Tuesday, 27 February 2007
Where have all the dishes gone?
In the three months I have been back in my native North East of England, I have discovered and re-discovered so many dishes that come from this area. The North East is literally teeming with great local recipes that, rather tragically, have fallen from people's minds. Being a passionate lad, I'm a great believer in finding good in everything, especially food and the history behind it. Lets face it, classic dishes don't just happen by accident. Somebody has put it together, tested it and tried it and at some point it has been incredibly popular. Just how do great local dishes get forgotten about? Is it anything to do with the over-complication of today's cuisine, the multitude of choice, fast and ready food or is it simply plain ignorance and a lack of will to want to know? I guess it is any of these and more, but I for one will not give up in my efforts to re-establish these great local dishes.
I cannot think of one place I can go to in the area to sample any of the dishes that are, or were, common to the area. Pan haggerty, a simple food of layered potatoes, onions and cheese that I ate most weeks as a child. Cockle and mussel soup. Newcastle pudding, a steamed bread and lemon dessert similar to the famous bread and butter pudding but better. Bacon floddies for breakfast. Singing hinnies for tea. So many that are so good, yet we don't eat them any more. It makes me want to cry.
By far and away the best 'Geordie' dish is a traditional leek pudding. Now leeks are a big thing up here, with leek growing competitions the 2nd biggest contest after the Newcastle v Sunderland derby. Monster leeks are carried into pubs and community centres all over this great piece of land and it is more than a way of life. Never let these traditions die, as simplicity of life is the key to happiness. With this amazing vegetable, we decided many moons ago to cover them in a suet suit and steam them to silky softness. I love them and have ate a million of them over the years.
Here is my version of a true classic, which has it's mild onion flavour lifted somewhat with the addition of cheese, mustard and cream. I bake mine rather than steam them. Nothing wrong with steaming, it will give you a spongier and more melting sensation, but I prefer the crustiness that baking brings out. Also, 2 hours steaming or 30 minutes baking? Let your stomach answer that one for you. Serve it with a beef and ale stew, Newcastle Brown Ale of course. The food of champions. Champion man!
Northumbrian leek pudding
To serve two
100g self raising flour
50g shredded suet (beef or vegetable)
one large or two small leeks
100ml double cream
50g strong cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon English mustard powder
salt and pepper
1 - Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C, GM4 and butter two individual ovenproof pudding moulds.
2 - Mix the flour and suet with a pinch of salt and pepper. Combine with enough water to make a stiff paste.
3 - Slice the leeks length ways, wash thoroughly and finely shred.
4 - Soften the leeks in butter until just coloured. Stir in the cream, grated cheese and mustard powder and combine, ensuring a sloppy mixture.
5 - Roll out the pastry to approximately one cm thick and divide into two. Line the pudding moulds and trim the excess pastry. Roll back out again and cut out two `lids' for the puddings.
6 - Pile the leek mixture into the puddings until ¾ full and top with the pastry discs. Dab the edges with water and seal. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes until crisp and golden.