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Today I went to Biddulph Grange Garden in North Staffordshire – to write up a piece for the sustainable food newsletter I edit in my volunteer role at the National Trust. I would highly recommend visiting the gardens here if you are in the area or looking for a day out – they are utterly breathtaking. My photos don’t do it justice.
But what I wanted to share was my discovery of Staffordshire oatcakes. They are a bit like a pancake or crepe, and I tried them for lunch in the National Trust tearoom, rolled up with cheese inside and heated until piping hot.
All the cheese was oozing out the ends – delicious. They were really quite tasty, especially with all that melted cheese – I must investigate how else you can use them and what other ingredients you can stuff inside them. I’m assuming most things, but I wonder if there are traditional ways of eating them.
Luckily I was able to buy myself a packet of Staffordshire oatcakes from Glebe Farm Shop in Astbury. I was told they were locally made in Congleton, freezeable, and I can’t wait to try them out at home.
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!