Archive for December, 2015

Fish ‘n Chips and Pork Pie Heaven

December 1, 2015

Yum! Yum! Here’s one from Eric Sanderson to make your mouth water

Fish ‘n Chips and Pork Pie heaven

By Eric Sanderson

This isn’t a uniquely East Leeds tale but East Leeds did have it’s fair share of both of these culinary delights.
It’s difficult to find a single person who dislikes fish and chips . There surely will be some, it’s just that they’re unknown to me and, it seems to me, to be unfortunate in being unable to enjoy one of the most lip smacking treats known to mankind.
These days, for me it’s a rare but enjoyable occasion though as it’s no longer a cheap option for a family meal, especially in a speciality restaurant, it may well be so for many.
The humble fish ‘n chip shops were almost certainly this country’s earliest and probably still are the most popular “takeaway” outlets, each district usually having several competing establishments. Styling themselves as “fisheries”, each had it’s coterie of fiercely loyal devotees, not necessarily to the nearest one either.
I recollect five within fairly close walking distance from where I lived, with several more in the vicinity and almost invariably, a long queue was to be expected, especially on Fridays, due in part to the large Catholic community for whom fish was a must on Friday, meat generally being a no-no.
Yorkshire fish and chips are thought by many to be the best in the country (and arguably anywhere) due to the preferred method of frying in beef dripping, giving the batter a unique crispness, colour and taste of savoury beefiness. A visitor that I know to these shores from the USA who is quite a fussy & frugal eater, has no hesitation in making an early beeline to the local chippy & will happily devour a substantial portion, often on more than one occasion. If any further evidence is needed as to their wide appeal, just watch the seagulls on the East Coast, they love them so much , they’ll snatch them from your grasp as soon as you emerge from the chippy.
Fisheries used to sell little other than fish ‘n chips, perhaps the odd pickled egg or breadcake but now, an extensive menu of extras is there to tempt the palate and, if you’re feeling peckish, what can beat the welcoming aroma wafting from a F&C shop in full swing even though when that chippy is closed & cooled down, the reek from congealing chip fat is far less heartwarming.
Fish or chips ??. Which is the most important, the key ingredient? Are the chips to be thick or thin?. Is it to be Cod or Haddock?. All vital considerations in your choice of favourite establishment.
The fat, soggy, undercooked chips looking like Wichetty Grubs are to be avoided at all costs ( why would these monstrosities appeal to anyone ?)and the crispy, golden, sizzling variety are the ones to be sought after.
A popular favourite for many in the 50’s was Maggie Walker’s, which wasn’t the normal commercial “shop” but was in fact a converted, mid terrace, back to back cottage, just off East Park drive in one of the Glensdales. Others in the close vicinity were Knight’s (Temple View Rd); Quarmby’s (East Park Drive); East Park & Ivy Fisheries.
Maggie Walker herself was a small, bustling, beady eyed lady who supervised everything in her single range establishment & there was invariably a queue, often extending beyond the doorway & along the street. But, they were worth waiting for, my, were they good – I can almost still taste them.
The proprietors also seemed to know their clientele because if your favourite chippy closed for a couple of weeks summer holiday, they could be quite sniffy & sometimes downright rude by accusations of only patronising them because your preferred choice was temporarily closed.
Then there was the iconic Harry Ramsden’s, a venue for a day or evening out & in it’s heyday, enjoying an outstanding reputation, so much so that the inevitable queue, snaking back through the car park usually meant a long wait before being allocated a table. It went quickly downhill though following a change of ownership which tried to push the franchise far & wide although, it has quite recently become part of yet another chain, had a facelift & regained a little of it’s reputation but even now, the queues are no longer anywhere near the length they used to be.
Other similar venues, though perhaps never quite so illustrious as Harry Ramsden’s, includes Youngman’s & Nash’s, both in the city, Brett’s & Bryan’s (now the Fisherman’s Wife), both in Headingley , each having their own fan base, as well as the Wetherby Whaler & Murgatroyd’s. Of those ,Brett’s is the only untried one for me but it’s recently had an expensive refurbishment & is said to be very good.
So whilst revelling in the anticipatory memories of many a good feast of Fish ‘n Chips, lets not forget that other wonderful staple, the ubiquitous PORK PIE.
Just as with fish ‘n chips, the question of whose pork pies top the premier league can be a matter for enthusiastic & earnest debate.
The modern pork pie probably contains more wholesome ingredients than in days of yore but even so, the complexities of optimum size & proportions of meat, pastry & jelly, along with the type of pastry; cured or uncured, chopped, minced or potted type meat ; whether additional flavourings such as spices, herbs, cheeses & a host of other seasonings to tempt the palate, even the shape & finish can swing the balance and remains an enigma for which there is no universal consensus.
Some local butchers used to make their own & then along came the mass produced, mechanically recovered meat versions which originally, for many, destroyed the unique flavours originating in closely guarded family recipes, each with their own loyal adherents.
In those days, pork butchers were often separate establishments, presumably on the grounds of hygiene which are no longer deemed to be necessary. The most prominent one which comes to memory was Blakey’s on Temple View Rd.
Mrs Blakey ran the shop – a bubbly character whose physique strongly suggested she may have been over fond of her own products. A visit here wasn’t to be eagerly anticipated as Mrs Blakey could, & usually did , talk the hind leg off a donkey, or in this case, a Wessex Saddleback. There was no question of a quick visit as she would gossip endlessly with all & sundry such that even a short queue would result in a 15/20 minute wait whilst she chewed the fat. However, I suppose many a housewife enjoyed the opportunity of a chat outside the home but for a young lad, standing in a queue for what seemed like ages because of those ahead gossiping, was a teeth grinding experience.
Today, Wilson’s of Austhorpe Rd has acquired a well deserved reputation & “exports” it’s pies to other establishments around Leeds, including an outlet near to where I live.
Others having their faithful & widespread support includes Weegmann’s at Otley; The Celebrated Pork Pie Establishment at Skipton; Bentley’s of Pudsey & Spaul’s at Burley in Wharfedale to name just a few.
The ubiquitous Melton Mowbray with it’s uncured meat filling has it’s afficionados & I once knew an individual who used to send one of his staff from Sheffield, twice weekly, to Melton Mowbray itself in Leicestershire just so that he could enjoy the genuine article.
A local butcher in Pately Bridge ranks pretty highly on my list – his particular delicacy incorporates for me, the perfect combination of crisp, golden pastry, a fairly coarse chopped meat filling & just the right amount of piquant jelly to add a touch of savoury to the sweetness of the meat.
Accompaniments such as English Mustard, Branston, pickled onion, Piccallili (?), tomato chutney add to the pleasure and breakfast always seems a good time to indulge but little beats alfresco dining with a warm, freshly minted pie.
The comparitive merits of both pork pies & fish ‘n chips are worthy topics & I’ve known some, including myself in days long gone by, to enjoy both at the same time. Although pork pies may not be to everyone’s taste, there can be little doubt over the almost universal popularity of what is quite possibly the Country’s favourite dish – fish ‘n chips & I’m willing to wager that many have fond memories of that plate, or even a newspaper parcel, of sizzling ambrosia.