Playing Bingo at Tonco

Hog’s head croquette with brown sauce

I RECKON the waiting staff  at Tonco, that quirky little place tucked away in the corner of Dyson Place, Sheffield, play Menu Bingo in idle moments.

And the one who draws croquettes usually takes the prize.

It’s the most requested dish most days says our server Simon.

Small wonder. I remember one with courgettes in the summer, all creamy interior inside a crisp, dry shell. So I’ve got my taste buds cued up for the blue cheese and Jerusalem artichoke with a quince aioli. Now there’s a novelty.

But it gets sidestepped by a special described as ” Hog’s head with our own brown  sauce. “

It sells itself to me because I am a sucker for pig’s cheek ( if I decipher the restaurantspeak correctly ) and want to compare the sauce to my own homemade concoction.

Tonco has an open kitchen

It’s good, the meat shredded and studded with tiny diced carrot in the trademark soft filling, the exterior a satisfying crunch.

And the brown sauce gets my approval. Ten years ago every chef around was making it and it’s good to see at least one kitchen giving it a reprise. This is made with prunes, apples but no onions to give people who can’t  eat alliums a shout out, according to the  chef.

Tonco, run by Joe Shrewsbury and Florence Russell ( Jo and Flo) and named after a long-forgotten Barnsley soft drink, also does a nifty line in ravioli. I have fond memories of a summery one filled with goats cheese last summer.

Today’s has a roast beetroot filling, pleasant enough, but there are wedges of beetroot garnishing the dish and, even more, pallid yellow beetroot which barely makes a contribution, so this is rather overdoing things.

Beetroot, beetroot, beetroot!

Wisps of cavolo nero just irritate but roast hazelnuts provide crunch against good firm pasta. This time the goats cheese is outside, as a sauce.

Tonco still has its lunchtime special offer of three dishes for £22 and the house wines are fairly priced. There always seems to be something to intrigue on this menu even if this diner is not necessarily entirely bowled over.

I always associate Tonco as having a bit of a thing for turnips. Perhaps beetroot is the new turnip here.

Web: http://www.tonco.co.uk

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Christmas is not just for turkey

Boxing Day cold meat and bubble

CHRISTMAS lunch or dinner plays a big part of most people’s interest in food over the holiday period but what about the rest?

In our house we can count at least five special meals we have every year at this time.

They are almost, but not quite, as important as the main event but eagerly anticipated all the same.

The first comes on Christmas Eve. We’ve boiled and glazed the ham so we carve off the ends to make it look trim and have ham, egg and chips with pickles for tea.

Of course, the liquid in which you’ve boiled it up with herbs and vegetables will make soups. It’ll be salty and needs diluting but stick a few big peeled spuds in to absorb it. Then you can eat those too, fried.

Christmas Dinner needs no explanation and I bet we’re not alone in having a Boxing Day treat of cold meats and bubble and squeak, fried up from the leftover vegetables. And more pickles.

This year we visited for Christmas Day but did bring home the remains of the turkey.

So apart from dripping for breakfast, there was the carcase to pick for curry (into the freezer because you can have too much turkey in one go) then the bones were boiled up for yet more soup and stock.

Just look at all that dripping

And there was quite a bit of skin left over so sections were crisped up in a pan, with the fat released used to fry the bubble.

Turkey is the bird which keeps on giving and it’s my mission in life to make it disappear from the fridge as quickly as possible.

Bits that get left over can always go into pies or be minced up finely, along with the ham, as potted meat.

I am also planning a stir-fry so we’ll round that up with the dripping ( for me only) and lunchtime soups ànd call them meal number four.

Finally, at my wife’s insistence, we always have beef Stroganoff on New Year’s Eve. Probably because it’s not turkey or ham of which she is getting tired.

Mind you, that turkey essence, nicely jellied in the fridge, would really enhance the Stroganoff. She doesn’t need to know . . .

The Fermentation Generation makes a fizz

BACK IN the Sixties as a young reporter for the Beccles & Bungay Journal I would be sent to cover village shows.

There would invariably be a tent or at least a table full of homemade jams and jellies, pickles and preserves, usually made by stout matrons from the Women’s Institute.

All very motherly and middle class but never for one moment did I guess this might one day be hip.

Then it was raspberry jam and pickled onions, these days it’s more likely to be a kombucha or kefir (fermented drink)  bubbling up for prizes.

