Two hundred and fifty-four miles north north-west of the Donheads, lies the Conwy valley in North Wales. I was there a couple of weeks ago with my sister, having been invited to ‘tea’ with my elderly aunt, Morffydd (pronounced with a rolled ‘r’ and a spit). My sister (more spit required) Gwenllian and I were born and brought up in North Wales. The Conwy valley is stunning, and the market town of Conwy itself, where we lived for many years, has been protected from all national chains, supermarkets and fast food restaurants. It is a great place to visit. Conwy has become a centre for good food, mussels in particular. I remember the quay and my mother buying fresh fish directly off the boats. But I don’t remember the mussels. We walked along the busy quay where stacks of large string bags of fresh mussels were being craned off the boats and piled high ready for sale. I had to go over and look carefully at them as I couldn’t understand why they weren’t in water, but by putting your ear close, you could hear them happily bubbling away inside their shells.
A 500 mile round trip is a long way to go for tea, however special the aunt in question, so we made a weekend of it and spent half a day at Bodnant gardens, a National Trust property and garden, well known for its laburnum arch walkway. The gardens with their spectacular views of Snowdonia, the streams, wooded areas and terraces were stunning. The drifts of daffodils, rhododendrons, azaleas, hellebores and magnolias were breathtaking and we vowed to return when the roses and wisteria will be at their best.
A few hours of walking through Bodnant Gardens’ 80 acres worked up quite an appetite, but luckily we were very close to the new Bodnant Welsh Food Centre. Opened by Prince Charles last year, the Centre promotes traditional Welsh food, and takes every opportunity to allow visitors to sample the delicious produce available both from their own estate and also from carefully selected local producers. There is a smart restaurant, a working dairy where they make their own cheese and ice cream, a bakery with a vast range of artisan breads, a farm shop and tea room where we enjoyed a delicious light lunch – a real ‘taste of Wales’ (Welsh Rarebit made with their cheese is the most popular dish on the menu). Despite our seven-hour drive home, both Gwenllian and I bought new season spring lamb, local beef, cheese and bread to take home, as we couldn’t bear to leave it. Oh how we long to return!
The early May bank holiday brought wonderful weather and so I had an impromptu lunch party. Twenty-nine people came – a few more than I had expected – but it all went well and everyone mucked in to make it a success. I served a spicy pulled pork dish with couscous, crisp coleslaw with apples and radishes with lime juice dressing. It was delicious and very simple, so let me share it with you here should you be as impulsive as I was, any long weekend soon.
Spicy Pulled Pork (Recipe influenced by Spice Trip by Stevie Parle and Emma Grazette)
Serves 6. Approx. £8.80 when all ingredients purchased in Ludwell.
2kg+ shoulder of pork, off the bone. Ask Buttlings to remove the skin for you too.
350ml dry cider or apple juice
For the spicy dry rub:
2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
3 tsp chilli flakes
½ tbsp coriander seeds
½ tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp paprika (smoked paprika is very good if you like a smoky flavour)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 fresh chillies and 2 cloves of garlic
For the spicy sauce:
400ml tomato passata
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp brown sugar
60ml cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 220°C / gas mark 7 (AGA top oven, then simmering oven
1. Grind all the spicy rub ingredients with a mortar and pestle until quite coarse.
2. Remove the rind from the pork and prepare separately for crackling as a side dish if wanted, or discard.
3. Sprinkle the pork generously with salt and then in a heavy casserole (with lid), brown the pork on both sides in a large glug of olive oil.
4. Remove the pork from the casserole and cover the entire piece with the spicy dry mix. Rub in thoroughly. You could get very mucky, so wear an apron!
5. Return the pork to the casserole and cover with the cider or apple juice.
6. Bake in the oven uncovered for 20 minutes.
7. Reduce the oven temperature to 140°C / gas mark 1. Put the lid on your casserole and seal with foil, return to the oven for 4–5 hours.
8. When cooked, remove the pork from the casserole and place in a serving dish.
9. Place the casserole with its wonderful juices, on the heat and bring to the boil.
10. Add the spicy sauce ingredients and cook for 15 minutes until it has thickened and reduced a little. Adjust to taste.
11. In the meantime, ‘pull’ the pork using two forks. Shred into large pieces removing any fatty bits. You can keep this warm if well covered.
12. Serve by pouring the sauce over the pork or serve separately in a jug or directly from the casserole for a more rustic look.
Serve with couscous mixed with sugar snap peas, beans, pomegranate seeds and fresh coriander leaves, and a crunchy coleslaw with a lime juice dressing. Yummy.
Expect people to come back for seconds and thirds, so cook double quantities.
As always it’s ….truly, truly scrumptious
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.