Friday, 31 May 2013

The French by Simon Rogan, Manchester

Manchester may be known for many things - the music, the football, the Victorian architecture, the rain -but until now the restaurant scene has been somewhat lacking. Beyond the curries, a thriving Chinatown and old fashioned boozers with great hot pots and pies, was a wasteland, not just for fancy-pants Michelin starred restaurants, for mid range eateries that weren't more style over substance and populated by perma-tanned footballers wives.

Well, the times they are a changin’. Twitter and the weekend broadsheets are abuzz with new independent openings, from the Beagle to Barburrito; Solita to the polarizing Almost Famous. A range of street food can now be found in Picadilly Gardens and the Arndale Market and Mary-Ellen McTague from Prestwich’s Aumbry appeared on the Great British Menu earlier this year. But nowhere has caused quite such a buzz as Simon Rogan’s new venture at the Midland Hotel (even if Tony Naylor remains unconvinced).

The French is a beautiful space; a mirrored room, dominated by two magnificent chandeliers that the staff told us took over twice the anticipated time and manpower to put up, that has an easy going charm, exemplified by the warm blonde wood and lack of tablecloths. While it may feel a bit IKEA-esque for some, the deep carpets and comfy high backed chairs make the room feel opulent in an understated way.

Many of the staff are from Rogan’s flagship, Le Enclume in Cartmel, and during our, very friendly, welcome the idea of Rogan’s food ‘growing from the plate, as it’s found in nature’ is impressed upon us. And we were impressed, the atmosphere is relaxed, the staff knowledgeable and clearly proud to work here - and we hadn’t yet eaten a morsel.

Thankfully that was soon righted by a dish of Cumbrian radish, nutmeg mayo and toasted barley. The presentation of this brassica, something so small and simple, is really the litmus test of Rogan’s cooking. For some it may seem pointless to plate such an inconsequential vegetable with so much reverence, but for others it is the very essence of what good food is about; taking something so familiar and considering it in a new level of detail.

That maybe a lot of words to write about a radish, but when it’s been picked on Rogan’s own farm that morning, before being paired with the spiced mayo and crunchy seeds, it really reinforces the old adage that the simple things are often the best.

The next morsel was far fancier; a parsnip crisp dotted with smoked eel, pork and fennel cress. This is a special mouthful; an earthy, sweet mixture of surf and turf with the warming anise note from the greens.

Chestnut bread, Manchester ale roll and baguette, served with the whipped butter on a stone Rogan has become famous for. All exemplary, and luckily for a carb addict like me, they were also in plentiful proportions.

The first dish ‘proper' of our six course lunch, an allium soup presented in a glass teapot and poured over a bowl full of leeks, ransoms, baby onions and truffled artichoke dumplings, may have been the high point of my whole meal. The broth was deep and sticky and beautifully perfumed with the scent of sweet onion, while the tuber-scented dumplings really did seem to dissipate on your tongue.

The ox in coal oil, pumpkin seed, kohlrabi and sunflower seeds has already become something of a signature dish here (there is also a similar venison number on the menu at Le Enclume) with Giles Coren proclaiming that 'I'd walk to Manchester barefoot in the rain for one more mouthful of the chopped raw ribeye of ox in coal oil’. While the Indie’s Lisa Markwell wrote it was ‘an immediate entry into my lifetime top-10 dishes’.

Thankfully it did not disappoint; the charcoal infused rapeseed oil lending a smoky barbecued element to the raw meat, cleverly giving both a rich charred flavour and melting softness to every bite. Very clever stuff, with little raw kohlrabi balls and sunflower seeds pepping up the dish with some freshness and crunch.

Fresh crab and caramelised cabbage, horseradish, chicken skin with crow garlic, The Ewing’s pick of all the dishes we enjoyed. The cabbage, hiding an impossibly large mound of glorious crab meat, was so sweet, and tender I originally thought they were braised lettuce leaves. The crisp chicken skin dotted around the dish shattered into sweet, fatty shards while the roasting juices and horseradish imbued everything with a gentle smoky note.

