Call of the Kipper

David Broadbent Photography, Northumberland, Beadnell, Seahouse, Swallow Fish, Craster Arms, Salt Water Cafe, food, drink, local, Kipper,

 

As you may know if you are a regular reader, we have occasionally to take WyeDean Deli Confidential on request tours (see our Tuscany title link). I know, tough life! Anyway, most recently we have been Beadnell on Northumberland’s heritage Coastline. Beadnell is a very pretty little seaside village with a small harbour which is (just) still in use by a few small scale crabbing boats. It has an historic lime kiln, a few pleasure craft beached by the harbour entrance and is flanked by a glorious long sweeping sandy beach on one side and some of Britain’s best rock pooling on the other. So pretty is the village and steeped in the Northumbrian idyll that a new housing development just back from the beach car park is already completely sold before it’s even got out of the ground.

David Broadbent Photography, Northumberland, Beadnell, Seahouse, Swallow Fish, Craster Arms, Salt Water Cafe, food, drink, local, Kipper,
Beach Cafe, beadnell.

It’s on these trips “dear readers” to paraphrase Keith Floyd the TV cook in whose style everyone else has since followed, that our food&drink-dar, so long honed and tempered to perfection, really comes into its own seeking out the great and the good places to refresh ourselves. A lot has changed in Northumberland food since my last visit. Some of the great and familiar is, thankfully, still going strong. There are too some new venues on the up as well and the general quality has improved immensely in an area positively shoaling with some of the best produce there is.

David Broadbent Photography, Northumberland, Beadnell, Seahouse, Swallow Fish, Craster Arms, Salt Water Cafe, food, drink, local, Kipper,
Swallow Fish, Seahouses, Northumberland. UK

Beadnell, our chosen base for both trips is a microcosm of the changes in the wider area and a tribute to how well the local tourism economy is doing in these staycation times. Its two village pubs are both open and doing well, no mean feat in the general environment. There has recently been a new café opening, leaning heavily on the freshest of sea food available, and also a street food via shack has hit the beach.

David Broadbent Photography, Northumberland, Beadnell, Seahouse, Swallow Fish, Craster Arms, Salt Water Cafe, food, drink, local, Kipper,
“Bait” seafood street food, Beadnell

First though to revisit old favourites along the coast at Seahouses to calm the nerves that too much has changed and it’s time for lunch and a quick drink in the Old Ship. Opinions are always personal and for me, this is the best bar in the world. Any inadequate written description from me wouldn’t really do it justice. The floor is still plank but the real fire has been replaced with a more convenient and presumably safer, electronic under study. But the bar is still the same, the seating arrangement and the snug, the ceiling stills drips with fishing memorabilia and the faces in the old black and white prints of fishermen of old still look remarkably similar to the old locals propping up the bar. The town’s brilliant and ever busy fish and chip shops stakes are all still going strong with Neptune ahead of Pinnacles and Lewis’ all with take out and sit-in facilities.

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Neptune Fish n Chips, Seahouses.
David Broadbent Photography, food and drink, Seahouses,
Quite simply, the best bar in the world, The Olde Ship, Seahouses.

Back in Beadnell and we have sampled The Craster Arms on several occasions. The bar manager Connor Taylor oversees activity and can certainly run a bar and staff properly. We really have a thing about service. In Connor Taylor there is no such thing as a private conversation in works time that has to be concluded before noticing a customer. There is no element of his management responsibilities, be they staff, stock or admin, which come before establishing what the customer wants. And, he possesses the skill – seemingly impossible for a journeyman barkeeper – the ability to remember your last order and preferences. You cannot get through the door without him spotting you coming in and mentally placing you in the bar service queue. If it’s busy you get the reassuring acknowledgement that you aren’t invisible and you won’t get missed out. And when you are served there is bonhomie, help, advice and genuine personal recommendation based on sound product knowledge and actual tasting, on tap should you need it. This guy can run a bar!

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
The Craster Arms, Beadnell Bay, Northumberland.
David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Linguini, prawns and mussels. Craster Arms.

Why is it that – unlike Connor, the rest of Europe and in particular the States –  often in this country we produce bar staff that just can’t run a bar or couldn’t really care less about their inadequate skill set?

The Wye Valley & Forest of Dean Tourism Association is hoping to address this very point in our local area by helping members to interact with schools and would be apprentices to drive home the idea that careers in catering and the associated service industries are “proper” jobs to take pride in, to aspire to be good, if not the best, at. More on that in later blogs.

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Beadnell Bay Sea trout

In The Craster Arms service is brisk and the food is great varied pub staples. The cod in the house fish and chips is gargantuan and each fish must have taken a couple of burly fishermen or Fisherlasses to wrestle it on board, but well-cooked and presented. Our personal favourites were the fish pie main and the simple seared fresh scallops and the Cullen Skink (smokily aromatic smoked haddock, cream and potato soup) starters. For other mains we sampled Beadnell sea trout caught 500 yards from the pub kitchen and seafood linguine with prawns and mussels – all fab!.

