Pie-eyed with the liquor? Leave it out, says Sharon
Cor, luvaduck, my ol' bewty… this'll keep out the winter chill.
Deep in mid-Norfolk, traditional Cockney grub has been going down a treat as the days have drawn in and the temperature has dropped.
Sharon Garner's weekend and midweek special at her Fill 'n' Go mobile van in the Homebase car park off Yaxham Road, Dereham, is pie, mash and liquor, crafted to a secret recipe her grandmother used to make.
And not only has it satisfied the pangs of hunger of homesick Londoners who have made their homes in the county, but it has introduced Norfolk folk to the kind of wholesome, minced beef nosh-up that would please the palate of any diamond geezer.
Sharon is, by rights, an Essex girl: she was born in Ilford. But her East-ender mum Barbara, who lives at Mattishall, has her roots in East and West Ham and there are family ties with Bermondsey, so they reckon they are near enough to Bow Bells to claim a proud Cockney sparrer heritage.
Sharon, 43, started running her stall in the summer, serving mainly burgers, bangers and hot drinks, but then she recalled the pie and mash shops of her childhood and had an idea. 'I was talking to my husband, Steve, about pie, mash and liquor. He said 'What is it?' and I had to explain. I suddenly thought: 'Why don't I start offering it in the van, because there are a lot of people from London living around here?''
She duly set Norfolk 'bor' Steve to work, using a recipe given her by her granny.
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'He first had to learn how to make it properly; I had to keep tasting it until he got it exactly right,' said Sharon. 'I also had to teach him to do rough mash – it's got to be rough, not smooth.'
And the liquor, that thick, green, steaming mushy concoction? 'All I'll tell you is that eel juice goes in it, but I'm not saying any more because it's a little bit of a secret!' said Sharon.
Expatriate Londoners and people who have worked in the capital have converged on Fill 'n' Go, making the tasty treat a best-seller. 'It is very popular.
'I sell out normally every time I do it,' said Sharon.
And Norfolk folk are getting wise to its winter-warming flavours too, even though some think that the stuff she pours over the top contains booze – it doesn't.
'A lot of people have said to me: 'Have you got a drinks licence for that?' But that's a different sort of liquor.'
She added: 'If they're not sure about it, I normally get them to try a bit of liquor in a cup just to see what it's like. And they really should put some malt vinegar and pepper on as well.'
Pie, mash and liquor might be a London dish, but the meat for it is locally sourced – from Hewitts butchers at Mattishall – and even the eel juice comes from a supplier down the road at Cranworth.
Sharon's taking a break for the festive season, but don't worry, she'll be back on January 10, after which she plans to offer pie and mash on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
If even then you don't fancy the Cockney dish, she'll be doing English breakfasts too. But will good old Norfolk dumplings ever make it onto her menu?
'I might have to think about that later,' she said.