Wakes were originally feasts held the night before the dedication of a church, the date being celebrated annually with a parish fair. By the 17th century these had become riotous affairs held in the church yards with ‘indecent and scandalous behaviour’, as an 18th-century historian noted, and were for a time banned by Cromwell. Over the years, wakes expanded from occasions for eating, drinking and behaving badly to big fairs like that held each year on All Saints Night in Wakefield in Yorkshire and Wakes Week is still a popular holiday week in the north of England.
Hindle Wakes is a very ancient dish indeed, consisting of cold poached chicken stuffed with prunes and flavoured with vinegar, sugar, mace and cinnamon. It would originally have been made with a boiling fowl, which would have been poached for 4–5 hours, but is just as nice with a free-range bird simmered for about an hour.
The day before: reserving 12 whole prunes Tor garnish, coarsely chop the rest and mix in a bowl with the breadcrumbs and suet. Season with cinnamon, nutmeg, parsley, sage or dried mixed herbs, salt and pepper and mix together with the juice of 1 of the lemons.
Stuff the chicken with this mixture and sew up tightly. Put it in a saucepan with the celery, onion, carrots and bay leaves. Cover with cold water and add the salt, wine vinegar and muscovado sugar. Bring to the boil, skim, lower the heat and simmer gently for 1 hour. Turn off the heat, cover and leave to cool overnight in the broth.
Remove the chicken from the broth, skin and cut it into neat serving pieces, returning the bones to the broth and reserving the stuffing. Return the stock to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for 2 hours.
Pass the stock through a sieve into a clean pan, discarding the bones and aromatics and reduce the poaching liquid at a rapid boil to about
Spoon the stuffing along the centre of a serving dish and arrange the chicken around it. As the reduced broth starts to set, spoon it over the chicken.
Grate over the zest of the lemon and put in the fridge for the stock to set to a jelly.
Just before serving, garnish the dish with the reserved prunes, cut in half, and the lemon quarters, and sprinkle over some chopped parsley.
© 1998 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.