A RECENTLY conducted survey shows that "gastronomes" (how I hate that word) in the SouthEast "struggle to recognise local dishes as their own" and, do you know, I think I must own up to that.

To nail my colours to the mast, I am a passionate crusader when it comes to preserving not only regional, but very local, dishes and have done my best to encourage people like pub chefs to keep alive these dishes, often handed down from generation to generation without ever being written down.

It is no exaggeration to say I have enjoyed food odysseys the length of the UK seeking out these "endangered" dishes so I think I know most of them – Cumbrian tatie ash (a lamb stew traditionally served with pickled red cabbage;, cullen skink (smoked haddock and potato soup) in Scotland; cockles steamed with lavabread (seaweed) in Wales; not forgetting Norfolk dumplings, Yorkshire parkin, Selsey crab cakes, Suffolk bacon pudding, pan haggerty, Lancashire hotpot, and so forth.

But I'm often asked about Hertfordshire's own culinary delights and have to confess that I couldn't really think of even one dish native to our county – until now.

Quite by chance in the Maltings central library (the local history shelves – not the cookery section) I came across a fascinating little book published in 1991 called Old Hertfordshire Recipes, written by someone called Catherine Rothwell, whose earliest visits to Hertfordshire were in the 1940's on a secondhand bicycle that cost £3.

After returning as a pensioner "with time to stand and stare, to talk to people" she collected recipes across the county, and interspersed them with all sorts of snippets of local history, comm enting that Hertfordshire was one of the best sources of fine produce in the whole of England, from fresh vegetables, plums and apples, to bread made from stoneground corn and ale brewed at the coaching inns.

Pope ladies originated in St Albans and were sold in the shops on New Year's morning.

Originally distributed to the poor by the monks the recipe goes back centuries and possibly to the Romans who ate dough cakes in the shape of humans during Saturnalia.

"Pop lady" buns sold in St Albans in 1819 when Cobbett visited were said to be like the hot cross buns eaten on Good Friday (recipe below).

Eels, apparently, swam in the Gade and people made eel pie.

A recipe is given for Tewin apple cake – a sort of Swiss roll made with chopped apples wrapped in bread dough. Perhaps there was an orchard there then as there is now.

There were Tring dumplings with meat at one end and apple at the other after the style of Cornish pasties and, from Harpenden, strawberry pie you might like to make with the last of the summer's strawberries.

Chicken with honey and oranges

Ingredients1 1.5kg (3lb) chicken; 1 tbsps flour; 2 tsps paprika; half tsp powdered ginger; 1.5 cups water (approx three quarters of a pint); 2 oranges; 25g (1oz) butter; 1 tsp salt; 2 tbsps runny honey; 1.5 cups (approx three quarters of a pint) orange juice; 1 tsps tabasco sauce; Pinch of black pepper.


Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper and paprika and brown in butter in a casserole. Remove chicken and stir in the flour, honey, tabasco, ginger, orange juice and water.

Return chicken to the sauce, cover and simmer until the chicken is tender (about two hours). Slice oranges 1cm (half inch) thick and add to the pot for the last 20 minutes of cooking time. Serves four.

This is Barbara Cartland's recipe.

Pope ladies


25g (1oz) fresh yeast; 100g (4oz) sugar; 1 tsp grated nutmeg; 175g (6oz) butter; Currants; 450ml (three quarters pint) milk; 750g (1.5lb) plain flour; 1 tsp salt; 3 medium eggs, beaten.


Dissolve yeast in warm milk then stir in the sugar.

Sift flour with nutmeg and salt. Rub in the butter.

Stir in the beaten eggs and yeast, mixing well to form a soft dough.

Knead the dough on a floured board. Leave to rise for one hour in a covered, greased bowl. Then shape dough into ovals, tapering one end to a point.

Use small pieces to form head and arms, using currants for eyes.

Leave to prove on a greased oven tray, then brush with egg wash and bake for 25 minutes at 190ºC/375ºF/gas mark 5.

This is Heather Fitzsimmons' recipe.

Harpenden strawberry pie


1 cup plain flour; 2 tsps baking powder; Quarter cup very cold water; Half tsp salt; 50g (2oz) butter; 750g (1.5lb) ripe strawberries.


Sift dry ingredients together, lightly rub in butter and add water slowly to make a stiff dough. Roll out on a floured board and use to line a greased flan dish. Bake blind.

Fill the baked crust with hulled strawberries and cover with a syrup made by adding half a cup of sugar and half a cup of strawberries to two cups of boiling water.

Bring back to the boil and strain.

Thicken syrup with a little cornflour in cold water, simmer over a fairly high heat stirring constantly, remove from the heat and beat hard. Return to a low heat and simmer gently until thick; pour over strawberries while hot and serve either hot or cold.