Thursday, 28 October 2010
October guest blog: Blue Skies and Lincolnshire Pies...
Many stories I had been told of patchwork meadows, quirky foods and Iron Age settlements. I never once dared to transcend this barrier between dream and reality until I was offered the chance to visit Lincolnshire for the first time.
The first day began with arduous car trip all the way from the Dorset coast. As we entered Lincolnshire, the land became pristinely flat with the rolling hills like a palette of colour. We had set off in the early hours of the morning, when the sky was aflame with glorious sunrise. Therefore, we were in need of a good breakfast to kickstart us for the day ahead. We stopped at a local farm shop and enjoyed a basic fry up. Unadorned yet deeply flavoursome, the breakfast had me back into a fit and zealous mentality.
Our first stop was to Tealby, a picturesque village enclosed by a lining of conifers in the heart of the Lincolnshire Wolds. As we approached our accommodation, smells of manure to pollen passed through me like a chainsaw through frogspawn. Even from our accommodation, I could see the cattle grazing over the flat plains and the rows of agricultural crops. Our accommodation was a quaint cottage with traditional interior. I would have liked to have relaxed in the armchair in the sitting room but we were soon off to explore.
Redhill Farm are producers of national award winning free range pork, using traditional, simple methods to produce fine quality fresh pork on the farm from their own herd. Named after the farm itself, the business started in 1998 when Jane Tomlinson diversified her husband Terry’s farming business in response to the growing need for high quality local produce.
As we basked in the sun, Jane came out to give us a tour of her farm. Instantly, her dedication to local food as well as her gregarious nature became clear. Approaching the smokery, the aroma of mingling spices created a surge of appetite within me. I found it incredible to see just how pigs are bred and the strong ethic behind the whole operation. We saw pigs, all with their own huts, rolling around in a pool of mud, suckling their piglets and enjoying their carefree lifestyles. Personally, I find pork a difficult ingredient to cook perfectly as many distributors can lie about origin. Jane’s quality assurance at every stage was meaningful to me and I can see why Redhill farm is known as ‘the stall with the queue’. These pigs had their sweltered faces soused by cool drinking water, their hunger fed by an assortment of feed and their desire for care tended to by Jane and her family. As she presented me with a hamper, bursting with Lincolnshire specialties, it was a true culinary and personal delight.
Moisture clung to my burn flesh as I stood waiting to leave so I decided to sit by the car and focus in on an oak leaf, imposing me into its shade. The sky was of so delicate a blue as to contain something of gently mockery. There was no wind so the lone leaf sidled on its going downwards and touched at last so intangibly the earth with which it was to merge, that the gesture was much gentler than the greeting. The car engine roaring into gear brought me back to myself. With the taste of salty bacon marring my tongue, we headed for Uncle Henry’s farm shop.
Based around 5 miles away from the centre of Gainsborough, Uncle Henry’s is a secluded farm and coffee shop named after Henry Wright. Today, the farm is mixed arable and livestock farm growing many crops and has a large pig herd. The farm aims to promote environmentally responsible farming. In the shop, we saw an array of local produce ranging from pork haslets to stacks of idiosyncratic cheeses to the infamous cauliflower. Everywhere I looked; this shop was championing everything from Lincolnshire and delivered a strong ethical message again. All of us salivating, we picked out some goodies such as a locally sourced grape pressé and cured slices of bacon, directly from the farm. Around the shop, zesty perfumes and meaty aromas tainted the air, arousing fervent wonder on my palette.
As the sunset began to dominate the surroundings, stars studded the sky and I was surrounded by colour that looked like spots of jam, splashed across the sky. We headed through the narrow streets, past the blistering paint and gilt of once bright murals into the centre of Louth, to ‘Melanie’s’, a contemporary restaurant serving local produce at its finest. I ordered the ambitious main of fillet steak in a red wine jus which didn’t fail to deliver in any sense. The beef flaked under my fork, melting slowly into a warm sensation in my mouth. The tang of the red wine added a different dimension with the steamed vegetables, ever so slightly adding a softer and warmer texture to the dish. Overall, my beef along with the duck and sea bass the rest of my family enjoyed, proved food can be of paramount quality without having travelled from the iridescent shores of Denmark.
As the night drew in, we promenaded under the stars which proved a psychedelic phenomenon piercing through the silence of the darkness. We made our way back to the cottage and lit the fire. Its orange and red tendrils explored the fireplace like a new born’s hand, and with the fire crackling gently, I slipped into sleep on my capacious bed.
As I woke up on the second day, I saw the sky ushering in a gray and forbidding manner. We decided to explore Lincoln, and set out after a warming breakfast of delicately smoked bacon, gently caramelised sausage and softly fried egg, all donated by Red hill farm. As we left the enchanting hills of Tealby, the land opened up once again, creating a natural pathway to our destination: the Iron Age settlement of Lincoln.
The heart of this fruitful county is a place full of chic retail and beautiful architecture with historic and mysterious tales pumping through its veins. Walking down the streets, I caught the smells of griddling sausages and rubbed orange peel, among the multitude of sounds. Despite being of Iron Age origin, the town is sculpted around the Tudor era which adds to the quirky charm of the place. Whilst we had to leave to head back home, sitting under the voluminous facade of the cathedral was enough the sear your inner marrow with wonder.
Overall, the trip to Lincolnshire was a real dive into an unknown pool of agricultural and culinary discovery. I not only learnt about the capricious consumer view on local food but the trip was also a personal development for me as a young cook/writer. Whether I am need of inspiration for Watz4Dinner or creative flare, a euphoric shiver will always race through and vitalise me, taking me away to Lincolnshire: land of blue skies and Lincolnshire pies.
This month our guest blog was written by Ryan Gruss; winner of the Guild of Food Writers WriteIt competition 2010 and author of the Watz4Dinner blog.