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Greetings from Kent, Pickles fans.
It has been just over two weeks since the Waltshaws’ great relocation, and it has been a jolly busy fortnight down in the Bubble.

Apart from the minor logistic annoyances associated with moving, like not being able to get the wardrobe up the stairs and STILL not having an internet connection (I am coming to you now from a very slow, shared, dongle), we are becoming nicely settled.

We started trading on the harbour on the weekend of Whitstable Oyster Festival, which was much fun, if a bit of a baptism of fire. Unlike our regular pitch at West Norwood Feast, our pitch on the harbour is both Saturday and Sunday. This means our usual pie offering isn’t really feasible as we don’t have the time or facilities to make enough pies in a day to sell over two days (nor do we really want to sell two-day old pies). So we opted for scotch eggs, as they take a fraction of the time to cook as pies, and they tend to hold a similar kind of appeal.

First task was to get a supply of local free-range meat and eggs. Fortunately that proved to be pretty easy. After a couple of phone calls and a drive into the Kent countryside, we now do business with Gibson’s Farm a few miles away. It is an idyllic place, where you can see a lot of the animals for yourself. Having got up close to some of them, we can confirm that they are all indeed free-range, content beasts:

TOMW generously sharing her travel snacks with a young Angus. He repaid her by blowing his nose onto her new jeans.

As well as the bucolic joy of flouncing through the fields to buy the supplies, there are also financial benefits from buying direct from the farm, which have been quite welcome.

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So a scotch egg production line was formed. The most arduous and tedious task, and the one that nearly caused insurrection, was the boiling and peeling of 200 eggs. At this point the kitchen smelled like the devil himself had made an appearance, and I shan’t list the places where we are still finding tiny bits of eggshell.  

A few hours, and 15 kilos of meat, later we had ourselves some sceggs to take to market….

Sceggs’ eye view of the harbour

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we sold quite a few sceggs to Morris dancers who seemed delighted to see a stall selling the golden balls of joy. What I wasn’t expecting though, was the reaction that scotch eggs provoke in Japanese tourists. They absolutely loved them. They marvelled at them, photographed them, covered them in chilli sauce, and ate them in surprising quantities. It was undoubtedly lucky for us, therefore, that Whitstable Oyster Festival had shipped in bus-loads of Morris dancers and Japanese tourists.

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 The town of Whitstable marked the Waltshaws’ first week in the Bubble on Thursday evening by lighting grotters (piles of oyster shells containing candles) along the beach followed by an impressive firework show. Which was very kind of them, we would have settled for a discount on the council tax.

 

Pickles fans, what can I say?

I let the weeds grow over this blog, but I have hacked them down, dusted it off, and remembered the password on my third attempt.

There is so much news it’s not true. Well it is true, and most of you know it already, but for those of you that don’t – I apologies for the bloggy way in which I am telling you – but there is no succinct way of imparting news to everyone that remains personal. Is there?

We, the Waltshaws, are departing our beloved London on 12 July, to seek our fame and fortune in the seaside town of Whitstable, Kent (or The Bubble, as it is known locally). We have been planning this for a while, but the uncertainty made us reticent. However, now it is happening, it is happening rather quickly and we have a million things to do and not much time to do it, so this is just the short version…

We still plan to make and sell food and we still plan to do so as ethically as we can. The joy of doing it in Kent is the local larder on your doorstep. Not just because Whitstable has one of the best high streets I have seen, with multiple grocers, fishmongers, bakers and butchers – but Kent also has an awful lot of food (and drink) going on in it.

We  still love London, and will probably always feel like Londoners, but some things about it have got us down recently (some of you know about some that, but I shan’t go into detail). It is also really expensive, not just to live, but to start a business – which is what we want to do. So we are heading somewhere where life is a bit slower, a bit cheaper, and, to be blunt, there is less competition.

BUT before half of London puts on its black Converse in mourning, the Bubble is just over an hour from Victoria by train, so we are not intending to disappear from your social lives completely and we expect some visitors. Alright? Good. x

Morning Pickles fans.

Cold isn’t it? I think my feet have just about thawed out now from a day spent standing behind our stall.

