May bank holiday in South Shropshire and it sounds like the whole county is a-buzz with the hum of electric mowers. The drone dips and circles on the warm breeze like the swallows that have decided finally to come back to Blighty for the summer.
I forego the mower, lured instead by my small vegetable patch where seeds that have lain dormant and shivering for weeks are now poking shoots from the warming soil. Not being a natural gardener, I cherish and guard this plot with perhaps greater zeal than I afford my own children. So when the woodpigeon have started hungrily to eye my nascent pea-shoots, and then start pecking at them I know what needs to be done.
The old air rifle often makes an appearance at this time of year, the barrel warm in my hand, elbow rested on top of the wheelie bin by the back door I take a sight on an intruder on the pea bed. A ping, and a thrup, the briefest of flaps: Pigeon 0 – Peas 1. An hour later and the same again, and I’ve got dinner for two. If you’re going to go to the bother of slaying something that’s dissing your veggies then you might as well eat it. I fry the pigeons’ plumptious breasts in butter and wilt a clump of roadside wild garlic (well washed – it’s at leg cocking level) in the same pan. Free food of the very highest order.
I love a Big Opening almost as much as my patch; the bigger the better for me. I’ve been to a couple recently and it’s heartening to see that there’s a long-lacked gastronomic middle ground in and around Ludlow that’s being filled.
I went to opening night – technically a Soft rather than Big Opening, I’ll take what I can get - at Ludlow Kitchen in Bromfield (yeah, yeah, it’s a very minor geographic detail). Tremendous stuff: all field to fork and spot-on sourcing credentials, tasty prices, a non-sweary and modestly brilliant chef. Then I went to the Marches Kitchen & Bar where there used to be a sweaty dive called the George, in Ludlow’s Castle Square. They do slightly bonkers pizzas, brunches, cocktails. The staff were pretty and made eye contact. Unusual for Ludlow but a great formula. They source ingredients locally. I wish them all very well.
Up until recently there’s not been many places (apart from lovely ol’ Clive Davis at the Green Café) round here where you can go to eat without feeling guilty about it. The hospitality industry is finally catching onto the fact that we’re all sailing quite close to the wind. So if you’re not shooting your scoff or picking it from the gutter, you can at least go out for something nice to eat without taking too much of a hit.