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Five Historical Foods Associated with Bath

Whilst many are bound to know about Bath’s literary heritage, its foodie history still remains somewhat under wraps. Enlightening us is Mike James of Savouring Bath Food Tours, with five fascinating titbits about the food that has made Bath the city it is today…

1. Bath Buns

Sweet dough covered in sugar nibs and currants, with a whole sugar cube baked into the bottom. Dr. William Oliver arrived in Bath in the eighteenth century, brought decorum to the city’s medical profession and invented the now legendary Bath Buns. He prescribed his patients to drink up to 60 cups of thermal water per day, but to offset the taste, encouraged them to also eat the buns. They often preferred the buns to the water, so he ended up dealing with different issues altogether!

Try them at… The Thoughtful Bread Company. Duncan Glendinning’s own version of Bath Buns are made in his sustainable bakery in the basement below the Barton Street café. There are also some great lunches and other sweet treats on offer!

2. Bath Oliver Biscuits

While the story behind Dr Oliver and his buns may be somewhat mythical (the buns only really appeared for the first time at London’s Great Exhibition in 1851), it’s more certain that the doctor was responsible for Bath Olivers. They’re plain biscuits, now often eaten with cheese. On his death, Dr Oliver granted the recipe to his coachman, Mr Atkins, who set up shop in Green Street, though they’re no longer made in the city but available at most supermarkets. Chocolate Olivers, however, are a delicious alternative. John Lennon once declined cash for a TV appearance saying he preferred to be paid with the chocolate variety!

Try them at… Nibbles Cheese in the Guildhall Market. Stephane owns the oldest cheesemongers in the city and normally stocks chocolate Olivers around Christmas, but if you smile nicely he might get some in for you!

3. Bath Chaps

An often-forgotten food from Bath’s past no longer made in the city but still made by other butchers in the South West – pork tongue wrapped in pork cheek, marinated in brine with a herbal concoction for around two weeks, then baked and rolled in breadcrumbs. Very rich, but good in sandwiches, and best cooked on the griddle then loaded onto some fresh bread with apple chutney.

Try them at… The Guildhall Deli in the Guildhall Market. They sell them straight from the butchers, but you’ll also find them on the menu at The Garrick’s Head on Saw Close.

4. Sally Lunn’s Buns

Another bun with a mystery! There are various stories as to the identity of Sally Lunn, inventor of these large brioche-style treats, served either sweet or savoury. Was she a French Huguenot escaping to Bath from persecution in Paris, who hid her recipe in an alcove of the tea room on North Parade Passage? Did the name come from a hijacked version of a recipe for a bun pioneered in Bath, which was then sold on the streets of Paris and called a solilemme? Or was there never anyone called Sally Lunn, and is the name simply a corruption of sol et lune, reflecting the colour and shape of the buns on each side? The plot thickens!

Try them at… Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House & Museum, North Parade Passage. Anywhere else is only imitation!

5. Bath Soft Cheese

Not so mysterious is the cheese recipe discovered a few years ago in an old grocer’s recipe book and dating back to the late eighteenth century. Still made by hand just outside Bath in Kelston, Bath Soft Cheese is often compared to brie, but comes in squares and has a lovely mushroom-like flavour, a hint of lemon, and is delightfully creamy. Lord Nelson’s father wrote a letter to his son shortly after the great naval hero’s victory at Copenhagen, saying how he remembered Lord and Lady Hamilton seemed to have enjoyed cream cheese so he was sending them some of Bath’s own. Had he known what his son getting up to with Lady Hamilton he might not have been so encouraging!

Try it at… Paxton & Whitfield on John Street, or in a toastie or sandwich in the Bath Soft Cheese café itself on the A431 in Kelston.

Discover Bath's food and drink hotspots on a Savouring Bath tour. With friendly and knowledgable guides, a variety of sweet and savoury tastings, and the lowdown on all things foodie, from alehouses to modern restaurants, and from patisseries to artisanal coffee, they're a great chance to explore the city flavour by flavour!

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