It’s officially the holidays. Although we already knew that. I knew that as far back as early November when I touched down in the UK to find that seasonal lights, Christmas trees, and sequined nutcrackers were already in full swing.
But that was London. There were other parts of Britain that I visited too. Parts less showy, less flashy, more understated, defined by rolling green pastures and black rubber boots. Parts that were no doubt celebrating the holidays, but you had to look for it. A seasonal mince pie here, some Christmas pudding gelato there.
Welcome to the countryside.
Yorkshire that is, and the second and final post of my two-part series on the UK, food + travel.
If there were ever a fitting stop to begin my Yorkshire adventures, it would be Malton. After departing from York and driving past endless meadows dotted with sheep and the occasional herd of cattle, I found myself staring up the imposing stone façade of the Malton Hotel where I’d be spending two glorious nights in the type of comfort that would have driven Laura Ashley into a jealous rage. Fabrics full of bounce and English rose. Handsome paintings of stallions and hounds and fine men in even finer hunting dress. Verdant dales, kissed with sun and a touch of English mist, peeking through every window. Those Bronté sisters knew where to set up shack.
The point of my visit though, despite my sudden desire to learn a craft like floral arranging or needlework, was food.
And much like I did on my city adventures, I tuckered into all that Yorkshire and its countryside had to offer.
We kicked things off with multi-hour tour of Malton, an old English market town, with its melting pot of innovative and traditional food offerings. It’s easy to see why Malton has been bestowed with the moniker “the Food Capital of Yorkshire”. From earnest baked goods scented with an earthy cumin, to single origin coffee at Roost, we trekked high and low, covering each cobblestoned street one hungry step at a time. I learned much about coffee and its roasting processes. I tasted a whisky barrel-aged brew and was enlightened about civet coffee which uses partially-digested beans eaten and defecated by civet cats (I’d like to meet the person who tried this experiment for the first time). Unfortunately, yes truly unfortunately, civet coffee wasn’t on the menu and mark my words, I’m on the hunt to find a cup. I’m a sucker for new and interesting food experiences, and Malton was there to deliver.
Throughout this post I’ll list the set of restaurants and shops that we toured as part of our Malton food tour because A. you need to visit Britain just because and B. when you’ve touched down in Britain, you need to beeline straight to Malton and re-trace our exact footsteps. Look for a man named Tom with a bounce in his step and an engaging smile because he will be your fearless leader and enforcer of things like black pudding and gin & tonic macarons. Which, incidentally were made by the French-trained local baker Florian Poirot and contained a dash of Rare Bird gin. Which, even more incidentally, is made right next door in the town’s own gin distillery using an array of fragrant ingredients (lemon, cassia bark, orange, rosemary, juniper, coriander, elderberries, hibiscus, cardamom and green peppercorns to name a few). Yes, it’s that kind of food tour.
Malton Food Tour: Roost Coffee, YO Bakehouse, The Shambles, Talbot Yard Food Court, Brass Castle Brewery beer, Groovy Moo Gelateria, Derek Fox Butcher, Florian Poirot, Food 2 Remember Butcher, Rare Bird Distillery.
Should you worry that your food tour experience didn’t contain enough offal, sign up for this next: a few hours under the tutelage of chief headmistress, coach and cooking school teacher extraordinaire, Gilly Robinson at the Malton Cookery School.
Not sure what our agenda was for the day, I was happily surprised to find out that we’d be trimming, chopping and otherwise deboning a host of game birds and field animals (notably partridge, pheasant and squab perhaps?, pork)….and some ruby red spheres of venison loin. This we pounded into paper-thin amorphous windowpanes (you should be able to see through it!) and served alongside a peppery horseradish sauce.
There’s something analytical and precise about butchery and I found myself loving the process of removing fat pockets and separating bone from flesh, one intentional knife maneuver at a time. I’d be a butcher over a baker any day, and I wasn’t at all surprised to hear Gilly confer. “Just give me a great big carcass” she said as she expertly removed the breast from a partridge which had a clear bullet wound on its chest. My kind of lady.
Tom popped by for a visit during class, introducing another food tour to the cookery school and I acknowledged him with a wave, happy to have him witness me so enthusiastically enjoying the process of deboning Yorkshire’s finest.
Malton, Tom, Gilly, (and my Romanian breakfast server at the Talbot Hotel whose name I sadly can’t recall) you’re all treasures. You’re serious about food, but approachable and fun. I loved every minute of my visit.
Now let’s talk about castles….
…because there are more sheep and castles in Yorkshire than human beings. (This has not been confirmed though it was one person’s wide-eyed opinion as we motored along the left-hand lane past farms and cottages and hundreds, if not thousands, of sheep).
We stopped at two castles. Castle Howard was in fact closed for the season but it has a lovely grocery store and butcher on the grounds. Our second visit was to Swinton Park Estate in Masham, a castle-turned hotel operation with a fabulous restaurant and spa. Note: if you do visit, order the cheese plate for dessert. It comes with a set of six hulking slices which are hand-carved for your viewing pleasure, tableside. The plate includes a mix of local English favorites including Shepherds Purse Artisan Cheeses which I’d had the pleasure of visiting (the cheese making facility) in person only days before.
It was nighttime when we’d arrived from Harrogate, so I didn’t see the castle’s exterior grandeur until the next morning when, woken by a cacophony of voices, I pulled aside a window shade to spy hunters, bloodhounds and turrets, oh my! It was a scene from Walter Henry Hunt. I’d never seen true English huntsmen in the flesh and was captivated by their army green overcoats, rubber boots and tasseled knee socks. And like the effective spy that I aspire to be, I stayed there beneath the window, crouching while holding up my Iphone to capture some essential video footage. Nobody needs to be caught staring from her perch on the second floor, or worse, pulling back the shade and peeking, Norman Bates-like, down at the scene below.
I spent the morning walking the grounds, making my way over to the birds of prey that live in a caged enclosing just steps from the castle itself. I visited the pasture of deer who grazed in the morning sun, blissfully unaware that they’d soon become somebody’s port-braised dinner. Though I’m not much of a game eater myself, I found myself respecting the English nose-to-tail approach to butchery and cookery, which respectfully uses all parts of the animal, even if we are in fact talking about Bambi. Loins are revered, steaks are seared, and offal is folded into spiced terrines with cranberry and pistachio. The life of each animal is honored, as it should be.
Swinton Park Estate
At last, filled to the brim, physically and metaphorically, it was time to leave Yorkshire. Time to leave Tom, and Gilly and her adorable sous chef Debbie, a verified BBC star in one of those addictive English period shows, Further Back in Time for Dinner. Time to leave Swinton Castle, its 20+ foot ceilings and my bedroom for the night, the plush Scarborough room. And time to leave my patient driver Alan who eased his car to side of the road and accompanied me through brush and brambles to capture photos of sheep and dales and one particularly photogenic set of cows. (Thank you for your fortitude Alan; I’m so glad that I didn’t have to resort to finding photos of Yorkshire cattle, as you so kindly and wearily suggested, on Google images.)
Yorkshire, it was an honor to have you host me. Thank you Visit Britain for orchestrating such a delicious adventure. I’ll be back.
This series of posts was sponsored by Visit Britain. All opinions are my own.