Wednesday, 28 May 2008

"It's Puddings, Not Tarts!"

We found ourselves in Bakewell by accident, much like the famed puddings made in the town. The day trip to the Derbyshire Peak District, yes, I did say day trip, had another purpose – to meet up with family members, on a visit from abroad, whom we hadn’t seen for quite sometime.

We would have been perfectly happy to wander around Ashbourne, the town in which they were staying, but suggestions for some kind of day trip were made. Not exactly high on our agenda, as we’d already got up at stupid o’clock and driven for nearly three hours, much of it on the M1, through torrential rain and mucky spray.
Thankfully, the weather did not follow us all the way and it was dry, although very windy by the time we got there.

Not wanting to cause a fuss by making protests against any planned gallivanting, it was back in the car for the 17-mile drive, taking about 40 minutes, to Bakewell.
Don’t feel sorry for me; direct your sympathies towards my poor husband. I can’t drive, you see. I have tried a couple of times and taken tests, but I don’t think it’s for me – neither does the examiner.

We’ve been to this part of Derbyshire on a number of occasions and I still love the countryside with its lush rolling hills with fields full of rugged sheep and multi coloured cattle, and the rocky crags, valleys and rivers. But what I find most refreshing is that nearly all of the houses are built of stone. I find red brick so uninspiring and there’s a lot of it where I come from.

Bakewell seems to have been scrubbed up since our last visit, more than five years ago and a few things have changed, but despite it being a touristy town it still has plenty of old character and remains faithful to its historical roots. Around 924AD Edward the Elder who was the son of Alfred the Great established a military post or burgh at Badecanwyllan (bath well). This was probably the true beginning of the town. In the Domesday Book of 1085 the settlement was described as Badequella, from which the current name of Bakewell has evolved.
Obviously not only has the town evolved by name but by nature too as it grew over the centuries to become the Bakewell of today.

Access to the main car parks took us over the 13th century bridge that crosses the river Wye. It’s fine mediaeval arches reflected in the clear water where ducks, swans and geese were paddling, and if you looked closely you could even see huge trout swimming against the current – amazing! Why is it when I should be marvelling at the wonders of nature that a tasty fish recipe pops into my head? Seeing that trout hovering in the shallow water, almost made me want to jump in and catch it with my bare hands. The idea works in my head, but I doubt it would in reality! Slippery things, fish.

I would advise anyone intending on a trip to Bakewell that they plan to get there early, if visiting at weekends and especially so on Bank Holidays. It was Sunday and there were lots of people, which for me doesn’t seem quite right, in what I think should be a sleepy town. The place does tend to fill up very quickly with cars too, and on the downside, that makes for a lot of noise and dust. I imagine the source of the dust to be from the many nearby limestone quarries. Bikers can also be seen gathering and zipping up and down the main street in preparation for their blast up Snake Pass further into the Peak.
What’s with all the dogs too? I’ve never seen so many in one town all at the same time! To amuse myself I took a few sneaky photos of said pooches and hounds. . .

As I mentioned earlier Bakewell is famed for its puddings. The Bakewell pudding (please note NOT tart) was created by way of a culinary mistake and is nothing like what Mr Kipling will have you believe. It’s not spongy, there’s no icing and definitely no cherry!
The story goes (there are many versions) that the pudding was invented by accident, over 200 years ago. Mrs Greaves, landlady of The White Lion Inn in 1860, (now the site of The Rutland Arms) asked one of her kitchen maids to make a strawberry tart. The maid, instead of making a sweet pastry base, using eggs and sugar, left them out and instead, she mixed them together to fill the plain pastry case which was coated with strawberry jam. Apparently there was also reported to be a 'secret ingredient'! My guess is that it may have something to do with the almond flavouring. There doesn't seem to be a record of the maid’s name, so Mrs Greaves takes the credit for inventing the dish! Mrs Greaves left the recipe to a Mr Radford, who in turn passed the 'secret recipe' to a Mr Bloomer.
I rather like this version from the author Alison Uttley, mostly known for her Little Grey Rabbit books – I enjoyed her stories as a child too. This is taken from Recipes from an Old Farmhouse: “Cover a wide shallow dish with thin puff paste. Put in it a layer of jam, preferably raspberry, but any kind will do. It should be half an inch thick. Take the yolks of eight eggs and beat the whites of two. Add half a pound of melted butter and half a pound each of sugar and ground bitter almonds. Mix all well together, and pour into the pastry case over the jam. Bake for half an hour and serve nearly cold." There are three establishments in the town claiming to be the home of the original pudding but I think this shop really is the one: Bloomers, in Water Street.
Piled right up to the old low ceiling beams are cakes, puddings, pies and various other delectable pastries made from good local ingredients with no undesirable unnatural additives. Meats, cheeses and preserves are available too.
We bought two traditional Bakewell Puddings and a jar of local organic honey, which we later enjoyed on spelt bread toast. I can never resist buying a pot of good honey wherever I go! Although we didn’t buy one this time, I can highly recommend their pork pies too. On our last holiday visit, we had one and no other pork pie has been able to stand up to it since*. Oh and their lamb and mint pasties are incredible.
It may have been a whirlwind visit, but somehow it almost seems worth it to travel half way up England just for the puddings! I think we’ll be going back when the one in the freezer is finally devoured! In the meantime I found my little book of Favourite Peak District Recipes, that I bought on our last visit, so that will keep me busy in the kitchen testing out the delights of Derbyshire. * Since writing this post I discovered another pork pie which has won me over – sorry folks in Bakewell!


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