Would you slice a roll, a bun, a bap or a cob to make a sandwich? And would you brew, mask, mash, wet or soak a mug of tea to go with it? We all need food and drink to survive, but the words we use to describe certain foods are often unique to the place we are from and its local dialect.

Here we explore a tasty morsel of the words, processes and utensils Harold Orton and his fieldworkers recorded in the Survey of English Dialects. Together they give us a valuable insight into language and life in a bygone age, but you may also find a few words and dishes that have survived the test of time.

A person carrying a bottle and a basket

‘A farmer’s wife brings a basket of food and a bottle of rum for the farmers’ ( LAVCPHOP0628)

Hearty grub

Many of the locations Orton and his fieldworkers visited were agricultural. Therefore, words relating to food and drink tend to focus around cereal and dairy-based products, meat preservation, home-brewed drinks and traditional dishes.

A person sitting beside an old-fashioned oven

‘Leaded Range in Dales Cottage’ (LAVC/PHO/P0362) by Werner Kissling.

Bill and Bob in Ribchester, Lancashire described a typical weekly diet of potatoes, onions, bacon, poddish (porridge), blue milk (skimmed milk) and treacle-cake (bread and treacle). Bill also described baking oatcakes over an open fire using a spittle (a wooden baking shovel) and cratch (drying rack).

Broths were mentioned in all locations and many informants described pies and stews containing a range of fillings including meat, vegetables and barley. Most were recorded as being made on an open fire or kitchen range, many examples of which were photographed or illustrated.

The following examples of hearty fayre were contributed by informants. Do any of these make your mouth water?

Frumenty or frummety – a thick-boiled grain dish (Yorkshire and Staffordshire)

Butty dip (Staffordshire) – bread with meat fat (also known as bread and dripping in Yorkshire and the north-east)

Strew – boiled sheep’s head with veg, seasoning and dumplings (Yorkshire)

Slingers – dish of bread, butter, salt, pepper and boiled water (Devon) or bread soaked in tea (Dorset)

Hasty pudding – grain or flour cooked in milk or water (County Durham)

Water whelps – dough baked in water and eaten with treacle (Leeds)

Cow pie – made with ‘beestings’ custard (made with the milk of a newly calved cow) (Yorkshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire)


If you have a sweet tooth, you may prefer a slice of the spiced cakes described, including parkin (Yorkshire), yule loaf (Staffordshire) and yule dough – currant bread made into the shape of a man (County Durham). 

Handwritten notes in an SED response book

'Notes [Prees Response Book]' (LAVC/SED/2/2/11/2/10) by Donald Sykes.

Have we whetted your appetite?

Have we whet your appetite or are you hungry for more? Click on the links below to find out about bread, butter and cheese making and the very best in home brew.