The Battersea Arts Centre market went well. I’m loving mixing with other market stall holders, they really are a great bunch, and I especially like doing some swapsies.  Yesterday we saw some familiar faces from West Norwood, including the charming dumpling seller, the Earl of Gravy and gallic dish, Monsieur Tartiflette. We have also made some new friends, including Tony the Bananaman, who can cover fruit in Belgian chocolate and make any child smile it seems.

I must admit it was a bit quieter than we had hoped, so tell your friends what’s going on on Lavender Hill every Thursday – Saturday until Christmas… a covered market with loads of food, drink, music, christmas trees and stalls selling potential christmas presents… what more could ask for? What? pies and mulled wine you say? yes, plenty of that.

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It promises to be an interesting week for Team Waltshaw. I will find out if I have been made redundant, again. Dedicated Pickles fans will remember the Great Let Down of  March 2011, when…. well…. I wasn’t made redundant. I have applied again, in a last ditched attempt, but there’s no reason to think that anything will be different this time. I’ll just have to wait and see….

 

 

Well not quite ALL change, but dedicated pickles fans will notice that this blog looks a bit different. That’s because, these days, we have real life strangers looking at our humble little web presence. Yes, normal folk off the street – not just people we are related to/spend quite a lot of time in the pub with. Actual punters. So we thought we’d try to make things look a bit more representative of what we do.

Speaking of pies. Today was our last West Norwood Feast of the year, and it was a goodie. Cold, very cold, but we sold all of our wares and there was a nice, spicy aromatic feel to the food fair today. Keeping with the theme of change, we did do a few things differently to mark the festive season…

I discovered chalk pens….

  

(they are soluable, so the “WBAFC” I wrote on the wall WILL come off, apparently).

I also Christmassed-up the Waltshaws’ traditional pork pie, and added some homemade chestnut stuffing….

 

I also added some Christmas flavours to our faithful chocolate brownies. You can’t tell from the picture, but they were all cinamonny and chocolatey and made the kitchen smell like a gluttonous grotto…

 Other changes the Waltshaws made today were mostly sartorial…

    

Less said the better.

And finally, the biggest change is that the next stall we do will not be in SE27, but in SW11, at the Battersea Arts Centre Christmas market. We have been to see the set-up and it’s looking good. As much as we love WNF, I have to say it will be very welcome to do a stall under cover and not standing on mud – it’s well posh in Battersea (but not too posh for pies).

…first Sunday of the month is nearly upon us again.  This means that the Waltshaws will be selling pies and delights at the West Norwood Feast in… West Norwood, on 6th November from 10am to 4pm.

We learned quite a lot from the last one, and we will take a slightly different approach this time.  The main changes can be summarised as a two-pronged strategy:

  • Less variety, more stuff; and
  • booze.

We sold out too quickly last time, so to avoid that I will make more stuff. In order to do that, I will have to limit the different types of stuff – notably pastry – that I have to make. Don’t worry, Pickles fans, there will still be a choice of pies to accommodate all of your savoury needs, but they will all be made from my top-secret, massively moreish hot-water-crust pastry.

We are also going to be mulling some wine, because it’s that time of year, and it’s a relatively quick and simple thing to do. I have bought a massive pot in which to mull which is currently dominating the kitchen at home because it’s too big for our cupboards. We may have to deploy it for alternative uses between mulling episodes. Front-runners include: cat bunker; gun turret for the Stouff; and up-turned as a banjo stool.

I am also very happy to announce some important Waltshaw news, which is that we have been accepted to hold a stall at a new Christmas market run in conjunction with Battersea Arts Centre. It should be a lovely, atmospheric, twinkly kind of affair…. they are closing the road that runs adjacent to BAC off Lavendar Hill, lining it with Christmas trees and lights and setting up craft and food stalls every weekend in December. We will be there:

Saturday 10th December

Sunday 11th December

Saturday 17th December

Thursday 22nd December

Saturday 24th December

 It’s 5 mins walk from Britain’s busiest train station, 5 mins from Clapham Common, and bang in the heart of Nappy Valley, so I reckon we should get quite a good footfall. That’s a lot of pies, people. I hope I am up to it. I also hope some of you will be able to pop by to say hello, it is lovely when friends turn up, it makes us very warm and fuzzy. I don’t think the christmas market has a website yet… but we do!

www.waltshaws.co.uk

Forgive my, decidedly amateur, web skills, but I think it does all we need it to for now.

