A Little Slice of the Black Country

It was so beautiful this morning when I awoke at the ungodly time of half past 6. Even though it was raining and my curtains were but a crack open, the sun sent shimmers of its warm delight and rainbow flecks onto my wall. And for once I genuinely did not mind getting out of bed. 

I have no doubt in my mind that this had a great deal to do with the fact that I knew I was finishing University today. And regardless of how well I had done in the essays I finished scribbling last night, or the looming dread of the marking of my dissertation it was going to be a good day. And it very much was. I write to you here today as a free woman. With my late night email reminder floating around in my head “Remember how tired you are right now. If you ever have to do essays again do not leave it this late, my eyeballs are exploding”, I quite like leaving myself notes. I’m going to be honest I’ve never been the ‘get-essays-in-before-they’re-due’ type but something about how tired I was made me realise how I am never going to do that again…well, more so the other times. It’s a pity it’s right at the end of my University career.
Okay, well firstly I shall start off with an apology, I’m going to be honest, I’ve written over 20,000 in general academic-related stuff since I last posted. And once you get into that referencing mindset it’s difficult to get back to the creative (Field, 2011). So apologies for the laborious wait those who follow.
To carry on with a past post though, the cheesecake went down very well. I think it did any way (I was a little tipsy at the time) but, I’m very, very glad. I’m not very experienced with cheesecake-making and this was literally the easiest thing. I’d even say it’s easier than baking a cake, other than faffing a bit with the lemons, I did make a very big cheesecake though and I had to use 7 lemons. I know, my face just melted with sourness too but it was a perfectly balanced cheesecake. Thank you very much Once Upon a Thyme.
So back to the food. The other day I finally made mawa/mava cakes. I say finally because I’ve been meaning to make them for over a month but completely underestimated how much time they would really take up…it turns out alot. I’m gonna be completely honest, I spent the best part of an hour attempting to grind cardamom pods down to powder, it’s a complete pain in the ass. Never do it. If you can help it, buy ground, for your own sake.
Also as awesome as those cakes were they are very time consuming, the mava itself (which is a reduction of evaporated milk and cream) took up over an hour of my afternoon just constantly stirring. If you’re going to make these little beauties, make sure you have an entire afternoon. So with the slap bass of “Take the Power Back” in my ears and the citrusy smell of cardamom stuck to my fingers (after getting angry at their lack of cooperation and attempting to crush them with my bare hands like the hulk), I waited for them to cook their sorry asses into submission. Worried deeply in case they didn’t work. Thankfully they did though, and got hoovered up in no time. Must be a good sign. I also have some bad news as I have lost my phone along with all my photographs many of the exciting culinary expeditions I tried in the last month and a bit are lost too. So I have no visual records for the time being. So here’s a different photo of what mava/mawa cakes look like with a better camera than I have. They do look rather unassuming but they are deceptively beautiful.
I am a giant mava cake.
Right as a little theme I thought it’d be nice to do a bit of a locally themed post because I do love where I come from, warts and all.
I take you back in my tardis to the realm of my dear home of Black Country some yonder years ago. If you are reading from abroad then let me introduce a place you‘ve probably never heard of. It’s a quaint little place in the Midlands of England full of meadows and cascading streams. I kid it used to be one of the most prosperous industrious regions of the UK in the Victorian era and famed for the many steel factories and chain-making. Exciting, I know but all parts of culture is intertwined with culinary patterns. There are bits and bobs of tales saying that the name originated from when Queen Victoria came to visit the area and the air was so black with smoke she refused to leave her carriage and pulled down the blinds. But it was more likely the hefty seams of coal that vein the soil making the ground black. I think I prefer the shunning of Vic if I’m honest but hey ho.
Anyway the wonder that is Boney Pie (or Boony Pie if yow’m from mar neck of the woods). I can honestly say that everyone I have met has never even heard of Boney Pie, so I am undertaking the assumption that it is a Black Country exclusive phenomenon. It is the wonderful art of boiling bones of pig or various other animals and getting all the scraps and bits and bobs off in some sort of stock. Boiled meat I know sounds delish so far. And ultimately sticking it in a thick crust of pastry and filling it with seasoned jelly.
