Deep dug—for Summer days—
Where Mosses go no more away—
And Pebble—safely plays—
From ‘I know where Wells grow’ by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
The month of May marks the beginning of the Derbyshire well dressing season. Many Derbyshire villages will start preparing elaborate designs of flower petals set into wet clay on panels which they then use to decorate their village well. The custom is ancient and may derive from the time of the Black Death when village communities gave thanks for their survival, or it may be even older and connected with the celebration of the spring and with water the bringer of life. Whatever its origin, well dressing is a long held practice in the pretty villages of the Derbyshire Dales. Some of the designs are incredibly elaborate and there is always fierce local pride at stake.
After the Reformation well dressing was prohibited by law. During the reign of Henry VIII, his Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, was instructed to arrange the destruction of all the equipment used in well dressing. At Buxton, the statue of St Anne was dismantled and the crutches and sticks of those people who visited the well seeking to have their ailments cured were smashed. The custom however proved impossible to eliminate and these days most of the flower pictures have a religious significance and there is often a religious service and procession to the wells to bless them.
I’ve been thinking what to cook, and Bakewell Tart seems the most obvious choice. Sometime during 1811 Jane Austen stayed at the Rutland Arms Hotel in Bakewell and this tart was their speciality. Jane’s tour of Derbyshire was immortalized in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, the Rutland Arms is where Elizabeth Bennet is supposed to have been staying when she first sets eyes on Mr. Darcy’s home at Pemberley, which Jane modeled on Chatsworth House which is only three miles away.
This is more or less Jane Grigson’s recipe as taken by her from the archives of the Rutland Arms. In case you’re wondering, Jane Grigson says that ground almonds in Bakewell Tart are ‘quite wrong’. That’s good enough for me; Jane Grigson’s word is gospel as far as I’m concerned. This tart is light and delicious especially with a few berries and a little creme fraiche.
8oz pastry – I made my usual pate brisee
4 oz butter
4 egg yolks
3 egg whites
Line your tart tin with the pastry and spread with a thinnish layer of jam. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a mixer. Melt the butter and allow to cook until a golden brown (take care!) now pour the hot butter into the egg mixture, beating at top speed. Pour into the pastry and cook at 200c for about 25 minutes until golden brown. Eat lukewarm.
‘Here's to one who took his chances
In a busy world of men
Battled luck and circumstances
Fought and fell and fought again
Won sometimes but did no crowing
Lost sometimes but did not wail
Took his beating but kept going
Never let his courage fail’
On the outside wall of the Rutland Arms Hotel in Bakewell