Monday, 10 June 2013

Road Trip! Marsden and Bainbridge do the WI AGM 2013

Lots of ladies...

On the last day of May, the sun was shining down on South Yorkshire when fellow SHWI member, Laura, and I set off nice and early for our road trip. The only cloud on our horizon? Embarking on the journey from Rotherham by the mode of transport most dreaded when faced with warm weather: the coach. Thankfully, sick bags were not needed and we tootled down to Bristol nattering away to women from other WIs from South Yorkshire. 

Not being the types to waste a trip, Laura and I decided that we deserved a drink on arrival and found some, errrm, interesting drinking establishments in which we could quench our thirst. The outing served to whet our appetites for dinner back at the hotel with the marvellous South Yorkshire contingent and I managed to bag a seat on Chairman Dorothy’s table.

Next, Laura and I hot-footed it across town to meet the lovely Michaela (aka Pretty Nostalgic writer and Gloucester Rd WI member). Michaela introduced us to a novel combination of some of the south-west’s finest products: Cheddar-flavoured cider on The Apple. Knowing we had an early start in the morning – and a long day ahead – we were fairly sensible and headed back to the hotel at a time Cinderella would have been wise to observe. Before we knew it, it was morning and the time had come for the main event: off to Cardiff and the WI AGM.


To say I was a wee bit excited about this would be a huge understatement. Singing Jerusalem with 4,000 members of the Women’s Institute, witnessing history being made, and getting to listen to both Griff Rhys-Jones and John Humphrys address the flock of women was certainly enough to ensure a spring in my step!

When we arrived, the Arena was literally buzzing. Before we took our seats, I spotted the Denman stall, where I chatted to marketing manager Katie, who'd featured pictures from our December trip to the college in this year’s brochure. We were later to be addressed by WI member Anne Harrison (offt' telly) about why we had to 'use or lose' the facilities at Denman.

What I could not have been prepared for was just how FEISTY it would become! The first item to address was proposed changes to the WI constitution, which at face value seemed perfectly reasonable proposals to modernise and reflect current legislation. But WI members saw fit to point out the chasm between the legalese-filled documentation and the top-line explanation we were provided. An emotive and emphatic discussion followed, but the changes were nonetheless passed.

Hands up
In an unexpected twist, Griff Rhys-Jones brought a serious air to the proceedings and it was John Humphrys who had us in fits laughter with his characteristically playful manner. The main thread of the former’s address was about protection of listed buildings and conservation of local areas in light of government plans to allow large extensions without requiring planning consent. It was left to John Humphrys to impress us with his impersonations, through a potted history of encounters, including the late Margaret Thatcher, Her Majesty the Queen and notably, an insight into Tony Blair’s private life. And when I say private, I mean best kept between him and Cherie! *ahem*

In a more serious vein, each year the WI chooses to campaign on an important issue of the day. Over the decades, the Women’s Institute movement has trail-blazed campaigns leading to significant shifts in public policy on issues ranging from increasing female police officers (1924), equal pay for equal work (1943), awareness of drug addition (1966) and artificially-produced human embryos (1983) to human trafficking (2004). 

A member from Sotonettes WI
and Rebecca from Tea and Tarts WI
This year, it was proposed that the WI take action to halt the decline of the high street. We heard from a number of notable speakers, before the discussion was opened out to the floor. Concerns were raised about the gap between those high streets packed full of pawnshops and bookmakers, and those teeming with vintage boutiques and gift shops – neither of which reflect the primary shopping habits of the majority. Again, the debate sought to clarify rather than dismiss the notion, with a significant majority voting in favour of backing the campaign.

One of the best things about the trip was catching up with WI members from other groups. I have a particular soft spot (and suspect I am far from alone) for Jean, the South Yorkshire – North Derbyshire Liaison Officer who some will recall came to our International Women's Day Event and who gave me a big hug and a kiss when we were reacquainted! We also got taken to lunch at swanky Cardiff eaterie, Chapel1877, by local WI representatives, Becki and Clare from Birchgrove WI (who we first met last December at Denman College), together with members from institutes across England and Wales, including Tea and Tarts, Cookridge Crumpets, Sotonettes, Creigian, Renaissance, Parkstone and Holybourne WIs. The lady from the latter of these, Jean Johnson, was responsible for Channel 4's A WI Lady's Guide to Brothels. 
Jen with the lovely Becki and Clare
from Birchgrove WI

Lastly, Laura was well-chuffed to have her day rounded off by being asked if she’d consider training to be a WI Advisor. It’s undoubtedly a feather in the cap of both Seven Hills and South Yorkshire to have her as a representative. 

What a fabulous trip all round! 

Love Jen x


PS Next year, the AGM's gonna be in Leeds!

*Photos by the wonderful Laura Bainbridge*

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Ye Olde Seven Hills WI Tudor Banquet...

SHWI member Grace
gets into the Tudor spirit!
Behold, good ladies of Seven Hills WI! On Friday 24 May, Sheffield’s Showroom Cinema Café Bar was brimming with gorebellies galore at the SHWI Dining Club’s latest event, Ye OldeTudor Banquet! The Showroom had very kindly offered to provide us with a bespoke menu of our choice and after consultation with our members, it became clear that SHWI ladies are suckers for a bit of historical action (oo-er!). With this in mind, Showroom Kitchen Chef Simon Ayres developed a menu based around traditional olde English fare from Tudor times, utilising seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients and presented with a very modern twist.

