A Taste of Norfolk

We don’t know about you, but when we go away on holiday, food plays a large part in our plans and general enjoyment. Seeking out local specialities is a must, and Norfolk has a lot to offer in this area, with all manner of special treats for your tastebuds.

With that lovely long coastline, fish has always played a major part in our foodie history, with herring coming ashore in their millions in years gone by. The legacy of this time is the Great Yarmouth bloater which is a proper local delicacy. Like the kipper, the bloater is a smoked herring. But unlike kippers, bloaters are smoked whole – innards, head and all – giving a more gamey taste.

Everyone knows about our delicious Cromer crabs – caught in the morning and then on the table by teatime – but we also have meaty lobsters and delicious brown shrimps which, if you have the patience to peel them, beat prawns hands down. If you visit us in May, Cromer and Sheringham hold a crab and lobster festival in celebration of the popular shellfish. For a great choice of local fish and seafood visit one of our favourite shops - Dabs and Crabs at nearby Scratby - only 5 minutes drive from Winterton-on-Sea.

Also look out for big and succulent Brancaster mussels, and if you like cockles, Stiffkey Blues are the best around. Named for their bluey-lilac colour, these are still harvested by hand up the coast at Stiffkey (pronounced Stewkey by the locals).

All the fishy favourites above go really well with another seaside special – samphire. This grows on tidal marshes and is delicious with melted butter. It’s known as sea asparagus and we have plenty of the land variety, too – Norfolk asparagus is delicious and you can buy it from stalls by the roadside in early summer.  The older stems make wonderful soup and the young tips are perfect lightly steamed and dipped into melted butter. Lots of melted butter.

As well as seafood, Norfolk has some excellent locally reared and butchered beef and pork from award-winning producers as well as ducks and geese. Norfolk geese were the favoured Christmas dinner for the gentry for many years until our other “big name”, the Norfolk Black turkey, arrived. Introduced in the 16th century the birds are still farmed here using traditional methods and grace the best festive tables. (There is more about them in our Christmas blog on this site.) For fabulous steaks try the Causeway Butchers at Ingham which is about 20 minutes drive from Winterton.

Simple dishes are the order of the day when you’re on holiday – who wants to cook? And you’d go a long way to beat a local cheeseboard. We are rather spoiled by the good producers on our doorstep, with Mrs Temple’s Binham Blue; or Norfolk White Lady, made from ewes’ milk by Willow Farm Dairy; or Norfolk Charm, a Wensleydale-style cheese or the feta-like Miller’s Fancy from  Bircham Windmill; or a Ruby Dapple from Ferndale Norfolk Farmhouse Cheeses; or Norfolk Mardler, a waxed goats cheese made by Fielding Cottage, or... the list goes on! Look out for them in local shops and on pub menus.

We are also known for mustard as Colman’s is a household name, but we also grow aromatic mint for their delicious mint sauce and those yellow fields you see in early summer are mostly oilseed rape, which is made into a range of cold-pressed and flavoured oils by lots of local producers. They make lovely presents to take home.

Something you might overlook as a true Norfolk foodstuff is sugar. Half of the nation’s sugar comes from sugar beet – and most of that is grown in Norfolk. From around September until February/March (the season is determined by the crop and changes year by year depending on the weather)  the processing factory at nearby Cantley turns tonnes and tonnes of beet into sugar. If you come to stay during the ‘campaign’ you will see many lorries laden with beet on their way to the factory or big piles of beet piled beside the fields awaiting collection.

We have tried to give a flavour (ahem...!) of what we have to offer, and it’s by no means comprehensive as we have lots more, but no introduction to Norfolk food would be complete without mention of the Norfolk dumpling.

Both a food and a way of describing the locals, dumplings both connect and divide us as there is no consensus to how they should be cooked. Some insist they must be boiled separately and then served fluffy; others maintain that they should be cooked with the stew, giving a crisp top.

When boiled and dropped into the stew, swimmers float to the top, as they should; sinkers end up on the bottom, which can be frowned upon.

Either way, they’re a tasty treat on a cold winter’s evening.