If you ask people to name a dish synonymous with the region I reckon most will say Lancashire Hotpot. A tasty, rich stew of lamb, onions and potatoes, that was easy to prepare and could be left in the stove all day for the flavours to meld into a filling, hot meal. It became particularly popular during the industrial revolution, when women began to go out to work in the mills but still needed to fulfil their wifely duties and feed the family. Miners also used to take the warmed or 'hot pot', wrapped in a blanket down the mines for their lunch.
However, in our house hotpot wasn’t King, Tater ‘Ash was. That translates as Potato Hash. If you wanted a posher version, you put a pastry crust on the top, towards the end of cooking and called it a Potato Pie. Now depending where in the county you hail from the main basic ingredient could either be stewing beef, minced beef or corned beef. In Ashton-Under-Lyne, where my maternal family is from, we use shin beef with onions, potato and stock. Either way it is an economical, slow cooked stew served with pickled red cabbage and/or pickled beetroot. You allow it cook until the potatoes fall, thickening the gravy considerably. It’s a real winter warmer.
Another rib-sticker of a dish is Steak and Cowheel. That’s right, the heel of a cow. The small bones and gelatinous sinew surrounding the fetlock of the beast. Sounds disgusting? It really isn’t, in fact it has little or no flavour but does serve to make the gravy of the stewed steak unctuous, sticky and lip licking. It can prove a little elusive to buy but usually if you can find a tripe or black pudding shop, the chances are they’ll sell cowheel too. You don’t need much so it is an economical ingredient and definitely worth a try.
One dish my Grandma used to cook that would have me swooning in delight was a ‘clock weight’ or rag pudding. Simply a fat, sausage roll shaped suet pastry pudding with a rich beef and gravy filling. The pudding, once assembled, was wrapped in a clean tea towel, secured with an old nappy pin and boiled in a pan of water. The term clock weight referred to it being a similar size and shape to the long hanging weights found in a Grandfather clock. I rarely make these myself because the shop on Ashton Market where I buy my Bury Black Puddings from also sells the best individual rag puddings. These little pillows of delight are made by Jackson’s, a local Milnrow based family business. I used to serve this treat in my café and people used to come from all over for them. I once had a call from a gentleman asking if he could book a table. I told him no booking was necessary because we were only a little town centre café rather than a restaurant. He said he had been in the week before and had one of my gorgeous puddings and wanted to bring his family. The reason he had wanted to book was because there was 20 of them! I did book them, for a special sitting all of their own after the café had officially closed because I could only seat 20 anyway. They loved it and became regular visitors.
I can’t mention Lancashire and food without mentioning the King of Puddings. The Black Pudding. I love them. Boiled though, not fried. Their black, shiny, glossiness. The ‘pop’ as you plunge your fork in. In my opinion the very best way to serve them is on their own with a buttered Lancashire backstone oven bottom muffin from The Pantry in Ashton Market Hall. Bliss!
There are lots of other dishes but I think I will write this post in several episodes. Perhaps, you could let me know your favourite Lancashire dish?
Recipe - Tater ‘Ash - feeds 41lb stewing beef - cut into small chucks
1 large onion - roughly chopped
3 carrots - cut into thick chunks (this is my addition to the recipe).
1½ lb potatoes - cute into 1” cubes (I favour a white potato rather than a waxy one because they ‘fall’ more easily).
1 pint of light beef stock (an Oxo or Bovril stock will suffice)
A few shakes of Worcestershire sauce
Put the oven on to 170, 150 fan assisted, 325 or Gas Mark 3.
Put all the ingredients bar the potatoes into a casserole dish and cook covered for an hour. Remove from the oven and add the potatoes. Sir, cover and cook for a further 1 to 1½ hours. Serve with pickled red cabbage and/or pickled red cabbage. Or if you are my Teen, a good dollop of ketchup.