on Christmas Eve this year was made aware through social media of the exploits of the 1902-1904 Scottish National Antarctic Expedition.

Although its work was overshadowed by more prestigious expeditions, the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition nevertheless completed a full programme of exploration and scientific work, including the establishment of the first manned meteorological station in Antarctic territory, as well as the discovery of new land to the east of the Weddell Sea.

Below is a photograph taken on that expedition; a suitably light-hearted one of piper Gilbert Kerr serenading a penguin.

Gilbert Kerr, piper, with penguin. Photographed by William Speirs Bruce during the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, 1902-04

Gilbert Kerr, piper, with penguin. Photographed by William Speirs Bruce during the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, 1902-04. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

However, penguins did more for the expedition than provide an audience for pipers. They were a regular item on the menu too!

A typical day’s diet there might have been: breakfast of porridge and penguin eggs, with bacon on Wednesdays and Thursdays and coffee or cocoa week about. Lunch of eggs with bully beef or bread and cheese and tea. Dinner of penguin “hare soup”, then stewed penguin, with some farinaceous pudding or preserved fruit to follow.

The above comes from the text accompanying a splendid photo of Bill Smith, the expedition’s cook from Glasgow Digital Library, which has a fine collection of photographs from the expendition. I also love the final sentence on the page too for its description of Smith:

Smith’s substantial physique is a good advertisement for the value of his own work.

Season’s greetings all.

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