During the 19th century, the Isle of Wight was famed for its rich and creamy dairy products. A combination of lush grazing and carefully bred cattle combined to create some of the finest milk in the country – with farmers using the best Devon, Alderney and Guernsey cows to continually improve their herds.
The result was a much richer milk and butter than those made from ‘the English cow’, creating a reputation that didn’t only spread locally but internationally too. When the American author of The Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper – landed at Cowes in the 1820s, he was already well aware that the Island was celebrated for the quality of its butter, although being used to added salt back in the States, it took him a while to get used to it.
However, it wasn’t just butter and cream that Islanders made from their milk but desserts too – including one that the Isle of Wight appears to have become renowned for: junket. This ancient milk-based dessert, similar to a panna cotta, is said to take its name from the French word ‘jonquette’ and has existed in Britain since at least the medieval period, remaining strongly associated with the West Country today.
Travel writer George Mogridge praised the dessert, also known as ‘curds and whey’, when he tried it at a thatched cottage at Binstead in the 1840s. Similarly, another author, remembering it from their childhood in Freshwater, would later pen the line: “no one in the world has tasted junket as these island people make it”.
Although the making of junket has died out on the Isle of Wight, it can be recreated today by using existing West Country recipes and historic descriptions of the Island variety. In its simplest form, creating a junket involves mixing rich, whole milk with a flavouring such as rose water or brandy, then setting the mixture with rennet and chilling. Less in keeping with tradition, rum also makes a tasty alternative for the flavouring. Historically junkets were served in a large ceramic bowl known as a ‘basin’, often eaten with fruits such as raspberries and on the Isle of Wight an inch-thick layer of clotted cream was included too.
- 500 ml of whole milk (preferably from Jersey or Guernsey cattle)
- Flavouring such as 1⁄2 tbsp brandy or 1⁄2 tsp orange flower or rosewater
- 1 tbsp caster sugar (optional)
- 1 tsp liquid vegetarian rennet
- Nutmeg or cinnamon to dust
- Clotted cream and/or fruit to serve
- Heat the milk, a generous pinch of nutmeg and any other flavouring in a saucepan to 37°C (body temperature).
- Add the rennet and stir it quickly throughout the mixture before pouring it into a china bowl or individual portion-sized glasses.
- Allow to set for around 15 minutes at room temperature then chill in the fridge for an hour before serving. Dust with nutmeg or cinnamon and serve with clotted cream and fruit.
To find out more about junket and other lost Isle of Wight foods, see James Rayner’s latest book Historic Isle of Wight Food, available at shops across the Island including The Garlic Farm, Medina Books in Cowes and The Little Nook in Newport. Also available online at wightoriginals.com