Mince pies taste test: seasonal sensation or festive flop?

We buy about 370m mince pies each year in the UK. Once upon a time, supermarket varieties were ‘generally unspeakable’ – have they improved?There is a Premier Foods factory in Barnsley that, in the runup to Christmas, fires out 2.3m mince pies a day. That’s 180m each season. A staggering figure, yet it accounts for less than half of the 370m mince pies sold in the UK each year.These days unrecognisable from its medieval origins as a spiced ox tongue and beef suet pastry, the mince pie, clearly, still occupies a very special place in Britain’s affections. This, despite 17th-century Puritan purges (mince pies were condemned as a sign of Catholic gluttony), and the old, mass-produced supermarket versions, which for decades – their shrunken fillings a chaos of sugar, dank fruits and shrill spices – threatened to do what Cromwell failed to, and destroy our love of mince pies for ever. Chef Jeremy Lee told the Independent in 2011 that commercial mince pies are “generally unspeakable”. Continue...

The Boot Inn, Repton, Derbyshire: hotel review

Ale fans will love this cosy, stylish pub with its own brewery in the heart of a curious little village – and the food’s quite something, tooSouth Derbyshire may not have the Peak District, its literary associations and country houses, but in one area of history it thoroughly beats north Derbyshire – beer.Think hoppy beers were invented in Hackney in 2008? Think again. In the 1800s, the south Derbyshire and Staffordshire borderlands, and Burton upon Trent in particular, were the global epicentre of beer innovation. Burton’s strong, heavily hopped India pale ales were a sensation, a story you can explore at its National Brewery Centre. Continue...

How to eat: beans on toast

This month, How to Eat is addressing a British obsession – beans on toast. But which bread to use? What additions are acceptable? Do you would add red, brown or Worcestershire sauce? And who would dream of topping it with feta?Never let it be said that Birmingham does not cover all food bases. Home to four Michelin-starred restaurants, Brum is also, according to a recent Heinz survey, Britain’s baked bean capital: 69% of Brummies eat beans weekly, enabling this alternative windy city to edge out its top five rivals Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool (London trailed in eighth). Britain may embrace global foods with gusto – bao, burritos and bibimbap are increasingly commonplace – but certain key British foods (or, rather, bastardised American imports), are immovable. It may not sell the best beans, but Heinz shifts an incredible 1.5m tins each day. About 23% of Britons eat beans at least twice a week. Continue...

You’re gorge-ous: which is Britain’s best supermarket mature cheddar?

Can any of the own-brand vintage cheddars rival those handmade in cheddar’s West Country heartland?Whenever you eat a chunk of tasteless cheddar, take a moment to curse the man responsible: Hitler. Subjecting us to decades of cheerless cheese may not have been his primary goal, but, 72 years on from the end of the second world war, British cheese is only just getting over the aftershocks.Before the war, Britain had more than 1,600 farmhouse and regional speciality cheese makers, but, from 1940 to 1954, the Ministry of Food ordered that cow’s milk could be used only to produce long-life, easily transported, factory-made cheddar. It transformed the British cheese scene. As described in Donald Thomas’s history of the black market, The Enemy Within, the rich could still buy under-the-counter South American roquefort or expensive goat’s-milk cheeses, but, for everyone else, the only cheese available was so-called “government cheddar”. Continue...

The alt city guide to York

It’s time for the Romans and Vikings to make way for a new insurgency in the North Yorkshire jewel: a sparky, creative scene fuelled by innovative music, food and drink outletsWhat images come to mind when you think of York? The Minster, steam engines, Romans and Vikings, a city resisting the 21st century? But look beyond that twee facade, outside York’s narrow medieval streets, and a very different city is asserting itself.“It’s definitely getting more vibrant,” says Danielle Barge, editor of webzine Arts York. “In recent years, a lot of people have started independent projects: small theatre and film companies, artists’ studios, music promoters. People are almost in artistic rebellion. They’re taking it upon themselves to say, ‘if no one else is going to make it, we will’.” Continue...