Saturday, 31 December 2011

Big Thanks

2011 has been a superb year for the Guyrope Gourmet. Many thanks to all those who helped .

In random order: Jamie Coulson,Melissa Corkhill,Mick Hickling,Iain Duff,Tim Hayward,Mark Sutcliffe,Annie Stirk,Rebecca Roberts,Tony Parker,Heather Holden Brown,Joan Ransley,Kevin Gopal,Matt Wright,Andrew Webb,Silvana De Soissons,Nick Smith,Alpkit,Clive Garrett,Elly James,Amanda Wragg,Jill Turton,Phil Putnam-Spencer,Paul Greenan,Anne-Marie Davies,Alec Carmichael,Outwell,Anne Dolamore,Barry Cox,Andy Bulmer,Angela & Andrew Kay,All my Twitter followers & Facebook likers.

Monday, 14 November 2011

The rise of the Succour Club

We all need a little comfort and reassurance from time to time, especially those that place their work in the public domain, artists, writers, chefs, even politicians! I've been plying my wares as a freelance writer for some time now and i've found that adding strings to the proverbial bow brings in new opportunities and with it new challenges. Along with demonstrations and cookery 'classes' at food festivals, the Guyrope Gourmet has found a new way to show off, the Supper club in a TENT. It has to be a foodie first.

Seeking succour through my supper club, I first mooted the idea on Twitter, and with a few wise words of encouragement from experienced  veterans, @jteramsden and @sabrinaghayour I released the bats so to speak.  The first Guyrope Gourmet supper club took place on Champs' Field campsite near Tadcaster. I'd chosen the site as Champs' Field is on a working farm and owners Angela & Andrew Kay are passionate about food. They raise Hereford beef and supply Waitrose supermarkets and have a small market garden growing a range of vegetables for their veg box scheme. Their Food from the Farm shop is packed with locals and passers-by. The shop is across the track from Champs' Field, so the Guyrope Gourmet supper club can claim to be a zero food miles event with 100% local produce on the menu (ok the chocolate in the dessert may have travelled a little).

With capacity of 8 covers and 50% of those turning up, the first event was a superb evening with two guests travelling up from Sheffield. I'd arrived on site in the afternoon to set up the restaurant and build a fire for my bread making. I'd brought rugs, fairy lights and candles as well as a handy 8 piece total dinner service I found in a charity shop for a fiver. The tent was transformed and with the use of a plug-in electric radiator, made for a cosy environment for a meal with strangers. I've cooked for numbers from my tent before, but I'd never tried to provide a three course meal to paying guests. With the basic equipment of a camping stove and no warm storage area, getting the timings right was paramount. I'd put together a simple menu using ingredients from the Food from the Farm shop. My whole philosophy about cooking is keep it simple and let the ingredients speak for themselves and there was no way I was going to divert from that philosophy for this new venture. I'd mulled over the running order in my head; light fire bake bread, make soup, make dessert and prepare veg.

Electing to hold my first supper club in November was a bit of a gamble, but I was blessed with a glorious day, with the sun shining down as I pitched the tent and kneaded my dough. Guests arrived at 7:30 and were greeted with a glass of prosecco and uttered coos of delight as they entered the tent. I was bowled over by the sheer enthusiasm they had for my little idea. From the off it was a success, with my four guests chatting and laughing as I heated the soup through and joked about my slightly burned fire-baked bread.

With a 'bivouac' of pan seared beef loin, braised fennel with parmesan and a sautéed potato & chard stack as a main course, the diners were amazed as I brought fine food to the table. I must admit, I was feeling rather pleased with myself. Sadly I was concentrating so hard on getting things right, I failed to get any good quality shots of my dishes. That's something I will have to rectify for next time.  By the time the mains were on the table I was able to relax a little and going my guests for a glass or two. Dessert was a chocolate mousse with fennel seed chocolate crust. 