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
The Salt Water Cafe

Across the road from the Craster Arms is the recently opened (and our now favourite) Salt Water Café. Open from early morning onward, take your pick of breakfast, lunch or dinner or just drop in for the best espresso for miles. For dinner, Salt Water Café offers a great hot fish platter for two but we had Monkfish, samphire and cream sauce – beautiful.

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Monkfish and samphire

All extremely interesting and very, very tasty. But there was one job, as yet, left undone. One reason good enough to justify a visit alone. A place no cook neglects when passing by this Heritage Coastline – Swallow Fish in Seahouses. The walls of the modest shop in the back streets are be-decked with the photographic who’s who of cookery. The fish counter is stuffed full with oceanic greatness from along the coast. Many years ago on one visit I remember, the then smaller counter, with its seafood display all crammed to one end to accommodate the massive Turbot they had fresh off the boat that morning. We were here to buy Kippers.

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Swallow Fish, Seahouses, Northumberland. UK

We arrived in the late afternoon light as the small smoker on the left of the shop was about to be lit. For years this windowless black hell hole has produced some of the finest smoke imbued goodness there is. The smoking racks were full and the paired Herring hung from the black oily bars ready to produce the Kipper. High in Omega 3 this is a sustainable fish once out of fashion but now firmly back on the menu and the Marine Conservation Society’s eat list. And so with nothing but a few strategically placed piles of sawdust and a flaming copy of The Sun, one of the lads started a centuries old chain reaction of smoke curing to produce a fish-lovers breakfast and high tea staple.

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Swallow Fish, Seahouses, Northumberland. UK
David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Swallow Fish, Seahouses, Northumberland. UK

We purchased several pairs of kippers the day before we left for the DeanWye from the Swallow Fish postal service. Allowing us the amusing comedic notion of our next day’s breakfast chasing us down the A1. The plump and oily kippers arrived safe and sound the very next day, packed so tightly in vacpac no odour could escape. We opened and grilled a pair immediately accompanied only by some white pepper and a slice of bread and butter – wow!

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Kipper

The vacpacs keep for a surprisingly long time but we put them in the freezer where they freeze really well and we can very much vouch that there is no difference in taste or texture. All of the retail figures on the humble kipper are up – All Hail – the return of the Kipper.

 

David Broadbent Photography, cod, graffiti,
In Cod we trust

 

 

Wassailing Again

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,
Pete Symonds as The Butler

Forest of Dean legend Pete Symonds has finally hung up his wassailing top hat and waistcoat and handed the baton to his successor. For many years Pete has performed the role of Butler at wassailing’s all over the Forest of Dean and beyond. From Twelfth Night onwards his “master of ceremonies” confident baritone voice could be heard ringing around the counties orchards and apple barns. Wishing everyone “Wassail!!” and educating as many of us as possible in the process. But all great things change and Pete is moving on. There couldn’t have been a better bookend to our recent Wassailing piece at Apple County Cider’s Monmouthshire orchards.

In the foulest of weathers well and truly off the Beaufort scale, Pete’s bonhomie was sorely needed for the hardy bunch who had braved the winds and the stair-rod rain of storm Imogen. The resultant flooding which had turned the valley road into a lake and the inclined road to Ragmans Lane Farm into a mountain stream that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Iceland! But brave it the bunch did to see Pete on his Butler’s best form for his last ever wassailing.

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,

Ragmans Lane Farm is a 60 acre site around a cluster of farmhouse and outbuildings. It is a beacon of permaculture farming training as well as offering a myriad of complimentary agricultural courses. Matt Dunwell, who has owned and run the farm since 1990 had (in the circumstances) set aside the Mushroom Shed for an indoor ceremony – much to everyone’s relief.  Once inside the Mushroom Shed, all the visitors began to overheat under the many layers they had assumed necessary and quickly started shedding outer layers of fleece and down jackets before hanging them on the rack by the door. From the other side of the room the sweet smell of mulled Ragmans apple juice wafted from stove top pots and there was a jug of Kingstone Black cider on hand to fuel the crowd and prime Ragmans own wassailing bowl. In the centre of the shed was an apple tree in a pot. The very healthy looking sapling was very nicely decorated by Matt’s team, who had also provided straw bale seating around the edge of the room, but it was nevertheless an anti-climax.

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,
Ragmans apples

Don’t misunderstand; the crowd were in good spirits. Pete was imparting about 0.01% of his local knowledge to a couple sipping on Kingstone Black transfixed by his enthusiasm and .com-like access to anything anyone ever wanted to know about wassailing, apples, cider, orchards……Really, someone should record Pete Symonds!

