9 foods from Berkshire you have to try
PUBLISHED: 15:05 16 September 2020
Copyright: Maxim Khytra
Celebrate British Food Fortnight by making Eton Mess and Windsor Brown Soup
BROWN WINDSOR SOUP
Let’s start with the world-famous Brown Windsor Soup. The very fact that Windsor is in this county and one of the homes of royalty means that the soup is of the finest breeding. It has even been described as “the very soup which built the British Empire” and it was especially popular in Victorian times when Britain certainly seemed to be running everything.
Back then, no self-respecting establishment hostess would neglect to have Brown Windsor Soup on the menu and, of course, what was good enough for the upper tables was good enough for the scarred tables of the inns and hostelries, so the whole nation was in love with this all-conquering soup.
But what is it? Some say it started as a joke, an alternative to White Windsor Soup, which had a large rice content. There is actually a recipe, though, which simply includes a pint of beef gravy, a teaspoon of malt vinegar, two crushed peppercorns and one ounce of dried fruit. Note the chief ingredient – beef gravy! So that’s what it is – gravy with a few additives. No wonder it tastes good and it is world famous. Berkshire can be proud of its upper-crust Brown Windsor Soup. (See our recipe below)
POOR KNIGHTS OF WINDSOR
Poor Knights of Windsor sounds a little down-market but once again it has the Windsor label so it must be of some good. How on earth does a food get a name like that? Actually, with great honour, because the real Poor Knights are men who have battled with honour for their country and they go back about 500 years.
Today there are a dozen or more ‘poor knights’, who are retired army officers living within the grounds of Windsor Castle, working as volunteers doing odd jobs around the castle and appearing formally in many parades, a part of the great Windsor heritage.
And the food? It was originally a kind of breakfast but can now be an all-day affair. It is basically bread dipped in egg and milk and then fried in butter. It is like a tasty cross between toast and fried bread with egg. It does indeed have the Windsor approval. Go on, try it – the Poor Knights won’t mind.
Faggots are a traditional dish in the UK, but Berkshire’s recipe is made from pork scraps, then seasoned with chopped onions, sage, pepper and salt, before being formed into balls and baked or stewed. They may not have the most attractive name, but they taste so good and are best served with lashings of gravy.
BERKSHIRE BACON PUDDING
Not one for those of you who are on a diet, this is a stodgy, savoury roly-poly of shredded bacon, onion and sage all rolled up inside delicious suet pastry and steamed. This is one to keep you warm on those cold, autumnal nights.
Moving on to dessert now... if you’re after a right royal pudding, this is one for you. It dates back to Georgian times, but tastes just as good today. Think breadcrumbs and suet with chopped apple, dried fruit, lemon and nutmeg, steamed like a Christmas pudding. Maybe you could serve this one up to your own royal family this year.
This has become one of the most popular desserts of all time. Apparently it came about because of a cricket match between Eton and Harrow colleges in the late 19th century. Someone who was not playing because they might have dropped a catch did, in fact, drop the strawberry and cream meringue on the floor. It was too good to waste so it was scooped up and served in dishes and called Eton Mess as if it was meant to be like that. It is immensely popular now, of course. How do you make it? Well, just make a strawberry and cream meringue and chuck it on the floor! No, not really!
The great tradition of Eton Mess being served at Eton has lasted for more than a century and is still part of Eton College’s life to this day. Each year the college prize-giving takes place during June and, of course, the hospitality is rather special. Traditionally Eton Mess is on the menu every year with a few tweaks as sometimes fruit other than strawberries is added and there is a hint of whisky or kirsch thrown in to the recipe. Nobody has ever complained about the latter so the tradition goes on.
These days Eton Mess is popular in restaurants all over the world and each time it is ordered it is a tribute to both the great college and the great county in which it resides.
You just want some cheese and biscuits? No problem, as some of the finest cheese is made in Berkshire - just ask Anne Wigmore, who set up the Village Maid Cheese dairy in 1986 at the end of her garden in Risely. Wigmore is a delicate and creamy ewe’s milk cheese, and a sister cheese to Waterloo, a delicately flavoured, Guernsey cow’s milk cheese, also made by the Wigmores. Anne must be a very busy lady, as she is also responsible for Spenwood, a hard-pressed cheese made from unpasteurised ewe’s milk and named after Spncers Wood in Berkshire, where it originated. Finally, just down the road in Barkham, artisan cheese makers Sandy and Andy Rose of Two Hoots Cheese make Barkham Blue. This award-winning soft blue cheese is rich, smooth and buttery, and won’t disappoint.
Hopefully this has given you just a taste of the glorious food Berkshire has to offer, so that during British Food & Drink Fortnight (19 September-4 October) you will buy British, and try your hand at making one of these traditional Berkshire dishes.
BROWN WINDSOR SOUP RECIPE 1⁄4 lb stewing beef, diced
1⁄4 lb lamb steak, diced
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp butter
4 cups beef stock
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and sliced
1 bouquet garni
salt and pepper
1⁄4 tsp chili powder
1⁄2 cup cooked rice
1 tbsp Madeira
1. Roll the diced beef and lamb in the flour.
2. Place the butter in a saucepan over a low heat and fry the meat off for 3 minutes. Add the rest of the flour and fry for a minute longer until the butter/flour is golden brown.
3. Add the sliced vegetables and stir in the stock,
4. Partially cover the saucepan and simmer for 2 hours.
5. Puree the soup before adding the cooked rice if using.
6. Serve hot with assorted breads and rolls.
7. For a traditional kick, stir in the Madeira at the table.
ETON MESS RECIPE 2 large egg whites
120g caster sugar
500g strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
450ml double cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
1. Pre-heat the oven to 120 degrees C/100 degrees C fan/gas 1 and line a large baking tray with parchment paper.
2. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl using an electric whisk until they reach stiff peaks.
3. Add the sugar in 3 lots, re-whisking to stiff peaks every time.
4. Spoon dollops of the mixture onto the baking parchment. Cook on the bottom shelf of the oven for 1 hour until the meringues are hard and come off the paper easily. Leave to cool.
5. Blitz 1/3 of the strawberries to make a strawberry sauce.
6. Whisk the cream with the icing sugar until it just holds its shape.
7. Crush 3/4 of the meringues into chunks and tip them in with the chopped strawberries and stir.
8. Add the strawberry sauce.
9. Dollop into bowls then crush the remaining meringues, sprinkling the pieces over the top.