The washing up was piled in a huge bucket, ready for the dishwasher back home and we retired outside to sit by the roaring fire. Knackered, elated, more than a little pleased with myself and slightly drunk I fell asleep by the fire dreaming of the next Guyrope Gourmet Supper Club in the Spring - anyone fancy it?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Big Shakeout

Not only is it great to get a booking on your birthday weekend so that one may let down one's hair down once the gig's over, but getting booked by Alpkit to perform at their annual 'Big Shakeout' adventure weekend in the Peak District is like the icing on the proverbial cake.  I've been a fan of Alpkit gear for some years now. It works and it works well. So the Guyrope Gourmet was booked to cook on the Saturday afternoon.  After pondering possible menus, I opted for a Morrocish lamb stew and a vegetable Biriani. The lamb stew is an old favourite in the Guyrope Gourmet kitchen, tried and tested. It's 'Morrocish' because it is kind of based on a dish I've eaten in Shefchauen in the Rif mountains.  The Biriani however was a different affair. Now it may seem a little unwise to some, and the thought did occur to me too, but to try an un-cooked before dish in front of a live audience must surely be an act of only the foolhardy. I placed my trust in Shehzad Husain and walked through a biriani from start to finish.

The Guyrope Gourmet show is usually about an hour long, as long as it takes to cook the food really. I reduce the tedium factor by doing all the food prep ahead of the show. Nobody wants to watch a bloke peel onions, even if he did grow them in his own allotment. 

Even with the ingredients already chopped, grated, crushed and marinated the interest factor of a relatively unknown bloke cooking food is somewhat limited. Here's where a few tales of derring-do and stories of travels with my Trangia come in to play.

A Guyrope Gourmet audience will always be regaled with stories of dishes cooked up under duress, a spatchcocked chicken having just given the Syrian army the slip, or an amorous lamb stew on an island. Much to my surprise, one of the things that folks seemed to enjoy was the covers of punk rock classics on my Ukulele! 

So while the rice is par-cooking, or the lamb is browning in the pan, I whip out the Uke and play a little tune. It seems to work, I'm bloody terrible, but audiences are polite - either that or just plain stunned! Either way

I get to show off and people get to try my food. It all went in about ten minutes, with people coming back for seconds. You don't get much more of a credit than that in the catering world as far as i'm concerned.

With the exception of the two 'inside shots', all photography and video on this post courtesy of Alpkit 2011 (thanks guys!).

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Rock 'n' Rollmop

"Whatever happened to Alex James? he quit the pop world for cheesy fame,
What ever happened to Fearnley Whittingstall? began a fish fight now he's hooked us all,

What ever happened to the food heroes? x2

Whatever happened to Valentine Warner? he's cooking up a storm around the corner
Whatever happened to Richard Corrigan? he blew his oven up and got another one

What ever happened to the food heroes? x2

All the food heroes, they're all here
The Harvest food heroes, here and there

Whatever happened to Guyrope Gourmet? I never heard of him, who is that bloke anyway?"

To the tune of The Stranglers No More Heroes - accompanied on my ukulele

So went the introduction to the Guyrope Gourmet's cooking demonstration this weekend at Alex James presents Harvest.  I was a little nervous before I started, but enthusiasm and the opportunity to show off to a crowd of people soon put paid to any trepidation on my behalf.  It was 1:30 on the Saturday afternoon, the sun was poking through the low clouds over an Oxfordshire farm and a crowd had gathered around the Guyrope Gourmet stage.  With a menu of Smoked salmon blinis, bruchetta, mussels in beer & coriander and Paella up for grabs, I'd done the vast majority of my food prep beforehand.  The fact that I was pitched next to The Little Green Coffee Machine meant that I was well supplied with caffeine from the Coffee Pirates who were offering the best coffee in the whole site!   As the crowd settled down on what was left of the straw bales the site crew had dropped off earlier that morning (festival children taking great delight in destroying the seating!), I grabbed my trusty  
Uke and turned on the show.  

