Our bedroom habits, revealed in this space a week ago, continue unabated and unashamed. I still keep my electric blanket turned up to gas-mark nine every night, and lie there gently sizzling while Jane reads recipes from Florence White's remarkable collection, Good Things In England. Out of bed, meanwhile, I've been doing some homework on Florence, or Flossie as she preferred to be called. She died unmarried in 1940, and in her 1938 autobiography A Fire In The Kitchen, recalled the seismic event that was to shape her life, the death of her mother when she, Flossie, was just five. That was "followed by the loss of my right eye. After that, sorrows came not as single spies but in battalions ... Yet I can honestly say that no girl or woman I have ever known has had a richer or fuller life."
Much of that life was devoted to the myriad culinary traditions of England, which she fought ferociously to protect, her avowed aim being to "capture the charm of England's cookery before it is completely crushed out of existence". At various times a dressmaker, a lady's maid, a governess and a freelance journalist, Flossie would have liked Michael Leviseur, at various times a nurse, a publican, a thatcher and a Harris tweed weaver, who now, with his wife Debbie, runs The Organic Smokehouse in deepest Shropshire.
I first met Michael about five years ago at the medieval fayre in Ludlow. Like all the stallholders there he was obliged to wear medieval garb, a spectacle which never fails to tickle me; as if it's not hard enough for bespectacled Darren from Kidderminster to flog his 'magic vegetable slicer', he has to do so dressed as an early Plantagenet. Michael, however, sported a sackcloth cowl with something approaching panache.
We fell into conversation and he told me a lovely story about his smoked butter, which had intrigued an illustrious visitor to Ludlow Farmers' Market the previous summer. "Smoked butter, I've never heard of smoked butter," the Queen kept muttering. Michael duly gave some to a lady-in-waiting, and a few weeks later got an order from Balmoral – the Duke of Edinburgh wanted some more butter for his barbecue. I wrote at the time that Michael could reasonably claim to supply the Windsors "by royal astonishment" but now he's gone the whole smoked hog and got his official royal warrant, which is a big deal for a smoking operation that still operates out of the corner of a farmyard in the peaceful Clun Valley.
I drove up there a few days before Christmas. It was beginning to snow. Outside their little smokery – the word 'shed' would also do – the ground was covered in what looked like thousands of bits of polystyrene. Inside the smokery, meanwhile, the ground was covered in what were thousands of bits of polystyrene, as the packing and despatching of smoked salmon reached fever-pitch. Somehow, Michael found time for a brief chat. He told me the exciting news about the royal warrant, but asked me to keep it under my hat until the new year. He also gave me some of their latest products, which is how we came to have what my mother-in-law thought was a catheter bag in our fridge over the festive season. In fact it was a bag of The Organic Smokehouse's smoked water, in which Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck apparently cooks his lentils. So we did too, and they were splendid, although friends and relatives no longer do a double-take when they open the fridge, which is a bit of a shame.
Of course, you can't keep secrets in the world of multiple Michelin-star cooking. Michael has now had an email enquiring about the smoked water from Edouard Xantrach, the buyer at the famous El Bulli restaurant near Barcelona. He also has a contract with HE Butt, the American supermarket chain which basically feeds Texas, for 1,000 packets of smoked salmon a fortnight. Yet amid all this import-export razzle-dazzle he still cycles to the station once a week and puts a package of salmon on the train to Llanwrtyd Wells, where it is collected by a local restaurateur. The salmon travels for £3.35, on an 'unaccompanied child' ticket. And Llanwrtyd Wells, in case you didn't know, is also the home of the world bog-snorkelling championships. These are all facts that I think would have pleased dear old Flossie White very much indeed.Reuse content