In her second guest column, food writer and cook Jan Fullwood discovers some fabulous fungi at the Millstream Pub Shop on Port Vale in Bengeo and shares another tasty recipe
Bengeo residents need no introduction to The Millstream on Port Vale in Hertford. Throughout the pandemic the pub has been incredibly proactive, adapting its business, and keeping the community well cared for. So what have mushrooms to do with a public house, you may well ask?
Walk into the dark interior on a Friday or Saturday morning and you’d be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into Borough Market. An array of the most perfect vegetables are the first thing to greet you in this alternative universe. Where once we sat and sipped a brew or two, there are now tables of tempting breads, cakes and pastries, plus savoury delicacies, fresh from the pub kitchen, made by the chef’s own fair hand. Venture further in and you’ll find fantastically fresh fish and quality meats used in their own kitchens, as well as locally sourced specialities, such as exclusive local smoked salmon.
This is the Shop@thePub, courtesy of manager Nikki Clarke. Owner of Emmie Murphy’s village store in Little Berkhamsted, it has long been her aim to combine the two businesses, and Covid and its Lockdown restrictions gave her very good reason to make it happen.
Nikki has refused to let the small matter of a pandemic stand in her way. She has been busy finding ways to keep the locals happy while they can’t nip out for the usual pint or two; providing essential support for vulnerable locals, helping to keep people safe and sane. She is clearly proud of the team and the suppliers she has built up, championing local producers wherever possible, from bread makers to vegan products. The takeaway menu has been a huge success (this was the day before they were preparing to deliver 160 Sunday lunches for Mother’s Day), and the shop is now an established part of the package. The steady stream of customers is a testimony to its success.
I fill my basket, and I’m first drawn to those magnificent mushrooms, perfectly formed for cramming with vibrant vine tomatoes and roasting with the goat’s cheese I find on the next table. I can’t resist a pastry treat (my Lockdown weakness), decide to try the black pudding scotch egg and select a beautifully marbled piece of beef for my Mother’s Day lunch. My idea of food heaven.
There’s even more to look forward to at the pub once restrictions are lifted. They have invested in garden pods to allow the return to COVID-safe dining once they reopen, though pods is hardly the right term, “They’re my own design,’ says Nikki, explaining that they were in the pipeline but that COVID was the “kick up the backside we needed to make them a reality”.
Shopping and eating habits have changed enormously over the last year, and although there has been a dramatic shift to internet shopping, we still crave the more intimate and personal experience. The Shop@the pub may have been born out of necessity, but its success means it will continue long after the pandemic has gone.
And besides, life is never too short to stuff a mushroom, you’ve just got to grab them while you can.
Magnificent Stuffed Mushrooms
Choose large open cup mushrooms, 1-2 per person depending on their size.
For the filling:
8 cherry tomatoes from the vine
2-3 sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
100g tub soft goat’s cheese, or cheese of choice
1-2 tbsp pesto
1-2 tbsp pine nuts, or fresh breadcrumbs
Feel free to be flexible with the fillings.
If you crave a meaty version, add diced bacon or chorizo if you wish. Just fill them up and cook as follows:
Gently wipe your mushrooms to remove any dirt and brush with a little oil, then sit on a baking sheet or ovenproof dish
Break off the stalk and roughly chop. Return it to the mushroom cavity.
Halve the cherry tomatoes and divide between the mushrooms, chop a couple of sun-dried tomatoes if you have them, shred some fresh basil and add to the hollow.
Crumble over some cheese: I used English goat’s cheese, but feta or cubes of halloumi would do, indeed this is the perfect way to use any odd pieces that you may have to hand.
Spoon over some pesto and sprinkle with pine nuts, or if not, some breadcrumbs for extra crunch.
Season well, and drizzle with some more oil (use the oil from the jar of sun-dried tomatoes for some extra flavour)
Bake in a preheated oven at 200C/180C fan/Gas 6 for 15-20 mins, depending on how magnificently large your mushrooms are, until soft, tender and full of juices, and the cheese is melted and golden.
Serve with salad for a light lunch or starter.
The Millstream pub, Port Vale, Bengeo, Hertford.
Theshop@thepub is open 9am-12pm every Friday and Saturday morning
Check @themillstreampub on Facebook for details
You can buy Jan Fullwood’s delicious Easter simnel cakes in our online store