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Heart of England

Regional Food

A gastronomic tour around England’s heartland offers an exciting fusion of exotic flavours and cooking styles mixed with traditional dishes rooted in the region's industrial and agricultural past



Heart of England

Birmingham is renowned for its fantastic curries while the county towns of Bakewell and Melton Mowbray have put themselves on the map because of their eponymous rustic dishes. You’ll find fantastic new cheeses, glorious Herefordshire ciders and hearty bakes and cakes in the Derbyshire villages. It’s a region of contrasts, from gritty urban landscapes to honey-hue villages – and the variety of food is just as exciting.

Ali Ray's Eat Local loves:

Top Taste Tips: Staffordshire oatcakes for breakfast, filled with bacon and egg, Gloucestershire heritage variety apple juice, Cotswold Organic Dairy blue-veined brie.

Christchurch

This Camping in the Forest site shop in the Forest of Dean waves the local food flag with an impressive selection of edible delights. But if you are looking for someone else to cook your dinner, head down the road to The Mill Race, a pub that has become the hub of the local community and has a great reputation for good food. Ingredients are sourced from local farms, villagers or foraged by the chefs. The pub holds cookery demos, pizza nights, talks from local food producers and a lively annual food fair. Now, that’s a proper Eat Local local.

Bakewell

Bakewell signHow do you eat cake without the guilt? Take part in the Peak Eat Trails Cake Walk. Download the map from the tourism website then stroll along the Monsal Trail taking in a range of stop-offs specialising in locally-produced food and drink. Try the not-for-profit village-owned shop in Litton, where the homemade cakes are fantastic. Or, if you’d rather sling a picnic on your back, head to Ibbotson’s delicatessen in Ashford-on-the-Water.

This century old village shop does a delightful cheese selection and its own-brand pickles. If you're in need of a little liquid refreshment, you might like to follow the Ale trail.

Okay, I give in. I’ll mention Bakewell pudding. I know I’d have protests from many of you sweet-toothed types if I didn’t acknowledge one of our most famous eponymous regional treats. I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to put my neck on the line and pick which of the many bakeries in Bakewell make the best version of this slice of national heritage. And whatever you do, don’t call it Bakewell tart – you are likely to be chased out of town.

No, a genuine Bakewell pudding is a circular puff pastry shell filled with an almond and egg mixture, strawberry jam and whatever secret ingredient those in-the-know add to the top. A Bakewell pudding is certainly not the saccharine icing-covered cherry-topped offerings that you buy in the supermarkets.

The original pudding came about by accident, which has since become a legend in bakery circles. In 1860, Mrs Greaves, a flustered cook in the village was in charge of baking a jam tart for some important guests. Her anxious state led her to mix ingredients together in the wrong order and the Bakewell pudding was born – and loved by her guests.

When I visited (there's a Club Site here), I randomly chose to buy my pudding from Bloomers Original Bakewell Puddings in Water Lane – and very nice it was too. I’ve also heard good reports about the The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop in the Square. But wherever you buy yours, the experience of wandering around the wibbly wobbly cobbled streets of this quaint Derbyshire town is a worthy way to spend a morning.

Wolverley

Now it may seem strange to suggest an entire town as a food attraction but if there is one in the UK, Ludlow, 20 miles from our Club Site, is it. The town itself is beautiful – perched above the River Teme and surrounded by unspoilt hilly countryside. But the real attraction for me is the food culture that has built up around the town over the last decade or so.

Wonerful cheesesLudlow has a wealth of fantastic restaurants, good food pubs and cafes all supported by an outlying network of devoted and fanatical food producers. Every September this is showcased in a food fiesta; the Ludlow Food and Drink Festival, an internationally renowned event. Even if you aren’t staying at Wolverley – our nearest Club Site – in September, the town is still worth a visit.

The Ludlow Food Centre is an exciting vision of the future of food shopping. It's a vast contemporary glass-fronted building houses a food emporium that fuses food retail and production. Half of the products sold are made on the premises. Behind huge glass windows around the hall, customers can watch cheese being made, coffee roasted, jams bottled and bread being baked.

Information on food and its provenance is a big focus here. It’s worth a visit. It’s an experience as much as a shopping trip – and the food is good too.

Just two miles from our Wolverley Club Site is Hodge Hill Farm Shop. This great family-run shop has been selling fresh vegetables to the public for 35 years. Initially it sold homegrown tomatoes from a small shed, although now the enterprise has a grown into a fabulous farm shop selling fresh bread and cakes from Ludlow, Shropshire vegetable and fruit produce, local meats and tea shop.