My audience were terrific, enthusiastic, interested, beautiful and very obliging as I proceeded to destroy a perfectly good Stranglers song in two minutes flat!  The Guyrope Gourmet is all about having fun while cooking good food on a camping stove and I certainly did that!  Assisted by my long suffering wife, Anne-Marie, we kicked off with a few smoked salmon & cream cheese blinis while i was cooking up the bruchetta.  Chopped mushrooms with quartered cherry tomatoes cooked in olive oil with some chopped garlic, a sprig of thyme from my garden and a whizz in the pan for ten minutes or so and served on toasted baguette.  That seemed to go down pretty well so I moved on to the paella. 

I'd shunned the use of technology and declined the offer of a microphone, opting to bellow my commentary as the good folks at the back had agreed to shout LOUDER if my voice tapered off.  The thing about good food is that there is always a story behind every dish.  Peppered with outlandish tales of the origins of my many dishes, the show was going down well.  Though I wasn't using it, I'd brought along my trusty Trangia stove as a prop and a cue card for embellished tales of culinary derring-do on a campsite.

Once the paella was simmering nicely and doing its thing, I made a start on the mussels in beer & coriander.  I used a bottle of Mac's Golden all malt lager, which attracted the attention of a few Kiwis in the crowd, sorry guys non left for sale (they do it in Waitrose!).    

The best bit about the whole show was the audience.  They cheered, laughed and shook their heads in all the right places.  I managed to pick up a couple of new recipes and one woman explained in detail how she managed to cook a whole roast dinner on her camping stove.  I forget the details (don't I always?), but chicken livers and bacon with creme fraiche and pasta sounds well worth exploring.  I learned you can sweat chopped onions in a little water instead of oil, that way they never burn at the edges - genius!  The paella was ready as the mussels began to open.  I scattered chopped coriander over the mussels and dressed the paella with flat leaf parsley and lemon wedges.  Then came the stampede of hungry campers.

I honestly struggle to describe the pleasure it gave me to cook for such a wonderful crowd of people.  All I can say is a massive thanks for you support and sheer enthusiasm.  I hope that I'm lucky enough to be asked to do it again next year.  I'll be there in a flash!

I did it all again on the Sunday too with equal enthusiasm from a willing audience.

Funnily enough, no-one stayed around for the washing-up demonstration which followed!

A big thanks to Clare, Georgie and Briony at Big Wheel who looked after me like true professionals - see you next year XX


Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A Summer of plenty

I've been having a great Summer and as we move swiftly towards those Autumnal months, there's still much more excitement to come.  I've had a whole host of camping experiences recently.  I've just finished a six week series for the Yorkshire Post.  I've been exploring new campsites with food producers nearby and tying the two together with a simple recipe readers can cook on a camping stove.  My travels have taken me all over Yorkshire and I've visited sites I've never come across before.  I'll be going back to each of them, family in tow for a longer stay.  It's been great writing the series, meeting enthusiastic campsite owners and passionate food producers.

I've met and spoken with old hands and new venturers.  Andrew and Angela at Champs Field are new to the camping thing, but they've been rearing cattle and growing amazing vegetables for years.  There's not much they don't know about good food and their Food From The Farm shop is right opposite the camping field.  

Helen and Jon at Silloth House near Settle are also new to the camping lark.  Their campsite will surely be one of the most popular in Yorkshire once Jon finds time to renovate the old open-air swimming pool on the site.  It's been a pleasure and a privilege to go gadding about the Yorkshire countryside looking for great places to stay and fantastic food to eat. I've also been reviewing camping equipment in the series too.  As a result, The Guyrope Gourmet now has a top new tent and stove as well as some other bits and pieces.  I've been most impressed with the new Outwell Monterey 5 tent, which now forms GGHQ, together with Nan the Van of course.   

The side extension is arguably a little over the top, and renders the whole set-up overly expensive on your average campsite as I would have to pay for a double pitch, so I reserve that for special occasions and tuck the van in neatly alongside the new tent.  Very cosy!

