Good Lord, she’s got chips on her pizza

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Fat lass eats a chip pizza on Lake Garda

I HAVE an uneasy relationship with the pizza, very possibly the world’s most ubiquitous – and abused – street food. It’s everywhere and usually not very well done. Every other new eaterie which has opened up in Sheffield in recent years seems to sell pizzas. Or burgers. Or both.

If I have one it has not got to be piled high with greengrocery, just a smear of tomato sauce, some mozzarella perhaps, olives and, hopefully, anchovies. But, please, not pineapple rings.

As I’m writing this a flyer has come through the door for Domino’s Chipotle Pulled Pork Pizzas. It sounds disgusting. I shall not be buying one.

I’m not long back from Italy and you expect to find them there. But not all Italians are crazy about them. Long ago when Pepe Scime ran his eponymous Italian restaurant on South Road, Walkey (now Vito’s), he would turn up his nose at the mere mention of pizzas and scratch his armpit in a Sicilian gesture of contempt.

I was reminded of Pepe when I came across the Trattoria al Commercio restaurant in Bardolino on Lake Garda. Outside was an A board in three languages. It read ‘Non facciamo pizze’ in Italian, ‘Hier machen Wier keine Pizza’ in German and ‘We don’t make pizza,’ in English. My wife and I thought this is our kind of place and it was.

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No pizzas sold here

Not everyone is as entranced by the food as we were. At the front of the menu it asks for people not to write reviews for TripAdvisor. They say things like they want pizza. But we ignored that and enjoyed the tortelloni, scallopine and a very good spin on zuppa Inglese and reviewed him anyway. And then we went back again.

The dining room, where we were, was packed full of Italians. Tourists are put in the garden room. The owner must have liked us because we ate inside both times. In fact, I visited four times, twice to book, but at the second meal he didn’t even acknowledge us. TripAdvisor thinks he’s ignorant. I think it’s just that he hasn’t got much English.

We had pizzas for lunch in a street café in Verona and another one for tea in Bardolino and on both occasions I was impressed by the quality. However, one at our hotel was pretty dire and probably came from the cash and carry.

But, as ever, we Brits can teach those Italians something about their own food. At a lakeside café I spotted a very fat English lass eating a chip pizza which she must have designed herself. I was so surprised I took a sneak picture. I thought this was the most disgusting thing I’d seen but then I didn’t know about the pulled pork pizza.

 

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Bacon, eggs and fried banana

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IT’S time for Sunday breakfast, a Full English. Let’s see, bacon, eggs, sausage, mushrooms, grilled (or fried) tomato, baked beans, fried potatoes, fried bread and fried oatcake. But there’s something missing, isn’t there? Can’t guess? Where’s the fried banana?

I have eaten at countless hotels and greasy spoons but I have never, ever seen bacon, eggs and fried banana on the menu. At Chez Dawes I – my wife thinks I’m nuts – have it as a special treat and when the bananas in the fruit bowl are just right, ripe but not going to brown mush.

Bacon and banana is a marriage made in heaven. You get a jolt of caramelised sweetness against the saltiness and smokiness of the bacon, as well as a contrast in textures. Add in a shelled soft boiled egg (another little peccadillo of mine) and the oozing yellow yolk sends things up a gear.

This liking for fried banana comes from my early teens when, out with my parents, I ordered chicken Maryland from the menu because I had never had it before. Fried breadcrumbed chicken arrived with fried banana (they should have been fritters but I remember them naked) and I suppose I was hooked. But only gently.

I indulge spasmodically. I don’t have them every week. And it’s not as if when you’re staying over at someone’s house for Sunday breakfast you can say in an offhand kind of way “Could you add a banana to the frying pan?”

I had bacon, eggs and fried banana for breakfast this morning (as you can see) and enjoyed it so much I want to share it.

And shelled soft boiled eggs? You can’t get them breakfasting out, can you? Fried, poached, scrambled or soft boiled with toast soldiers, yes. But there’s a special pleasure, my father taught me, in deftly shelling a soft boiled egg and slipping it wobbling onto your plate. Preferably eaten with a fried banana.