Woodhall Spa

Myers Bakery in Horncastle, close to our Woodhall Spa Club Site, is the one-stop shop for the best of the region's specialities. You’ll have heard of Lincolnshire sausage and cheese, but have you tried plum loaf – a rich and heavy fruit bread?

Stop off for a cuppa and a slice in the bakery cafe. The mill was started by Charles Myers in 1901 and the bakery is still in the family. It serves unpretentious local food such as gammon steaks and homemade burgers that taste great and are reasonably priced. They’ve also opened a deli next door – with more than 50 varieties of local cheeses – even the crisps are from the county.

Cannock Chase

Make a family day out of it and head to Essington PYO Fruit Farm and farmshop. This family-run farm has been proudly selling its produce to local residents since 1892. Tradition is clearly important here – the farm sticks to old fashioned and heritage fruit varieties for their flavour. Selling direct to the customer means food miles are minimal and your food is as fresh as it can be – especially if you pick it yourself.

It farms its own pork, all reared free-range and chemical free. Homemade cakes, pies and ready meals sold in the shop are cooked in the farmhouse kitchen or you can enjoy it on-site in the restaurant. The Essington folk are high on my list of Eat Local heroes.

Ebury Hill

Battlefield 1403 in Upper Battlefield, near Shrewsbury is a seemingly curiously-named attraction. It is actually a farm shop, deli, cafe and museum. The name comes from the fact the fields surrounding the converted farm buildings were the site of the famous Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, when Henry IV slayed the rebellious Henry Hotspur, 2nd Earl of Northumberland.

This is an impressive enterprise. Battlefield 1403 has eschewed the rustic farm shop image for a slick stylised experience that is as impressive as the food. Beef and lamb from the Albrighton Estate supplies the on-site butchery and pie-makers. The farm shop sells great home-made ready meals, soups and cakes while the The Sparrows Cafe focuses on seasonal ingredients and has popular house specials like the Battlefield Beef and Shropshire Ale Pie.

With the exhibition next door commemorating the battle, you can make a decent afternoon's entertainment here. And you can camp at Ebury Hill Club Site.

Leek

Before arriving in Leek I had been musing on the solid, thriving, independent butchers, the pies, the great farm shops, and the solid fayre from the industrial heart of England. And indeed it’s all there in abundance. For cakes and pies and fabulous preserves and honeys and more, visit Leek Moorlands Country Market.

But my surprise discovery was the wonderful vintage vibe that’s going on in Staffordshire, with vintage fairs and stylish tea rooms tucked away between the Moorlands and the Peak District.

Spout Coffee Shop is brilliant and very popular. Its strap line is Drink Coffee. Eat Cake. Be Happy. Homemade milkshakes are served in real milk bottles. There’s an ever updated mouthwatering range of homemade cakes and treats such as fresh lime and chocolate meringue pie, salted caramel brownies, apricot and almond cake, lemon fudge cake…

The coffee is wonderful and as well as the usual list there’s a range of cooling chilled coffees with irresistible flavours such as the sticky toffee coffee. They serve the lovely Tea Pig speciality teas and for those looking for a bit of health kick to offset the delicious cakes, try a Power Matcha drink or Matcha Teas.

This place is a hub of local activities, hosting lots of events and vintage fairs and with themed rooms with record players. It has a fantastic relaxed and truly retro atmosphere. Children are actively welcomed, as are dogs. It’s just two miles down the road from our Leek Club Site.

Just around the corner is yet another cake haven, the Cupcake Bakery, which prides itself on making everything it can on site from scratch and using only the very best, locally-sourced ingredients. It’s light and airy with bunting, pretty polka dot table cloths and gorgeous vintage china. It does great breakfasts (the bagels and scrambled eggs were delicious), sandwiches, soups with homemade rolls, wraps, salads and quiches. There’s an ever-changing specials menu, so there’s always something new to try. The range of cakes is heavenly and as you might have guessed, cupcakes are a speciality with a staggering and ever expanding list of flavours. Try the chocolate and raspberry, or the jammie dodger. Not so sure I’d be brave enough to try the chocolate and bacon though.

Despite being tucked away, you’ll find this gem of a café by following the signs on the groovy little Vintage Butcher’s Bike or perhaps the Vintage Austin van (just like Wallace and Grommit’s) that point the way.

