Like any area of the world, the Isle of Wight has its own local recipes, delicacies and tasty treats. Here are listed a few from the Isle of Wight.
The Isle of Wight has a world-popular recipe; 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 songs 1 Doughnuts as we know them today are of Dutch origin, and were later to become popular in America and then the rest of Europe, but the Isle of Wight doughnut was developed independantly, although whether before or after the Dutch doughnut is unclear . In fact, "doughnut" wasn't the more popular local name until the mid nineteenth century. Before then, doughnuts were known locally as "Birds Nests".2
The Isle of Wight doughnut, though, is unique in that they did not have a jam center, but rather used plums, although variations used currants or candied peel, and were lard-browned. 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.
An old recipe for Isle of Wight Doughnuts is:
One gallon of flour (10 lbs), one pound of butter rubbed well into it: pour in one teacupful of good ale yeast (not bitter) and put it to rise; mix and knead it as you would bread, add six well-beaten eggs, three quarters of a pound of sifted sugar, one grated nutmeg, and a little warm milk. The dough must not be mixed too soft at first, or it will be too soft to roll up subsequently. Leave it again by the fire to rise for an hour or two. Then take out small lumps of dough, the size of a smallish orange, insert into the centre of each a peice of candied peel and some currants (some grated lemon rind also is a great improvement); roll it up securley. 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 fifteen 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. These are first rate.
Isle of Wight cheese, though, is not so popular today. Called "chockdog" cheese, (also nicknamed "choke-dog" and "Isle of Wight Rock"). As Island farmers concentrated on the production of cream and butter, only skimmed milk was left to make cheese out of, and so it soon became dry and hard. There are many stories regarding this cheese, how true they are is unknowable. The most popular says that how, during one of the French raids of the Island, the defenders ran short lead to fire at the enemy. So they used 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 succesfully as a grindstone. When cheese and mill-stones were stored in the hold of a shiop, the rats prefered 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 (using Isle of Wight dialect):
"Wold Jem Shotter over at Brison went one day on a arrant to Yafford, andor, as an agricultural worker described the cheese in 1790
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."
"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, currents or sugar, and so tasted quite disgusting.
An interesting story about the pudding is that in 1831, when the Chartist Movement was meeting at the Newport Corn Market, several farmers from Gatcombe were opposed to the Chartists' popular view. They, though, were in the minority, and soon deafened 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 popularaly known 4, are not native to the Island, but were brought over by the Normans in the twelfth century. As there were no foxes, a rabbit's natural enemy, on the Island, they soon became very popular, which was welcomed by the poor population 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 it's markets. In fact, as the coneymen were 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.
pancakes from the rich before Lent. Shrovers would gather in the early morning then go from house to house singing for their "shrove cakes" (pancakes). Whoever sang the song the best was considered the chief Shrover and was often extra rewarded.2A. Raine mentioned them in his 1861 book of the Island "The Queen's Isle".3Forest House was the local name for the Isle of Wight House of Industry . It was the first centralised Workhouse in the country, as individual parishes had until then been responsible for their own poor built next to Parkhurst Forest in 1770. Parkhurst Prison is now on the spot.4A "rabbit"
is the name of a baby coney, just as a "calf" is a baby cow, a "puppy" is a
baby dog, a "kitten" a baby cat and a "kid" a baby goat.