Suffolk on a plate
PUBLISHED: 00:16 24 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:20 20 February 2013
It's high time our county had a dish to call its own, says Peter Sampson
Its high time our county had a dish to call its own, says Peter Sampson
At the moment, every cow, pig, sheep, goose and turkey across the length and breadth of Suffolk is looking nervously over its shoulder expecting the imminent arrival of the man with the hatchet. Once more, its time for us to stuff ourselves comatose with gammon steaks, sausages bursting with fat, mutton chops crisp at the edges, rump steak oozing pink and plates heavy with thick white slices of turkey or goose breast. Its Armageddon down on the farm.
Mind you, I suppose the same things true everywhere else in the country, not merely in Suffolk.
Actually, thats what bothers me a bit. Suffolk doesnt seem to have any particularly distinctive dish of its own, any food that is synonymous with the county and spreads its glories nationwide.
Oh, we have plenty of good food available, some of it very good indeed. There are pubs and restaurants all over Suffolk where you can eat splendidly at pretty reasonable cost. But there doesnt seem to be any one dish that visitors, for example, feel they really ought to try when they come to the county, if only to say that theyve tried it.
I mean, Devon has its cream teas, Lancashire its hotpot and Yorkshire its pudding. In Derbyshire, you simply must eat Bakewell tart (or Bakewell pudding; they argue about which is the correct name) and Melton Mowbray produces its splendid pork pies. In Northumberland, theres ham-and-pease-pudding with a stotty cake; the Welsh, being an odd race, have a fondness for eating seaweed, which they call laver bread; the Scots, another strange race, put sinister things into a cows stomach and call it haggis.
There are Eccles cakes and Cumberland sausages and Cornish pasties and the best black puddings come from Bury (the one in Lancashire, not ours).
And everywhere seems to have its own cheese. Until very recently, Suffolk cheese was famous only for being totally inedible, so hard that the Navy practically mutinied a couple of hundred years ago when the sailors were issued with it as part of their rations. Daniel Defoe, on his tour of Suffolk, said the people there were famous for the best butter and perhaps the worst cheese in England.
Suffolk has acre upon acre of wheat and countless pigs. Together, they lead inevitably to something involving both bread and sausages
Suffolk cheese has improved since then, with the arrival on the scene of a few local cheeses like Suffolk Gold, Hawkston and Shipcord, but theyve still some way to go before theyre the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Suffolk food.
I wonder why Suffolk people never came up with anything distinctive. We did, after all, have the Red Poll cow, the Large Black pig and the Suffolk Sheep that Suffolk Trinity to work on.
Perhaps it was rural poverty? When Ronald Blythe was writing Akenfield back in the late 1960s, an old farm worker told him of his childhood diet: Our food was apples, potatoes, swedes and bread and we drank our tea without milk or sugar. When life was so hard that skimmed milk was a luxury, there wasnt much scope for ingenuity in the kitchen.
On the other hand, lots of the now famous dishes were themselves the product of poverty, ways of using up leftovers in cheap, economical food, like Lancashire hotpot, or ways of providing the men at work with a handy, portable meal, like Cornish pasties.
They were, if you like, peasant food, even if the people who made and ate them lived and worked in areas of heavy industry rather than the countryside. Meat and fish, being expensive, were used simply as an occasional tasty garnish for a staple diet of bread, potatoes, vegetables and were never to be wasted.
Anyway, I wonder what we might invent as a dish fit for Suffolk. Something plain and unfussy, I think, easy to make and easy to eat, sustaining, tasty and cheap. Something those of a sensitive nature would look down upon with disdain as being fit only for the peasant classes, a touch coarse and vulgar.
Well, Suffolk has acre upon acre of wheat and countless pigs. Together, they lead inevitably to something involving both bread and sausages.
Ta-ra-ra. (A drum roll, please.) Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with are you ready? the Suffolk Sarnie.
Butter well two slices of bread made from stoneground Suffolk wheat, fry two pork sausages from a contented Large Black reared in Suffolk and cut them lengthwise. Give them a sprinkle of salt and a dash of mustard (even if it does come from Norwich), then slap the sausage inside the bread, cut the whole thing in half and eat while wearing a bath towel to catch the butter and juices dripping down your chin. Wash down with a pint of Suffolk real ale made from Suffolk barley and Suffolk hops.
Have a splendid Christmas.
Illustration by Lucy Roberts