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Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

Archive for the tag “Local produce”

Mouth of the Tweed: inspired by local produce

Today I toddled along to the sixth Annual Mouth of the Tweed event here in Berwick-upon-Tweed. There’s a nice buzz on the quayside as tourists and locals sample food and drink from the dozen or so stalls – all produced within a 16-mile radius of Berwick – with entertainment by young local musicians from the Small Hall Band.



My true aim was to help with the Berwick Slow Food stall – we are promoting two events:

  1. The 10th annual Berwick Food & Beer Festival  During the first weekend of September 2017 Berwick Barracks will be alive with food, music, beer and children’s activities (so if you missed the Mouth of the Tweed, fear not, you’ll be able to catch all today’s stall holders and many more in September!).
  2. This year we’re holding a pre-festival event – an Audience with MasterChef Finalist Lorna Robertson. Lorna’s a local young woman, schooled at Berwick Academy, and her trajectory since reaching the finals of the much-loved BBC show is thrilling and compelling. Lorna will talk about her experience on the show and share some of the highs and lows of that time, as well as the adventures she’s been having since. It’s a ticketed event that includes canapés using local produce, based on Lorna’s recipes. (For more info follow the link to the Food & Beer Festival above).

Of course, I knew I would not leave the Mouth of the Tweed Festival empty handed. Who can resist local honey from Chainbridge Honey Farm? Or super fresh shellfish from Berwick Shellfish? Or a burger from Well Hung and Tender and maybe a pie from Jarvis Pickle, all washed down with a locally roasted coffee from Northern Edge Coffee or (and?) a pint from local brewer Bear Claw? And it would be rude not to finish with an ice cream from Giacopazzi’s.

However, the real treat came in chatting with the chaps from Heatherslaw Mill. You can make porridge and flapjacks with oatflakes – I knew that. But, I wondered, what do you actually do with oatmeal (I know, I’m so ignorant!). Apparently oatmeal is delicious sprinkled over your potatoes before you roast them for an extra crispy coating and also for making oatcakes (doh!). Oatcakes that would no doubt be just yummy with a nice slab of local Doddington cheese.

I was lost. All I could think about was getting home and making my cheesy oatcakes. Yes, I was going to grate my tangy fruity Berwick Edge into my oatcake mix. I did an online search for a recipe and this Mumsnet one seemed suitably simple.

And, hey presto! There’s been a bit of an oatcake renaissance lately, with the nibble-sized ones widely available in supermarkets. The babies above tick all the boxes. AND they’ll be perfect for canapés – I’ll have a word with Lorna Robertson!


Home: a place of dust and delights

Delightful Dorset. But…

It’s nice to have a break if only to enjoy that coming-home sensation: the one where your heart beats a wee bit faster and your shoulders relax as familiar scenery unfolds past the train or car window.

Since we moved up North from London we have often felt as if we are permanently on holiday. However, now we’ve been in Berwick for two years, the perspective is changing. When we come home, we also experience that familiar stomach tightening which indicates that you’re about to re-engage with all the commitments that have not evaporated during your carefree absence.

For us, the most immediate reminder that time doesn’t stop while you’re away is our on-going building work which is, well, on-going. Returning from the beaches of Dorset to wade through a house of dust and discover you have no kitchen (including no cooker or fridge) is an immediate reminder that home is not quite how you’d like it – yet!

Likewise, turn your back for a month, and it’s amazing how much happens in Berwick. Portas bids are won, parades pass by, civil disobedience takes place (here’s to all who marched to keep the Maternity Unit open!), tourists come and go, shops and cafés close and open – so many people working so hard to hang on to what we’ve got and to improve it all too. Good on yer, chaps!

Holidays also mean that the catalogue of upcoming events underscored in your diary for action has rushed ever closer without you actually doing any of the things you’re supposed to do. And, like the dust in our house, they will not be swept under the carpet.

There’s the Berwick Food & Beer Festival – this weekend – which is a source of excitement and anxiety for my family. We’re no longer litter pickers as we were that first weekend we arrived in Berwick. We’re involved in organising elements of it: The Husband a film tie-in – hope you caught Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia at The Maltings last night; and don’t miss Eat Drink Man Woman on Wednesday 12th September. As for me, the demonstration kitchen kept me entertained and out of trouble last year and looks set to do the same this. It’s so brilliant to welcome highly talented local chefs and producers cooking locally sourced produce –  the Wheatsheaf at Swinton, the Barn at Beal, the Fenton Centre, plus Denise from Peelham & Jimmy from Windgate farms will all feature. And, helping run the kitchen two brilliant foodies: local photographer Maggie Jary, and Lea Harris, the first person living in Scotland to appear on TV’s Great British Bake Off.

