Saturday, 18 June 2011

A Taste of Home

Let's start, in the words of the late. great Douglas Adams, with "a nice, hot, cup of tea". Here they are:

 Industrial strength tea to deal with industrial strength jet-lag.

What's not to like? It's strong, it's hot, it has full cream milk and it has sugar. Look at the pea-green mugs. Tea in a mug. On a wobbly table. In the village of Haworth. Luvverly.

Context: three hours before we had disembarked from a plane at Manchester airport, stumbled feeling jet-lagged and grubby to our hire car and headed north. We'd been on the plane for more hours than I care to mention, flying from Perth to Singapore, Singapore to Munich and then Munich to Manchester. The carrier was Singapore Airlines so the food and service were great but, let's be honest, airline tea and coffee, especially when you factor in those little containers of UHT milk, are not the best.

Determined to beat the jet-lag, we wound our way up through quaint towns such as Todmorden, Halifax and Hull, and then decided that, being fairly close, we would go and pay homage at the town-cum-shrine to the Bronte sisters, Haworth. By the time we got there, we were gasping for tea. Opposite the railway station was a tiny, hole-in-the-wall English tea shop. If I told you it was staffed by two hearty Yorkshire lasses with rosy cheeks and strong accents, you might not believe me, but it was. We sat outside on wobbly chairs by the wobbly table on a thin strip of pavement. It's fair to say that we gulped but, by heck! (or 'by 'eck!' as they say in Yorkshire), it was a grand cuppa. One of those memorable cups of tea that will live in legend. Nectar!

Fortified, we now had time for a bit of a look around. I won't dwell overly long on the village itself except to say that if you can go, as we did, on a glorious spring day with not too many tourists around, then it is well worth a visit.  It's very, very pretty as dour mill towns go.

Looking down Haworth High Street across to the moors.

We found a bakery in the high street with all kinds of interestingly named provender in the window. I had, of course, heard of parkin, which to me has always been a more substantial take on a flapjack or a more vigorous version of gingerbread. Parkin keeps well once made and apparently tastes better after a few days anyway, so I bet these ones stacked up in the window were approaching delicious.

I regret not buying some. They looked great and you could smell the ginger.

The jet-lag had robbed me of my appetite so I didn't buy any. Why I didn't think to buy some for later, I don't know, probably the jet-lag again. Neither did I purchase any of these:

It has to be good just because of the name.
I don't know how I managed to resist the fabulously named "Fat Rascals". I had never heard of them before but I will never forget the name. A quick search tells me that these are not only particularly local to the Cleveland and County Durham area but also that the recipe ( a rock cake with currants and fruit peel) dates back to Elizabethan times. Curiously, there is also an option to stuff them with the elements of a cooked breakfast - sausage, egg, tomato and bacon - to make a breakfast sandwich. Not something I feel I could stomach on a regular basis but  a combo that would surely make an excellent hangover cure.

We were staying in the little fishing village of Staithes where we had an 18th century fisherman's cottage (yes, I have been in Australia long enough now to be awed by anything architecturally older than 200 years) and where we also had a local pub.
On a cold night, it's great to be inside with a pint of ale and a roaring fire.
The Cod and Lobster has been on its site for many years but the building has been through a few changes. This is mainly because, sitting right on the harbour wall as it does, parts of it periodically get washed away by the huge storms that brew up in the North Sea.  Optimists that the locals are, they rebuild it and go on with the serving of beer and good pub food. It is a warm, welcoming place and has the added benefit of allowing children in until 9pm which our boys thought was 'cool'. The boys also liked the fish and chips:

I like it when you can tell there's a fish under the batter.

Now I live near to the port of Fremantle and have to say that the fish and chips there are great. However, too often the portions of fish that you get are amorphous lumps of shark covered in batter. You can't see that they were ever a fish - possibly because to do so, you would have toserve up a whole battered shark.  In Yorkshire we got used to fish that was fish shaped - wider at the head section tapering to the tail. It had a different texture to Aussie fish, firmer and chewier, very white and the sections falling cleanly apart. The chips were different too, thicker and very moist after they had soaked up the malt vinegar. And mushy peas are are main part of the dish...
 Shh! Don't tell - apparently most mushy 'peas' are really lentils.

