Legends: Lancashire hotpot

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 October, 2012, 10:26am

In its most basic form, this dish consists of no more than mutton, onions and potatoes, the latter sliced and layered with cheap cuts of mutton, usually the neck.

Back in the 19th century, it may also have included another working-class staple - oysters.

As the name suggests, the dish is from Lancashire, a county in the northwest of England known historically as a centre of the cotton industry. In the mid to late 19th century, Lancashire is said to have processed and manufactured most of the world's cotton. It was said that "Britain's bread hung by Lancashire's thread".

Most agree that it was a meal created by workers at the mills at this time, when the industry was at its peak. Here, inconvenience and a lack of resources provided the spurs to invention. Each morning, mill hands would layer the ingredients in a pot, and the pot would be placed on embers still hot from the previous night to cook.

The workers had to be at the mills all day as most were paid piece rates - by the amount they produced. The more they made and the longer they worked, the more they would earn. Cooking was simply a means to an end, and saving cooking time meant more time for work.

This single pot that cooked itself while they were out became the perfect convenience supper. A large pot of it was enough to feed the whole family.

The slow cooking process also made it appropriate for cheaper cuts of meat, so it was affordable for workers with limited incomes.

Nowadays, the dish has become part of the local identity. As incomes have risen, carrots have become a common addition to the recipe.

Modern versions use lamb and even beef, although some consider a change in ingredients almost sacrilege. Sadly, oysters are no longer common enough, or cheap enough, to end up in a stew.


You may also like