Afternoon tea at the Hoste Arms


I’m familiar with the Hoste – the Gastro Boutique Restaurant and Hotel in Burnham Market, Norfolk. I’ve been here many times before, first when it was still just a pub, some twenty years ago, and more recently for a night away when Annie and I somehow managed to arrange three concurrent sleepovers for the children.

On one of these nights out, I ordered the most bizarre starter; pigeon on toast with fruit jus and black pepper icecream – it was at least two courses on the same plate at once. I was expecting some genius revelation combo of previously unthought-of and unmarriable ingredients – but, it was even more awkward than pigeon and icecream sounds. You hope for more than the sum of the parts, what I got was an essay in subtraction. I spoke to a chef friend, and asked him why something so ill-conceived hadn’t been pulled straight off the menu? “Oh, no. Disasters like that can stick around for ages. Everyone assumes it must be brilliant so they’ll order it – once. Emperor’s new clothes.”

On this occasion though it was October, a damp late Sunday afternoon. I was with our six year old daughter. “I’m hungry, Daddy.” I’d thought to get her a fizzy orange and a packet of crisps in the bar, but it was packed and very loud, and it stank – I mean really ponged – of wet spaniels. We went through the back to the bizarrely African themed conservatory.

Kitty is very fond of ordering tea. I think it’s anAlicein Wonderland thing. She’s Alice, of course – I guess I’m everyone else. I ordered her the Jubilee Afternoon Tea, ‘a selection of sandwiches, a homemade scone with jam and clotted cream, a selection of cakes, and a pot of tea.’ It arrived, as you would expect on one of those triple-stacked tiered-plate arrangements. Square plates on this occasion.

The egg mayo sandwich was good enough that I didn’t get a look in, the same with the ham sandwich. The smoked salmon and cucumber sandwich failed. It is normally two distinctly separate sandwiches, it was not a happy combo. Kitty further turned her nose up at the idea of a scone with jam and clotted cream, so I ate it. The scone was hot from the oven, and had sultanas in it – always a mistake in a scone served with cream. Nice to have some proper clotted cream though.

The cakes where good, although the miniature meringue on top of the bite-sized lemon tart turned a decent lemon tart into a silly lemon meringue pie. A good eclair, a nice macroon, and a shortbread biscuit all devoured by a hungry six year old.

As I was paying the bill I asked the waitress why it was called a Jubilee Tea? “Why – it’s the Jubilee year! And it’s been very popular – so we’ve just kept it on the menu.”

Afternoon tea for one person £15, a small bottle of fizzy water £1.60

The Hoste Arms, Burnham Market,Norfolk,PE31 8HD,01328738777

Fish ‘n’ Chips at Well-next-the-Sea


You’d be a priggish snob not to enjoy the honest pleasures of Wells-next-the-Sea. It’s deep water estuary and closeness to the beach caused a Victorian boom in tourism. Historically the proximity to the beach, and the branch line (1850s-Beeching), were the reason the tourists came here and avoided the rest of this stretch of coast.

Up on this part of the coast a “beach house” frequently means closest to the sea. It’s often a half hour walk – no vehicles allowed – before the tidal mud gives way to the vast sandy beaches. If the tide is out it might be another ten minutes stroll over wet sand that’s been runnelled by the fast receding tide; like corduroy. With a little knowledge you can soon spot the tell-tale blow holes of the Razor Clams that have dug their way down into the sand. Bring table salt and a thick gardening glove – the salt makes them appear, then it’s a tug-of-war. The stakes are much higher for the clams.

At Wells, you can drive almost to the beach, or take the miniature steam train from the town-proper to the beach. Either way is it a short walk over a dune, that’s there permanently now it’s been colonised by grasses and pine trees; then through the line of famous beach huts on stilts onto miles and miles of clean whitish sand. Until quite recently the Burnhams and Brancasters were the playground of the obsessed dingy sailor and Black Labrador walker. Now all those charming unspoilt cottages have been thoroughly Farrow and Balled, or done-over in top-to-toe Cath Kidston.

Up here, if you want to sit in a fish and chip shop, and smell the fat and the vinegar and see the sea, then you need to go to Wells. There are two chippies on the front, both as good as each other. Walk out their front doors, cross the road, sidestep the parked cars and you’ll bump into the small children and competitive parents leaning over the harbour wall catching crabs. Buckets and buckets of crabs.

