Friday, 29 February 2008

More Yorkshire food blogs

Eating Leeds is great. It's by a couple of young metropolitan types (or so I infer) who write beautifully, take really nice photos of the stuff they cook and seem to be in the know about food.

Yorkshire Deli, by some people who run an online store and a cafe and shop in Ilkley, is very informative and goes into detail on particular ingredients. They should post more often (hint).

Paganum is a Yorkshire Dales food blog by a producer.

Eat In Yorkshire is well classy. It's by the former food and drink editor of Yorkshire Life magazine (get a load of the January posting, where she tells you all about her differences of opinion with the editor) and links to an archive of her restaurant reviews.

My top foodie mistakes #1: crispy duck

Or, buying spring roll wrappers instead of pancakes.

Jamie's Dinners by Jamie Oliver (God bless him) tells you how to make crispy duck. It's easy. You bung a duck (or in my case, a couple of breasts) in a hot oven where it crisps up all by itself without you having to do anything clever. You cut up some cucumber and spring onion. You make some plum sauce by boiling up plums with sugar, soy sauce and pinches of chilli powder and five spice. You shred the duck with a couple of forks.

Then you unwrap the pancakes. They appear to be made of plastic. The instructions tell you to dip them in hot water. So you do. They soften, and suddenly become very, very sticky. You drop one. It folds up. You peel it apart, and then the corner folds into itself again, and sticks. Something seems to be wrong. You have a hunch that making a pile of them in a bamboo steamer would probably not be a good idea.

In the end I served them all pre-filled, on a plate, which misses the point of crispy duck. More importantly, it was like eating crispy duck in plastic wrapping. It was one of those meals where you start off thinking 'this isn't too bad' but as the meal goes on you think 'actually, this is really quite awful' and in the end, 'I don't think I can face another.' We ended up unwrapping them and just eating the duck. Which, as it came from Loose Birds of Harome (bought at Murton farmers' market) had lived a full and happy life and was delicious.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The Farm

I've been reading The Farm by Richard Benson.

The author grew up in an East Yorkshire farming family but moved to London to be a journalist. Later, when things got so bad that the farm had to be sold, he came back to help his parents with the sale. It's the story of what life was like in a farming family in the second half of the 20th century, and also how his parents managed to adapt when they couldn't carry on with the only way of life they knew.
It's funny as well as sad and he writes about Yorkshire very well. And it answers a question that has been bothering me for a while: why are there so many tractor magazines in our local newsagents?

You can read an article he wrote in The Observer about the food they used to eat. Pork features heavily.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Old men on the bus

There were two old men on the bus today talking about gardening. One of them said, 'My germination rate improved considerably when I got a heater for my greenhouse.'

Never assume that local food is necessarily low-carbon....

Monday, 11 February 2008

Roast beef at Beningbrough

It thinks it's spring. The chives are snaking up in their pot and the mint is already an inch high. There are crocuses on the lawn and the birds are singing non-stop.

It's the first time it's ever been spring on my birthday, so we decided to celebrate with a trip to Beningbrough Hall, a National Trust house on the edge of the Ouse just west of York.

Naturally I have a foodie ulterior motive. The National Trust has enthusiastically embraced the local food agenda in its restaurants, along with child-friendliness - baby changing rooms, plastic bibs and bowls shaped like frogs, and spectacular bead mazes to play with. Not only are these big enough for a one year old and a two and a half year old to play on at the same time, they're too big for either child to snatch. (We have an ongoing issue with snatching at the moment.)

We joined the Trust in the autumn when we were temporarily based in Cambridge. Mainly it was for the food - rare breed sausage sandwiches at Wimpole Hall, Anglo-Saxon root vegetable hotpot with dumplings at Sutton Hoo, a delicious pork belly confit at Ickworth and fidget pie at Anglesey Abbey (twice). Their restaurants do that thing that Gordon Ramsay always insists on in Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares of not having too much on the menu, just a few interesting and individual dishes cooked as well as possible.
In fact, there wasn't a lot of choice at all at Beningbrough. If you didn't want a sandwich or vegetable hotpot it was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding served with vegetables from the kitchen garden. We had already looked round the garden and the cabbages were truly massive, taller than my two year old. You could have built an emergency wilderness shelter out of a couple of leaves.

Kitchen garden at Beningbrough

Fortunately the chef had resisted the temptation to cook cabbage, and the meal came with some tender cubes of swede and carrots nicely spiced with (I think) caraway. The beef was organic and tough but flavourful. It was one of those meals that isn't in the least bit lacking for being perfectly seasonal. And amazingly, for Feb, we ate it outside. My husband just had a Wensleydale cheese sandwich - his choice....