I am at Hideaway, a dishevelled former factory, the White Rose Works, in Eyre Lane, Sheffield  for the city’s second Pickle Fest.

I can give 30 or 40 years on the next oldest person there, and rather less hair, as people gather for workshops, talks, browse a few stalls, buy food or enter one of the several categories to have their prized jam, chutney, sauce, pickles or ferments to be judged in a mass taste test later that day.

I bring along three entries, two for the non- hot sauce category:  Pontack, made with elderberries, and a brown fruit sauce from prunes and apples, plus a chutney from foraged windfall apples in my neighbourhood.

I’m delighted to find these are the first entries if you don’t  count the jar entered last year which no one could open and has been resubmitted this year. Tough competition.

The festival is organised by a loose group of people called Social Pickle, explains Lisa Marriott, one of the organisers who, like other young women, is wearing a fetching sash with the organisation’s name.

It gives the event, for an old-timer like me, the slightly disconcerting air of a Sixties beauty contest with Miss Pickles on display although of course the real beauties are the jars of  Green Bean Chunky Ketchup and evil- looking Carrotchanga for sale at the pay-as-you-feel stall.

“We started during Lockdown preparing surplus ingredients for meals for our Food Hall Project ( on Brown Street) and realised there was a lot of energy around,” she says.

What couldn’t be used immediately was pickled and preserved.

“Cider vinegar was our first project, sold in local shops, and we’ve expanded into weekly Glut Clubs.”

I’m impressed. They are not just sitting back and waiting for surplus food to come in. Some are going out and foraging for it.

With things like sauerkraut, kimchis and kombuchas the Fermentation Generation is a lot more adventurous and sophisticated than its grannies. In fact, they’re making a bit of a fizz.

I couldn’t stay for the judging and I’ve been waiting at home for the telephone to ring and tell me if I’d won a category ( not that they were overwhelmed with entries ).

To pass the time I took home one of the jars of Carrotchanga. ” We fermented the carrot to make a Ketchup then added other stuff,” someone said. It tastes how it looks, wicked.

And did they have a serving suggestion? ” Put it on your chips.”

# For more details see http://www.socialpickle.co.uk

Order the wine, drink the view

Korcula through a wine glass

WE’VE ALL done it: been on holiday, great scenery, fabulous time, lovely wine. In fact we’ve liked it so much we’ve brought a couple of bottles back.

But when we opened them on a damp November night in England somehow the magic had evaporated out of the bottle.

Enjoying wine, even more than food, is a subjective experience. It’s not just the aroma which filters up your nose or the taste as it sparkles on your tongue but the atmosphere, the company, the occasion, your mood at the time and, possibly, whether that ankle you twisted is still hurting.

And if you are in attractive surroundings, beside an Italian lake, say, or on a Mediterranean shore, then you are also drinking the view. And you don’t get that in a bottle.

We’ve just been to Croatia. Above is a view of Korcula, seen through a glass of the local white wine. And pretty good it was, too. For a minute or two I was tempted to take home a bottle.

But it just wouldn’t have been the same. Best to stick with the memory.

A few years ago we were walking in the south of France and stopped at a little corner restaurant for lunch. It was lovely, especially the wine, a local one so obscure I’ve forgotten its name.

We forgot to bring back a bottle or two but wanted to recapture the moment. We raved about it to friends and family and eventually managed to track it down.

I popped the cork, poured the wine and . . . disappointment. It tasted so dull.

Some time later I came across some published tasting notes along the lines of ” Bland, local workaday quaff . . . “

That was probably true. But when our glasses were poured that day in France it wasn’t just wine that went in. You can call it what you will – atmosphere, ambience, le terroir, something so hard to pin down but it dances on our memory’s tastebuds even now.

Have stomach, will travel!

WE’VE BEEN eating out quite a bit lately: on a roll you might say plenty of good food to enjoy.But rather than bore you with a bite by bite rundown here are selected mouthfuls.

Let’s start with dinner at newly opened Rosmarino on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, an Italian in what had been the premises of a Portuguese eatery and before that a Polish one which had a dozen soups on the starters).

It’s their first restaurant together for newly-married Abdellatif, from Casablanca, and his Anglo-Italian wife Lidia. Abdel opened Olive with his brother on Ecclesall Road a couple of years back while Lidia’s family had La Terrazza (now Bella Donna) on Sharrowvale Road.

