I love food, I love to eat and I love to cook, so it is perhaps no surprise then, that when thinking of an object that connects me to the history of the county, the first thing that came to mind was my great aunt’s book of favourite family recipes.
From Lincolnshire to Warwickshire
I must confess, I am not from Warwickshire, but Lincolnshire. My time here has still seen me involved with food (Warwickshire County Record Office, where I work, seems to have a never-ending supply of cake!) and I like nothing better than visiting some of the small, homely cafés that seem to be common in Warwick. Just this act of visiting a chocolate shop, or buying a ham and cheese sandwich reminds me of this recipe book. Every time I consult this sticky tome, I am instantly transported back to her pine-panelled kitchen in 1970s Lincolnshire, with the tiled floor that froze my stockinged feet and huge (or so they appeared to me at the time) pans simmering on the stove. It must have been these early lessons in baking and jam-making that fostered my own interest in food and the joy I now get from feeding my loved ones hand-made goodies. In a way we are all still enjoying my great aunt’s culinary skills.
I love the connection this book represents to my past and people in it I didn’t even know. My great aunt would have learned her cookery skills from her mother, aunt or grandmother and whenever I recreate a recipe from the book, it’s nice to feel that they are all in the room with me, judging my efforts… kindly, I hope. Although some of the methods might have changed a little (I don’t have to spend 30 exhausting minutes creaming butter and sugar with a fork any more), I still try to use the same local ingredients they would have used.
Finding out about Warwickshire’s culinary history
Now that I am working in Warwickshire, I find the patchwork landscape of field and hedgerow very reminiscent of my expeditions in the Lincolnshire countryside when ‘brambling’ (picking blackberries) in the country lanes around Louth and Horncastle was an annual treat. Warwickshire is renowned for its greenery, so it’s good to find myself working in a county where I can feel so much at home.
I have less time for foraging in the wild these days, so the farm shops of Warwickshire have to substitute, but there is no shortage of lovely local produce with which to continue my jam and cake making! Farming has played a large part in Warwickshire’s history, so it’s good to see that, even as the towns and cities grow, there’s a space for the wide open fields and their historic names, the ridge and furrow, and the excellent quality produce.
I am continuing to explore our food heritage through my work at the record office, and have been delighted to find ancient recipe books and other food-related records to experiment with. This has led to an appearance with my colleague (and esteemed web editor!) Benjamin Earl on Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet to talk about Artichoke Pie, as well as some very pleasurable recipe testing for Warwickshire Museum’s new Heritage Afternoon Tea events. I’ve also spoken to other people about possible heritage cookery events. Will they happen? Never say never.
Childhood to present day
It’s great that my time in the county has enabled me to indulge my passion for all things foodie and I’m proud that my great aunt’s tatty, but treasured, cook book from Lincolnshire has led to such amazing Warwickshire adventures.