Hindle Wakes is a cold chicken dish for buffets and the like and has a long history. It is essentially a chicken stuffed with a prune mixture, simmered in a stock made of vinegar and water, cooled and smothered with a lemon sauce. Other variations include simmering in lemon juice stock and roasting the stuffed bird as a hot dish, which sounds much nicer.
The origin of the dish is obscure; some think it originally came over to England – Lancashire to be precise – from Flemish weaver immigrants in the 1330s. Others (including Jane) think it is a typical English medieval recipe; it being heavy on the herbs and dried fruit is suggestive, but I cannot find anything similar in my old facsimiles. I suppose it will remain a mystery.
Did the Flemish bring Hindle Wakes to North-East England?
The name Hindle Wakes is equally strange. Several modern cook books say that it comes from the name of the Lancashire town of Hindle Wakes. This all sounds good until you check an atlas and find there is no such place as Hindle Wakes in Britain, never mind Lancashire. A friend of Jane Grigson’s reckons that the name is a bastardisation of Hen de la Wake. “No etymologist would support a folk explanation of this kind”, says Jane.
I find no mention of the phrase Hindle Wakes in literature searches until the late 1910s where there is suddenly a glut of them because in 1912 a playwright called Stanley Houghton wrote a play entitled Hindle Wakes which was set in the imaginary Lancashire town Hindle where wakes would occur at certain times of the year. A wake in this context means the lookouts people would set up the night before a large church festival at their parish, presumably to catch thieves. How it got attached to this strange dish I do not know.
It's still going strong...
Anyway, on with the rather long recipe…
For the stuffing:
Soak one pound of unstoned prunes in water or tea overnight. The next day remove the stones from the prunes, setting the neatest third aside for later. Now you need to crack the prune stones to get to the almond-scented kernels. I have found the best way to do this is to place around a dozen stones in a freezer bag, squeeze the air out, seal it and then crack the stones sharply with a hammer. This stops the sticky stones and precious kernels from pinging around the kitchen. Chop the kernels and the rest of the prunes and put in a bowl along with: 8 ounces of slightly stale breadcrumbs; four ounces of chopped fresh beef suet; and half a teaspoon each of finely chopped sage, parsley, marjoram and thyme. Mix them well with your hand and season with salt, pepper, a tablespoon of brown sugar and one or two tablespoons of malt vinegar. Mix again.
Stuff a five to six pound roasting or boiling chicken (you could also use a capon) both inside the body cavity and the neck. Using cocktail sticks, close the two ends of the bird. I found that I could only fit in around half of the stuffing so I rolled the remainder into balls and froze them for future dinners.
To cook the fowl:
Put the bird in a good-sized stock pot that will fit it reasonably closely and add the following ingredients: 2 level tablespoons of salt, a stick of celery, one large unpeeled onion studded with three cloves, a bay leaf, four parsley springs, four thyme sprigs, six tablespoons malt vinegar and a tablespoon of soft dark brown sugar. Add around 6 pints of water – you can leave an inch or so of chicken above the water if it’s a roaster; you’ll need to cover completely if a boiler.
Bring slowly to a boil, skimming any scum that may rise to the top. Cover the pot and simmer the chicken very gently for between 1 ½ and 3 ½ hours “according to its antiquity”. Mine was done after 1 ½ hours. It is very important you cook the chicken on a very low simmer indeed; scalding might be a better word to describe the water, you should only see the barest of gulps and bubbles.
When cooked, remove from the stock and allow to cool, covered with a layer of foil. You’ll need the stock for the sauce, so don’t chuck it away…
For the sauce:
In a small saucepan, mix together five fluid ounces of double (heavy) cream, the juice and grated zest of a lemon and a seasoning of white pepper. Bring to a boil and let it simmer for five minutes or so. In another saucepan, make a roux by melting ½ ounce of butter and when it had finished sizzling stir in a healthy tablespoon of flour. Cook for a couple of minutes. Whisk in five fluid ounces of milk and half a pint of the stock. Simmer for twenty minutes until the sauce is very thick (I couldn’t get the sauce to go thick even after thirty minutes). Season with more salt and white pepper if needed, then cool covered to stop a skin from forming.
To arrange the dish:
Place the fully-cooled chicken on “a wire rack over some greaseproof paper. Reheat the sauce slightly – it will be solid when cold – so that you can spread it right over the chicken smoothly and evenly. Use a palette knife…” says Grigson. This was impossible for me with the rather runny sauce, so I just put the chicken straight on the serving plate and used a knife to spread the sauce over the chicken. Next, surround the chicken with around eight ounces of thinly sliced ham. Cut a lemon into halves and cut into thin slices. Arrange the slices around the chicken along with the reserved prunes. Finally, a couple of herbs: take a large bunch of parsley and stick it in both ends of the chicken, then scatter with some chive stalks.
#339 Hindle Wakes. What a monster I created! It looked like a cross between something from Fannie Cradock’s 1970s repertoire and the centrepiece to a medieval feast. I have to say, once sliced up it didn’t look too bad. The chicken was cooked to a turn – I think the vinegar in the stock help to tenderise it – and it went wonderfully well with the lemon sauce and prunes that were dotted around the bird. The cold stuffing was rather stodgy though. Mid-way through the recipe for this “superb buffet dish”, Jane does mention that she makes a stuffing from just prunes, kernels and herbs, as the traditional stuffing is too heavy. I felt like it was eating a dish that should have been hot but had cooled down. It’s a tricky one to grade due to the mix of sublime and ridiculous. I’ll sit on the fence with a 5/10.