The English seaside. Not for the faint hearted.
You know those conversations. You’ve had them. Sitting around in the pub with your mates and someone suggests you club together to buy a barge, or take up Morris dancing, or go part shares in a racehorse. It’s going to be brilliant. And then it’s tomorrow and no one ever mentions the barge, or the jingle bells or the horse ever again.
Only this time, Nick was at the table and he’s the most efficient person on the planet. When he suggested a trip to Blackpool, his hometown, to see the Illuminations and we said yes, the tickets were booked and the day planned before the condensation had even dried on those craft ale glasses.
On Friday we took the 8.30am train from Euston. I’d packed a bacon and egg pie and an iced thermos of Bloody Marys. The six of us were in a high old state of excitement and I felt a little sorry for the people surrounding us, clearly on their way to work, hoping to get a few hours on their laptop to catch up with their emails or play games or whatever. We were definitely the people you didn’t want in your carriage. We’d made a good inroad into pie and bloodies and laughing when Kirstin said ‘Is it even 9 0’clock yet?’. It wasn’t. I was worried we’d peaked too early.
Pie on a train.
Pie at midnight – last minute preparations for our train breakfast.
Train picnic: the Eccles cake v Chorley cake taste off, with some Lancashire cheese, naturally.
We hadn’t. We had a blissful day. This is what happened:
- Our bus got stuck in the funeral cortege of the man who allegedly kept the Krays out of Blackpool. Inside the vintage Austin hearse, his trilby sat on top of his coffin along with a huge cross of white chrysanths. On the side of the coffin, in foot-high letters, more white chrysanths spelled out ‘MIXIE’.
- A delicious fish and chip lunch at Seniors (National Fish and Chip Award winner, 2012). I highly recommend it. The fish is super fresh, the batter light, the chips a proper shade (not the pale, sad things which’ve barely flirted with the fryer you get in the South), and the staff are charming.
Seniors for lunch. Cod, chips, gravy, mushy peas and tea.
Note the correct colour of the chips.
- I tried (very hard) and failed to win a pony key ring on the penny falls slot machine.
- I got far too goosebumpy at the sight of elderly couples waltzing around the Tower Ballroom in their best shoes, so nimbly and with so much mutual devotion in their eyes, as the Wurlitzer played Sunny Side of the Street.
- We whizzed up to the top of the Tower. I loved the views over the frigid North Sea and the rows of colourful Blackpool terraces. Nothing would induce me to step foot on the clear glass floor and look 380ft below to My Certain Death.
Nothing would have got me onto the glass floor.
- We skipped across the Comedy Carpet, Gordon Young’s tribute to English variety. A pleasing number of terrible food-based gags.
- We saw a murmuration of starlings swirling above our heads as we walked along the wide, wooden pier in the grey, growing dusk.
- We rattled up and down the sea front on the tram, any city cynicism evaporating as the lights twinkled all around us.
A tram, decked out with lights and dressed as an ocean liner.
- We walked along the last part, enjoying the tableaux, listening to grandparents tell their grandchildren about the light shows they remembered from their own childhoods, reciting nursery rhymes, holding on tightly to tiny gloved hands.
Alice in Wonderland.
- Wine and cheese at Nick’s mum’s. We all agreed she looks like Helen Mirren.
What didn’t happen…
I didn’t have candy floss, whelks, a hot dog or my fortune told by Madame Petulengro. I also still want that pony key ring from the penny falls. For these reasons I must go back.
Breakfast pie – Note the whole eggs.
My great auntie Louie was an excellent baker and made delicious bacon and egg pies. Hers most definitely did not have pancetta in them, but I was trying to use up some things from the fridge and I had a nice chunk hogging a corner of the deli drawer. You can use just bacon if you like – just cook a bit of it to render out the fat to fry the onions in, and leave the rest raw to bake in the pie.
For the pastry
400g plain flour, plus more for flouring the surface and rolling pin
¾ tsp fine sea salt
100g lard, chilled and cut into cubes
100g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2-3 tbsps iced water
For the filling
80-100g pancetta, cut into small cubes
1 onion, diced
5-6 new potatoes, cooked and thickly sliced
4 slices streaky bacon, unsmoked or smoked, whichever you prefer, rind cut off and cut into small pieces
4 spring onions, white and pale green part only, finely sliced
6 eggs, plus 1 more for glazing and filling
80ml double cream
2 tbsps finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped sage leaves
A few gratings of nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A couple of pinches of flaky sea salt
1 tbsp finely chopped sage leaves
HP sauce, if you like
First make the pastry. Whisk together the flour and salt in a bowl then rub in the lard and butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs – you still want some lumps of fat in the dough to ensure a nice, flaky pastry. Make a well in the middle and add the eggs a little at a time, using a knife to cut them into the mixture. Add just enough water to bring it together into a dough, kneading very lightly with your hands to bring it together into a smooth disc. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. You can make this a day or so before you want to make the pie if you like. Of course, you can make this in a food processor but be very careful not to over process it – use the pulse button and only work it until it just comes together.
Lightly flour a clean surface and a rolling pin. Cut the dough in half and roll one piece out into a circle of approximately 30cm diameter. Use the pastry to line a 23cm loose-bottomed flan tin, pressing it gently into the corners, then trim and crimp the edges. Put it back into the fridge to chill. Roll the second half of the pastry out and trim into a 23cm circle (use a plate or the base of a flan tin as a template); place on a baking sheet and put it in the fridge. Chill the lined flan tin and the top for at least 30 minutes.
While the pastry is chilling, prepare the filling. Warm the butter gently over a medium heat and when it stops foaming, add the pancetta. Cook until it’s rendered some of its fat and turns lightly golden. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon. Tip the onions into the pan with a pinch of salt and a bay leaf and reduce the temperature to medium low. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Put the potatoes into the pan along with the reserved pancetta. Turn everything over for a couple of minutes then remove from the heat and discard the bay leaf. Cool.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/Gas 4. Place the lined flan tin on a baking sheet. Prick the base and sides with a fork. Line the tin with crumpled baking parchment and fill with baking beans and/or uncooked rice or pulses. Bake for 18 minutes. Remove the parchment and baking beans. Return the flan tin to the oven and bake for 7-10 minutes until the base is completely dried out and beginning to turn golden.
Increase the oven temperature to 200°C/180°C Fan/Gas 6.
Spoon half of the pancetta, onion and potato mixture into the bottom of the pie. Scatter on the bacon and spring onions, then spoon the remaining pancetta mixture over the top. Using the back of a spoon, make six evenly-spaced hollows around the edge of the pie. Crack a raw egg into each of the hollows.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining egg with the cream. Tip a couple of tablespoons of this mixture into a small bowl and reserve it to glaze the pie. Stir the sage, parsley and nutmeg into the remaining mixture and season well with salt and pepper. Pour over the top of the pie filling and give the tin a little shake to distribute it evenly. Brush the edge of the pie with some of the egg and cream wash. Carefully place on the remaining disc of pastry. It should be a good fit, with no overhanging pastry. Press it down firmly with your thumb or a fork to seal. Brush the top of the pie with the egg wash then sprinkle on the chopped sage and a little flaky sea salt. Cut three short slits in the middle of the pie to allow the steam to escape. Return the pie to the oven and cook for 30-35 minutes, until the pie is golden brown all over. Serve warm or cold, with brown sauce if you like.
From the Comedy Carpet, some food-based gags…