What makes a great Yorkshire breakfast?
PUBLISHED: 20:30 28 December 2012 | UPDATED: 17:29 15 June 2016
What makes a great Yorkshire breakfast? Our food and drink consultant Annie Stirk investigates Photographs by Andy Bulmer
What makes a great Yorkshire breakfast? Our food and drink consultant Annie Stirk investigates
It’s not really surprising to learn that the inspiration behind one of the finest breakfasts to be had in Yorkshire is a farmer. Anne Banks spent many years cooking awarding-winning farmhouse breakfasts before taking over the Black Swan at Oldstead, North Yorkshire.
It remains the most important meal of the day as far as she is concerned even though its preparation and cooking is now in the hands of head chef Adam Jackson. ‘Many places leave breakfast cooking to a junior chef but not here,’ says Anne. ‘Adam takes his turn with the rest of the brigade and cooks breakfast himself a couple of days a week. Our guests have a Michelin star dinner in the evening and they expect a breakfast to match.’
It’s fresh Yorkshire produce that is at the heart of a great breakfast. ‘It can only be as good as the quality of your ingredients,’ says Anne. ‘It’s really important that eggs are free range and really fresh; we make our own bread, sausage and black pudding, of course and our bacon is dry-cured, and from nearby Sykes House Farm.’
The eggs are from local arable farmer Richard Buffy, in Husthwaite, who often DRINKsupplies eggs with double yolks. He’s kept chickens for 15 years and allows the hens to roam outdoors in a large field planted with trees and with plenty of places to scratch and shelter. He feeds them with his own home grown wheat, soya and maize.
‘Their diet is full of wholesome bits and bobs, and giving them good food and a bit of freedom has got to produce better tasting eggs. It can’t be fun to be shut up in a barn for 24-hours a day,’ says Richard. ‘Hens are really interesting, active little creatures, with their own idiosyncrasies and when I go into the barn in the morning to let them out, there’s always one that flies up on my shoulder to say hello.’ The double-yolk eggs are a happy accident for Richard. ‘I don’t do anything to produce the double yolks; it’s the younger ones that tend to lay them – before they get their laying sorted out,’ he adds.
Local businesses like the Black Swan are a lifeline for farmers like himself,’ adds Richard. ‘We’re constantly jumping through hoops for the supermarkets on price, so it’s great to get a fair price from local people like Anne, and know the eggs are going to be enjoyed by her customers.’
Anne agrees. ‘Double-yolk eggs are unusual in retail/commercial eggs - probably because they are too big to fit in the box – so it’s amazing how people react with a real “wow” to something as simple as a double yolk in a fried egg.’
Black pudding is also an important part of a great breakfast, a Yorkshire breakfast tradition that stretches back hundreds of years. While Adam sticks to the traditional, sausage-shaped pudding with dried blood (for better flavour), oats and herbs, he also adds crispy pancetta lardons, freshly grated apple, cider, and apple juice, which gives a lovely acidity and crumbly texture.
But other Yorkshire black pudding makers have come up with imaginative offerings too. Duncan Haigh, co-owner of the family meat firm, Arthur Haighs, based in Dalton, moulds his into triangles that can be baked in the oven. ‘Twenty years or so ago, our black puddings kept losing their seal and exploding all over the ceiling,’ says Duncan.
‘So one day, my mum, Doreen, told us that my grandma used to bake them in the oven, and we thought we’d try.’ Today, Doreen’s Black Puddings fly out of the shop, and their unusual, triangular shape has won the business many awards. ‘Oven baking rather than boiling concentrates the flavour too, to give a drier, meatier taste,’ says Duncan. ‘Mass produced black puddings are made in giant automated mixers and never taste the same.’
Adam favours quality sausages with high pork content, breadcrumbs and a secret herb-mix served without skins. ‘We tried all sorts of casings but never found one that suited,’ says Adam. But in Yorkshire, of course, there’s plenty of competition for the title of best banger. At the Ginger Pig, Levisham, Old Spot, garlic and juniper, prune and brandy, and a spicy merguez are all on the sausage menu.
