A taste of Durham: three traditional recipes you must try.

Durham is a beautiful city with a fabulous food scene, but, as students, I think we tend to focus on the more contemporary aspects of food culture, getting our culinary hits from the likes of Paddy’s Pizza and Lebaneat. Of course, I would never knock traditional student grub, but I think it’s important to broaden our horizons every now and again, and for that reason, in this article, I will attempt to open your eyes to the vast culinary history of Durham County. I have chosen three recipes which I think will give you a newfound understanding of Durham’s social history and hopefully inspire you to add a few new dishes to your repertoire.

First up is a recipe for an Epiphany tart, or in layman’s terms, a fancy jam tart. This recipe has been around since the Victorian era and was traditionally made in a star shape to celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings to the Nativity. Remarkably, the tart used to be an indicator of social status as the tart has thirteen spaces on its lid, meant to symbolize Jesus and the twelve disciples. In each hole, the chef was meant to place a dollop of jam, each space containing a different flavour. The more variety you could show in your jam selection, the wealthier you would appear to your friends and neighbours- an odd tradition, I must admit, but interesting, nonetheless. If you manage to find thirteen different varieties of jam on the shop shelves, I applaud your tenacity, but I wouldn’t worry, I’m sure one type will work just fine. This recipe comes from the Almanac online magazine and makes one large tart.

Epiphany Tart

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 170g of assorted jams, preserves or marmalade


  1. Place the flour, powdered sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl and combine.
  2. Add the butter and rub it into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. Add the egg yolk and mix until the dough becomes a ball and pulls away cleanly from the sides of the bowl.
  4. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and chill for an hour or overnight if you have time.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease a 9” tart tin.
  6. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough so it will fit into the tin and reserve a fifth of the pastry to make your star shape.
  7. Press the dough gently into the tin, trimming away any excess that hangs over the edges.
  8. To make the 6-point star. Take the leftover dough and roll it into a long rectangle. Then cut in strips and arrange the strip in the tin in a star shape, pinching the dough, so it makes walls that are high enough to hold pockets of jam.
  9. Bake the tart for 25 minutes and spoon the different jams into each space.
  10. Brush the pastry with a little milk and bake for another 10 minutes until the jam is set and the tart is golden brown.

The next regional recipe I’d like to share with you is for Lammas bread. This loaf was traditionally baked to celebrate Lammas, the ancient mid-summer celebration which honoured the new harvest. This flavoursome loaf used all the herbs from the garden and supposedly permeated the air with its inviting scent that became synonymous with the harvest season. Other anecdotal evidence suggests that Lammas bread was also used in protection spells as the bread was divided into four pieces and buried in the four corners of the spellcasters barn, ensuring that grain could be safely stored there. If you fancy giving this a go, be my guest, but, personally, I suggest that serving it warm with some salted butter would be far more satisfying. This recipe comes from All Roads Lead to the Kitchen and makes one large loaf of bread.

Lammas Bread


  • 2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 ¼ cup warm water, divided
  • 2 tbsp melted butter, divided
  • 2 ½- 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp fresh sage, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh oregano, minced
  • 2 tsp poppy seeds


  1. Put ¼ cup of the warm water in a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast and sugar over it, stirring to dissolve. Add the remaining water and 1 tbsp of the melted butter.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine the sage and salt with 2 ½ cups of flour. Add to the yeast mixture, stirring to form a slightly sticky dough. Add more flour if necessary to make the dough workable.
  3. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (around 5 or 6 minutes).
  4. Oil a large bowl and add the dough. Cover with a clean, damp cloth and let it rise in a warm place for around 90 minutes or until it has doubled in size.
  5. Punch the dough down and divide it into thirds; add one of the remaining herbs to each section of the dough and knead it in.
  6. Form each section into a long rope, around 20” long. Arrange them on a greased and lined baking sheet and braid them together.
  7. Cover and let rise for 45-50 minutes or until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius while the bread rises.
  8. Brush the risen dough with the remaining butter and sprinkle with poppy seeds.
  9. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Finally, I thought I would share a delicious cake recipe with a twist, real Durham ale. This recipe is full of the stuff, which gives it a slight bitter edge, contrasting perfectly with the aromatic warmth of the spices. I’ve found that, with cakes like these, the flavours develop over time, so the cake should be at its best about two days after baking; I know it’s hard to resist, but I would really recommend waiting to get the best out of your cake. This recipe can be found in the Records of Early English Drama North-East and makes one large cake.

Durham Dark Ale Soul Cake


  • 175 g plain flour, sifted
  • 100 g cold butter
  • 100 g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp mace
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground saffron, take several strands of saffron and grind in a mortar/pestle with half tsp granulated sugar (it should resemble a slightly yellow-white powder)
  • 100 g of mixed fruit, such as dates, cherries, currants, raisins, chopped apricots, and mixed peel, soaked in 3 tbsp dry Spanish sherry Ale froth from a small glass of dark Durham ale (pour the ale into a glass and scoop out the ale froth), such as Evensong (Durham Brewery)
  • 3-4 tbsp of dark or ruby ale, such as Durham Brewery’s Evensong or Old Tom
  • 12 walnut or pecan halves (optional)


  1. Put fruit in a bowl and add sherry. Leave to stand whilst mixing the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
  3. Cut the butter into the sifted flour until the mixture has a crumb-like texture. Add sugar, ground saffron, and spices, and stir until well combined.
  4. Spoon in ale froth from a glass of ale onto the flour-butter mixture and stir in.
  5. Add sherried fruit and 3-4 tbsp of the ale from the glass to the mixture until the dough feels like a soft cookie dough or pastry dough.
  6. Roll out the cakes to about 2 cm thick. Using a round cutter, cut out a dozen cakes.
  7. Put the cakes onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment.
  8. Chill the cakes for 30-40 minutes in the fridge.
  9. Using a knife, cut a deep cross (+) shape into the dough.
  10. Sprinkle with a little granulated sugar. If desired, press a walnut or pecan half onto the middle of the cake.
  11. Bake in the oven for 20-22 minutes, until the cakes are golden.

Featured Image: Klaus Nielsen on Pexels with License

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Our YouTube Channel