Looking forward to the rest of the year, I'll be cooking up a storm at.  Alex James Presents Harvest.  I still can't get over the fact that I'll be cooking in the same field as some of my all time absolute food heroes.  I'm hoping they might stop by for a bowl of mussels in beer & corriander or a mouthful of paella.  Who knows?  I'll be writing about that after the event, with lots of images and tales of outlandish derring-do.

I'm also thrilled to have been booked to cook at Alpkit's 'Big Shakeout' weekend in October.  I've been a fan of Alpkit gear for many years and was chuffed to put it mildly, when they contacted me and invited me along to this marvelous outdoor weekend.  They've even got me judging a Mastersheff (it's taking place in the Peak District just outside of Sheffield) One pot wonder competition.  I'm really looking forward to that.

It feels like one long summer to me - aren't I the lucky one!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Book Review: The Art of Camping.

The Art of Camping – The history and practice of sleeping under the stars

Author: Matthew De Abaitua
Published by Hamish Hamilton July 2011 

The Art of Camping captures the reader with a thoroughly researched, detailed and fascinating account of the origins of camping and its development as a recreational pastime.  Interspersed with the author’s anecdotes of his formative years as a camper, The Art of Camping evokes the spirit of the campfire and then douses the flames in the reality of modern day life.  An early description of a gallant logistical endeavour across London on public transport, fully laden with camping gear and small child, reflects not only the author's enthusiasm for his subject, but the lengths some people will go to, to enjoy a few nights under canvas.

De Abaitua’s childhood memories of a 2000 mile camping trip through France, squashed in the back of a beige Ford Cortina, and his more recent descriptions of ‘Dad-silence’ at the wheel of his own kit laden car, contrast sharply with the more wholesome, cooperative and disciplinarian outlook of those early pioneers of camping.  The author highlights a significant schism in the camping movement dating back to the end of the First World War.  Little more than a decade after Baden-Powell took a group of young boys for the first Scout camp in August 1907, another scout leader John Hargrave, left the patriotic, pseudo-militaristic Scout movement and went on to form a camping movement with a greater focus on nature, a progressive ethos and an inherent desire for social change.  The Art of Camping chooses (thankfully) to follow the latter trail, a path which veers toward the left of the political spectrum.

In the closing chapters, De Abaitua revisits the notion of real camping and the perfect tent.  For many campers today it may well be ‘the mystic charge of being outdoors’ that denotes ‘real camping’, but his closing observations on the detritus of a post festival field in Glastonbury and the new ‘disposable attitude’ many campers have to abandoning their equipment following a sojourn to the wilderness, illustrates how far removed some modern campers are from the ethos of the early pioneers.  It is not without irony that a pastime born from a desire for social change and equity has now developed into a multi-million pound industry and demands from some campsite owners for ‘bank holiday premiums’. 

This is a truly splendid book which not only marks out its author as an expert in his field, it leads the reader to conclude that Matthew De Abaitua is more than likely an expert in a field aswell. 

Josh Sutton
June 2011.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Inside Out

17 June 2011

I love it when Nan the Van starts first time. Like her namesake, she's always been a bright starter. On this particular occasion, I was ever more grateful for a hassle free start as I was heading for a rendezvous with a camera crew. I set out, with my tent and a bundle of nerves, on the road towards the North York Moors. A gentle run along the '64 round York and up over the Hole of Horcam and past the ever so secret RAF Fylingdales before dropping down to the coast into Robin Hood's Bay. Safe from ballistic missile attack and alien invaders (aparently that's what they do up at Fylingdales), I pulled up onto Hooks House Farm campsite to find the BBC's Jamie Coulson sitting outside his tiny green tent, warming a can of baked beans on his small camping stove. Looks like the Guyrope Gourmet arrived just in time. Jamie was being filmed, bemoaning the quality of his camping cuisine. All that was soon about to change. Cameraman, Phil Spencer, panned around to catch me pulling up in the van as I hopped out and shook Jamie's hand as though greeting a long lost friend.

