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Essentially England News, February 2011 - Newcastle Pudding and the History of a Frontier Town
February 27, 2011

Newcastle Pudding and the History of a Frontier Town

A cheerful welcome to everyone who subscribed to Essentially England News during the last month! Here you'll find England news, site news, travel tips, reviews and our Recipe of the Month, all in one easy-to-digest email.

Brrrr! It’s cold and damp and dark – must be February. Nevertheless, spring is on the way, the hedgerows are bright with snowdrops, and moving to a new area is inspiring me to go exploring – on the brighter, less damp days at least.

A Little History: A Frontier Town in Middle England

Towcester, between Northampton in the north and Milton Keynes in the south, is a friendly little town with tea shops, pubs, restaurants, a Roman road and the remains of a Norman castle and beautiful Norman church. That should be enough history for any one place, but Towcester is actually the oldest town in Northamptonshire, and one of the oldest communities in Britain.

It’s about as far inland as you can get in England, so it surprised me to learn that during various parts of its long history, Towcester has been a frontier town, a place where enmities clashed. First, Saxons and Danes faced one another across the swathe of Watling Street, waving swords and spears. Later, Roundheads and Cavaliers did the same, only with muskets and cannons.

Surprising, really, that there’s anything left of the town and that this violent past is so little apparent. Once the fighting was over, Towcester became a bustling staging post on the posting routes between London, Birmingham and the north, filled with inns, hotels and hostelries – until the railways came and Towcester missed out.

Places to See and Things to Do

Have you ever been inside a Roman townhouse? Well, here’s your chance. The house built in Wroxeter Roman City as part of Channel 4’s “Rome wasn’t Built in a Day’ series, is now open to visitors. Villa Urbana was built using only materials, tools and techniques that would have been available in Roman times. So if you fancy a look at some up-to-date Roman DIY, check this out.

And don't forget that - since Easter is late this year - Shrove Tuesday falls on March 8th. If you can make it, pop into Olney in Buckinghamshire for the famous pancake race. Alternatively, make your own entertainment: get a few friends round, mix up a huge bowl of batter, sit around the kitchen table and keep cooking and eating pancakes until you're too full to move. And just so you know, England's favourite pancake topping is lemon juice and caster sugar!

Recipe of the Month - Newcastle Pudding

February is still cold and dark enough that a hot steamed pudding makes a welcome end to a meal. And Newcastle Pudding is a lovely lemony version of bread and butter pudding. You can serve it with custard or pouring cream, or be completely traditional and try this tart lemon sauce. Both recipes make enough to feed four.

For the pudding:

  • 3/4 pint / 420ml milk
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2oz / 50g sugar
  • 6 slices of white bread, thickly buttered and crusts removed

For the lemon sauce:

  • 2oz / 50g caster sugar
  • 1 pint / 568ml water
  • rind and juice of one lemon
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3oz / 75g unsalted butter

Warm the milk with the grated lemon rind and leave in a warm place to infuse while you find a large (1 1/2 pint / 900ml) pudding basin and grease it thoroughly.

Next beat the eggs and sugar together, pour in the milk and whisk well.

Line the pudding basin with the bread slices, buttered side towards the centre, then strain the milk into the pudding basin and leave the bread to soak for an hour or so.

Cover the pudding mould with greaseproof paper and cover and seal with kitchen foil. Steam for 40-45 minutes until slightly risen.

While the pudding steams, make the lemon sauce. Boil together sugar, water and lemon rind until the mixture thickens slightly. Place the saucepan into a pan of boiling water (or use a double boiler), stir in the eggs and butter and whisk continually until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Keep warm and serve with the steamed pudding.

And Next Month …

As the weather gets brighter and warmer, we hope to become better acquainted with Northamptonshire. For one, I'm on the trail of the authentic Towcester cheesecake and, of course, I'll keep you updates with any finds.

Until then, keep well and think of England…

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