Mushy peas with mint sauce or vinegar will come as a side serve if you order your fish and chips in a restaurant or, if you are in a chippy, close to the top of the extras' menu. A friend of mine who knows about such things, tells me that mushy peas aren't really peas but yellow lentils mushed and with green colouring added. This is because if you mush actual peas and then try to preserve them they will turn grey. Hmm.
We had a good many meals of this sort over the next couple of weeks.  Sometimes there were variations:
Deep fried garlic mushrooms at The Hatless Heron

Scampi and chips at The Hatless Heron

We discovered a great little cafe in Whitby called The Hatless Heron. I am ashamed to say that we only discovered it because of their big, obvious "Free Wifi" sign on the shop door and we were not just starved for food at that moment but also starved for Internet. We placed a biggish order (so we could eat slowly and garner as much time on-line as possible) and everything came out quickly and was very good. The scampi was juicy and there was lots of it, the garlic mushrooms were gorgeously buttery inside their crumbed coating. I got butter on my iPhone in the process of sampling one. The chips were big and fabulously textured because they had left the skins on the potatoes. I love it when they do that. Do you want a close up? Well, I do.
 Soft chips with just a hint of crunch on the skins.

As you can see from the pictures above, The Hatless Heron was also very good about serving up generous portions of simple fresh salad as part of each order. The staff seemed surprised that we actually cleaned our plates - it seems that often the salad is left behind. We could have had bread and butter for a little extra charge if we'd wanted it.
I have to put in an honourable mention for the drinks:
 I'm not a drinker of stout but I am married to one.

It smells of urine, but in a good way.
English liquor licensing laws are much more relaxed than in Australia, especially Western Australia. While there has been some recent change here about what alcohol you can buy and when, it is still something of a treat for us to go to the UK and have a drink with lunch in a cafe. My partner proclaimed his stout to be satisfactory and, not being a stout drinker myself, I will take his word for it. Me, I had a bottle of organic cider - you can tell it is organic when it is cloudy rather than clear. It was a real flavoursome mouthful, the fizz gentle and not overwhelming, the taste crisp and sour and the scent that strong fusty umami that is pleasantly reminiscent of an orchard in autumn and riskily close an un-mucked out horse stable. My partner took a sniff and declared that it 'smells of pee'. And it kind of does, but in a good appley way. Pee-smell aside, it went so well with the chips.
We did have a good day in Whitby. It was school holidays and quite crowded but we managed to buy some sticks of rock:
  All the colours of the rainbow - plus rainbow.
 And we found, but didn't buy, Vampire Relish.

I did try the Vampire Relish. It was your standard tomato and chilli jam which was being sold on the promise of being super-hot. I've been destroying my palate with chilli of increasing degrees on the Scoville scale for many years now so any claim to superlative chilli heat is like a red rag to a bull. I have to give it a go and see if it I can humiliate the vendor by responding to their concoction with a shrug and a 'meh'. The Vampre Relish to me it was mildly warm and not worthy of anyone's (or any vampire's) attention. It would have been nice in a ham sandwich or on a pork pie though.
If you are wondering "Why Vampire Relish?" this is because of Whitby's starring role in the book, "Dracula" by Bram Stoker. It is at Whitby that Count Dracula first steps ashore in England in the guise of a giant dog leaping off a ship where all the crew are dead, drained of their blood by the vampire.. Whitby Council, bless'em, have capitalised spectacularly on this and as a result, you can now go on "Dracula Tours", "Ghost Tours" and even experience Goth Weekends in the town. Certainly parts of it, such as the Abbey on the cliff top, are gothic enough:


I don't know about a Gothic Weekend personally. Me, I'd rather go back for the scampi and chips.