Tag Archives: OctoberFeast

An evening with Dan Lepard at The Hearth, Lewes

Intro

Dan Lepard is my baking hero. If you know my blog(s) you’ll know I mention him a fair amount. His book The Handmade Loaf was the encouragment I needed to take my baking to the next level, and I had a great run making his reliable recipes from The Guardian, now collected in Short and Sweet. So I had some fanboy excitment when I heard he was doing a day at The Hearth pizzeria and bakehouse in Lewes, arranged by proprietor Michael Hanson.

Taking place on Tuesday 30 September, this was surely one of the biggest days of Lewes Octoberfeast, and indeed The Hearth has been at the heart of the 2014 festival. Dan had three events over the course of the day: classes Bread Made Simple and The Big (Cake) Bang Theory, then an evening meal, prepared in The Hearth’s wood-fired oven.

Heads down

As Michael said in his introduction, a hearth is “where people are around a fire, sharing stories, in each other’s company” and you can’t argue with the warmth, literal and metaphorical, that comes from a wood-fired oven. It also gives a remarkable depth and richness to any food cooked in it – both in flavour terms but also in more rarified, almost spiritual terms. This is real cooking: wood, smoke, oven walls with serious mass, ancient technology.

Desserts on hearth

For the meal itself, Dan, aided by Michael, food and travel writer Andy Lynes and The Hearth team, prepared a series of hearty dishes that carried on this theme of warmth, real food, depth of flavour, all eminently suitable for the last day of September, where our Indian summer is finally giving way to a change of seasons and the food cravings that accompany cooler weather.

Bagna cauda

First up flatbreads with a bagna cauda. I’d not encountered the latter before, but it’s a hot dip originally from Piedmont/Piemonte, northwest Italy. Dan’s version was an intense, thick, oily and salty, as only serious anchovy-based dishes can be, and was served with flatbread. It included oregano brought back by Emilio and Diane, who we shared a table with, from Emilio’s Sicilian hometown of Pachino (of tomato fame).

Chopping pork

The main course was shoulder of pork, with sage, lemon and garlic. The woodfired oven is perfect for proper, slow-cooked pork, and Dan said they cooked this for about four hours. It was served with crisped-up polenta slice, roasted celeriac and potato, and mushroom and borlotti bean stew. I hope Fran isn’t reading this as she’ll be really sad she wasn’t able to make it, as these are some of her favourite things, excellently done.

Apple crumble cake with gelato

The desert was one an apple and pine nut cake served with Amaretto and raisin gelato. It was a delicious, surprisingly delicate desert. The cake is based on one of Dan’s recipes for the Sydney Morning Herald, and he explained how cooking apple in orange utilises the ascorbic acid to preserve the natural sweetness, resulting in a need for less added refined sugar. And cakes with some form crumble on the top are always a winner in my book (cf toscakaka, streusel cake).

Last bit of cake

All in all, a great evening, hosted by two men who combine experience with enthusiasm, to paraphrase Dan quoting Forbes. An evening that played to the strengths of a wood-fired oven, which isn’t just for pizza – though The Hearth remains one of the few places I’ve had a decent pizza in England. Let’s hope Dan Lepard comes back to The Hearth more in future, to spread knowledge – and cook great food.

(Oh, and usual apologies about the photography. I’m really not a photographer, despite being the only one wielding a DSLR yesterday evening. Not only was Dan a professional photographer, I also met Susan Bell that evening, which throws these bodges in a very sorry light.)

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Lewes OctoberFeast – apple juice, pizza and pulled beef

I know it has absolutely nothing to do with bread, cakes or ale, but I was really excited to hear that an apple press was being set up for two weekends of Lewes OctoberFeast (which is actually more of a SeptemberFeast). People could collect their own apples, or their neighbours’, or apples from wild trees, or whatever, and bring them along to be made into juice.

