Essex Huffers for Food on the Move
Harvest started last week. Then it rained and harvest stopped. As usual, it looks as though it will be a stop start affair.
During harvest, food is eaten on the move; throughout the day and into the night, empty cold boxes are dumped on the shelf in the grain store and fresh ones grabbed (though
sometimes quite often I get a phone call because the shelf is bare).
Each year I try to find something new to fill the harvest cold boxes and search magazines and the internet for picnic food ideas. Alas, the beautiful looking feather-light sponge cakes and jelly filled glasses set out on checked tablecloths wouldn’t last two minutes being jolted down the fields in a tractor cab.
Food on the move, whether for harvest workers or a day’s walking needs to be robust and filling. At harvest time, food must be easy to pull from the cold box while waiting on the headland for the next load and just as easy to stuff back quickly if the tractor driver needs to rush down the field to the combine . When walking, I like something that will still look appetising after it’s been squashed in the bottom of my rucksack all day. Old-fashioned foods like Scotch Eggs and slabs of fruit cake with a chunk of cheese fit the bill perfectly, though you might think you’d slipped back a few decades were you to glance into the lunch boxes.
Two other favourites for food on the move are Harvest Bars and Huffers. The harvest bars are an adaptation of Celia’s recipe for Butterscotch Bars and are often requested, even by those who don’t usually like sweet things. Huffers are an Essex peculiarity. Perhaps not the only Essex peculiarity.
Huffers are essentially enormous rolls that hold together far better than sandwiches, which have a tendency to fall apart at the first mouthful. I was told that the Essex huffer gets its name from ‘half a’ loaf, but I may have been having my leg pulled. No matter, you can make these the size of half a loaf or smaller and then split them in half horizontally to fill them to your heart’s content.
At our local pubs, the popular fillings seem to be BLT (bacon, lettuce, tomato) and FEB (full English breakfast). I’ve found FEBMTFE (full English breakfast minus the fried egg) a slightly less messy filling for huffers eaten on the move.
The recipe for huffers is given below. Ideally, for an Essex huffer you should use local produce such as Marriages flour and Maldon sea salt, though I don’t suppose they taste any different with substitutions.
200 ml milk
60 g butter, cubed
750 g strong white flour
1½ teasp Doves quick yeast
1½ teasp salt
280 ml cold water
Bring the milk to the boil, stir in the butter until melted and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, put the flour, yeast and salt into a large bowl.
Add the cold water to your buttery milk and stir the warm (hand temperature) liquid into the flour. When all the flour’s incorporated, cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave it for ten minutes, which will make it easier to knead.
Knead until you have a smooth, stretchy dough and then cover and leave to rise in a warm place for about an hour.
When the dough has doubled in size turn it onto a lightly floured work surface, divide in half and make two tight balls. Leave the dough to relax for a minute or so and then roll out into two large rounds about 23 cms diameter.
Cut the rounds into four or six triangles and put into two round 24cm cake tins or onto a greased baking tray. Cover and leave to rise for about 45 minutes.
Sift a little flour over both tins and then bake for 25 minutes at 220C.