GETTING YOUR FIVE-A-DAY IN CORNWALL

When you are on holiday in a place like Cornwall you are probably spending a lot of time outdoors, possibly being a bit energetic – walking, swimming, surfing, bodyboarding, kayaking, following wife and daughter on Poldark hunt etc. So hearty sustenance is important. Happily, there is no problem getting your five-a-day in Cornwall. Here’s how:-
1. CORNISH PASTY. The jewel in the Cornish culinary crown. For those not in the know, a Cornish pasty is basically a beef steak and potato pie (with onions, swede and seasoning thrown in) but made in a distinctive semi-circular shape with the pastry forming a thick crust round the curved edge of the pasty. The pasty was the traditional lunch of the Cornish tin miner and legend has it that the distinctive thick crust was used for holding by the miners’ dirty fingers, then discarded after the rest of the pasty had been devoured. Unlike tin mining (now extinct), pasty shops are everywhere in Cornwall selling both the traditional steak and more exotic varieties (often with a curry or vegetarian vibe). And good value, they are too – about £4 for a large, hot pasty that will provide enough fuel for an afternoon’s bodyboarding.
Cornish pasty
2. CREAM TEA. Tea rooms and cafés abound in Cornwall and a real afternoon treat is the classic cream tea. A pot of tea, a scone or two (actually it has to be two), strawberry jam and lashings of cool, thick, yellow clotted cream. Ideally, there should be more clotted cream than appears necessary. Having cut your two scones in half, the challenge then is to ladle every last ounce of your excessive amount of clotted cream on to your four halves of scone (before adding some jam). I never have a problem rising to that challenge. The worst crime that can be committed by a tea room/café is not giving you enough clotted cream to provide a 13.5 Tog rated cover for each bit of scone. Laws should be enacted to ensure this can never happen because it can ruin the rest of your day. A real bonus is to arrive at your tea room or café of choice while the scones are fresh out of the oven and still warm (happily this happened to us at the National Trust café at Bedruthan Steps).
Cream tea 3
3. ICE CREAM. Dairy is big in Cornwall, hence the clotted cream and more local ice cream makers than you can shake a flake at. The likes of Roskilly’s, Kelly’s, Callestick Farm and Moomaid trip off the tongue …. not to mention the lips and chin on particularly warm days. In the interests of research(!), we visited Roskilly’s farm near St. Keverne on the Lizard peninsula. A homely, tumbledown affair down a typically narrow Cornish country lane, we had a small lunch in the café and no prizes for guessing what we had for dessert. But … have you ever been to a restaurant and instantly regretted your choice of dish? I happen to like coconut ice cream but the only type they had was non-dairy but I still went for it. Why, oh, why did I do that?? That’s ice something but not ice cream. I was on a farm where you can even see the cows being milked and I chose a non-dairy product. Happily, we all had three scoops (and three different flavours), so the excellent, full-fat white chocolate and raspberry ripple and black currant cheesecake saved the day. To be fair, knowing I was having two dollops of proper ice cream did have something to do with the non-dairy choice!
4. FISH. Cornwall is a long thin county surrounded by sea (except for the frontier with Devon and the rest of the UK). Even in the middle of the county you are never far from the sea and an achingly quaint fishing village or harbour, so it’s a great place for traditional fish and chips. A seaside holiday for us typically includes the take-away version of this British classic, usually eaten out of the paper, sitting on a harbour wall or sea front – the romantic notion of fish and chips (let’s ignore fighting off hungry seagulls and tackling a large piece of battered fish with a totally inadequate little wooden fork thing with only two prongs). However on this holiday (we got back home two days ago by the way), it was raining at the time we decided that fish and chips was the thing we needed most in the whole wide world. Fortunately, The Beach Restaurant in St. Ives came to the rescue. The counter on the ground floor selling fresh fish was a good omen and upstairs we sat inside but with an excellent view over the harbour. The haddock and chips did not disappoint –  thick, firm fish, perfect crispy batter and decent chips (to be honest, battered fish is at its crispiest best when eaten straight away rather than after having been wrapped in paper for a take-away). Traditional fish and chips is not the only product of the sea on offer in Cornwall as there is plenty of other fish and shellfish to be had. If you have been to Padstow in recent years, you will know that celebrity chef, Rick Stein, seems to own at least half of the eating establishments in the town and fish is what he is most famous for. And yes, we did do the Rick Stein thing but in one of his pubs in a small village just outside “Padstein”. The menu was not dominated by fish dishes by any means but I went for the Goan fish curry and it was seriously good.
5. CHEESE. More moo juice products from those productive Cornish cows. Cornish Blue is a lovely, mild blue cheese – the chunk we bought did not last long. I even had a Cornish Blue pizza one evening at a pub, sitting outside overlooking a quiet, picturesque creek. If you like blue cheese but find Stilton a bit too strong, then Cornish Blue could be the thing for you. The other Cornish cheese we tried was Cornish Yarg. An intriguing name but not from the depths of ancient Cornish culture. Apparently, a couple called Gray re-discovered the 13th century recipe for this cheese and simply reversed their surname to create a convincingly Cornish-sounding name. The distinguishing feature of this cheese is the edible (but mouldy!) rind made by wrapping the cheese in nettle leaves. Inside, the cheese is a bit Cheddar-like towards the edges, being yellowy and smooth. Towards the middle, it becomes whiter and a tad crumbly – vaguely reminiscent of Wensleydale. At first, it tasted a bit soapy but, as I nibbled at it over the course of a few days, it just got better and better – creamy and delicious. The mouldy nettle rind is a bit of an acquired taste though!
Cornish-Yarg
Cornish Yarg with its distinctive nettle rind!
So there you have it – how to sustain yourself when on holiday in Cornwall. OK, it may not be that healthy, but different rules apply when you’re on holiday, don’t they? To be honest, if you did eat all five of these in one day you may explode. I think the most I had was three in one day.
The choice for number five was not easy. Fudge (made with clotted cream of course) and cider are popular local fare and were possible contenders. However, not a morsel of fudge passed my lips in the whole two week holiday and I only got round to having one bottle of local cider. But what a belter that cider was – Healey’s Oak-Matured Special Edition Cornish Cyder. If the name sounds familiar, yes these cider makers are related to Donald Healey. You can visit their cider farm, not far from Donald’s birthplace Perranporth and they have a small collection of Austin-Healeys on show (I trust they don’t drink and drive!).
Finally, here are a few photos of Cornwall itself. If you are not familiar with the UK – look at a map. Cornwall is the bit sticking out at the bottom left, a bit like a leg and it’s the most popular holiday destination in the UK. Miles of beautiful coastline and loads of old towns and villages. The North coast and South coast have different characters. The North is rugged with rocky cliffs and endless bays with long sandy beaches. Facing the Atlantic, it has a surfing culture and surprisingly warm sea. The South has fewer beaches but numerous peaceful, wooded creeks and a bit of a subtropical feel thanks to the occasional palm tree. We cannot decide whether we prefer the North or South because they both offer something different. So, as we have just done on our most recent Cornish holiday, we usually have a week in each!
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Trevose Head Lighthouse
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Port Isaac which doubles as Portwenn in TV’s Doc Martin
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Kynance Cove. An absolutely stunning beach but only accessible as the tide recedes
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Typical creeky scenery in the South
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RIDICULOUSLY SIMPLE HAKE WITH EGG SAUCE, A BIT ABOUT BERGEN & ATMOSPHERIC CHINESE TAKE-AWAYS

