Sunday, May 3, 2009

Through the looking glass: Cheshire sans cat

'Cheshire Puss,' Alice began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. `Come, it's pleased so far,' thought Alice, and she went on. `Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'

'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat. `I don't much care where--' said Alice. `Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat. `--so long as I get SOMEWHERE,' Alice added as an explanation. `Oh, you're sure to do that,' said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.'

On Thursday night, with the prospect of long weekend stretching out before us, the last weekend until July not booked up with all manner of exciting engagements, plans and commitments, Mr 9BR and myself had a hankering for an adventure. Like the intrepid Alice, we did not mind where the adventure took us, as long as we ended up SOMEWHERE. How appropriate then that our journey took us to Cheshire, the shire which lends its moniker to the Cat in Alice's tale. We took a last minute ferry to Holyhead, and as seemingly all lodging in Wales was occupied, we continued on to Chester, on the Welsh/English border. Chester is a lovely Tudorian/Edwardian/Roman town, one of those lovely capsules of English history where layer upon layer of history leave an eclectic footprint of those who were there before us.

In between bouts of rowing down the river (pretending our names were Cole and Penelope), walking the walls of the city and ambling along the Groves by the river, we managed to taste a respectable amount of cask ales and local food. It struck me how committed even the smallest places were to the provenance of the food and drink they put their names to. Stand out favourites had to be the Albion, a 'family hostile' pub and the airy Spitting Feathers, the brew tap of a local craft brewery based in a restored Jacobian hall. We ate at Spitting Feathers twice, the first night dining on locally produced sausages and pheasant and ham hock pie; the second on hearty club salad and wedges of rich black pudding, accompanied by SF's own and guest ales. I enjoyed the rich nutty Velvet Mild, while Mr 9BR seemed very satisfied with the Thirstquencher, a hoppy pale ale. Like most English style ales, they were lower in alcohol than their German or Belgian counterparts, and served slightly below room temperature. Hand pumped, all of the 5 beers we sampled were robust, malty and while good, not wildly discernible from one and other.

The best find of the trip however would have to be the Peronelle's Blush cider, made by the excellent Aspall Cydery in Suffolk. This cider is blended with a blackcurrant liqueur, and is a gorgeous frivolous shade of pink. The smooth, silky drink evokes thoughts of garden parties, punting on the river and impromptu spring picnics. Served in a balloon-like glass with perfectly geometric ice-cubes, it felt like the perfect drink for our adventure, summery, whimsical and very boozy.

Since Peronelle's is not yet available in Ireland, I have adapted my own version, similar to a Kir Royale. Suitable for serving from a teacup- very 'Wonderland'.

Aspall Draught or Organic Cider 500mL
Creme de Cassis or Chambord 50mL
Ice cubes
Divide icecubes between 2 red wine glasses.
Pour half the Cassis over the icecubes.
Top slowly with Cider.
Perfect as an aperitif or with desert: would be perfect with rhubarb crumble or rosewater and pistachio semi-freddo.

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