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Local northern food to put a smile on your face

Northern Stars supper club. Pt.2: local food for local people

sliced rhubarb

(This is the second article on our Northern Stars supper club… you can check out part one here)

When we had to name our team for the recent ‘A Question of Taste’ TV show, I rather glibly chose Northern Stars… it chimed with our team’s all-northern roots, and echoed North Star Deli’s title as the genesis of our team. When we hatched plans for our recent supper club after the show, that name morphed to became a genuine manifesto for the evening. I was keen to make the JoinUs4Supper evening a showcase for some of our favourite local food stars and producers… the products I’ve known and loved for sometime… and those which I take down to Miss South in London, to bring a taste of the Pennines to the big city.

The combination for the night of farmer, chef and foodie gave us a chance to share some of these tastes with friends and fellow foodies in Manchester, and now we can share them with you too.

Northern stars local specialities 1

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Rhubarb and custard tarts

Angled plate1 new

I love custard of any description. Whether it be Bird’s or Ambrosia’s Devon kind or fresh stuff poured over a crumble or a quivering baked version, I love custard. Sadly it has never reciprocated that love and everytime I’ve tried to make it, there have been problems. It’s split, ended up scrambled, been full of lumps and the packet version has resembled concrete. I’ve always thought if I wrote a book about my cooking exploits, it would be called ‘Custard is my Nemesis.’

Few things go better with custard than rhubarb so when I finally got my paws on some proper Yorkshire forced rhubarb for the first time this season (even though Mister North has been cooking up a storm with it for a while now this winter.) I decided that come hell or high water, this weekend would be the time that I tamed custard, even if it meant the kind of mayhem in the kitchen that accompanied the cartoon duo of the same name.

I’ve been eyeing Dan Lepard’s Bay Custard Tarts forever, even having cut the recipe out of the Guardian and kept it when it first appeared several years ago and thanks to the clear and foolproof instructions in Short and Sweet, I knew this was the place to start with custard, but decided to put a seasonal twist on it by layering the baked custard with a topping of tangy rhubarb curd, partly because it would no doubt be delicious, but because it might hide a custard malfunction…

I made the tart cases from scratch using Dan’s sweet shortcrust recipe and tips on pastry handling. The first time I made pastry it was exceptionally good and I wondered why people worry about it, but every subsequent time has been a mess of varying levels. I decided to try and teach myself better pastry skills while I was mastering custard, but you could just use shop bought if that’s easier. But do follow Dan’s tip to only blind bake the cases for 15 minutes and undercook them slightly to allow the custard to ‘stick’

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TV Dinners: A Question of Taste and beyond…

NorthernStars frame

Well, as you may already know, Mister North is on TV tonight; part of a team on BBC2’s new food quiz ‘A Question of Taste‘. Our team, which we christened ‘Northern Stars’, is made up of a trio from the North West, united by our love of the knowledge and experience of food. (Update) You can now watch the episode on BBC iPlayer until Jan 30th, or on Youtube.

Myself, Joby aka Mister North: general food geek and co-author of this blog, alongside my London-based sister Miss South (who cheered from the audience but didn’t fancy being in front of the cameras on the show!) I live in Todmorden in the South Pennines (roughly half-way between Manchester and Leeds, straddling the Lancashire/Yorkshire border). Tod’s a lovely small town with a great market, a lot of brilliant local food producers, and through Incredible Edible Todmorden is leading the drive to become self-sufficient in food).

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Parkin

I don’t have much of a history with Bonfire Night. Not celebrated in Northern Ireland for a variety of reasons, Halloween was our festival instead. Talked of in Enid Blyton books and Blue Peter, I was vaguely aware of bonfires, Guy Fawkes and pennies for the guy as a child, but never celebrated it until I was about 15. Mister North had moved to the north west to attend university and seeking teenage independence, I travelled over to visit him at half term. My long boat and train trip was rewarded by a trip to the hills outside Rochdale with his flatmate to experience Bonfire Night properly.

Around the huge bonfire, there was treacle toffee, sausages, black peas and parkin. Memories are slightly hazy from the lashings of Boddingtons also available, but the peas were just the thing to thaw you on a freezing cold night, but it was the parkin that warmed my heart completely. All sticky with treacle and chewy and delicious with spice, it almost converted me to standing in fields in November.

Sadly, they don’t go in for parkin in the south and thus I’ve still never really embraced Bonfire Night even though I’ve lived in England for years. So imagine my glee when listening to Woman’s Hour this week, I discovered parkin was super easy to make and that I just had time to let it mature in time for the big night.

In the end, I used this recipe from Waitrose to make my parkin as I couldn’t be bothered adjusting the imperial measurements from the Radio 4 one and it didn’t call for self raising flour as I could neither be bothered to mix my own or get dressed to go and buy some. I subbed golden syrup for the honey and left out the sugar as all that treacle and syrup is sweet enough for me. I used lard instead of butter and upped the spicing with twice as much ginger and a pinch of mace. The whole thing barely took longer than setting out all the ingredients it’s so simple. Do use a pan to heat the milk on the stove as you add the bicarb to it and it expands quite a bit. It’ll be volcanic in a jug.

Other than that, it’s simple, straightfoward and perfect for kids to do. Don’t overmix the batter, it can afford to be a little bit lumpy like muffin batter. Then pour into a deep square tray you’ve lined as parkin is traditionally served in squares. Recipes vary regionally and this one sounds more like the darker Yorkshire version. Pop in the oven for 50 minutes and get very hungry as a delicious oaty flavour heats up the kitchen.

You’ll need good willpower with parkin. It’s essential that you allow it to rest and don’t eat it straightaway. A week is about the length of time recommended to let it mature into proper sticky heaven. I cooled mine in the tin, cut into squares and stashed it away in a tin on a high shelf out of mind and managed to forget about it for about a week.

And it tasted amazing. Dark with treacle, spiky with ginger and smoky with mace. But it was drier than I expected. Mind you I was expecting it to stick to the roof of my mouth and melt on my tongue which might be slightly over the top. I’ve only got a 15 year old memory to compare it to after all. And I did manage to consume two large pieces with pleasure and a large cup of Yorkshire Gold in front of the Corrie omnibus which still made for a fairly perfect morning. I’d stick a bit more syrup in future, cook it slightly less and maybe only leave it for two or three days next time. But now I’ve rediscovered parkin, I’ll be putting Bonfire Night in the diary…

Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb…

The pastel hues of Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb

Great news for those us with access to one of Yorkshire’s finest regional specialities… forced rhubarb has achieved Protected Designation of Origin status this week.

I just picked up my first bunch from the market today (just look at its pale, shy colouring!), and I intend to make the most of this delightfully delicate flavour. This particular bunch is going to get stewed simply and stirred into some creamy full-fat yoghurt for dessert, but next week I’m determined to serve up some more with mackerel, as it’s supposed to be a classic pairing. Roll on the rhubarb!