Boiling chicken stuffed with prunes, simmered overnight and served, hot or cold, with a lemon-flavoured gravy.
Poster for the 1952 film of 'Hindle Wakes', produced just as
Dorothy Hartley was writing her 'Food in England'
Stanley Houghton used the name 'Hindle Wakes' for his 1912 play about family reactions to an affair between a mill girl and the mill-owner's son, and so founded the whole genre of Lancastrian kitchen-sink tragi-comedies from 'Hobson's Choice' and 'Spring and Port Wine' to 'East is East'.
This dish often appears in books of 'Traditional' receipts such as J.Salmon's 'Favourite Lancashire Recipes'. It is commonly said to have arrived with the Flemish weavers who came to the North West in the 14th Century, the name being a strange mixture of Lancashire and French from 'Hen de la Wake', a 'wake' being a fair or holiday time.
It remains unclear whether Houghton was inspired by the chicken dish and its odd mix of the exotic and the ordinary, or whether an ingenious cook, or cookery writer, created a dish inspired by the name of the, very popular, play (which does contain a vague passing reference to chicken) and invented a fake history to go with it. The dish seems to first appear in the 1932 'Good Things in England' by Florence White, presented as having been given to her by a correspondent in Brighton. But its origin, or indeed authenticity, seems far from clear. The town name of 'Hindle' is a complete invention of Houghton's, though it is vaguely similar-sounding to Hindley, near Wigan, yet thirty years of investigation in the area has failed to produce anyone who has ever made this dish, or even known of it being made.
Original Receipt from 'Good Things in England' by Florence White (White 1932)
Mrs. Kate A. Earp (Brighton) who sends this recipe says: 'We as a family in Lancashire called these fowls "Hindle Wakes" — why I do not know, unless it was, because old hens were sold at the "wakes" (fairs.)'
INGREDIENTS; An old boiling fowl; prunes 1 lb.; lemon juice (2 lemons); brown gravy.
TIME: to steam about 6 hours: to roast 1 hour.
1. Wash lemon and pare the rind thinly and simmer it gently in 1 pint water for 15 minutes to extract the flavour.
2. Add to this water the strained juice of the 2 lemons.
3. Wash the prunes and pour the lemon juice, etc., over than.
4. Let them soak all night.
5. Next day stuff an old boiling fowl with the prunes; sew it up.
6. Steam for 6 or more hours till tender.
7. Then wrap in bacon fastened with skewer, and roast for one hour, serve with good brown gravy in the making of which use any of the lemon liquor that may not be soaked up.
A highly embellished version of the dish appears in the 1954 'Food in England' by Dorothy Hartley (Hartley 1954). It seems an amazing coincidence that the film version of 'Hindle Wakes' was showing at the cinemas just at the time in 1952 when Hartley, a food writer known to not be above a bit of inventive decoration, was sitting down to write her 'Food in England'.
Both John Ayto's 'The Glutton's Glossary' and Jane Grigson's 'English Food' lean towards the, less exiting, made-up-by cookery-writers origin for 'Hindle Wakes', and, pending any new discoveries, so do we.
Original Receipt from Food in England, by Dorothy Hartley (Hartley 1954)
Hindle Wakes ("Hen de la Wake" or "Hen of the Wake")
This very old English recipe has come down through many centuries unchanged. The white meat, with its black filling and yellow and green garnish, must look as handsome and gaudy as it did on any medieval table. The older recipes use the blood of the fowl to mix with the stuffing. (The blood of a pig, making black pudding, is also extremely old.) All the recipes vary, but the essential filling of dark fruit and spice remains the same. This modern version was collected from a Lancashire family, near Wigan, about 1900. An old boiling fowl was brought in from the allotment the week before the wakes, plucked and drawn and hung up in a cold larder, and the stuffing prepared in a big "crock". Half a loaf of dry bread was crumbed and mixed with twice the amount of soaked (but not cooked) stoned prunes (the stones were cracked and the kernels added). This was seasoned with pepper and mixed herbs, and made moist with a cupful of vinegar. A handful of coarsely chopped suet was stirred into the black prune mixture, and the fowl was firmly stuffed from end to end, trussed into shape, and set to boil gently overnight in water in which another cupful of vinegar and a large spoonful of brown sugar had been added. It simmered all night on the hot stove, and was left to grow cold in the broth. Wake night it was lifted out, drained and coated with a thick lemon sauce (the grating of the yellow peel dusted on top). Set and cold, it was a "stand to" dish on the high tea-table. Halved prunes and quarters of lemon were patterned over the handsome dish. Each family has its own special recipe, but the basis is old hen and fruit filling. Excellent.
For a list of northern Wakes Day traditions, see the end of the Winster Wakes Cakes page.
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