Hake fillet with buckwheat cresses and smoked roe butter the second fish dish saw a perfectly judged piece of fish, atop a mound of  herby buckwheat and accompanied by a chlorophyll laden scattering of purple sprouting, possibly my favourite veg. I wasn't as sure about the smoked roe butter, which rather gilded the lily in a dish that already had a rich and creamy sauce.

The meat course was Reg’s duck cooked two ways; both roasted pink and cooked slowly until it melted into sticky strands of protein, alongside king oyster mushrooms, ruby chard and a mulled cider sauce. While the Ewing wasn't a fan of the duck breast element of the dish, I really rather liked it all, although I couldn't help feeling that, as with many multi-course meals, the ‘main’ event is usually the least interesting.

They very kindly allowed the Ewing to swap the advertised  pear, rye and linseeds for a rhubarb and oat dish with camomile ice cream; I chose the same, lest I got pudding envy. This was clean and fresh, with tart fruit and gentle herbal notes from the milky ice and douglas fir, although it put me more in mind of a virtuous breakfast than a indulgent pud.

The final course definitely had the treat factor, being a surprise desert of sarsaparilla based goodies named ‘sass and soda’. While the root beer/dandelion and burdock-esque drink used to be a popular in the days of yore, the ubiquitous cola has rather stolen its thunder. So much so that when I overheard the waitress ask the next door table if they remembered the drink from their youth, her question was met with looks of bemusement.

Nostalgia aside this was a very pretty dish, and as well as a sarsaparilla wafer, sandwiched with sarsaparilla parfait and jam, the waiter poured us a cup of the syrupy drink itself. It always feels rather exciting to get an unexpected treat, despite the fact it wasn't really to my tastes. While I'm rather fond of a frosty mug of root beer, I found the overall effect too sweet and slightly medicinal, although the Ewing would beg to differ. She was such a fan that a couple of days later we ended up buying a bottle of the local Fitzgerald’s – the only temperance bar still left in the country -  sarsaparilla cordial to take home.

Coffee came with frozen aerated peppermint ice cream bon bons and chocolate wafters 'planted' in a bed of edible chocolate nibs. The perfect balance of sweet and bitter, and my favourite of all three sweet courses.

The French may be fancy but it isn't fussy. On our visit there was a lack of pretension and a genuine enthusiasm from staff while the atmosphere in the dining room was cheerful and relaxed. Yes, dinner here isn't cheap, but with the care and imagination invested into every plate it still feels good value. 

This is exciting, clever food which feels as though it has been designed for people who actually like eating, rather than pandering to a self-conscious sleb clientele who are more interested in being noticed than noticing what's on their plates. And while I can’t comment on the (lack of) Manchester 'fine dining' scene pre-Rogan, what I can say is that, in the French, they have got a restaurant that any city would be proud of.

The French by Simon Rogan on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Roy's Pie

A few weeks ago my Nan’s partner, Roy, died. He had been ill for a few months, but it was still a keen loss, especially as the last time all the UK based family had been together was for his 80th birthday last year.

Roy was an easy-going and funny chap. A man of very few words (with my Nan around you tend to get limited opportunities to talk) who loved nothing better than being out in his vegetable garden or pottering about his shed, cup of tea in hand. Despite knowing him my whole life I never really saw him get angry - even when he took us camping and me and my sister decided to write our names in the dust on his Range Rover. With pointed sticks. (It may have been many moons ago, but I still feel bad about that one, Roy.)

Another of the skills he honed in later life was cooking. After retiring to Norfolk he became very interested in taking on new projects, and, being Roy, he wasn’t satisfied with doing things the easy way. Soon he was churning out chocolate glazed choux buns filled with whipped cream and making a cheesecake that involved (literally) pounds of Philadelphia, that, when finished, he could barely lift off the table.

His crowning glory, however, was his hand raised pork pie or, more strictly, gala pie (with a layer of boiled eggs running through the sausage meat).  Every time I spoke my Nan, I would be told about the magnificence of Roy’s latest pie, and other members of my family regularly sung its praises, but, whenever I visited, it always seemed as though the last slice was snatched ‘only yesterday’.

So, in memory of Roy, here’s my interpretation of his great pie. Being a man of simple tastes, I’m not sure he would have really agreed with the layer of turkey and apricots but, if accompanied by a pint of Woodforde’s Wherry and some of my Nan’s green tomato pickles, I’m sure he would have still enjoyed a slice or two.

