Friday, 16 May 2008

How fat is Yorkshire?

It seems to be the year for celebrities coming to Yorkshire telling us how to lose weight. First there was Jamie going to Rotherham for his new tv series Ministry of Food. Now it seems Sarah Ferguson has been hanging out in Hull for the last six months trying to help a family lose weight. I'm starting to get quite scared to go to the chippy, in case Gillian McKeith's in there, hiding behind the vinegar and waiting to pounce.

It made me wonder, anyway. Is Yorkshire that much fatter than everyone else? Or have they just come here because Yorkshire folk are plain speaking and salt of the earth and have accents that come over well on tv?

Well, it turns out that Hull is the fattest place in England. Not the rest of Yorkshire - apart from Middlesbrough at number 10, none of the other fattest towns is in the region (though 6 are in Lancashire, so there). However, according to the Yorkshire and Humber Public Health Observatory, which measures these things (presumably from a tower, with a telescope), we are basically fatter than most of the country, as well as doing less exercise and eating fewer fruit and vegetables.

Interestingly, though, it seems from this report that though Yorkshire adults should lay off the roast pork and crackling, Yorkshire and Humberside children actually have the lowest rate of obesity of any of the regions. The reason is obvious. We keep them thin, so they can fit into all the little crevices when we send them down the mines.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Eating winkles with a pin

Spent most of Sunday on the south beach at Bridlington.

Fish and chips taste pretty good in a beach tent when you've been swimming in the North Sea and need some stodge. (Must be the Yorkshire terroir again.)
The 1912 sailing coble the Three Brothers was out in the morning, criss-crossing the bay. After lunch we headed into town to see her in the harbour. One of the fishmongers near the harbour was selling bags of winkles for 80p, complete with pin.
Eating winkles is fun. First you use the pin to flick off the operculum, the shell-like trapdoor that covers the opening. Then you root around with the pin to find the winkle and pull it out. They're narrow and fragile towards the end so you have to go very, very carefully to get them out intact.
It's best not to look too closely at them, because they look gunky and snotty and not the kind of thing you would really want to eat. But the taste is great - delicate, fresh and salty, with none of the rubberiness of whelks or mussels. They slip down like tiny oysters.
The MCS gives winkles a rating of 2, which means 'sustainable - eat more!' As if I needed an excuse.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

How to make perfect crackling

It must be Pork Week on Yorkshire Food. On Sunday I had the most fabulous roast pork, the meat all scented with fennel and garlic and masses of fluffy, crisp crackling. And I made it all by myself!

Scotts have to take some of the credit, since the feast started off as 1kg of their boned and rolled pork loin (£7.50ish). It's not true that you need a big joint to make decent crackling, by the way. Though if you love crackling as much as I do you might need a big one to make enough. I take it for granted you will buy decent pork with fat under the skin.

The rules are not complicated. You don't need to get it out of the fridge yesterday and pour boiling water on it. Honestly, it's this easy.

1. The skin has to be properly scored.

If the butcher hasn't done it already, use a sharp knife or Stanley knife to cut incisions through the rind into the fat. You can be rough and ready because you won't see the scoring when it's cooked. About 5mm-1cm apart is right. Simon Hopkinson explains: 'As the fat melts and starts to bubble under the scored rind, it pushes up between the strips, frazzling them.'

2. It needs to be dry.

If you leave it festering in its plastic bag until just before you need it, it will be soggy and end up like leather. Fridges are dry environments, so you could leave it in there, unwrapped, on a plate. Maybe take it out of the plastic bag an hour or so early and blot it hard with kitchen roll.

3. The oven needs to be hot.

I had mine at 240c for the 20 minute sizzle then turned it down to a positively tepid 220 for another 50 minutes. You don't need to worry about the meat drying out - there's too much fat around for that.

It worked fantastically - 100% of the skin crackled. When I carved, it came off the meat like a big moist, airy, crackling tunnel. I had salted it slightly, which helped with the flavour, and rubbed the ends of the meat with a mixture of crushed garlic and fennel seeds. Because it is Yorkshire in spring, I served it with rhubarb, which turns out to beat apple sauce hands down - it is just so much pinker and fruitier.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

So what's really in a Yorkshire salad?

Have you ever heard of Yorkshire salad?

I hadn't, until last Sunday when we had lunch in the cafe at Sledmere House. Sledmere is a decent eighteenth century pile in the East Riding. Like all the best country houses, what you see isn't actually what you get - Sledmere was gutted by fire in 1911. It was carefully rebuilt, however, and stands today as a proper country house and tourist attraction, with a play area, extensive gift shop and very nice cafe.

