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A couple of weekends ago Mr Rigg and I, dog-less and fancy-free decided to take a day trip to Erddig house, a National Trust property near Wrexham that is renowned for its portrayal of the upstairs downstairs life. It is a truly fascinating and beautiful place, one that I would recommend for a day out.
As well as the house, there is a lovely garden and stables with working horses, but I wanted to share what I was most interested by, which is the ‘downstairs’ quarters and the plain country living that I think is so beautiful. There was only one ‘upstairs’ room that I liked enough to photograph, and that was the nursery and adjoining (if I remember correctly!) bathroom.
You enter the house through the sculleries and kitchen, which happened to be full of things that I have collected from car boots sales – I should have very much liked to have a ‘supermarket sweep’ if given the opportunity!
This time last week I was enjoying a morning of venison cookery in the stunning old kitchen at Dunham Massey National Trust. As a volunteer and editor of an internal National Trust newsletter on food I went along to find out what it was all about.
What a wonderful morning. In my opinion there were several things that set this cookery demonstration apart from others:
Firstly, the setting. The event was held in the original old kitchen at Dunham Massey, a room that you would normally wander through on your tour of the house. It is an impressive room, bright with high ceilings, a massive Aga, a beautiful collection of copper pans, and a hefty big wooden workbench.
Secondly, the venison. The meat used in the cookery demonstration came from the deer park – perhaps if you a regular walker at Dunham Massey you might have even passed that same deer that we got to sample.
Last weekend Mr Rigg and I headed to Cornwall for a long weekend. In order to break up the 5 hour journey we set off after work on Thursday and made a stop-off in Somerset, staying at a beautiful B&B called Farndon Thatch.
Arriving at about 7pm we decided to stop at a local pub for dinner before checking in. We came across The Crown Inn at Fivehead, where we were met with a warm welcome and a menu prided on being homecooked by the owners Steve and Jacqui. Mr Rigg couldn’t resist a curry and I went for a slice of homemade venison pie.
And what a slice it was – huge, stuffed full of flavoursome meat, and possibly the best pastry I’ve ever had. It wasn’t cheffy or fancy food, but just really nice homecooked meals, just what we needed. We were also entertained by a stunning fish tank with living rocks and a host of unusual creatures.
Today (unexpectedly!) I am part of a feature in the Independent newspaper on the 50 best farm shops. I say unexpectedly as it was supposed to be going in next week – but it’s come out a week early.
I just wanted to correct a mistake as well, in the paper it says that this blog, Eat the Earth, is the sustainable food newsletter of the National Trust. It’s not. This is my own, personal blog about the food I enjoy growing, eating, cooking, and discovering.
There seems to have been a bit of a muddle and they’ve combined two elements of what I do. I am a volunteer editor of an internal sustainable food newsletter for the National Trust, but it’s not anything to do with this blog. I also just write this blog in my free time. So apologies for any confusion.
Perhaps an unconventional Christmas meal, but with only two of us to feed a turkey or goose would be too much, and with some exquisite stewing venison in the freezer from Dunham Massey it seemed only natural to have venison stew.
We bought our venison from Little Heath Farm a few weeks ago when they received a delivery from the National Trust property just down the road. It is nice to know that the main ingredient in our Christmas meal came from within 5 miles and most likely had a lovely life roaming the parkland at Dunham Massey.
With a large part of my University days spent studying Native Americans both in the UK and Canada, it seemed only apt to follow the recipe for venison stew from Jamie’s America book. Based on a Navajo stew, this recipe is incredibly delicious and is the second time we’ve made it.
My only addition was to make some parsley and suet dumpling, which I popped into the stew towards the end of cooking. There is something very moreish about dumplings – I think I could eat a plateful drenched in a couple of spoonfuls of stew liqueur.
Mash potato was made with our allotment grown potatoes, which must be said have been a bit disastrous. Whether it’s the variety, how we’ve grown them, or how we cook them, but the potatoes just disintegrate into soupy glue if not watched carefully.
