Country food after a walk in England's Lake District

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The wild grandeur of England's Lake District must be seen to be believed. Fells and pikes covered in moss, grass, and rusty bracken descend upon a network of lakes whose names are as beautiful as their appearance: Windermere, Wast Water, Crummock Water, Bassenthwaite, Derwent Water, and Grasmere. No wonder this remote corner of Cumbria provided inspiration for two of England's greatest poets: Wordsworth and Coleridge.

Today the Lake District remains a haven for those who want to get away from it all. For the unspoiled beauty of the area is stunning, especially when you reach it after traveling through the grime of the industrial north.

On a salubrious spring morn, hikers in bright clothes and stout hob-nailed boots, pack picnic lunches and head for the hills. Out of season, i'ts possible to walk all day without seeing another person. But in the evenings, people meet up at small country inns where great fires blaze, and good country food is served in beamed dining rooms.

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One such place is The Pheasant Inn, a charming 16th century hotel which is tucked neatly around the corner of Bassentwaite Lake, under the shadow of mountain and moor. The accommodation here is particularly pleasant since most rooms have postcard perfect views across the lake to the grassy slopes beyond. It is also renowned for it justly famous lakeland cuisine and is mentioned in nearly every good food guide in england. When we were last there it lived up to its reputation.

Traditional Lake District food is hearty and rib-sticking. The area's longstanding reputation as a tourist resort, however, has demanded that it develop a certain sophistication to its culinary style.

Local favorites include roast mutton from sheep fed on the sweet grass of the dales, jugged hare, duckling, venison, lamb. Platters of cold meats include Cumberland ham, boild tongue, and beef. Rainbow trout and char from the freshwwater lakes are plentiful and delicious simply broiled in butter and lemon. Poached fresh salmon is another wonferful treat, served either hot or cold.

Other delicacies include savoury Cumberland sausage, and homemade black puddings.

Cumberland sausage can be seen hanging in long coils in the windows of butchers throughout the area. Spicy, and full of flavor, I think it is the best sausage in England, and a meal in itself, broiled or fried, and served with thick-cut, "chips."

Black pudding is a type of sausage made from cooked blood, cereals, herbs and spices. Though to some who have never tried this north country specialty the name may not sound attractive, it is truly superb. We like it at breakfast with fried tomatoes and bread, cold for lunch, or used as an ingredient in some of the area's renowned stews.

When we are in the Lake District, we find that we spend much specialty the name may not sound attractive, it is truly superb. We like it at breakfast with fried tomatoes and bread, cold for lunch, or used as an ingredient in some of the area's renowned stews.

When we are in the Lake District, we find that we spend much of the day out-of-doors. Therefore, I like nothing better than to come back to the simple cooking of Cumbria -- the traditional "hot pots," taties, pies, and puddings which are so warm and satisfying.

Here are some of our favorite recipes which taste all the better if you've spent the day in the wind and fresh air. Cumberland Hot Pot 1 ounce beef drippings, lard, or oil for frying

Place a layer of mushrooms over the meat. Sprinkle with rosemary, salt and black pepper. Add not gravy and onions. Arrange potatoes on top and brush with drippings. 3/4 pound frozen shortcrust or puff pastry or 1/2 recipe basic pie crust 1 pint beef stock Salt Freshly ground pepper 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced 1 teaspoon rosemary, finely chopped 1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and sliced into rings.

Heat fat in a frying pan. Coat lamb and kidneys in seasoned flour, and brown in the fat on all sides. Transfer to a deep casserole with a slotted spoon to drain off excess fat.

Fry onions in the same drain off excess fat. let it brown. Slowly add stock, stirring all the time until it becomes a smooth gravy. Season well.

Place a layer of mushrooms over the meat. Sprinkle with rosemary, salt and black pepper. Add hot gravy and onions. Arrange potatoes on top and brush with drippings.

Cover and place in a moderatee oven, 350 degrees F. for 1 1/2 hours. Remove lid and coof for further 20 minutes to brown potatoes. Serve immediately. Fisherman's Pie 1 pound filleted white fish (cod, haddock, whiting, or hake) 2 cups milk Salt Freshly ground black pepper 1 small onion 1 bay leaf 2 ounces butter 1 ounce (4 tablespoons) flour 4 ounces button mushrooms, chopped For the toppingm 1 pound potatoes, boiled and mashed with plenty of milk amd butter 2 ounces (1/4 cup) grated cheese

Place fish in an ovenproof dish with milk, salt, pepper, small onion, and bay leaf. Cover and bake gently in a moderate oven, 350 degrees F.20 minutes or until tender.

Take fish from dish, discard onion and any skin, and flake fish with a fork. Strain and reserve liquid.

Melt half the butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour and cook 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Gradually add strained cooking liquid from fish and stir rigorously after each addition. When smooth and creamy, slowly bring to the boil, stirring constantly.

Fold fish and chopped mushrooms lightly into sauce, and transfer to a deep pie dish. Cover with a layer of mashed potatoes. Leave potatoes in rough peaks and sprinkle liberally with grated cheese.

Bake at 400 degrees F. about 15 minutes, or until topping is golden. Serve immediately.

This is my mother-in-law's recipe for this traditional favorite. I think the curry gives this pie particular zest. Steak and Kidney Pie 3 ounces butter 2 pounds round or chuck steak, cut into 1 inch cubes 4 lamb's kidneys, cleaned and chopped Seasoned flour 1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced 2 cups good brown stock Salt Freshly ground black pepper 2 teaspoons mild curry powder 3/4 pound frozen shortcrust or puff pastry or 1/2 recipe basic pie crust beaten egg

Coat steak and kidney in seasoned flour. Heat butter in a saucepan, then slowly brown steak. Put in only a few pieces at a time to ensure that they are sealed on all sides. Remove, then brown kidneys.

Arrange steak, kidneys, and sliced mushrooms in a large pie dish.

Stir more seasoned flour into the saucepan in which the meat was browned, and cook for a few minutes. Slowly add stock, stirring all the time, until it becomes a thick gravy. Season well, and stir in curry powder.

Pour gravy into the pie so that meat is almost covered. Cover with a lid, or with foil, and cook for 1 1/2 hours in a low oven, 300 degrees F.

When cooked, allow dish to cool. Meanwhile, thaw and roll out pastry. When pie is cool, cover with a pie crust. Decorate with pastry off-cuts, and brush with a little beaten egg.

Bake in a very hot oven 450 degrees F. for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 375 degrees F. for a further 15 to 20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. Serve piping hot.

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