Devizes is a market town in Wiltshire, England, and the place of my birth. Its unusual name comes from the description of the castle that was built there by Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury. Located on the borders of the manors of Rowde, Bishops Cannings, and Potterne, the castle was described by William of Malmesbury as the castrum ad divisas, or the castle at the boundaries. Divisas eventually morphed into Devizes. My family left ‘Vizes, as it is colloquially known, when I was ten. I’m now forty-four, but still think of the town sentimentally as ‘home’. Its market square surrounds the Market Cross and markets are still held there every Thursday. Devizes boasts nearly 500 listed buildings of special architectural or historical interest . Number 8 Long Street was the home of Admiral Joseph Needham Tayler, an inspiration for C. S. Forester’s fictional hero, Horatio Hornblower. The town is also the site of the Caen Hill Locks, a flight of twenty-nine locks on the Kennet and Avon Canal which allow canal traffic to navigate a rise of 237 feet in two miles, taking around five to six hours to complete the journey.
The local brewery, Wadworth’s, or ‘Waddies’, brews the prize winning 6X, the cause of much merriment and not a few headaches over the years. Casked ale from the brewery is still delivered locally on a dray pulled by shire horses. The brewery is one of only four left in the United Kingdom that continue to use horses to deliver beer. Waddies still brews a range of seasonal beers and drinkers will now be enjoying a pint, or more, of St George and the Dragon.
My family left Devizes when I was ten and I have fond memories of growing up there. I was lucky to grow up at a time when car ownership was still not the norm and the two car family was as rare as hen’s teeth. In a safer world I was more free to roam further afield than children today. I was eleven, or thereabouts, when my family gained its first car, a boxy Ford Cortina in Highland Green. An evocative and romantic name for a shade that more resembled brussels sprouts that had been boiled for at least an hour too long, than the Scottish highlands. Our home in Waiblingen Way, rendered as ‘Wobbling Way’ by residents with little experience of German pronunciation, backed onto woods and fields and the canal was a few minute’s walk away. The nearby cemetery, rumoured to be haunted by a ghostly lady, provided thrills and chills, particularly as dusk drew in.
The Crammer, a pond on Devizes Green, is the legendary site of the tale of The Moonrakers, local smugglers who were interrupted one moonlit night by the excise men while trying to recover barrels of brandy by using agricultural rakes to fish them from the pond. When challenged, the men pointed to the moon’s reflection in the water and told the customs officials they were raking for the cheese that had fallen in it. Laughing at the country dullards the excise men rode off and, ” Zo the excizeman ‘as ax’d ‘n the question ‘ad his grin at ‘n, but they ‘d a good laugh at ‘ee when ’em got whoame the stuff.”
None of which by way of preamble, other than the loose connection with food in the form of cheese, brings me to the purpose of today’s blog, the local recipe, Devizes pie. Probably dating from the fifteenth century the pie saw a brief revival in the 1960’s but changing tastes and fashions have seen it, and its main ingredients of offal, fall out of favour again. I confess I’ve never eaten it but other than the brains, which I’ve never knowingly eaten, I enjoy all the other ingredients. The recipe comes from my Mum’s first cookbook, which also taught me many of the basics of food preparation with her help.
Slices of cold calf’s head, cold lamb, calf’s brains, tongue and bacon.
Pastry to cover
3 hardboiled eggs
Cayenne pepper and salt to taste
Season the meat and place in a pie dish in layers with the eggs cut into rings. Fill the dish with a rich clear gravy, made from the calf’s head. Cover the pie with pastry and bake in a moderate oven for about 1 hour. Turn into a dish when cold. Garnish the edge with parsley and serve.
Finally, this programme made by the BBC in1984, a few years after I had left Devizes, is well worth a watch. It captures many of the buildings that have listed status, and Caen Hill Locks as I remember them before they were restored. The presenter, Alec-Clifton Taylor, is delightfully opinionated, and it reminds me of how an enjoyable and informative documentary can be made without resorting to visual gimmickry and docudrama.
by Mike Dash
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