There’s no place like home…

I’ve also been fortunate enough to get involved with another great local community resource: Generate Radio, set up by two incredibly dynamic and creative young men, Kyle Alexander and Oscar MacAndrew. It broadcasts out of Duns to Berwickshire, Berwick, and the world via the internet, but hopefully will get an FM licence soon. The lads are gathering and training a group of volunteers who broadcast an eclectic and dynamic live schedule of music, news and chat shows from breakfast through the night. My show, Border Lines, goes out from noon ‘til 1pm on a Tuesday – it’s a mix of interviews, local news and general blether, plus a rifle through music drawers past, present, left-field and mainstream. It’s a brilliant opportunity to explore many things going on locally – from news and events, to people’s experiences and stories, and much more. I love it and am really grateful for the opportunity to try my hand at something new – but, my goodness, it takes time to prepare!

So, as the holiday wetsuits drip dry in the bright closet of irresponsibility, it is time to re-open the dusty (literally!) wardrobe of homely garments and deal with the day-to-day burden of real life. Pretty damn exciting, actually.

A version of this article appeared in the Berwick Advertiser on 6th September 2012

Music, art…and oysters

Adopting a new home is a bit like having a child. Depending on your audience, you are either incredibly defensive or downright moany about it. That’s a bit how we’ve been about Berwick since moving here from North London.

Some things we have been defensive about – particularly to London friends – are:

The wonderful Maltings Theatre & Cinema

Culture… They say: ‘But what about art galleries/theatres/live music etc etc?’  We say: Our own much–loved Maltings  provides an astonishing wealth and diversity of locally and nationally (and some internationally) sourced entertainment, music and culture a step away from our front door. My own highlight of the year was the outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Not only did we have a most entertaining family debate (triggered by The Nine–Year–Old) about our top three flavours of crisps(mine resolutely cheese and onion, The Husband probably any flavour, The Nine–Year–Old smoky bacon, salt and vinegar, roast chicken – she’ll grow out of it) but also the Lord Chamberlain’s Men gave a fast–moving performance with no boring bits or tiresome over–the–top innuendo and really helped make sense of Shakespeare as originally acted by all–male casts.

AND we’ve been to several gigs in Edinburgh and, last week, visited The Sage Gateshead. Parking has been straightforward and cheap – free in Edinburgh – and right outside the venues. Hack that you Londoners as you wrestle with tube trains, parking attendants and the Congestion Charge and still have to walk miles to get to the gig. ALSO, Northumberland and the Borders probably have the highest population of artists in the country. With many Open Studios and art trails happening right now, it’s the perfect time to get soaking up the Northumberland/Borders Scene – Hoxton eat your heart out!

Looking out from Lindisfarne

Restaurants…They say: ‘Where will you eat?’ I am almost speechless. Northumberland = fresh. Fresh seafood, fresh meat, fresh vegetables. Cooking at home is bliss with such ingredients – as is shopping for them and there’s no wince–inducing price mark–up like you’d find in London’s Borough Market. We’ve had great fun and some delicious meals in and around Berwick.  Favourite moments so far include purchasing crab from the guys over at the Berwick Shellfish Co and sharing the resultant crab feast in our garden with friends; driving out to Ross Farm with The Nine–Year–Old and London Daughter (who was visiting) for Lindisfarne Oysters  – and the three of us slurping them straight from the shells as I opened them over the sink; watching a pig carcass being jointed at Peelham Farm, Foulden and learning how different English butchery is to Italian; marvellous venison at the Queen’s Head; illicitly snatched tasty, lazy lunches at The Maltings Kitchen enhanced by the marvellous view; happy times and relaxed meals of creative home–cooked food at Café Curio – all three in Berwick; and, slightly further afield, The Allanton Inn‘s subtle and delicious in–house smoked fish and meats. No wonder I’m looking forward to the Berwick Food Festival in September.

People…They say: ‘Who on earth will you hang out with?’ This casual London–centric view that the only interesting people on earth are found in London would be totally exasperating if it weren’t so risible. I say just read the paragraphs above to get a taste of some of the creative and entrepreneurial people we get to chew the fat with.