Unlike many Italian restaurants the place does not feel overcrowded with plenty of space and elbow room between the tables. “We took quite a few out,” Lidia told me.

We ate with foodie friends Craig and Marie Harris, who know a thing about Italian food. My starter of calamari was a wee bit chewy but had a lovely jalapeno and lime jam to go with it (£8.50).

A main of ravioli with a gentle hit of black truffle (£15.95) impressed with its good, firm pasta and lively mushroom and parmesan sauce. We topped things off with a home made tiramusi made, surprisingly, with lemon drizzle cake. It worked!

On to Tonco in Dyson Place, which always makes me think of turnips because they once featured heavily on its very esoteric menu. It always seem to faintly annoy me: must be the irritating Pud-Pud to signal the dessert section!

But a family lunch here was terrific, in particular some courgette and Spenwood cheese croquettes (£6), crispy shells enclosing melting interiors, hogget meatballs wrapped a littlepointlessly in vine leaves (£8) and quite lovely summery goats cheese ravioli in a very simple but effective lemon butter and little gem sauce. Oh and the fig leaf custard tart (they were making those fig leaves work!) with bergamot puree was a great hit, too.

Next stop was a lunch at Trippetts in Trippet Lane, run by one-woman gin Wikipedia (and dispenser) Debbie Shaw and her husband Carl, who can always produce something special with his small plates menu.

Stupidly, I forgot to record the gins but did appreciate a trio of samosas and a duo of sliders (minii hamburgers) made from venison and beef in dinky little buns. I enjoyed the contrast in textures between the two meats.

Finally to The Broadfield on Abbeydale Road where it is always advisable to book, even on a Tuesday night, because the restaurant area gets rammed.

The Broadfield has a better-than-pub-food menu with classics such as home made pies and a Mittel-European-style roast ham hock of the kind you’d find in Prague.

That’s got a lot of calories (the amounts are listed on the menus) so I thought again and had the bangers and mash. Well banger because there was just one but homemade and what a plonker! It was very tasty, the pork helped along with ginger, a very old traditional spice, particularly with bacon. I was glad I chose it. And here’s the picture.

Is Bradwells Ice Cream finally licked?

BRADWELLS ICE CREAM, a local favourite in North Derbyshire and Sheffield for the last century, is to close by the end of the month.

Customers received notifications with their deliveries this week. When this blog rang to confirm Managing Director Jane Bownes refused to speak and put down the phone.

Coud this be the end of a colourful business founded in by Hannah Bradwell in 1899 in the North Derbyshire village of Bradwell? She made her icecream with ice delivered by rail from Sheffield.

It became popular in the surrounding area but remained something of a cottage industry, production staying in the village behind an icecream shop front.

All might have come to an end 30 years ago when Hannah’s grandson Noel, the third generation in the company, and his wife Betty, were trying to sell the business after no one in the family was able or willing to take it on.

In 1992 in stepped Sheffield-born businessman Lawrence Wosskow (see The heart-stopping rise of King Cone ), whose mother lived in the village, and having made a fortune developing the Cafe Rouge chain, was looking for a new, local investment. He had moved to London but his wife Julie was expecting her first child and wanted her to be born and raised in her home town.

Lawrence turned the business round, redesigning the logo and introducing new flavours, placing the product in more local local shops, businesses and supermarkets. He used a picture of his daughter, also Hannah, to advertise the business. The local press branded him King Cone.

Bradwells was again at risk when owner Lawrence collapsed with a heart attack in 2006, prompting him to take it easy, wind down and eventually move to the United States.

The business suffered another blow when he was swindled by a long time friend and business associate to whom he had left his affairs. According to court reports, the net loss to Bradwells was £776,000.

Then, two years ago, he handed over the business to Jane.

Speaking from America Lawrence told me: “Just over two years ago I gave the whole business to Jane Bownes, the managing director, free of charge, because she has been so loyal throughout the years. It had £200,000 cash in it so it was very generous of me and (my wife) Julie.

“I always told Noel and his wife Betty I woud never sell the business and although they passed away a long time ago my word is my bond.”

Lawrence does, however, retain the trademark, Bradwells.

News of the closure seemed to take Lawrence by surprise. He said: “It will be a sad day for a lot of people when it does close. It meant so much to me as you know. I put my heart and soul into it for many years when I moved back to Sheffield.”

Lawrence will not be the only one wondering if somehow the business can be revived.

