Friday, 24 December 2010

Suffolk, Food and Festive fare

What makes a good pub dog?  One that sits where it's
 told and blends in.  A small Jack Rusell pup "nesting" in
my jacket and jumper
Suffolk has a rich food landscape. The ingredients used in Suffolk food reflect the fact that it is bordered in the East by the North Sea or German Sea as it appears on a lot of Victorian maps and the flat heathland in the West. The East part of the county in the nineteenth century was said to at one point to be more closely connected to the peoples across the sea in the Low countries. The dialects of the fishermen from Lowestoft, down to Felixstowe was intelligible to Dutch residents more than it was to those of London. Away from the coast Suffolk was well connected to markets outside the county. It was not an isolated rural backwater that we in our modern mindset tend think of country areas to be today. Suffolk used to drive a large part of the nations GDP from well before medieval times.

London was especially reliant on the fact that Suffolk was just on it's doorstep. As London expanded through the Victorian age the horse was an important part of the transport system.  The number of horses is estimated a t nearly 300,000 by the turn of the 19th Century (the horse in Regency London).   These horses needed to be fed and their waste disposed of. Public transport accounted for 50,00 horses alone.  These used the output of  a quarter of a million of acres of land ( approx 101 000 hectares) and  produced a 1000 tonnes of dung per day that ended up on the road (London Transport).

Using a modern scenario based on land available in the  EU for biofuel (17.5 Million hectares), the horses of 19th Century London Transport alone would use about 0.6% of present land production capacity (Europabio).  With an average yield of 50-60 litres of Biofuel per hectare (median figure 55 l/ha)  this would equate to approximately  5.565 million litres of EU produced fuel..  A London taxi has a fuel consumption of about 30 mpg ( or 6.6 miles per litre) as a median value (Elite Taxis).  So London taxis would be able to drive  approximately  36,729,000 miles on the land used to feed the London Transport's Victorian horses.   On an average day London taxis make 200,000 journeys that are of approximately 3.2 miles (Transport for London), so approximately 233.6 million miles per year.  This would require  35.4 million litres of fuel per year. 

What is this in terms of EU available Biomass land production?  On present figures of yield used (50-60 litres per hectare) the number of hectares that would be needed to run London taxis for a year is approximately 4.3 million hectares or 24% of estimated EU land use for Biofuel.  This is just for London which has at present a population of 7.75 million ( which is 1.6 % of that of the EU (Eu population figures from Eurostat).  Sobering figures considering this is only London Taxis and these are just approximations, by no way an actuarial audit! 

Three hundred thousand horses is a great concentration considering that London at that time did not sprawl as vastly as it does today. These horses needed to be fed and their waste disposed of. Step in Suffolk. A trade that was apparent in West Suffolk and throughout the river system was the servicing of London's horse population. 

Oats, straw and hay were transported on barges from today what might seem the most unlikely places in Suffolk. Wixoe is a small village upon the Suffolk-Essex border has it's own docks where this produce was loaded onto barges and then carried down the Stour towards Sudbury. Evidence of the types of barges used are being found in the excavations around Constables' haunts that are taking place at Flatford Mill further down the Stour valley. On the return journey the accumulated manure of London's horses was transported back to the heart of Suffolk.

The Suffolk Punch is the equine legacy of Suffolk agriculture. The Suffolk Punch is an endangered breed, which was threatened when  the Prison Service of the UK chose to shut down it's program with offenders.  Thankfully this was saved and the oldest working horse breed can be seen and supported at the Suffolk Punch Trust    

Suffolk is also famous for it's own breed of sheep and also Red Poll cattle. These formed with the Suffolk Punch the Suffolk Trinity. The red poll cow and the Suffolk sheep are not major parts of the present Suffolk farming economy but have influenced the Suffolk landscape. The Red Poll cow is now considered to be a rare breed in the UK. It is however alive and well in the Caribbean. The Red Poll can be found in abundance in Jamaica where it's rare attribute of having sweat glands allows it to thrive in tropical temperatures. The Red Poll is a multi-purpose beast ie useful for both milk and meat. As farmers have specialised and introduced continental bloodlines such as Frisian and Holstein the general purpose beast has disappeared.

Pork is a traditional local product that Suffolk is also famous for. There are still houses in Haverhill that still have pigsties in the back garden. They are not used for the original purpose some are coal bunkers, some are tool stores. Many years ago I lived in Shropshire. The house I rented was in a small hamlet off the A41. The house next door was a tied house occupied by a farm worker. He kept a pig in the sty just over the back fence of my garden. The pig was acquired as a piglet and the following months saw my neighbour feeding the pig as it grew. Each night he would sit in the sty with the pig chatting to it. However, one morning there was a great commotion of squeals. The pig's end had come. Sentimentality was absent as it was loaded into a horsebox and transported the few miles to the local abattoir.

In those days it was still possible to find very small abattoirs that only handled one or two pigs a day. Raising your own pig and then having it slaughtered was not a big problem. Still a ritual on the Continent is for people to butcher their own animals as recent food programmes from Spain would indicate. The pig came back butchered into various different joints and the offal in convenient packages. The blood was retained by the abattoir  to be made into black pudding. The home reared pork was then consumed over the following months.   I had a Sunday Lunch experience as a guest to see the pig's end as a roast joint upon the table.  Very good it was too.  It has become fashionable with the various green/self-sufficiency and slow food inspired TV programmes for people to keep pigs again.  This is not out of necessity as the original household economy dictated but because people can.  Long may they have this choice.

So a Pork recipe for Christmas with a Suffolk flavour. This is mirrored across Europe in cookery from Poland to Holland.  The use of cider vinegar in this recipe is a traditional Suffolk product.  Land that could not be profitably used for arable was often the land where the orchards could be found. Cider was one of the ways Victorian farmers used to supplement the wages they paid their harvest worker.  If all things such as pay was equal it was the farmer that produced that best cider that was the preferred boss.

Pork and Red Cabbage

Serves: 4   Cost:  less  than £5       Preparation time: 15 - 20 minutes

Cooking time: 1 and half to 2 hours

Food miles: Maximum single ingredient 30 miles from Suffolk

Equipment needed

Large Casserole Dish
Large Saucepan

1llb of Red Cabbage
1 large Cooking Apple
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of cider vinegar
1 tablespoon of flour
Salt and black pepper
1 and a half pounds ( 700g ) boneless pork shoulder rind removed
Parsley Sprigs for garnish

Method or How to?

Prepare first (15 minutes tops)

Preheat the oven to 190 C (Gas Mark 5)
Wash the Red Cabbage and Shred the cabbage.  Peel and core the apple and then slice into reasonably thick sections.
Place in a large ssaucepan of water sufficient water to cover the cabbage.  Add 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar to the water and bring to the boil.  Add the cabbage and bring back to the boil.  Allow to boil for a few minutes.  Drain the cabbage  really well to remove the water.

In the bottom of the casserole place the cabbage and the apple.  Stir the sugar into the cabbage and apple.  Add the remaining cider vinegar the flour and seasoning.

Take the pork shoulder and score the outer side of the piece.  Rub the scored side with some salt and black pepper and then place on the top of the cabbage.

Cover the casserole dish and then cook for 1and half to 2 hours until tender.  When cooked take the pork out and slice placing on a serving plate.  Around the pork arrange the cabbage and apple along with a garnish of parsley.

Serve with your of potatoes roasted or mashed along with seasonal root vegetables.  

Now that I have the benefit of BT Broadband again, a high speed connection no less  I will now again be building causeways across the digital ocean.

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