If you’ve ever sat down to a proper English Sunday roast, you’ll be acquainted with one of Yorkshire‘s greatest cultural gifts to the world, the Yorkshire Pudding. I’ve always loved them – delicious and visually arresting, not to mention a great place to store excess gravy (and hey, who doesn’t want excess gravy?).
But what exactly are they – and why Yorkshire?
The first thing to make clear is that “Yorkshire Puddings” aren’t puddings. They’re a savoury course. Furthermore, puddings are artful combinations of ingredients coaxed into more than the sum of their parts – and Yorkshire Puddings in their raw, natural state are complete in themselves. The Yorkshires you spear with your fork are the cooked versions of the funghi Gurnus yorkis, the ‘Flat Cap’ mushroom.
As any professional gardener will tell you, growing Flat Caps is an art form, or putting it another way, a real sod. They’re enormously fickle and finicky creatures to rear, demanding a chalky, marshy soil and a total absence of sunlight all year round.
For these reasons the Flat Cap’s geographical presence is almost completely limited to northern Yorkshire, making it one of Britain’s most location-specific food crops…and one of its most vulnerable. In 1962 almost the entire Flat Cap crop was destroyed during a bout of freakish summer weather in Northern England in which the sun shone down for 11 unbroken hours – a disaster as yet unrepeated but still all too fresh in the collective mind of the Yorkshire Pudding industry.
Attempts to move crops underground have met with limited success, and Flat Caps blister when in contact with black polythene. So outdoors they stay, in the meteorological firing line. No wonder growers are keen to seek the lucrative protective status recently afforded to Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb.
Well, I thought to myself in January, how hard can it be? Here I am in Yorkshire, with good Northern soil under my feet and reassuringly leaden and cloud-locked Yorkshire skies overhead (and a distressingly bare garden out back). And I love a good roast. No-brainer. So I immediately pootled off to the shops and picked up some compost and a bag of frozen Yorkshires.
You heard me. How do you grow yeast? From more yeast, of course – and so it’s possible to fruit new Flat Caps from the remnants of Yorkshire Puddings. Even heat can’t interrupt spore reproduction of this astonishingly tough organism, although cooking does slow fruiting to the fungal equivalent of a crawl (for this reason I’ve never witnessed it taking place outside specialist garden centres and student accomodation). Their cups remain rounded until cooking, during which their water content reduces and they shrink to form their recognisable hollowed shape, cups served upside down. Drizzled with olive oil, they’re an almost indescribably winning mixture of chewy and crispy. (Yum).
I ventured into my back garden, forked some air into the earth and watered it well with Riggwelter (a local variety of malted liquid compost), broke a few lightly-cooked Yorkshires into the soil, scattered some fragmented bark on the top (it’s vitally important to create cavities in the soil, otherwise your Flat Caps will come up solid without their characteristic “dish” shape) and retired to a safe distance for 3 months.
And the result?
Well, I’ve never been much good in the garden. Alas – I’ll be continuing to buy mine ready frozen…but with a new appreciation of the effort and hard work involved in rearing these culinary marvels.
Have you ever tried growing your own Yorkshires? Do tell!