This pie is a real stunner, and perfect for the summer. Even if we all have to decamp indoors for a carpet picnic, this pie - with its bronzed pastry, layers of spicy pork, turkey breast and juicy apricots, held together with just enough wobbly, savoury jelly –will make centrepiece fit for any feast.

It is also deceptively easy, being possibly the simplest pastry-based comestible I have ever produced. No gentle rubbing in with fingertips, no cold hands and worktops and hours resting in the fridge, only for it to crumble into pieces when you try and roll it out. Think of it more as savoury Play Doh, with that gentle, yet unmistakeable, scent of boiled pig fat about it.

My recipe used 100% pork shoulder for the meat layer (because that’s all I had, and I was too impatient to go back to the shops), but most recipes specify a mix of belly, shoulder and bacon, for a good mixture of fat and flavour. Hand chopping half the meat it is a bit of a drag, but it does give you a better, rougher texture. Pulse all the pork filling very coarsely in a food processor if you prefer.

In order to distil the meat with that smokiness that the bacon would bring I had the rather genius idea of adding a little Spanish smoked paprika. This also lends a slight pinkish tint to the meat, making it more appetising than the standard, nitrate free, grey-hued meat pies. Little more was needed, other than a few classic herbs and spices, in the form of nutmeg, thyme and sage, and a some salt and black pepper.

Despite using, what I thought was, plenty of salt my filling was still under seasoned, showing how sodium chloride pumped most industrial pies are. If you also have a layer of turkey and/or sweet dried fruit in your pie, then the pork can take even more salt than if you’re using pork alone. If you are worried about the balance of flavours then cook a small ball of the filling in a frying pan and allow to cool before tasting (cold food needs more seasoning). A good pork pie should taste spicy and savoury.

Finally, the most divisive element of any good pork pie: the jelly. Initially I was undecided about using any, but in the end tradition won out. I didn’t fancy boiling feet and ears and stuff for hours, so I used a cheat of good chicken stock and gelatine leaves, making just enough of the savoury wobbly stuff to slip down and fill the gaps between the meat and pastry. Pie perfection.

Roy's Pork, Chicken and Apricot Pie

For the filling
1kg boned pork shoulder/pork belly/streaky bacon (see above)
300g turkey breast
150g dried apricots
2 sprigs of thyme
2 sage leaves
1 tsp salt (½ tsp more if not using bacon)
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp ground mace/nutmeg

For the pastry:
200g lard
220g water
575g flour
1 beaten egg 
1 x 20cm cake tin

Quick jelly:
Make up 300ml weak chicken or ham stock from a good-quality stock cube (For a fruitier flavour, use hot apple juice instead of water.) Stir in 3 gelatine leaves (soaked in cold water and squeezed) until dissolved.

Make the filling
Process half the pork/bacon in a processor along with the salt, pepper, sage and thyme leaves, paprika and nutmeg. Cut the rest into small cubes, about 5mm in size and combine thoroughly together
Make the pastry
Put the lard and water into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Sift the flour with a good pinch of salt into a large bowl. Pour the hot lard and water into the flour, mix with a wooden spoon, then leave until cool enough to handle. The pastry must still be warm when you start to work it.
Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Lightly grease and flour your mould or cake tin (with removable bottom). Pull off a quarter of the pastry and roll it into a lid that will fit the top of the cake tin. Lay the remaining pastry in the bottom of the tin and  firmly push the dough up the sides with your hands. Make certain there are no holes or tears or the jelly will leak out. 
Spoon half the pork filling into the lined cake tin and press it down. Add the turkey, sliced into thin strips, then the apricots, halved lengthwise. Add the rest of the pork, it should come almost to the top of the pastry.
Brush the edges of the pastry above the meat with beaten egg. Lower the lid into place and press tightly to seal with the edges. Poke a small hole in the lid to let out the steam and put the tin on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, then lower the heat to 160C/gas mark 3 and bake for 90 minutes until the pastry is pale gold. Brush with the beaten egg and return to the oven for 30/40 minutes.
Allow the pie to cool slightly then use a funnel to carefully pour in as much of the jelly as you can.
Allow the pie to cool thoroughly before slicing.
Serve with pickled onions and chutney.

