The steam train from Porthmadog had just pulled in to the station at Blaenau Ffestiniog. The town was washed in a fine drizzle with clouds hanging low, but the spirits of the engine crew were high as they tucked into a roast dinner, eaten al fresco on the tender. When asked what was on the menu, the reply was ‘Smoke Box Chicken’.
In these days of high energy costs it’s good to see the drivers of the Ffestiniog Railway making full use of their fuel. Burning coal or oil creates the steam that drives the pistons and the surplus heat goes out through the chimney at the front of the engine. On its way it passes through the smoke box.
I tasted a piece of the chicken pulled from the carcass, just right, tender and moist. Thirteen and a half miles uphill in the smoke box was clearly the optimum oven setting.
Was the flavour enhanced by the contents of the smoke box? ‘Not likely. There’s all sorts of noxious fumes in there. That’s why it’s triple-wrapped in foil’ said Mol, the cloth-capped driver. It turns out he’s a bit of a gourmet. One of his favourites is ‘a half leg of lamb, slivers of garlic, rosemary, potatoes and parsnips – give it about an hour of gentle shunting around the yard and then the journey up to Blaenau, and it’s really tasty…’.
He must be the Fat Controller’s favourite driver. Next time a steam train passes by, sniff the aroma and see if you can guess what’s on the menu.