fenn country apple cake
I’m not a religious person, but when travelling I often visit a church. Through time churches in the UK formed the centre of the town or village, geographically and politically. As such they contain a great deal of history & character of the area and tells me a lot about the community. This is true in Godshill on the Isle of Wight. Clearly you have clocked that name and understood just how key the church is to this village!
Most people visit Godshill for the model village which I thoroughly recommend. As with most model villages it is incredibly cute and gives you the sensation of being a kaiju walking through downtown
Tokyo Ventnor. It depicts scenes from around the Island with a 1950s lens.
Just a short walk up the… hill… from the model village is All Saints’ church itself. True to form the church sits proudly atop the hill, looking down over the entire (real) village. The exact founding of the church is unclear but has been a religious site for over 1,000 years.
In the corner of the church are two old bookshelves. There was a treasure trove of books here with an honesty box. I gravitated towards the cookbooks of course and found lots of gems – I must have spent twenty minutes flicking through the old books. And then I spotted something I just had to have.
I’d travelled over a hundred miles to visit the island and I’d found a cookbook from my area, encompassing Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. I duly donated my 30p and took it home.
Having a proper flick through I was pleased to note I now have two recipes for roast swan, many methods for eels, and a whole chapter on dumplings. I learned a lot about the husbandry of the region: our lands supported pigs very well (no laughing please) and many households kept one hence this book has many recipes using lard, chitterlings and hams. Plus being a coastal region great roads from Lynn, Norwich, Ipswich and Colchester serviced London with shellfish and fish. Turkey always flourished here since Tudor times, a tradition still served by the KellyBronze, the best in the world. Rabbit and hare too have always been rife in the area and are represented well here. And being a fantastic area for growing wheat and corn many cakes and biscuits arise from the three counties.
One cake in particular caught my eye: Fenn Country Apple Cake. The Fenns (“Fens”) or Fenlands are a marshy area of Eastern England running roughly from North West Suffolk, through Norfolk and cutting past Cambridge, up past Peterborough and ending around Lincoln. And why am I interested? “Fenn” is my surname so I just had to give it a go. I’ve done a little research into my ancestry and as far back as I’ve found so far my family have literally never left the three counties: I have a strong family connection to Norwich and Norfolk going back generations.
It’s a fairly standard apple pie (though it is called a cake here) with rich lard-based pastry, and the addition of treacle is a pleasing layer of bittersweetness that provides enjoyable contrast. And the old school usage of semolina to thicken and bind gives a little texture in the puree.
A fascinating slice of history and one oddly personal to me.
fenn country apple cake
For the pastry:
- 7 oz plain flour
- 2 oz butter
- 2 oz lard
- 1 egg
For the filling:
- 1½ lb cooking apples
- juice of half a lemon
- 1 oz butter
- 2 oz caster sugar
- 2 rounded tablespoons semolina
- 1 oz currants
- 3 tablespoons black treacle
- For the pastry, rub the flour together with the fats and a pinch of salt until it resembles breadcrumbs. Beat in most of the egg (reserving a teaspoon or so for glazing) and add a splash of water or milk until it comes together into a soft dough. Cover and refrigerate until needed, but make sure you leave it at least half an hour. I guess if we're being authentic, leave it in a cool place.
- Peel, core and slice the apples. Put apples, lemon juice and butter in a pan, cover and simmer slowly to pulp. Add sugar and semolina, and bring slowly to the boil. Cook gently for 5 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. Remove from the heat and leave until completely cold.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F / 220°C / gas mark 7 (note: I used 200°C in my modern oven - 220 in a 21st century oven would no doubt blacken it before it was cooked).
- Roll out the pastry into two circles and line an eight-inch pie plate with one piece. Spread half the apple in the pastry case. Sprinkle with currants and put in treacle. Add the remaining apple filling. Moisten the edges of the second piece of pastry and cover the pie. Press edges together well and brush top with the reserved egg or a little milk. Bake for 30 minutes.