By Sarah Pridgeon
Just when you think you’ve learned all there is worth knowing on a topic, along comes a tidbit of information you wish you’d been aware of all along. I have discovered a piece of British culinary history that I feel certain should never have died out.
The dish in question is an all-in-one lunch known as the Bedfordshire Clanger. Contrary to appearances, the clue for this one is in the name: it originates in the county of Bedfordshire, where “clang” is apparently local slang for the act of wolfing down one’s food greedily and at speed.
The Clanger had all but disappeared until recently, when a baker decided to revive it and slowly but surely attracted the attention of the nation. Now, he says, he’s selling them by the hundreds.
It began, as so many things do, as a matter of convenience. Several centuries ago, a long pastry pocket with a savory filling at one end and a sweet dessert at the other was a handy way to send workers into the fields with plenty of provisions to last the day.
Originally, according to the locals, these things were behemoth in size: one grumpy 82-year-old who disagrees strongly with the modern versions contacted his local paper to explain that they ought to be at least a foot long. You can’t send someone out to labor all day long with a flimsy little thing that almost fits in your palm, he spluttered.
I’m not sure how I feel about the recipes that have been around for hundreds of years, though. They were made from what remained from the weekend’s meals boiled in suet – H.E. Bates described them as, “hard as a hog’s back, harder ‘n prison bread”.
Those original Clangers also include such ingredients as boiled fatty bacon and prunes, which doesn’t appeal. Some changes really can be for the better, no matter how much one values tradition.
From those humble beginnings, when wives would wrap them in muslin cloths to be warmed on a hot stone while their husbands were working the fields, the Bedfordshire Clanger quietly survived as a regional favorite, but fell out of favor around a century ago. Fortunately for the epicurious, there has been a revival of interest over the last decade in culinary cultural treasures from the distant past.
They were rediscovered at Gunns Bakery, one of the only places left still making them. Today, you can head to the office with your Clanger in mouth-watering combinations such as ham and veg and apple; beef slow-cooked in beer and rhubarb with custard; and cider-cooked pork and sage with roasted apple.
If you’re crinkling up your nose at the idea of sweet and savory all in one place, let me reassure you that there’s a pastry divide between the two sections. Beef can thus sit at one end and apple at the other and never the twain shall meet.
If you’re also wondering how one is supposed to know which end to eat first, I can also assure you that the Clanger people have this licked. The end with two holes poked into the pastry holds your entrée and three knife slits designate your dessert.
To find a recipe, I turned to the website of the County of Bedfordshire. Among the tourism pages and water bill payment services, I ran across a helpful guide to making Clangers of one’s own.
It’s not a traditional recipe in the sense that you’ll break your teeth tearing off the end, but I’d say it’s as official as we’re likely to get. And so, if you’re in the mood for something new, here’s what you’ll need to do to make two Clangers:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees while you make your fillings, which in this case will be pork and apple for the main course and apples with dried fruit for the sweet. Soften an onion in lard or shortening over a medium heat until golden and then stir in half a pound of minced pork and a teaspoon of dried sage.
Allow this to cook for five minutes, stirring often, and then peel and chop one cooking apple and add it to the mixture. Next, stir in two ounces of cooked peas, season to taste and allow to cool.
Now for the sweet filling. Peel and chop two dessert apples and place in a mixing bowl along with two ounces of stoned and chopped dates, two ounces of dried fruit, the shredded rind of an orange and two tablespoons of sugar.
Roll out a pound of shortcrust pastry until it’s just under a quarter of an inch in thickness. Cut out two circles, each a little less than ten inches in diameter. Now re-roll the leftovers and cut out two thick strips five inches long, brushing each of them with a little beaten egg and standing them on one half of the circles, pressing them in to make them stand up.
Divide the two fillings between the Clangers, placing them on one half of the circle with sweet at one end and savory the other and the dividing strip in between. Fold the other half of the pastry over the top, pinch the edges together and press the centre so the dividing strip sticks to the top.
Finally, brush each one with the rest of the beaten egg, sprinkle the sweet end with sugar, make your marks to help you remember which end is which and bake your Clangers for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 375 and cook for another 25 minutes.
I intend to try making one of these magical concoctions myself, but I’m also hoping to convince the bakers among you to do the same. After all, who knows what combinations we could come up with between us – and the Crook County Clanger does have a lovely ring to it.