I have just returned from a few days break in Northumberland; a place I have wanted to visit for a long time and I was not disappointed. We had a marvellous time exploring castles and the coast, some of which will be coming up on the blog over the next week or so.
On the way to and from home we stopped at Beamish - The Living Museum of the North. I have been so eager to visit Beamish and I absolutely loved it! I want to return already! It is an open air museum which tells the life of people in the North East in the 1820's, 1900's and 1940's. For example, there is a 1940's farm - all the farm buildings, equipment, cottages and a farm house that you can wander around and learn about life at the time from people dressed in period costume, carrying out day to day tasks.
I have a couple of Beamish posts coming up but today I just want to focus on one important thing - fish and chips.
Beamish has a 1900's pit village showing what life was like in a coal mining community at that time. In the midst of the village is Davy's Fried Fish Shop. Fish and chips were a popular meal at the time, by 1914 there were 452 such shops in the North East. This one is named after the last coal fired chip shop on Tyneside which closed in 2007.
This photo shows one of the three coal fired ranges that were used to cook the fish and chips.
This shows the side of the room opposite the range. Here the potatoes would have been prepared and turned into chips. Potatoes were rumbled (shaken about and rubbed), by hand or machine to remove the skins. Chips were first cut by hand but later mechanically, powered by a gas engine.
We have followed the mouth watering scent of fish and chips into the adjacent room and are leaning on the counter, waiting for the new batch of chips which have just gone in, to cook. The room is tiled showing sea scenes and the range has seagulls and a yacht decorating it. In the middle of the range you can just see the glow from the coal fire.
Our order has been taken and we watch the preparations whilst we wait. The batter being whisked, fish being dipped in batter, bowls of raw chips waiting to be cooked, newspaper being folded into cones.
It was most definitely worth the wait! Our fish and chips come wrapped in paper with liberal sprinkles of salt and vinegar. As this is the 1900's the menu is very simple indeed, no mushy peas, no ketchup, no battered sausage, no pies. Just good old fish and chips.
They are cooked in beef dripping, which is prepared by saving the meat juices from your Sunday roast, leaving them in a pot or tin too cool. Other meat juices can be added and you end up with a white layer of lard and a brown jelly layer underneath. I understand that it sounds gross and fatty and a heart attack waiting to happen but it really is delicious.
Dripping reminds me of my maternal grandparents. Grandma always made dripping and had a tin of it in the fridge without fail. Grandad was most often in charge of sorting out breakfast and he always made us dripping on toast. Perfectly toasted bread cut fresh from the loaf on the yellow formica covered board, spread with a layer of dripping that melted on contact with the hot toast. Grandad always got the perfect balance of white and brown and sprinkled it with salt from the brown Bakelite salt cellar. He made pieces and pieces and pieces, carefully cut in half, piled up on my Grandma's floral china and my sister, cousins and I used to wolf it down. Grandad stood on duty by the grill until we were full up. Those are very happy memories, indeed my cousin and I spoke fondly of dripping on toast last time we met up.
I wish you could smell these fish and chips. You should be wishing that you could taste them! They were perfect! Eaten out of the paper, with our fingers, sitting outside on a wooden bench in the autumn sunshine, on our second wedding anniversary, thinking of my grandparents. Happy, content and full.