I'd first met Jamie last year, in my former role as manager of a small domestic violence support service in the Yorkshire Dales. We'd discussed a piece for his programme 'Inside Out' looking at rural domestic violence. With business concluded, I'm not sure how, I managed swing the conversation around to camping and slipped him a Guyrope Gourmet business card. Much to my surprise, Jamie contacted me by email some time after that and suggested a piece on The Guyrope Gourmet for his programme. So here I was, some time later about to cook up a storm. Jamie and Phil had earlier been filming at Green's Bistro in Whitby, where the Chef & proprietor Rob Green had agreed to sample my wares on the campsite the following day. We filmed a few shots of me driving through the countryside in Nan the Van and discussed the very excellent BBC2 series, 'One Man & His Campervan' screened last year. I'd watched and enjoyed the whole series and admittedly been a little envious of Mr Dorey, but here I was driving past a film crew perched by the side of a small country lane. It's hard enough trying to keep the excited grin off your face and not look into the camera as you drive by, but the ambulance with flashing lights, two tow trucks and Sherman tank which all happened to be trundling along the road at the same time kind of spoilt the shot. Take two!

I knocked together a paella of sorts and Phil took some shots of me chopping onions while trying to answer Jamie's questions about what the Guyrope Gourmet is all about. There might be some truth in the rumour that men can't multi task! And Torquemada wasn't making things easy for me. Ingredients prepared, I switched the sharp knife for my Ukulele and hit 'em with a rendition of Scooby Doo. That threw them off the scent a bit! We tucked into the grub, drank a couple of beers and laughed a lot as Phil went tumbling backwards over a guyrope. If only he'd had his camera on his shoulder!

Phil retired to his nearby B&B and I went off to do the washing up, whilst Jamie fiddled around with his own camera, still laughing at the sight of Phil's mishap. They say the camera adds pounds, so I was pretty sure it would reveal a hangover. Not prepared to risk it, I turned in early.

The next morning we'd arranged to meet a local fisherman by the name of Richard who'd agreed to meet us on the slipway at high tide and sell us a couple of lobsters. Whilst we were there I filled a bottle of seawater for cooking the beasts, and of course managed to get myself soaking wet in the process. Richard duly arrived bang on time in his small dingy. Obviously an expert boatman, he managed to pull up to the slipway in gentle rolling waves, hop out of his boat with a crate of that morning's catch, sort me out with a couple of crustaceans and hop back in all in a space of about three minutes.

With the lobsters stored under a wet towel in a coolbox, we set off for Whitby in search of a starter for the afternoon meal. I knew that with a local chef coming to taste my meal I had to provide more than one course. I'd decided on panchetta wrapped scallops while driving up the day before, so we called into Sandgate Seafoods in Whitby for half a dozen king scallops. A shot of me crossing the swing bridge in the town centre and a strolling piece to camera extolling the virtues of seafood and marvelling at the display of sharks jaws in the shop window and we were ready to head back to camp. I have to admit to enjoying the attention of passers-by as we were filming in the street. My TV nerves dissipated as I focussed on the project in hand and rather enjoyed the buzz of filming with cooers and hand wavers all around. It's a bit like busking in the street for the first time, you just crack on with it and the coins start falling into your hat, only in this case it was more a matter of the words falling into your head.

Back at camp, I began prepping the ingredients for the tomato sauce, while Jamie helped out by wrapping the scallops in a slice of panchetta and impaling them on a couple of wooden skewers (two skewers makes them easier to turn in the pan). The secret to a good tomato sauce is about forty minutes, so that went on first. Another little piece to camera and a word of thanks and appreciation to the lobsters for giving up their lives and they were sitting in a large pan of boiling seawater, dead before I'd got the lid on.

It was then that the weather took a dramatic turn. Jamie caught my attention asking me if 'that was normal?', pointing to the side of my tent which had blown flat in the most brisk of winds. A squall of biblical proportions had blown up out of nowhere, with rain lashing down and Phil worrying about his camera, I managed to carry on as usual. There's no point in trying to pretend that British weather is reliable. It's a recognised camping hazard, but the show went on.