Many local pubs and restaurants regularly serve up the icecream on their menus. One chef said: “It’s incredibly sad news. They will be sorely missed.”

Drunken cherries and Summer Pudding

IT’S BEEN a good year for wild cherries. I beat the birds and on two foraging trips picked three or so kilos, enough to eat fresh, preserve in brandy, make jelly and help stuff a summer pudding full of bursting, juicy fruit.

And I still have some left over in the freezer for later.

The easiest use is preserving them in brandy. All you need is some cherries, brandy and a tablespoon of sugar but you do have to stone the cherries first. Don’t even try stoning those titchy little bird cherries but I know trees with larger fruit and an olive stoner works a treat.

You get a dessert cherry for puddings and a cherry brandy from the fruit-infused acohol. And if you don’t want to go to the bother of taking the pips out try making  ginjinha as here.

Smaller cherries can be used for jams or jellies: just jellies in my case because you don’t need to get rid of the pips first. Put the fruit in a pan, just cover with water then bring to a boil and simmer until soft, breaking up the fruit with a potato masher.

Now put into a sterilised jelly bag and let it strain overnight. Cover with a plastic bag to keep out insects. Discard the solids, measure the juice (in millilitres) and add two-thirds the quantity of sugar in grams. So if you have 600mls of juice you need 450g of sugar.

Boil until you acheive a light set. As cherries have little or no pectin add strained lemon juice and/or pectin powder to ensure a set.

But what I like using cherries best for is my annual summer pudding. You can find a recipe here and this year it didn’t fall apart when unmoulded. If you butter the bowl rather than the bread, overlap the slices, then put the basin into boiling water before unmoulding (easing down the sides with a palette knife) you should get it out in one piece. As I did.

I gave peas a chance

EARLIER this year I found a packet of Hodmedods dried peas I bought on a whim at least ten years ago but forgot about. They were well past their sell-by date but I find Nature doesn’t set much store by officialdom.

I soaked a couple of handfuls, boiled them up (it took a while), added salt vinegar and mint and they made an earthy, mealy dish of mushy peas.

I still had a lot of peas left so I planted some in a couple of plastic boxes and put them on a windowsill. I thought I could have some peashoots for salads.

To my delight, most of them grew although the shoots, or tendrils, turned out to be a little too stringy. Perhaps it’s the variety.

I transplanted them into the garden to grow as snap peas but they were just too fibrous (I reckon it is this particular variety) so let the pods swell with peas. They were sweet and fresh enough to enjoy but I had my eye on the pods. Around this time of year I love to make pea pod soup.

Here’s a slight different version. It’s simple to make. Just roughly chop the pods (you’re going to strain the soup later) and add anything else which is green. In my case it was a couple of sticks of celery and leaves, some broccoli and stalks, outer lettuce leaves, frozen peas and handfuls of soft green herbs: mint, marjoram and a couple of bay leaves.

Nor did I bother with onions as I wanted the green vegetables to shine. If I had had some spring ( green ) onions I would have added those. I wanted a nice thin soup but a cooked potato would have given me some body if I wanted it.

I gently fried the lot in a little oil (not even garlic but you could add that) until it wilted before adding a pint or so of vegetable stock – a cube – and simmered for about 20 minutes.

All that was left was to strain (it left behind a lot of fibre) and after a little adjustment to the seasoning and a bit of chopped mint I had myself a vibrant tasting soup. And all the better from being partly made from leftovers and waste.

I finished the soup off in the bowl with a little wild garlic oil I made and bottled earlier in the year.

You could, of course, do all this with any dried peas, cheaper than a packet from a garden centre. But I certainly gave these peas a chance!

Goodbye to Pigadilly Circus

ONE of my favourite butcher’s shops closed today after almost 86 years. I’d shopped the previous week and everything looked normal. But the liquidators were called in before the following weekend.

It’s an all too familiar story, not enough customers prepared to drop in, select a chop or two or a joint and perhaps some eggs, so Roneys lost business to online shopping. It’s the click-click-click of death for the independent trader.

Roneys, on the corner of Sharrowvale and Hickmott Roads, at what it liked to call Pigadilly Circus, had been trading since 1936. When I moved into the area almost 40 years ago it was one of four or five butchers shops within a few hundred yards of each other. Now just one is left.

It’s the second such shop to close under me. The first was Kempka’s on Abbeydale Road, although that was through retirement, and, like Roneys it was primarily a pork butchers.

