British Food

Recreating Isle of Wight Rosemary Cakes

The History

When the writer Hubert Garle made his driving tour of the Isle of Wight at the start of the 20th century, he came across a funeral at Shorwell and described how the guests afterwards returned home to eat ‘cakes flavoured with rosemary‘. The next day, it was also common to send ‘half a dozen of these cakes wrapped in a white cloth, to the clergyman, as a memento of the deceased’.

What exactly these rosemary cakes were like is hard to tell, from the few descriptions available it seems they were fairly small, possibly round and sometimes included spices. The reason for using rosemary as the flavouring was due to the local culture – on the Island, as in other places, the herb was especially associated with remembrance and traditions such as scattering rosemary in graves or carrying sprigs alongside a funeral procession were maintained on the Isle of Wight well into the Victorian era and later.

Using the clues available, the following recipe tries to reconstruct how these special rosemary-flavoured cakes may have looked and tasted.

How to Make Them

A stack of traditional Isle of Wight Rosemary Cakes on a wooden board

Makes about 16

500g strong white bread flour, sifted
80g unsalted butter, cubed
4 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped with stalks removed
150g grated cheese
250ml whole milk
2 medium eggs
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

  1. Sift 450g of the flour into a mixing bowl, add the cubed butter and rub together with your fingers until it becomes the consistency of breadcrumbs. Next, add the rosemary, eggs, cheese, salt and baking powder and mix with a wooden spoon.
  2. Add 125ml of the milk and gently turn it into the mixture with your spoon to combine. Add as much of the remaining milk as needed, a little at a time, working by hand, to form a soft sticky dough.
  3. Use half the remaining flour to dust your work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Flatten the dough, sprinkling the remaining 25g of flour on top. Fold the dough in half, turn it 90 degrees and continue folding and rotating until all the flour is mixed in and the dough becomes smooth.
  4. Now either divide the mixture into equal-sized pieces and roll into balls, OR roll the whole dough with a rolling pin until it’s 2.5cm thick and stamp out rounds with a pastry cutter or the rim of a small glass (this method will create a more scone-like appearance).
  5. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment, brush the tops with milk or beaten eggs and sprinkle a little extra cheese on top.
  6. Bake at 220C for 15 minutes until risen and golden. Tap the base of each and listen for a hollow sound to know they’re done. Cool on a wire rack and serve in a white cloth for extra authenticity.
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