Sunday rose vodka

Once in a while a pie maker gets a day off and does something that has nothing to do with pies, and this was such a pleasant Sunday afternoon diversion I thought I’d pop it in here for posterity.

Roses from the garden

My friend Linda, aka @goodshoeday, is one of East London’s leading experts on fruit vodka (well she tells me what to do) and has blogged about it here. I’ve always done a bit of sloe and damson gin, but Linda’s spurred me on toward a fireside cupboard of all sorts of interesting bottles and, after a conversation with Mat from The Wild Garlic and super-chef Mark Lloyd, I decided to give rose vodka a whirl.

My over-the back neighbour is in his nineties, still gardening, and he has a beautifully fragrant old fashioned rose in his garden that his mother planted which has, over the years, sprung up from snippets and trimmings in our garden and around the village. It flowers for just a couple of weeks and was perfect to capture.

I consulted with Linda about what proportions of sugar to vodka to use and after a bit of maths and light/syrupy discussion she suggested 25g of sugar to 5ooml of vodka. I decided that I’d use a nice bottle of vodka that my chum Jeremy Nicholl aka @Russian_Photos had brought over from Moscow because the flavour of the roses would be so delicate. None of your Moonshine for this project.

In the jar


So the recipe is:

5oo ml of Putinka Vodka (or whatever vodka you have to hand if you don’t have a semi-tame Russian-resident smudge)
25g sugar
Petals from four unsprayed, fragrant roses

Add the ingredients together in a jar

At this point I was expecting to have to leave for a week but the colour leached out of the roses almost immediately and within an hour or so the roses were turning a bit brownish. So I swirled the jar to dissolve the remaining sugar and strained.

The colour started vanishing in minutes

I popped the now-fragrant and pinkish vodka in the fridge for appearances sake but within the hour was into it – and can report that, if you like the taste of rose you’d love this. A lot.

In the lovely glass that Lynne (@josordoni) gave me

P.S. Turned out that Linda had meant 250g of sugar but a zero got lost en route. Tasted fine though, so well done her and her intuitive typos. I guess it might possibly affect keeping qualities, but that’s not going to be a big problem…

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Laugh till your pies split

Red Card Comedy Festival 
15th, 16th, 17th, 18th June 2011,
Chapelfield Gardens, Norwich, NR2

We really do get the best things to go to. It’s a joy, the pies are like a passport to hang out with the nicest people doing the most interesting things.  This one was down to an uncharacteristic bit of chutzpa on my part. Which also shows that nosiness and a disregard for manners pays off. About a year ago I had just been doing a short Tuesday morning interview with BBC Radio Norfolk and thought a cup of coffee would be in order before heading back to the elves and Pie HQ.

Gradually my ear honed in on the conversation going on behind me, I was obviously listening to some movers & shakers organising interesting events.  With a sudden rush of blood to the head I introduced myself and dished out business cards. Luckily they seemed to feel little resentment toward an interruption by a pushy woman and it turned out that we were all mutual twitter followers. I said to give me a shout if ever either were doing anything  that it might be good to have the pies at and headed back to the countryside.

Tim "Wholesome" Cross (who doesn't feature in this story but it's a jolly nice pic) and Comedy Derek

One of the coffee drinkers was the brains behind Norwich’s Red Card Comedy Club, one of the biggest comedy clubs in the country, AKA Derek who on Twitter is @PWCDerek in his guise as supplier of wine to the county’s best restaurants . Since then we’ve become good mates, done a wine/pie tasting and now we get to the pies to the wonderful Laugh In The Park. Alongside us will be old chums Grain Brewery. Comedy, beer and pies. How good is that?

And I get to watch the turns. I’m especially looking forward to seeing Sean Hughes, having a bit of a weakness for twinkly Irishmen but it’s an excellent line up.

Sean Hughes - quite the dish

Tickets can be booked (and you should) here

15th June – Milton Jones

16th June – Ben Norris, John Molony & John Mann

17th June – Sean Hughes, Joseph Wilson, Jonathan Elston, Danny Buckler

18th June – Lucy Porter, Simon Feilder, Otiz Cannelloni, Joe Rowntree

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HQ – a barn on a Norfolk hill.