Just so you know, the hake with egg sauce is nothing to do with China – it’s Norwegian (read on, all will become clear). In my old life when I did serious work, I often had to travel to Norway on business – usually Bergen or Stavanger and once to Oslo. A beautiful country, as we found out in 2005 on a family holiday in our motor caravan. On one business trip to Bergen, I had a particularly memorable and tasty meal. The starter was “creamed reindeer on toast”. This sounds like a colloquial description of a reindeer after an unfortunate coming together with a large truck on a quiet Norwegian road but it was absolutely delicious. I wasn’t sure what to expect – would it involve a very large, reindeer-sized slice of toast? Actually, no. It was about the size of a Ritz cracker and topped with finely chopped reindeer meat (don’t worry children, no sign of any red nose) in a creamy sauce which may have involved some brandy. Yum!

I was very intrigued by a main dish on the menu described as “haddock with egg sauce”. What on earth is egg sauce? Only one way to find out. Actually, there’s two ways – I could have asked the waiter but my Norwegian wasn’t up to it (let’s gloss over the fact that the waiter, like most Norwegians, spoke excellent English). So, I ordered the haddock with both egg sauce and high expectations. Perhaps egg sauce is a Norwegian variation of Hollandaise sauce? Maybe with grated troll for true local flavour? The dish duly arrived complete with the eagerly anticipated sauce which was ….(drum roll)…. crumbled up hard-boiled egg!