At Roneys I weekly bought bacon, eggs, ham, sausages, Barnsley chops and the occasional pork hock although I like to spread my favours and bought joints and mince and the Christmas turkey elsewhere. At lunchtime local workmen would queue for a bespoke filled breadcake or something hot, for Roneys was also the home of the “legendary pork sandwich.”

It had put that boast on its facia for years. Before the present owner, Craig Bell, the business had been run by a butcher who was Jewish. Despite being a journalist, I was so used to the place that the incongruity never really struck me.

That is until he decided to get married and in a quiet moment told me a little story. “I have to go to the rabbi and he asks me what I do for a living. I tell him I’m a butcher. He doesn’t ask the next question . . .”

It suddenly dawned on me that this would make a great story for my Diary column in the Sheffield Star: “Is this the only Jewish pork butcher in Britain?” (probably not is the answer) and I was mildly surprised he agreed.

A little while later I got a phone call. He had obviously had a chat with his intended and family and they were dead against it. Would I please not run the story?

Now I could have said bugger that and gone ahead regardless. But a local journalist has to think of the ramifications of what he writes and I didn’t want to upset a marriage at its outset. Besides, what would I do for pork chops?

The facia was full of VIctorian-type advertisements. Legendry and fame were no stranger to this business. “Roneys famous sausages: Warning, contains real meat,” said one. Another hailed the award-winning qualities of its bacon. In the end it did it little good.

Roneys closure has taken locals by surprise. “It always looked busy,” said one. “We had good weeks and bad weeks but lately there were more bad weeks than good,” said the lady assistant taking my last order, half a dozen eggs and some of their lovely ham.

In recent years Roneys had taken to displaying some of its meats in ready wrapped packages, perhaps to imitate supermarkets, but I like my butchers shops to look like one and guide the assistant’s cleaver poised over the joint – “left a bit more” to get exactly what I want.

Over the years as a journalist I have reported on the closure of at least half a dozen such shops. I recall one on London Road which shut its doors after the owner could find no one in the family, or anywhere else, to take on the business.

He and I toured the premises together, admiring a stack of pork pie moulds, and not a week goes by without my regretting I didn’t try and buy one off him.

Sharrowvale has had a mini-spate of closures in recent weeks. Otto’s, a lovely neighbourhood restaurant, is currently being gutted and refitted as a new Mediterranean-type eatery, and the materials shop Ish has also gone.

There is, of course, an obvious moral in all this: If you want local shops to survive then use them not idly click to order online. Those delivery vans gliding up in your street on a daily basis have already killed our city centre – what is Sheffield with John Lewis and Debenhams? They’re coming for the suburbs now.

Greasing up for the sunflower shortage

THERE is alarm in the nation’s kitchens and supermarket aisles over the impending shortage and rise in the price of sunflower oil. It is already being  rationed to two bottles per customer.

It’s yet another oil shortage.

I shall not be worried. While sunflower is a component of very many foods there are other oils to cook with, vegetable (mostly soy), rapeseed and good old olive oil – although undoubtedly there will be knock-on increase in price due to demand.

It’s been triggered by the disgusting Russian invasion of the Ukraine, which produces much of the world’s sunflower oil, and is likely to last several years.

There are alternatives.

For a start we can all eke out our supplies by following the Chinese practice of saving leftover oil from frying and filtering it back into a separate bottle. Waste not, want not.

If you are frying bacon cut off the rinds, or the fat at the edge of your rashers, and put them in a warm pan to render enough grease in which to fry.

Then there is lard. It’s cheap and acts exactly the same as oil for most purposes when heated. Or duck fat. I keep mine in a jar in the fridge. It’s amazing how much you get from a duck.

I also save any fats obtained from cooking processes – bacon, dripping from roasts, renderings from duck or chicken skin, grease from chops etc – in a pot. After all  it’s what our great geandmothers did in the last war. There is a war on now you know.

If you make your own stocks – and everyone should – you’ll get more than enough fat solidifying on top to use.

It will need to be clarified to rid it of impurities but that’s done easily enough. There are plenty of videos on YouTube like this one: https://youtu.be/yWdvbGd-gqg

This fat, which will turn snowy white on solidifying, can be used exactly the same as cooking oils. Well almost, sunflower’s smoke point of 450F is twice that of lard. But enough for us.

It may take a little time and effort but it’s one in the eye for Putin.