Roy William Boffin 1932-2013

Saturday, 25 May 2013

This and That, Manchester

While Brum has its famous Balti Triangle and London has it's Brick Lane, Manchester boasts Rusholme's Curry Mile - a stretch of the Wilmslow Road thought to have the highest concentration of South Asian restaurants outside the Indian subcontinent. While I was keen to sample some good Indian/Pakistani food on our trip, we decided to swerve the main drag and try something a bit different at one of Central Manchester's curry cafes.

These, still very popular, cafes are legacy of the local textile trade, where they were originally opened to serve the Asian workers in the 60s and 70s who had recently arrived to work in the city. And as the balti came to define Birmingham, 'rice and three' noon came to be Manchester's dish, consisting, as the name implies, of a choice of curries served atop a bed of fluffy white rice.

Most cafes offer a daily changing selection of simple kharai, meat and vegetable dishes, supplemented by fresh breads and a few other sundries. For those with a taste for the exotic, Hunters BBQ cafe in the Northern Quarter also offer an intriguing range of game curries including partridge, pheasant, duck, quail, rabbit, and venison.

Based on a Twitter/internet tips we chose to have lunch at This and That, a real no frills gaff tucked away down the rather dark and dingy Soap Street. Despite the rather austere surrounding and moulded plastic seating a la Wimpy Northwood Hills High street circa 1985, the moment we walked through the door I knew we were in for a treat.

Greeted by welcoming and patient staff, ladling huge heaps of home cooked curry school dinner style on to mismatched vintage crockery, this place can't help but charm. It was soon abundantly clear many others felt the same as the place remained packed with suits, tourists and hungry locals popping in for takeaways throughout our visit.

Tuesday's choice saw, among other offereings, chana lamb karai chops, lamb & cauliflower, chicken masala, chicken curry, minced kamb keema, cabbage and mixed vegetables. There were also the deicious scent of smoky and fragrant seekh kebabs being grilled for their huge kebab naan sandwiches and a selection of hot breads and fried morsels available.

Between the three of us we managed to sample most the menu. My choice of karai lamb chops, keema and cabbage, finished off with a dusting of freshly chopped green chilli, was exemplary, and surely one of the steals of the century at £4.60. The cabbage was particularly fine, an unusual and delicately spice dish with a decent little kick. 

Stealth and the Ewing rather missed the point of visiting here to sample rice and three, opting for their curries to be served with chapatis instead. The Ewing's chicken curry, lamb and cauliflower, and chana were rich, earthy and fragrant without being too knock-your-socks-off spicy.  While Stealth's chicken masala, despite being a startling nuclear shade of red, was spot on.

Samosas and bajis were good - the samaosa pastry being both perfectly crispy and just oily enough - if totally not superfluous. Soft drinks and cooling lassi are also offered, along with big glass jugs of water if the heat gets to much. 

While the basic seating, fluorescent lighting and slightly dingy back alley setting may not to be to everyone's taste, a meal here is about the best way to legally spend a fiver that I can think of. People Manchester, forgo the curled up sarnies and getting down here for a proper lunchtime feed.

This and That on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

North West's Best

While my branch of the Roscoe family tree originally hailed from Wigan area, the North West - bar a couple of trips to the Lakes and a ill advised late October jaunt to Blackpool -  has remained somewhat a mystery to me. While having family in Yorkshire means I have become pretty well acquainted with the other side of the Pennines, I was keen to finally spend some time in the Cheshire/Lancashire/Merseyside area, and, of course, to enjoy some of the celebrated local cuisine.

Finding edible specialities to sample on our travels proved to be rather easier than hoped, with a blend of industry and immigration proving a fertile breeding ground for delights such as Wet Nelly, Sad Cake and Hotpot. Mindful of the Ewing’s tolerance for my wild goose (or cake, or stew, or pudding) chases, and the fact we were going to have our friend Stealth with us for the first few days, I drew up a rather modest list, mainly focussing mainly on the Greater Manchester area.

