I’ve dropped many a clanger in my time but never eaten one – until now. If you’ve never heard of the Bedfordshire Clanger think of a Cornish pasty shaped more like a sausage roll with a bit of fruit or jam at one end for dessert. That’s the clanger, not to be confused with a similar speciality from the neighbouring county, the Buckinghamshire Bacon Badger.
I came across it in the café at Wrest Park, in Beds, run by English Heritage, which charged £4.95 for something not that much bigger than a sausage roll and twice the price it is available at Gunns’ the bakers of Sandy who made it.
My version was a suet crust filled mostly with minced lamb and potatoes and, at one end, a spoonful of plum jam. There didn’t appear to be a pastry ‘bulkhead’ between meat and fruit although the pudding end was marked by two or three striations on the pastry. It was fun to eat although a little bland.
That great recorder of English regional food, Dorothy Hartley, had nothing to say on the clanger but there is quite a bit in Traditional Foods of Britain (Prospect Books 2004). It seems the clanger has had a culinary journey. It was originally boiled, not baked, and was rather like a meat roly poly with no separate compartment containing fruit. Instead dried fruit would be studded in the pastry. A clanger meant wives could concentrate on work, particularly straw hat making, while supper was bubbling away throughout the day. There were similar dishes like the Buckinghamshire bacon badger or Leicester Quorn bacon roll.
The meat which went into the clanger depended on how poor you were and what you could get. I have seen references to the leftovers of the Sunday roast and to bits of bacon as well as beef skirt or steak. At some point it became a two course meal.
I suspect the clanger I ate at Wrest Park was pretty effete compared to the original. A source from Maulden in Bedfordshire talks of a photograph “of four farm labourers sitting outside the Half Moon pub in Pepperstock sitting on a bench holding clangers over their shoulders like rifles.”
Gunns’ has been largely responsible for reviving the clanger, now available in a medley of flavours, after taking the decision to switch from boiling to baking. Bakery boss David Gunns says the boiled version was sticky and this might be a clue to the origin of the name clanger. It could possibly derive from the dialect word ‘claggy,’ the perfect description of the texture of any roly poly or plum duff.