Saturday, 19 November 2016

A Lincolnshire Feast

     I am a Lincolnshire lass, born on the Greenwich Meridian in Louth.
     Lincolnshire is the second largest county in England and one of the most rural and sparcely populated. The Lincolnshire dialect is said to be the nearest to the Anglo Saxon language and has many unique words and phrases: a hodmadod is a snail, if someone is hirpling about, that is a cross between a limp and a hobble, and a tall person can be referred to as a great long tetherum.
     At one time great swathes of Lincolnshire were marsh or bog and this is reflected in place names such as Maltby-le-Marsh and meant that communities were isolated and it was not a good place for strangers to travel if they didn't know the safe paths to take.
     This in turn meant that Lincolnshire developed its own foods and ways of eating them too.
     I saw on the TV the other day that Lincolnshire Sausages had been denied protected status, which would have meant that only sausages made in the county of Lincolnshire would have been able to call themselves 'Lincolnshire Sausages'. To be honest I was not surprised at this as there is no one traditional recipe for these delicious pork treats. Every Lincolnshire butcher has their own recipe, closely guarded and unique. All I can say with certainty is that those bought in the supermarkets are but a pale and insipid imitation of the true Lincolnshire butcher's sausage, which are spoken of with nostalgic wistfulness by anyone who is a true sausage connoisseur.
     I make my own version which has to have good sausage meat, plenty of chopped sage and a good amount of black pepper. But the proportions and the extra 'secret ingredients' will vary from maker to maker. Some of the possible additions are parsley, nutmeg and a pinch of mixed spice.
     Another Lincolnshire speciality is Plum Bread which is a sort of cross between a fruit cake and a loaf. The fruit has to be soaked over night in cold tea, which plumps them up and gives a nice moistness to the end result. I would imagine that originally dried prunes would have been used, as these are dried plums, but these days it is more likely to be sultanas, with possibly some mixed fruit and candied peel. It is eaten sliced, buttered and with cheese. And is delicious.
     The Lincolnshire Christmas Cake was also a much richer and denser creature than the sponge-cake-with-fruit that passes for a fruit cake these days.
     It had to be made a couple of months in advance and was so stuffed with fruit (soaked in alcohol!) that is was mainly fruit held together with a matrix of cake. The cake was kept in a tin and regularly 'fed' with brandy, dark rum, or whatever spirit was to hand. I remember my mum with a long skewer poking holes in the top of the cake then drizzling brandy into the holes. The brandy both preserved the cake and meant that the flavour was rich and very boozy.
     I can still see Aunty Laura bringing the cake to the table, decorated with a layer of marzipan and covered in royal icing made to look like snow. And cutting slices no more than 1/4 inch thick - and yes they held together - of the rich, black cake. It was an acquired taste and very strong and bitter. The icing and marzipan providing a hint of sweetness. It was not really a cake that children liked, but the adult faces lit up when they were handed a slice, and offered a slice of cheese to go with it.
     Lincolnshire High tea was also rather special and I suspect unique (unless you know different).
     In a farming community meat and potatoes are plentiful and cheap, but fruit and sugar rare and costly treats. So the way we eat our meals today reflects our farming roots. We eat our savoury meat and potatoes first, filling up on the cheap part of the meal, and follow this (possibly) with a sweet treat, the smaller portion of the expensive fruit and sugar.
     But a Lincolnshire High Tea turns this on its head.
     We start with fruit and cream, with bread and butter. I realise this might sound strange to many people. I know Graham was a bit dumbfounded when my mum presented him with a bowl of strawberries and cream, then offered him the plate of sliced bread and butter.
     But just try it. Crush the fruit up into the cream with a fork so that the juice, cream and sugar all combine. Then dip a slice of bread and butter into the liquid, pile some fruit on it and take a bite. It is heavenly.
    The Lincolnshire High Tea shows that you have wealth and status by allowing you to eat the expensive fruit and sugar first, while you are hungry and likely to eat more. However this is craftily offset by giving you (cheap) bread and butter at the same time. We aren't daft!
     When you had eaten your dessert, the table would then be set with the savoury course. In this case sliced ham or other cold meats, salad and more bread and butter. If you were very lucky you might have another Lincolnshire speciality, stuffed chine.
     Chine is a cut of pork from near the back bone. It is sliced across the grain and the slices filled with finely chopped parsley, then cooked and sliced afterwards so you have a meat with stripes of green.
     To be honest it is one of those foods which you either adore or can't stand - and it was never one of my favourites. But my dad, sister and Graham all love it.
      Earlier I mentioned eating fruit cake with cheese and just recently I saw an episode of the antique programme 'Flog It' from Grimsby, where the presenter Paul Martin was offered Plum Bread with cheese and he remarked that he had never eaten fruit cake with cheese before.
     This is one of those combinations made in heaven. Any fruit cake can be used, and yes you can butter the cake too. Use a cheese such as Cheddar, Red Leicester or Wensleydale.
     Fruit cake with butter and cheese, Lincolnshire High Tea and a pork based economy .... I was never destined to be skinny!

