London is a city with seemingly endless corners to explore–store openings, constant festivals and food markets, and of course new restaurants to try. I’ve lived in New York City, so I’m somewhat accustomed to the fast-paced, feel-like-I-can-never-keep up phenomenon that characterizes city life. For the most part, given my more adventurous tendencies, I’m invigorated by this steadfast vitality. Other times, I feel like I’m on an urban treadmill–awkwardly sweaty and just trying not to fall off.
Enter The Cotswolds.
One of the best parts about living in a cosmopolitan epicenter is the rare opportunity to escape it for a weekend. The Cotswolds are what I would consider quintessential English countryside–quaint stone buildings set against a sprawling green backdrop. If you’ve seen the movie, The Holiday (classic film, I know), then you have an idea of what The Cotswolds look like, because that’s where it was shot.
Each town that makes up the Cotswolds maintains its own unique quality, yet I was amazed to see how, just hours outside of bustling and modern London, these villages have retained their old world feel. The architecture in many of these towns dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries–the type of history that, as an American, it’s often hard to wrap my noggin around. The depth of history also, of course, extends to the food…so let me get down to it.
LARDY, HAVE MERCY
Our first stop on The Cotswolds tour was Burford. After viewing the 13th century church, we made our way down the one-street town. It was there that we discovered Lardy Cake.
What is Lardy Cake you might ask? Lardy Cake, also known as lardy bread, is a sweet, sticky, cinnamon-bun-like creation that originated in Southwest England. Its main ingredients are: rendered lard (naturally), flour, sugar, spices, currants, and raisins. Lardy Cake is both buttery and sweet, with dynamic layers of flavor that mirror the layers of its snail shell form. I’m not such a sweet tooth, but man-oh-man was this delicious.
The best place to get Lardy Cakes is at Huffkins, the preeminent bakery of The Cotswolds. Huffkins opened its doors in 1890, and by the judge of it, has perfected the art of making scrumptious Lardy Cakes ever since.
THERE’S NO “I” IN CREAM
After eating our fair share of Lardy Cake, we rolled our way through Stow on the Wold and into Broadway (two other Cotswold towns). All the sightseeing made us stone thirsty, and there is nothing more appropriate as a thirst quencher than afternoon tea.
Cream Tea is the tradition of taking your afternoon tea with a scone, fresh strawberry jam, and clotted cream. There is evidence to suggest that this teatime tradition dates all the way back to the 11th century. There may be a lot of other things that the British didn’t get right, but this culinary combination is absolutely spot on.
Though you can get Cream Tea pretty much anywhere in The Cotswolds (or in England), the teashop, Tissanes, prepared an exceptional spread. The scone, as per tradition, was served warm alongside piping hot, home-brewed, bergamot tea. The strawberry jam, also homemade, was a punchy and fresh partner to the rich, full-bodied clotted cream. A friend described the cream’s texture as something like taffy–perhaps not so sticky, but with a mouthfeel that lingers for hours. Cream Tea is best enjoyed in the company of friends, just don’t forget to order your own personal scone, or you’ll regret it.
ONE POT WONDER
One of the savory highlights of my Cotswolds trip was the homemade chicken and mushroom pot pie I ate at The Queen’s Head Pub in Stow on the Wold. I was hungry upon arrival, and was getting rather testy 30 minutes into the wait for my food. Alas, the wait was well worth it.
The pie was unreal: perfectly creamy without being too heavy, hearty chunks of roasted chicken tossed with nutty brown mushrooms. There was no doubt in my mind this was prepared to order with great tenderness and care. Sure, I could have done without the bland green peas and boiled carrots, but the mashed potatoes were to die for when used to sop up any extra pot pie juices!
Inspired by what felt like the most delicious taste of fall, I immediately went home to bake up my very own (healthier) pot pie concoction. I decided to make a vegetarian pot pie, but if you can’t live without the chicken, I recommend buying a rotisserie one, shredding the meat, then tossing it into the pot before baking. Also, feel free to add any additional veggies you may have in your fridge–anything goes (just season accordingly)! This pot pie recipe is perfect for portioning out and freezing, then reheating whenever you’re craving some serious comfort food.
adapted from recipe by Aida Mollenkamp
- 1 tablespoon unsalted Butter
- 2 small heads Fennel, finely chopped (about 3 cups)
- 1/2 medium yellow Onion, finely chopped
- 2 medium Carrots, peeled and finely chopped (about 2/3 cup)
- 12 ounces white button Mushrooms, sliced (about 5 cups)
- 1 small Sweet Potato, peeled and diced small (about 2 1/2 cups)
- 1 large head of Broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces, including stems
- 1/4 cup all purpose Flour
- 1 cup low-sodium Chicken Broth (or mushroom broth, to keep it vegetarian)
- 1 cup 1% or 2% Milk
- 1 cup frozen baby Green Peas
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced Fresh Chives
- 1/4 cup Fresh Parsley
- 1 tablespoon White Vinegar
- 1 large Egg Yolk
- 7 ounces store-bought Puff Pastry, defrosted if frozen
- Kosher Salt
- Ground White Pepper (if you don’t have this on hand, you can use Black Pepper)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle.
Melt butter over medium heat in a 3- to 4-quart Dutch oven or heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add fennel, onions, and carrots, and cook until just soft and onions are translucent, about 2 minutes.
Add mushrooms and potato, season well with salt and freshly ground white pepper, and stir to coat. Cook, stirring rarely, until mushrooms have let off water and are shrunken, about 6 minutes. Add Broccoli. Season again and stir.
Sprinkle flour over vegetables, stir to coat, and cook until raw flavor is gone, about 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully add broth and milk, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, add peas, herbs, and vinegar, and stir to coat. Season well with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Turn filling into an 8 by 8-inch casserole dish.
Whisk egg together with 2 teaspoons water and a pinch of salt until evenly mixed. Set aside.
With kitchen shears, cut dough to fit over the baking dish. Place dough over filling and tuck into the edges of the dish. Brush dough with egg wash and cut slits in the top to vent. Place on a baking sheet and bake until crust is golden brown and mixture is bubbling, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let sit at least 5 minutes before serving.