Food from the England's midlands means robust and tasty native foodstuffs - game, hard cheeses, pork pies, chutnies and ales
The middle of England is a place for which I have a longstanding affinity. Although I grew up in the West Country, my home town, Gloucester, is on the edge of Worcestershire - just a stone's throw from the Midlands.
My mum is from the Black Country - northwest of Birmingham - and my grandparents were Brummies, so I grew up going to Birmingham pretty regularly. I used to love going to the cricket with my uncle and grandad; we'd go to the one-day Test matches at Edgbaston with a blanket and a coolbag full of pork pies and sandwiches, crisps and orange squash. And then I married a Midlander! My wife, Beth, is from Stoke-on-Trent, in Staffordshire. So I suppose you could say I know the Midlands pretty well.
Staffordshire is a beautiful county. Where Beth's from, it feels as though you're edging into the north of England: buildings are made from red brick, and there's a rugged, but oddly lovely, bleakness to the countryside and moorlands.
I like to imagine Beth aged 19 having just finished her shift in a Stokey nightclub. She tells stories of rolling out of work at 5am and heading straight to the high street to queue for her breakfast - Staffordshire oatcakes - which she'd take home and coat in bacon, grated cheese and brown sauce.
If you've never had Staffordshire oatcakes, then you're in luck: I've given you a recipe, because you can't get 'em anywhere else in the country! They're lush, and a thoroughly local product.
There's a theory that they date back to the British Raj and the return of the Staffordshire regiment to Britain: wanting to make chapatis but without the necessary gram (chickpea) flour, they replaced it with oatmeal. I don't know if it's true, but I love the story. To this day, oatcakes are Stoke-on-Trent's finest export, even more than ceramics or Robbie Williams!
The Midlands isn't an area you associate with growing "sunshine" produce - my friend Glynn Purnell tells me he has to search well outside Birmingham for the amazing range of vibrant, fresh market produce he uses at his restaurant, Purnell's. The Midlands is industrial and robust, and its native produce reflects that: ales, pork pies, hard cheeses, wild game, apples and pears. I've put these ingredients and dishes to work in the recipes below- my interpretation of the Midlands on a plate.
Wild rabbit is plentiful and easy to hunt - it's the wild food of the working classes. As a kid, I can remember my friends' dads going out rabbiting with their Irish wolfhounds to catch tomorrow's tea. It's free food!
But rabbit is also game for beginners. If you're worried about game tasting very strong, then the mild fragrance of rabbit is a good place to start. So I've made up a rabbit stew, which I've combined with a Burton ale, a beer that likely earned its widespread popularity across the country thanks to Birmingham's many canals, of which the city is said to have more miles than Venice. I've spiced the stew with clove, pepper and fennel seed - its smell reminds me of freshly cut grass.
I don't think food comes much better than a pork pie, and those from Leicestershire's Melton Mowbray are the nation's most famous. You can pack so many layers of flavour into them: seasoning with herbs and spices, different cuts of pork. In my recipe I've used shoulder for structure, belly for fat content and bacon for a lovely pink cure and salty kick - and there's even a surprise pickled onion inside. With all the butteriness of a good pastry, it cries out for an apple chutney by day or, late at night, some English mustard if the oatcake shop isn't open yet!
I couldn't write a set of recipes inspired by the Midlands without involving stilton somewhere. Colston Bassett in Nottinghamshire, is renowned for its stilton, arguably one of the best cheeses in the world. I decided to pair it with pears, which are now just coming into season. As it happens, Worcestershire is also famous for its pears, and the fruit actually features in the county cricket club's coat of arms. So the recipe below uses poached pears with stilton and frosted pecans - it's a sweet-and-savoury dish with fantastic versatility and works as a starter or a dessert.Hand raised pork pies and apple chutney
500g pork shoulder, minced
125g pork belly, minced
125g bacon, minced
6 sage leaves, chopped
1 tbsp thyme leaves
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cracked black pepper
½ tsp ground white pepper
¼ tsp mace or nutmeg
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
30g fresh breadcrumbs
8 medium-size pickled onions, drained and left to dry
For the pork pie pastry
50g lard, diced
50g butter, diced
1 egg, beaten
⅓ tsp salt
3 egg yolks
For the apple chutney
625g granny smiths, peeled, cored and cut into large dice
100g cooking apples, peeled and chopped
1 tsp salt
200g ripe tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped
100g onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp orange zest
1 orange, juiced
250g caster sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cayenne pepper
30g ginger, peeled and finely chopped
500ml white wine vinegar
A pinch of saffron
1 First make the chutney: combine all the ingredients except the granny smiths in a pan and bring to a boil over a low heat, stirring every 10 minutes. Cook for about an hour, until the mixture is jam-like and syrupy. It should leave a clear trace when you wipe you finger down the back of a spoon.
2 Add the granny smiths and cook very gently for another 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool, then store in kilner jars until needed.
3 For the filling, mix together all the ingredients apart from the onions and chill for one hour, then drain your pickled onions, . Separate the mixture into eight portions. Push the onions into the centre of each and roll into balls like Scotch eggs. Chill in the fridge - but don't wrap them in clingfilm as they will sweat.