English as it is eaten

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Mr Kipling has nothing to do with a Bakewell Pudding

WE had visitors recently from foreign parts (well, Norfolk) and they were stopping off in Bakewell first. Bring us a Bakewell Pudding and we’ll have it for tea, we said.

“What’s a Bakewell Pudding?” was the answer.

Now I thought people the length and breadth of Britain had heard of this delicacy. They may not have known exactly how it was made – an egg and almond mixture spread with raspberry jam in a puff pastry case – but they would have recognised it when they saw it. Oddly, they had heard of a Bakewell Tart with which it is very often confused but is a different article. They have Mr Kipling to thank for that. Anyway, they bought a pudding and thought it was lovely so we shall know what to get them for Christmas.

This got me thinking about the regionality of British food, lovingly listed for all to see in the book Traditional Foods of Britain reviewed here. Even though I live just up the road I don’t buy the story that the pudding was invented in the town but it has made it its own.

When our visitors arrived an eyebrow went up quizzically when a visit to the bakers involved a discussion of how many breadcakes we should buy for lunch. Breadcakes? They were, I explained, the local word for a flat roll (or a barm cake, stottie, cob, bap or batch, depending on which part of the country you’re in).

Or a scuffler. For more about that you need to read this.

So now I was on a roll, so to speak. Had our guests ever had a Derbyshire oatcake, I wondered? They looked blank so I marched the husband down to the shop, announced he had never eaten one (gasps of amused shock and horror) and served them up for Sunday breakfast. “It’s like a pancake,” he observed. But made with oats, I explained. So healthy, then? Not if fried, said my wife. He liked them.

Normally I make them myself. But if you happen to be a long way from an oatcake (not the hard Scots variety eaten with cheese) here’s how to make them.

I said he could take the remaining oatcake home but we forgot so I had it for breakfast myself, griddled and spread with butter and jam. There’s more than one way to eat an oatcake. Now that ought to be a local saying, shouldn’t it?

Pip! Pip! It’s Lindy’s Jam Session

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Faye (right) watches Beulah crack almond kernels as Lindy preps

“HOW many pips have you got in your lemon?” asked Lindy Wildsmith, cookery tutor and author of umpteen books on kitchencraft. Now there’s a novelty. “Five,” said Faye, who was partnering me that day in the demonstration kitchen at Welbeck Abbey’s School of Artisan Food.

“That’s enough,” said Lindy, the woman who wrote Preserves and Sunny Days & Easy Living. It’s the pectin in them, you see. You need it to set your jams and jellies. We didn’t mean to be smug but the people at the next workstation only had two pips.

You join me at the school’s Best of British Summer Preserves & Pickles course, to which I was invited as a guest. Regular readers know I’m an enthusiastic pickler and preserver but there’s always more to learn. There was. As pips are so important but lemons are so unpredictable you can keep surplus pips in your freezer ready for when a citrus lets you down.

This is my second time at Welbeck. The first was in 2009 shortly after the school had opened and I was writing a magazine article about it. I knew it was a stately home, once belonging to the Dukes of Portland, but the title had died out. I was to meet the school’s guiding light, a lady called Alison, but unfortunately had not done my homework.

First we had a cuppa in the farm shop café before she took me for a spin in her battered car around the 400 acre estate. It looks a small posh village. Imposing buildings once used as garages and carpenters shops now housed the school, a brewery, bakery, dairy, cheesemaker and much else. It was only as the car climbed a rise and the magnificent Abbey rose into view and Alison said “That’s home” that it dawned on me she was the chatelaine of Welbeck itself.

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Birthday girl Kate (left) stirs her pot

She was Alison Swan Parente, wife of current owner William Parente, grandson of the seventh and last Duke of Portland. I was being chauffeured by a member of the aristocracy, albeit with her coronet knocked off.

