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A Magazine for Sheffield

Memories of Blue Moon Cafe

Food writer Becca Perl, aka The Adventurous Glutton, remembers her time in the 90s working at a Sheffield institution - Blue Moon Cafe.

Blue Moon old location Norfolk Row

Blue Moon Cafe at its former location at 22 Norfolk Row, now Marmadukes.

In the late 90s, I was a student in Sheffield (arty Hallam rather than the high-brow uni, obviously). I loved the industrial skyline as you approached the city and the hilly streets where I lived. The first time I went into my local shop, the shopkeeper called me “duck” with such warmth. We used to dance to Motown at The Beat Club, watch classic films at the Showroom, and eat roast dinners inside Yorkshire puddings as big as our heads at The Banner Cross.

One of my housemates, Bec, was instrumental in my food education. While all I cooked in my first few months of independence was toast, beans on toast or beans on pasta*, Bec was preparing Thai king prawns and inviting me to cheese and wine nights. It blew my mind - not to mention my tastebuds. She also got me a job at Blue Moon Cafe where she worked - a vegetarian and vegan cafe in the heart of the city. The current slew of post-milk generation vegans probably weren’t even born then. (*This belies my foodie upbringing, with both parents and my Grandma being formidable cooks. I just wasn’t interested in food…yet).

While I wasn’t overly happy about the early starts at the cafe (which were actually eye-wateringly early for a student on a Saturday), it seemed like a cool place. It had local art hanging on the walls, Bob Dylan coming through the speakers, the smell of onions frying in spices and an interesting, diverse clientele. It was close to the Crucible theatre, so it wasn’t uncommon to get well-known actors in for a veg burrito. And being the first place open in the morning, I’d always find it amusing to have this conversation with early-bird tradesmen:

Me and Bec

Me and Bec together in 2009. We can’t find any uni photos because we are so old, they are pre-digital photography. It’s probably for the best.

“Bacon sandwich please love.”

“Sorry, we don’t do bacon. We’re a vegetarian cafe.”

“Oh ok. I’ll have a sausage sandwich then.”

“Nope, sorry. We’re a vegetarian cafe.”

Etc, etc, until they’d leave, thoroughly confused.

I don’t even know how to begin writing about Bill, one of the owners who I’m still in contact with some 20 years later. He was so kind and patient with young, naive, opinionated idiots like me. There was always a good amount of political and cultural chat taking place, and we’d laugh at my Mickey Mouse degree. He made all the daily from-scratch cooking seem so effortless, and would happily encourage me to get stuck in, even if he had to rescue it every time. We’d start the day by baking bread, quiche and cakes, and making soup and loads of salads. I was vegetarian myself, but had never heard of tabbouleh or Homity pie.

I think one of the only non-student employees was Diane, a frighteningly competent local lady. She too was ever so patient with me and was always up for a laugh.

I was very well-fed in that job. We’d usually have a slice of fresh warm bread in the morning, slathered in butter. Lunch was plentiful, and taught me the delights of having a little bit of this and a little bit of that, a heavenly mezze of flavours and textures. There was often a cheeky slice of cake in the afternoon. And then, at the end of the day, we’d take home what couldn’t be saved. I remember leaving work one Saturday with an enormous tub of soup in each hand, money in my pocket, thinking life was pretty good!

Blue moon cafe current

Blue Moon Cafe in its current location on St James Street, opposite Sheffield Cathedral.

I’m pleased to say that Blue Moon Cafe is still there, although it has since moved to the edge of Cathedral Square, into an iconic building with a beautiful lantern roof. And they now offer an outside catering service for meetings, weddings and parties (you know, when meetings, weddings and parties still existed). When I took my husband to Sheffield on a Homity pie pilgrimage some years back (and yes, it was as amazing as I’d remembered), Bill and Diane were still working behind the counter, looking much as they did some 20 years ago.

For all my growth and learning during those three years in Sheffield, I don’t credit my studies (although as Bill reminded me when reading this, my creative writing dissertation tutor was incredible and essentially saved my degree). I credit my involvement with the Student Community Action group, and my time as joint coordinator of the Jigsaw Project, a befriending scheme for people with autism. I credit Harriet, the incredible autistic girl I took out every week in term-time for the best part of three years. And I credit Bec and The Blue Moon Cafe for waking me up to the wonders of food.

I’m so excited that Bill has allowed me to publish his recipe for Homity pie. I know what I’ll be making for tea.

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Blue Moon Cafe are raising £5,000 for roof repairs and a new boiler.

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