Cheshire/Lancashire cheese
Rag Pudding
Eccles Cake/Chorley Cake
Butter Pie
Bury Black Pudding
Manchester Tart
Parched Peas

The first stop on our food tour was the charming city of Chester, where I hoped to sample some famous dairy products at the Spitting feathers Brewery Tap. Handily they also have their own micro brewery onsite and I chose to sample a pint of their Spitting Feather’s Thirst Quencher. While I was anything but gasping after the weekend’s, somewhat overindulgent, birthday celebrations, I found this light ale the perfect choice for what was turning into a glorious spring day.

Local cheese platter including Chorlton Farm Cheshire; a rather tasty, mystery, blue cheese; and Caws Cenarth Welsh brie; served with stone baked rye sourdough, crackers and fruit chutney. A selection of fine, simple, British cheeses, served in prime condition.

Cheshire is the oldest of all British cheeses, being first mentioned in William of Malmesbury's History of the bishops of England. It has also, until recently, been one of my least favourite cheeses. Happily, I can now say that I am slowly being turned on to its (and its brethren  Lancashire) squeaky, crumbly charms. Think of it as a kind of English Feta - it goes wonderfully with tomatoes - or use it for a rarebit or crumbled on top of buttered English asparagus.

The rest of the food was also very decent, with an interesting menu featuring lots of offally treats and local products. My salad of endive and pigs ears went down a treat while the Ewing and Stealth both enjoyed their trout rilettes and mushrooms on toast, piled with yet more Cheshire cheese, very much too.

Next stop was Eccles, a town in the City of Salford and original home of the famous Eccles cake. After my attempts to find a traditional baker in Manchester had already failed miserably alarm bells had started ringing. Sure enough we arrived a little after five to find the only two bakers left in town, the ubiquitous Gregg's and northern chain Hampson's, were both shut.

Feeling deflated, we headed to the giant Morrison's store by the bus station to see if we could salvage operation Eccles cake. Thankfully they sold two types; their own version, dubiously labelled 'baked in store', as well as a big display of the familiar 'Real Lancashire' Eccles cakes, made by the Edmunds family in nearby Ardwick (Eccles cakes are without a PDO, so unlike a Cornish pasty or a Cumberland sausage they can be produced anywhere).

The Morrison's own version was lacklustre  It looked fairly inoffensive, being made with the traditional three slashes across the top and finished with a dusting of crunchy demerara sugar, but things soon went steadily down hill; firstly it was made of puff, not shortcrust pastry and the moist filling resembled more a mince pie than an Eccles cake. Even the Ewing refused a second one. The Real Lancashire cake was much better.

Although rather small and not much to look at, the crumbly pastry and generous dense fruit inside made me feel rather nostalgic. Although I grew up a fair few country miles from this neck of the woods, the, northern, family I used to babysit for always left out a tin of Eccles cakes for when I came over, and the highlight of my evening was a cuppa and one of these. While I'm you can get better examples elsewhere eating one did feel a little bit like a strange Proustian madeline kind of moment.

Mid way through our trip I had booked a birthday lunch at Simon Rogan's the French. After three hours of eating and drinking most mere morals would go home to a couple of Alka Seltza and an afternoon nap, but my next target was rag pudding, a minced steak and onion pudding originating from Oldham that would have originally been wrapped in cotton rags before steaming.

With Twitter proving reticent about where to buy one, I was very please to finally find an online menu for Manchipster Plaice (keeping up chippy tradition with not one two two terrible puns in its name). What I was far less pleased about (and the Ewing even less so) was that the map on Yell's website sent us right down to the opposite end of Dantzic street, a good mile from where we wanted to be. Still, it probably helped burn off a chip or two....

The much anticipated pudding, alongside chips, lashings of gravy and, for extra Manc points, all washed down with a can of cold Vimto. Despite it having been gently congealing within its polystyrene tray in the car boot on the way home, a little blast in the microwave and this was still surprisingly good.

The rag pudding was just like any half way decent steamed steak pudding, and its oval shape meant a better meat to pastry ratio. The chips were as gloriously soggy and sticky as one might hope. While not replacing red sauce and vinegar in my house any time soon, I can still appreciate the charms of a heap of fried potatoes and gravy.

To stick a feather in the cap of what was turning into a bad afternoon for the Ewing, her 'scallops' turned out to be potato slices rather than bivalves (I feared that mentioning this to her in the chippy would have led to me getting a battering instead). 

