Thursday, 24 April 2008

Supper # 7 - Lambourn

I left the Peppercorns in Earnley, having spent a glorious day lounging around in the garden and munching on freshly baked focaccia with chorizo, salad, cheese and pates - my favourite kind of lunch. I had nowhere to go in Hampshire. I know it's time for me to break out and find some real live strangers on the road but....Sunday night before the schools went back just seemed like a strong excuse for delaying on it.

I headed north to Berkshire to find my old friends Mark and Lou and the three kids they've had since we last saw each other. I had no idea they lived right in the midst of horse country. I knew nothing of Lambourn or that it is akin to Newmarket for equine activity. Huge signs announced 'Home of the race horse - kill your speed' (if only this was my problem!) and jockeys gyrated past on great majestic thoroughbreds.

I arrived to find a great pot of chowder on the stove and a freshly baked loaf of tomato bread on a chopping board at the table. We had a fairly kid-chaos dinner then all paraded out to the van for some ice cream. I put on my Mrs Shop Keeper hat and the little guys approached the hatch to place their orders: mint choc crisp, chocolate and strawberry, whilst I was excited to try Lou's homemade plum ice cream.

I slept like a dream in Gus's bed that he'd given up for me and the next morning awoke with a mission: find a random supper invite! I headed into Lambourn whose rough side I'd been warned about. It's funny the way everyone seems to think that I only want to go to the 'nice' places, where foodies abound and farmers' markets flourish. That's not it at all. If someone tells me that a place is a bit dark or a bit freaky then I'm in like Flynn, eyes a-blazing!

In the Lambourn Co-op I met a guy by the custard. "Good afternoooon" he said lasciviously and I had to have a word with myself about how freaky I was prepared to go. Not as far as pursuing wilted old men with custard in their hand and custard down their front I decided. I moved on.

The Malt Shovel was said to be a hot-spot of different characters so I pulled in there. Five p.m and the car park looked busy. I walked in as purposefully as I could. They all seemed half dead. I made my way to the bar, said hi to the barmaid and got nothing back. That really annoys me. "Hi there" I said again in case she hadn't heard me before, a faint arching of the eyebrows and a tilt of the chin was about as much as I was going to get so I left it at that. She stood staring at me intently while I tried desperately to figure out what to drink. Her big, oafish figure bore down on me. I couldn't concentrate - "I don't know what I want yet" I said, i.e. back off so I can have a bit of space to figure this fricking conundrum out. "I'm just standin' here" she said in a broad Northern Irish accent. She said it like she'd happily kill me if she thought no one would notice. I held her stare and ordered defiantly: "Magners and a glass full of ice, please"and that was the end of our happy banter.

I left the pub with half of the bottle and trundled back to base camp. I'd met Lou's parents earlier who'd invited me to supper with all of them and I needed to get back and make some nice warming chocolate rice pudding.

THE SET UP: Lou's folks are farmers. Her dad used to deal in livestock but DEFRA has made it too difficult for him so he now farms corn only. I had only ever known him as 'Get off moi laand', Mark's nickname for him, now shortened to just 'Get off'. He's a massive choc fiend and I don't think Mrs Get off was that thrilled at the prospect of a further assault on his cholesterol levels. This was the first time I felt that I was imposing on a family's dietary regime.

WHAT WE ATE: Usually they don't have a pudding, unless they have guests. But the supper, which was enormous, happens every single night. Proper farmhouse food: roast duck (the classic white kind with the yellow bill, straight from the garden), bubble & squeak, leeks & peas, creamed beetroot, lashings of gravy. I stared at my plate in wonder, as in 'I wonder if I'm going to be able to finish this'. Alarmingly it barely touched the sides and I found further cause for concern at my growing tum.

WHO CAME: Lou, her three boys (Charlie, Gus and Joshie), Lou's folks and me. A stable girl from Lincs. was on hand to look after the kids.

DINNER TABLE TOPICS: Charity fundraisers for the Conservative Club; Lou's dad being charged by a cow " I shot the beast dead"; the lack of demand for sheep meat these days; how Barbours aren't really proper hunting gear (Plus-fours and tweed if you're keeping it real); that by 2050 there will be 70 million more mouths to feed on earth and what that's doing to the crop situation.

THE PUD: I took the steaming pot out of the oven and swirled some more chocolate into it. It was classic nursery food and went rather well with the rest of the supper, I thought. It tasted like a warmer, softer version of Coco Pops. The kids enjoyed it and Lou's dad loved it. I know he was longing for a bit more but had to keep it together for the sake of the old C-levels. I develop a soft spot for Lou's dad, even though I can't exactly understand what he's saying all the time.

He and his wife left us to it as soon as everything was put away and retired to the telly room. I found them in there, him with his cigar, her with her crossword puzzle. They may have had guests but there was no may in hell their nightly routine was going to be upset by the grandkids + extras. We walked down the hill to the house and lovely Lou helped me ut the finishing touches to the tour postcard.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm what exactly is the steaming pot choc pudding of Lambourn called *& whats in it?
Are you considering publishing recipes? A glossy hard back of your tour featuring the dishes en route perhaps?
All looks scrumdiddlyumptious Miss Barran!!

Petra Barran said...

Chocolate rice pud in the pot - and I couldn't stop eating it. So soothing and warming and chocolatey! And yes - I'm gearing up for a book. Keep yer eys skinned!