Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Sichuan, Fish Fragrant, New Boys in Town (unedited) - South Shropshire Journal 4/4/14

When I was larking about in Bristol the other week I stumbled across a rather fabulous little shop. Run by Koreans, their produce was natch mainly Korean, but they sensibly made a little nod to some other gear from way out East. I bought some fermented chilli bean paste, which is not remotely Korean but Chinese and specifically Sichuan.

Occasionally, when I’m not pretending to set up my own business, playing Angry Birds on my phone, or checking out the crumpet at the new opticians next door to Harp Lane, I’ll read a book. I’ve just finished Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper by Fuchsia Dunlop. A great read, but can you get any specialist Sichuan ingredients round here? Quite. I got my wife Fifty Shades of Grey recently, hopefully the feedback of that particular tome will be unpublishable.

So I’ve gone to Bristol and got all the kit and I knock up one of the best meals I’ve made in a very long time. I’m not one to extol my own culinary virtues, but bloody hell – Fuchsia’s ‘Fish-fragrant aubergines’ turned out pretty tidily. Strange name for a dish that contains not a jot of fish, but the depth and pure savouriness that came from this particular concoction was extraordinary.

The cooking of the Sichuan Province leans on ‘umami’ (the yummy taste you get from stuff like Parmesan cheese, Worcester sauce, and wild mushrooms) and mad, intense heat. This is man-food in extremis but never wishing to be too blokey I made it for my dear chum and business partner Lydia, and she had seconds.

I’ll give you the recipe if you like, but you’d do well buying Fuchsia’s book

Back from Chengdu, I touch down in little ol’ Ludlow. Turns out my former employers, Ludlow Food Centre are taking on a shop in the centre of Ludlow as a café-deli. Ice cream, fancy sarnies, bags of personality, that sort of thing. It sounds super. Rumour has it they were after our site at Harp Lane but I’m far too discreet and professional to comment on that particular issue. No idea Your Honour. Ludlow’s a funny town in that many people have tried coercing me into slamming LFC. I wish them well, truly I do. The more the merrier. My only advice - for what it’s worth – make some mates round here. Being aloof doesn’t get you very far round here.

Competition aside, I need to find me a supplier of Sichuan stuff. Tasty times ahead. Watch this space. 

Bristol: the Best Place to Eat (unedited): South Shropshire Journal 28/3/14

I rarely travel by train any more. I have a car that works perfectly well, and I can fill it with children and all their kit. My car runs quite inexpensively and generally on time. Trains don’t. However, given the rare opportunity when I get to go somewhere on my own without the kids and associated paraphernalia, I’ll splash out, hope that I don’t have to spend eight hellish hours waiting at Newport for a missed connection and thoroughly enjoy the ride.

On a solitary train journey one is all but forced to sit nice and still in one place, drink a tin or two of warm and overpriced train Stella Artois (optional), and gaze at the countryside as it rattles by. This is my idea of Nirvana (I get that it may not be yours), and last week I chugged down to Bristol with only a ten-minute wait at Newport. Phew.

What a city: all Brunel and beards, a railway station that looks like a cathedral, and some of the best places to eat anywhere I know. I was taken out for lunch by my friend Xanthe who writes about food for the Telegraph (a bit like this paper, but with bigger pages and less fat stock news) to a place called Flinty Red where I ate amongst other things, hang on, I’ve still got the menu, “Roast Carrot and Ewe’s Curd, Carpaccio of Kid Loin with Caper & Lemon Dressing, Seared Onglet with Creamed Kale” and I came very close to weeping with happiness in front of Xanthe. Which would have been horribly embarrassing. Such simple stuff, so painfully bang-on 2014, but effortless too. And cheapy cheap cheap. And the place wasn’t even full. Astonishing. In Ludlow a gaff like Flinty Red would be booked up months in advance.

I didn’t think it could get much better until five hours later when it did, at Bell’s Diner. Much of the same but up a notch and I think this time I actually did do a little cry, but it was darkish in Bell’s so I reckon I got away with it. I’ve got their menu too, but it would be showing off to relate that to you. Google it and go.