And here is his masterpiece:

Smoked mackerel and goat's milk tart
Roast Tongue - corned beef and kidney pudding

Food for the poor:

Pottage, honey, cheese and bread

Rabbit - posh pastry, rabbit loin, swede fondant, rabbit cutlet
Cod Mornay

Poor Knights’ Pudding - with rose water
Tarte of strawberries with cream…

…A feast worthy of a king, I’ve no doubt you’ll agree.

For the first time in the history of SHWI Dining Club, the event was opened up to friends and family of SHWI members and 21 of us gathered on two banquet tables and awaited the start of the scoffing, with the added nerve-wracking element of Mama Bainbridge ready to experience Laura’s organisational talent! 
Although the room was abuzz with excitement, it is rare that the event lives up to the anticipation. However, when our starters arrived, we quickly realised that verily, had we witnessed naught til that moment (or for non-16th Century dwellers, we hadn’t seen nothin’ yet). 
Smoked mackerel and goat's milk tart

Up first were the two starter dishes of smoked mackerel and goat's milk tart and mini steak and beef puddings with gravy and tongue. The Showroom’s clever and inventive organisation and presentation meant that, true to historical form, our dishes were presented on sharing platters, meaning that people could pick and choose at little (or as it transpired, a LOT) of what they fancied. The names of the dishes make them sound fairly straightforward but the complexity of ingredients made them a joy to behold (and munch). The flavour combination of salty mackerel with creamy goat’s cheese was enhanced by fresh dill and crunchy walnuts and additional texture was provided by the cheese-infused, crumbly, perfectly short pastry tart base. 

Beef puddings
The beef puddings were super savoury bombs of meaty goodness, packed with tender chunks of kidney and encased in a melt-in-the-mouth suet shell. These were served on a platter bejewelled with freshly podded broad beans, that dazzled like emeralds next to the chunky puds, and came with a side of intensely meaty, addictive gravy (Bainbridge actually drank half a jug of the stuff.) These may not have looked as elegant as the mackerel tarts, but who cares when they come served with gravy this good?

These culinary delights were followed by a VERY hearty serving of pottage (chunky root vegetable broth with slivers of bacon), served with three varieties of home-made bread and three British cheeses. First up was a Yorkshire Blue from Shepherds Purse - a delicate, creamy blue with a subtle tang, it was perfect drizzled with the honey and squished onto the poppy seeded bread. The most popular cheese seemed to be the Ribblesdale Goat’s cheese - not the usual soft, log-type chèvre, but a firm, mild cheese with a pretty pea-green wax. Last, but not least, was the Cornish Yarg - a nettle wrapped beauty: fresh, creamy and crumbly. There was so much bread and cheese left over, we cheekily asked for some takeaway boxes, to which the super-friendly staff happily obliged.

Most of us by this point were thoroughly glad we were not dressed in corsets as our Tudor counterparts would have been. Kudos to Grace Tebbutt, Chelle Cook, Victoria White and Jen Marsden who frankly must have managed to channel Henry VIII himself in order to finish their meals whilst be-costumed! However, despite our (historically accurate of course) full bellies, we were only half way through the banquet! 

Next up were the main courses of rabbit served three ways and Cod Mornay. The cod was served on a bed of peppery rocket and was cooked to perfection, soft skin holding together the beautiful cod that flaked to the touch, all covered in a mellow and creamy cheese sauce. 

The rabbit platter was a work of art laid out on a massive slate square - it was difficult to know where to start. Juicy rabbit loin, crammed with herb flecked stuffing and wrapped in pancetta was a definite highlight - t’old Bugs can be a little dry and bland sometimes, but not this time! There were also dainty crumbed cutlets served on sweet swede fondant and little posh shortcrust pasties too, because you can never have a rabbit too many ways. Amazingly, there was still room on the platter for ridiculously delicious mushrooms (salty, baked perhaps? Who cares -they were good!), super-sweet tomato, cleverly presented courgette pieces, more of those jewel-like beans and the obligatory smear of veggie puree. 

Poor Knight's Pudding
Finally, our intrepid diners were rewarded with two mouth-watering desserts of strawberry and cream tarte and Poor Knight’s Pudding with clotted cream. Many of us were intrigued at the sound of the latter dish, and there was certainly nothing ‘poor’ about it. Sweet, warm, fluffy mini pancakes were served drizzled with a perfectly tart berry compote. In glorious contrast was the smooth and simultaneously fresh tarte - a simple masterpiece of the thinnest, short-bread like pastry, filled with sweetened whipped cream and topped with fresh strawberries - it would not have looked out of place in a French patisserie window. Again, the generosity of the portioning meant many a tart was taken back home (in a box) to be enjoyed later when the savouries had been digested.

As our bonaire evening came to an end, our satisfied revellers headed home, taking with them full bellies and good memories. Universally positive feedback marvelled at the very generous portions, excellent service and the fantastic, flamboyant, fabulous culinary delights they had experienced. There was only one problem – after sampling the menus of both rich and poor Tudors, we honestly couldn’t decide if we would have preferred to be paupers living on pottage, bread cheese and Poor Knights’ Pudding, or great noblewomen feasting on an array of meat, fish, pastry and tarts. All that can be said is it’s easy to see why the Elizabethan era was called the ‘Golden Age’! To sum up: Most. Epic.Dining.Club.Ever.

Strawberry tarts

Showroom + SHWI Dining Club = Foody, Tudor-y, heaven.

Anna Pilson and Laura Bainbridge
SHWI committee members and Dining Club organisers