Traditional festive fare
PUBLISHED: 10:39 19 October 2010 | UPDATED: 18:00 20 February 2013
Tom Hunt indulges in traditional Christmas fare including Shropshire's own version of the mince pie
Feasting on the past
Tom Hunt indulges in traditional Christmas fare including Shropshires own version of the mince pie
In the 21st century Christmas seems to start in October and last right through till January when the sales offer cut-price cards and gifts for the next festive season.In Britain we have embraced this commercialisation and, much like the Americans, we have used the celebration as a way to create traditions and buy and sell what are now considered to be quintessentially Christmas items.In America, Coca-Cola, uses the stereotypical Santa Claus image to sell more of its product during the winter. Americans, and other nationalities, now associate Christmas advertising with Coca-Cola because of the long running series of advertisements showing Santa drinking Coke. Coke is clearly one of the latest Christmas benefactors but there are other foods and drinks dating back hundreds of years that are still popular today.
Nowadays we associate Christmas food with turkey and all the trimmings. The traditional Christmas dinner is epitomised by our choice of dishes and the abundance we choose to serve.I expect no family will agree with another about what makes the perfect Christmas meal but it is widely accepted that it should include turkey, roast potatoes, sprouts, parsnips, pigs in blankets, plenty of stuffing varieties, lashings of gravy and the Christmas favourite, bread sauce.Though turkeys have been around for 10 million years we didnt set eyes on them until 1526 when Yorkshireman William Strickland acquired six from American Indian traders. When he returned home, the first birds sold in Britain fetched just tuppence each in Bristol. Turkey has replaced goose, swan and even peacock as our traditional Christmas meat and we now consume 10 million turkeys at Christmas, the majority of which are frozen. Our love affair with turkey led to websites and even hotlines helping people cook their bird to perfection on Christmas Day. The British Turkey Information Service can be found by visiting www.britishturkey.co.uk or calling 0800 783 9994.
Mince pies are now enjoyed all year round which only fuels the theory that Christmas is never ending. However, the first mince pie or minced meat pie actually contained meat and it has an unlikely connection to Shropshire.The mincemeat pie dates back to the Middle Eastern practice of adding dried fruits and spices to meat.During the Elizabethan era, a Christmas pie made with fruit and spice was a way to show off your status. The Elizabethans even attached religious meaning to the pies by suggesting they represented the Christ Child. This led to them being banned by Cromwell on the grounds they were idolatrous. However, after the restoration, the mincemeat pie made a popular return and evolved into a round pie that included apples and alcohol. It was later discovered that the mix used to make the pies would keep longer if there was no meat in it and the modern mince pie was born.
The mince pies connection to Shropshire comes by way of Clive of India who was born in Market Drayton. In January 1768, tired and ill from his career in India Lord Clive travelled to the south of France to rest. His political career in England had not been as successful as his exploits in India and he needed somewhere to relax.He stayed in a rented chateau in Pezenas just outside Montpellier where he indulged in many parties. At these parties he introduced his Mediterranean friends to the flavours of India including curry and a spiced, minced meat pie that they now call petit pate de Pezenas. In England the pie is better known as the Clive pie and though it is not as popular here as in France it is making a comeback in Shropshire.The Clive pie is a sweet pie consisting of minced mutton, suet, brown sugar, grated lemon zest and a secret selection of spices. The Earl of Plymouth and his son Lord Windsor are descendants of Lord Clive and the family seat is Oakly Park just outside Ludlow in the village of Bromfield. The family built the Ludlow Food Centre in 2007 and the recipe for Clive pies was revived. Clive pies are now made to the original family recipe by head chef Shirley Jones and her team at the Food Centre using mutton from the Earl of Plymouths Oakly Park Estate. The pies are so popular that Shirley makes thousands every year and even hires additional staff at Christmas to keep up with demand.
It is clear that traditional Christmas food is easy to distinguish. Christmas turkey, mince pies and Christmas puddings all fit the bill, but in a culture of mass production and commercialisation it is much harder to find the genuine article. Christmas may have become commercialised but the food we choose to eat need not be. Shropshire has some of the best food available in the country and at Christmas the farmers markets, farm shops and delicatessens stock a huge range of mouth-watering festive food.To have a genuine Christmas feast this year, dont buy a frozen turkey or a long life mince pie.
Instead go out and explore the county to find real, fresh, local
food that will make your Christmas truly special.