There are funky little coffee shops everywhere you turn, great pubs on each corner, friendly people, mad hairy wholefood shops selling bags of foraged foliage, bonkers wine shops. Enough already, you get the idea, I enjoyed myself in Brizzle.

But back at home, I spotted some local asparagus in the shops, a sure sign of tastiness lurking just round the corner. This weekend, what could be more springy than the clocks changing and Mothering Sunday? A cause for celebration if ever there was one.

Jersey Royals (unedited) - South Shropshire Journal 21/3/14

I bet on horses twice a year: The Grand National, and Cheltenham Gold Cup. Having blown a whole tenner on some daft nag at Cheltenham (I think he’s probably still trying to find the finishing line), I shovelled copious amounts of well rotted gee-gee dung on to my veg patch and thought to myself, ‘this is all they’re useful for’.

By bespattering half of my garden with semi-digested straw I welcome in spring and think about the treats that lie ahead. New potatoes will probably go in first after they’ve enjoyed a good chit on a warm window-sill. To remind myself just how lovely a home grown early spud is, I bought myself a bag of Jersey Royals, which as they have done every year for the last decade or so, bought nothing but disappointment in the eating.

I’m not one for gastronomic nostalgia – very few things tasted better back in the good old days – but Jerseys sure as heck used to be so much tastier. Mr Farmer the greengrocer tells me that they no longer use seaweed (or vraic, as they call it over there) as a fertiliser, a fact that used to contribute to their unique and delicious flavour. Whatever the reasons, until my own taters are ready I’ll be unfashionably opting for the imported Majorcan earlies, which taste like a new potato ought to. Stuff the air miles, quite frankly.

I’ll also be getting my onion sets in soon, although I’m not really sure why I bother growing a vegetable that can be bought so cheaply and ubiquitously. You pop a baby onion in the ground, wait a few months, you pull up a bigger one. Pretty boring horticulture really.

However, the onion is the one vegetable, and possibly any ingredient, that gets more use in my kitchen than any other.

Pretty much every meal I prepare will involve this most handy of all alliums, although more often than not it plays an essential, but cameo role. Think of Ghostbusters without Dr Egon Spengler. See? It’s unimaginable. Well, that’s the onion. Often appearing alongside carrots and celery in a classic mirepoix or sofrito in braises, soups and stews, an onion will provide savoury bottom notes when cooked soft and slow without being allowed to take on colour and caramel flavours.

I should let onions play the protagonist more frequently. Baked whole with cream and cheese, pureed to go with lamb, I love a deep French onion soup, a sticky tangle on a pissaladiere (a southern French - and utterly delicious – version of pizza). Yummy yum. Perhaps it is worth growing a few of my own after all. 

Shrove Tuesday, Whorehouses and so on...(unedited) South Shropshire Journal 14/3/14

Here I go with another column in arrears. Deficit journalism. It was Shrove Tuesday last week and I completely forgot about it. I couldn’t give a flipping toss (see what I’ve done there?) about pancakes. Anyway, forgot about it I did, until I got home last Tuesday evening to find my little girls smearing pancakes loaded with chocolate spread all over their pretty little faces.

This kind of defies the whole idea of Shrove Tuesday: use up all the eggs, flour and milk in your house and subsist on dust and gravel until Easter Sunday. You’ve been a bad person. Lent it out. But don’t go buying a jar of Nutella. It will not admonish you from sin. I told that to my wife, who was pretty ambivalent.

When I was small we went on family holidays to Brittany in the north of France, every year for quite a long time. We’d take the ferry to St Marlo from Portsmouth and Mum, Dad, my sister Tilly and me would all bundle into a tiny cabin. Once across the Channel it would be a short time until we met our first galette complete. Ham, egg, cheese, and a lacey-thin pancake. That’s what it’s all about my friends. No other pancake - in my opinion - is worth the strife.

If you don’t want to cross the Channel for some decent grub do what I did last week and nip down to London. I went down for ‘research’ and a ‘meeting’ to gather a few ideas in order to make Harp Lane (My deli? In Ludlow? Opening soonish? Ring any bells? I may have mentioned it 8985095834 times before) the best it can possibly be.

