Last month at a Pancake Day family gathering I set myself the challenge of figuring out how pancakes could -possibly – relate to a religious celebration, without using Google or asking one of my smarter family members. After several moments of brow furrowing I remembered it was also known as Shrove Tuesday, but honestly, that just raised more questions than answers.Advertisement
Around 20 minutes after my second pancake I’d started to experience extreme sugar anxiety but I’d also made peace with the fact Shrove Tuesday was yet another historical event wiped from my memory.
That said, it did get me thinking of the cultural significance of foods and, namely, Preston’s own culinary contributions to the world. I cast the net wide, asking friends, family and Facebook for recommendations, and received both the obscure and ubiquitous along with a surprising number of people trying to pass cheesy chips off as an exclusively Preston dish (I admire their hometown pride but people, come on, be serious).
Anyway, without further ado, I hereby present an abridged gastronomic slice of Preston.
There’s really no other candidate for the top spot; an invention of 19th century Catholics to consume on days when they couldn’t eat meat. Butter, potatoes and onions come together in a glorious barrage of carbohydrates. Should the potatoes and pastry not slow your metabolism to a dead stop quickly enough, this is also commonly served in a barm.
While the butter pie can be greeted with equal bafflement by holidaymakers from Dover to commuters from Bolton, it remains a cultural mainstay and was officially recognised as a vegetarian substitute in the Wigan Pie Eating World Championships… Also, who can forget those three dark seasons when Preston North End’s supplier went bust and it took a Facebook campaign to reintroduce it.
A treat for those in the know at a select few chippies around Preston, basically comprising of a cup of liquid skimmed from the top of the bubbling pea trays. A friend of mine who formerly worked at the Happy Haddock in Plungington Road confirmed that it was, unsurprisingly, nutritionally lacking and almost flavourless.
Only recommended for those who found the taste of peas much too extreme or simply enjoyed being in a low-stakes clandestine chip shop cabal.
For those of us who need more caraway seeds in our life – and let’s face it, that’s all of us – I give you the Goosnargh cake. I’m going to say right off the bat, to my mind, by any metric, this is a biscuit. However, as I’m not one split hairs, I’ll just be grateful this ‘cake’ is doing the rounds again (it briefly fell out of favour during the war due to the butter required to make it).
Although ostensibly a shortbread style biscuit, there’s an air of mystery as to what constitutes a true Goosnargh cake. With the originals being baked out of the now closed Bushells Arms pub and the recipe passed down but never written down, a local resident conspiratorially confirmed in 2010 that although several Goosnargh locals make the cakes, they’re not working from the original recipe.
This is a little hard to verify as the only references I could find to Snig Fray were from elderly relatives and in a single issue of The Preston Magazine dated from 2013, even so I think that constitutes due diligence on my part.
Basically, it’s the consumption of small eels – not quite specific to Preston but the term Snig Fray seems quite uniquely Lancastrian. Also Snig Fray sounds like a secondary villain from Game of Thrones, which delights me.
The Hot Potato Tram has been a Preston institution for decades and its signature parched peas were the darlings of bonfire nights. Black peas that had have boiled for an indeterminate amount of time and seasoned with vinegar may seem like a tough sell, but force them on a sceptical friend and I guarantee you’ll at least get an ‘Oh, that’s alright actually’ in response.
As an aside, there’s also a chance that their other speciality, baby new potatoes in a bag, might also be a dish specific to Preston. This is purely anecdotal, but years ago my wife asked for ‘small potatoes in a bag’ from a street vendor in Liverpool and was greeted with incredulity and fierce cocked eyebrows; the very real distinction between small potatoes and a regular jacket potato was lost on that vendor.
My own contribution to Preston’s culinary tradition. Hopefully I’m not libellously mislabelling the low cost, high ABV, jumbo-sized cider when I say describe it as an ‘acquired taste’. However, I found adding pure orange juice to the brew made it both an economically viable way to combat sobriety and palatable to the extent you could take a sip every few minutes without retching.
Although I tried to spread the word, my friends largely seemed to prefer more high-brow libation like Blue WKDs and Lambrini as we gathered as teenagers in various Cadley and Fulwood parks in the late 1990s. Whilst I still remain proud of my creation, these days, it’s heartening to see that I’ve handed the baton off to a new generation of accomplished distillers and breweries in Preston: Beer Brothers and Priest Town Brewery along with two unique gin brands (Goosnargh Gin and Penwortham’s No.1 Fairham Gin, respectively).
So concludes my foray into notable Preston foods. This list is in no way comprehensive, so feel free to point out anything I’ve missed, with the exception of cheesy chips. No-one’s buying the idea that adding cheese on to chips is something unique to Preston.
Read more: See the latest Preston news and headlines