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Colston Bun

January 10, 2011

Have you ever heard of a Colston Bun? I hadn’t either, until fairly recently, when I stumbled upon it in Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food. It’s a traditional Bristol bread: a lightly enriched sweet dough bun with spices, dried fruit and candied peel, shaped into rounds and divided into 8 segments by cutting part way through before baking.

As things go, it’s not all that remarkable – a fruit bun in a different shape. Other than Bristol’s legacy as a port, and the resulting influx of spices into the city, there’s not that much about the Colston Bun which reflects the surrounding area. But the fact I didn’t know about it has given me pause for thought. What other forgotten treasures are waiting to be rediscovered?

Inspired by the Colston Bun, I have set myself a project for the year – to collect and collate whatever information I can on Bristol’s food history – the producers, produce and regional specialities which mark it out from Manchester or Newcastle or Truro.

Today’s ‘Modern British’ food as it appears in gastropub menus is a lazy, ignorant cobble of St John hand-me-downs and casual loans from further south when the mood suits – risotto, pasta, béarnaise and dauphinoise all feature heavily in menus that pride themselves on Britishness. In order to cook British food with any sort of integrity, it is right to focus not just on local produce, but to do that in tune with local growing conditions and tradition. And so using Old Spot pork or cider in Yorkshire is as incoherent as serving French chestnuts in Exeter, or Cornish fish in Whitby: it is important not that the cherry was grown locally, but that the cherry should be grown locally. A country as diverse in landscape as Britain cannot be completely united under one set of foods, when the microclimates of each area do so clearly demarcate what can be produced.

Bristol is right in the heart of cider and dairy country, so it’ll be no surprise to find a history of cheese, cider and apple snaffling piggies, but I am excited by the prospect of uncovering new ingredients or dishes that reflect the produce of an area. And you can bet that what I find will be on the menu at the supper club or the blog.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2011 12:34

    Such a fabulous idea. Good luck with it! I am going to have a think and see if i can come up with anything.
    My immediate thought, thinking of food of my childhood, is that Bristol’s multi-cultural heritage is so strong. I grew up in Easton so there was a lot of Jamaican and Indian food around. Perhaps this confuses the issue, but it would be great to acknowledge this, to see versions of the same using local ingredients perhaps…
    I’m not really helping, am I?!

    • January 11, 2011 12:37

      It’s definitely a good point – more than many places Bristol has had a long history of outside influences via the port, so it will be interesting to see whether that has become intrinsically ingrained in the fabric of the food culture, rather than separate and alongside, if you get my meaning.

  2. January 18, 2011 10:15

    Great idea – happy to help in any way I can if needed! 🙂


  3. Steve permalink
    September 6, 2012 17:48

    Nothing special about the Colston bun. Do your research better: check our the Colston society, Sir Edward Colston was a founder of the City along with Canyngs (pronounced Cannings), Francombe and Cartwright

  4. Flowergirl permalink
    September 25, 2012 20:09

    They just mentioned them on the Great Britain Bake Off. As a Colston’s Girl, I’m now reminded of these from school and looking for a recipe!

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