While she remained indifferent, I found these Northern chip shop staples to be pretty brilliant; starchy soft spud with a carapace of crispy, thick batter, oozing delicious grease and all generously dusted with an ungodly amount of salt. 

Our trip to Liverpool saw us seeking out scouse, the city’s most iconic dish and at one time so prevalent that the locals were even named after it.

Lobscouse, a lamb and vegetable stew, was originally bought over by the Norwegian sailors who would have thickened it with ship’s biscuits, and while lots of cafes and pubs still offer it, especially in the winter months, it again proved a difficult dish to track down online. The Baltic Fleet pub, by the docks, offers it,  along with its own microbrewed beer, and Bold Streets famous Maggie Mays café calls its self the home of the most famous Scouse in Liverpool.

Seizing the chance to get a bit of culture along with our lunch, we visited Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral where Scouse is still served in their Welsby Restaurant.

This was just what was needed for a bright and blustery day with the wind blowing hard off the docks. A mini casserole of piping stew featuring soft lamb that shredded under the gentle prod of a fork, potatoes and carrots in a deep gravy and costing a penny under six quid this was, in the local parlance, boss. A great doorstop of crusty bloomer, pickled red cabbage and a pot of tea made for a very fine lunch indeed.

Picking up the final pieces of our edible puzzle came with our visit to 'Bury's World Famous Market'. Established in 1444, it remains one England's oldest and largest markets. I was properly excited about a trip here, after all who doesn't love a good rummage and the odd bargain or two.

Breakfast was at Mrs Ogden's Tea Room, a fantastically ramshackle prefab inside the indoor market, bedecked in bunting and union flags. This place was great; hand written signs offered fried spam and egg rolls, hot Vimto and crumble and custard and bottles of Lancashire sauce on every table.

The Ewing went for a mammoth fry up, complete with Chadwick's black pudding and a cup of splosh. Yours for just £4.99. I had what is known in common parlance as a 'muffin' with black pud and bacon. Proper greasy grub.

I'm not sure I've seen so many stalls laden with bread, cakes, pies, muffins and pastries all in one place. The very best of traditional British baking can be found here, from the afformentioned Lancastrian muffins (also known variously as breadcakes, oven bottoms, barms, teacakes, baps or rolls depending on what side of the Watford Gap/Pennines you hail from) to Chorley cakes, Eccles cakes, hot pot pies and steak puddings.

The Chorley Cake was much larger and flatter (although, Bury Market threw up some giant versions of the Eccles, too) than its cousin. It’s traditionally made with shortcrust, not flaky pastry, the top is unadorned with sugar and overall it is far less sweet. As a result it is often eaten at tea time spread with butter, jam or even Lancashire cheese.

While first impressions of my Chorley Cake were a bit muted, it seemed a little dry and rather lacking in fruit filling (the currants seem to have been more folded into to the dough), I think, on balance I ended up preferring this less sugary version, especially once a thick slathering of butter had been applied.

Harry Muffin is one of the best known of the Bury bakers, and their stall offers treats ranging from dinner plate sized Eccles and Chorley cakes (also now available in gluten and sugar free varieties) to the eponymous muffins, bread and homemade fruit pies. The most fascinating of said pies was the 'whinberry' (as bilberries are known around Bury) flavour. The small one we bought home being the perfect balance of sugary, flaky pastry crammed with juicy, inky fruit.

They also sell the famous Cissy Greens hand raised meat pie, a small comestible rather like a Scotch pie in appearance, still made from a traditional recipe in the nearby town of  Haslingden. These were so good that the after we had eaten the two we bought for ourselves, I persuaded the Ewing we should probably eat the two we had bought for her parents, too (luckily we had stocked up with plenty of other treats for them).

Finally, a Manchester tart - while searching Yahoo! had only unhelpfully (but rather amusingly) offered up 'ask Wayne Rooney' as an answer - After three visits to Manchester town centre, and leaving empty handed each time (even Greggs couldn't offer a mass produced version), the Ewing finally spied these beauties. 

The Manchester Tart, much like the gypsy tart from Kent, was a school dinner staple back in the 50s and 60s, featuring a thick vanilla custard on a pastry base with a hidden layer of raspberry jam and finished with a drift of desiccated coconut. While a whole generation is still nostalgic for it's sweet and unrefined charms, a lack of independent bakers and cake shops means that this once common delicacy is becoming harder and harder to find.