There’s a lot to raise the spirits of a pie-maker and our pie HQ makes my heart soar. We pie-make on the Bayfield Estate in an area of outstanding natural beauty, a couple of miles from where the famous North Norfolk salt marshes meet the land. HQ sits on a ridge above the Glaven Valley (home to otters and kingfishers) and the sea. It’s one of the much-loved parts of North Norfolk that people not familiar with the area refuse to believe is formed of rolling hills. We’ve gradually created our state-of- the-art bakery in a light and airy high-ceilinged flint and brick barn that used to house the farm’s bull. Not the pigs, which would have been really good.

Bayfield Hall was the home of Sir Alfred Jodrell and, although dating back centuries, the estate has a very Victorian mix of philanthropic landowner rubbing shoulder’s with some of the best natural environment in the country.

The renovation of the barns to make units for rural business have won approval from CPRE for sensitive conversion, in the summer swallows swoop outside and nest in the places provided for them around the barns. Hares and buzzards live in the fields and woods and are a daily sighting. In the winter we’re kept warm by a communal wood burning system, fed from the estate’s trees and all year round barn owls patrol as we head home. On the drive up there’s a grassy bank separating the uphill and downhill traffic that all summer long is a mass of wild flowers and insects.

In the autumn the surrounding hedgerows are a mass of berries – which is very handy for late-season pie stall prettying up.

Our neighbours drop in, take in parcels for us, chat and taste new pie flavours. The super-exotic Berber Interiors (who sell beautiful Morocan fancy wares) let me use their showroom as a location for photoshoots and our excellent landlord has welcomed me (at no notice) to perch in his stately home kitchen for Country Living’s feature on the wedding pie – giving the photgrapher the run of the house to decide on the best location. We were there, at one end of the kitchen with lights, assistants, tripods and pies, for hours as the family and dogs got on with their lives around us. Bayfield Hall is often used for location work, so they were probably a whole lot more used to it than me.

Next door is Yetman’s micro brewery, so some days you get the smells of us baking mingling with the smell of Peter Yetman’s hops.

Sometimes I take visitors for a meeting-walk down the flower-banked lane to Glandford Ford rather than sit and talk formally, ideas flow beautifully in the sunshine. We don’t have a shop there but once in a while friends follow my complicated directions and come for a cup of tea and buy some pies, if we’ve any spare baked, or take away frozen ones to pop in their oven at home.

I like to think that just maybe part of the spirit of our patch of North Norfolk finds its way into the pies.

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Standing up for our friends

People who know me will know I’m a big supporter of journalists, nationally and locally. Nationally is especially significant on a day when we are mourning two world class photojournalists killed doing their job in Libya.

And on a local level, thriving and supportive local papers are part of the warp and weft of a community and we are very lucky to have some of the best in Norfolk – especially the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) and The Norwich Evening News. So when I saw a bit of uncharacteristically imprecise nonsense in the EDP and realised it was obviously management-speak I was concerned and wanted to understand the implication for MY local paper. So I invited a former Archant journalist (there are a number that I know) to write a guest blog post. Please read to the end and if you have any reason at all to be grateful to our local papers (and most of us do), send some emails off to raise your concerns.

So, a former Archant journalist writes:

Up to 20 journalism jobs could be lost at Archant Norfolk – publisher of the Eastern Daily Press, Norwich Evening News, many weekly newspapers and magazines. So why should you care? Everyone’s losing their job at the moment. Journalists are just those people who copy and paste press releases and hack into you voicemail all day. Right?

I’m well aware that a journalist asking for support from the public is likely to elicit as much sympathy as an MP explaining why his duck house is crucial to the smooth running of the country. But here’s the thing: journalists don’t want sympathy. Of course they’re worried about their jobs. Personally I’m very worried about friends whose livelihoods are at risk. But I’m also worried about the future of the titles they work for. What is really needed is for people to think long and hard about how regional newspapers may have helped them at some point in their life.

