My wonderful host here in Lincolnshire, Fran, offered to take me out today to the big food market in Boston, and show me around a couple of the interesting foodie places around town.
I had no idea where she was taking me, so locked up my cottage and head downstairs. We head into Boston, and straight to the windmill Husni and I had seen from the other side of the river last saturday. Fran told me there was a nice man who ran the mill, and that we could take a tour up inside the windmill if we liked. We pulled up outside the old, early 19th century building, and walked in to meet this delightful elderly gentleman.
Tom Waterfield and his sons purchased and restored the Maud Foster Mill in 1987, and ever since then has been operating one of the finest examples of a Lincolnshire windmill (and the tallest in the country). He grinds only organic flour because otherwise in his words, ‘What is the point? We are using a specialty method, we can’t compete with the low quality brands. So we make the best.’
We trundled up the narrow, steep stairs hugging the inner walls of the windmill. Tom explained what each of the floors held, and what all the machinery does. We reached the grinding floor (known as the stone floor, as this is where the grinding stones reside and do their work), and he started to empty bags of grains into the top of each hopper, the bin that holds the grain, feeding it down into the ‘feed shoe’ which shakes the grain out into the eye of the millstones, grinding the grains between the stones.
It emerges around the edges as flour, goes down a spout and into a sack on the next floor.
I asked about the darkness of the flour that was feeding through from the stone floor above. Tom took me to the grains and grabbed a handful: ‘it’s spelt. That’s what gives it that darker colour. It’s an ancient grain, medieval.’
Lincolnshire Windmills are quite famous as far as windmills go, with the area at one point being home to over 500 windmills. They kept on developing long after being abandoned in other parts of the UK, so are quite distinctive in their style.
Known by many to be the finest examples, Lincolnshire windmills are identifiable by their onion-shaped cap on top, and many have more sails than other styles of windmill. Tom started telling us about the sails: at 37 feet, they are the longest working sails on a windmill in the UK. He started to tell us about a windmill in Tasmania that his son had helped to restore… wait up.
I asked, was that the Callington Mill? ‘That’s the one.’ he says.
Last year, Eric and I took a trip to Tasmania and I visited my first ever windmill. I was so excited to see how my favourite variety of flour (traditional stoneground) was made, and we made a detour so I could tour the mill. The owners of Callington had mentioned, come to think of it, of a few windmill experts in Lincolnshire, England who had come out to help restore it.
‘Oh, they just got back last week from another trip out there to help fix some things. You should talk to them…. This young lady has been to Callington Mill!’
I am sure I am the only tourist ever to step foot in that windmill, besides the owners, who had also visited Callington. What are the odds, out of the dozen or so windmills left operational in Lincolnshire, that I would by pure chance step into the one whose owners had built the only other windmill I had been to, located on the other side of the world.
And so started a long discussion about Tasmania, Australia in general, baking, types of flours, and the windmills themselves. The men told me how they had the parts for the windmill made not 20 miles from where we were standing, and how they had to trim down the sails by two feet because they wouldn’t fit in the shipping container. Callington Mill is the only working windmill of its type in the southern hemisphere, and the town is very proud of its traditional Lincolnshire windmill.
After a long chat, they sent me off with some books and bits and pieces and well wishes for my journey. Just another amazing bit of luck I have had on my wonderful journey.
We head into town and walked through St Botolphs Church, one of the largest parish churches in England, completed in 1390. Awe-inspiring and impressive, it is my first UK/Europe church and it was amazing. I can only imagine the others I am going to see on my journey…
We head around the corner to Churches tea rooms where we stopped for a pot of tea, and then head on to the Guild Hall where I learnt about Medieval times in the area. These were the cells where the Pilgrim Fathers were imprisoned for trying to flee to America!
We walked over to Mountains Boston Sausage, an artisan butcher that has been around since 1852. I had been talking to Fran about some of the regional meat products, and though I better try some of their famous delights.
I started with a slice of stuffed chine, a traditional dish of salt pork stuffed with herbs like parsley. I love some good cured meat, and the addition of the fresh parsley was a beautiful balance. I stuffed some sandwiches with it, with some tomatoes from the farm store.
Next up was an obscure ball of meat I had seen at a few local delis, which I found out was called haslet. No, this isn’t the American term for offal of pig. This is a ball of pork mince, sage, salt, white bread and pepper. Cooked and served with pickles generally, my butcher recommended slicing and frying. Think I will save that for breakfast. I also picked up some famous Lincolnshire sausages, also flavoured with sage rather than the typical peppery English sausage.
I was interested as to why there is so much use of sage in Lincolnshire meats. Obviously a popular medieval herb, there must have been more reason it was more popular here than elsewhere. A little research turned this up:
There has always been a plentiful supply of sage in Lincolnshire. Originating in the Mediterranean region, sage dislikes prolonged exposure to wet conditions. As Lincolnshire has one of the lowest annual rainfall levels in the UK, sage has always thrived in Lincolnshire soil.
Sage is a good meat preservative. It is rich in the naturally occurring antioxidant phenoxyethanol, and has been used as a meat preservative since Roman times. Indeed, the herb sage may well have been introduced into Lincolnshire by the Romans.
Last but not least was the delicious Lincolnshire Plum Bread. Plum, referring to tea-soaked currants, sultanas and orange peel, are baked into a treacle cake like loaf. I sliced, toasted, and covered in butter. And repeated. Four slices later, I thought it was probably time to stop. They recommend it enjoyed with a slice of Lincolnshire poacher cheese and a cup of tea. I have an oak smoked poacher in the fridge, so I shall give that a try tomorrow. Welbourne’s Bakery has been around since 1896, and make the most famous plum bread in the region. Along with the Lincolnshire Poacher Cheese and the Lincolnshire Sausage, these make up the most popular food exports from the region.
According to the bakery they have only changed their recipe once in the past 118 years, and that is to replace the lard with vegetable fat so that vegetarians can enjoy it too. I am trying to track down the recipe, though I think it is kept under lock and key. People evidently travel for miles to pick up a loaf (and I don’t doubt it), so I might have some work to do to try and replicate the recipe.