Yorkshire Puddings: Britain’s Most Fragile Crop

Posted by on Apr 1, 2010 in The Everyday | 20 Comments

RoastBeef

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.

TheCrowd

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!

Images: Robbie Jim, llamnuds.

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  • http://fairyhedgehog.blogspot.com fairyhedgehog

    This is wonderful! I loved every bit of it.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Just as long as you don’t believe a word of it. ;)

      Thanks for your kind words.

  • http://www.judithgreenwood.com/thinkonit/ JudithinUmbria

    The ones I grow are grown in my oven, but not those puny ones in your delicious photo. I make BIG ones. I thought one ate them before the meat course?

    • http://katebailward.com/drivinglikeamaniac Katja

      Ooh, no. That’s a very Italian idea – we Brits chuck everything on the same plate together. Including jelly. (Not, to be fair, with roast beef, but definitely with lamb …)

      • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

        According to Wikipedia – the Italian soil is particularly good for growing the Gurnus yorkis maxima, colloquially known as the “Roman Whopper”. This indigenous species technically gives Italy the world’s biggest crop of Yorkshires, but since Ialy is part of the EU and has to toe the line with regional food branding, once picked all the Roman Whoppers have to be shipped to Yorkshire or destroyed. They cannot be sold in Italy.

        I think Judith is therefore referring to a black market practice, which the author of this blog cannot condone officially but is willing to try unofficially, with gravy and dumplings.

        • http://www.judithgreenwood.com/thinkonit/ JudithinUmbria

          Actually, I meet loads of Brits from the Midlands, but Yorkshire is lacking here, so I probably make more puffings than anyone else in Umbria. My info comes from usenet ukf+d.misc where I was told that a big ole YP sluiced in gravy was fed farm folk at dinner to reduce their appetites for the meat which followed. It sounded cheap enough to be Yorkshire, right?
          I like them best at breakfast. No gravy. Gets you out in the garden for hours without a break.

  • http://katebailward.com/drivinglikeamaniac Katja

    Once, in the miserable wet months of the tail end of 1999, I succeeded in growing some Flat Caps in a deserted greenhouse round the back of Camden Tube station. It was a tricky job, involving a tomato gro-bag and a large black dustbin. They weren’t too impressed at first by the rarefied London smog, and for a heartstopping few days I thought I’d lost them. I managed to coax them through by playing ferret noises and feeding the soil with a secret recipe, the contents of which included Yorkshire tea and a pint of Tim Taylor. Sadly, I’ve never managed to repeat my success, but I’ll keep on trying. Life’s too long to live without proper Yorkshire puds.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      You’re the culinary equivalent of Ranulph Fiennes. Truly.

      I see you heard about the ferret thing. I first heard about that Flat Cap growing tip on Gardener’s Question Time, and immediately went online to buy a recording of ferret noises (only available in vinyl). However, after extensive experimentation and a menagerie of recorded animal noises – see my secondhand eBay shop, I’ve labelled them all pertaining to which noises assist in the propagation of what plants – I can safely say that ferrets aren’t the best choice.

      It’s skunks.

      If you don’t believe me, set up two crops of Flat Caps in soundproofed locations and play ferret noises to one, skunk noises to the others, for a period of 2 weeks. The results are startling, trust me.

      If you need some noises, please go here:

      http://www.junglewalk.com/sound/Weasel-sounds.htm

      Please note: anyone playing skunk noises to Flat Caps does so at their own peril. I am not liable for any structural damage or personal injury resulting from this suggestion – proceed with extreme caution. Thank you.

  • http://www.baconismagic.ca ayngelina

    As a Canadian I hadn’t experienced Yorkshire pudding until I dated an Englishman. He stayed in Canada for Christmas but longed for the doughy goodness so I taught myself how to make them – not the healthiest item but it was delicious.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Aye, not healthy for the body at all. But healthy for the soul, and healthy for the heart. (Er, as in the general “passion that beats out the rhythm of life for us all” way, not the specific “cholesterol-sensitive pump housed in our chests” way).

      No Yorkshire puddings in Canada? Oh ‘eck. *Mike feels a culinary Crusade forming in his mind – visions of handing out Yorkshires at street corners in Ottawa and Toronto, converting the natives to a better way of life*.

  • http://www.comeforthewine.com Marcy Gordon

    I’ve had mild success growing Yorkshire Terriers in large pots on a sunny deck.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      That’s impressive. Terriers are a difficult crop indeed! Although you may want to watch out with sunny decks – in bright sunlight, they start to pant.

      If you have any bonemeal left over from potting terriers, I can also recommend growing liquorice. I’ve had some good runs from that crop.

  • http://www.wanderingeducators.com/marketplace/apparel/do-mbt-shoes-really-work.html jessiev

    what a hoot! for i loathe mushrooms of all kinds, yet adore yorkshire pudding. hmm…:)

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Then I wouldn’t have a chance of catching you out. ;)

      Thanks for popping by…

  • http://www.roamingtales.com Caitlin @ Roaming Tales

    I had mushroom ice cream in Fort Bragg, California yesterday. Made from candy cap mushrooms. I’m making this comment on April 4.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      I trust you implicitly.

      My first reaction obviously was “mushrooms? Bleargh!”etc.

      But then I thought…truffles. Perfect with chocolate.

      Food norms are strange and inconsistent. And always worth careful study…/b>

  • http://www.travel-rants.com Darren Cronian

    Aye up lad off t’shop t’fetch meself some pudding mixture, good post ;)

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Ecky-thump, eee, ahm dead chuffed. *doffs flat cap*

      Nowt but truth, this post, aye.

      Well, apart from the claptrap.

      Which here is another word for “the facts”.

  • belly

    you do talk the most incredible rubbish man.
    however, for a nice change you are, at least, partly right – the yorkshire pudding is a marvel indeed. a full 3 course meal can be made around them.
    starter – yorkshires with thick onion gravy
    main – roast beef, yorkshires et al.
    dessert – yorkshires with lashings of golden syrup.
    gets no better……….
    the secret is, of course, get the fat in the pudding tray very hot indeed, before pouring the mixture/mushroom (delete as you see fit!) in.

  • http://grantourismotravels.com/ Anca Popa

    I love Yorkshire puddings. I only have them once in while, but there are a good treat nevertheless.

    I would also like to invite you to enter a competition we’re running. It’s actually a monthly travel blogging competition and this month’s theme is ‘Food and Travel’, so if you have a memorable food experience from your travels please feel free to share it with us. We’d love to hear from you!

    http://grantourismotravels.com/2010/05/05/grantourismo-travel-blogging-competition-may/