At Olley & Olley, in Ripon, they make Italian peasant sausage with fennel seed and use a whole side of Yorkshire pork for their signature Whole Hog sausage while Debbie & Andrew’s, in Kirklington, has won nationwide recognition for its Harrogate Chipolata. The county now has an official Yorkshire sausage created by butcher David Lishman from Lishman’s of Ilkley selected by Welcome to Yorkshire, the region’s tourism authority.
They’re no stranger to sizzling sausages at Hinchliffe’s farm shop, in Nertherton either where they make more than 1,000lbs every week – among them a thick and thin pork sausage, a chorizo, a chipolata and a sweet chilli. ‘We get whole pigs locally and the butchery team are expert in breaking them down, boning out and curing the meat, ready for making into hams, bacon and, of course, our specialty sausages,’ says head butcher Craig Midwood. ‘All our sausages are hand made on site from a secret mix of spices and pork, squeezed into natural casings and then hand linked.
‘We spend an entire day each week making the sausages, but it’s worth it. Mass produced sausages throw all sorts into the mix, but we only use the best bits of the pig.’
Their farm shop took second prize in November’s Great Yorkshire Pork Pie, Sausages and Products Competition for its thick pork sausage; a Gold Great Taste Award in 2011 for its traditional, thin pork sausage and third prize for its Red Onion Chutney sausage at the 2011 Bakewell Show.
Sausages also take centre stage at breakfast in the farm’s restaurant.
‘Our Hinchliffe’s full English has always been a top seller, served with our own home cured streaky bacon, home spiced black pudding and fresh eggs from the farm,’ says Hinchliffe’s Simon Hirst.
Of course, a full Yorkshire wouldn’t be complete without bacon, and at Oakleaf Bacon former pig farmer Val Austin has swapped her retirement for the production of scrumptious home-cured bacon.
She began production 12 years ago at her smallholding in Sutton on the Forest and has never looked back, curing whole pigs for local farmers and selling her bacon to local B&Bs and delis – one customer, whose mum lives in the village, travels from Wiltshire to stock up.
‘As a farmer’s daughter, I always remember the home-cured bacon and hams we had as a kid,’ adds Val. ‘And then my own family started to say how much they disliked the supermarket bacon, so I decided to start curing my own.’ Val’s pork is local, slaughtered on Monday and delivered to her house by Wednesday.
‘First I put a salt preparation on the pork, mixed with a little demerera sugar, which takes away that salty bitterness,’ says Val, who fittingly uses a converted pig shed to cure her bacon. ‘Then I slide the meat into a plastic bag where it will stay for a week to 10 days in my walk-in fridge, and then I hang it for five to six weeks to dry it out.
‘The dry salt cure brings out the moisture in the meat, and produces a very different kind of bacon to that found on the high-street. Essentially you’re buying water when you buy most supermarket bacon which is wet-cured in big vats of brine and then sliced. This means it’s not dried out so when you come to cook it, it spits out lots of white stuff, which is the water. Dry cured bacon has better flavour and when it’s grilled the fat crisps up really lovely.’
Back at the Black Swan, breakfasts aren’t always of the traditional sort. ‘We also offer fruit salads,’ says Anne, ‘and goat’s cheese and spinach omelette made with Yellison Farm Goat’s Cheese from Carleton in Craven and lashings of freshly grated truffle.’ But, ultimately, why go to all this effort for a meal that, for most people, is a quick cuppa and a bowl of cereal?
‘Most of our food is labour intensive, but that is what it’s all about,’ adds Anne. ‘It’s worth the effort to make sure that our guests enjoy something that’s really special.’
Words by Annie Stirk
Photographs by Andy Bulmer
Black Swan at Oldstead
Richard Buffy sells his eggs through James Potter Yorkshire Farmhouse Eggs, Thirsk
Elliotts Eggs, Driffield
Ian Taylor Free Range Eggs, Burton Leonard
Hinchliffe’s Farm Shop, Netherton
The Ginger Pig, Levisham
Olley & Olley, Ripon
Lishman’s of Ilkley
Arthur Haigh, Dalton
Oakleaf Bacon and Farm Shop
Sutton on the Forest