Cooks and their Books

I’ve no idea whether Jo and Stu Myers got the jitters when we booked 15 of the country’s top food writer’s into their little café, the Swine that Dines on North Street but if they did, it didn’t show in the fabulous six course tasting menu they produced.

Photo by Angela Clutton

The lunch was the culmination of a morning with the Guild of Food Writer’s, beginning with a visit to Leeds University for a talk by Eileen White, co-curator (with Peter Brears) on Cooks and their Books. Her talk accompanied a display of some of the ancient and valuable cookery books that are part of the outstanding Brotherton Special Collection.

 

The collection dates from the 15th century to the present day and includes a Roman recipe for flamingo tongues, a first edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management and from the 20th century, Robert Carrier’s rather pompous ‘Great Dishes of the World’. There is still time to view the exhibition at the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery at the University of Leeds until 31 January.

 

The highlights of our small-plates lunch were the feather-light parsnip bhaji on top of crumbled Lancashire cheese and pickled red cabbage; a puree of Jerusalem artichoke matched with a fillet of ling. There was a light smokiness in a plate of shallot, lentils and sourdough croutons and praise for Jo Myers marmalade ice cream (accompanying a whisky tart). Praise indeed when it comes from Robin and Caroline Weir authors of ‘Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati: The Definitive Guide’ and Jill Norman, an expert on spices, an author in her own right and notably Elizabeth David’s editor at Penguin. Thank you Swine, we loved it.

Yorkshire Rhubarb

Yorkshire rhubarb

There’s nothing else like it in agriculture – the low wooden forcing sheds of Yorkshire’s rhubarb producers are quiet, warm and dark. As far as the eye can see, there are slender pink stalks topped with curly yellow leaves. Workers pick by candlelight – harsh light would cause the stalks to lose their colour. Caterpillars brought in on the roots are fooled into thinking it’s spring and hatch into butterflies to flutter around in the ethereal glow. Listen carefully and you can even hear the rhubarb growing. The tissue-like membrane that wraps around the leaves, a bit like a daffodil, pops when it unfurls.

These rhubarb sheds and the dozen or so farms that make up the rhubarb triangle between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield are all that remain of a once thriving industry that began around a hundred and fifty years ago when miners from the West Riding pit villages growing a few spuds in their allotment would also sport a few sticks of ‘tusky’ –  rhubarb grown under an old bucket to keep it pink and tender.

From these small beginnings developed Europe’s biggest forced rhubarb industry. The miners began by splitting a few roots, acquiring some land and building forcing sheds. Surprisingly, the unpromising setting of industrial West Yorkshire proved to be ideal rhubarb country. The night soil from thousands of privies and waste from local shoddy mills was used to fertilise the soil and provided just the right conditions the roots needed. In December they would be dug from the cold wet soil and transferred to the forcing sheds where devoid of food and light they would be watered and kept at  a constant 60°F by the coal that was available and cheap.

By the 1920s there were over 200 rhubarb growers in the ‘pink patch’, an eight-mile stretch between Leeds and Wakefield. A farm might grow up to 90 tons a year and a rhubarb train ran regularly from Leeds to Kings Cross. But devastated by cheap imports from Holland and usurped by fashionable fruits from across the world, the rhubarb trade declined after the war. The number of growers dwindled and the last rhubarb train left Leeds in 1966.

But some growers, like Janet Oldroyd at Hopefield Farm and David Westwood at Thorpe Farm near Wakefield kept the faith and despite the decline in demand and rising fuel prices, they battled on. Then a few years ago chefs began to rediscover the unloved stalk, Delia cooked with it and we all started buying, cooking and loving rhubarb again.

There are still only a dozen Yorkshire growers today, but sales have recovered and the Oldroyds say they can sell all they produce which has climbed from 300 tons a decade ago to 1000 tons of indoor and outdoor rhubarb today.

Rhubarb and pannacotta at the Bruce Arms

Janet Oldroyd has done much to champion rhubarb. She is a leading light in the annual Yorkshire Rhubarb Festival and runs tours of the forcing sheds and in 2010 was instrumental in gaining Protected Designation of Origin  (PDO) for Yorkshire rhubarb which means that only rhubarb grown in the rhubarb triangle can be called Yorkshire rhubarb.

