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Like any area of the world, the Isle of Wight, UK, has its own local recipes, delicacies and tasty treats. Here are a few treats from the Isle of Wight.
The Isle of Wight has a world-popular local speciality: the doughnut. The Isle of Wight was without doubt the first place in the United Kingdom to develop doughnuts, and references to doughnuts were included in local shroving customs and songs1. Doughnuts as we know them today are of Dutch origin. Later they became popular in America and then the rest of Europe, but in the Isle of Wight the doughnut developed independently, although whether it came into existence before or after the Dutch doughnut is unclear. In fact, 'doughnut' wasn't a prevalent local name until the mid-19th Century. Before then, doughnuts were known locally as 'Birds Nests'2.
The Isle of Wight doughnuts are unique in that they do not have a jam centre, but use plums instead. Some variations include currants or candied peel, and were lard-browned.
Ingredients to Make Doughnuts
- 1 gallon of flour (10lbs)
- 1lb pound of butter
- 1 teacupful of good ale yeast (not bitter)
- 6 well-beaten eggs
- 3/4lb of sifted sugar
- 1 grated nutmeg
- Fruit/candied peel
Rub butter into flour.
Add the yeast with a little warm milk, the eggs, sugar and nutmeg and leave it to raise - knead as you would with ordinary bread.
The dough must not be too soft or it will be too soft to roll up later. Leave by the fire/heat for another hour.
Then take out small lumps of dough, the size of a smallish orange, insert into the centre of each a piece of candied peel and some currants.
Roll it up securely.
Have ready a deep pan of quite boiling lard (any fat or oil suitable for deep frying) and be sure that it is quite boiling when the doughnuts are put in: let them be completely covered with the lard, and boil for 15 minutes over a slow fire (flame or burner).
Take out, set to drain on paper, and let them cool gradually and not stand in a draught. Dust over with sifted sugar.
At one point there was even a doughnut shop in Newport, called 'Westmore's Doughnut Shop', and was on the corner of Scarrots Lane and Lower St James Street, Newport.
As Island farmers concentrated on the production of cream and butter, so only skimmed milk was left to make a cheese which soon became dry and hard. Isle of Wight cheese is not so popular today, it was called 'chockdog' cheese, (also nicknamed 'choke-dog' and 'Isle of Wight Rock'). There are many stories regarding this cheese, how true they are is unknowable. The most popular says that during one of the many French raids of the Island, the defenders ran short of lead to fire at the enemy. So they got out their lunch, cut their cheese into pellets, rammed them down the barrels of their guns and fired cheese, slaughtering the enemy with great success. Another says how cheese was sent to someone on the mainland who had never seen it before, who not knowing what it was, cut a hole through the middle and used it successfully as a grindstone. Yet another tells of when cheese and mill-stones were stored in the hold of a ship, the rats preferred to chew the stones, and when storms threatened a ship, it was the cheese, not the mill-stones, that was thrown overboard to lighten the load.
In 1866, William Long published an anecdote about the cheese (written in the Isle of Wight's dialect):
Wold Jem Shotter over at Brison went one day on a arrant to Yafford, and when a was there Missus axed 'em if a would hay a bit o' bren cheese and a drop o' beer; but Jem zet and looked at it, and didn't offer to begin.
- 'What's the matter, Jem?' zays Missus, 'ye got what ye wants, han't ye?'
- 'Noa, not quite, missus,' zays Jem, 'I wants the billhook to cut the cheese wi.'
Jem never got noo bren cheese there noo moore aater that.
An agricultural worker described the cheese in 1790:
It can scarcely be cut by a hatchet or saw; is to be masticated only by the finest teeth and digested only by the strongest stomachs.
Forest House Pudden
Forest House Pudden, or pudding, was the pudding made at Forest House3. The pudden or pudding was made out of flour, water and suet, and had nothing to sweeten it, no raisins, currants or sugar, and so it tasted quite disgusting.
There is an interesting story regarding the pudding. In 1831, the the Chartist Movement met at the Newport Corn Market, several farmers from Gatcombe objected to the Chartists' popular view, but they were soon drowned out by the derisive cry of 'Three Cheers for the Forest House Puddens' from the crowd. When they asked why they were Forest House puddens, they were told it was because they had no raisin (reason) in them.
Coneys, or rabbits as they are more popularly known 4, are not native to the Island, but were brought over by the Normans in the 12th Century. As there were no foxes, a rabbit's natural enemy, on the Island, soon the Island was overrun with them. The increasing rabbit population was welcomed by the poor as a source of food, and their skins were widely used. In fact, so large was the coney population on the Island, especially compared to the mainland where the fox was so popular, that being a Coneyman was a popular trade.
A coneyman would catch coneys, and then take the meat to London and its markets. In fact, the coneymen were among the few people who regularly travelled to London at the time, they also worked as postmen, taking letters from the Island's gentry to a London Post House.
There were many ways of catching coneys, but there was one unique to the fishermen at Bembridge, using only a crab, some string, and a candle. The candle would be fixed to the shell of a common king crab and lit, and the crab was thrust down a rabbit burrow. The string was used to pull it deeper inside, and the coneys, alarmed at the sight of the approaching light, would run out of the burrow and into the coneyman's nets.