Around three thirty, Rob Green showed up and the sun broke from behind a cloud. To describe this award winning chef stepping in full 'whites' from his car with a ray of sunshine beaming down upon his head, bathing the grass around him in radiant light, might seem a little dramatic to some, but that's how it was! Jamie introduced us, Josh, meet Rob Green, National Seafood Chef of the Year! Thanks for not telling me that bit Jamie!

Rob took a seat at the table and I presented a starter of panchetta wrapped scallops on a bed of home grown (picked from my garden the day before) rocket and shaved parmesan, followed by a main of Lobster with linguini and a home made tomato sauce. It's true to say that the desert of strawberries and whipped cream served on a digestive biscuit fell victim to the almighty squall, but that didn't seem to matter. As Rob tucked in to the first scallop my heart was racing like a contestant in the final of Masterchef. I did a double take as the good

sir proclaimed my scallops 'cooked to perfection'. Squeeze me! 

Then on to the lobster. 'You've put a bit of lemon zest in the sauce, I like that, simple ingredients speaking for themselves'. I felt like running off and doing a silly little dance around the campsite. The National Seafood Chef of the Year liked my food. 'I'd be happy with this in a restaurant, let alone in a field' he said. I nearly cried!

To say that this experience was uplifting would be an understatement. Jamie shot a final piece to camera as Rob and I chatted in the foreground about the complications of cooking with basic equipment, and that was that.

The programme will air on BBC1 in October and I'm obviously looking forward to it mildly to say the least. I'm not sure how I will come across on camera, I'm not sure I won't look like a contrived tosser, I'm not sure what others will make of it, but quite frankly I don't give a damn! I had the time of my life. I did what I set out to do, cooked some bloody good food in a field!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Love-in at Lochhouses

We celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary this year and to mark the occasion, we opted for a spot of glamping booked through the Canopy & Stars website. We chose Lochhouses up in East Lothian. A saunter up there in Nan the Van enabled us to call in to Barter Books on the old station in Alnwick, and have a gander round the castle as our daughter Ruby is ploughing through Harry Potter like there's no tomorrow! It turned out to be a mistake as we bumped into one of my wife's former boyfriends in the guards tower.

Illicit affairs aside, we pressed on to Craster to stock up on the famous kippers (kippers in a tent - that's brave!), then on to our final destination by the sea. The site was amazing, backing on to a beautiful beach with views out to Bass Rock. The accommodation was spectacular, giving our old Orion 5 a run for its money. Floor boards, running water and a wood burning stove & oven. Within minutes we had the ham & chorizo casserole in the oven and were off down the beach, sledging down dunes.


As a seasoned tent camper and a recent VW convert, I wasn't exactly sure of what to expect from the world of glamping. It felt like camping, but not. Anyway, having the wood burner to play with kept me entertained first thing in the morning and I did manage to build up a rather neat wood pile by the side of the oven, proper hardwood an all! The kettle was always on in our tent.
The following morning saw us all trotting on the beach, thanks to the nearby Seacliffe Stables. Anna, Chunky, Joy and Scorcher (ridden by Wilf aged four!) carried us over the sands and through the crashing waves for an hour or so.

The fresh lobster and crab made for a perfect day really, that and the vintage bottle of Veuve Clicquot. 

Glamping? go on then if you insist!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Never mind Glamping, we went 'Gramping'

‘It’s grand to find a comfortable chair when you’re getting on a bit or you’ve got arthritis’.  My son in law got this from Millets you know!’

One of the many pleasures of camping is that it’s a truly family affair.  No matter where we pitch up, within minutes of erecting the tent, our daughter Ruby will be bounding by with her new best friend.  Wilf will have wandered off and found a new cowboy to play with, and all before Mum & Dad can tease the cork from a bottle of wine.  What better way for a family to relax for a long weekend in the summer holidays?  Well as far as the kids are concerned it’s easy, let’s bring Grandma next time! We like a challenge, so that’s what we did.