Do what I did, handpick a few places in our capital, and you’ll quickly realise that the Big Smoke has never screamed louder in terms of gastronomy. Not clever stuff, not expensive flimflammery, just top-notch grub in warehouses, whorehouses, and outhouses. Making do, but not in that tired and overdone post-warish way, just very current, cool, and above all – bloody tasty.

There are boys with beards and tattoos cooking the sort of food that we can only dream of up here, for half the price. Girls out front who do customer service like we’ve never known, and they look like supermodels too. I understand that it’s a trade-off. We have a life in Shropshire that those smokin’ hot hipsters down there can only dream of. And a couple of days in London now is enough for me. I’m always happy to be heading west on the Westway. Driving over Titterstone Clee, down into Ludlow on the first sunny day in three months, well, Shropshire has never looked better. Those supermodel waitresses don’t know what they’re missing. 

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Coffee Guy, and Forgetting St David's Day (unedited) - South Shropshire Journal 7/3/14

Easy José the Coffee Guy came to visit me recently, because he’s going to supply my little shop in Ludlow with beans and machines and all the paraphernalia one needs to make a grown up cup of coffee. If you want to get serious about coffee (which I do), you’ve got to know a guy like Easy José. Have you ever met a Wine Guy? All “top notes of a wet pavement” this, and “bosky little nuances of tobacco and bog-myrtle” that. Loud corduroys and checked shirts? You must have met a Wine Guy.

Well, the coffee lot are less shouty and slurpy, and more poetic and pretty. José the Coffee Guy ran us through some of the treats that will be coming our way: Sumatran stuff that tasted like sweeties, Kenyan coffee both grapefruity and chocolately at the same time, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe that was a flower meadow in a cup. It was a crazy way to spend the day and by the end of it my heart was palpitating and I didn’t sleep for forty eight hours. But, it was tremendous fun, and we’ll do coffee at Harp Lane like nobody else. We’re getting a little bar in where you can perch and knock back a perfectly constructed flat white. You won’t want to hang around (though you’ll be welcome to) because our coffee will be served at a neckable 65 degrees Celsius, and that’s the temperature to have it. So there.

Here in Ludlow, being fifteen miles away from the Welsh border I feel as if I should have done something about St David’s day last week. Didn’t even cross my mind I’m afraid. Nothing personal, I just forgot. I love Wales, I can just about see it from where I write. For a long time in I went for Welsh girlfriends. I’ve matured since then, but a Welsh accent on a lady can still turn me all wobbly at the knees. My first ever beau in fact was Wewish . Cracking. If you’re able, get you one of them. Jude wasn’t particularly Welsh, or Jewish, but a great combo nevertheless.

Hafod, Perl Las, Gorwydd Caerphilly. Three cheeses that would always make it into my top ten all time. I holiday in Pembrokeshire every summer and, I was schooled in Monmouth. Which is (I think) in Wales.

Look, enough cross-border appeasement. Happus belated Dewiwhatever to my Welsh readers.

I can’t be sure (partly as this column still very rarely makes it online – so it’s tricky to check dates) but I think this may be my 51st column for this paper, making next week my 1st anniversary. Not one week off, and 23,000 words. How about that? 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Ciggies for Breakfast (unedited) - South Shropshire Journal 28/2/14

And then it stopped raining. The first time since before Christmas. An orange orb hung in the air. At five o’ clock in the afternoon there was light. The Storm abated for a few minutes last week so I popped up to my veg patch, squelched it with the palm of my hand, hrrrumphed to myself and went back inside for a cup of tea. Don’t know about the rest of you veg-growers, but my patch is going to be unworkable until at least 2067.