There’s hardly a Yorkshire restaurant worth its name that is not serving Yorkshire forced rhubarb during the November to March season, here are a few who have long championed the stuff. The General Tarleton, The Star Inn at Harome, Swine That Dines, Meltons, Partisan.

Our Top Ten for 2015

Squidbeak have eaten well this year and so we bring you our Christmas round up, in no particular order, of the best bars, cafes and restaurants of 2015. Thank you to all our followers, thanks for sending in your tips and recommendations, keep them coming.

Black Swan Oldstead 025Black Swan, Oldstead
We’’ve been here at various stages of its development but have never been more blown away than by the sheer class of the latest regime with Tommy Banks at the helm, especially his fabulous use of fruit and veg from his ever-evolving veg patch. This is truly original, exciting food.

 

 

 

Bundobust_-_Giles_Smith_GJS_7649Bundobust, Leeds
A winning combo of craft beer from the lads at the well-respected Bradford real ale mecca Sparrow and Gujerati ‘small plates’ from Mayur Patel of the peerless Prashad dynasty. What could be better than a pint of Northern Monk and a couple of tubs of gutsy curry and when its crammed and noisy you just know you’’ve come to the right party.

 

 

FOH_Garden_Gate_Baby_Shower_025The Garden Gate, Leeds
At the risk of overusing ‘iconic’ .. this amazing old pub defines the word. Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler lead the campaign to rescue it in the 1980’s and thank goodness he did. It’’s in a curious spot, in the middle of a housing estate in south Leeds, but inside find Burmantoft tiles, stunning etched glass and burnished mahogany woodwork – and great beer, including Marston’s King of Swing, Leeds Brewery Pale Ale and Yorkshire Blonde.

 

Man-Behind-the-CurtainMan Behind the Curtain, Leeds
We told you how highly we rated Michael O’’Hare’’s cooking when he was at the Blind Swine in York. We were there again for his opening night in Leeds and he wowed us once more. Don’t go there for troughing out, but do go for some amazing taste combinations, surreal presentation and a huge lot of fun. More an experience than a meal. But still a great dinner.

 

MannionsMannion & Co, York
Mannion’s is where we head in York when we want really good coffee, a cake or a substantial sandwich and/or a charcuterie plate to share. It’s a deli, takeaway and bakery run by ex-Star Inn chef Andrew Burton in partnership with his in-laws who have long run a fruit and veg stall in York market. Never hits a bum note.

 

 

Three_Pigeons_003Three Pigeons, Halifax
I’’m ashamed to say I visited this extraordinary listed Art Deco pub for the first time this year; Ossett Brewery rescued it ten years ago and brought it back to its glorious heyday. It’’s got three cosy rooms radiating off the drinking ‘lobby’, original terrazzo floors and stylish metal ribbon signage on the doors – and cask marque ale from the Ossett Brewery of course. Expect a warm welcome and a roaring fire.

 

StuzziStuzzi, Harrogate
For a long time we couldn’t find much to recommend in Harrogate; now it’’s booming. One of our best discoveries this year was Stuzzi, an Italian deli and bistro opposite the Conference Centre, run by a team of ex-Salvo lads. Salvo’s loss is Harrogate’s gain with good meat, pasta, terrific bread and cakes and decent coffee.

 

 

Swine that Dines windowSwine that Dines, Leeds
Wow, this place was a revelation when I went in November with an eager young food writer Tom McKenzie who runs an Instagram review site called @apairofdirtypigs. We invited him to write it up for Squid, so here it is, a café that upgrades on Friday and Saturday nights to a restaurant with a blackboard of original, exciting and international dishes at ridiculously good prices.

 

Vinehouse CafeVine House Cafe, Helmsley
It’’s closed now for winter, but on the first sunny day in April make haste to Helmsley Walled Garden and the Vine House Café where you can sit outside in the first rays of spring sunshine or in the vine house itself. Lunch on salads made from the garden produce or barbecued and slow-cooked meats from William (ex-Moro) Mowbray’s ‘Big Green Egg’ before strolling round the beautiful garden with Helmsley castle as your backdrop.

 
Whites-RestaurantWhite’s, Beverley
An East Yorkshire restaurant serving terrific food which somehow falls under the radar despite moving up the Good Food Guide ratings. John Robinson is a talented and uncompromising chef and our latest visit found him on top form again. We’ve only tried his four course menu but there’s a nine-courser for £50 too if that’s your thing.

 

 

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