Dorothy Hartley and Garstang Blue


Last night I watched a documentary about Dorothy Hartley. It had in fact been on BBC4 on Tuesday night. I had missed it then but through the beauty of iPlayer was able to catch up. It was an evening alone, the kids in bed and me downstairs with a bottle of beer. I was not sure about the documentary itself, the presenter Dr Lucy Worsley was too enthusiastic and keen as she sheared her sheep in a clean pair of wellies and shepheared a group of grammar school boys making Stargazey Pie.

But it got over the otherworldliness of Dorothy Hartley and I went back to the shelves late in the evening to pick out my copy of Food in England and another one of her books that I managed to pick up 2nd hand The Land of England. 

She was a remarkable woman and all her other books are now a goal I can set myself whenever I walk into a secand book shop including a book about travelling around Ireland of which someone said if you want to see Ireland in extreme and unnecessary discomfort, Irish Holiday will tell you how to do this…my only criticism against an enthralling book.


I wonder if she made it to the The Sheep’s Head.

By way of a small tribute I set out below her comments on mackerel from Food in England.


“When Mackrell ceaseth from the sea,

John Baptist brings grass-beef and pease.”


This is the most beautiful fish. When the shoals come in to the bay, mackerel is suddenly very plentiful and cheap; at other times there may be none for weeks. Its delicacy makes it one of the most difficult fish for transport and it spoils so rapidly that there were special laws permitting it to be sold on Sundays , even in Scotland.

Mackerel, so fresh the light shines from it like a rainbow, should be treated exactly like trout, and grilled and served as swiftly. For this the smaller fish are best. The very large mackerel, full of roe, are better split and stuffed with a good herb seasoning (as they have less flavour). Therefore small mackerel, grill as trout; large mackerel, bake with stuffing.

Large mackerel

Take 4oz. of fine breadcrumbs, 2 oz. of fine dripping or lard (just melted), 1 teaspoonful of powdered herbs, 1 small onion scraped finely, salt, pepper and a spot of anchovy sauce. Beat together, binding with an egg, dry the fish, put a strip of bay leaf inside each, fill up with the stuffing, dust with seasoned flour, and dot over well with dripping or butter before baking in a medium oven for about 30 – 40 minutes (according to the size of the fish). In this case (i.e. a very large and therefore less-flavoured fish) it is permitted to serve with a full-flavoured sauce – anchovy or parsley.

Note. Any soft roe may be mixed in with the stuffing, but the hard roe is better baked under the fish.

There is no need to argue with anything that she has to say about mackerel. I am not so sure about the cooking of large mackerel but I think with a few changes it could be made to work well. Olive oil for the dripping or lard and fresh herbs for the dry and perhaps not so long in the oven.

Tonight we ate the Garstang Blue that Matthew gave me in September.

I had been keeping it for sandwiches but late in the evening it transpired that we had all the ingredients for pasta with a blue cheese, spinach and cream sauce but without the blue cheese. So the Garstang Blue was taken out of its silver wrapper and melted slowly in a pan with some chopped garlic, double cream and finely chopped spinach. The cheese was ripe and in its prime and an hour later there is still a furry, bitter after taste at the back of my tongue – and that is a good thing.

We listened to Mark Mulcahey and Tame Impala.

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