Dorothy Hartley’s ‘Food in England’: recipes to make at home

Here for your delectation I’ve chosen some of the easier and more palatable recipes from ‘Food in England’ – nothing involving offal!

Stargazey Pie

This is a recipe I made with the present-day pupils at the boys’ grammar school in Skipton, Dorothy’s birthplace and her childhood home. It’s fairly easy: you tuck fresh pilchards (head and all) into a bed made out of short-crust pastry, with a blanket of pastry brushed with egg above. You let their little faces peep out. Leaving the heads and tails intact means that all the rich oil stays within the fish. If you’ve got more time, Dorothy recommends putting a spoonful of finely chopped onion and green herbs inside each fish to improve the flavour and keep it moist while cooking.  Twenty minutes in a hot oven and it’s done.

Did the boys enjoy eating it? I hadn’t thought they’d be very keen on dismembering boney fish, but I’d forgotten that teenage boys get hungry enough to eat practically everything. Stargazey Pie was a hit.

Spicy Mutton Pie

This is a bit like a modern pork pie, but chunks of tart windfall apples and sweet prunes are packed in amongst the mutton and other ingredients.

Cut the cold mutton and its fat into small pieces and add an equal quantity of chopped apples. Layer the mutton and apples alternately in a pie dish, sprinkling each layer with a little sugar and plenty of nutmeg. Tuck some currants or chopped prunes among the mutton pieces. Cover with a layer of suet, seal with a lid of short crust pasty and bake quickly.

I’ve rarely tasted this combination of sweet and savoury outside the Tudor Kitchens at Hampton Court, where the cooks working for Historic Royal Palaces recreate 16th-century recipes on a regular basis.  It’s a hearty dish, yes, but imagine a genuine ploughman eating it for his lunch. He’d need it.

Fourteenth-Century Fish Roe

You’ll probably recognise the taste of cod roe from modern taramosalata, but if you’d lived in the 14th century, you’d have been familiar with fish in many forms because the Church required you to eat it on Fridays. Here, cod’s roe is stewed and mixed with a bit of cream cheese and a little salt, pepper and sugar. Dip it in batter made from flour, eggs and water then fry like a fish cake or bake. Unusual, but rather tasty.

Clifton Puffs

Clifton is well known today as a rather nice suburb of Bristol, but it’s also the home of these delicious pastries. A ‘Clifton Puff’ is related to the better-known ‘Banbury Cake’, and Dorothy points out that the road bringing and taking goods to and from the country’s major western port ran straight from Banbury to Bristol via Cheltenham and Clifton. Here, the same fruit filling you’ll find in a modern mince pie (8oz chopped apple, 8oz currants, 4oz raisins, 4oz candied peel, 12oz chopped almonds, 1/2 grated nutmeg) are soaked in a glass of brandy then placed in the centre of a thinly rolled 4in square of puff pastry (Dorothy recommends adding some ground almonds if you like). The corners are folded into the middle then the whole thing should be brushed with egg, sprinkled with sugar and baked in a hot oven. They’re easy-peasy and delicious.

Tewkesbury Saucer Batters

According to Dorothy, this was a teatime snack eaten by the female fruit-pickers working around Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire each summer. In the time that it took the kettle to boil, each woman would butter the saucer of her teacup and pop it in the oven to warm up. The hot saucer was then filled with a light batter, made by beating the yolk of a single egg into as much flour as it would hold, adding milk, beating the white of the egg and carefully stirring it in.

You split the batter between a couple of the saucers and bake for ten minutes in a hot oven. I was a bit dubious about whether it would work, but my own effort rose beautifully, like a meringue. A little soft fruit stewed in sugar, sandwiched between a couple of these saucer-batters, makes a quick, seasonal, and very distinctive dish that you’d never think of trying if you hadn’t read ‘Food in England’.

Read more about Dorothy and her life by clicking here here.

2 thoughts on “Dorothy Hartley’s ‘Food in England’: recipes to make at home

  1. Wendy Maloney

    So happy to have found your website while doing a search for Dorothy Hartley. My daughter and I loved watching your various documentaries, especially If Walls Could Talk and Antiques Uncovered.
    I greatly anticipate reading through your extensive archive here! Greetings from Canada!

  2. Richard Hellwege

    I origionally saw your program on Dorothy Hartley on youtube, and was so intrigued that I ordered a copy of “Food in England”. It really is a very fascinating book! Encyclopediac, in fact. And I love the illustrations. Looking over the recipes on this page is very helpful, as sometimes, being an American, I am stumped by her use of the English language. Also, after watching that program on youtube, I’ve become a fan of your other documentaries. You’ve probably been to the US, so recognized the quality, (or lack thereof) of American television and I find myself watching alot of youtube. Usually I watch your documentaries. Thank you so much for making history more than just dates and battles – but the cultural history of our shared heritage. Best wishes for the Holidays, and a Happy New Year!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *