A Taste of The North – Introduction
I’m not a native of the north. In fact, I have only lived in Manchester for seven years. But I am in thrall to the towns and cities of the north; their grand buildings, their culture and traditions, their landscape (moors and mountains are so much more dramatic than the landscape of the south!) and, increasingly, their food. Food is very important to me – I make sure to include a recipe in each issue of my fanzine, the Shrieking Violet – and I am a passionate advocate of the benefits of cooking your own meals (it should be both healthier and cheaper to do so). I rarely get the chance to write about food, however, so I will be using this blog as a chance to share some of my favourite northern food experiences.
Since I have lived in Manchester, I have been playing in Manchester School of Samba, which went through a phase of being invited to the Reebok Stadium to entertain the Bolton Wanderers fans before the game and at half-time. For some of the other drummers, the perks of the gig were free football tickets. Mine was as many free Hollands Pies (from nearby Accrington in Lancashire) as you could eat. Cheese and onion, if you’re asking.
Unfortunately, as a vegetarian I am going to have to gloss over Bury’s famous black pudding, hearty staple Lancashire hot pot and the novel, but entirely-appropriate, ‘Manchester egg’, a recent invention which wraps pickled egg in black pudding before adding the standard sausage meat and breadcrumbs. However, in Preston, I have been able to enjoy local delicacy butter pie (as the name suggests, it largely comprises pastry, crumbled potato and lashings of butter), a foodstuff so deliciously simple it makes you wonder why it is not as popular elsewhere, and parched peas, the ideal street food for anyone who prefers their snacks stewed, salty and vinegary and eaten with a small spoon.
Similar to parched peas, steaming black peas are one of the best ways of warming up on bonfire night, especially when they’re served in a cup from a stall that’s slowly sinking into the quagmire that is Manchester’s Heaton Park on 5 November. Sticking with peas (yes, peas have truly become one of the loves of my life since I have lived up north), I have had the best chips and mushy peas of my life in late-night Sheffield.
Visiting a superb stall on Macclesfield market in Cheshire on a snowy day earlier this year, I was delighted to find a Bakewell tart that was more like a spongy, lightly almond-flavoured closed crust pie than the usual white-iced, cherry-topped supermarket version, to which it bears little resemblance. It was at Macclesfield market also that I encountered Derbyshire oatcakes (a marginally fatter version of the better-known Staffordshire oatcakes) and pikelets (a slightly sweeter take on the oatcake) for the first time. For anyone who has grown up with crumpets and pancakes, they combine the best features of both; light, flat, airy and spongy, and edible in combination with almost anything, savoury or sweet.
In the Greater Manchester region (and sticking with the pastry theme!), our best-known dessert is the Eccles cake. I have been attempting to recreate some of my favourite northern foods at home, giving butter pie, parched peas and mushy peas a go so far. In my next post, I will share my recent experiences of making Eccles cakes.