Leek Oatcake Shop was established in 1964. This Leek treasure on Heywood Street has been run by Alan and Pauline for more than ten years. The original shop front remains unchanged and is freshly painted in cream and green. The original Edwardian street sign hangs outside. The shop is next to one of the many old mills for which the area is famous and inside it’s small and functional but always busy with a steady stream of hungry locals.

Alan and Pauline pour their secret oatcake mixture on to two huge iron hotplates to make the Staffordshire Oatcakes in the traditional way. The Staffordshire Oatcake is a completely different beast to the small round crunchy Scottish oatcake. Looking a bit like an oat pancake, and made from oatmeal, flour and yeast, the exact recipe here is secret. It's affectionately known locally as a 'potteries poppadom', a 'tunstall tortilla', or a 'clay suzette.’

Fillings revolve around sausage, bacon, egg, cheese and onion. Favourites include the fantastic full breakfast and ‘a double bacon with cheese and brown’ (translation: two oatcakes together with bacon, melted cheese and HP sauce.) It also comes in ‘red’ i.e. ketchup. Note, a double is different than asking for two separate oatcakes. A thicker version, a ‘pikelet’ is also available.

They do sandwiches as well – or ‘on bread’ as you may hear when they are ordered. It’s all great value. A bacon and mushroom oatcake is only £1.55. Alan and Pauline will guide you through it all and can guarantee you’ll soon be as addicted as the regulars are. They supply to a large number of Leek’s corner shops, butchers, pubs and cafés. Pop in. This is great, local, affordable food. Alan and Pauline are flipping their oatcakes constantly from 5.45am most mornings.

Hereford

Found on Ledbury’s attractive high street Llandinabo Farm Shop is a traditional looking butchers shop that caught my eye because the shop only sells meat from pedigree, rare and traditional breeds, photos of which line the walls. James Bodenham, the butcher who served me explained: “We focus on rare and heritage breeds because otherwise they will just die out – and with them the traditional methods, skills and knowledge to farm animals like that. On a taste front too, these animals have matured at a natural rate and are grass fed, which gives so much more flavour."

James continued: “Intensively farmed animals have been bred to be so lean, because customers don’t want to see any fat, but research has shown that the fat found in grass-fed traditionally reared animals is rich in omega 3 and lower in cholesterol than grain-fed intensively farmed ones.) Read more about traditional breeds.

The shop stocks plenty of rare breed and pedigree beef, lamb, duck and barbecue-ready marinated meats and the chicken is ultra free-range from a very local supplier, so I chose a couple of good sized chicken breasts, sausages and a large bone for Rascal my dog – the later in return for a small donation to the local air ambulance service. 

Just half a minutes’ walk away on the same side of the street is the Three Counties Cider Shop. Its tiny jewel-like interior shines with bottles of amber-coloured concoctions. It’s owned by Ann Stanier and her husband Norman, whose family have run the small but traditional Dragons Orchard, just outside Ledbury for more than 90 years.

A few years ago they linked up with local wine-maker Simon Day, who was looking to apply his wine-making methods to cider. While still preserving elements of traditional cider making on the farm, the apple varieties are kept separate during fermentation and blended later to get a consistency of flavour, like you would a wine. Once Upon a Tree cider was born.

The orchard has a small on-site shop that will open by appointment for tastings and sales. You can even enjoy a self guided poetry walk around the orchard if that’s your kind of thing – or just take the signposted tour if not.

The high street shop has ten ciders on draft to try before you buy (you can bring your own containers in). They also stock every type of local cider imaginable plus the delectable Pixley Berries Cordials, made on a farm just three miles from our Hereford Club Site. These rich, blackcurrant cordials – “squash for grown-ups” are great mixers for ciders and perrys, but I’d reckon would be great used in sauces for lamb or venison too. There are recipes on their website.

Handley Organics in Ledbury is owned by Caroline Handley who grows organic crops of seasonal vegetables and fruit on her 32 acre farm, north of the town. Growing sustainably and organically to sell locally is her absolute passion – not a job but a way of life. Her fresh produce is sold in this well-stocked shop along with local breads, dairy, cakes, store cupboard goods and meats from local producers.  

