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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Food and Royalty
Anth Ginn

ritain is crawling out from beneath a bleak, cold, wet winter, still trying to kick off the hangover from the New Year. The sun occasionally peeps through the grey clouds to laugh at us, but as April arrives, it seems like a poor April Fool’s joke from Mother Nature. The only thing that’s keeping the nation from total breakdown and insanity is our newly discovered love of food. We’ve spent the winter watching cookery programmes, cooking competitions, restaurant makeovers, celebrity chefs and celebrities trying to be chefs. Everyone in Britain has now heard of olive oil, fresh basil and spaghetti that doesn’t pour a tin in river of orange gloop. We are Europe’s proud new gourmets.

Up in Yorkshire, food has replaced the weather as the main topic of conversation. They’ve been partying for days in the Rhubarb Triangle, between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford. The rhubarb from here, known now that as “forced rhubarb” is grown by candlelight, an ancient technique going back to the Neolithic 1950s when the population of Yorkshire abandoned their huntergatherer lifestyle and took up farming. Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb had taken its place alongside such delicacies as Champagne and Parma ham, in getting Protected Designation of Origin status from the European Commission’s Protected Food Name scheme. This is seen by the farmers as a victory against European bureaucracy. The growers say their future is now secure, although cynics point out that the reprieve could only be temporary, saying that when electricity eventually arrives in Yorkshire, the days of growing rhubarb by candlelight may well be over.

Not to be outdone by their rhubarb growing neighbours, and inspired by the magical phrase, “funding from Brussels”, the Yorkshire Pudding Mafia are jumping on the nomenclature bandwagon. Roberts, the Real Yorkshire Pudding Company and Aunt Bessie’s have sent proposals to the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, demanding that soggy, greasy lumps of batter, resembling deflated Neolithic tennis balls, can only be called Yorkshire Puddings if they are made in the original Lard Triangle, between the Scarborough Mushy Peas Mines, York Soggy Chips works, and Hull East Riding Pork Scratchings Institute.

Over in Wales, an award-winning Anglesey vegetable gardener, Medwyn Williams, 67, of Llanfairpwll, has taken the culinary world by surprise, by announcing that he will sail to the Isle of Man in a giant pumpkin to raise money for charity. He is growing a giant pumpkin, which he will fit with an outboard motor and a seat. The pumpkin was christened HMV (Her Majesty’s Vegetable) Cinderella. Hopefully Mr Williams’ provisions will include forced rhubard and soggy Yorkshire puddings. If he runs out of correctly named British produce before he reaches the Isle of Man, he can always eat the pumpkin and swim the last leg of his journey. Showing no fear of crossing the Irish Sea in a giant vegetable, Mr Williams said, “I am totally confident this can be done. I have done tests with smaller pumpkins and they float well. I might just make it to the Isle of Man.” Another first for British culinary enterprise. Ramond Le Blanc eat your garlic-ridden heart out.

Gourmets have also made their mark at the Chessington World of Adventure theme park in Surrey, where they’ve set up a trial “Pick and Mix” stall of dried insect snacks. If the experiment is successful, the insects will go on sale in the new Wild Asia area of the park, which opened in March. The selection includes chocolate ant biscuits, bacon flavoured crickets, and chocolate covered larvae.

General Manager David Smith, said: “I have tried the sample snacks and I think if you can exercise mind over matter you will find that they are actually quite tasty. If you are one of many parents who have found themselves pouncing on a child as the worm they discovered in the back garden is about to disappear into their mouth, maybe this new line of ethically sourced insect fare administered in a controlled environment is just what you need.”

Back up in Yorkshire, the hunter-gatherer traditions linger on. Andy and Stephanie Cross, of the Black Swan, have added Squirrel Pie and Mash to their menu. Andy Cross said, “It has had a great response - people were calling especially to see if we had it on. It tastes like a strong rabbit, just a more meaty taste.”

Stephanie came up with the idea, which has proved so popular that the pub keeps running out of squirrels. The grey squirrels come from butchers who are supplied by gamekeepers.

Although forced rhubarb, Yorkshire Puddings, pick and mix insects, squirrel and mash, and diesel powered pumpkins are all going from strength to strength, in the new candle lit, chocolate covered, gourmet Britain, things are not so rosy down in Gloucestershire, where the 200-year-old tradition of chasing rolling cheeses down a hill has been cancelled.

The event has been held at Cooper’s Hill since at least 1826, but last year word got around that there was a chance of some free cheese, and thousands of people showed up. Nineteen participants were injured, charging down the hill in pursuit of a 7-pound Double Gloucester. Dozens of people are usually treated for bruises and sprains at the event, but the massive increase in participants has caused concern about serious injury, or, heaven forbid, “Death by Double Gloucester.”.

Diana Smart, 83, has made the rolling cheeses for years, at her farm at Birdwood in the Forest of Dean. She was “shattered” by the cancellation and said, “I’m shaking at the prospect of not having any cheese-rolling,”

Maybe the numbers attending the festival could be reduced by diverting some of the participants to the The Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb, which takes place in Wakefield every February, the Chessington fried insect buffet, or a plate of squirrel and mash at the Black Swan.

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