Recipes: Wigs, Plumb Broth and Brawn
Wigs and plumb broth, brawn and chitterling puffs are among the festive delights the people of Shropshire enjoyed in years gone by. In his book, Traditional Food In Shropshire, writer and illustrator Peter Brears describes how 19th century shop fronts would be festooned with meat, poultry and game and housewives would scrub and polish ready for the festivities.
Christmas Eve supper usually included wigs and ale: wigs were light, yeast-raised, spiced bread buns. On Christmas Day poorer families might enjoy a rare taste of butcher’s meat. For most farming and middle class families there would be a joint of locally-bred and fed beef, roasted before the fire. Up to the mid 19th century the accompaniment was a boiled sweet pudding, lightly fruited, its open texture enabling it to absorb the gravy.
The book, the first major study of Shropshire’s foods, contains more than 100 traditional recipes including local specialities like Shrewsbury Cake and Shrewsbury Simnel. Peter Brears said: “In Shropshire, the largest and most fertile of England’s inland counties, the quality of locally-produced food is second to none. Its people developed a repertoire of very distinctive methods for converting their produce into a range of excellent dishes.” Traditional Food in Shropshire by Peter Brears is published by Excellent Press of Ludlow, priced £19.95.
• 12oz/340g plain flour
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• 1tbs dried yeast
• 6fl.oz/170ml tepid milk
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• 4oz/100g butter
• 4oz/125g sugar
• 1tbs caraway seed
• 1/2 tsp ground ginger
• 1/2 tsp mixed spice
Sift the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre, pour in the yeast, beat in into the warm milk and mix in to form a light dough. Using the hands, beat in the softened butter, then the sugar and spices. Cover and leave to rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
Knead the dough, using sufficient additional flour to make it easy to handle, then form into four oblong cakes. Space apart on a floured baking sheet, cover with a light cloth and return to the warm for 20 minutes. Bake at 190C, 375F, Gas Mark 5 for about 15 minutes.
Up to the 18th century Christmas dinner often started with a rich pottage called plumb broth, the following Shropshire recipe dates from around 1720.
• 2pts/1.2l strong beef stock
• 10oz/275g currants
• 2oz/50g raisins
• 2tsp mixed ground cinnamon, clove and mace
• 6oz/175g prunes
• 6tbs/90ml sherry
• 1/4 pt/150ml claret
• 4oz/100g sugar
Put all ingredients except the sherry and claret into a covered saucepan and stew gently for 15 minutes, then pour in the sherry and claret and serve in a large bowl. For Christmas Day supper there would be a variety of cold meats including the remains of the roast beef, pigs’ or white puddings, pork pies and goose pies.
Shrewsbury brawn was a speciality. Records show that in the 16th century brawn formed one of the main dishes at the Shrewsbury Corporation’s Christmas Day breakfasts served in the Guildhall after members attended church.
Brawn for Christmas
•1 boned side of pork excluding the shoulder and the ham salt
Lay the pork skin side down in a large tray and rub with the salt, leave in a cool place for at least three hours, then drain and wipe dry with a clean cloth. Sprinkle the flesh side with a little more salt, then roll up, skin on the outside, to form a collar, tying it in place with close-spaced bands of broad cotton tape.
If necessary pack in additional pieces of pork to give a neat cylindrical shape. Put the brawn into a large deep pan of boiling water, placing a trivet or a few stainless forks beneath it to stop it touching the bottom. Cover and simmer very slowly for six hours until very soft and tender. As it shrinks, it should be periodically removed and its tapes tightened to keep it in shape and ensure it retains its own juices and flavour.
Meanwhile boil the following brine for 30 minutes, strain and leave until cold.
• 8pt/5l water
• 2oz/50g salt
• ½pt/300ml bran (or a handful of sweet hay)
•10 bay leaves
• Large sprig of rosemary
When the brawn is tender, leave it in its cooking liquor until cold, then rinse it, let it soak in the brine in a cool place for three days, after which it is ready for serving.