Ding-dong merrily on pie….

This weekend saw the Waltshaws selling their wares to the general public for the first time at the West Norwood Feast.

Preparations for this started in earnest on Friday when we took the Stouffer out round South London and brought him back full of ingredients, plastic containers and a lot of meat. Then the cooking started…

I started with the brownies, because they benefit from a couple of days sitting in the tin, slowly getting more chocolatey and gooey. I also made up the pork pie filling by boning and chopping my lovely free-range, thick-end of belly pork from the wonderful Murray Bros. butchers in Penge, and adding all the herbs and seasonings. That also benefits from sitting quietly in the fridge for a day to get the flavours going. Then I stewed a load of bramley apples for more pie fillings which left the kitchen smelling pretty good on Friday evening.

Saturday morning at 8am it starts getting warm, really warm. The radio is telling me that it’s going to be the hottest something or other since something or other began. So the kitchen starts heating up as the sun comes round and you can fry an egg on my worktop. I taped brown paper over the window to keep some of the direct sun off, but it was obvious that the old pastry making maxim – cold hands, hot oven – would have to be abandoned.

So, ten batches of pastry and some expletives later, I have decided that hot-water-crust is my friend, sweet pastry is not, October heatwaves, even less so. We managed to get a good pie production line going though, rolling, shaping, filling, egg washing and then one in and one out of the oven, until our hot little kitchen was full of pies cooling on racks:

 and we could start packing and stacking them in the fridge:

We finished about 9pm, after some stirling washing-up from TOMW who was a wonderful kitchen porter and kept the whole operation organised, clean, and sealed in tupperware while I was wailing about my melting butter like a prima donna of pies.

Sunday. Pack up the Stouff, drive to West Norwood with a tray of fragile apple pies on my lap (I should clarify that I wasn’t actually driving), and get to the site at about 8.30am and start setting up.

And by 10 o’clock, after the careful choreography and attention to detail of TOMW, it looked like this:

Then we wait for live human beings with money to come and buy stuff that we made and eat it. And they did. They came in droves, brought out by the glorious sunshine no doubt, but they came to OUR stall and bought OUR pies. All of them.

The good people of West Norwood were wonderfully supportive, chatty and appreciative. We got some lovely comments about the food, and the Scouse bloke in the checked shirt who ate one of the bean pies and then came all the way back again to tell me how much he liked the pastry, I could have kissed you.

Big love also to our friends who came to see us (and brought their Mums!). We had a contingent come all the way from Wakefield (well, they were in town anyway, but still), and two contingents from North London, including the ever fragrant and beautiful Mr Sandwich and the Spoon. We’re sorry that some of you missed out on the pies because we’d already sold out, but we were very touched you all pitched (eh!) up.

We learned A LOT from doing this, and next time we will do quite a lot differently. It’s set my brain buzzing again and I just can’t wait until the next one so I can try and hone the operation. But all in all, it was a success, and we are feeling quite proud of ourselves now.

Can’t be arsed to sort out the pile of buttery tupperware in the kitchen yet though, I’m still on a pie high.

You can see a few more photos on my flickr page (link on the left) and if you want to subscribe to this blog so you get an email when we update it, also a link on the left. We’re going to try and be a bit more bloggy. x

Part of the fall-out of the recent setback was that I lost a bit of interest in cooking new things and experimenting. I’d been working quite hard at home, perfecting recipes and working out portions, costs and economies of scale, but when it fell through I stopped – because there was no longer any point in working out the shelf life of 3 kilos of rough-puff. Which was sad, even if it was a respite for our waistlines, which have undeniably been showing the effects of the quest for perfect pastry goods.

