Celebrating Summer?: William Atkins’s ‘The Moor’

Now that spring has arrived (despite the rain and cold in Durham over the past week or so I am defiantly eating ice-cream and refusing to wear my coat), your thoughts, like mine, may be turning to the outdoors. Of course, my plans to undertake an expedition to walk the length of Hadrian’s Wall will probably remain just that – plans – for quite a while. Although the romanticism of such a journey – free from the shackles of modern life and at one with nature – is attractive, the reality of lugging a trangea stove and tent around the damp muddiness of the north of England is enough to make one pull the duvet over one’s head. Writer and editor William Atkins clearly has more stoicism than I, as he both planned and succeeded in walking across England’s moorlands. He recorded his journey in the exquisitely written book, The Moor: Lives, Landscapes, Literature (2014). This is a skilful interweaving of travelogue, natural history, political commentary, and literary meditation. in it, Atkins presents England’s moors as inhospitable, hauntingly beautiful, and absolutely vital to our society. Progressing northwards from Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, Atkins stops at the location of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn and the famed Yorkshire ‘setting’ for Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. He is an observer during grouse shooting season and a visitor to Dartmoor Prison, which maintains an eerie background presence in Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Atkins’ walking boots must have been well worn from wading through waterlogged, acidic soil by the time he reaches his final destination, Spaunton Moor. From the beginning, the story of Britain’s moorland is one of human exploitation, intensifying with increased wealth and technology. Atkins is committed not just to literary pilgrimage but to elegising this declining landscape. Refusing to see the moors through the monochrome glasses most of us wear, he finds surprising flashes of colour in the flowering heather and the glimpse of red grouse. DSC_0148 (2) It may be ironic, then, that Atkins when Atkins tucks into a humble Cornish pasty it is one produced for a national supermarket chain rather than made from scratch in a local kitchen. Unlike the moors, the Cornish pasty is far from being threatened. The pasty has been a central part of British food culture since the thirteenth century; justifiably so, since the rich buttery flavour of the slightly flaky pastry is absolutely delicious. Skilfully made pastry transforms the humble swede, onion and potato into a delectable feast. Originally baked without meat, the pastry is cheap to make and robust enough to transport. It was therefore the ideal food of Cornish miners, who ate the shell barehanded and threw away the grimy thick braid along the spine of the D-shaped pie. For those Cornish pasty purists among you, my recipe is hardly authentic. However, I have found that it produces more reliable results in my kitchen than a 100% traditional recipe. It’s easier than it looks, so give it a go. Recipe

400g plain flour
200g butter
175ml very cold water
150g potatoes
150g beef
1 onion
100g swede
Beaten egg
1.       Mixed the flour and salt in a large bowl. Grate the butter into the bowl. Mix roughly.
2.       Add the water and bring together to a rough ball. Do not overknead as this may make the butter melt. By keeping the pastry cold you will ensure that it produces a flaky case for the filling.
3.       Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for around 30 minutes.
4.       Slice the vegetables into small cubes.
5.       Divide the pastry into about 5 portions, depending on the size you want. Shape each portion into a ball and then roll out into circles. I find using a cereal bowl as a template helps here.
6.       Place the filling on each circle, working from one side to the other so that the ingredients are in rows.
7.       Brush a little beaten egg around the circumference of the circles, and then fold them over like a calzone pizza. Crimp the edges to make sure the pastries remain shut.
8.       Place each pastry on a greased baking tray. Brush with more beaten egg.
9.       Bake for 40 minutes at 180 degrees centigrade.

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