Tony Redman has a taste for sump­tu­ous Suf­folk

Tony Redman is wild about the county’s food of­fer­ings, al­though we could learn a thing or two from Tran­syl­va­ni­ans

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE - Tony Redman

‘PIG head’ was the first item on the lunchtime menu in a restau­rant I went to the other day. On ask­ing the waiter whether this was an ed­i­ble item or a per­sonal com­ment, I was po­litely in­formed that the new chef en­joyed us­ing ev­ery­thing in the an­i­mal and de­scrib­ing it hon­estly. I don’t have the best mem­ory for food, but the ‘pig head’ will re­main with me for some time to come.

There are some scrump­tious foodie of­fer­ings in Suf­folk. Jam dough­nuts from the café on Dun­wich beach fol­lowed by some of the fresh­est fish and chips is a long last­ing mem­ory. The dough­nuts baked by long gone Bury bak­ers Ber­rys, in their coal fired oven, linger in the mem­ory too. Or­ford bak­ery dough­nuts are a very close ri­val. We used to treat our­selves to oc­ca­sional meals in a lit­tle restau­rant in the back streets of Bury cooked by a hus­band and wife team with no more than 20 cov­ers. He had em­phy­sema and it was al­ways a worry if he would make it to the end of the service, but he al­ways did, and the food was al­ways stun­ning. Then there is break­fast at the Crown and Cas­tle at Or­ford, Alde­burgh fish and chips and Ar­ling­ton’s lemon pos­set. Reader, I am drool­ing as I type th­ese words.

But my sec­ond favourite foody area in the world is Tran­syl­va­nia. I have never had a bad meal in a Tran­syl­va­nian home. The ta­ble is usu­ally sim­ply fur­nished – home­made bread, sour chunky soup, sour cream, chill­ies . . . and plum brandy. On eat­ing your fill, plates are re­plen­ished, mean­ing that care­ful pac­ing is re­quired to get to the end of the meal with­out feel­ing very sick.

Many years ago we stopped for lunch in a small Tran­syl­va­nian vil­lage. As we en­tered the back gar­den of the tiny house through the side gate, we were em­braced by the aro­mas of bar­be­cued chicken and fresh green herbs. In the tiny kitchen, the women of the house were chop­ping a moun­tain of green salad, while on the wood­stove be­hind them seared chicken was be­ing steamed over boiled pota­toes.

Sit­ting at their ta­ble, af­ter the ubiq­ui­tous rounds of plum brandy, fresh bread and sour soup, bowls of bright green salad were brought in. The aroma was richly aro­matic. I asked what it was made up of. “A bit of this and a bit of that” was the best trans­la­tion avail­able. It tran­spired that they had been out early in the morn­ing and picked five dif­fer­ent wild leaves in the woods and fields – lemon sor­rel, wild gar­lic, rocket, lo­vage and spinach. It con­tained none of our Euro­pean sta­ples of let­tuce, cu­cum­ber or tomato, but it was sim­ply the best salad I have ever tasted. The mem­ory of that lunch also in­cludes some em­bar­rass­ingly out­ra­geous be­hav­iour by my friends, who were old enough to know bet­ter, in front of a be­mused Ro­ma­nian TV crew, shoot­ing a film about so­phis­ti­cated English tourists. But that’s another story.

Since then, Mrs Redman and I have made a con­scious ef­fort to try to eat only what we can grow in our gar­den, which in­volves at­tempt­ing to eat sea­son­ally and min­imis­ing the pur­chas­ing of pro­cessed food. There are many lapses, but sourc­ing the in­gre­di­ents of that wild Tran­syl­va­nian salad be­came a pas­sion. Lo­vage, spinach, rocket and lemon sor­rel eas­ily grew from seed, but the wild gar­lic eluded me. Then one day wan­der­ing through the Abbey Gar­dens in Bury I caught a whiff on the air of that elu­sive in­gre­di­ent. It was un­mis­take­able. There were acres of it, car­pet­ing the or­na­men­tal beds. Won­der­ing whether this was some sort of dream, I sheep­ishly en­quired of the ground staff. They were in­cred­u­lous as to why I should want to have some of their per­ni­cious weeds, but they hu­moured me and gave me some which is now firmly es­tab­lished (and well con­tained) in my own gar­den.

A year later and another gas­tro­nomic ex­pe­ri­ence at an award win­ning restau­rant near the Abbey walls. It is the sort of restau­rant that fo­cuses on flavour rather than quan­tity. Gar­nish­ing the ru­mour of foamed veg­eta­bles was a green leaf with that un­mis­tak­able aroma. “What is the gar­nish?” I asked of the at­ten­tive wait­ress, al­ready know­ing the an­swer.

“Ah, it’s a very spe­cial herb we gar­ner from a secret place near Pol­stead,” she replied, mak­ing it sound with all her be­ing like the rarest of pro­duce avail­able. “It’s called wild gar­lic.”

“Oh! It grows like a weed just over the wall,” I prof­fered with a wry smile. Exit slightly huffy wait­ress. I read that ground elder and net­tles might have been in­tro­duced as food sources by the Ro­mans, and while I have yet to pluck up the courage to try th­ese in a salad, I have learnt one thing. One per­son’s weeds are another per­son’s del­i­cacy.

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