I can’t lose interest in food though, that would be like losing interest in breathing. So in pursuit of our favourite hobby -eating – the other weekend the Waltshaws decided to check out a local(ish) food market called West Norwood Feast, which we’d been meaning to visit since it started in April. We walked there in order to off-set the inevitable ensuing gluttony so we schlepped from Selhurst, over the hill at Crystal Palace, down the other side and into West Norwood where we ate some nice food and drank some very nice coffee at the food market and then carried on our wending way through Tulse Hill then Herne Hill (where we stopped for a quick pint) before carrying on to Brixton, where we stopped for another, slower, pint.* While sitting in the pub in Brixton I sat doodling on the paper, compulsive doodler that I am:

We were both thinking along the same lines, and, to cut a long story short, we now have a pitch at West Norwood Feast starting on Sunday 2nd October, and the quest for the best home-made pastry recommences:

Hand-made mini pork-pies

We can’t wait, even if I have trepidations about my pastry sogging (I sog, you sog, he/she/it sogs, nous soggons…) it is so good to have something to aim for. We’re not going to make much money from it, and it is by no means a solution to our predicament, but it feels quite symbolic. And who knows who we’ll meet and what might come from it.

So, if you fancy standing in a church yard in South East London, in the rain, in October, being polite about my crust, come along!

No, wait. If you fancy coming along to an exciting new venture in South London, eating some quality produce, supporting some local traders (and wannabes), and then maybe going for a walk in the beautiful West Norwood Cemetry or Brockwell Park, then put 2nd October in your diaries. Come eat my pies.

Optimism, hello, it’s been a while.

 

*We were in Brixton a couple of hours before the riots kicked off there but would like to stress that, despite being relatively dissatisfied recently, we played absolutely no part in stirring up civil unrest. We were also in Croydon shortly before the riots hit there. Co-inc-i-dence.

 

Hello pickles fans, remember me?

I thought I had better pull my finger out and write the post that I never wanted to write, but here it is.

For those of you that don’t already know, the bank pulled the plug on the grand project when we were, what felt like, inches away from starting our business. This was down to two main factors: the fact that banks are simply not lending on anything at the moment, and the restaurant sector has been listed as a “red sector” which sets off some alarm bell in a head office somewhere; and, the business we were trying to buy could not provide detailed financial records because the woman running it is a bit crap like that – so as far as the bank was concerned it was all projection. Of course we knew the business was turning-over, we could see when we walked past, however that doesn’t wash with banks.

We were told this on 18th July which was the day before the most stressful day in my working life, and also the climax of a period of colossal overtime and very little sleep. So that was life, chucking its poo at us from between the monkey bars.

I got signed off work for a bit because I was exhausted and stressed and was about to resign, but a couple of the good guys at the HoC (yes there are plenty of them) said they wouldn’t accept my resignation and I should take some time off, which I have.

We haven’t decided what we’re going to do next. I need to sort out my relationship with my employers because it feels like I keep getting poked in the eye by them. Almost literally it seems as I burst a blood vessel in my left eye, which looks just dreamy as I’m sure you can imagine.

We are unlikley to get the level of funding we need to start a business in a premises of the size and in the location that we want, so we need to scale our plans down and explore some other options. The big puzzle is working out whether we can start a business, with the money that we already have, that would support us both because I’m definitely in the twilight of my illustrious parliamentary career.

We haven’t cracked it yet, we’re still a bit knackered and still haven’t been able to spend much time chewing the fat in a rational fashion. But we’ll get there in time. Right now we’re going to try and enjoy the rest of the summer, spend some time and money on ourselves and calm down.

So, if I may be permitted a schmaltzy Billy-Bragg-For-Every-Occasion link, I will choose something from the perhaps less popular sub-genre of Sentimental Billy:

It’s been a while, for which I apologise. This has not been due to a lack of news to report. No, pickles fans, in fact the opposite is true and rather untypically, and despite my kamikaze approach to my ‘career’, I have been being discreet.  

However, I am now at liberty to divulge for a couple of reasons. First – my appeal against the decision not to make me redundant failed (as I knew it would) so I can finally draw a line under that. Until I got the piece of paper extinguishing all hope, I was wary not to send out any signals to the management that I would just leave anyway. Ridiculous really, considering I have been scuffing about the place with a face like thunder for at least five years now.