There were seven women and three men on the course. Faye, the youngest, a teacher from Chapeltown, had won her place in a competition at this year’s Sheffield Food Festival. Paul, from London, and Jonathan from Nottingham, were serious foodies. Kate had been given the place as a 50th birthday present by her friends so three of them decided to join her. Likewise Audrey and Caroline, who were sisters. Some had made jams and jellies before, others were chutney chumps.

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Preserving sisters Audrey and Caroline

We had a whole day to make apricot and Amaretto jam, redcurrant and apple jelly, sweet chilli tomato jam, raspberry cordial and spiced beetroot and marjoram chutney – and take them home to our admiring families.

“It’s addictive. You won’t be able to walk past a market stall laden with fruit and vegetables and not wonder what you can do with them,” Lindy said breezily. “It’s not rocket science but certainly very rewarding.” Too true.

A little later she addressed the elephant in the room. You can’t get away from it but jams, jellies and chutneys contain an awful lot of sugar and that contains an awful lot of empty calories. “Sugar is public enemy number one. It’s taken over from salt. You see some people walking around with Coca Cola bottles in their hands – they are living on the edge. But you won’t get that trouble from home made preserves,” she said.

I tried not to think of that day’s story on page four of The Times which said that sugar made men (but not women) depressed. It sounded like junk science but even so I will be spreading that apricot and Amaretto jam (which smells and tastes heavenly) a little more thinly. I don’t want to live on the edge and be depressed.

I liked Lindy’s style. She was patient and thorough and fussed around us like a mother hen as we roasted (the beetroot), simmered, boiled, stirred, zested, strained and funnelled up a whole store cupboard of preserves. Everything tasted good. “I’m going to have that raspberry cordial with some gin tonight,” said Faye wickedly.

Lindy taught me the upside down spoon test for a set jelly. I do the wrinkle test: put some jam or jelly on a cold plate, leave it in the fridge for five minutes, and if it wrinkles when you push your finger through it’s ready. Lindy scoops some up in a spoon, puts it back in the fridge and turns the spoon upside down five minutes later. If it doesn’t fall off you’re on.

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Jonathan (left) and Paul busy chopping

Some of the students were so keen this was the second or third course. The school runs 15 different courses in baking and breadmaking, 13 in butchery (there’s still time to get on the goat butchery course on October 29, no need to bring your own goat), six in cheesemaking and well over a dozen others from pies and chocolates to foraging and ice cream.

Patience is a virtue in preserving. You can’t rush things. It took Faye and I three attempts before the apricots set. The smell when Lindy dropped in a slug of Amaretto! I don’t mean to be smug (again) but that redcurrant and apple jelly set the first time. And we’d forgotten the pips.

*The School of Artisan Food is at Lower Motor Yard, Welbeck, Nottinghamshire S80 3LR. For details visit www.schoolofartisanfood.org or call 01909 532 171.

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The author pots up

 

Best before Feb 2007

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This tin was only ten years out of date

WE found the tin of Princes peaches in grape juice at the back of the cupboard. On the bottom it said ‘BBE Feb 2007” so they were ten years out of date. We don’t worry about little things like that so we ate them, eventually. No one fell ill.

 They’d have come from my mother in law’s store cupboard. She died ten years ago this year so she would have bought them, probably, around 2005.

 The tin had hung about our cupboard until I unearthed it while rooting through trying to find some marrowfat peas, the kind in pea-ey liquid that helps to make a good gravy if you’re in a hurry. I said we’d better eat them for tea. It took us a month or two to get around to it.

 It was partly in tribute to Margaret and her husband Alan and partly because I wanted to revisit my own Fifties childhood. On Sundays we had tinned peaches for tea, sometimes with evaporated milk, which was to us then what cream (or crème fraiche) is today. Most families did. My father insisted on us eating the peaches with slices of bread and butter. That used to rankle with me but with three growing boys you have to eke out a Sunday tin of peaches.

