Is it worth meddling with a medlar?

What do they look like to you?

I’M STILL not sure whether it was worth it. I’ve gone halfway across Sheffield to pick medlars – hard little brown fruit no one seems to have heard of – from trees and taken them home to rot in my cellar.

 Then I’ve boiled them up, strained the juices, added sugar and all I’ve got to show for it is two small measly jars. As for the taste, well, it’s fugitive. Perhaps I should have taken the hint for the common name for medlar is dog’s arse, as the French say, cul de chien.

You can’t eat a medlar until it rots, or blets, when it turns sweet. In ancient times, before oranges and grapefruit and fruit like that was available to the common man they were supposedly highly prized for their sugar hit in winter.

To eat them, peel back the outer casing, suck everything in then discreetly spit. For inside is a little ball of sweetish flesh encasing  large seeds you wouldn’t want to swallow. The taste and texture is midway between a fig and date. I picked some last year but lost interest after the first few moutfuls and they bletted to kingdom come.

The ones on the left have bletted

So this year I was going to make a jelly. My recipe, from Marguerite Patten’s ‘James, Preserves and Chutneys,’ said two pounds of medlars to a pint of water and I had just over that weight. I cut them up small and boiled them up. I was unsure if they would contain enough pectin and dislike adding the commercial variety so also chopped up a couple of Bramley apples.

They mushed up pretty quickly so they soon went into the straining bag for the afternoon. The liquid was dirty brown, like tea. Perhaps if I had left it overnight I might have got more juice – just a pint – which tasted pretty insipid.  I boiled it down a bit further to increase the flavour and added the juice of half a lemon – more to perk it up than for pectin.

Medlars with apples in the pan

It set on the second test but there wasn’t a lot of it, just enough for those two small jars. That brown brew cleared to a lovely whisky-type hue but medlar jelly doesn’t taste anything like eating one raw. The date-cum-fig effect has gone; instead it’s more like honey. I have just had some on a slice of bread and butter to confirm my impression.

It’s not been a complete waste of time but if I do it again next year I will need to pick many more pounds to make it worth the effort. Or I might combine it with other fruit. Dates or figs!

Medlar jelly – lovely colour and tastes like honey
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No chips* as John cements his reputation

My dipped pork sarni

*Except on Fridays

A MAN in a bright orange boiler suit holds open the door and smiles. I say “I’ve heard the food is good here.” He replies: “Lovely.” And as if that wasn’t enough adds: “Gourmet.”

The chef may be familiar, big John Parsons, ex-Beer Engine, Plough at Hathersage, Food & Fine Wine, Druid at Birchover, Fancie on Ecclesall Road et al, but the place isn’t.

His new gaffe is called Canteen Kitchen because that’s exactly what it is: the works canteen at Breedon cement works, Hope. But it isn’t exactly what it says on the tin. Sure, there is a Full English for breakfast but there’s also Eggs Benedict and huevos rancheros and we’re in North Derbyshire not Mexico . Tomatoes on toast come with Arabic za’attar spices. Whisper it softly, there’s also avocado.

Fish and chips with pea puree

As it’s Friday there is a very good haddock for lunch with the crispiest of batter with pea puree and, just as a one day of the week treat, chips. It comes with half a pickled onion, gherkin and tartare sauce.

If you don’t go Anglo you can go Indian with bus station kofta with Muergez sausage, go Arab with felafel or nod to Italy with what seems ultra British, a Parsons’ signature dish – chunky beef or pork sarnie dipped in gravy with a bonnet of confit and crispy onions. “It’s the English version of the Italian panzanella bread salad,” he says, not altogether convincingly.

If you ever wondered what you might get if you put a restaurant chef in a works canteen (and I can’t blame you if you haven’t) this is it. But there are shocks. John, who is working for the first time in his life with his wife Anita, has banned chips from the menu except with fish. And by the end of his first week the roof hadn’t fallen in.

There is more. John is a man famous for his offal dishes who says “I like eating an animal from the inside out.” Yet at home these days he’ll go carnivorous not more than three times of the week. At work he’s hoping to make the menu half veggie. “I am conscious of the impact on the planet,” he says. But he’s still planning to give them liver and onions.

He is also conscious of the impact on his customers’ wallets. The food is as cheap as chips even if that dish isn’t much in evidence. Nothing is more than a fiver and most of the dishes are below that.

The company, the biggest cement works in Northern Europe, which employs 170 and has a good reputation locally for its generosity (John and Anita were preparing that night for a bonfire event for 1,000 workers, their families and Hope Valley residents) isn’t averse to locals popping in for breakfast, brunch or lunch for the same prices.

So is John. “I think when people in Hathersage realise you can have what costs £15 in a pub for a fiver they’ll come.” This seems to be going down well with customers (200 covers a day in the first week) but what about John and his missus? “I find it liberating. All you have got to do is cook nice food that people want,” he says, adding that “everybody knows everything about food these days, even if they don’t cook it, from watching on TV.”