My children would consider it unthinkable to be in Wells at lunch time and not have fish and chips inside, recovering from the wind and rain. Chips eaten with fingers can only help speed up the cold finger’s recovery. The frying all takes place towards the back of the shop, at the front it’s Formica tables and plastic chairs, If you want a drink, grab cans and bottles from the glass fronted fridge. It is nothing like a restaurant. It has the used, utilitarian chic of a good caff. The fish was perfect with a light thin batter and no sign of grease, the chips a little underdone for my taste – I like mine brown. There are those classic wooden chip forks if want some. Gherkins and onions in lieu of a salad.

We had two fish and chips and one sausage and chips. It was sufficient for three hungry children and two peckish adults (we were both still full from the hearty breakfast). We asked for ketchup, “25p a sachet, £1 for a bottle.” I asked how big the bottle was, it was a small but not miniature one. “Think we’d best start with one bottle – thanks. See how we get on.”

My only two niggles are the polystyrene containers they use – wouldn’t we all prefer it wrapped in paper. And the ketchup was Daddies – my family all like Heinz. Small grumbles really.

Two fish and chips and one sausage and chips, £14.20 (ex. Ketchup)

French’s Fish and Chips, 14 The Quay,Wells-next-the-Sea,NR23 1AH


Apple festival at Brogdale

It was apple weekend at Brogdale (20th, 21st October). You’d expect there to be plenty of apples and, of course, there was.

But, I was surprised by the number of stalls selling everything fruit related; wines, juices, paintings, sculpture. And then, of course, there was the non fruit related stuff; jams, herbs, sweaters, hats, fridge magnets, weather vanes. And, at least two live music tents, and plenty of up-market burger vans (the one I tried was foul). And the rumour was, that Marco Pierre White [the twitter rumour-mill got it wrong - it was Raymond Blanc's day] was going to be there on Sunday to judge the baking competition. Do you also miss the days when judging cakes and preserves was the genteel reserve of the ladies of the WI – before Tee-Vee and celebrities got in on the act?

I tasted plenty of apples - so many apples. Eventually I simply couldn’t taste any more. I made copious notes, I took a guided tour of the orchards behind a tractor. I bought bags of apples and will be ordering a small orchard’s worth of new apple trees in the next couple of weeks. I just have to figure out where to put them.

I got chatting to a man-with-a-badge about the online National Fruit Collection – you can search their online database, it really is fantastic. I said I’d previously been using the brilliant and scholarly book by Joan Morgan. “Oh, she’s sitting over there, helping to sign up new friends,” he said. Obviously I went and said hello, I’m a big fan, and all that. Her book is an encyclopaedic listing of more than 2000 apple varieties, it has detail description, tasting notes and occasional personal observations. I urge you to buy her book.

For more on the National Fruit collection archive:

Joan Morgan, The New Book of Apples:

When you have Lemons


“When life serves you Lemons, make Lemonade,” they say. Which is fine in the summer, but a completely useless piece of advice on a late autumn day with the weather closing in quicker that the nights.

Sussex Pond Pudding is the answer. Simply one of the best steamed suet puddings, and a little more grown than spotted-dick, or jam roly poly, on account of the whole lemon in the middle. Sooo sophisticated.

There’s a fabulous sauce that rolls out of the otherwise fairly plain suet pastry – it’s lemon, sugar and butter that forms the most gloriously sharp caramel. But be sure to cut it carefully, everyone will want a slice, with their fair share of lemon. As for the pips – some lemons have them, others don’t, there’s just no way of knowing – you’ll just have to wait and see what life has dealt you.

Sussex Pond Pudding, Serves 4-6

175g self raising flour

70g suet - fresh grated beef suet or something like Atora

A dash of milk

70g cold diced butter

70g caster sugar

1 whole lemon

Mix together the flour, suet, a big pinch of salt, and the dash of milk. You will need sufficient milk to form a dough, don’t make it too wet though.

