The reader from America inquired, you might think a little unkindly, “Are you, perchance, a member of the esteemed Dull Men’s Club of Great Britain?” It was hardly the kind of reaction I’d hoped for to my interest in all matters related to local food and drink.
Some might call it being an anorak tracking down the last artisan maker of the once popular polony sausage, for which Sheffield was very nearly as famous as steel. Or to make my own fruity brown sauce rather than go to Waitrose and take a bottle of HP from the shelf.
Food geekery? I call it enthusiasm. The story of food is an important branch of social history and I am only walking in the footsteps, if parochially, of the late, great Dorothy Hartley, who roamed the country to record Britain’s foodie past. Is that dull? Not at all.
My favourite books on food don’t simply have recipes but come with good stories, a little bit of potted history and a seasoning of advice and that is what I have tried to do with this blog, which has just reached a memorable milestone – over 20,000 hits.
So 16 months ago after I gave up restaurant reviewing for a living and started this blog I thought I’d take stock of how things have gone so far. It has been a surprise. For a site that concentrates mainly on this less than glamorous gastronomic ‘beat’ of Sheffield, South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, it has had a lot of attention overseas. Much, I suspect, has come from ex-pats and exiles as well as Anglophones – there are visits from USA, Canada and Australia – but also France, Germany, South Korea* and hello to my solitary visitor from Somalia.
It got off to a good start with ‘plugs’ from the excellent Lesley Draper, restaurant reviewer and food writer for the Sheffield Telegraph, and Rony Robinson on his BBC Radio Sheffield programme
I keep a close eye on the site and can tell what posts are popular and where. So I was curious when, a month or so back, I got a spike of interest in a post about the Sheffield fishcake written at least six months before. They were all coming from the town of Gloucester, just outside Boston, Massachusetts.
A town website was bemoaning the disappearance of a canned (tinned) fishcake and a visitor posted a link to this site’s post on the Sheffield fishcake. After a gratifying 200-plus views I thought I’d try my luck by posting a link on the site, GoodMorningGloucester https://goodmorninggloucester.wordpress.com/ to my post and recipe for mushy peas. After all, what goes better with a fishcake? Sadly, Massachusetts is not ready for mushy peas. It got no hits. I did get a polite acknowledgement and the ‘dull men’ jibe. I hope it was tongue-in-cheek.
Despite my own fascination for turkey scratchings, elderberry sauce, Portuguese egg tarts, potting meat, making bacon or a Thai video chef called Poo, it is the posts which are restaurant reviews which get the most visits. But some things have surprised me. I would never have guessed my hymn to toast and dripping or the joy (and despair) at finding a cuppa abroad would create as much interest as they have.
Some readers prefer the more esoteric posts. “I like the origins and manufacture of food if not more than the reviews,” said Robcmar. “It’s the geeky stories I love the most,” agreed Niki.
So I shall carry on being geeky about food. I know there are others out there who feel as I do. As my reader from Gloucester, Massachusetts, added: “The Dull Men’s Club of Great Britain has set a high standard that we can only hope to live up to.”
*South Koreans are hooked on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares TV series which featured Sheffield’s Runaway Girl restaurant, transformed into Silversmiths. With Korean sub-titles, it can be seen on YouTube. Head chef Richie Russell has become a cult figure over there and people have been following his progress. When I reviewed a meal at Remo’s, where Richie is now working, someone put a link on YouTube to Richie posts on this blog. They have received around 1,000 views so I’m not sure who is the bigger hit, me or Richie!