The last time Grandma went camping was in France at a place called La Baule back in 1977.  A ready erected Eurocamp site, where the only thing to worry about was the welfare of two teenage daughters, a sunburned ten year old and a husband with a penchant for Le Piat D’or.  I assured Eileen that Mason’s campsite in Appletreewick would be a totally different kettle of poissons, and besides, Ruby and Wilf really want you to come. 

My wife, Anne-Marie, is blessed with a weather phenomenon, in that it never seems to rain on her birthday, and so a family and friends camping weekend in June is a regular feature in the Sutton camping diary.  Convincing Grandma to join in wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined. The promise of a ready erected tent, breakfast in bed, and an endless supply of Guyrope Gourmet culinary treats clinched the deal. 

Grandma kipped in a Eurohike three man tent, bedecked with bunting, balloons, sheepskin rugs and all those other camping essentials required to tempt a septuagenarian out into a field in the Yorkshire Dales.  The vase of brightly coloured Stocks, and scented candle next to the double inflatable mattress and feather duvet was the icing on the cake.  Grandma had found her ‘camping feet’. 

“Ooh I could get used to this” were the watchwords of the weekend. The kids couldn’t believe it, Grandma in a tent!  The aching limbs and dodgy ankles took a back seat and surrendered to the lap of luxury as the errant son in law strove to deliver a plethora of sweetmeats and culinary craftwork worthy of a queen.

Simple lamb stew and wilted garlic spinach saw off the hunger pangs on the first evening, followed by a range of French cheese and quality English crackers.  The second evening was wiled away at the barbeque, with Grandma leaning heavily on the chef to deliver the mussels in beer and coriander, which always goes down a treat.  I explained to Grandma that there’s no ‘r’ in the month of June, so we’d be having Gambas an ajillo instead, but she really didn’t seem to mind.

Grandma had a bit of an Epiphany on this trip.  She’d always berated us and claimed that we must be totally mad on account of our love of camping.  But we managed to win her over with surprising ease.  For a start, the hot showers and toilet block came as a welcome surprise.  Eileen’s imagination had placed us in a windswept field in the middle of nowhere without so much as a running tap.  The recycling point and the white van from the local ‘Shop on the green’ selling daily papers and Danish pastries all played a part in the Damascene conversion.

In actual fact it was the pleasure of seeing the grandchildren running amok between the guyropes and flysheets, rather than the food and balloons, that drew Grandma to our camp.  Realising the sheer pleasure our kids get from being outdoors, spending time with mum & dad, meeting new friends and staying up a little bit later than usual, Grandma became a convert there and then.  Holding court in the pre bedtime hour, with Ruby and Wilf on her lap, she spun embellished yarns about the French camping trip in the seventies.  We heard tales of amorous French boys and Grandad on midnight patrol, mis-pronounced attempts to buy a hundred croissants from the local boulangerie and a hilarious but painful tale of mum as a ten year old being allowed to fall asleep in the sun without any sun cream.  Ruby and Wilf lapped it all up and retired to bed.

Grandma thoroughly enjoyed her two nights under canvas.  Apart from struggling with the tent flap zip in the morning (no small thing when you're pressed to answer the morning call of nature!), the only real difficulty was associated with having a bed at ground level.  This meant that getting into and getting out of bed took a bit of negotiating.  The creaking joints pale into insignificance on reflection.  Eileen’s sense of her own achievement, the children seeing their Grandma camping all made for the best truly family camping weekend of the year.  It worked so well that despite being a year older we’re all booked to do it again this year, only this time Grandma is going to bring her slippers and her knitting. 

The few luxurious extras, the feather duvet, the sheepskin rug, fresh cut flowers, good food and scented candles all added to the experience and made it possible.  Never mind ‘glamping’ we went ‘Gramping!’