Journalists all care deeply about newspapers and believe the regional press has a key role to play in highlighting local issues, holding the authorities to account and providing information that you just wouldn’t get anywhere else. Sounds idealistic? Well yes it is, but we certainly didn’t choose this job for the money.

Don’t believe the statements put out by management. They say they will cut 20 jobs but also create new roles. George Orwell couldn’t have come up with a better example of doublethink. They say these changes will put the newspapers closer to the heart of the community. They won’t. Even if reporter numbers are maintained/increased, those reporters will be tied to their desks not out in the community.

First of all this isn’t just 20 jobs going. In 2009 the company axed 24 posts from its 179-strong editorial team. Combined with the latest proposals, this represents about a quarter of staff. On top of this many experienced journalists have chosen to leave and have either not been replaced or been replaced by cheaper, less experienced candidates. Ask yourself this question: do you think the papers have got better since 2009? I certainly don’t. So will they get better or worse after management go through with their latest plans?

Essentially what they want to do is get rid of sub editors (who lay out the pages), photographers and many other people whose names don’t necessarily appear in the paper but who are vital to its production.

There will also be fewer feature writers which means fewer longer entertaining and enlightening reads. It means less capacity to get to grips with and cover Norfolk life in detail.

There will be fewer checks and balances and less attention to detail. The staff who remain will take on the work of those who go. They will not be able to focus on quality in the same way they have in the past and they will be asked to do jobs they have not been trained for and do not have sufficient time to do properly. For example, laying out pages is a highly skilled role but increasingly reporters will be doing this using what is a very expensive and very poorly designed glorified desktop publishing system.

It’s also worth pointing out that we’re not talking about a failing company: Archant made a profit of £8.2m in the last financial year. The EDP and Evening News are the only daily newspapers in England to have increased sales in recent times. Both have won a string of prestigious awards. The various weekly newspapers are also out performing most similar titles in other parts of the country. The online audience is growing by the day.

A few recent examples of the good work regional newspapers can do include the EDP’s campaigns to save RAF Marham, applying pressure for the A11 to be dualled and fighting for better broadband to bring inward investment to the county.

But it’s not just about the big campaigns, it’s also about the little things. If you’re setting up a new business, the chances are you want to advertise it in the papers and you may well benefit from editorial coverage as well. If public bodies are making cuts (aren’t they all?)
who’s going to tell you about it and who’s going to give you a voice to shout about it? Who’s going to tell you about crime, both major and minor, on your doorstep? Who’s going to tell you about events in your neighbourhood? Who’s going to highlight the ordinary people who do extraordinary things to help charities and the community? Who’s going to tell you the quirky little stories that make you smile over your cornflakes?

If you don’t believe all of this, that’s fine. If the people don’t value regional newspapers then it’s a losing battle and the remaining journalists may as well pack up and go home. But if any of this hits home with you then let there be no doubt: the newspapers that you care about will be poorer as a result of these changes. It is no overstatement to say we are fighting for their future.

So what can you do? It would be a big help if readers emailed or wrote to management, telling them why they value the newspapers and asking them to think twice about these proposals. I won’t tell you what to say – it will have more impact in your own words.

You can email:

Chief Executive adrian.jeakings@archant.co.uk

 Archant Norfolk Managing Director johnny.hustler@archant.co.uk 

Editorial Director james.foster@archant.co.uk

or write to them individually at:

Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

It would be great if you copied your email into the comments here – it might help and inspire others. Thanks.

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Shiny knights and sponge cakes

The weather was forecast fair for the end of the week, there was a big order of pies to go to a catering customer just North of Cambridge, so the plan was for OH & I to set off early, call in at Cocoes, the wonderful Strattons Hotel’s deli in Swaffham with their pie order, go on for a cuppa and see the lovely Farmer Lahogue at Lahogue Farm Shop’s new cafe (handily just off A11), drop the pies off at Impington and then head into Cambridge for lunch (probably the new Sticky Beak) and maybe spend an hour or so at Kettle’s Yard looking at art. We’d put all hands to the deck on Thursday to free up Friday. All good so far.