Monday, 14 November 2016

While the Cat's Away .....

Those of you who get the Raven Newsletter (£5.00 sub UK and NI, £10 Eire and EU) will know that this week Mike and Graham are having a few days away in Robin Hood's Bay on the North Yorkshire Coast. This is one of our favourite places, so picturesque and a lovely calm and friendly atmosphere.
     They will, of course, also be spending some time in Whitby, just a couple of miles north. Graham has been doing research and has gone with a list of pubs and eateries for possible visits. I am hoping for a full report, with photo's! when they get back sometime on Thursday.
     They have just set off, but before they went I was given a whole load of do's and don't's by Graham, which can be summarised:
DO keep warm
DO eat stuff
DO NOT fall over anything and get hurt

I'm surprised I didn't get 'Don't talk to strangers, and don't get in a car with someone you don't know!'

     Mike said his wife Cherise had given him a similar list. My list to them, on the other hand, was 'Sod off, and have fun!'

     So now I have the house to myself. And a choice of computers - and I can even choose which side of the bed I can sleep on and roll over luxuriously instead of having to avoid flung out limbs.

   Life is good.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

On the Wrapping of Parcels

As a mail order company one thing we know about is wrapping parcels.
     This is primarily Graham's area of expertise, he has been doing it for over 27 years after all.
     When we wrap parcels of goodies, we are concerned about three things in particular:
1) We need them to get to the customer who ordered them
2) We need the goods to be intact when they get to their destination.
3) And we want it to be a pleasure opening the parcel.

     It would be easy to just drop everything in a box with some polystyrene shapes, or bung it all in a jiffy bag, and stick it in the post, but this is not our way.
    We have many times heard the pleased comment: 'I love getting your parcels, opening them is just like christmas!' and this is because we wrap each item with care.
     Very often items are individually wrapped in tissue paper, or candy striped paper, which all started from our desire to be sure that each item reaches its destination in good order. We don't want things knocking against each other and damaging themselves.
     But this also has the added effect that what you get from us is a package full of gift wrapped items, and which are great fun to open.
     Getting all the different shaped parcels in a single package can be a bit like trying to get one of those multi-shaped puzzles into its box, and sometimes there is no answer but to send out more than one parcel - leading to the labels 'parcel 1 of 2', 'parcel 2 of 2' and so on. And, of course, because we sell such a wide diversity of goods from books to dreamcatchers, we do sometimes get the classic 'brick and a feather' situation. This is an order which consists of something squat and blocky together with something long and narrow, or where there are wildly different masses, something heavy and dense with something light and fragile. Or the most challenging - something heavy, dense and blocky, with something long, delicate and fragile. In these cases the safest option for the goods is to send two or more parcels.
     Coming up to birthdays and especially Christmas, we've found that customers often treat themselves to one of our Surprise Parcels. We can tailor these to an individuals tastes or interests, so that you can have a parcel of gemstones, incenses or candles or a little bit of all sorts. As you choose how much to spend (plus p&p), these can suit all pockets too.
     These special parcels are often kept by the customer until their special day. I remember getting a letter from an elderly chap soon after christmas saying how much he had enjoyed his parcel of goodies as he lived alone and had no family, so this was the one time he got to open a surprise.
     We take the same care with every package we send out, so that whatever you receive, will (we hope) be a joy to open