4 For the pastry, heat the fats and water. Then mix together the flour, eggs and salt. Add the flour-egg mix to the fat-water mix and fully combine. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
5 When needed, divide the pastry into eight balls, then roll out to 3mm-thick discs. Put the pie fillings into the pastry discs, then draw the sides around to form a ball. Re roll the pastry offcuts then use a 5-6cm round cutter to cut out 8 lids. Put the lids on the pies, brush the edges with the egg yolk then crimp the top and bottom together. Chill for 30 minutes or so.
6 Remove from the fridge and brush with the egg yolks then bake at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 40-45 minutes until golden. Serve with the chilled apple chutney.Wild rabbit stew braised in Burton-on-Trent ale turnips and carrots
Marinate the legs in the beer, thyme and rosemary overnight.
4 rabbit legs, large, jointed (ask your butcher to do this)
Sprig of rosemary and thyme
550ml Burton upon Trent ale
1 bunch of carrots with their tops
4 medium turnips
8 button onions
8 garlic cloves
2 sticks of celery, peeled and diced
500ml chicken stock
3 white peppercorns, 2 cloves, ¼ tsp fennel seeds, tied in a muslin bag
100g small ceps or button mushrooms, cleaned and cut in half
A handful of chopped parsley
1 Peel the carrots and turnips and rub with a green scourer, then cut into even wedges. Pick and wash the carrot tops, peel the onions and garlic, peel and dice the celery and clean adn halve the mushrooms.
2 Drain the beer from the rabbit and reserve. In an ovenproof casserole dish, heat a little oil and brown the rabbit until fully coloured. Remove from the pan, add the onions, garlic and celery, sweat down until lightly coloured, then remove the veg and lightly wipe out any excess oil.
3 Pour the reserved beer into the pan, bring to the boil, skim off the residue then add the stock and muslin bag and bring this to the boil. Add the rabbit, turnips, carrots, mushrooms, and again bring back to the boil. Then turn down to a simmer, put a lid on the pan and braise slowly in the oven at 140C/275F/gas mark 1 for 2 hours until the legs are nice and tender.
4 Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly in the liquor. Now remove the rabbit and vegetables and keep them warm while you reduce the stockhen reduce the stock by half to give body and intensify the flavour. Once reduced by half, pass through a fine sieve, check the seasoning, and stir the carrot tops and parsley through the sauce.
5 Place the rabbit legs and vegetables on a serving bowl and pour on the sauce. Serve with bacon and parsley dumplings or buttery mashed potato.Poached pear with stilton and cheese and frosted pecans
650g caster sugar
2 bay leaves
Peel and zest of one lemon
2 sticks of celery, peeled
4 good firm English pears for poaching
1 ripe pear to serve raw
20 celery leaves from the heart of the celery
For the frosted pecans
100g caster sugar
12 pecan nuts
A pinch of salt
1 First make the poaching syrup: add the sugar, salt and water to a high-sided saucepan. Bring to the boil and dissolve the salt and sugar, then add the bay, cloves, zest and juice and the peeled celery sticks. Leave to cool and infuse for half an hour.
2 Peel the pears and rub them down with a scourer to remove the peel lines. Cut the pears in half and remove the core of the pear with a melon baller. Place in the syrup, bring to the boil and simmer for 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover with clingfilm then leave to cool in the liquid.
3 For the frosted pecans, in a heavy-based saucepan add the water and caster sugar, bring to the boil, then stir in the pecans. Keep stirring until the pecans and sugar crystallise. Tip out on to a nonstick surface and leave to cool.
4 Remove the rind from the stilton, then loosely crumble the cheese. Set aside in a container at room temperature.
5 Chop the pecans, slice the celery on the angle, take the sweet and savoury pear from the syrup. Peel and thinly slice the raw pear.
6 Divide the raw and cooked pear between four bowls, then add the stilton, celery and chopped pecans. Top off with the celery leaves.Staffordshire oat cakes
Delicious day or night, piled high with grated cheese and bacon
550ml warm milk
15g fresh yeast
1 tsp sugar
120g fine oatmeal
1 tsp rapeseed oil
12+ rashers of drycure streaky bacon
300g grated Staffordshire cheese from Cheddleton
6 tbsp brown sauce
1 Mix 500ml milk, yeast and sugar and set aside to activate and foam slightly. Stir the milk and yeast liquid into the oatmeal, add the rapeseed oil and whisk together. Leave to prove in a warm place until the batter has risen. Lightly whisk the batter, adding the remaining 50ml warm milk.
2 In a flat frying pan, warm a little oil and butter until foaming, then ladle in one oatcake at a time. Lightly colour and, once half cooked, turn over and fry for a further 2 minutes. Tip out on to a tray or plate to cool. Repeat the process with the rest of the mix.
3 Bake your streaky bacon on a baking tray covered with foil at 200C/400F/gas mark 6 until crispy - about 15 minutes - remove from the oven and keep warm. Reserve the bacon fat.
4 Lightly brush a little of the bacon fat over each oatcake, then do the same with the brown sauce. Sprinkle over the grated cheese and the lie the rashers of bacon on top. Roll them up and either eat them hot or cold.
Tom Kerridge's pork pies - with hidden pickles. Photography: Jonathan Gregson for the Guardian