Monday, 21 February 2011

Death of a Good Companion

The last time I slept in this tent, I was about fifteen years old. We got snowed in, just down the road from the Sportsman pub in Dentdale.  My father had to come and rescue us in his Morris Traveller. Three wet, cold hungry boys have never been so pleased to hear the familiar and unmistakable noise of a Morris engine shifting down a gear. The previous day had been a sun kissed scorcher, we’d retired in the evening after a feast of three bottles of coke and fifteen bags of Seabrooks crisps from the Sportsman. The snow fell overnight, six inches of it.

Some 30 years later, imagine the wry look on my face as I opened the zip and lifted the faded orange flap to see about three inches of snow on the ground at Great Langdale campsite this weekend. I’d borrowed the Good Companion from my Dad in a twisted moment of nostalgia and curiosity. The Blacks Good Companion was the first tent I ever slept in. It was our family tent, the one in which my love of camping was nurtured. My father had bought it in 1963 and lugged it from Edale all the way to Kirk Yetholm along the Pennine way. I was curious to see how well it had stood the test of time.  Meticulously cleaned down, dried and folded after each outing. Guys tied, pegs wiped, creases smoothed out of the sew in groundsheet lovingly rolled and slipped into the original bags. It was a ritual I well remember. Look after the tent Josh, it’ll look after you’ or words to that effect.

Sorry Dad, it’s got a hole in it! The 48 year old canvas flysheet died at the hand of the boy it had sheltered for so many years. I’d got up to shake the snow off as the walls were sagging in, just as they had done in Dentdale all those years before, but as I gently pinched at the seam to give it a shake, my fingers and thumb went through the canvass. I felt sick. Luckily, I know a bloke in Wiltshire who had a similar disintegrating canvas experience, but with his inner tent. If I can persuade Steve to part with his flysheet, then our Good Companion might just carry on for another 48 years.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Not just ‘anywhen’ – a review of British Seasonal Food by Mark Hix.

First published by Quadrille in 2008, this is a new paperback edition for 2011.  Superbly photographed by Jason Lowe and peppered with illustrations by Marcus Oakley, reflecting the simplicity of the whole idea, go with the flow of the seasons.  It’s the book of ‘when’ and follows his ‘where’, British Regional Food, published in 2006. Hix argues that abstinence sharpens the taste buds, ‘the great thing about cooking with British ingredients in their true season is that you really do enjoy them that much more.’  British Seasonal Food is a culinary cornucopia stuffed with a riot of recipes set to cudgel the taste buds with the finest ingredients available.  This truly is a gem of a book.  The recipes offer a number of variations on each of the seasonal ingredients featured.  The seasons are introduced month by month in Hix’s own inimitable style.  It’s as if he’s sitting next to you and whispering in your ear, ‘shh, it’s a secret that only you know, it’s September, go pick some blueberries’.  Reading this book is like having your own personal trainer, you’ll be a toned up sage of seasonal produce.  Go buy it.

 153 recipes

Quadrille Publishing Ltd: London (2011)
ISBN: 978-1-84400-943-5

Available in the UK from 4th March 2011.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Load that Spring!

Spring is well and truly on its way, the diary is filling quickly with camping plans, van trips and holidays abroad. Top highlight will be a van trip up to Lochhouses for our tenth wedding anniversary. Found the place through Canopy & Stars who advertise on the Guyrope Gourmet website, hmm maybe I should have tried to negotiate a discount! It's up to the Lakes and Great Langdale next weekend for a stroll along Crinkle Crags up to Bowfell with pal Glyn. I've managed to borrow my Dad's Black Good Companion tent for the occasion. The Good Companion is the first tent I ever slept in, it was our family tent back in the seventies. They're rare as hen's teeth nowadays and seem to fetch a pretty penny on ebay. 

It was a light weight modern tent in its day, all 9kg of it! My father and his pal Ceri walked the entire Pennine Way with it in the early sixties. It comes in two enormous roll bags and is still in mint condition, although a little faded.