The only slight shame was that twitter chum Mick Whitworth, editor of Fine Food Digest and Norfolk boy, was driving up to Norfolk from Devon, and also calling in at Lahogue for his cuppa but we were going to miss each other. Bad timing. Never mind. Next time.

These days everyone driving between Norfolk and London drops in at Lahogue.

Someone tapped on our car window in Swaffham and said something was flapping under the car. It looked bad. The floor of the engine seemed to be hanging off.
We called the AA but I was all too aware that the car would probably be heading back home to North Norfolk whilst I still had a cold box of 125 pork pies that were needed by Origin8 in Impington. So I did what I always do in moments of crisis. Displace. Look at Twitter. And saw:

He had no idea I’d broken down and we usually tweet rather than use the phone so interesting timing.

Standing in the centre of Swaffham with nothing better to do it seemed a sensible suggestion though. I thought I should let Farmer Lahogue (as I call him) know that I didn’t think I’d be dropping in and, at that moment, I couldn’t think of anything nicer than to hear his friendly voice.

Within five minutes that utterly amazing Twitter network had swung into action. @lahoguefarm was in the car on his way to pick me and the pies up and take us down to Impington. We’d head back to the Farm Shop. Farmer Lahogue had already contacted Mick Whitworth and he was going to take me back to Norfolk.

Chris (Farmer Lahogue) I’d met once and Mick I’d met twice. Both delightful people, who, because we speak daily in bursts of 140 characters had become the sort of good chums who, it became apparent, would help out without a moment’s thought. It’s what @Breckland Claire calls Karma.

So that was what happened. Chatting all the way, we got a bit lost in Impington, but passers by and Google Maps sorted that, along with a couple of calls to Origin8 and we handed the pies over to chef Emilio. As I type, I’m aware that that sounds like a mere skip and a jump but the journey from Chippenham, near Newmarket to Swaffham, to Impington and back to Chippenham probably took over a couple of hours out of Chris’s busy working day.

Back to the farmshop, I made myself useful be-ribboning some pots of violas for Mother’s day and ate a huge and splendid sandwich from the café, including Purely Pesto’s pesto on excellent local bread. They do a good sandwich.

@maximusfishing, another twitter chum, popped into the office to say hello from his Friday fish stall outside – which is supplies by their own boats. You can’t have too many twitter chums in a day I find.

Mick Whitworth arrived and Farmer LH gave us a guided tour and I, predictably, got stainless steel envy in the huge kitchen, where they are producing their own range of pies and cakes. It’s good to see a business going from strength to strength and the new farm café is proving a big hit, picking up lots of business from locals, but also all those London and Norfolk people in transit who stop for a cuppa but end up buying their shopping from the farmshop, from quails eggs to celeraic. And gorgeous local venison.

Farmer LH & pie-maker body smuggling (credit M Whitworth)

We wrestled my huge cold box into the back of Mick’s car, said our farewells and set off on the next leg of the journey, back to Norfolk. We giggled most of the way, talking food biz, music and pig’s nipples. And what Mick doesn’t know about the artisan food business isn’t worth knowing. It was pretty much like we’d known each other forever.

Mick's mum with Lahogue sponges (credit Mick Whitworth)

And in the end I had a great adventure and a fine day, thanks to the kindness of friends. I haven’t felt so free-wheeling since I used to hitch hike in my 20s.

Thanks a million to Chris, Farmer Lahogue, for being a complete hero and getting me out of a nasty pickle and to Mick for willingly becoming part of Chris’s rescue plan. And to both of them for being total wonders.

*Disclaimer: hardly any Crackle was used as bribery in the day’s events.

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Say what? We’re what?

On March 14th we started to get a lot of congratulatory tweets as I was coming back from London on the train. News was starting to filter through that Bray’s Cottage was number 95 in a top 100 Social Brands chart. I found myself tweeting a lot of “Thank you, how lovely – but I don’t really understand what’s going on” messages.  I’d been looking round the vast IFE exhibition and then that was followed up by a busy week, so I’m only just starting to absorb the significance.

