Nature Nuture

Read my July article for Cambridge Magazine

Nature Nurture

Here it is again, the glorious month of July. It sits confidently between the lime green promises of early summer and the ripeness of late summer, with its bitter-sweet hint of things coming to an end.

I consider myself lucky to have had a mother who brought me up appreciating nature. An avid "twitcher" and rambler, she made me alert to changes in nature and taught me to take time to notice sights and sounds. When my now adult daughters were little, my mother often picked them up from school. One of the highlights of the year was picnicking under the blossom of a cherry tree on the village green. Aged 4 and 7, my daughters found it wildly exciting to be picked up by their grand mother carrying a basket with home baked cookies and a flask of cold lemonade. The three of them sat on a bench under the tree, less than 200 metres from our home; and yet to them, this was an adventure, infinitely more fun than going home to their own kitchen and garden. The memory is so powerful that every year when the fruit trees blossom, my daughters will without fail mention their childhood picnics under the cherry tree.

The threat to nature from urban sprawl and intensive farming is something we can either engage with or ignore at our peril. Monocultures, growing only one crop on a massive scale, with the aid of pesticides and fertilisers, destroy natural habitats and produce food which nurtures only one
group of species: global food brands and retailers. The result is a depleted earth in the midst of collapsed Eco systems where the natural links between nutrient cycles and energy flows have been destroyed.

At the cookery school and café we are led by the seasons and our menus are shaped by what is available locally. This may sound like an obvious way to cook, but sadly it is far from the norm. In our search for locally produced, small scale meat and vegetables, we have found a wonderful partner in Croxton Park organic farm near Cambridge. A traditional, privately owned estate, Croxton Park is a mixed organic farm with woodlands, whose goal is to manages the land in a way that respects the soil, the animals and the people who live and work there.

When we first cooked a rack of organic lamb and a couple of sirloin steaks given to us by Camilla, the daughter who left her job in financial services to manage the estate, we were simply astounded. Here was meat of a quality we have not had the pleasure to come across in years. Sweet, tender, packed with flavour - a revelation. In April, Croxton Park's Head Gardener, Pete, started supplying us with spring crops of leaves and herbs. Again, the vigour, strength, colour and taste of everything he and his team brought to our kitchen has been simply outstanding. Most rewarding of all, we are receiving comments from our visitors which show that they notice. We get asked about the secret of our yoghurt, lemon and mint dressing, or the sweet flavour of dill in our smoked salmon and dill Frittata. The answer, of course, is simply the quality of the produce.

Our aim is to collaborate closely with the wonderful team at Croxton Park by letting the seasons and their output determine our menu. This is why our counter, with its offering of open sandwiches made from our hand made bread, our daily salads and catered office lunches currently feature mainly high summer produce including beets, kale, sorrel, gooseberries and the full range of currants. All grown organically, with a loving hand, just a few miles from Cambridge. This is food as it should be.


Cookery School Dog Biscuits

This week we added our own lovingly made dog biscuits to our café menu. First dog to try them was 5-month old mini Schnauzer girl Fig. She wolfed down her first biscuits and then asked for another. This was washed down with fresh Cambridge water.

We love dog visitors both inside the café and and outside on the terrace. The biscuits are a free treat to all our four legged guests who should be able to enjoy popping in for coffee or lunch just as must as their owners.

We would like to share the recipe so you can treat your dog to a snack which is healthy and wholesome - and tasty!

Cookery School café Dog Biscuits
250-275g wholemeal flour
100g toasted wheat germ or rye flakes
10g fresh yeast or 3g quick action yeast
100g chunky peanut butter
1 tablespoon Marmite
1 tablespoon golden syrup or honey
1 large egg
175ml chicken or beef stock
3 tablespoons olive oil

Preparation

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Flour or paper line a baking sheet.

2. Combine the flour, wheat germ and yeast in a medium bowl. Whisk together the peanut butter, egg, broth and oil in a separate bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir with a spoon or rubber spatula until a rough dough forms. Knead the dough in the bowl 5-6 times until it comes together.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll to a 5-6mm thickness. With a dog bone shaped cookie cutter, cut out and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Press all the scraps together, kneading once or twice, then roll out and cut more.

4. Bake treats until lightly browned and fairly hard, rotating the pans from top to bottom once, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely; biscuits will harden as they cool. Store in an airtight container.