While this is actually a pork pie it looks exactly the same from the outside, it’s a pie.
Now while it sounds like a bit of a glorified pork pie it is so much better than that if you get the seasoning right. It has been cooked on occasion in my household namely by my eldest sister who has quite a hand for a chicken variety and though it’s not a staple it is very much an appreciated part of regional culinary delights. I have to say the stereotype is with Black Country food that is a…debatable at best in comparison to other accepted UK cuisines. I won’t overtly disagree I did come across a recipe from a Black Country cookbook called Groaty Dick, which I was originally not in too great-a hurry to try, but it turns out it is an awesome stew. This is just the tip of Black Country cuisine, there’s so much more, but the few dishes I’ve mentioned are some of my favourites. This just goes to show, there are a few hidden gems here in the Midlands, but more on that later.
Whilst i’ll steer clear of the recipe for Boney Pie for now, as I am aware that boiled meat is not most of you reader’s cup o’tea. I will come back to recipes a bit later with a little adaptation on a vintage recipe. It is no secret that most traditional Black Country cuisine is not exactly easy on the gut, and if you fancied a bit of old-school glamour, it probably won’t do you any favours trying to squeeze into your girdle.
Like most people who enjoy their food give me a choice between a passed-down journal or crumpled recipe book, full of notes, and a thousand page encyclopaedia about food and I will always choose the crumpled pages. You know when you hold that book in your hands that it has been through generations of families and proof-testing and adjustments scribbled in ikea pens, kohl pencils or anything to hand when you’ve discover that accidentally adding an extra tablespoon of sugar or extra egg made that cake perfect. Food should be an heirloom from parent to child just as much as a piece of jewellery or blue eyes. And why not? A person has spent their entire lives cooking for their family and friends, and perfected certain talents along the way, why should that not be given to younger generation? I can say that if I ever have children, they are going to hate me because I’m going to bequeath unto them my monster collection of cookery books and journals.
I digress yet again, I really do apologise I’m a littstyle=”color: #4c1130;beforehand though. Here before you is the vintage recipe of this post, and though I am aware this dish isn’t exclusive to the Black Country, I know it’s quite an important part of many people’s upbringing:
Black Country Fill Belly
AKA Bread pudding
Serves a good 6 people if not more
500g stale bread
200g brown or granulated sugar
250g mixed dried
3 eggs
30g butter
2 teaspoons mixed spice
NB – the original recipe calls for 100g of suet, but as many people don’t really eat it anymore or you’re on a diet, leave this out or substitute it for brown bread crumbs, but neither are really necessary.
– Also, I’ve made a few changes to the original, but it’s still a pretty standard recipe.
– Soak the bread in a little milk, squeeze to get rid of moisture and flake with a fork.
– Add all the other ingredients and mix well.
– Here’s where you can choose. Either you can put this mix into a greased baking tray dotted with bits of butter OR (do this) you can layer a nice deepish pastry case with a good layer of jam and fill it up with this mixture and bake it in the oven for both ways, on low for about 2 hours or until brown.
– This pudding does kind of make its own custard, what with the eggs and all, but I’m all about the custard so make some up and go to town.
Bread and butter pudding is just a nice, simple recipe, no fussing, nothing extravagant if you don’t want. It’s just nice.
It is times like this where I reminisce about school (as with a previous post about flapjacks) and remember to my primary school days and this fascinating cake that I have never come across since. Though my memory is hazy, I vaguely remember this lovely little square of cake that tasted what I imagined a ten-fold thick slice of shortbread would taste like, covered in horrific, amazing cheap sugary custard. I have searched, oh how I have searched to try and find something that resembles this fond memory, but alas. It is neither shortcake nor normal shortbread but thickened and I swear I even had a dream about it not long ago. Darn you, you shall evade me for now little cake but I will find you one of these days. For now, I bid you goodnight. But I shall be back very soon, with a hopefully found phone and some more culinary yummies.