Gourmandise

DELISH DELIGHTS

By Cindy-Lou Dale

From sticky toffee pudding and gastro pubs, to farmers markets, heritage farm meat and stalls housing purveyors of fine food, let’s do a taste-test across England’s Lake District

Farmers are the authors of civilisation. To them cultivating the soil is a vital labour. When their spade work ends, other arts will follow - as demonstrated at the open-air Taste Cumbria Food Festival in Cockermouth.

Here you’ll meet country folk in the act of creating food, like Naomi of Agnes Rose whose fruit relish concept is to add hedgerow gathered berries to vinegars, syrups and oils; and Aidan Monk of Lovingly Artisan Bakers whose irresistible continental-styled breads are made with special oils and herbs, courgettes, pumpkins and tomatoes. There’s no better way of connecting with people and understanding their culture than through their food. Shoppers browse amongst dozens of colourful market stalls selling local produce - cheeses, potted shrimp, whisky-smoked salmon, hand-made chocolate, apple cider rich with the aromas of ginger and cloves.

Heading to Coniston will have you driving along narrow country lanes and through ancient landscapes. Here sheep roam the windswept fells, stone barns and centuries old churches are the norm and road verges brim with nodding daffodils. Along the way you’ll happen upon Yew Tree Farm – a 700 acre working National Trust property in the Yewdale Valley, which was once owned by author Beatrix Potter. Visit the farm butchery and hear tenant farmer Jon Watson explain why he chose specific breeds to develop his heritage meat range like slow-growing Herdwick ewes and wooly Belted Galloway cows, who are built to withstand mountainous conditions.

Make your next port of call Low Sizergh Barn, a working farm deli in Kendal, which proves almost all facets of life in the Lake District revolves around farming and savouring the time-honoured British tradition of afternoon tea. The farm shop, contained in a 17th century barn, has an upstairs tearoom with a huge window overlooking the milking parlour. Grab a seat, a cheese scone and a pot of tea, no later than 3:15 pm to watch the pampered cows being milked. It’s quite an affair with car-wash like massage brushes and classical music.

In the perfectly manicured stone-built hamlet of Grasmere, is Baldry’s Tearoom, where rich baking aromas waft across the sidewalk, luring passers-by in. As well as an indulgent array of teas, their high-tea three-tier cake stands are equally fabulous, oozing with wedges of orange drizzle cake, glazed fruit tarts, moist carrot cake, spicy tea cake and sticky gingerbread served with lashings of melted rum butter.

Explore new tastes at the Cartmel Village Shop - an artisan handmade pudding company and home of Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding. The sheer beauty of this dessert is in its simplicity and that it needs no embellishments - no nuts or slivers of peel, no shavings of chocolate or splashes of brandy - just lavish amounts of sauce. They’re pre-packed and ready to travel, so be sure to get a supply for home.

Chefs are like magpies, they travel the world picking up ideas they love, then bring them home where they give it a twist and call it their own. In the Lake District though, chef’s take local traditional dishes deconstruct them, add some finesse, a little je ne sais quoi gathered from their travel taste experiences and deliver food full of honesty and freshness; food that comes from places that haven’t been interfered with. Which is what you’ll find at the Drunken Duck near Ambleside - a cosy countryside inn and restaurant with an on-site micro-brewery that delivers one half of the beer-tasting menu. The other half comes from their open stainless-steel. Here you’ll learn that good eating depends solely on the finest of ingredients, simply cooked.

The cuisine of the Lake District is synonymous with the ultimate fine dining dream. It’s timeless, with limitless excellence. Chefs stand head and shoulders above the rest in their sheer brilliance. Which is exactly what you’ll find at the 5-star Hipping Hall in Kirkby Lonsdale, one the Lake District’s top restaurants. The gourmand hotel is a mere stone’s throw from the majesty of Wordsworth’s lakes and the wilderness of the Brontes’ moors, positioned between the Eden Valley, the Lake District and the Yorkshire dales.

Elegant accommodations are plentiful across the Lake District, yet the one you want to aim for is the four-star Ryebeck Hotel in Bowness-on-Windermere. Once an Edwardian gentleman’s residence it is now a timeless and elegant country house with perfectly manicured gardens stretching down to Lake Windermere. The hotel is classic in style and has recently been renovated to includes 21st century modcons. Select a Grand room which has a six-foot bed, a double ended tub in the en-suite and a couple of easy chairs at the picture window with its hard to beat views across the lake - there’s no better place to enjoy a cup of tea and homemade biscuits (compliments of housekeeping).

Ryebeck House is another temple to fine cuisine and where rock-star service delivers gourmet food in degrees of excellence. Chef Dom Clarke’s chocolate and mint dessert can only be described as a religious experience.

The Lake District has gained a reputation as a foodie destination. In Whitehaven, on the Western side of the Lakes, is the rich history of the UK Rum trade. You may have eaten some of Grasmere’s famous handmade ginger-bread but have you tried Kendal’s Mint Cake? Or the delicious Cumberland Whirl sausage? Take your taste buds on holiday, and if you don’t return humbled, awestruck and convinced

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