Anyway, tea. I’m rubbish with tea, no taste at all. I do coffee, cheese, wine, truffles, foie gras, caviar and all that sort of stuff properly. But with tea I’m simple. In the afternoon I take a neat PG Tips with a dash of milk. I can’t be doing with supermarket own-brand teabags, they just don’t cut it. In the morning (and this is the important one) my preference is 50: 50 builders and Lapsang Souchong – two bags, one cup - with a Marlboro Light. *For me this is the perfect weekday breakfast, but it’s so terribly unfashionable to advocate a cigarette as part of a balanced breakfast that I expect this will be subbed-out.  *Subs: Please don’t remove this bit!

I really struggle with breakfast. Just can’t be doing with it, not on a normal working day. Toast and cereal just don’t flick my switch. The very thought of porridge makes me want to go straight back to bed. Midweek I’ll take a fag and a cup o’ tea. No better way to start your day, although I obviously don’t tell my baby girls that. I fill them up with weetabix and bran flakes and they’re happy.

Give me a Weekend Breakfast and I’m your man. Any time from 10.00am onwards. Full English, no beans, I’ll have that. If there’s fried bread, then so much the better. Beans make a fry-up too saucy, and bean sauce mingled with runny egg is intrinsically wrong.

Failing that I’ll have kedgeree please. With a glass of beer. On a Sunday, Desert Island Discs or the Archers omnibus on the radio. The bells of St Laurence’s Ludlow will be ringing.

Devilled kidneys and a cheeky bloody Mary, seed cake with a glass of Madeira; kippers with buttered brown bread and strong, stewed tea; eggs Benedict and the Sunday Times. A bit of leftover Chinese takeaway in the fridge poses a treat of higher distinction than almost anything else. For me, brunch is king, A meal to be revered. If like me, you’re a person of high and distinguished taste, you’ll take your breakfast late in the morning. If, however, you’re under eighteen then listen to your parents and ignore pretty much everything I’ve just written.

Everything Deep-fried is so Jolly Good (unedited) - South Shropshire Journal 21/2/14

The other day I was enjoying a pint of Hobsons best bitter (one of my top five favourite all time beers) in the Sun Inn in Leintwardine (one of my top five favourite local pubs) when I got a bit peckish. They don’t do food at the Sun but there’s a fish ‘n’ chippy next door. So I popped in, placed my order and twenty minutes later a smiley lady delivered it to my table in the pub. Cracking arrangement. As I sat there ploughing through a delicious pile of fried stuff – with a massive pickled gherkin and a tub of mushy peas on the side – it occurred to me that so many of my very favourite things have spent time in the deep-fat fryer.

Spanish churros, dusted with sugar and dunked in bitter-sweet hot chocolate; doughnuts from the chap at the fair who looks like he could do with a good shower; hot samosas; Italian fritto misto; Clive at Ludlow’s Green Café used to do amazing deep fried pigs’ brains with sauce gribiche. Love it all. Deep-fried stuff gets a bum wrap, but hang it: the taste and texture implications far outweigh the scare mongering from the Association of Squeaky Clean Arteries. Live dangerously I say. Although maybe not as dangerously as I did once after a few ‘heavies’ one evening in Edinburgh after wrapping up a week’s worth of board-treading at the Fringe (there’s so much you don’t know about me).

Under the assumption that I’d purchased a humble cheeseburger you can only imagine my horror and delight upon bighting into this thing. The burger itself had been injected with lurid orange processed cheese then dunked in batter and plunged in boiling oil. Reader, it was truly magnificent. The following day however, I became more familiar than I would have wished with pretty much every single service station between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Stevenage.

Every year a gang of us go to the Ludlow point-to-point races and every year, I’m the Scotch Egg Guy. It’s a faff of greater worth than any other faff I know, because of all the stupendous stuff to come out of the fryer, there is none better than my point-to-point Scotch eggs. This is an actual fact. I don’t know who invented this much-molested culinary marvel but I doubt it was a Scotsman (I refer you back to the Edinburgh episode). This is the only time I ever deep fry as the smell of bad pub kitchen tends to permeate the whole house for days. A properly made Scotch egg, still hot, with a crisp exterior, moist sausage meat, and a runny yolk would definitely make it onto my list of top five favourite things to eat ever in the whole world. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Bromance and Kalashnikov (unedited) - South Shropshire Journal 14/2/14

If music be the food of love, play on; but if you’ve forgotten that it’s St Valentine’s Day today, then you’d better hope that your significant other has forgotten too. If not, I suggest you run for the hills.