When we moved back into our house in Lewes at the end of December 2013, one of our two old apple trees had produced loads of fruit, which was all lying rotting on the ground. It drives me mad to think our tenants were probably buying apples shipped from New Zealand or South Africa – or even France – while ones went to waste in their garden.

I vowed to utilise them this year, but the ripening has coincided with out period of no kitchen (10 and half weeks and counting), so I couldn’t make any chutney; instead, we gathered a small backpack full and took them to John Downie’s press in the Market Tower. Which was disappointingly quiet – considering how many other apple trees I see being neglected, and considering how much effort those running it go to, it should have been thronged. Quite possibly  it wasn’t publicised enough.

Apple pressing 1

Just one small backpack produced nearly three litres of delicious fresh juice. Wonderful.

Apple pressing 2

Afterwards, we wandered off in the direction of the Street Food Feast, taking place in the yard of Harveys brewery, picking up some bread en-route at Flint Owl, one of the two great real bread places that opened up in Lewes during our two years away in Rome.

Flint Owl shop

Much as I’m missing home baking, I’m enjoying the excuse to try the locally baked breads.

The street food feast was a lovely event. Harveys had their beer wagon set up, a chap was playing a lute (or somesuch exotic instrument) and people were sitting around on beer crates enjoying the wares.

We had some pizzas from the mobile oven of The Hearth, the excellent Lewes pizzeria and bakehouse.

Toppings

Lewes isn’t a great place for restaurants – there are very few, and they’re mostly not great for buon rapporto prezzo qualita (“good balance between price and quality”, ie value for money). Lewes is more a pub town. Indeed, it’s an excellent pub town, but while some of them do decent pub food, those tend to be the ones that don’t necessarily do the best beer. Gah! And, weirdly, for a small town, we have every single rubbish pizza chain you can think off – so The Hearth is a real relief, especially after moving home from Italy.

The restaurant above the bus station has a wood-fired oven, but owner Michael Hanson honed his skills with his mobile rig at festivals. And here it was in the Harveys yard yesterday being ably driven by big-haired Big Pat.

Pat and pizza oven

Now, I must say I prefer cubed mozzarella blocks to this pre-grated stuff, but I imagine Michael uses it for the mobile set-up as it’s a lot easier. (They use both, as well as mozzarella di bufala, in the restaurant.)

Hearth pizzas

After the pizzas we also had to head for a truck called Spade and Spoon, as the carnaholic Fran had spied it did pulled beef, slowed cooked in Harveys ale. This looked like just my sort of place too, as they had an emphasis on good provenance. I’m sick to the eye teeth of pubs saying “we use seasonal and local food” then having menus clearly based on imported produce or stuff from cash and carries. Spade and Spoon looked more credible though, thankfully.

This is where things got a bit strange. Not the very slow-moving queue, which was just boring. I mean the fact that the night before I’d been to a gig in Brighton featuring my very talented friend Angeline Morrison*, who I’ve known since the early 1990s. When Fran got to the front of the Spade and Spoon queue to help carry our pulled beef in buns, chicken wrap and beetroot burger back to our other chums, the guy making my burger said “Dan!”. I looked up and said, “Dan!” This was another old friend from the same period when I met Angeline – indeed, Angeline may well have broken up with me then gone out with Other Dan. I’d not seen Dan for about 15 years, and hadn’t seen Angeline for about five either, so it was a strange coincidence.

Dan’s beetroot burger was very good too. Though I think he perhaps need to employ one more, faster chef in his food truck.

Spade and Spoon

Afterwards all this gorging on the savouries, and shock of the coincidence, we perused the sweets. Now, as much as I like a good honest British sponge cake, I would say there were a few too many at this event. We did, however, find one lady doing delicious chocolate hazel-nut meringues, which just hit that desert spot, thanks very much.

 

 

*Here’s a classic track from Angeline:

Here’s some more of her stuff on Soundcloud, plus look out for the upcoming album of her new outfit, The Mighty Sceptres.

 

 

 

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