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7 Iconic Recipes from Shropshire You Must Try

I may be a little biased but one of Britain’s most best kept secrets, my home county of Shropshire, is not just crammed with stunning countryside, historic market towns and the birthplace of the industrial revolution, it is also full of delicious traditional recipes passed down lovingly through the generations.

Some have fared better than others over the years and are still in regular use but others were lost until rediscovered by exploring recipe hunters! As well as giving a little history and information on each of the foods I have also tried to include a link to a recipe in case you would like to have a go yourself.

I haven’t tried making all of these (yet! I will let you know how I get on) so can’t guarantee that they turn out as deliciously as the originals and you will probably want to have a root around on the web to find your own favourite versions as there are so many available.

Some of the foods I found I immediately rejected as being either illegal now, a massive health hazard  or simply too disgusting to contemplate but there are many others like these 7 below which sound both delicious and are definitely worth a try!

Shrewsbury Biscuits

One of the best known recipes from Shropshire, Shrewsbury Biscuits are named after the county town of Shrewsbury. First mentioned in the 1500’s as being defined by their brittle and crisp texture, they were later used as a metaphor in a play “as short as a Shrewsbury Cake” by playwright William Congreve in 1700.

The biscuits were supposedly created by a Mr Palin and a plaque on a shop by Shrewsbury Castle states that it was in the area occupied by this building that Shrewsbury Biscuits were first baked by Palin to his unique recipe in the year 1760.

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Shrewsbury Biscuit recipes can contain a myriad of different flavours including rosewater, lemon, cinnamon, nutmeg, caraway seeds and orange peel on top of the basic recipe, making each recipe slightly different.

The biscuits used to be made under the name of Palin’s Original Shrewsbury Cakes by a manufacturer in Shrewsbury called Thomas Plimmer and Sons and then Phillip’s Stores Limited up until the Second World War when the difficulty of obtaining butter and other ingredients meant that production stopped.

However this didn’t stop people from loving the Shrewsbury Biscuit and they are today still made in the town  by local company Baked for You http://www.bakedforyou.co.uk/shrewsbury-biscuits.html .

This recipe for  Shrewsbury Biscuits is  written by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for his article  on the Guardian website, view it  here 

2. Fidget Pie

Fidget Pie started life 400 years ago in much in the same way as the Cornish Pasty in that it was developed so that farm workers (rather than mine workers in the case of the pasty) could have a portable lunch to take with them when they were bringing the harvest in.

It basically consists of a pastry case filled with gammon, potato, onion, cider and apple and then topped with a layer of cheese and pastry.

The origin of the name is hotly disputed but explanations include that it relates to the way the ingredients “fidgeted around” while being cooked, refers to the way it smells when cooked (fitchett or fitch – a name for a polecat) or because the pie traditionally used to have a 5 sided shape.

fidget pie
Fidget Pie – This is the Hairy Bikers version of the Fidget Pie

It had really started to fade in popularity over the years and was in serious danger of being forgotten with the ready availability of pasties and pies from the supermarket shelves until the Hairy Bikers came to Shropshire and made a version! They revitalised it, made it famous and now the Ludlow Food Centre has just sold their 10,000th Fidget Pie!

The Hairy Biker recipe for a Shropshire Fidget Pie can be found  here

3.  Market Drayton Gingerbread

Market Drayton has long been associated with gingerbread, the first mention being in 1793 by Roland Lateward who was baking gingerbread in the town but it was probably made here even earlier than this.

Gingerbread in its original form of Gingerbrede is actually one of the world’s oldest cake bread recipes with the earliest recipe dating back to 1390!

Gingerbread

Market Drayton used to have four gingerbread bakers in the early 20th century which for a small town sounds incredible. It is reputed that rum featured in some of the secret recipes and when that didn’t provide enough of a kick people dunked the gingerbread into port! Despite or perhaps because of this, the gingerbread was supposed to have a restorative effect!

The oldest surviving brand of Gingerbread is Billingtons’s who started in 1817. Production was interrupted during the war but thrived afterwards but it sadly now seems to be made in Yorkshire not Shropshire.

Today a company called Image on Food (http://www.imageonfood.co.uk/) set up in the 80’s makes the gingerbread in the town and sells to shops such as Harvey Nichols, Waitrose and Selfridges, keeping the tradition going.

4. Shropshire Soul Cakes

These cakes are intrinsically linked to the Christian festival of All Souls Day. The tradition is that poorer neighbours would offer to “go a souling” and pray for the relatives of richer neighbours in exchange for money or food. Later on the tradition changed to one very much like a form of carol singing, in that children would sing:

 “A soul-cake, a soul-cake, please good missus, a soul-cake.  One for Peter, one for Paul, three for Him who saved us all”

and would then receive a soul cake or Harcake in return.