I have learnt that the trick with them is to watch them carefully in the water, looking for the moment when the outside starts to break down, but leaving them long enough to make sure they are almost cooked through.
This time I put it through my wonderful French mouli that I picked up at the carboot – it was fantastic! With the help of a little cream (maybe a lot…) and butter, and some seasoning, the mash turned out all right.
What did you eat for Christmas dinner?
Our pre-dinner nibble – cheese and herb flowerpot bread (from Bath farmer’s market - more on that to come!), Mrs Kirkham’s crumbly Lancashire cheese, and Killerton Estate apple chutney.
So following on from yesterday’s post about my much shortened trip to London, I went to the National Trust Fine Farm Produce Awards on Thursday evening. The awards are given to National Trust farms, orchards or gardens who produce products of the very highest standards – environmental, welfare, and taste.
There were incredible displays of the winning produce and products – cider and apple juice from Barrington Court Estate, golden beetroot from Wimpole Walled Garden, late season honey from Lyveden New Bield, golden hot chilli sauce from Gringley Gringo…
We sipped delicious drinks all of which were made from the awards winning products – Apple Bellini’s, incredible apple cocktails some with mint some with cinnamon, cider, ale and beer. The Apple Bellini (exquisite fresh apple juice with champagne) is one for my wedding drinks list next year I think!
We ate delicious canapes til we could eat no longer – tiny beef pies, mini hamburgers, spoonfuls of golden beetroot and garlic risotto, bite-sized tarts with blue cheese and chutney, rice pudding with honey, and miniature scones with cream and rhubarb jam.
The producers were recognised with a short film and speech from the National Trust and judges, and this year’s Overall Winner – rhubarb jam from Brockhampton Estate – was awarded their prize.
I watched Richard McGeown (the Executive Head Chef from Couch’s in Polperro, Cornwall) give a demonstration on how to cook the perfect steak. He had been giving cooking demonstrations throughout the evening, and as I watched I snacked on my first ever piece of hogget lamb.
Tips I picked up on how to cook the perfect steak?
- Make sure the pan is really hot (if you have asbestos fingers like Richard test it with your fingers…!!).
- Only add a tiny drop of oil to the pan before adding your steak.
- Season with salt but not black pepper at this point – it will burn and taste bitter.
- Cook for about 15-20 seconds on each side to seal.
- Season with black pepper then finish off in a hot oven (220°C) for about 6 1/2 minutes if you like it rare, 7 minutes for medium rare.
The evening was finished off with more networking and nibbling on delicious canapes, before heading off with a goodie bag…
…included was a bag of flour from Clyston Mill, a small bottle of the incredibly fiery Gringley Gringo gold hot chilli sauce, some of the new National Trust ‘Lancashire lemon curd’ biscuits, apple chutney from the Killerton Estate, and a treasured jar of the award winning rhubarb jam.
Friday morning breakfast: a soft chewy slice of Kaiserbrot from Barbakan, spread with goat’s butter and Brockhampton Estate rhubarb jam. Yum.
Isn’t that what us country folk call it? Anyway…I’m off to London tomorrow afternoon to the National Trust’s Fine Farm Produce Awards – an event that celebrates the best of the best of National Trust tenant farm produce.
I’m also hoping to visit a couple of interesting foodie places I’ve found online in Soho. Hopefully I can bring back some interesting tales and photos if the camera/camera phone are behaving!
Image: Izzy Burton Photography
Today I drove the many miles southward to Hanbury Hall - a National Trust property near Droitwich, just south of Birmingham. I went to interview the Head Gardener for the sustainable food bulletin I edit as part of my volunteer role for the National Trust.
Hanbury Hall is possibly one of the prettiest Trust properties I’ve ever visited. The formal gardens are immaculate and full of colour – lots of orange and purple.
The house is very similar to my local Dunham Massey, but a little bit fancier and with more detail.
They have an Orangery and a Mushroom House (where mushrooms were grown for the Vernon family back in the 1860′s), and a large orchard full of ancient apple varieties.
