In October I was back in the North of England seeing family and friends. I normally fly into Manchester airport then for logistical reasons take a taxi to my final destination. On this occasion I had time to spare and decided to take the longer, slower route, by rail.
The train went from Manchester airport then into the city itself passing via Piccadilly Station then on through Deansgate before leaving the city and moving towards my destination via Wigan and Preston. There tend to be few residential buildings close to noisy railways for obvious reasons, and I found myself instead watching the large Victorian industrial buildings go by as I looked out of the windows of the train.
Some houses are of course built near to the railway lines, my father for example was brought up in just such a house. Not only was it close to the railway, but the railway sidings themselves in the town of Colne. As my father told me:
“At some point in 1936 we moved nearer to Colne, to Rigby Street, which backed onto the railway coal sidings. The house comprised a front room with a wooden floor and a kitchen with a flagged floor. Above there were two bedrooms, each with its own cast iron fire and then on top of all, via a further flight of stairs, was a large garret which was high at one end and low at the other due to the slope of the street. The back door led to a flight of steps that gave access to the back yard, coal shed, tippler closet and store. It was a through house and not a back-to-back. The rent for the house was six shillings and six pence. It was much better to live in a through house, and it was also handy for the buses and trains.
This new house did have one disadvantage however, it backed on to the railway coal sidings. The street was a cul-de-sac and looked out onto the retaining wall of the sidings. The wall was huge and constructed of large dressed stones topped by iron railings. Above this a large grass slope rose up to the actual sidings with one solitary lilac tree. It was not so much this glorious view that troubled me, but rather the movements of the coal trucks above. There would be hundreds of coal trucks at any one time because there was the whole of Colne to supply plus the dozens of cotton mills, they also they started very early in the morning…….
The trucks were huge beasts with hinged flaps held in place by large retaining pins. These pins would have to be removed to release the coal. The sequence was always the same:
Bang, bang, bang, as the retaining pins were removed by a large sledge hammer.
Bang, as the tail-gate falls and knocks against the truck.
And then the rumble of coal falling from the side of the truck”.
Colne railway station is now a shadow of its former self. Opened in 1848 it was a large and bustling station until it fell onto hard times, particularly after the Beeching cuts of 1964, that reduced the services out of Colne towards Skipton and Yorkshire. In 1970 this line was axed and the following year much of the station was demolished.
There are some truly remarkable buildings along the route of the old railway line. Large imposing buildings built with the optimism and affluence of manufacturers who were leaders in their field, supplying, not only the United Kingdom, but the whole of the commonwealth with their wares. One can only hope that these architectural gems from a bygone era do not fall into disrepair and finally fall to the demolitioners ball. There really are some architectural jewels out there!
Much of the rail network in the area dates from the 1840’s. Hardly surprising then I guess that the my journey on the train itself was rickety and slow. A far cry from the electrified intercity links in other counties in Europe. I guess that if we really do want to reduce the number of cars on our roads we better think about investing more in other forms of transport.
Being in and around Manchester, however briefly, reminded me of the Manchester Tart. Not only was it a staple pudding from the school dinners of my youth, but it is also a pudding that my Spanish father-in-law often talks about. Many moons ago, my father and mother-in-law went on a trip to England and were fortunate enough to sample this simple but delicious pudding.
Although I will be making this pudding from scratch, it can be made using shop bought produce. Ready made pastry, or pastry case instead of making your own. Instant custard powders instead of making your own custard and of course the jam can be shop bought.
I have made the recipe as similar as possible to what I remember from my youth. For a special occasion though you could “tart” it up with some fresh raspberries, putting a few onto the jam layer before pouring over the custard and/or even putting a few on top to decorate.
Serves 6 to 8 people
1 Vanilla pod
3 Egg yolks
125g Raspberry Jam
2 tbsp Desiccated coconut
To make the pastry:
Roughly dice the butter.
Mix together the flour, salt and sugar then rub in the butter using the tips of your fingers. The resultant mixture should resemble breadcrumbs.
For more details on how to rub in please click here.
Add cold water little by little, cutting it into the flour until the mixture just starts to come together. Don’t overwork the dough, a cutting action will mix in the liquids gently. Just cut through the mixture and rotate the bowl slightly before cutting again. Knead to form a ball. The dough should not be too soft yet should hold its shape well. If it is too hard or still crumbly, cut in a drop more water.
For more details on how to cut in please click here.
Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200ºC or 400ºF.
Grease tart tin with butter.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface until relatively thin. Line the prepared tart tin with the pastry. Prick the pastry several times with a fork, then chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Some people prefer to trim the pastry down to the top of the tin before baking, some people prefer to trim it off after. I think the finish is better if you trim it off before, but you run the risk of the pastry shrinking. For today’s recipe I have actually trimmed the pastry off after baking. I just leave it to cool a little then cut gently with a sharp bread knife.
When the pastry case has rested, place a sheet of baking parchment into it and half-fill with baking beans. Transfer the pastry case to the oven and bake blind for 15 minutes, or until pale golden-brown.
Remove the baking parchment and baking beans and return the pastry case to the oven for a further 4-5 minutes, or until pale golden-brown.
To make the custard:
Split the vanilla pod in half and put into a saucepan with the milk. Bring to a gentle boil then cover and take off the heat. Leave the milk to infuse for about an hour.
Scrape the seeds out of the pod and add back into the milk. Heat the milk again until just boiling.
Meanwhile, mix together the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour.
Gently pour in the milk, through a sieve, stirring to mix well.
Put the mixture back in the pan and continue to heat until the custard has thickened.
Leave to cool, but do not let it go cold or it will be more difficult to mix in the cream. Sprinkle a little sugar on top to stop a skin forming.
Beat the cream until stiff.
Beat the custard to ensure it is nice and smooth. Fold into the cream.
Put a layer of jam into the base of the tart.
Spoon in the custard then level out..
Sprinkle the coconut on top.
Decorate with raspberries.
If you have used vanilla pods to make the custard, consider drying them out and using to make vanilla sugar. Just pop the used pods in a jar full of sugar, immersing well, and leave for a few months. The sugar will be infused with the vanilla and can be used in all manner of sweet puddings.
If you like traditional English puddings why not try Wycoller Cake, just click here.
Or for a Lemon Bakewell Tart, just click here.
For more on making custards please click here.
tsp – Teaspoon – 5ml
tbsp – Tablespoon – 15ml
Imperial to Metric Measurement:
1 oz – 28g
1 lb – 16 oz – 454g
1 gill – ¼ pint – 142ml
2016 Lincoln W. Betteridge