The Weather…They say: ‘It’s so cold oop North’. Pah! The Husband (who has bona fide anorak qualifications in a range of things including trains and statistics) says: ‘It’s only ever a couple of degrees cooler in Berwick than London.’ This, he says, is, ‘pleasingly refreshing in the summer months.’ And, ‘we have real winters like we used to have down South in the 50s.’ He also asserts that there’s hardly a raindrop of difference between here and London. So, my London friends, pop that on your trendy wood burning stoves and smoke it!

Now for the moans…Ah, shame, I seem to have run out of space. Moaning about Berwick will have to wait for another column – perhaps a London one!

(A version of this article was first published on August 4th  in The Berwick Advertiser

The rush of rural life

Fast Castle - just one of the wild and wonderful places near Berwick-upon-Tweed

Rural life is so hectic!

Despite being reared in the country I had forgotten the  relentless things to do, see and take part in – every town and village designs its own activities and fetes. Then there are music events, lectures, groups and societies. And, of course, the business of living.

It’s nine months since we moved to Berwick from North London. The Husband finds going back to London increasingly difficult. Even I have felt less need to book up advance trains for every school holiday. This must surely mean we are settling in. Even more radical than that, it means that we really have decided to make Berwick our home. Of course, we will never be locals. I remember my mother explaining to me that although she had lived in Suffolk for 25 years she was still an ‘outsider’!

I look back over these busy months and have to acknowledge that, as we’ve determinedly thrown ourselves into our new home and way of life, the highs have been way up there and the lows have been, well, low.

Our garden has given us enormous pleasure despite its daunting dimensions and landscaping. The installation of our three hens had the whole family in anthropomorphic clucks. We found it so easy to attribute ‘the ladies’ with human characteristics…they ‘enjoyed’ being with us, they ‘chatted’ to us and each other. In short, Nutmeg, Champion and Rose delighted us as they dug the garden, kept us company, ate scraps and, most importantly, produced impossibly luscious eggs.

Rose - later to become 'The Killer Hen'

Rose - later to become 'The Killer Hen'

The first egg

The first egg

I’m growing lettuce, cabbage, basil, coriander, radishes, garlic, tomatoes, peas and sweet peas. The Husband dusted down his tool box and found enormous fulfilment in fashioning a chicken run and a variety of other satisfying manly wooden items for the garden. We barely scratched the surface of such rural pursuits in London. We loathed the idea of pets – the campaign against the resident house mice and urban foxes filled any need for animal contact.

In Berwick, we’ve enjoyed delicious, locally sourced food as fresh as that found in any posh London restaurant. We’ve attended Slow Food events, we have a pig developing nicely over in Foulden at Peelham Farm, we’ve hurrahed the Riding of the Bounds, we’ve attended philosophy lectures, been to the theatre, cinema and art galleries (on our doorstep instead of a tube ride or two away), set out for marvellous walks on our own and with the local bird group, we’ve done a sailing course and we’ve received amazing hospitality, generosity and kindness from so many people. It really makes me smile when I count my Berwick blessings.

A marvellous birdwalk on Holy Island with North Northumberland birdwatching group

Of course, we arrived with our rose-tinted glasses firmly in place. We didn’t worry too much about locking garden sheds. After all, in this local community everyone knows everyone and crime is low, unlike the London area we hail from. We are more careful now after most of the husband’s tools went missing.

When we realised one of our hens had arrived with scaly leg, we regaled our friends with the picture of two inadequate Londoners wrestling
Vaseline onto the legs of said hen. How we all laughed. It was less fun when two of the hens died suddenly and inexplicably. And, when our remaining hen turned into a blood-thirsty hen-pecking murderer after we attempted to introduce a new hen, we were revolted. Our desire to apply human characteristics to our hens did not stretch to accepting power structures, territorial instincts and natural selection. Even if, as a Suffolk farmer I once knew used to say: “Where there’s livestock, there’s deadstock.”

So, the tint of our glasses hasn’t exactly been tarnished but it has cleared a little. Which is probably just as well. We have a lot to learn about our new life. But I don’t want to totally lose the thrill of what is a great adventure. And that seems unlikely as the pace of Berwick living hurtles us into the next new experience.

Garden pleasures

(A version of this article was first published on June 9th 2011 in The Berwick Advertiser

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