The folk music track of The Life of Riley band of Morris and Penny (the latter being, Pete’s accomplished and now blooded successor) set the scene against the chatting crowd, waiting for proceedings to begin. Impatient for action, the kids had already started and were careering around the cider apple tree centrepiece in a dizzying blur. Matt suggested that we all brave the weather for the traditional orchard procession. Cue furtive glances out of the windows and door and he didn’t, let’s say, have the most enthusiastic take up. But with overwhelming enthusiasm, and his offer of wellingtons to anyone without, the crowd had nowhere to go but the orchard.

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,

Just what it all needed really. Although now wet and windswept the assembled “good healthers” exhaled their collective sighs relief at being out of the storm and the rest of the ceremony continued in the welcome warm and dry.  Good music, lots of singing, party poppers (to represent the traditional shotgun noise), adorning the tree with toast, all handed out by the wassailing “fair maiden” and the blessing for the health and wealth of the orchard for the coming year and the ceremony was bought to a close so that the Ceilidh could begin.

Bringing the wassailing year to a close, and in a final personal and heartfelt thanks, Matt paid tribute to Pete Symonds’ contribution to the Ragmans harvest and ethos in the many wassails conducted at the farm. There were attempts to get him to commit to one last year, but to me he did not look like he was going to budge on retirement.

And the anti-climactic sapling – well that will takes its place in the orchard planted in Pete’s honour as a thank you.

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,

Why the DeanWye reminds me of Tuscany..

As well as being editor, chief photographer and head washer-upper at WyeDean Deli Confidential I also, amongst other things, shoot travel pictures for an agency with offices around the world. Of course a significant part of capturing the spirit of any place is the local quality food and drink and the people that go with that. Markets particularly, so long neglected in England, seem to attract me like a moth to a bedroom light. So, having spent most of September in three regions (equivalent of UK counties) of Italy, I am feeling particularly spoilt! I know, it’s tough isn’t it – please don’t, sympathy isn’t good for my self-esteem…..

Call it the vino rosso, the sunshine or the total immersion in the language of love, but a very funny feeling struck me during that trip on more than one occasion – How similar to the countryside of Tuscany, Italy is the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley. OK, I know that the similarities do have some limitations but before you write me off as a hopeless romantic or a raging drunkard, let me try and convince you.

The hills around Bagni di Lucca and Seravezza are heavily wooded with broad leaved trees, most of which, Beech, Oak, Ash, Chestnut,  would be easily recognisable to any DeanWye inhabitant, Although steeper that anything here, the mountains are home to and have a long history in, quarrying – marble in their case. The people are either typically conservative country people of those who have moved into the area because they too want to become “typical country people”. There is a real sense of community and local pride in the small towns and tiny villages. The countryside around the villages is teeming with natures larder. Then there’s the weather….sorry, it’s all too easy to get carried away with these comparisons. Apart from the last example, the parallel to the DeanWye is, in my estimation, very difficult to deny.

Italy 2015
Italy 2015

But, somehow they are very different. Firstly, September is the busiest time of year in the Italian wild mushroom season. Wild mushrooms are very important to Italians. No not the farmed ones; the wild ones. Chefs and restaurant owners all have their own mushroom men – fungaioli. Men who venture into the woods, on dark damp dusks and dawns to secret spots and locations whispered to them by their fathers father. They tend to be students of the natural world and lifelong woodsmen. Mushroom season is a prelude to Chestnut season which gets equal billing with the Italian countryside residents and, well, I think you get the picture. Much, much more on fungi later. Here, I’m not to sure many normal people even think about seasonal wild foods with any passion at all – why is that?

Italy 2015
Ceps

This natural food of the forest, like all other wild foods, is noble food in the Italian psyche. It’s tied up in the peasant and wartime partisan lifestyle ethos of eking a living from the land in the absence of anything else. But that ethos isn’t something that is obvious or even expressed. It is the taste and the earthy, nutty smell of the product which confers the nobility. On one lazy Sunday lunch sitting outside in the shade, I ordered Tagliatelle al Tartufo (black truffles) and I could smell my lunch as soon as it passed the kitchen door – heaven!  It’s the sense of occasion that stems from the seasonality, passing of the seasons and the transition of one part of the year to another. It’s in the occasion that everyone can be involved in and enjoy. It’s in the added luxuriousness it brings to the already very simple, tasty and fabulous Italian food. And of course, this being Italy – it’s time for a festival on the subject where locals and visitors alike have the day off, drink a little wine and and eat very well indeed!