I’ve only ever once gone out for dinner on Valentine’s Day and I remember it only hazily. Circa 2002, my mate Woolface (not his actual name, but near enough) and I had – I think- been both recently dumped, so we took ourselves to L’Oasis on Mile End Road in east London. We shared some cheesy nachos, had a couple of pints, one thing led to another and we ended up in a pub in Whitechapel. We chatted with a bloke called Larry who drove cars for the Krays, I presented Woolface with a red rose and a Kalashnikov that I bought from a Bulgarian fellow who I met in the gents. Cracking night. Best Valentine’s ever.

You know what? If you really want to show someone that you love them, don’t take them out for dinner. Sitting in a restaurant with a bunch of other people who can’t be arsed to cook is hardly romantic. The loving starts at home. If you don’t often cook, tonight is the night to have a go. If you do, then this is your moment to pull out all the gastronomic big guns. Whatever your ability in the kitchen, if you really apply yourself, then cooking a meal for the person you love is the greatest gift of all.

Failing that, get fish and chips and a really expensive bottle of Champagne (always Pol Roger for me darling) and enjoy it together in the bath.

This is why this column is not titled ‘ Henry Mackley on Romance’.

I love my wife more than anything, but I’d adore her even more had she not emailed me a link to the Daily Mail Online. “This might be useful for your column” she wrote. I find it hard to describe in permissible legal terms how much I hate myself whenever I have the misfortune to click on the DMO. A large part of me dies each time. But click we must (line of duty and all), and this time it was a piece about 2014’s food ‘fads’.

Thankfully I’ve almost run out of room, but apparently this year we’re going to be going doolally for deep fried fish spines and cold-pressed virgin coconut oil. We’ll see. I grew weary of this list very quickly and was thankful when I noticed a link to “Kelly Brook can’t wait to make a splash as she strips off to cool down in the Caribbean Sea”. So, click we must.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Harp Lane, and the Perils of Beard Ownership (unedited) - The South Shropshire Journal 7/2/14

Last week was a good one: we bought a shop. A higgledy-piggledy old shop that faces out, as she has done for hundreds of years, over Ludlow’s Castle Square. She sits proud and fast like a little ship in between Church Street and Harp Lane. We have called her Harp Lane, after Harp Lane. Now Harp Lane (the lane, not the shop), is narrow and forgotten and years ago I imagine it would have flown freely with Medieval filth. Robert the greengrocer who has a shop next to Harp Lane (the shop, not the lane), parks his van there by day, by night drunken couples kiss down the lane, and I suspect the odd ghost or two lurk, and that’s about it. It’s such a tiny little lane that it doesn’t even have a sign, so we felt sorry for it, and thus our shop was named.

Our shop until last week was the Deli on the Square, and thirteen years before that the Ludlow Larder, and in a few months time Harp Lane will be a delicatessen again, but our delicatessen. We hope to have a few tables upstairs too for lunching, and one or two out the front for watching the world go by. I can’t tell you how excited I am about becoming a shopkeeper, a shop owner indeed, in the most beautiful part of the most beautiful town in the whole of England. But I’m nervous too, because in Ludlow if you run a business that does food, people are watching you like hawks. And rightly so: I’ve got to make Harp Lane the best little deli that ever there was.

In this county there are so many wonderful little shops selling food and drink, so it’s tough competition, in a tough marketplace. My two favourite delis in Shropshire (apart from my own one that doesn’t really exist yet anyway) are Appleyards in Shrewsbury and Van Doesburg’s in Church Stretton. If the proprietors of either of these places spot me snooping around any time soon, they’d be well advised to boot me out. I will be nicking their ideas, shamelessly. 

So far so good though and the reaction from my fellow townsfolk has been overwhelmingly positive for the new boy. Quite a relief, and I’m truly thankful. So now I shall stop harping on about Harp Lane, because you probably don’t need to read much more about an empty shop.