This tart was everything I hoped it would be; luminous jam that had probably never met a raspberry, wobbly sweet custard and pale pastry, crowned with the obligatory glace cherry. While there may be more refined versions around, in my mind this tasted of a 70's childhood, where a slice of this after dinner would be topped off by a riding your bike to the park for a game of three and in before bathtime.

If Bury is known for one thing, its black pudding, and the most famous local purveyors of the blood sausage are Chadwick’s. After our earlier breakfast blowout we decided to visit their stall to buy a fresh ring of the stuff to take home and cook ourselves, but it is also available to eat here, either steamed and split, or in a roll, accompanied with a dousing of fiery yellow mustard or piccalilli. As a concession to more modern tastes, it’s also now available in chilli flavour.

Fearing you could have too much of a good thing we refrained from buying yet more black pud from the next door Bury Black pudding company instead chosing a couple of their savoury ducks (faggots). I adore these meaty balls, despite their deeply unfashionable name and mystery contents - usually a mixture of pork belly, heart and liver with lots of herbs and spices - and, at just 70p each, they were somewhat of a bargain.

We bought two different types of Lancashire cheese from Purdon's cheese stall, in both ‘tasty’ and ‘crumbly’ varieties. I rather liked eating the tasty (a more mature, less friable version) with nothing more than a few crackers and a blob of tomato chutney, but in a stroke of inspiration, I used the crumbly stuff to scatter over some new season buttered English asparagus. Perfect.

Despite the huge range of baked goods on offer during our trip I, slightly worryingly, hadn't seen a single butter pie. Although a butter pie is really just a potato and onion pie, commonly formally eaten on by Lancastrian Catholics on Fridays, I really wanted to find something with the original moniker, rather than its more pedestrian description. - and while there's certainly some truth in Shakespeare's assertion 'a rose by any other name would smell as sweet', I think names do matter, as the French version of this dish, pâté aux pommes de terre, exotically proves.

Just when I was planning to give up (or, more likely, ask the Ewing to drive me on a wild goose chase around the chip shops of Bolton and Preston) the Ewing spotted this lone pie, complete with correct title, nestling on the Clayton Park stall. Looking at this picture now I rather rue we didn't get any of the freshly baked hot pot, or cottage pie but, thankfully, at least we nabbed the last butter and potato number.

The butter pie itself was very fine; a rich and comforting dish with fantastic pastry cradling a highly seasoned filling of potato and onion that caused me to proclaim maybe vegetarianism wouldn’t be such a bad option if this were on the menu.

Parched peas, black peas or maple peas, whatever you call them, the final item on the list also seemed in danger of remaining uneaten as the potato van that I had noted usually sold them remained resolutely shuttered during our visit. Again luck was on our side when I spotted Granelli's, a old fashioned little stall selling ice creams with a range of lurid syrup toppings and various things on toast, had black peas (complete with a warning about stray stones).

A few minutes later and we were the recipients of a steaming cup of murky pulses, complete with the sting of hot malt vinegar. Although the first few mouthfuls seemed to be dominated by salt and Sarsons, I actually rather enjoyed these. After a week of pastry, cheese and beer it was nice to eat something warming and comforting that felt marginally healthy. For those who want to recreate that black pea magic at home, bags of the dried legumes were also available at the greengrocer opposite.

While it may not be thought of as a traditional foodie hotspot, this corner of the country finds home to some of the best traditional British baking, meat, and cheeses, as well as an abundance of generosity in both spirit and portion size.This is proper grub, devised to sustain, warm and nourish, and fuelled by history, childhood memories and lashings of gravy. But, beneath all the nostalgia and stodge, there's a delicate and refined touch, too.

As always on our eating adventures I was left to rue the many local delicacies that remained uneaten on our return. Despite the abundant stocks of oven bottom muffins, sasparilla cordial and crumbly cheeses now stockpiled in my kitchen I can hear the North West calling again - and it's saying Uncle Joe's Mint balls, Lancashire hot pot and Morecambe Bay shrimps. Guess it's time to plot another road trip....