In her latest book, Foots, Lonks and Wet Nellies, food historian Emma Kay explores the history of Lancashire through its food and drink. As well as taking a look at the origins of Lancashire Hotpot, Jelly Babies and Vimto, Emma looks at some of Preston’s historical, culinary connections.Advertisement
First of all, may I ask where you are based and a little bit about your background?
I am currently based in the Cotswolds, but I am originally from Worcester. I have moved around and lived in a number of places, including London for ten years.
I am a trained and qualified Post-Graduate Historian with a former career in museums and galleries including the British Museum. In my younger days, I worked in a bistro during holidays and some weekends for about seven years in between studying, and trained as a Sous Chef.
I have been writing about the history of food for almost 10 years now, and I collect antique and vintage kitchenalia. I have nine books on the subject of food history published, and a further two due out in June and October of 2022.
What drew you to explore the rich culinary history of Lancashire?
I regularly frequent Lancashire, as all of my husband’s family live in the Fylde district. I have been visiting the county a couple of times a year for the last 15 years. I love the incredibly eclectic landscapes – how you can be in a chocolate box rural village one minute and then on a beach or a mountainside the next.
Lancashire has some wonderful restaurants and a wealth of amazing local producers.
In the name of research did you try any foods that you had not tried before?
It comes with the job! Sometimes this can be amazing, other times it can be quite unpleasant. A lot of historic recipes are a culinary challenge.
For Foots, Lonks and Wet Nellies, I think I found the dish Hindle Wakes a little difficult. It’s basically a whole boiled chicken, left to go cold and covered in a lemon sauce, stuffed with vinegar-soaked prunes.
Which of the stories you explored related to Preston did you find the most fascinating?
Pace-egging in Avenham Park, the cheese fair, Temperance Society, and the home of Edwin Booth are all particular to Preston.
Incidentally, I discovered an important connection with Preston’s Richard Shepherd, which was too late to add to this book. But you will be able to find out all about him in my forthcoming book about the history of herbs.
When I lived in the south of England nobody knew what a barm cake was! I found it interesting to read about where the name originates from, so from that, I take it that they do differ from other types of bread rolls?
It’s just bread made by skimming the fermenting alcohol from a barrel during distillation. This is one of the oldest forms of yeast and has been used since time began. Barm cakes are not particular to Lancashire in that sense, but they have become iconised there. I absolutely love them. Best bread roll you can get.
In the book, you talk about the popular tradition of pace egging, enjoyed by Prestonians young and old as egg rolling on Easter Monday in Avenham Park. When did this tradition begin?
It has its roots in the medieval period and comes in many forms but morphed into the rolling of eggs down a hill around the early 20th century.
Read more: Egg rolling or pace egging?
You also talk about the life of Edwin Booth, what did you find interesting about his life?
He is an inspiration. A great man, with a lovely warm story behind him. Booths is by far my favourite supermarket.
Follow Emma Kay on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. You can also visit Emma’s website.
Foots, Lonks and Wet Nellies will be available from Waterstones and all good local booksellers and can be bought directly from Amberley Books.
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Do you have a favourite culinary delight from Lancashire? What is your favourite food or drink from Preston?