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Essentially England News - Make Time for a Show!
October 03, 2014

Make Time for a Show!

I'm not a fan of crowds, so I usually talk myself out of visiting the big shows that happen all across England during the summer months. It's easier - or so I'm told - to drag me to a food festival, because there I can distract myself from the press of people by talking about food and ingredients and just enjoy the passion and enthusiasm of the artisan producers who have stands there.

So what happens at a traditional English village show? Let me show you. We really had it all:

Weedon Lois Food Festival and product show ©

  • A famous, celebrity chef opening the proceedings. (And he sounded just like he does on TV!).
  • A produce exhibition that left me gaping. Really. I've never seen anyone go to the effort of pleating the green part of a leek. Nor did I know that onions grew to such a size, or carrots could be sooooooo long. And even though I have since been informed that the secret to growing long, straight carrots is a simple plastic drain pipe, I'll probably pass on giving this a try. My favourite chopping board is only a foot long.
  • Cooking and baking competitions, which were very popular judging by the number of entries, and which had anything from bread to cake to flan and even sloe gin.
  • A flower show, which had some pretty impressive blooms. Football-sized dahlias, anyone?
  • And away from the fierce competitions, there was food: local brewery Gun Dog Ales brought some very tasty offerings, as did Fleur Fields Vineyard from Brixworth. A bottle of their sparkling rose wine would later serve to celebrate my brand-new, ink-not-yet-dry publishing contract. Bite Me Spices offered BBQ rubs and spice mixes, while Cobblers Nibble from Northampton had a long table full of tasty cheese. In between, there was cider, olive oil, flat breads, pies, wine….. And we never even made it to the ice creams!
  • In true English tradition, it even tried to rain a little, but nobody minded. We all had far too much fun with the produce and the food!

    Six Years of Silence = 1 Year of Honey

    Hellidon Church in Northamptonshire © essentially-england.comHere's a lovely little story I came across while exploring the tiny village of Hellidon in the northwest corner of Northamptonshire. (Note: the Red Lion pub does seriously lovely lunches!)

    During the second World War, most church bells across England were silenced and Hellidon's church bells were no exception.

    When it came time to let the bells ring out once more to celebrate peace in 1945, the villagers found that a swarm of bees had set up house inside the bell during the war years. The hive was a big one, immobilising the clangers of the bell completely, but upon being removed, the villagers found a hoard of honey so large, it supplied the whole village for a year!

    In a time of rationed everything, that extra unexpected payment for the church bells' silence must have been very welcome, indeed!

    Fortified Pudding? Yes, please!

    One of the categories most heavily contested at the produce show was the one for home-made sloe gin. Despite the simple recipe - sloes, gin, sugar and maybe a sliver of cinnamon - the variations in colour alone were surprising. Mine usually turns out a deep red like aged port, but one of the show's exhibits was a beautiful pale straw colour. It's a shame that the shows don't include a taste test of the competing products as I would have enjoyed finding out how that sloe gin tasted.

    Plums for Plum and Sloe gin puddingSloe gin isn't just lovely as a fireside drink. It's a good cold medicine and handy to have around when you're cooking.

    The other Sunday I had a bowl of plums in the kitchen that lacked proper flavour. Actually, what the plums lacked was acidity, so I mixed the halved plums - about 400g in the end - with a couple tablespoons of sugar, the juice of a lemon, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a generous glug of sloe gin - maybe a sherry glass full? - in an oven-proof dish.

    The sloe gin will add a tiny edge of bitter to the plums and, along with the lemon and cinnamon, cut the woolly sweetness. The result is a pudding for grown-ups. Not overly sweet, but with a lovely depth to the flavour.

    Next, set the oven to warm up. You want approximately 200°C / 390°F / gas 6, and then start mixing up some crumble topping. It's something I do in a blender and the quantities are roughly:

    • 100g / 4oz all purpose flour
    • 75g / 3oz sugar
    • 50g / 2oz cold, unsalted butter
    • a handful of porridge oats or pumpkin seeds (optional)

    A little more or less won't ruin your pudding. Blitz together until you have crumbs, then spread over the plums in their oven-proof dish and bake for about 30-40 minutes. You want your crumble to be nice and golden on top and I like it when the juice bubbles up through the topping. Check after 30 minutes to make sure the topping doesn't get too brown.

    I like to let the crumble rest for 10 minutes or so, out of the oven, before serving. It seems to make the topping crunchier. And like many English puddings….this is great served with either custard or pouring cream! Enjoy!

    And Next Month …

    I know I promised you cheese recipes last month, but I really haven't got round to them yet, as the weather's been so balmy and not at all autumnal. So I'll leave that for next month and will only offer a quick recommendation: my favourite cheddar now and for a long while since is Godminster Cheddar. If you can lay hands on some, I'd suggest you try it. It's gorgeous!

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