In our first post of the tour, we presented the potentially controversial point that, despite popular opinion, and more significantly, that of our mothers, we are connoisseurs, not of dishonourable public houses and sordid saloon bars, but rather of more delicate and refined establishments. To prove this, not that we need to, we embarked on a Sunday tea-shop crawl in mid-Wales, managing three such sojourns between Presteigne and Newtown – quite a feat considering the short distance involved. In addition to tea, the first call involved CDs and books – Yarborough House (www.yarboroughhouse.com/) has a fine selection, both new and second-hand (not the tea). The next visit was over the road to the Poppy House (www.poppyhouse.co.uk/) for tea and a homely lunch, although we stayed past closing time. It’s quite an achievement to get thrown out of a tea-shop, and takes some doing. Finally, a trip to Montgomery, to our old favourite, the Castle Kitchen (www.castlekitchen.org/). By this stage we were rather tea-logged, but we managed to endure a cup or two. It might even be said, for the once and only time in our lives, that we were tea-totalled. That night, the ubiquitous veggie chilli appeared (we must change our rider), although it was delicious; after our tea-quaffing travails, we even allowed ourselves a soupçon of Bordeaux, and rhubarb syllabub dessert.
Following a few couple of days’ rest and recuperation (and much-needed exercise, for one of us at least), our next gastronomous outing of note was to our hostess’s house in Lewes. The casserole and vegetable crumble (all goodness negated by the rich topping) were presented first, so we loaded our plates eagerly. But what folly! The final savoury dish to appear was a formidable concoction of conchiglie in garlic, or rather, garlic in conchiglie. And we had no spare plate room. Never has a first helping disappeared so quickly. And never has a side-dish eclipsed a main one so thoroughly and effectively. And, furthermore, let it nevermore be said that we are unwilling to share our experiences, nay our innermost beings, our true essence, with our audience. A stuffy room and lashings of Harvey’s beer that night surely enhanced the concert experience, especially for those in the front row.
We ought to mention, by way of a more savoury, or rather less savoury postscript to this incident, that our hostess, Valmai Goodyer, baked not one but two cakes for pudding. The poor quality of the picture may be due to the miasma surrouding the dining table.
Only a sliver for us, though. Got to watch those waistlines.
The following day we turned up to play at the Fleece Inn in Bretforton (www.thefleeceinn.co.uk/), the quintessential English country pub, and the first to be owned by the National Trust. Unbeknown to us, the Fleece is at the centre of the Vale of Evesham’s asparagus-growing operations, and hosts the British Asparagus Festival and other events to celebrate the undervalued wonders of Asparagus officinalis. Propieter Nigel is a leading authority on asparagus, and as such is always ready and willing to pass on a few tips. Remarkably then, our meal, accompanied by Wyle Valley ale, consisted of asparagus spears/asparagus and butternut squash soup, followed by veggie burger with cheese and asparagus/salmon and asparagus tagliatelle.
Pleasantly sated , we were unprepared for the surprise that lay in store as we entered the mediaeval barn which served as the evening’s venue. Maureen Musson, a.k.a. ‘Mummy’, presented us with a colourful and charming picnic hamper, replete with liquid and solid refreshments, and even freezer bags to maintain an ideal temperature for the victuals contained within. Let that be a lesson to all of you. And thanks Mummy – do you want the freezer bags and basket back or can we pinch them?
Our final stop this May was in Cottingham – a gentle trip to East Yorkshire and back to round off the tour. Following an unusual yet wonderful vegetable Wellington, our hosts served us the third and final rhubarb dessert of the tour, this time in a flan incarnation. As rhubarb is out of season, we can’t help wondering if we are being served it repeatedly for non-culinary reasons . . .
We have been most fortunate on this tour, in large part due to the kindness of friends and strangers – our thanks to them all. Mealtimes are invaluable punctuation points in the day of a touring musician; a chance for relaxation, and something to look forward to whilst enduring interminable motorways and traffic jams, as well as each other. It is somewhat ironic, to say the least, that after sampling such culinary delights, this should be our last meal together:
Having (with one late-night exception) avoided the all-too-easy snares and temptations of service station fare and and maintained our dietary dignity for so long – oh, the shame of it. Still, perhaps we can appease our consciences and soothe our troubled souls with this consoling maxim – if you haven’t tasted of all of the multiplicity and variety of fruits on the tree, then you will never have knowledge of or appreciate the difference between good or evil. Now that’s something for you to chew on.