As well as buying a shop, I’ve grown a beard, but I don’t think it’ll stay. Have you ever grown a beard and drunk a cappuccino, especially one with chocolate sprinkles on top? Utter carnage. Sausage rolls too. Flaky pastry sticks to a beard like the proverbial to a blanket. My column is nothing if not a mine of useless information. 

Friday, 31 January 2014

Cream Horns and Why Local Business Needs YOU (unedited) - South Shropshire Journal 31/1/14

If anyone else asks me what’s happening with De Grey’s, the famous Ludlow tearooms that closed last week, I shall scream; I will start rattling a few rumours around, just because I can, and the folk of south Shropshire simply adore a juicy rumour: Tesco Express, Nandos, maybe even Ann Summers (now that would be something), that’s what’s happening. Official.

It’s the same old thing though, we all go berserk when one of these types of places closes down – and indeed it is a great shame – but just because we’re locals doesn’t give us a right to claim ownership. “But it’s an INSTITUTION!” I hear you squawk. An ‘institution’ that many of us probably hadn’t set a foot in more than half a dozen times in the last decade (and taking Uncle Alf there once a year for a cuppa and a cream horn once a year barely counts).

The independent shops, restaurants and other businesses that you love so much and make you proud to call places like Ludlow your home, actually need local support and cash to be at the very core of their success. Not nostalgia. It’s all very well bemoaning their loss and worrying that the tourists will have nowhere to go. Although tourism is essential to our region, businesses need you in order to survive.

But it’s not all bad news because, as I mooted in this column some time ago (thanks very much), the Bosi family are back in Ludlow. Cedric’s taken on the Charlton Arms, and it ought to be jolly good indeed. I can’t wait to pop in, despite being terrified of the resident ghost (When I worked there in my uni holidays several years ago, the Charlton ghoul very nearly caused me to accident myself when I was changing a barrel in their spooky old cellar. A story for another time perhaps.). Anyway, best of luck to the new owners, I’ve no doubt it’ll be fabulous.

Rhubarb. That’s what you need in your life right now. Not the stringy old green astringent stalks with the gigantic leaves that Uncle Alf (remember him? Partial to a cream horn Uncle Alf?) grows. No, no, no. What you want it the pertly pink forced stuff that grows in candlelit sheds up in Yorkshire, and I adore it. It’s expensive, but delicate, sweet, so very pretty, and only around for a few weeks. I actually bought some at the farmers’ market that had been grown in Worcestershire by Will Edmonds (the most handsome and charming farmer I know), and it was magnificent. I love it raw and dunked in sugar like a sherbert dib-dab, but go easy on it as too much will give you a gippy tummy and cause you to…hang on…did I ever tell you about the ghost in the Charlton Arms? 

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Blue Monday, and a Burns Night Haggis - South Shropshire Journal 24/1/14

Well done, you’ve got through Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. Although a term probably conjured up by pseudoscientists, it’s got to be there or there abouts. Of all the Januarys I can remember, this has probably been the soggiest and dankest. My grandmother might say that this month thus far has been somewhat “dreek”, which is Scottish for, erm, soggy and dank. Granny is Scottish, so therefore at the end of a week that started so miserably, she can look forward to celebrating Burns Night, which is tomorrow. And what a celebration it is. To sit down on a damp evening around a table and tuck into smashed up sheep guts steamed inside a cow’s bottom will surely brighten the heaviest of hearts.

I don’t actually mind a bit of haggis, or as dear old Rabbie called it, “Great chieftan o’ the puddin’ race!”. I enjoy its peppery feral flavour, the way it fills your kitchen with the smell of wet dog as it steams. I like the dour, dry accompaniments of bashit neeps and champit tatties, but probably only because a quarter of me is resolutely north of Hadrian’s Wall. Look, if Alex Salmond gets his way in 2014, the Scottish Food Marketing Board will have to fight their own battles, and this time next year I can focus on something else more perky.

