Though lost today, it seems the Isle of Wight used to have a strong tradition of making pies, puddings and desserts. Fruits were often a key component, with plums being baked into cakes, gooseberries made into tarts and apples turned into ‘apple pudden’.
It’s possible that other parts of the country recognised the Isle of Wight’s skill with all things sweet as by the 19th century some local specialities even made their way into mass-produced recipe books and the Isle of Wight Cracknel biscuit was exported right across the world.
Perhaps the most iconic though was the Isle of Wight Doughnut. They were made on the Island for hundreds of years but despite sharing a name with the American doughnut, it seems the Isle of Wight version developed completely independently from their Atlantic cousins, with some claiming they can be traced as far back as the 17th century.
About the size of a cricket ball, they were traditionally filled with small, wild plums and the dough itself was sweetened with brown sugar and flavoured with allspice, cinnamon, cloves and mace.
The Isle of Wight also developed a reputation for its junket – a thick and creamy dessert similar to a panna cotta. Rich whole milk was mixed with rennet and flavoured with brandy or rose water before being poured into ceramic bowls to set. Once ready, it was often served with an inch thick layer of clotted cream and a scattering of fresh fruits. As one Victorian author wrote: “No one in the world has tasted junket as these island people make it”.
One of the most common creations in every Island kitchen were ‘vlitters’ – a small type of local pancake. Also known as ‘bletters’ or ‘flitters’, they were similar in appearance to Welsh or Scotch pancakes and were made all year round but especially for Shrove Tuesday when they were given to the singers going door to door.
Other Isle of Wight sweets and desserts included ‘Hallan Cakes’ (made especially for All Saints’ Day on the 1st November), ‘apple stucklens’ (an apple turnover in the shape of a Cornish pasty), and ‘Isle of Wight pudding’ (a steamed pudding of uncertain origin containing apple, currants, nutmeg and candied citrus peel).
Whilst recipes exist for some of these Isle of Wight specialities, others have seemingly left no trace at all. ‘Shrove Cakes’ and ‘Hallan Cakes’ for example are recorded in dialect dictionaries as being made on the Island for special days of the year but what they looked like, their flavour or ingredients seem not to have been recorded – and unless new information comes to light, they may be lost forever.
To find out more about doughnuts, vlitters and other lost Isle of Wight foods, see James Rayner’s latest book Historic Isle of Wight Food, available from shops across the Island including It’s About Thyme, The Little Nook, Babushka Books, Waterstone’s, The Garlic Farm and Caffe Isola.