Blimey!

To be fair to Headstream, the company behind the exercise, they’d both tweeted me about #sb100 when we first turned up on their radar and they invited me to their London breakfast launch of the top 100 report.  I was just being very hopeless about understanding the exciting thing they were trying to get me to focus on.

The link to the full list is here, we’re among some very, very big players.

For example, Dell (which is in the number one spot), Innocent, Amazon…

By my count, Bray’s Cottage comes in as the 7th highest food brand.  Amazing. We’re there with Marmite, Walker’s Crisps and Dominos. Needless to say we have a long, long way to go before we are on the same platform as them using almost any other measure!

As far as I can see, there are only two others of our artisan “peers” in the top 100 (both of whom we know personally because we’ve interacted on Twitter, picked up the phone to and eventually, and joyfully, met in the flesh), Muddy Boots, who make brilliant burgers and who are heading for great things after a Channel 4 programme and the wonderful Gower Cottage Brownies who make the best damned brownies in the universe and occasionally steal Phill Jupitus’s phone. It’s a long story.

All the other brands, I imagine, have dedicated social media teams. But it’s amazing what you can achieve with an iphone whilst you are eating your breakfast, or mid-bake.

There’s a lot of reading to do to understand the methodology, but the researchers, Headstream, have tried to analyse and score the essence of social media interaction, how brands engage and respond – how human they are.  It’s an interesting task and a bit like trying to grasp smoke, but I think they’ve set the bar for common sense and a thorough understanding of social media, backed up by well resourced research, in a field notoriously stuffed with charlatans and “experts”.

So, thanks to Headstream and to whoever it was who originally and kindly brought us to their attention.  Sorry I was so slow in realising how very lucky we were to be in there!

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Crackle: One woman’s mission to save the pork scratching

When we started Bray’s Cottage we had the heady ambition of rehabilitating the name of pork pies away from the cellophane-wrapped horrors found in garages and most supermarkets and making it an interesting  food that people could feel better after eating, not worse. Something to serve to friends with a real sense of joy and occasion.

 

Something we were proud of. Special. Made the way I like them. All of those good things.

Over the last year or so I’ve been wondering if we could do the same with the ever-so humble pork scratching.  I was aware that most people love good crunchy crackling on a joint, especially if it isn’t tooth shattering. But pork scratchings, which ought to be the same proud, real food, are almost always bought in little silver bags, laden with salt, rusk and chemicals and seen as a very blokeish , slightly edgily disgusting, snack. As @foodjournalist, Andrew Webb (author of the forthcoming, this year’s foodie must-buy, Food Britannica) described it, Father Jack’s toe-nail clippings.

Fennel and Juniper

Surely we could do better than that if we applied the same principles as the pies. Start with great local outdoor pigs, cook as if we were doing it at home, with just the sorts of ingredients that are in a normal food-loving kitchen. Come up with a name that took it as far away as possible from the little silver bags. And so Crackle was born.

Crackle is essentially roast pork skin, carefully cooked by eye until it puffs up and is golden and crunchy and then seasoned with really interesting grown up flavours. And it’s gluten free. So far Crackle No. 1 is Smoked Paprika and Rosemary. No. 2 is Lemon Pepper and Thyme (a nice refeshing zing) and N0. 3 is Fennel and Juniper. My foodie co-conspirators Jenni from Northcote Brewery & Derek from Naked Wines came up to HQ a week ago with the contents of their extensive & exotic spice cupboards and we came up with some more brilliant flavours which will be in production soon.

It’s still early days, as I write we have some technical limitations on the quantity we can bake. We need to get an extractor fan so that I can bake the Crackle on all four decks of the big pie oven, but we were going to do that anyway, to save kippering chief pie-baker @moggypie, and that should be up and running next weekend (hooray!). Fresh and lovely HQ – and us.

The other limitation is trays and racks, our current pie trays optimise oven space but are too shallow to safely handle the lovely dripping (a whole other porky story) that falls out of the crackle.