Now, a Yorkshire salad, according to the menu, is a salad with York ham and piccalilli. This works very well. While psychologically, piccalilli may evoke Boxing Day and the dried-up crusty bits around the rim of a jar that's only opened once a year, it's actually a lovely thing to have with ham. Its mustardy, vinegary bite cuts through the fat sweetness of the ham very nicely. This was also the largest portion of ham I'd ever seen - if I'd laid it out flat it would have covered half the table. Great value. I'd recommend it.

So when I got home I googled Yorkshire salad. Was this something Sledmere had invented, or had I been missing something? Was this one of the world's great salads, recently pushed to the sidelines by upstarts Caesar, Waldorf and ni├žoise?

I didn't get an awful lot of hits. On the Sheffield forum (Sheffield has a forum?) Banjo Griner enthused about eating Yorkshire salad with Yorkshire pudding - 'That's finely diced onion and cucumber steeped in vinegar by the way. Very traditional way of serving Yorkies.' and Supertyke agreed: 'My dear old mum used to love yorkshire salad B.G. - And it really is a tasty way to eat yorkies - (puddings not dogs!!) though it doesn't particularly sound appetising - folks should try it...'

Elsewhere in cyberspace, Alison Hammond gave a recipe - lettuce, onions, mint, sugar and vinegar.

I can't help thinking some combination of these recipes is called for. Caesar salad has its croutons, so how about serving Sledmere-style salad with a Yorkshire pudding on top?

Friday, 2 May 2008

Stand by your ham

I had an email today from the Pigs Are Worth It campaign, because I signed their petition for higher prices to be paid to farmers for pork.
The problem is that feed costs are almost twice as high as they were a year ago. However, as the campaign reports,
'Due to price pressure from supermarkets, farmers are now being paid around £1.10 per kg for a pig that now costs them £1.44 per kg to produce. For every pig a farmer rears and sells, he is likely to lose over £20.'
The campaign is asking supermarkets,
'to pay an extra 34p per kg to help preserve British pig farming. If this price
rise were passed on to shoppers, it would only mean between 7p and 17p on the
pack price of typical pork products.'
I have every sympathy with British farmers, and it's not that I personally mind paying extra for the higher welfare pork which is produced in this country. However, there is one thing about this campaign that sets my teeth on edge. This is, that the way it is pitched buys right into the supermarkets' claim that they have no alternative to charging the prices they do.
We all know that supermarkets make massive profits. In 2006 Tesco reported profits of £2.2 billion - that's around £34 for every man, woman and child in the country, or £136 for my immediate family. Or, to put it another way, the extra 17 (or 7) pence on 800 (or 1943) packets of bacon. So I should think they can well afford it.
The pig farmers have recorded Stand By Your Ham, a version of the Tammy Wynette classic updated to put the point across about the dire state of the pork industry. You can listen to it here. It was so dreadful it made me laugh and cry at the same time. Very best of luck to them.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Yorkshire Terroir

I've been reading Stuart Maconie's northern English travelogue Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North. Maconie is a Lancastrian so I can't be too nice about it. Actually, to quote a joke from the Yorkshire chapter, it were alreet for them as likes laffin,' by which I mean it was very funny.

The pies and black pudding appear in the Lancashire chapters, of course (do I sound chippy?) but in Harrogate, Maconie goes to Betty's.

'I once knew a girl who worked at Betty's for a summer,' he tells us, 'and she
said that there was something about the starchy, lacy white uniform that drove
men wild. She was forever fending off amorous middle-aged punters in cardies and her boyfriends were always asking her to wear it at home.'

There is a whole chapter on Yorkshire, 'Cardboard box? You were lucky', and here Maconie says something rather interesting. He visits Slaithwaite (pronounced Slawitt),

'what the French might call Le Yorshire Profonde: Deepest Yorkshire.
The comparison here, at first ridiculous, between the rough-hewn,
hail-hardened tykes of Yorkshire and the indolent gastronomes of the sun-kissed
Dordogne, actually makes sense. Yorkshiremen and Frenchmen alike share a
stubbornly unreasoning pride in simply being a Yorkie or Frenchie. They believe
they have the best food, the best rugby teams, the most beautiful women
[Really?]. They share an almost mystical attachment to their native land. Just
as the wine-growers and peasants of the Languedoc believe no-one is their equal
in the cultivation of the grape, so Yorkshiremen think their beer has no equal
but is similarly, mystically, bound to the soil, like the friend of my editor
who loves Tetley's bitter of Leeds but says that 'it dunt travel'. In other
words, it only really tastes right in Yorkshire. The French call it 'terroir',
the sacred, inexplicable union of weather, ambience, landscape and history that
imbue a region and its drink. Yorkshire calls it things being 'proper'.'

I like the idea of Yorkshire terroir. It's true. You do need to have walked four miles across damp moorland to really appreciate a proper tea.

By the way, the beer in the photo is Yorkshire Terrier, from the York Brewery as recommended by my beer guru Lynn. I'm going to drink it and post about it soon.