Hampshire hogs are allowed by all for the best bacon, being our Westphalian, and which, well ordered, have deceived the most judicious palates. -- Thomas Fuller, 17th century writer
Hampshire in southern England is an agricultural county. Primarily arable, traditionally sheep farming on the Hampshire Downs, watercress in the valleys.
Water mills were used for milling. Fine examples of water mills can be found near the source of the River Whitewater (not far from Greywell), in the centre of Winchester (National Trust, leased as a Youth Hostel), and a little way downstream.
Watercress was an important industry, the chalk waters ideal for the watercress beds. The watercress was shipped to London by stagecoach, then train. So important was the trade that it had its own trains and the line was known as the Watercress Line.
After the 1950s, watercress production slumped. In recent years there has been a revival in watercress growing. The line between Winchester and Alton was closed, then reopened as a private line, the Watercress Line, between Arlesford and Alton.
Arlesford was, and still is, the centre of the watercress industry. In May 2006, Arlseford held a watercress festival to celebrate all things watercress. Another important watercress area is around Basing in the north of the county.
Watercress can be used in almost anything, for example watercress sausages, but very popular is watercress soup.
Fresh watercress can be found at farmers markets in Hampshire and Surrey. It sells out early.
Unlike Kent, Hampshire has never been important for orchards, but was once important for strawberries and associated jam making.
The Hampshire Hog was an ideal animal for pork, with many pork butchers in Hampshire. Although many said it was the way the animal was butchered, rather than the animal itself. The animals would free roam.
The writer and political commentator William Cobbett was highly complimentary on Hampshire pork and the way in which the animals were prepared:
There are two ways of going to work to make bacon, in the one you take off the hair by scalding. This is the practice in most parts of of England and all over America. But the Hampshire way, and the best way, is to burn the hair off. There is a great deal of differences in the consequences. The first method slackens the skin, opens all the pores of it, makes it loose and flabby by drawing out the roots of the hair. The second tightens the skin in every part, contracts all the sinews and veins in the skin, makes the fitch a solider thing, and the skin a better protection to the meat. The taste of the meat is very different from that of scalded hog, and to this it was that Hampshire owed its reputation for excellence.
William Cobbett grew up as a farmer just over the border in Farnham in Surrey. What was his farmhouse, is now a public house, The William Cobbett.
Brock's Farm Shop, the farm shop cum butcher at the Farnham end of Alton, is highly recommended.
The Royal hunting ground of the New Forest, established by William I and now a National Park, has for centuries been a source of venison and other game.
In recent years, a few cheese-makers have become established, their excellent cheeses on sale at local farmers markets.
Hampshire had several important regional breweries, all bar Gales, were taken over by national chains, then closed.
Strong in Portsmouth were taken over by Whitbread then closed. Brickwood in Portsmouth were taken over by Whitbread then closed. Crowley in Alton taken over by Watney then closed.
Gales Ales is the only regional Hampshire brewery left. Try the Seahorse, over the border in Shalford in Surrey, a Gales Ales pub.
In recent years, a number of small breweries producing quality beer have been established. Bottles of their beer can be found at farmers markets.
Alton has similar water to Burton-on-Trent, thus ideal for brewing light ales.
Alton was renowned for its beer. William Makepeace Thackeray in Vanity Fair tells of Joseph Sedley's journey from London to Southampton:
At Alton he stepped out of the carriage at his servant's request, and imbibed some of the ale for which the place is famous.
Alton was the centre not only for brewing beer, but also the centre of the hops growing area.
Hops used to extend from Alton, through Surrey and into Kent. Now only a handful of experimental field trials remain around Alton.
With the 'advantages' of global warming, several vineyards have been established. Bottles of wine from these small vineyards and wineries can be found on local farmers markets.
The dry and medium white is worth drinking, forget the red, the climate is not suitable.
Hampshire rivers are important for trout and salmon. Medieval fish ponds were used for rearing local stocks of fish.
Winchester was traditionally an important market town. In recent years a farmers market was established in Winchester. It has grown rapidly to become one of the largest farmers markets in the country.
Farmers markets are now held all over Hampshire. None are in the same league as Winchester. The irregular market held in Farnborough with only a handful of stalls is pathetic. A far better farmers market is found over the border at Guildford in Surrey (first Tuesday of the month). There are also excellent farmers markets just over the border in Surrey in Farnham and at Secretts Farm in Milford.
The mistake made with the Hampshire farmers markets is to fix them all at the same time of day, regardless of location and local circumstances. Holding an irregular market is not the way to build up custom.
Farmers markets provide an outlet for the many small, specialist food suppliers.
For many farmers and small producers, farmers markets are a lifeline. Were it not for the farmers markets they would literally not be in business.
That is why it is important that we support farmers markets. Equally important that the farmers and producers get their act together and get it right, they cannot simply take to public for granted.
In mid-summer Hampshire holds a two-week food festival, the Hampshire Food Festival, to celebrate Hampshire Fare.
The Alton Food Festival is one of many events held to celebate local produce as part of the Hampshire Food Festival.