The cakes had a cross baked into them and then when a cake was eaten this would represent a soul being freed from purgatory.

It used to be a common practise to leave soul cakes out on All Hallow’s Eve for the souls of  family and friends who had died, the cakes would then be given to neighbours the next day.

Mary Ward from Pulverbatch in Shropshire was the last known person to keep up this tradition, which she kept to up until her death in 1853.

You can find a recipe for Shropshire Soul cakes here

 

5. Shrewsbury Simnel Cake

Another recipe from the county town, this cake was traditionally prepared in Springtime for Mothering Sunday or Lent with daughters making the cakes for their mothers when they came back from the hiring fair after 6 months or by a girl in service going home and visiting her mother on Mother’s day with the cake.

A light fruit cake with saffron, a central layer of marzipan and decorative icing or paste balls on top of the cake. It was traditionally created by first boiling and then baking the cake.

simnel cakes
An illustration of Simnel Cakes from Chambers Book of Days in 1869

In 1869, Chambers Book of Days says:

“It is an old custom in Shropshire and Herefordshire, and especially at Shrewsbury, to make during Lent and Easter, and also at Christmas, a sort of rich and expensive cakes, which are called Simnel Cakes. They are raised cakes, the crust of which is made of fine flour and water, with sufficient saffron to give it a deep yellow colour, and the interior is filled with the materials of a very rich plum-cake, with plenty of candied lemon peel, and other good things. They are made up very stiff; tied up in a cloth, and boiled for several hours, after which they are brushed over with egg, and then baked. When ready for sale the crust is as hard as if made of wood, a circumstance which has given rise to various stories of the manner in which they have at times been treated by persons to whom they were sent as presents, and who had never seen one before, one ordering his simnel to be boiled to soften it, and a lady taking hers for a footstool. They are made of different sizes, and, as may be supposed from the ingredients, are rather expensive, some large ones selling for as much as half-a-guinea, or even, we believe, a guinea, while smaller ones may be had for half-a-crown. Their form, which as well as the ornamentation is nearly uniform, will be best understood by the accompanying engraving, representing large and small cakes as now on sale in Shrewsbury. The usage of these cakes is evidently one of great antiquity. It appears from one of the epigrams of the poet Herrick, that at the beginning of the seventeenth century it was the custom at Gloucester for young people to carry simnels as presents to their mothers on Midlent Sunday (or Mothering Sunday).”

A recipe for Shrewsbury Simnel Cake by the WI can be found here.

6. Shropshire Mint Cakes

There is an air of mystery around these cakes as they are not mentioned anywhere except as a recipe for “Shropshire Mint Cakes” by an Australian newspaper in 1935! So if anyone has any more information about their origin then I would love to know but until then you can find a recipe for Shropshire Mint Cakes here

7. Aromatic Shropshire Pudding

This pudding always sounds slightly suspicious to me, after all aromatic can be good or bad. However it looks delicious so I will be making this one as soon as possible!

Again there is scant history about this pudding so all I can offer is a recipe from the brilliant The Ordinary Cooks blog here .


I really hope you have enjoyed this little slice of Shropshire Food. There is so much delicious history waiting to be discovered about our culinary heritage and so many recipes to try so I hope you are inspired, as I am, to have a dig around and see what dishes you are missing out on in your own hometowns!

If you’ve enjoyed this article then please follow our blog for more on craft, food, wellbeing and nature!

This article was originally posted on our original blog site Cre8ty on 27th June 2017.

Sources and Links to Further Information

https://www.shropshiretourism.co.uk/news/shropshire-fidget-pie.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/shropshire/food/2003/05/gingerbread.shtml

https://www.shropshiretourism.co.uk/town/market-drayton.html

http://shropshirehistory.com/other/food.htm#marketdraytongingerbread

https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/2015/07/11/move-to-rip-up-market-drayton-gingerbread-icon-takes-the-biscuit/

http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/shrewsburysimnelcake.htm

http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/BookofDays/03510336.html

http://theordinarycook.co.uk/2015/03/16/aromatic-shropshire-pudding/

http://shropshirehistory.com/other/food.htm#shrewburysimnelcake

https://www.expressandstar.com/lifestyle/2013/08/06/celebrating-traditional-food-in-the-black-country-and-shropshire/

http://theordinarycook.co.uk/tag/shropshire-recipes/

https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/business/2017/06/14/event-to-relaunch-200-year-old-gingerbread-recipe-in-market-drayton-/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/shropshirefidgetpie_91840

http://www.countryfile.com/countryside/regional-food-shropshire-fidget-pie

http://shropshirehistory.com/other/food.htm#shrewsburybiscuits

http://www.bbc.co.uk/shropshire/food/2002/10/shrewsbury_biscuits.shtml

http://www.wetnelly.com/page010.html

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