For them, taking over the canteen was a big gamble. They had to beat off 37 other applicants for the tender. Then they both gave up good jobs, John as executive chef at the Scotsman’s Pack in Hathersage and Anita with a teachers’ learning programme. “We opened at 8am and nobody came. We thought, what have we done? Then at 9 the door opened and there was a rush,”he says.

The couple believe that nice food breeds nice people. Because it is fresh and cooked to order there is a bit of a wait so they talk to each other. Everyone returns their plates and cutlery, obviating waiting staff which keeps costs down and the price of meals. It is noticeable how many diners pause to thank the kitchen on their way out. “Thanks, that was amazing ,” says an office worker as she leaves.

While the kitchen has had a refit the dining room is still a bit spartan but improvements are planned. There is talk of a bistro with the same ethos as the canteen. For those, like me, who had not been before, the works site is an eye-opener with its golf course, fishing lake and bowling green. Who knows, there may be cream teas next summer. But probably not chips.

Canteen Kitchen is open 8am until 2pm Monday to Friday. Take Pindale Road at the Woodroffe Arms, Hope. Drive up to the barrier, with dipped headlights, and wait for it to open. There is a car park. Cash only at present. There is a Facebook page and Instagram at kitchen_canteen

Grandma Battye’s turkey trot

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I needed a barrow to get three turkeys to the car!

I’VE forgotten how many years we as a family have been getting our Christmas turkeys from Firs Hill Farm, Sheffield, but last year was a bit special. I had to borrow a wheelbarrow to get THREE birds to the car parked on Ringinglow Road: one for us, one for family and the third for a shopkeeping couple who couldn’t spare the time to collect it.

You’ll have seen the farm. It’s the one with all the geese in the field by the side of the road. The turkeys are kept inside in the barn.

I first met  Jim and Angela Battye when I visited their 230 acre farm to write a Christmas story for the Sheffield Star, naturally ordered a turkey and it was so good I kept coming back for more. It has become, as all the best things do, a bit of a tradition.

Sometimes we meet Angela at the local farmers’ market where  she takes orders or, failing that, ring up or do it online. The farm now has its own website and Angela a blog.

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Geese in the field at Firs Farm

The family may have been in the turkey business for over 80 years but they have no wish to become modern day Bernard Matthewses. They sell the same number of birds each year: 250 turkeys and 180 geese. This year turkeys will cost £3.60 a lb and the geese £4.70.

“They all sell.” says Angela, who has now a large number of repeat customers. Many of them, like me, are first attracted by the sight of the geese in the field. They arrive as day old goslings in May. The turkeys are different breeds depending on the weight they need to attain.

This all started with Grandma Battye. If she made Yorkshire Puddings is not recorded but Jim’s grandmother Alice began selling geese and turkeys from her farm at Oxspring over 80 years ago. It was a useful sideline. His parents, Albert and Gwen, took over and 30 years ago he and Angela, brought up on a farm at Stannington, moved to Ringinglow.

A Firs Farm Christmas bird ticks all the boxes: locally produced so few food miles are recked up, particularly as much of their feed is grown on 50 acres of the farm given over to beet and cereals.

For Jim and Angela “things start moving after Bonfire Night.” Publicity needs to be set into gear and orders taken. The birds are slaughtered and plucked on site in the middle of December then hung for about a week before being dressed to order. Then they will be put into cold store with the buyers’ names attached.

Collection day this year is Sunday, December 23.  It’s always hectic. Then there will be a constant queue of visitors to the family’s farm shop, where people can also buy potatoes, vegetables, eggs, lamb (the farm has 500 sheep) and tubs of goose fat.

#Order from http://www.firsfarmsheffield.co.uk

Call 0114 230 1169 or email ambattye@btinternet.com

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Saluting the turkey

 

 

There’s no gin in ginjinha!

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Ginjinha

IT’S just the thing you need on a chilly night – chilly for Portugal, that is – a little shot of ginjinha from a hole in the wall bar on the Rossio. On a recent trip to Lisbon we did it every night as a pre-prandial before hitting the town.

 Despite the name, it has nothing to do with gin or ginger. It’s a locally made cherry-infused brandy boosted with sugar to take away the rawness and cinnamon because, well, the Portuguese love cinnamon. And for just E1.40 for a thimbleful, with a cherry or two, it’s a bargain.

 In places posher than the A Ginjinha bar on the Largo Sao Domingos (which serves it in tiny plastic cups) you might get it in a chocolate ‘thimble’ which you eat after draining. That will cost more.

 But the tiny bar has history: it’s been there since 1840. The floor and counter can also get very sticky from the spilled drink so make sure you don’t get jostled in the queue.

 It wasn’t until after I’d had a noggin or two that I remembered I have been making something very similar back home in Sheffield but more of that later.

 Ginja, as it is also known, is made from a Portuguese brandy called aguardente (which literally means fire water) in which sour Morello cherries are infused. This is then sweetened with sugar and flavoured further with cinnamon. You can have it with or without the cherries but be warned they have not been stoned. And with these tiny quantities nor will you.

 I’m not going to pretend it’s a fantastic taste but it is pleasant and warming and is enjoyable as a little ritual.