So at the moment, we are producing Crackle in frustratingly small quanities. Our only retail outlet is The Wholesome Grocer in Norwich and even they have had to ration customers and keep jars under the counter as word spread around Twitter. Which was both crazy and fun. I’ve also sold it on the pie stall at Creake Abbey Farmers Market and it went down gratifyingly well.

Crackle No. 1: Smoked Paprika and Rosemary

Hopefully, over the next few months we can start to supply a few other outlets (I’ve got some lovely people on the growing waiting list), but I suspect demand might always outpace supply.

But a whole new foodie adventure has begun.

 

 

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The Truffle Pie results

Thanks so much to everyone who helped make, bid, re-tweeted and generally supported the truffle pie auction – including of course Mister Truffle for kicking off the madness.

The final sum raised for East Anglian Children’s Hospices was:

Truffle pie (plus Crackle) £180

A bag of Crackle £75 – a late generous bid.

A stunning total of £255

A thrilling result and lots of chaotic fun! Thank you – you are all wonderful.

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The world’s poshest gala pie

**Update – auction now includes a free bag of my posh pork Crackle. Smoked paprika & rosemary seasoned**

Once in a while, if you talk food on Twitter, someone sends you something lovely as a present (and once in a while I send someone a pie) but I really wasn’t expecting a message to arrive a week ago asking if I wanted to have a truffle. As in the truffles that they send pigs and dogs out to find.

I wasn’t really sure whether to bite the excellent man’s hand off or just fall on him in gratitude. Dear Reader, I behaved and just said please and thank you interminably. The said man is Mister Truffle on Twitter and he’s setting up a new business, born of his passion for truffles, offering mail-order fresh truffles by the gram so people can order tiny amounts and feel more comfortable about using such a luxurious ingredient at home. Possibly in more “British” foods than you’d normally associate with a truffle. Hence a humble pork pie maker striking very lucky.

His challenge to me was to make a pork pie with truffle.

“I’m just sending you a sample – 10g” he said. After the merriment of picking up a parcel from the Post Office addressed like this, I discovered that 10g of truffle is a very decent, if not generous, sized little lump. How very lucky!

Imagine the hilarity...

I had some ideas about how to make the most of the truffle in a pie but early on decided two things

a) I could do with some help

b) This uniquely fabulous pie should have a purpose, so I’d auction it for East Anglian Children’s Hospices. A cause close to Norfolk Twitterers hearts.

So, on Friday, foodie friends Derek from Naked Wines and Jenni from Northcote Brewery came over to Pie HQ and we spent the day alternately playing with roast pig skin and a vast sea of herbs and spices (a whole other story) and making the world’s poshest gala pie.

How to make the world’s poshest gala pie

Firstly put the truffle in a bowl with some hen eggs and quails eggs, cover the bowl with cling film and leave for a couple of days so that the eggs absorb the incredible musky smell of the truffle.

Truffle and eggs

Buy about a kilo of outdoor pork – this was outside our normal run of pie production and I didn’t have any of our own meat at HQ so I went to work via 2010 EDP butcher of the year (and most other years since awards were invented) and good friend James Rutland and he coarsely minced a shoulder and ran a bit of bacon through with the meat. To which I later added my mix of herbs & spices.

Stand around in Butchers shop whilst three generations of Rutlands sniff the truffle and generally coo over it.

At HQ we boiled and peeled the truffle infused quails eggs and @degs123 put the hens eggs in his sous vide water bath so he could make his famous flat egg. Derek’s flat eggs are a work of art (some may say of a deranged mind) and make the most gorgeous, unctious eggy richness. Truffley eggy richness in this case.

Truffle infused quail eggs

We then layered the 7″ pie (should you wish to try this at home Dan Lepard’s hot water crust pastry recipe is the one I advise for domestic purposes). We put in a layer of pork, nestled the quails eggs, covered them with another layer of pork, a circle of flat egg with the truffle shaved over it and then a final layer of porkiness.

Flat truffly, eggyness and mandolined truffle

We popped on the lid, crimped, added some pastry truffle-pigs for whimsy and baked it.

