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A bit of a rum do......

I’d class Cumberland Rum Nicky as perhaps one of the most commonly known of our historical regional dishes, which is why I originally had no intention of including it in the column.

However, when discussing the dishes that we could do for our most recent photoshoot with Phil Rigby, with my sous chef Will, I mentioned that we could maybe do a Rum Nicky for the December article as an alternative to more traditional Christmas mince pies.

As it turned out Will, had never heard of Cumberland Rum Nicky, so there was a definite need to put that right. And as you can see from the accompanying pictures, he not only now knows what it is, but also how to make it, including all of the skills needed for the art of latticing pastry!

Whilst Rum Nicky isn’t specifically a Christmas dish, it does do the job quite well and sits rather well on the festive table. It’s actually more of a celebration dish, but it does double up quite nicely and can be served up at any one of the numerous festivals held throughout the year.

The ingredients needed for the dish all originally came into the county though the harbour at Whitehaven. Although this alone didn’t mean that they would have been readily available to the common folk of the county, mainly because their cost through official would have been far beyond what the majority of working people could afford, even for special occasion or celebration.

Instead, the real heroes behind dishes like Rum Nicky and Cumbrian Gingerbread are the regions infamous smugglers. To me, they are in many ways like, a form of Cumbrian Robin Hood, although they didn’t necessarily steal from the rich, it was more about the deals they did with their employees to get goods and produce into the hands of common people before the customs man could raise revenue from them. Apart from Cumbria’s most notorious smuggler ‘Lantly Slee,’ little is written or even really known about the smugglers based along Cumbria’s coast who operated between Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.

Although you can find evidence of them if you know where to look, including St. Michael’s church yard in Bowness on Solway, where you will find the final resting place of Thomas Stowell, a young Manx smuggler. Stowell was part of the crew of a boat that was intercepted by the King’s Boat from Skinburness, during the chase he was wounded by gunfire and later died of his wounds. His grave lies alongside an unmarked grave belonging six other Solway coast smugglers. The legacy of many of these people lives on across the county, through place names, trails (there’s even a long-distance walk called the Smugglers Route, which is worth exploring) and of course even food.

Though the exact origin of Rum Nicky is unknown, it’s believed that the name comes from the top traditionally being a solid piece of pastry that is then `nicked’ to allow the steam out. However, I’ve always thought that it’s a little bit ironic that the reason that dish has a name in the first place has been removed from the recipe, to be replaced with what has become the iconic lattice that makes it stand out. I thought about making it with the nick’s but then I changed my mind, thinking it would be far more interesting watching Will have a go at lattice pastry!

You’ll notice I’ve included dates in my Rum Nicky, which are the essential ingredient and I’ve also added figs, (which are my favourite dried fruit) and some apples. Although there are many different recipes, and no single one is correct, I hope you enjoy mine or at least enjoy playing with the recipe to make your own version.

Cumberland Rum Nicky

Ingredients Filling:

150g chopped dates

100g dried figs

100g diced apple

50g diced crystallised ginger

50ml Jefferson’s rum

50g dark Sugar

50g diced unsalted butter

Ingredients Pastry:

200g plain flour

30g icing sugar

100g diced unsalted butter

1 egg beaten

Cold water


Begin by making the filling. Place all the ingredients except the butter in a bowl, mix together and set aside.

For the pastry mix the flour and sugar together in a bowl and add the cold diced butter, using your fingertips to rub until the butter is no longer lumpy and you have a mixture resembling breadcrumbs.

Make a well in the centre of the flour sugar and butter mixture and add the beaten egg and 3 tablespoons of water. Work the flour mixture around the liquid until its incorporated and a sticky dough (add more water if needed) then knead until smooth. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Remove the dough from the fridge and cut it so you have two pieces with one of them being twice the size of the other.

Roll out the largest piece of dough and line a fluted 22cm tart case with it.

Spread the filling into the tart case and dot the butter on top.

For the lattice – I would pay a visit to YouTube to learn how to make a pastry lattice then follow those instructions with the remaining pastry.

Place this on top of the filling.

At this point you can use an egg wash to give the lattice a golden finish.

Place in a preheated oven at 170°C for 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the base is cooked.

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