Louisa Walters gets a taste for Jewish life in one of Britain’s oldest cities
The history of the Jews in York is pretty well known but not at all pretty. I refer, of course, to the 150 York Jews who lost their lives on 16 March 1190 in York Castle, where they were taking refuge from the mobs who were attacking Jewish properties in the city.
Rabbi Yom Tov (great name) commanded them to take their own lives rather than fall into the hands of the mob, and most did. Those who didn’t were massacred and the wooden castle was set on fire. Despite this tragedy, the community continued to flourish and between 1210 and 1250 the Jews of York contributed more tax to the King’s coffers than the whole of London.
Today, a stone edifice called Clifford’s Tower stands on the site of the old wooden castle and visitors to the monument can learn about what went on there more than 800 years ago. But when I visited York last summer, I didn’t do that. T
ruth be told, I’ve done it before.
For this trip I focused on something equally Jewish-related – food!
STAY….. At the magnificent Middlethorpe Hall, a splendid Historic House Hotel and National Trust property just outside the city centre with a spa and an award-winning restaurant run by talented chef Ashley Binder. Prefaced by drinks and canapes in the wonderfully traditional antique-laden lounge, dinner in the wood-panelled dining rooms overlooking the gardens is a first-class, candlelit, silver service treat worth getting dressed up for. Breakfast is olde-school English country-hotel style (yes, of course I had kippers) and definitely the best way to start the day.
ENJOY….. Bettys for lunch (it’s de rigueur to go to Bettys at least once during a visit to York) and I tucked in to the best Eggs Royale in the country and then stocked up on tea, shortbread, jams and chutneys in the shop (which you can also buy online).
BOOK….. The Yorkshire Food Finder Trek in the City which launched in 2012 and celebrates the finest food and drink England’s largest county has to offer with one-day trails run by husband-and-wife team Aidan and Sue Nelson, who take you behind the scenes of artisan food producers. The Trek in the City is a serious foodie treat, because not only do you get to learn about how various things are made and sample them, you also get to try your hand at making them.
Our day began with a visit to Puckett’s Pickles, a successful pickle and chutney business run by Sarah Puckett in her tiny Victorian terraced house. We studied Sarah’s grandmother’s handwritten pickle recipes that form the basis of the various flavours she makes today, using only locally-sourced fruits and vegetables. This one-woman powerhouse produces 2,000 jars each week for farmers markets and delicatessens in York and further afield. I made my own version of picked cucumbers (see pic) and they tasted fab.
Our second stop was Haxby Bakehouse, where Phil Clayton explained the traditional slow fermentation methods for his ‘real bread’. Fermentation starts at least 16 hours before the dough goes into the oven and the traditional process gives the breads plenty of flavour without the need for artificial flour improvers and additives. They also use less salt than many industrial bakers, without compromising on flavour.
Next up was chocolate. Peter Guppy gave up a career in the financial services sector to embrace his passion for chocolate and in just five years expanded the business from his kitchen table to a modern industrial unit that, despite the clinical look and feel, is still very much the home of artisan-made chocolate. Peter took us right through the chocolate-making process, from bean to block, and we had the chance to make our own.
At York Coffee Emporium Philippa Beardmore took us through the journey travelled by the (green – who knew?) coffee bean from plantation to cup and gave us several different varieties to sample. The mere smell of the place is enough to entice any coffee lover and I learnt so much about making and drinking great coffee – instant will never cut it again.
The trail culminated in dinner at The Star Inn the City, a stunning riverside restaurant housed in an old engine house on the edge of York’s Museum Gardens. Here we feasted (literally!) on a specially created menu featuring the produce seen on the trail and other great Yorkshire food.
The Trek in the City is just one of various food trails run by Yorkshire Food Finder and they can also create bespoke trails.