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Goosnargh Cakes, Lancashire

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As well as being famed for duck , the North Lancashire village of Goosnargh (pronounced Guzna by locals) is known for its shortbready 'cakes'. These are traditionally flavoured with caraway seeds, coriander seeds in powder form, or even both, but the overwhelming taste left in the mouth is of butter, as rich local butter is used in the proportion 2 of butter to 3 of flour in the dough, with plenty of fine sugar used in the mix too - about 1/2 an ounce to every 2 ounces of butter, plus more to dust the tops.

Goosnargh is situated to the north of Preston , at one time a major agricultural centre, and for all the cliched ideas of dark satanic mills lying at the heart of some stunningly beautiful countryside. To the north of the village is the Forest of Bowland , with rich pastureland in the low lying parts, and it is from this area that historically the butter for the so-called cakes would come.

Made in round biscuits about three or four inches in diameter, and up to 1/2 an inch thick, the Goosnargh cake was traditionally a holiday food, associated with Whitsun, and for some with Easter, though why these festivals nobody seems to have a credible theory. Suffice it to say that this area of Lancashire , as many others in the county, stuck to the Catholic faith when most of the rest of the land became Protestant, so perhaps the cakes were at one time associated more directly with those high points of the religious calendar.

Although with so much butter they were definitely a luxury item in times past, they were also a convenient (rather than convenience) food, keeping well for many weeks if carefully stored.

Caraway became a rather fashionable flavouring in the 18th century, so the Goosnargh cake may date from that era, though shortbread has a deeper rooting in British cookery, at least two centuries further
back. Its pleasantly aniseedy flavour is a good foil to the sugary and rich confection, and suits the biscuity crunch of this traditional item far more than the softer cakes where the hard seeds can be an unpleasant surprise for munching teeth.

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