Sunday, 10 February 2008

7 reasons why Yorkshire food is the greatest

For some reason, culinary Yorkshire doesn't seem to be on the map as much as I think it ought to be. This is a list of things that I think are great about Yorkshire food.

1. Offal has always been in fashion.

And not just any offal. In Yorkshire it's not just soft things like chicken livers and the odd kidney. Here, it's tripe and brains.

2. In Yorkshire, farmers' markets are not poncey or ridiculously expensive.

How could they be? They're full of farmers. They first time we went to the York Farmers' Market at Murton I thought I must have got my wires crossed, because there were people outside selling chicken feed and you have to walk past a ring where they auction cattle. Besides, Yorkshire people are notoriously mean - as M.C.F. Morris wrote in 1928,

'The love of bargaining is a very noticeable feature in the Yorkshireman's character, and in that work it is not easy to get the better of him ; he fairly revels in the contest. He enjoys it as the ordinary man would in playing some absorbing game.'

NB. This may not apply in Harrogate.

3. In Yorkshire they still have proper shops.

Butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers.... for all those times when Waitrose and Aldi between them fail to satisfy.

4. Yorkshire has the best reasonably priced restaurants.

Obviously there is no Fat Duck or Gordon Ramsay round here, but Yorkshire fills 36 pages of the 2008 Good Food Guide , with a meal at most of the listed restaurants £30 or under. OK, it's a big place, but the whole of East Anglia only gets 28, and most of them cost way more. It's a good range, too - trendy city brasseries, gastropubs or just really really good fish and chips.

5. Fish and chips

You can get fish and chips anywhere, but try getting some better than the ones you'll find on the Yorkshire coast - at the Magpie Cafe in Whitby or the Golden Grid at Scarborough.

6. Yorkshire is full of local producers

It helps being a county with a load of agricultural land, of course. There are fish from the coast, sheep from the Dales, cheese from Wensleydale and Swaledale.... Near us there are happy pigs and plenty of cattle. Further west is the sinister-sounding Rhubarb Triangle (enter at your own risk).

7. Afternoon Tea

Maybe it's the climate, but afternoon tea is taken seriously here. You can expect to get a proper pot of good strong tea and no-one will give you a funny look if you ask for some extra hot water to adjust the strength/make it go further. Top of all afternoon tea experiences is Betty's at York or Harrogate. If you can't face the queue, at least get some cakes from the patisserie to take home. Yorkshire curd tarts are the local speciality, and no longer made from cow's colostrum.

There must be something in the food around here....

At some point when I was pregnant with my second child, I suddenly started getting obsessed with food.

It might have been something to do with hormones. Or to do with reading the Joanna Blythman book Bad Food Britain , which made me think I didn't want to ever eat a meal consisting of a Peperami and 4 packets of crisps again. Maybe it was some primeval regressive anti-feminist urge to do with feeding my family, or the boredom of maternity leave, or the River Cottagey local food Zeitgeist that was sweeping the middle classes. (All of a sudden simply everyone had an organic box!)

Whatever the reason, I started cooking. I started going to farmers' markets and butcher's shops and greengrocers and ordering organic boxes and growing herbs. I became very boring. My husband humoured me, assuming it was only a phase, drove me to the farmers' markets and ate the organic cabbages.

But I stopped being pregnant, and was still obsessed. So he thought maybe when I went back to work I'd be back to normal. Instead the obsession had only got worse and every spare minute, when I wasn't working, was spent fantasising about food. And we were eating really, really well, for not that much money. And something struck me.

It was because we were living in Yorkshire.

A lot of the things Joanna Blythman says about British food - the lack of local individuality, the shortage of decent independent shops, the replacement of authenticity by chemistry and taste by visual appeal - had rung true with me in general. But round here (on the border between the East and North Ridings) they're amazingly easy to avoid. We found countless fabulous small producers, excellent restaurants and intriguing suppliers. But more importantly, because this is Yorkshire, they were surprisingly cheap.

The point of this blog is to celebrate Yorkshire food and share some of our discoveries. It will also allow me to bore on and on at length about food into cyberspace, thus releasing my husband from the burdensome duty of listening (and allowing him more free time to do the washing up.)
I hope anybody who reads it (if anybody does) will feel free to add their own tips, links and favourite Yorkshire-foodie suppliers.