But I was there to see the Walled Vegetable Garden. Down the end of long walkway, surrounded by high Yew hedges (very Alice in Wonderland!) are two old wooden gates set into a high red-bricked wall.
Inside was an idyllic scene of a beautiful working kitchen garden. There were chickens picking happily at the grass, neat row of vegetables – cabbages, Rainbow chard and lettuces to name but a few, bee hives and polytunnels (one bursting with a stunning display of colourful pumpkins and squashes). Sorry – I didn’t take any pictures inside the garden!
Hanbury Hall’s vegetable garden not only supplies the tea rooms with a bounty of fresh produce, eggs and honey throughout the year, but visitors can buy vegetables direct from the garden – simply ask a gardener for a celeriac, and they will go and pull one up for you right before your eyes, or maybe you’re after ruby red forced rhubarb – they can pick that for you while you watch.
How cool is that?!
After having a tour of the kitchen garden and doing my interview, I said goodbye to Neil, the Head Gardener and went for lunch in the tearoom.
In the tearoom you are greeted by a counter full of cakes (like most National Trust tearooms), but here at Hanbury they are quite different – perhaps you are tempted by a slice of their rich and moist Chocolate Beetroot Cake (I certainly was!), or their Parsnip and Caraway Seed Cake, maybe it’s their Honey Cake or my favourite a Victoria Sponge?
What’s special about these cakes is they feature vegetables and ingredients from the Walled Garden – beetroot, parsnip, caraway seeds, honey, eggs, and homemade jam (made with their own fruits, of course). I was also told their made courgette cake and even potato cake! All sweet.
In addition to my slice of Chocolate Beetroot Cake (which I didn’t eat first, I promise!), I had a bowl of vegetable soup with vegetables from the kitchen garden, and an apple and blackcurrant juice from a local producer in Worcestershire. The cake defeated me – I couldn’t manage the last mouthful – shameful, I know!
What a lovely visit and a delicious lunch, and a big thanks to the friendly staff at Hanbury Hall.
If you’d like to visit Hanbury Hall you can find more details here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-hanburyhall.
*Photos taken with camera phone – not looking too bad!
Last night we had the first fire of the season in our wood burning stove. It was such a treat to bring the logs in and curl up on the sofa by the fire.
We also made a delicious dinner from one of my favourite recipe books (it must seem like I have a lot of favourites!) - the Complete Traditional Recipe Book from the National Trust.
It was a Hobbler’s Seafood Pie – a so simple fish pie with rich creamy sauce and mash potato topping. Many of you readers will know that my camera’s broken, so I have included a photo of what it looks like in the recipe book – ours wasn’t far off!
Here’s my version with a couple of tweaks to the original recipe…
Hobbler’s Seafood Pie
Feeds 2 with enough leftovers for a light lunch
6 oz white fish (we used Coley)
2 oz prawns
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 oz butter
1 oz plain flour
150ml fish stock
salt and pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
mashed potato to cover (add grated cheese for added luxury!)
*Note: use the best fish stock you can – obviously the best would be homemade, but we used ready-made fish stock from Waitrose (not the stuff in the fridge, but in the cooking ingredients section) and it made a great rich tasting sauce.
Put your potatoes onto boil – once tender drain, mash and add some grated cheddar.
Preheat your oven to 180°C.
Into your pie dish, cut the fish into largeish chunks. Scatter over the prawns and parsley.
Now make your white sauce: heat the milk and fish stock until warm. In a separate pan melt the butter, then stir in the flour. Cook for about 3 minutes stirring all the time. Stir in the warm milk mixture a little at a time, stirring all the while. Beat your sauce and bring to the boil – I read that the harder you beat your sauce the smoother it will be.
Once your sauce has come to the boil, turn it down and cook it a little longer whilst beating it. Turn off the heat, season with salt and pepper to taste, and grate in some nutmeg.
Pour the sauce over your fish and prawns, then top with the mashed potato – fluff up with a fork and cook in the oven for about 30 minutes until golden on top.