Like blood oranges. If ever there’s something to kick January up its wet bum a Sicilian blood orange does the job. Wrapped neatly in fancy tissue paper, they even look cheerful before you get them home from the shop. I cut into one the other day and Beatrice, my eldest daughter exclaimed, “Look Daddy, magic orange!”. And how right she was. 

The perfume of this fruit is higher than that of its more orangey sibling and its sweetness of a greater intensity, and the colour, well the clue’s in the name. My favourite preparation of the blood orange is to pare the skin and pith away, and then to oh-so-carefully with a razor-sharp blade, remove each segment making sure that no membrane comes with it. Scatter these artfully on a large white plate, and then get a plump, tight bulb of fennel and slice it as thin as you dare and scatter that too with a few of the feathery fronds. Chuck on some scrupulously picked thyme leaves and drizzle with the best new season’s olive oil (visit Zenon and Tamsin at their stall on Ludlow Market – their early Greek stuff will be ready any day now, and you will not get better). A liberal scrunch of sea salt and a grind of black pepper. Bingo. You’ll be thankful that you forgot to buy a haggis. 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Pete's Tripe and Farewell to Ludlow Food Centre (unedited) - South Shropshire Journal 17/1/14

Pete Carroll, the bloke who edits this paper (blame him and his sub-editors for the grammatical howlers in this column, not me) loves his grub. Pete trusts me to trust you to trust that what I write has some sort of gastronomic bearing on something, somewhere.

When an email that Pete sends me includes a recipe warning me that,  “…you would possibly be the only person I know who might appreciate it.” I take an interest. Pete’s recipe is his grandmother’s for a Greek egg, lemon and chicken soup. “So far so good” says Pete, and I concur, but then his Granny bungs a load of tripe into it.

That’s me out of the equation. Can’t be doing with tripe. You know how kidneys have the uric taste of what they’re employed to do? Well tripe tastes of its own designated function too. Grim. I’ve eaten nice tripe several times but only when its been steeped and cooked slowly in other, more flavoursome stuff. Then, it provides a textural, animal squelch on the teeth. Little else.

This is my last column whilst under the employ of Ludlow Food Centre. I’ve been there over three years, and I’ll miss the place hugely. As farm shops go, you’ll find no better, anywhere. The LFC redefined the farm shop and turned the concept upside down. I don’t need to fawn, or references, but if you haven’t been, just go.

The very term farm shop doesn’t justify this place. It’s a ‘shop’ that employs ninety (mainly local) people, produces 50% in-house of everything it sells, and runs a café, hotel and Post Office simultaneously, whilst picking up awards on an almost weekly basis for producing consistently brilliant tucker. A phenomenal achievement.

When the Food Centre opened its doors nearly seven years ago there was a bit of a hoo-ha, and almost a local willingness for the place to fail (as frequently there is round here when folk come up with something a bit new and clever). But the naysayers were quickly proven wrong, and Viscount Windsor and his family are responsible for setting up one of the UK’s greatest gastronomic success stories of a generation.

Enterprises like the Ludlow Food Centre directly support the local community and its food producing talent in a way that no supermarket ever would or could, however clever their marketing may seem. When clever Dudley Martin makes his cheese, the milk has literally come from half a mile away; John’s meat that he butchers so beautifully comes from the other side of the A49; no gimmicks, it’s just the way they do things down in Bromfield, and I for one am jolly proud to have been involved. It’s been a blast.

Now, time to crack on with Pete’s Granny’s tripe recipe. Shudder…

Dieting Schmieting, and a Cheerio to a Ludlow Baker (unedited) - South Shropshire Journal 10/1/14

I generally buy newspapers at weekends solely for their food columns. Recipes, restaurants and so on. During the first couple of weeks of January I tend to avoid the papers altogether: reading about detoxing and how to live off only 100 calories per day doesn't float my boat. It sinks it, quickly. My own Body Mass Index has remained happily at the scrawny end of the scale for a very long time. 6’ 2” and 12 stones. Not sure how, genetics maybe. On the outside I’m slim. Inside, I’m sure my arteries are crying for help and are as fat as Vanessa Feltz.