For all your vegetables you need only to travel five miles towards Ledbury to Little Marcle Farm Shop where Cath and John have been growing organic vegetables on their 30 acres of red Herefordshire soil for more than 18 years. Their motto is to grow their food as environmentally soundly as possible and sell it as locally as possible. This is truly a ‘proper’ farm shop – everything you buy here has been grown on the fields around you. Your food is as fresh as can be, and you can stock up on ingredients to make amazing salads, stews and heaps of griddle veg. In season they sell new potatoes, cauliflowers, carrots, onions, aubergines, broad beans and courgettes. Not forgetting those lovely free range eggs. Open every day of the week.

Alternatively CJ’s Old Grove Farm Shop in Leighton Court is just over four miles away from our Club Site. It sells its own apple juices and award-winning ciders – all made on the farm – and stocks a good selection of locally-made jam, chutneys, ‘proper’ breads, meat and cheeses. There is also a tea shop on site.

If after all of this you still haven’t quite had your fill of the strong apple juice then you can always take a look around Hereford's Cider Museum based in a former cider-making factory. It is a comprehensive collection of film, documents, cider mills and presses charting the history of cider making throughout the country – not just Herefordshire. There is a two-day cider making festival here in October.

If quaint tea rooms aren’t your thing, then I’d recommend All Saints Church on Hereford’s High Street. Here you can contemplate with a coffee against an impressive backdrop of stained glass, mahogany woodwork and carved stone. Bill Sewell, the owner of this notable cafe in a church, is almost religious in his commitment to using locally produced ingredients for all of his dishes. All the bread is freshly made in the cafe, the jams are from Sally’s Pantry, made by a local lady who uses Herefordshire berries and fruit in her preserves.

Mablethorpe

Just a 15 minute drive from our Mablethorpe Club Site is Alford Five Sailed Windmill. It is a working mill with a lovely little tea room attached. You can sit in the shadows of the sails out on the decking or in the tea garden and enjoy tea and homemade cake – all made with freshly milled flour naturally. All the favourites are featured here. Homemade gingerbread, Victoria sponge and a proper cream tea with whole wheat scones. Delicious!

If you are partial to a bit of trout then it’s worth getting in touch with Withern Mill Trout Farm. With a days notice they can gut and prepare your fish for you so it is fresh as can be when you arrive to pick it up. The trout farm even runs a Certificated Site so you can come and catch your own trout. The farm gets its water supply directly from the chalk stream of the Great River Eau, which feeds straight into the farm hatchery, fry house and the outside lanes that the fish swim in. Using the clear water from the local river means that the natural food supply in the river is available for the trout to feed on, keeping the trout tasting as natural as possible. If you have the right licenses then bring your fly rod and catch your own.

If you don’t want to cook your own trout, why not head to the brilliantly named Fat Seagull in nearby Sutton-on-Sea? The welcome is warm and the food is imaginative, brilliantly presented and tastes fantastic. Choose from homemade bread and sausages made on-site. The menu is varied enough to suit any stage of hunger from delicate goats cheese tarts, monkfish or a hearty mains of slow cooked lamb shank. Prices are very reasonable too. There is also a deli next door selling plentiful delights to take home with you, from locally-made pies, extraordinarily good cakes, and local seasonal fruit and vegetables.

Just a few minutes drive from here in Huttoft is Farmer Browns Farm Made Ice Cream and Coffee Shop. Made with milk and double cream from the farms Holsteins and Friesians has resulted in a range of delicious luxury ice creams here at Farmer Browns. You can sit in the on-site café and enjoy a cone of strawberry, mint-choc chip, lime, rhubarb and ginger or... er... liquorice. Other local produce is sold here too: local veg, homemade cakes and the regional specialty plum bread. If you are small enough you can finish off your visit with a play on the slide and climbing frame. if not then just make-do with watching the sheep, chickens, ducks and cows.

Chipping Norton

With such natural beauty and resources in the Cotswolds (including our own Chipping Norton Club Site), it’s unsurprising that many of the region's farmers are keen to protect the land too, and there seems to be a considerable number organic enterprises based around here.

One of these is Simon Weaver, owner of Cotswold Organic Dairy, near Upper Slaughter. This tiny creamery produces five different types of organic brie including a smoked one and, my new food addiction, a blue veined one. They also produce a rare single Gloucester – a hard cheese, with a clean tangy taste that originated on local farms about 200 years ago. The creamery is one of only six producers that make this cheese as it has a Protected Designation of Origin status that means it must be made in Gloucestershire, with traditional methods, using milk of registered rare breed Gloucestershire cows.