HOWEVER, this was absolutely fine because a) I like hard-boiled egg and b) there is no better place in the world to get really fresh fish than Norway and, in particular, Bergen. This dish was all about simplicity in order to highlight the high quality and freshness of the main ingredient and I can testify that it did just that. By the way, if you are ever in Bergen, make sure you visit the fish market – it’s fascinating just to wander round. Then you can visit Bryggen, the famous old wooden wharf and UNESCO world heritage site, go up a cable car or funicular railway (Bergen is known as the city of seven mountains), go to the excellent aquarium or on a “Norway in a Nutshell” day trip down stunning fjords and up a spectacular mountain railway in Flam. Bit of a boring place really.

2005_131The Bryggen Bergen
Brightly coloured wooden buildings in Bryggen, Bergen rebuilt after a great fire in 1702. This was an important trading centre dating back to 1360.

A couple of weeks ago, our local supermarket had some fresh thick, chunky looking hake fillets – along with haddock, this is another member of the cod family. Supermarket? OK, not a patch on what you could get in Bergen but they looked the part. So, for a quick midweek meal I cooked hake with egg sauce and mustard mash. Cooking the whole meal took as long as it takes to make mashed potato. We have a two tier steamer so I was able to steam both the fish and vegetables above the pan in which the spuds were bubbling away. Here’s what I did for two of us:-

  • Peeled and chopped potatoes and put on to boil.
  • Put one egg on to boil, simmered for about 8 mins once it had come to the boil.
  • After potatoes had been boiling for about five minutes, I put the fish on to steam above them.
  • About five minutes later, put vegetables on to steam above potatoes and fish.
  • I steamed the fish for about 10 minutes. The time needed depends on thickness – steam until opaque, the fish will flake (test the fillet you will serve to yourself and keep your guests’ fish intact!!) and it’s hot in the middle (skewer/burnt lip test).
  • When cooked put the fish on a warm plate in warm oven.
  • Rinse the hard-boiled egg once in cold water so shell is cool enough to handle but egg will still be warm. Peel and crumble the egg. Maybe mash with a fork or cheat like I did and put through an egg slicer twice – lengthways then sideways (or vice versa if it’s Tuesday).
  • Toss the egg in a some melted butter and add some finely chopped, fresh parsley (this may be my own tweak – can’t remember if the Norwegian version included this).
  • When the potatoes and veg are ready, mashed the potatoes with milk and lots of butter. You need lots of butter because, despite the title of this fish dish, there is no real sauce so the potatoes would otherwise be rather dry. I like lots of freshly ground black pepper in mash too.
  • Add wholegrain mustard to the mash and mix in. You can add the mustard bit by bit (i.e. teaspoonful by teaspoonful, not grain by grain) until you get the strength of mustard taste that suits you.
  • Serve!!
Hake with Egg Sauce
Hake with Egg Sauce and Mustard Mash

You can of course try a different type of fish (er, haddock?!). If you don’t have a steamer, try poaching the fish or wrapping in foil and baking in the oven. Personally, I don’t think this dish would work with grilled fish because I think it calls for the really pure taste of steamed or poached fish. However, there is no law…..

On the subject of egg slicers, next time you have a Chinese take-away, try placing one of your children or the butler in the corner of the room and give them an egg slicer. Ask them to pluck the strings at random and fairly slowly. They can also throw in the occasional strum. This produces a remarkably authentic oriental sound and will provide an atmospheric aural backdrop to your sweet and sour. Better still, if you have one of those folding oriental screens, place child/butler behind that.

Using an egg slicer as a musical instrument is not my idea. It is a little known fact that both Eric Clapton and the Who’s Pete Townshend cut their musical teeth on the family’s egg slicers on the path to becoming guitar legends and before they could afford actual guitars. Despite an egg slicer’s naturally oriental tone, both Eric and Pete were able to wring convincing bluesy sounds from their improvised musical instruments. Eric progressed more quickly because Pete kept smashing up his family’s egg slicers. His progress was therefore intermittent because he was forced to save up his pocket money in between purchasing replacements. On the other side of the Atlantic, a young Robert Zimmerman (later to become Bob Dylan) also learnt his trade using an egg slicer. Some say this inspired his 1969 hit, Lay Lady Lay.

Clapton egg slicer
An early Clapton egg slicer. An anonymous buyer shelled out over £5,000 for this at auction recently. No Townshend egg slicers survived.

And finally (phew!), another true fact but a slightly embarrassing one – although pertinent since I have been to France twice in the last week. My name, Colin (a diminutive of Nicholas supposedly), is also a French word. It means hake! My old proper job was quite international and my French colleagues were always polite enough to not mention this, let alone titter when I was introduced. They would just stand there silently opening and closing their mouth, I assume because they were astonished at meeting someone named after a fish.

Au revoir for now,

Hake Colin