I am not such a very nice person as it turns out. I mean, what on earth has Rachel Allen ever done to me? Nothing, apart from smile gently down the telly. And yet for some reason, I find all her jingly, lilting sunniness irritating to the point of wanting to leap in and start a food fight there in her spotless, Ballymaloe telly-kitchen.
However, this longstanding grudge dissipated when last weekend I sampled some of her food. Well, not her food exactly, but recipes from her book, beautifully executed by my friend Sarah, who does everything absolutely precisely: she is a scientist to her very core. (We used to have art v. science arguments at school, like the dog v. cat ones I have with the BSG these days - he is pro-cat if you’re interested in taking sides).
A couple of days with Sarah and her family in the rolling countryside outside Leeds had three of us Londoners wondering why we hadn’t jacked in the big smoke for this idyllic, wholesome life. In the first few warm rays of the year we had lunch outside: a delicious, shredded salad of savoy cabbage, carrots, crisp apples, bacon bits and chicken. And it was Rachel Allen – well Sarah, really – who made us feel these first breaths of summer. I think there may have even been some rougeing of the face, but that was my fault entirely.
Feeling rather virtuous after this refreshing main course (I would say light, except we ate all of it, including Sarah’s husband’s portion…He’d been on a run and thoroughly deserved to eat), Sarah produced the most beautiful lemon tart. Honestly, it looked like the best homemade thing I’d ever seen – shop-bought ones with their unbroken perfection don’t quite cut it. And it tasted like a cloud of citrussy sunshine, and had some kind of bruléed crust on its top. Heaven. As it turned out, that was Rachel too. So, not just a pretty husband, then. I even got a picture of lunch, for once, before it disappeared.
It was surprise we’d managed to fit any lunch in at all, when a mere hour beforehand we’d paid a visit to the Ilkley branch of Betty’s Tea Room. For a first-timer like me, simply ordering a coffee (albeit a rich, Latte Latino made with chocolate sauce and cinnamon) just wouldn’t have cut the mustard, so with it came the plumpest Yorkshire Fat Rascal (an enormous warm fruit bun), some freshly baked rarebit scones and Betty’s famous cinnamon toast. Clearly a recipe they’d perfected over time, the cinnamon and sugar lay in a thick crust over crunchy fingers of brown toast – the sort of mean brown toast you’d never have associated with such a treat but which was now transformed under its crystalline cloak. No wonder Sarah’s son, Finlay, eschewed his rather yummy-looking lunch in its favour.
The rest of the weekend continued much along the same theme – three girls from London, being fed like kings, with pancetta wrapped monkfish, white chocolate mousse, pork and apple crumble (my first savoury crumble – won’t be my last that’s for sure) and on Sunday morning, blueberry pancakes like the fluffiest cumulonimbus made by Rhys, Sarah’s hubby; a good excuse to march up onto the moor for a brisk one.
It was very hard to leave, even harder to manage the wagyu burger the BSG had prepared on my return and nigh on impossible to fathom what we’ll conjure up for them on the return leg; I might ask my new favourite person...