Smear a little butter on the inside of a pudding basin, one that takes about 2 pints is ideal. Then throw a little caster sugar in and swirl it around to stick to the butter. Next get three quarters of the dough into the basin; typically food-writers will instruct you to roll it out, but I find that spooning it in, then persuading it up the sides to form a suet bowl is quite sufficient. Put half the butter, and half the sugar into the suet lined bowl. Roll the lemon back and forth on the worktop, leaning rather heavily on it, to bruise and loosen the juice inside. Now prick the lemon all over – many times – with a skewer or the tip of a sharp pointy knife. Twist the blade a little to open up the holes. Put the lemon in the basin, add the remaining butter and sugar and then finish the assembly with the remaining dough mix.

Cover the pudding with the basin lid (some have them) or a buttered sheet of tin-foil with a box-pleat folded into it (the pudding will expand a little). Conventional wisdom would now have you tie the top in place with a piece of string and knit a little handle from the tail ends. All nonsense. You need only secure the foil lid in place with several run-arounds the outside with a roll of sellotape or masking tape.

The pudding will need to steam for three or four hours. Maintain a gentle panful of steam by using a low heat and a tight fitting lid. Check it occasionally, topping up as necessary.

To serve remove it with oven gloves, cut the foil lid off, and turn it out onto a plate. Then cut into fair sized portions. Custard is the correct accompaniment, and all the better made with custard powder for this.


Quickly pickled Quinces


Ingredients – 400ml cider vinegar, 200g caster sugar, 5 or 6 small quinces and a few juniper berries and black peppercorns if you like them.

In a saucepan, bring the vinegar, sugar, and spices up to a simmer. Peel and core the quinces and cut them vertically into four or six (as you would a pear). Simmer them for at least fifteen minutes, certainly until they just yield to a skewer. Lift the quinces out and pack them neatly into sterilized jars then cover with the vinegar and spices.

Getting some pig in for the winter

I’ve just finished going through the motions with half a pig. In addition to a couple of splendid roasts, a freezer full of chops, hand-raised pork pies, too much brawn, plenty of lard, and sufficient sausages to keep my family and friends happy for a week, I’ve been curing a few bits.

Here’s some of it hanging in our larder:

From left to right: a dry-cured cheek, a U-shaped salami and another cheek from a previous batch (with the herbs drying), tied up in string is a very small culatello-like ham, then (almost hidden) a hock, a smoked cheek, (hanging low) a big ball of chorizo, a slab of smoked belly, and a flitch of back bacon, finally (almost out of shot) a little fore-hock.


Masterclass in tying British Bangers

Well, I’m obviously not going to give it all away here on the blog - I’m still writing up the complete guide to making sausages for my next book. But, what I can show you is how to tie up a classic butchers string of sausages.

I spent an hour or so with Vince from Humphreys in nearby Clare. He’s an excellent butcher and patient tutor – I’m a lousy pupil. The trick is to make a loop, and tie that onto the string – sort of like pulling a U-shape from the whole length and then knotting that onto the string. Whereas, what I kept on doing, was making a loop which somehow left me having to thread a six foot length of sausage through that loop. Disastrous.

If you’re making sausages at home you can always do it like the southern Europeans do and loop a length of string around the sausage at appropriate lengths. Or, simply do what the Cumberlanders do – ignore the situation completely.

Obviously my apologies for the quality of the sound recording – I took this quick video so I could re-play it again and again whilst writing up the technique. I thought it was so fascinating, mesmerising even, that I should put it up on here.

You’ll have realised, of course, that I am the one holding the camera whilst Vince ties the sausages.

Vince demonstrating how to tie a string of British bangers from Tim Halket on Vimeo.

Steak and chips with Maite d’Hotel butter.

There’s nothing particularly amazing about a bloke cooking himself a steak and chips as a lonely writer’s Friday lunch. This lunch, though, is all about the butter.

It’s a good steak – ribeye today – cooked in one of those ribbed pans. A minute or two on each side until it’s done as you like it, served with a couple of handfuls of oven chips. In our house, the children favour those “American style chips”, skinny chips we call them.

What peps this up is the butter. I normally make a little tarragon butter and add crushed garlic, shakes of Tabasco, something sharp (lemon or vinegar) and plenty of salt and pepper. But today with the tarragon in the garden having gone a big leggy, I picked a small bunch of curly parsley. A niggling voice in my head said – woah, try something different.