Second – we have been in the process of negotiating an offer on a business. Yes, a real business premises, in Crystal Palace. While that was going on it didn’t seem appropriate to splatter it across the internet, or anywhere else. Partly because we wouldn’t want to jeopardise the deal and partly hubris.

After my redundancy was rejected the first time it felt like we were too committed to the idea to just go back to the day jobs and wait another few years, so we decided to do it anyway. The decision was galvanised by a business premises coming up for sale in Crystal Palace that we wanted, quite badly. So we put in an offer and after some torturous negotiating, we have had an offer accepted. I’m not sure what else to say at this stage. It’s a bit like buying a house, in that lots of bits of paper have to move about before anything tangible happens; and much like buying a house, I suspect that a lot of these pieces of paper are created to justify solicitors’ fees. 

Oh and we are also still scraping together the money… minor details.

BUT, if it all goes to plan, and nothing goes wrong, we would hope to open at the end of August. You may notice that this is not very long at all.

I need to get the menus sorted really soon. I sold my wetsuit in order to buy a deep-fat fryer (which I think is a lovely metaphor for the direction my life is heading) and have been working on some of the bar-snacks I would like to offer, starting with Oeuf A La King:

 

I was quite pleased with them, but had to run them past TOMW who has to be honest because if I fuck the menu up, I will drag her into a downward spiral of poverty, debt and public humiliation. She is also from the North, so is particularly discerning when it comes to deep-fried sausage meat.

Word soon got out, and I got a call from somebody called Kate Middleton requesting a pyramid of scotch eggs for her wedding reception. Unfortunately the deal didn’t work out because she insisted on gluten free breadcrumbs, and I won’t comprimise my art.

The cooking is the fun bit at the moment. It is a nice asides to all the paperwork. We are having to provide proof of every financial transaction we have ever made, in triplicate. We also have to provide references for every aspect of our lives, so if any of you get a call from a bank/estate agent/solicitor asking about my integrity, please DON’T mention my issues with authority, minor kleptomania or public contempt for my employers. Please DO mention my scotch eggs.

After my last post (diatribe) I thought I would update with something a bit less negative and profane (well I can’t guarantee the latter).

All is fine in Waltshaw world, the redundancy rejection was a setback but hasn’t actually changed anything fundamental. We are still going to do this and are still making plans.

As some of you are aware, we have been looking at businesses for sale and properties in Crystal Palace, and have even found one that we really liked. The twist of the knife that followed the redundancy news was that this place had come down in price. Anyway, having spent a week or two running out of the office to make phone calls in the weird corner bit next to the lifts with the massive fake fig tree in it (the only place I can get a mobile signal in this building), we started to get together funding with a view to giving it a go. All very encouraging, and scary.

Of course this was starting to become a bit straightforward. Last weekend we were wandering around Crystal Palace and walked past the property that was originally available a couple of months ago. We liked it back then, enough to go and have a very bad meal there (it used to be a Thai restaurant) and make an appointment to go and view it properly. Then we were told the vendor had changed his mind and it was being pulled off the market, so we put it out of our minds. Last weekend we see a To Let sign on this property, and now our waters are well and truly muddied.

I shan’t go into too much detail, because it wouldn’t be shrewd, and it doesn’t make for great copy, but this place needs doing up which it makes it a very different venture. We have been agonising over pros and cons, and keep arriving at the result of six of one half a dozen of the other. We still need more information about various things, and I’m still dashing out to the weird corner bit by the lifts with the massive fake fig tree (TWCBNTTLWTMFFT) on a regular basis to try and get it.

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Elsewhere, in a big steel kitchen in Twickenham that smells of cheap butter and meat, I think I have finished my course. I say ‘think’ because it all needs to be checked, and my folder had become a bit unintelligible – due to my chef’s appalling handwriting, and an unfortunate incident with a creme caramel.  I’m pretty pleased at having got it all done, and I really enjoyed the whole thing. I will miss it.

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So, the synopsis of this post is:

  • the fat lady isn’t singing, in fact she hasn’t even tuned-up her banjo yet, and
  • that’s Little Whining Shite NVQ, to you.

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