Mysteries of Home Smoking Unveiled at Kendal Festival of Food 2014

Smoky Jo and George demonstrating the art of home smoking at Cumbria Food Festival 2014

Simply Smoking Food. Smoky Jo (right) and George (left) demonstrating the art of home smoking at Cumbria Food Festival 2014

On Sunday Kendal was looking very fine in bright sunshine and delicious aromas wafted about the many street stalls of Kendal Festival of Food 2014. We were some of the happy visitors who thronged the stalls after attending a presentation on food smoking by Smoky Jo in The Shakespeare Centre. It was our first time and in retrospect, I wish we’d gone on Saturday too because there was so much to see and taste.

What drew us was the food preparation demonstration but we stayed on to enjoy browsing the fantastic street stalls that offered an amazing range of tempting fare including biscuits, cheeses, breads and pastries, chocolates, fine coffee, preserves, pickles and meats.

It was great seeing people enjoying the warm sunshine and festival atmosphere.

My wife and I enjoy smoked food as a treat. The smoking process doesn’t overpower the flavours of food, it translates and elevates them. While smoked bacon, ham, sausage and salmon were the gateway to smoked foods for me, beyond this portal awaits a whole culinary world of variety with plenty of options for vegetarians. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like smoked food, but through Smoky Jo’s presentation I gained a whole new appreciation of what goes into preparing good smoked food. It takes 10 hours to properly smoke 500 gms of a good hard cheese, like cheddar!

We learned this and more besides from Smoky Jo’s demonstration at this year’s Kendal Food Festival. In a short hour, Jo Hamson gave us a surprisingly comprehensive and entertaining taste of the art of food smoking, or should I say the alchemy, for it certainly feels like an experimental quest to develop the food that you personally like. Her enthusiasm is very infectious. She explained that there’s great scope for preparing full meals such as briskets, salmon and trout, and snack foods and ingredients such as cheeses and nuts. After introducing the principles of hot and cold smoking and discussing the equipment with us, she set up a table-top hot smoker (a Cameron) and showed us a cold smoking box that prepares food at less than 25 degrees Celsius, ideal for cheeses. There was a handy video-feed to a large screen that showed what was happening on the counter top.

Jo with the eco-smoking box. Yes, really, you can smoke food with this box and a cold smoker coil.

Jo with the eco-smoking box. Yes, surprisingly you can smoke food with this box and a cold smoker coil.

While in hot smoking, the food is both smoked and cooked through, in cold smoking the food is impregnated with smoky flavour but remains raw to be eaten as is (such as cheese or fruit), or later cooked conventionally such as your brisket.  Jo explained that cold smoking produces stronger flavours that are retained in later oven or skillet cooking. She then explored the variety of foods that tend to smoke well, giving relevant details and tips on timing for the various delicacies. People smoke a very wide range of foods! They even smoke salt, flour and water for use in dishes.  She discussed the ins and outs of brining food in preparation for smoking and the flavouring of the smoke and of the food itself. There are various stages in the preparations where you can happily experiment to fine-tune the results to suit your palate, the brine marinade phase is a good example, though not to be used with pre-processed meat.

Jo’s presentation was very information-rich but not bewilderingly technical, and I found it full of surprises.   There was some amusing repartee between Smoky Jo and Smoky George about certain experimental foods that they personally favoured. Smoked bananas! Smoked wine? Those who like it, like it well!

people sampling examples of smoked cheese, olives, trout and salmon

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the food samples were snapped up!

It was useful to hear the types of wood and other materials such as peat, tea, herbs and rice that can be used, and the types of fuel to avoid – no resinous or pithy woods are suitable and tea-bag tea is inferior to the leaf.  The volumes required are quite modest, a handful of Oak dust served very well in the example of hot smoked salmon that Jo prepared before us. The salmon was brined.

After her presentation she and George laid out a selection of smoked food and invited the audience to come up and try it. It was delicious and went down well. We enjoyed their smoked olives, almonds, cashews, cheddar cheese, trout and salmon.

Jo convinced me that home food smoking is both within most people’s capabilities and most people’s means and that it is worth trying ourselves. We bought their book Smoking Food At Home With Smoky Jo to investigate further.

Jo and George run popular 1 day and weekend residential  food smoking courses at Castlehowe, Cumbria and have won accolades in the media and featured on TV.

Shap Chippy serves their great smoked sausage, ‘The Smoky Jo’.

There’s lots of other great smoked food in Cumbria too of course,  notably cheeses and trout and of course you don’t have to smoke your own food to enjoy it.

I’m pleased to see that in Penrith, not far from the Alhambra Cinema, a new shop called Smoked In The Lakes, dedicated to smoked food has opened recently, my wife and I found their sandwiches to be superb. Their smoked cashews are out of this world too.

I’m very pleased to have seen Jo’s presentation because it helped me understand the processes behind smoked food.

The food stalls were really nicely presented, this stall of Gingerbread from Grasmere being a great example

The food stalls were really nicely presented, this stall of  Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread from Grasmere being a great example

After the presentation we were ready for some lunch. The food stalls were really impressive.

Peter Gott wrapping the best pork pie I have ever tasted. He farms rare breed pigs and wild boar at Sillfield farm, just 3 miles or so from Kendal.

Peter Gott wrapping the best pork pie I have ever tasted. He farms rare breed pigs and wild boar at Sillfield farm, just 3 miles or so from Kendal.

I love good pies and when I saw these Wild Pork Pies for sale I just had to try one. It was a fantastic treat. That’s my dream pastry to filling ratio there. The meat was delicious, perfectly seasoned and very succulent. Trade was brisk so there wasn’t much time for a chat then and there, but I learned from the Sillfield Farm website that Peter Gott and his wife Christine are famous for their free-range farmed food. Chefs regularly visit their farm as part of their training. The Gotts have been farming at Sillfield Farm, Gatebeck, for 20 yrs , rear their wild boar on 16 acres of woodland and have gained a well-deserved reputation for excellence, having won awards and featured on TV as exemplars of fine, fresh free-range farm produce. When I said how much I enjoyed his pies he said  “I’m glad you like them. As I tell the Chefs, nine tenths of good cheffing is good shopping and that relies on good rearing.”

No wonder they visit Sillfield Farm to learn about that!

The best pork pie I have ever tasted. Savoury lean wild boar with lots of jelly, evenly  dispersed and lovely crisp crust from Sillfield Farm.

Savoury lean wild boar with lots of jelly, evenly dispersed, and lovely crisp golden crust from Sillfield Farm.

I found Kendal Festival of Food 2014  a very impressive event and thoroughly recommend it.