Arlington Row, 14th c.
When I was researching where to go on my road trip in England, I fell truly madly deeply in love with images from the medieval village of Bibury. I read that William Morris (famous decorative artist of the 19th century and prime mover in the Arts and Crafts movement) had said that the village was the most beautiful in England and worked to preserve its beauty.
Bless him. He encouraged others in his Arts & Crafts circle to relocate to the Cotswolds and in so doing probably saved many villages from the ravages of progress and commerce.
Bibury is no “Ye Olde” copy. It is the real deal. Built on a Roman village, its church has existed since 750AD and it thrived as a horseracing center and wool market in the 17th century.
We arrived early Sunday night and it appeared most of the foreign interlopers had cleared out of town. It was still. The light shone all golden, reflected by the warm yellow Cotswold stone into the sweet air. I have to admit, I was too in love with this little town to take all the pictures I should have. The 14th century Arlington Row (formerly a monastery’s wool store) is everything you think of when you imagine an ancient English village. Best of all there is nearly nothing to remind you of the world outside. No advertising, no garish signs… just inns and restaurants and tiny shops with subtle signage.
Swans glided languorously in the clear waters of the River Coln. Idyllic. Transporting. Watching them, I remembered reading years ago about the curious swan laws in Britain and the wonderfully drawn Swan Rolls (thank you, World of Interiors !). I looked it up to refresh my memory when I got back. Nearly all swans belong to the Monarch. Through some quirk of law, only the Queen and Charlotte Townsend, daughter of the deceased 9th viscount of Galway (one of the richest people in England), are allowed to own swans, the rest are licensed from the crown. Swan licenses are granted and regulated by the 1482 Act for Swans and enforced by the Monarch’s Swan Master. There is an incredible document called the Broadland Swan Roll from the late 15th century that lists swans with brands on their beaks to distinguish them. There are 5 of them, each measuring 4 ½” by 13’. I had seen it years ago and had a heck of a time digging it up but… eureka it was found. Although there are others, this is the most famous. I wondered if this black beauty was listed somewhere.
We were thirsty after a trip from Oxford (my first driving in the UK for many a year was a tad stressful). Beside the swan’s river was a 17th c. coaching inn, aptly named The Swan Hotel where we dropped by for some local cider.
We stayed at the magnificent 1633 manor, Bibury Court, a Jacobean mansion built by Thomas Sackville where the 6 acre grounds were lovely and dotted with local sheep (little lawnmowers as an English friend once described them), and the rooms superb (hello 4 posters and fine sheets) as was the divine breakfast. After dorm rooms at Oxford, Bibury Court was really luxurious and the perfect place to land on the first night of a journey. Although I had read about a few other lovely places in Bibery, when we drove through the enormous gates and down an elegant drive that turned to reveal the great house, we decided to look no farther. It was perfect!!
What should I share with you??? Trying to come up with traditional Cotswold cuisine was not so easy. There is the famous Plowman’s lunch of cheese, bread, butter and pickles… but that is best done there with the real local Ingredients. I had an amazing English breakfast of eggs, black pudding, sausage and bacon with tomatoes and mushrooms in Chipping Campden but that isn’t really a dish either. There are the puddings (the famous Pudding Club is in the Cotswolds), of course, but after Eton Mess, I thought something savory. After a little digging I came up with Cotswold Dumplings. Fried little cheese balls, they are often plopped on stews or served with a vegetable puree... tomato or such. The recipe is courtesy of Celtnet.
I know, I know, you’re going to be like me and say ‘ugh suet, gross’. No No NO!!!
I was so wrong. This grass-fed stuff is sweet and good. The dumplings are like airy donuts with a crunchy exterior, and remember, it was beef fat that made McDonald's fries so great!
I dipped them in quince jam but applesauce would also be great. Dr. Lostpast thought that they were best dunked in ketchup… and they were great that way. Bottom line… addictively delicious.
½ cup *self-raising flour (140g) (*for substitution ½ c flour, ¾ t baking powder, pinch salt)
2 tablespoons grated *suet (60g) (vegetarians can use grated frozen butter)
1 tablespoon grated cheese (30 g) (I used Neal’s Yard Cheddar from a small English producer) I think it would be great with double the cheese.
Enough water to mix
Breadcrumbs from 3 slices of bread, toasted with salt and pepper and thyme to taste
fat for frying
salt and pepper to taste
Add the flour, suet and cheese to a bowl. Mix together then season with the salt and black pepper. Add enough water to form a slightly sticky dough. These are usually made into just over 2 tbsp sized balls - six or eight rounds. I made them into 10 tablespoon size balls, rolled them in water then in the breadcrumbs and repeated it. Fry in oil at 350º till puffed and golden.
*I got my suet from Grazin Angus Acres. Grass-fed makes all the difference in suet, it smells sweetly!
Stop over to my post on Cherry Pie at Blog Critics It made FOODBUZZ top 9 yesterday!!!
Although I would love to take the credit, the first 3 pictures are what made me want to go to Bibury, they were not taken by me but by wonderful photographers!!!