Yorkshire Puds for Yorkshire Day
I use the internet to source a lot of random or unusual ingredients on this blog, from diced crocodile from Australia to raw cacao beans from Peru, but this week was Yorkshire Day and that, to my mind, meant an opportunity to look a little closer to home and find things both tasty and much cheaper to cook with on my doorstep.
Yorkshire Day, celebrated on 1st August as it’s the anniversary of the Battle of Minden (as for some reason success in an 18th century colonial dust up is the most significant anniversary that they could come up with), is, like Father’s Day, a bit of a modern, made up holiday, alluding to a tradition that doesn’t really exist. It’s the product of nothing more than conservative reactions to local government reforms, Yorkshire Day being a product of the Yorkshire Ridings Society, an organisation created entirely to object the the restructuring of Yorkshire’s administrative regions from the traditional three Ridings to the current counties of North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire. This administrative change really means very little difference in Yorkshire people’s lives (especially here in York where we’ve always been a separate entity between both the old Ridings and the new counties) meaning that Yorkshire Day may appear to represent nothing more than a celebration of grumbling about government interference.
Despite it’s very recent and slightly petty origins, though, there is something quite pleasing about having a day to celebrate everything great about this most excellent region often dubbed, with only slight exaggeration, “God’s Own County”. Yorkshire is a region with a hugely strong sense of regional identity and pride, as is evident whenever you see the white Yorkshire rose, one of the few generally recognisable regional symbols, flying on flags throughout the region. With big industrial cities that have reinvented themselves as cultural hubs and beautiful countryside that encompasses two national parks, Yorkshire has a lot to be proud of, not least our own home city of York, “England’s most beautiful city“. Since moving here at the age of 18 I have become very attached to this part of the world, enough that it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else.
When it comes to Yorkshire’s culinary culture the most iconic foodstuff has to be the humble Yorkshire Pudding. As there’s no written record or recipe of Yorkshire Puddings before the 1700s, their origins are uncertain (although they’re pretty certainly a Northern thing, that means they – whisper it – might not even have come from Yorkshire in the first place). Nevertheless, amongst the first recipes really to tell cooks how best to prepare their batter dripping puddings is one for “Yorkshire Pudding” by Hannah Glasse. Since then they have become enough of a symbol of the region for one of our local MPs to campaign quite seriously for “protection of designation of origin status” (a la Champagne, Camembert or Parma ham) for the Yorkshire. This does kind of raise the issue of exactly what constitutes a true Yorkshire pud and there is the inevitably broad amount of debate on how to produce a perfect example. The Royal Society of Chemistry has even weighed in, declaring that, to be considered a success, a Yorkshire Pudding needs to be at least 10cm tall!
I decided, then, to celebrate Yorkshire Day with a Yorkshire Pudding based dish. In fact, with a dish inside a giant Yorkshire Pudding. Using the same sandwich tin as I used to make Professor Plum’s birthday cake last month, I made Yorkshire Puddings the size of a plate. Also much like with the cake, the simplest way to make a Yorkshire Pudding is making all the ingredients (in this case flour and milk to make the batter) match the eggs. I used three eggs to make two giant Yorkshires, with each egg about 50ml in volume, this meant 50ml of milk and the same of flour. All you need to do then is to whisk the batter for a few minutes to get enough air in it to rise and then heat some fat (I used beef dripping, because that’s something I apparently like to buy) in a very hot oven until it is smoking, then add the batter and cook it. It’s a pretty simple sequence of instructions, but, after over a decade of living in Yorkshire, I’m only just beginning to get the hang of making Yorkshire Puddings that rise right. My giant ones turn out a pretty decent shape (although this kind of shape means that they’re very far from 10cm high!).
What was I to put in the puds, though? Given my desire to cook good Yorkshire food this meant a chance to go down to York market and get some good local produce. First up I visited the butcher. Yorkshire’s landscape lends itself to a variety of meat, but my thoughts were immediately on the subject of sausages, the large batter pudding suggesting something akin to toad in the hole. I bought some pork and chive sausages and went on around the market for some potatoes for mash and onions for gravy.
On the subject of the gravy, I decided to use it to celebrate another significant area of food and drink in the York area, the brewing of beer. Given that there’s a brewery within the city walls, I took advantage of that with a bottle of Minster Ale to mix in with my onion gravy.
Back at the market I needed a vegetable component for my Yorkshire Pudding and something for dessert and I found it in one of the few Yorkshire foodstuffs to achieve that designation of origin status that so far has eluded the Yorkshire Pud – rhubarb. Along with Swaledale and Wensleydale cheeses, Yorkshire forced rhubarb has the European Union protected name status. The reason for this is the so-called “Rhubarb Triangle”, a genuine thing that exists between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford where rhubarb is grown by candlelight. Beyond this piece of esoteric Yorkshire produce, though, rhubarb also offers the possibility of using the same vegetable in both savoury and sweet courses. Rhubarb’s tart fruitiness means that it works like apple in going with various flavours like pork or ginger. So, I soaked my rhubarb in honey, roasted it and served it with both my sausage and mash and my choice of dessert, Yorkshire parkin.
Parkin is essentially a version of gingerbread, but one made with oats and treacle. While traditional mediaeval breadcrumb gingerbread was phased out in place of flour and golden syrup in the 1700s, this was something that occurred far quicker in the South than up North where other ingredients were still popular with the Leeds area in particular favouring parkin over a Southern gingerbread. Served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, my parkin and honey roast ginger finished my Yorkshire Day dinner with an appropriately local dessert.
Far from the exotic meats like crocodile or horse, or chocolate sauces on meat, my Yorkshire dinner provided some pleasingly hearty, traditional fare. It’s more pub grub than fine dining, but sometimes that’s really more what you’re after anyway. Best of all, and true to the Yorkshire theme, with nothing ordered online with high shipping costs this is probably the cheapest dinner I’ve yet made on this blog!
Professor Plum in the Dining Room: In the last two days I have made around 200 Yorkshire puddings thanks to demonstrations at work. And I have eaten… well, not 200, but more than I probably should have. And I’d still cheerfully eat more for tea. What do you mean, they’re meant to be filling?