Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England

My favourite posh historian lady, Lucy Worsley, is back on the BBC with a documentary all about Dorothy Hartley and her iconic book, Food in England. Hurray!

I’d vaguely heard of the book before, because I like old cookery books from slightly posh people, but I didn’t know anything about Dorothy at all until I read this interview with Lucy in the Guardian at the weekend. Not only was I pretty gleeful at having someone new to obsess over, but the piece told me there was also a TV show to go with it. GLEEFUL, as I say.

Food in England hasn’t been out of print since it was first published in 1954. It’s not just a cookery book either; it covers everything from foraging and seasonal eating to sheep shearing and butchering and general advice about  all the interesting things you can find to eat and look at and enjoy in this green and pleasant land. Dorothy may have been the daughter of a private school headmaster but she wasn’t averse to going and sleeping under a hedge to get a real feel for the natural world and all its wonders – she just had that kind of level of interest in what she was doing.

I highly advise you to read Lucy’s profile on Dorothy here – I mean, how can this not entice you in?

She saw off would-be suitors with talk of Viking burial customs, and had a life-long habit of signing letters “D Hartley (Miss)”, to draw attention to her single status…

… Much more than a recipe book, it also covers fire, magic, fungi, Elizabethan households, salting and “tracklements” (sauces). “Overheard in Wigan market” is a not uncommon source for a recipe.

That was all it took to sell the book and the show to me. I guess I’m a soft touch and fairly predictable, but I also think there’s a lot to be said for having knowledge of mushrooms that you’re safe to eat and knowing how to gut a fish and light a fire in the rain all that good stuff. We could definitely all do with a few more of those skills, right?

Not entirely sure how many of the recipes you would want to eat today, but I’m pretty taken with Stargazey Pie and the kids on Lucy’s showed like it too so it can’t be all bad. A traditional cornish fish dish, it’s said to date back to pre-16th century and gets its name from the lil fish heads poking out the pastry. Here it is – might give it a bash this weekend?? Hmmm….

Stargazey Pie

6 tbsp breadcrumbs
150 ml milk
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
3 tbsp lemon juice plus zest
1 onion, chopped
6 pilchards/mackerel/herring, filtered with heads left on (EWWWWWWWW, get over it)
1 rasher of bacon, chopped
salt and pepper
150 ml good cider
225g puff pastry

Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk and leave to swell a little then add the parsley, lemon juice, lemon zest and onion and mix well.  Divide the stuffing between the fish, spreading it over the flat fillets.

Fold them over then put them into a round ovenproof dish, tails downwards with the heads poking over the edge. Put the bacon, seasoning and cider all around and in between the fish.  Roll out the pastry to fit the dish. Press on, leaving the fish heads exposed on the rim.

Bake at 220°C/ gas 7 for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven to 190 °C / gas 5 and cook for a further 25 minutes.

The show was broadcast on Tuesday but you can watch it here and you can buy the original book here.

[Pictures: BBC]

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