 The bartender serves it from a bottle packed full of cherries which he keeps topped up with alcohol from one of three spigots on the back wall. He first pours the ginja, holding back the cherries with the bottle cap, then with a deft flick of the wrist sends two or three of the tiny cherries into your cup.

 

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Taking a tipple at A Ginjinha

I was going to write that you can’t miss the bar but we managed to do it on our first trip to Lisbon!

 Each year when I pick cherries in Attercliffe cemetery I use the smallest for jams and jellies and keep the juiciest and biggest for fruit salads. And I always fill a Kilner jar with pitted cherries immersed in cheap brandy. They liven up puddings and fruit salads in the following months. Then when the cherries have all been eaten, we drink the cherry brandy left. There’s no extra sugar or cinnamon and it doesn’t seem to need it.

 Tonight we had just enough to fill two shot glasses and say cheers to Lisbon! Next year I will be picking extra cherries for a bottle or two of Sheffield-style ginjinha.

 

 

 

Konrad’s last day

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Konrad Kempka and his bacon slicer

IT’S Konrad Kempka’s last day in his Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, butchers shop, and he might be forgiven for looking a little bit sad. But he isn’t.

There has been a steady stream of customers all morning collecting their orders, already bagged up, which have been phoned and texted in that week.

Less than two years ago this blog and local media were celebrating the shop’s 60th anniversary, a business founded by his Polish father Frank who fled the Nazis in World War Two and found sausages and love in Sheffield.

Earlier this year Konrad and his wife Pat reckoned they’d had enough of spending their days in a cold shop and planned semi-retirement. Konrad put himself out to hire as relief butcher and the shop was opened up on Saturday mornings only to regulars and anyone else who walked by and fancied the best bacon you’ll get in Sheffield, sausages, a few chops or a pound of mince.

Now Konrad has an operation looming on his shoulder. “Surgeons also get it,” he says cheerfully, putting it down to all those years swinging his cleaver and sawing through bones.

So I, like lots of other customers, are stocking up. I’m buying several pounds of rind-on bacon, smoked and unsmoked, for the freezer before the shop closes for the last time.

It will be sad not seeing those home smoked hams hanging in the window at Christmas or the dark red kabanos sausages on the counter.

But Konrad is not quite leaving the world of pork loins and tomato sausages, a Sheffield speciality. After the op he will be working for the butchery at Whirlow Hall Farm, there for a couple of days a week, and is thinking of taking the antique bacon slicer with him. After all, it’s older than he is and older than the shop. It couldn’t be scrapped. It’s a museum piece.

Things are a bit hazy at the moment but hopefully he will still be curing his bacon at Whirlow. And making those celebrated pork pies.

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Christmas hams in the window at Kempka’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cider with Susie

WELL, that’s the plan. Laurie Lee sipped cider with the lovely Rosie in a haystack. I’m planning to do it with Susie (Sue is really her name) although I just know a haystack is out of the question so will settle for the comfort of our own home. But right now the scrumpy is on hold.

It’s bubbling gently in a plastic carboy in the corner of the kitchen. I can hear it plop as another bubble goes through the airlock. It seems to go to sleep at night but wakes up in the morning when the room warms.

It was hard work making that cider as I don’t have an apple cruncher and nor do I have a cider press. But I now have some pretty fit arm muscles and an awful lot of apples. Buckets full of them.

It all started with Brian next door. He has three apple trees, one of them a fine Bramley, and a crab apple tree. The Bramleys make him a lot of apple puree but the rest goes to waste.

A couple of weeks back I sauntered round to ask if I could have some for my curried apple chutney and came back with a couple of buckets. There are only so many jars of chutney a household needs so I thought about what to do with the rest (there are more apples stored in his garage).

I made apple puree for the freezer. Apples and prune are the main ingredients of my brown sauce recipe so I made some bottles of those. And an apple pie. Then I set about juicing them as an alternative to orange in the morning.

The price of a cider press at the home brew shop was horrendous so I grated some up, squeezed out the juice and put it in my blender, which won’t work unless it has some liquid in, then added chopped apples and whizzed everything up. Then I tipped the contents into a double layer of muslin and squeezed.

What came out was basically pureed apple, a dark brown liquid (the juice oxidizes very quickly) the colour of tea and, to be fair, looks pretty unappetising. But it tastes like apple juice. Adding some of Brian’s crab apples pepped it up.

This has been drunk most mornings for breakfast and is a welcome change from orange juice. Some surplus juice, with the addition of a slug of gin, also made a decent granita.

So we come to the cider. Each time I juice the apples I put the extra in the carboy and now have a gallon on the go. It took an anxious week to start fermenting. I eventually added some cider yeast although I expect it would have started fermenting as the juice stored in the fridge began to fizz!

I am now hoovering up spare apples to keep production going. Today I raided a box of apples put out free to allcomers in a neighbouring street. I nick a few from overhanging branches on the way to the shops. No local crab apple tree is left untroubled.

This has been a great year for apples. The bloke at the home brew shop says next year he will get cider presses for half this year’s price. I’ll be ready. I just hope the apples will.