If you want dieting advice, I’m not your man so instead I’ll issue a quick paean to one of Ludlow’s great food heroes, sadly now late of this parish, (in a not dead, but moving-on sense of the term) Peter Cook. I’ve mentioned Peter in this column before, but January’s a dry month for foodwriters (unless you’re doing dieting, which I’m not) so I’ll mention him again. Peter was the head baker at S C Price & Sons, Ludlow’s best bakery. He bakes the best bread I’ve ever eaten, and whist I’m sure Price’s will do fine without Peter, he’ll be a great loss to the gastronomic canon of this town. Not only did Cook fill Ludlow’s bellies with lovely loaves, he was also instrumental in setting up – and continuing the success of – the Ludlow Food Festival. He’s done all sorts of other stuff in promoting this county too, but he’s a mate and I don’t want to make him feel too smug. The splitter.

Since announcing my departure from Ludlow Food Centre, rumours have been abounding about ME. All terribly exciting. So I’ll confirm it right here, and right now that I will be not only be taking on Ludlow’s De Greys, but also the Mail Room, Deli on the Square, and working with my pal Will Holland at his new place in Bridgnorth.

I’m messing with you. All will become clear soon. Should you give a toss, which amazingly some people do!

To renege on my ‘January’s a dry month’ bit, I nearly forgot about marmalade. Greengrocers are now drowning in Seville oranges, useless fruits for anything other than marmaladery. Make your own, I urge you. I do a batch with chunky peel, as it should be, and one without ‘bits’ for my wife who frankly needs to grow up. Marmalade is the great lotion for toast. Like HP Sauce, it makes one feel truly proud to be British (don’t worry, this is still the SSJ, not the Daily Mail). Ideally, let your marmalade steep for a year after which its depth and mystery will truly reveal themselves. 

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Bloody Mary, and 15 inches of Heaven - (extraordinarily, word for word as appeared in the) South Shropshire Journal 3/1/14

Were I not writing this column some time before you actually get to read it, I’d sympathise with your hangovers. Most of you I guess won’t be back at work yet so my musings on the perfect Bloody Mary may just about still hold some weight…but I imagine you’re too hammered to care. Although New Year’s Day has been and gone, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t still be knocking back the old BMs. This concoction of vodka and tomato juice is in my opinion, the very best cocktail of them all. My advice? Use cheapish vodka, tomato juice from the pricier end of the spectrum (there’s this stuff called V8 which is just the business), and whatever you do don’t add horseradish. The bits! Just ghastly. Some people add sherry, or even port, but not me. There’s gilding the lily, and then there’s opening yourself up to a whole heap of trouble.

So you’re probably under the impression that my body is the Holy of Holies, not so much a temple, but a veritable cathedral to healthy living and wholesomeness. You’d be wrong though. Just ten minutes ago I answered the door to a very polite young man from the Ludlow Pizza Company who (to my wife’s horror) delivered me 15 inches of pure deliciousness. Once in a while I like to stray from the path of hand-woven, biodynamic, fresh from the mud superfood and really spoil myself with something greasy and flip-me-over bad. To the LPC’s credit, the pizza I had, whilst utterly scrummy, was not quite the lard-fest I’d been hoping for.

If I’m on a motorway I will do everything in my power to pull over at Burger King or the ‘other one’ with the golden arches, and embark on gastronomic hari kari. Two bacon double cheeseburgers in rapid succession maybe twice a year is just about enough for me, but I truly adore eating this kind of stuff. It’s the treat of all treats and I’m sure that if I ate junk on a daily basis my body wouldn’t crave it at all. In fact the first time my wife gave birth and was incarcerated in Shrewsbury Hospital for four days, I subsisted entirely on supermarket ready meals and takeaway filth. My forehead sweated oily droplets and my guts churned angrily, full of empty calories, to the point where I craved lettuce.

While you’re setting about joining a gym that you’ll never go to, giving up the fags and starting a faddy-faffy new diet, this is probably not what you want to be reading. But, you know me, I like to buck the trend. And I like to keep the party going well into the new year before reality eventually and inevitably kicks back in.