It was one of those rare moments of clarity, I pulled out Larouse. Maitre d’Hotel butter. It’s good to cook something classic every now and then. Find a book, look it up, and stick to the recipe. I’ve so long been doing that tarragon butter thing that I had all but forgotten how fabulously simple this parsley butter is.

I was going to write the recipe for the butter in my own words, but it seemed more appropriate to offer you the original Larouse version, so here it is, verbatim:

BEURRE À LA MAÎTRE D’HÔTEL – Mix ¾ cup (200grams) of fresh butter with 1½ tablespoons of chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon (6 grams) of fine salt, a small pinch of freshly ground pepper and a dash of lemon juice and stir with a spoon until it forms a smooth paste.

Once you’ve made it, wrap it up like a sausage with clingfilm and put it in the fridge to firm up. Whilst you’re cooking the steak, take the butter out of the fridge, unwrap it and cut a decent slice from the middle. Place it on top of the steak. Watch it slowly melt as you eat.

The leftover (there will be plenty from the quantity above!) can be kept in the fridge for a few days. It also freezes remarkably well.

One last quick thing, I suggest you rub your steaks with a wee-splash of dark soy sauce before frying or grilling them. It does great things for the flavour.

Trouble with my Bramley Apple Tree, and a couple of easy recipes

photo: Arthur Turner apples on a tree in my garden.

I like apples, but I love apple trees. As a child I had a favourite climbing tree – it was, of course, a huge apple tree. My sister preferred the pear tree right next to it. We’d scramble up our trees and throw fruit at each other.

As an adult I now just sit around underneath the trees. There’s nothing nicer than a mature apple tree in the garden. Luckily our house has a huge Bramley tree in the garden (it’s no exaggeration to say it was the reason we bought this place). It is bigger than the house, and certainly older. It provides far too many apples. When they’re in season we eat them almost daily, make a years supply of apple sauce, give away as many as we can, and still half the crop falls to the ground.

It’s nice to have such abundance, but variety is also welcome. When we moved here I planted some more trees. Herefordshire Russet, Orleans Reinette, Lords Derby and Lambourne, James Grieve, and Arthur Turner.

The first five are still relatively immature, but the Arthur Turner is a vigorous fast growing tree. After only eight years it is 12ft tall, just as wide, and providing a very good crop. The fruits are huge, a big one can be six inches across.

But all is not well in my little orchard. The Bramley crop this year is awful. The tree looks thin – fewer leaves than normal, the fruit is sparse, small and covered in little black spots. The apples are inedible. Annie was round at her fathers this morning, it seems his Bramley tree is suffering from the exact same thing. I expect they’re both suffering with the odd weather we’ve had this year – it seems more likely that both contracting the same fatal disease at precisely the same time.

So we have, effectively, no crop from one tree (yet still the burden of collecting the hundreds of windfalls for compost). At least I’m happy that the tree isn’t ailing; fingers crossed – it should be okay again next year. Small consolation though when I’m in the Greengrocer’s buying Bramleys again for the first time in ten years.

Apple sauce

Bramley apples cook to a pulp, a smooth puree. They do not keep their shape, as do the Arthur Turner. Apple sauce is a cliché, but why would you buy a jar of the stuff. Even if you have to buy the apples it’ll still be far cheaper, and infinitely better.

Take two Bramley apples – peel, quarter and core them. Cut them into little chunks. Put them in a small saucepan with no more than a splash of water, and two teaspoons of sugar. (This will make a sauce that is considerably less sweet than the commercial product, which is, I think, a good thing.) Set it to gently simmer for fifteen or twenty minutes until the apples have cooked down to a puree. Remember to stir it occasionally, to prevent it from sticking.

Hot apple sauce is just as good as cold with pork chops or sausages or a Sunday roast.

If you are lucky enough to have any left over, it will keep in the fridge for a few days. It’s worth noting that if you want apple sauce for a year, then it must be much sweeter and cooked more like a marmalade or jam to avoid spoilage.

Apple fool

Combine equal quantities of cold homemade apple sauce and gently whipped cream. Once the apples and cream have become one, spoon it carefully into delicate wine glasses.  Unbelievably good for something so simple.