 My wife has the same memories, only her father would sprinkle his bread and butter with sugar if he thought no one was looking. My father saved the sugar for his lettuce.

 Sitting at my family dinner table I silently vowed that when I grew up and left home I would have my tinned peaches without bread and butter. And so it came to pass. I found myself alone in my bedsit with a tin of peaches on a Sunday evening. I opened the tin and ate the fruit. But something was missing. It didn’t feel right. So I went to the bread bin and buttered a slice of bread.

 I soon got out of the habit but we haven’t bought a tin of peaches for years. Come to think of it, I haven’t had evaporated milk, either. It was always a feature of Chinese restaurants’ businessman’s lunches, three courses for half a crown (12.5p today), soup, chow mein and tinned fruit ‘with E. milk,’ as the menu put it.

 All this went through my head as I opened the tin. I was slightly surprised to see it had a ring-pull but it was obviously an early prototype because it cut me. That tin must have been waiting years to do that. But the peaches were pretty good.

 

 

 

 

 

Strawberry fields forever

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Tom picks strawberries at Birchin Lee

I HEARD the grandchildren being told to pick the strawberries and not eat them or at least not too many! So I told myself the same, filling the cardboard trug as swiftly as I could and taking only the occasional nibble. Mmm, firm and decently sweet.. Around me on this sunny Saturday morning in a field on the fringe of Sheffield other families were doing the same, at least one, with a child, from Eastern Europe.

I hadn’t done this for at least five years, with another set of grandchildren. I have been fruit picking in between, blackcurrants and gooseberries, blackberries and apples and rowans but it has all been for free, in parks and neighbours’ gardens. And my own. But on a Pick Your Own site, as at A Pearson & Sons at Dronfield Woodhouse, you queue up to weigh and pay.

PYO was always worth a story in summer when I ran the Sheffield Star’s Diary page. I’d ring Edwin Pocock at Totley Hall Farm because he was an obliging sort, only too happy to stride over the strawberry fields, pick the biggest and reddest one and pose, jaws ready, to be snapped eating it for my photographer. And, of course, I got some to take home.

Eventually, even though I christened him King Strawberry, he stopped growing soft fruit and, instead, concentrated on running nativity scenes in a barn with a friendly donkey or two. He blamed a lack of trade on people no longer able or knowledgeable enough to make jams, jellies or pies.

I try this on Howard Pearson, third generation soft fruit grower at his BIrchin Lee Nurseies but he’s not having it. Business is still brisk although there are fewer PYO sites, he says, flicking through that day’s bills in the post while watching the till. What variety of strawberries is it? Elsanta? (that’s the only one I know.) “I don’t like Elsanta, too hard. We’ve got Lucy and . . .” he mentions another variety I forget.

The company website tells you that Howard’s grandfather George took over an old nursery as a market garden at Mickley Lane, Totley, in 1889 and expanded to Bichin Lee in 1910. The business wound up in 1961 for family reasons and Howard’s father started the present firm as market gardeners. They grew, among other things, strawberries until 1976, a hot summer “when all the strawberries were ripening faster than our staff could pick them. We decided to open the fields of strawberries to the public for Pick Your Own and we have been doing it ever since.”

So far there are strawberries and gooseberries to pick with a few raspberries already ripening. I tried a few but they still needed sunshine. Howard begged to differ – he’d had half a punnet for his tea – but then it is his business. There were plenty of gooseberries and I picked a pound or two but not not as many as one family who’d picked two big trugs full. Their car was next to mine. What were they going to do with them? “Jam,” said one of the women. “With elderflowers,” said the chap and strode off, presumably to find some.

On the way back we stopped at Sharp’s greengrocers on Abbeydale Road and found 250g boxes of raspberries at two for £1 so bought 1.5 kilos for jam and tea.

I follow the Delia Smith method for making strawberry jam, which keeps the fruit whole. For every pound of fruit you use 14oz of sugar (or 450g of fruit to 400g sugar). Mix gently together in a bowl (or in your preserving pan), cover and leave overnight. The following day the juices will have dissolved much of the sugar.

