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 cafĂ©, 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.