The Good Old Days – or From Maldon to Malton

by Simone Sekers

ONLY a month ago we were exploring the Salt Coast of Essex, in Maldon. Now I’m exploring Malton, in deepest Yorkshire, if only from the comfort of my own home.

Last week we were sent another book by our old friend Peter Brears. For longer than it is tactful to remember we have enjoyed his work as a food historian, whether via his books on all things Yorkshire and the social history of God’s Own County’s food, or his own magnificent suppers in his house in Leeds, or his demonstrations slaving over a hot spit in the reconstructed Tudor kitchens at Hampton Court.

I’ve lost count of the books he has written and illustrated with his punctilious line drawings of peculiarly Yorkshire cooking equipment, so I made a cup of tea and sat down to enjoy another taste of the north within the pages of this latest.

The temperature in my kitchen in Somerset was nudging 29˚, and it was hard to think of eating anything other than a salad, but the cup of tea cooled and I was transported to a world of Cabbage Pudding and Curried Rabbit, which reminded me of times when ingredients were simple and accessible.

Every village shop in the Dales must have been able to provide a plastic cylinder of the curry powder required for the rabbit – none of this adding a teaspoonful of every spice from my curry collection. Carefully prepare the rabbit, by frying the joints in  butter, then fry the onion in the same butter until dark brown. Then you thicken the remaining butter in the pan with flour and the curry powder. A stock cube and some chopped apple are added to the rabbit and onion, the whole thing brought to a boil while stirring. Cover the pan and simmer for about an hour to an hour and three-quarters until the rabbit is tender, finally stirring in the juice of a lemon and serving with boiled rice.

I can hear Peter’s Yorkshire brevity coming through with every instruction. We’ll be trying this one before the week is out, hot July weather or not. And the Ham Cake too, to take on a prawning picnic.

I have a very sophisticated French recipe for a sort of ham cake. It contains, apart from the main ingredient, green olives, parmesan, basil, lots of eggs and olive oil. This doesn’t. This enfolds a whole slice of raw gammon in a piece of pastry made from flour, lard, salt and water. You seal the package carefully and place it on a greased baking sheet and bake it in a hot oven for 15 minutes before lowering the heat for a further 30 minutes.

As Peter says, this is delicious as all the gammon juices are absorbed into the pastry. It is. You need only have an apple after that and that’s done you well – until tea time of course. And then there are Fat Rascals and Mother’s Scones (from the Kirby Family), perhaps there’ll be some Pickering Gingerbread – you can’t escape a good Yorkshire tea.

For many years we lived in the North – in Cumbria and Cheshire and Staffordshire (although that’s strictly speaking the Midlands), and the climate, often cold, mostly damp when not actually wet, called for such comforting no-nonsense food. Simple it may have been, but the scones needed a light hand, the rabbit had to be a wild one shot by someone you knew, the gammon came from a neighbouring pig.

We can access the world’s foodstuffs now, my cupboards groan with ras al hanout, pomegranate molasses, a packet of sun dried tomato crumbs from Sicily, bags of weird grains I open and tire of. When austerity bites hard, the Malton Museum (whose strapline reads ‘Independent. Yours. Significant’) cookbook will come into it’s own.

Malton Goes to Market is by Peter Brears with assistance from the people of Malton and is published in full colour by the Museum. It is available from The Malton Museum, 36 Yorkersgate, Malton Y017 7AB. Email:

Pictured: Malton’s famous market; Malton Museum logo; Fat Rascals, the legendary tea-time delicacy which is a must at Betty’s Tea Rooms.