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The strawberry juice dissolves the sugar

Gently reheat until all the sugar has melted and bring briskly to the boil, adding the juice of at least half a lemon, for pectin. I don’t use a thermometer but put some plates in the freezer to chill. When you think you are ready turn off the heat, pour a tablespoon of jam on the plate and leave in the fridge for five minutes. If it wrinkles, it’s ready.

If you had plenty of scum when the fruit was boiling get rid of it by turning off the heat and whisking in a knob of butter. It really works.

I like a light set with my jams which usually take 24 hours to stiffen up. If your fruit rises to the top of the jar simply upend it (as you would with marmalade) and keep doing so until it is more or less evenly dispersed.

I got five half poundish jars of strawberry jam and the same for raspberry jam. You can proceed as for strawberries but the fruit is much more prone to breaking up. Use equal amounts of fruit and sugar and lemon juice for pectin (or redcurrant if you have it).

My grandchildren love raspberry and strawberry jam. It shouldn’t last long!

Visit http://www.pearsonsnurseries.co.uk

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Raspberry and strawberry jams

Definitely not the same old poutine

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John Parsons’ poutine at the Beer Engine

POUTINE sounds like a female follower of Russia’s President Putin but actually it’s a foodie fad which in my sheltered life I’d never come across until a year or two ago. It’s the Canadian version of cheesy chips, that student stand-by, although as I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties the most exciting thing to eat was a late night Wimpy. We never went exotic and put cheese on chips.

Back in 2015 I saw it on the blackboard at Jonty Cork’s eponymous little café on Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield, and asked what it was. He’d been taught it by a Canadian houseguest who was on a cheesemaking course at Welbeck School of Artisan Food.

The idea was to cook some chips, add cheese curds and bathe the lot with gravy. It is, apparently, a fast food dish which started life in Quebec, the mostly French speaking province of Canada. As I recall Jonty had a bit of a problem getting the right curds – apparently they have to be the same size as the chips – until he settled on a squidgy German mozzarella.

Well it was breakfast so I didn’t get to taste Jonty’s poutine although I saw it on other menus and, once, chalked on a wall. As I’m a bit of a food snob there never seemed to be a cheesy chips moment and then it seemed to fade from fashion.

But I’ve been going to the Beer Engine at the bottom of Cemetery Road quite a bit lately and noticed it on chef John Parsons’ menu. Still, I shunned it in favour of dishes like pig cheek ragu, dipped ox cheek sarni and crab and prawn rice rolls. Then, lunching with fellow foodie blogger and Masterchef contestant Craig Harris, we reckoned that if ever there was a cheesy chips moment it was then.

John makes no claims to it being authentic but says it is his Sheffield version. He didn’t use the word but I will, superior. It is listed as Sheffield Poutine: cheesy chips and ox liquor gravy with cinema cheese sauce. I had to ask what this last was and was told it squirts out of a bottle. See what I mean about a sheltered life? The chips were big and fat. The cheese sauce (curds are not the way with this dish) was a béchamel with cheese (I forget which), spiked with paprika, and the gravy the left-over liquor from the ox cheek. It was lovely with a glass of Neepsend Blonde.

“It’s been on the menu since I started. It’s a case of using up whatever is in the kitchen,” said John. It costs £4 and fills you up splendidly. There’s a veggie version but you’d miss the best element, the ox cheek liquor. So is it poutine a Quebecker would recognise? Probably not but I’d take this any day.

We had only one complaint: you needed a hunk of bread or a spoon, which we got. John was taking no criticism. “You do this” – and he mimed picking up the dish and drinking the gravy down – “particularly after a few pints!”

Check out the Beer Engine at http://www.beerenginesheffield.com and Craig’s excellent blog at http://www.craigscrockpot.wordpress.com

STOP PRESS: John Parsons has now left the Beer Engine (as from August) and is mulling over new plans. It is certainly still worth a visit, particularly for the Korean chicken wings.