Bread served in a paper bag
Bread served in a paper bag

Forget the UK as a whole. Ask yourself why don’t we in the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley prize this wild local crop as highly? Why don’t we value the fabulous venison, boar and game? Why don’t we all go mad for the hedgerow berry bonanza? And why don’t we go wild foraging for wild salads and herbs? All of it is right there! It’s what makes our area so special and yet we lack the passion for it. Perhaps it’s because we have lost connection with the land itself, the growing of and the variety of food, unaffected by chemicals, drugs and fertilizers. Then ask yourself this; if we have in fact lost that wondrous adventure of first finding our food, or some part of a meal, before we eat it in favour of what we like to call convenience – is that convenient trade-off to our quality of life really worth it?

We stayed in Bagni di Lucca as a guest of Tuscan Rooms a remarkably beautiful four storey town house and former soda syphon factory in a  previous life. The fully restored accommodation, complete with a real lift (extremely rare in Italian villages), vertiginous garden terrace and original four flights of marble staircase is ideally situated to explore the region. Right beside the river and in the heart of the lower town and distance walking to a great bar, a pasticceria and several restaurants, guests can rent a room, a floor or the whole shebang. Paul and Colette, the owners, will even pick you up from the airport by arrangement. If you would like to see some of the images from that trip visit my Travel gallery on Facebook

Italy 2015
Italy 2015

 

More mushroom-iness

If you regularly slip on obvious wet patches in the office lobby, don’t secure your ladders properly, don’t wear your seat belt or are constantly scolding your hands under the tap marked hot – this warning health is for YOU!

Some mushrooms are edible, delicious and good for you. Some are not. Some, no one knows if they are edible or not. Some need specific cooking preparation before eating and some can only be eaten in small quantities or the toxins build up in your body. IF, you have no idea which type of mushroom you have picked – don’t eat it. IF the jury is still out on which type of mushroom you have picked – don’t eat it. IF, you nevertheless go ahead and eat it anyway – please leave some of the raw ingredient in a convenient and obvious place for the para-medics to find or, as one eccentric mycologist did, write the scientific name in full on your hand in biro in the last remaining seconds before becoming comatose.

Fungaioli, skilled Italian mushroom hunters, gather mushrooms because they happen to know all about the habitat, natural and social history of a species from a collective experience of people like themselves. They tend not to be transient fungi hunters in it for the money between recorded episodes of “The Only Way is Essex”.

Italy 2015
Wild mushrooms Italy 2015

Fungaioli are also very savvy Fungus Sales Executives. They often deliver their treasure trove of truffley goodness in an attractive open topped wooden fruit box when the restaurant is open and full of customers just to ramp up the anticipation of the food obsessed Italians. Restaurant owners love this as it’s more likely that customers will return to THEIR restaurant for their autumnal fungus fix having seen the overflowing mushroom box come through the front door! Porcino (piglets in Italian) are the favourites amongst Italian chefs and restaurant customers alike. We know them by the common name of Cep but in fact, they are from a group more properly referred to as Boletus. With around 36 different Boletus in the British fungus list alone, most of which are edible, you start to see the sheer variety available and we haven’t even started on the Ink caps or the newly emerging Parasols!

Fungi
Chicken of the Woods Sulphur Polypore

In the current Tesco magazine a passionate and no doubt very nice Managing Director of somewhere or other, reports delivering 5 tons of three varieties (one of them native to Asia) to Tesco of mushrooms a week – three varieties! In the Dean Wye we have another giant flavour of the wild mushroom world – Chanterelle – a soft egg yellow funnel shaped mushroom with an exquisite taste. In spring Morels with their honeycomb heads, grow under our apple tree! Another spring fruiting mushroom is Chicken of the Woods, delicious when young and fresh. The Germans and the Dutch love them! Parasols, mentioned earlier, are delicious and gloriously paper-white when cut, if picked very early. The text books will tell you that, although not poisonous, they can be very bitter once opened.

3K5C2411
Morel

With a gay spirit of adventure I decided to test that assertion of bitterness and sliced one of the open caps (they are so large – small kids use them as parasols hence the name) before frying them in a little butter, I added parsley and a little black pepper just before serving and tried them. They looked fabulous but the text books are accurate and I pulled a muscle in my contorting face trying to get them out of my mouth as soon as possible.

Even if you can identify a specimen, the common names don’t always instil confidence. Take for example, Trombette dei Morti (Trumpets of the dead). This mushroom apes the shape of a black trumpet but its Halloweenesque name actually arose because it grows around the 2nd November, All Souls’ Day. It’s other common name of Truffles of the Poor hints at its widespread use once dried and powdered as a food additive because of its intense aroma.

If you are interested in learning more about mushrooms we can recommend the book Mushrooms by Roger Phillips. It has very helpful with, sometimes life-sized, images of each mushroom together with a useful information panel and notes on edibility.