And this lovingly made truffly, porky, eggy, pastry gorgeousness could be yours. Bids close today (Sunday Feb 13th) at 6 p.m. and I will post the pie (using our usual mail order cold boxes and ice method) to you tomorrow. Or deliver if local.

Follow the auction on Twitter using hashtag #truffleporkpie and either bid here or on Twitter – send me a normal tweet or DM as you prefer.

*Update* Bids since Friday curently stand at £95 (Edit 11.31 a.m. Sunday)

£100 (Edit 12.39 Sunday)

£110 (Edit 14.33 Sunday)

£120 (Edit 14.59 Sunday)

£125 (Edit 16.05 Sunday)

£130 (Edit 17.43 Sunday)

£150 (Edit 17.49 Sunday)

£175 (Edit 17.48 Sunday) readjustment of time realising bloomin’ pad clock fast!

£180 (Edit 17.49 Sunday)

 

Go on, go mad. you know you want it and it’s for a hugely good cause…

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The pie road trip begins

I’m sitting here enjoying my morning coffee (and chocolate) while out somewhere in the depths of the beautiful north Norfolk coast the pie convoy is beginning its epic journey from Pie HQ to the NEC (Birmingham) for the BBC Good Food Show….

I  did a little google and routemap searching to see how pies might get out of Norfolk and onward to the big dazzling bright lights city of Birmingham. Looking at the map reminded me how remote Norfolk is in terms of main roads, no wonder there be unicorns hiding in its deepest woodlands and gentle landscapes. I reckon its roughly 150 miles and its going to take 3 1/2 to 4 hours especially in a van fully laden with pies (and macarons).

I’ve imagined the route and sketched out this map:

First out from Pie HQ (exact location unknown, a closely guarded secret) and over to Kings Lynn, and on out of Norfolk, driving away from home, loved ones and unicorns behind the unmarked white van and accompanying cars trundle across the unremittingly flat fenland landscape between here and Peterborough. Walpole, Walkosen, Marshland St James, Wisbech. This is perhaps the hardest part of the journey, its early stages, many miles to go with excitement and apprehension all mixed together for the crew. Each vehicle only has one occupant, the fens are flat and lonely and regardless of the weather can be surreal and bleak….maybe they’ll tune their radios to a CB band and pretend to be Rubber Duck and Plastic Chicken to while the time away.

Then finally Peterborough looms from the flat landscape, its cathedral tower shining in a shaft of sunlight or possibly the convoy simply edge around the ring road past industrial and retail parks and press onward. In fact they are almost at the half way point by now so maybe they’ll stop and think of sampling  a few pies (ongoing quality control is essential) as a lunch time snack.

Then to Kettering, the landscape slightly more rolling as Norhamptonshire unfolds before them. Sharp turn at Kettering and down onto the A14, by now busy with lorries travelling from Felixstowe, way out in Suffolk, to deliver stuff across Britain. This is a busy stretch of road but good practice for the motorway to come. The pie van and convoy nudge on at a sensible pace, better to protect the precious cargo and take things steady even if it means the occasional hoot from irate trans-euro lorry drivers.

Into the final stretch the A14 ends in a mash of poorly thought out roundabouts and its up the slip road and onto the M6 trying to join the racing traffic that’s hurtled up the M1 straight onto the M6 without dropping below 80 or thinking that an important pie convoy is en route. There’s enough space and with a sudden splurge of unknown power the pie van lurches onto the M6 and speeds up as the motorway heads downhill, Rugby and Coventry to the left, the gleaming sprawl of Birmingham up ahead. Dipping off onto the M42 the convoy heads the last few miles to the NEC, into the unloading areas where the pies will be magic-ed off to their next set of chilled storage ready for tomorrow and the pie sellers will head to set up the stand….

It’ll have been a long day but the pies are safe after their 150 mile journey….the van and driver have to head back though, ready for further pie deliveries later in the week, they’ll be on standby to to ensure the punters get their pies whatever….

…to be continued…

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