It's possible to purchase these delightful, buttery cheeses from the exciting cheese room at nearby Daylesford Organics in Kingham. A glass sided room with floor-to-ceiling truckles and artistically wrapped wedges. This farm shop is definitely where the well-heeled-welly folk come to shop. It’s like a Hollywood film set for vegetables and food. Artistically stacked organic vegetables compete for attention with displays of perfect home baking and a dream-filled deli counter. The on-site cafe is fantastic – both for food and people watching.

Wyatts Farm Shop is both a garden centre and great farm shop with a fabulous on-site butcher. Henry Lawrence is at his butchers counter six days a week and prides himself on supplying the best local meat. He said: “I deal with a fantastic abattoir that sources from local farms, so I can be confident of the provenance all of my meat. It tastes especially good because the animals get to graze on such good quality Cotswold pastureland." As well as making his own sausages and burgers, Henry is a keen cook too, so passes on recipe ideas to customers.

The rest of the farm shop is well stocked with local produce including, fruit, veg, local soups and cheese (including the Cotswold Organic Dairy cheese of course). I chose a couple of fine looking sirloin steaks for the barbecue, some chutney and some pears to try a recipe suggested to me by the dairy themselves.

The Chipping Norton Farmers Market runs every third Saturday of the month, between 8.30am-1.30pm and can be found in the market place.

Ashbourne

Well lucky you, Ashbourne camper. It’s not just the beauty of the Peak District and Derbyshire Dales on your doorstep when you stay at this Club Site but a group of inspiring food producers and proprietors too.

Between Ashbourne and Derby lies the Meynell Langley Estate and its acres of beautiful rolling countryside. This is where Derbyshire Dales Organics is based, a company dedicated to sourcing meat from free-ranging animals raised on organic farms from the surrounding area. Campers can buy Derbyshire Dales Organics bacon and sausages from the site shop. They also sell their range of organic chicken, beef, lamb and pork, venison and sausages from their stall in Belper and Bakewell farmers' markets. Belper farmers' market runs on the second Saturday of every month and Bakewell farmers' market is generally on the last Saturday of every month. Bakewell is the second largest farmers' market in the UK in terms of the number of stalls.

Although it goes beyond the half hour drive away mark, I suspect that you might be paying a visit to the glorious Chatsworth House if you are in the area... and just as impressive is the Chatsworth Farm Shop.

When it comes to the provenance of the food they sell, their philosophy is simple – primarily the food is sourced from the Chatsworth Estate, secondly from the estate's tenant farmers, and thirdly from Derbyshire producers. In fact more than 60 per cent of the farm shop products are either produced or prepared on the Chatsworth Estate. Chatsworth farmers put great value on the very best standards of animal husbandry, and consumers can rest assured that they will be getting the best quality meat possible.

The farm shop is integral to estate life. It was established in 1977 by the Duchess of Devonshire, selling beef and lamb from the estate, its aim being to provide local people great quality food grown and produced around them. There is a butchers, bakery, freshly-made pies and home-cooked meats, local honeys, preserves, drinks and delectable Chatsworth Estate ice cream. There’s also a great farm shop café offering seasonal dishes using all the products available in the shop.

If, like me, you are a cheese lover, it is worth the trip to the lovely little village of Hartington at the northern edge of the Dove Valley. Overlooking the duck pond in the heart of the village is a very special cheese shop. The Hartington Cheese Shop has been running for more than 30 years, and sells cheese from all over the UK and the world, but also specialises in locally-made artisan cheeses. It sells cheeses from the recently set up Hartington Creamery – small-scale cheese factory based in a number of converted barns in the village. A group of five locals were determined to keep cheese-making alive in Derbyshire, and the creamery is the result. Go and support them and enjoy their cheeses. Hartington Cheese Shop, Market Place, Hartington SK17 0AL.

Certificated Sites with food

Some 230 acres of beautiful Shropshire countryside, make up Lower Hill Farm. It’s also a busy working farm that produces beef, lamb and free-range pork. Campers can buy sausages, burgers, chops and bacon on the site.

Members can buy homemade cakes from site owner Pat Turner at Forest View, no doubt made with the free range eggs that she also sells to members on the site. She also keeps a supply of barbecue-friendly meat – bacon, sausages on site or will get them delivered to you if you order from her. The meat comes from local butchers Brian and Simon Betteridge a.k.a Junction 10 Bacon Men. 

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