It was on a trip to Nottinghamshire that Anna Hyman finally came to grips with art of bread making and also discovered not only a stunning Walled Kitchen Garden but also a terrific B&B.
It was dark by the time the 18.55 train from Nottingham had pulled into Whitwell station a few minutes before 20.00. But patiently waiting in the carpark, as promised, was Joan Brown to drive me to her wonderfully comfortable B&B on the Welbeck Estate.
To be more precise Browns is in Holbeck, a hamlet nestling in the Dukeries and Sherwood Forest district a mere seven miles from Robin Hood’s tree. But beautiful as Sherwood Forest is I had not come to see Robin Hood’s tree I had come to learn how to make bread at the School of Artisan Food also on the Welbeck Estate.
Superb hosts with an eye to detail
Joan quickly had me settled into one of the three luxurious and superbly appointed en-suite garden rooms across the little courtyard from their own pretty cottage.
Joan and Robin Brown are superb hosts and go out of their way to make guests feel welcome and at home. They have a keen eye for detail and between the two of them have thought of everything. I loved my room with all its comforts and amenities and its stylish four-poster bed.
Fresh local produce for breakfast
Next morning a splendid breakfast in the cottage’s pretty dining room was served; the Browns use fresh locally sourced produce as far as possible. No wonder this boutique B&B counts amongst its many accolades two five gold star awards – one from Visit England and the other from the AA.
It is only a mile walk up the country lane to get to School of Artisan Food but nevertheless Robin insisted on driving me there to make sure I was on time, and also told me to phone at the end of the course and he would come and collect me - all part of the service. ‘You’ll have a great day’ he assured me, ‘but you will be tired at the end of it.’
The School of Artisan Food
The School of Artisan Food is dedicated to teaching the skills needed for artisan food production and holds wide ranging courses lasting from a day, to a couple of weeks and even 10 month diploma courses.
Learning to make bread
Emmanuel Hadjiandreou and his colleague David Carter had just a day to teach me how to improve my bread making techniques. And they did.
The small classes are held in a well-equipped teaching kitchen; whilst the men talked us through the various types of flour and yeast we measured out the ingredients and began the process of actually making the breads. Every now and again when we had to stop and wait for the dough to prove we would sit and discuss varying baking techniques.
We were fascinated when Emmanuel set too to show us what gluten is, making it into a small ball and then baking it into a near football sized golden and puffy look-alike loaf but with a very different taste and texture.
During the course of the day we made a white country style loaf, a tinned malthouse loaf, tinned wholemeal loaf and rolls, taking them home with us to freeze or eat as we wished. All ingredients, equipment and recipes were provided by the School, and a very tasty cooked lunch was also provided – a pork chop in a delicious cream and cider sauce I seem to recall.
Pull, fold; pull, fold
Coming from a family of restaurateurs Emmanuel grew up appreciating good food, honing his baking skills in German-style bakeries in South Africa and Namibia before settling in the UK working for a number of acclaimed restaurants. He has won awards for his sourdough, Stollens and speciality breads.
I loved his very basic and easy method of kneading dough – basically whilst it was still in the mixing bowl we learnt to pull, fold and turn it 10 times for about 10 seconds. We repeated this simple process four times letting the dough rest in between for 10 minutes each time. That’s it – no strenuous working the dough – and the result perfect bread every time.
Emmanuel’s book ‘How to Make Bread’ has now become my bread-making bible.
Dinner at the Elm Tree
Dinner that night was at the Elm Tree pub in close by Elmton. Robin was right, I had had a great day, but I was tired, and having had a good lunch at the School I was reluctant to go out for a meal. But Joan and Robin, who had by now become friends and mentors said I would be missing a treat if I didn’t eat at the Elm Tree.
They were right again. The meal was superb, and I loved the atmosphere at the Elm Tree. It’s a friendly, country pub with a large garden, a welcoming bar and a cosy restaurant, which also serves an excellent value Special Sunday Lunch and a delicious sounding Traditional Afternoon Tea.
They even make their own pork scratchings
It was in fact owner/head chef Chris Norfolk, doing front of house duties that evening, who greeted me.
Chris is a young man with a passion, talent and flare who insists on quality local meat (the kitchen even hand-butcher the meat) and using seasonal produce – some of it grown in neighbouring gardens.
The chefs make virtually everything themselves - their own pastry, sorbets, desserts, pies, breads, pasta, sauces and even the pork scratchings.
From that evening’s menu I chose smoked salmon served with a dainty salmon and lime fish cake – stunning; followed by a wild duck breast with creamed cabbage and bacon served in its own little pot, with a blackberry sauce and fabulous chips - delicious.
I hated having to admit that I had no room for a dessert.
From one pretty garden to another
The meal at the Elm Tree was truly excellent and I was so grateful to Joan and Robin for their sound advice. And it was with genuine sadness the next morning that I said goodbye to them and their lovely home and garden. But I was off to another garden, a rather splendid Walled Kitchen Garden.
Clumber Park now under the auspices of the National Trust was once the country seat of the Dukes of Newcastle. The mansion itself has long been demolished. Remaining, however, are 3,800 acres of woodland, parkland and gardens plus a chapel, a pleasure ground, a lake and the Walled Kitchen Garden.
Clumber Park and its Walled Kitchen Garden
The original walled kitchen garden would have been charged with providing the mansion with flowers, fruit and vegetables throughout the year. A function it was well capable of achieving thanks to its sheltering high walls and clever design which allowed cold air and moisture to escape from the garden thus avoiding frost pockets.
In a sense the garden under the direction of Head Gardener Chris Margrave is still doing that today, because some of the produce goes to the chefs in the kitchen of Clumber’s Garden Tea House and Café for it to be enjoyed by visitors.
Chris came to Clumber some 10 years ago and has worked to restore the garden by cultivating the neglected lower section of the garden, putting back some of the paths and creating and extending the herbaceous borders, some of them over 400’. Today it is fascinating, beautifully maintained tapestry of colourful plants and interesting fruit and vegetables. Many of the vegetables are old and unusual varieties, as well as more modern strains.
Two National Collections
I had been somewhat disappointed on my visit to Nottinghamshire not to be able to see the original Bramley apple tree – it is still growing, but in a private garden. (Too sour to eat raw, Bramley apples are beloved by cooks and chefs for their versatility in the kitchen.) However, I did see lots of other apple trees at Clumber.
The garden is home to some 80 different varieties of culinary apples and in fact holds one of the country’s five National Collections. It is also home to the National Collection of rhubarb; at least 130 different varieties stretch down long beds, making it the second largest collection of culinary rhubarbs in the world.
A glasshouse full of fruit
One of the most eye-catching features in the walled garden is the beautifully restored 450’ Long Range glasshouse in which grapes, peaches, nectarines, figs, ornamental flowers and seasonal vegetables thrive. Behind the glasshouse is an intriguing small museum displaying old horticultural tools and gadgets. Allow plenty of time for visiting Clumber, it is a fascinating place.
My Experience Nottinghamshire visit had been truly memorable, lots to see and do, great food and warm, friendly people. But I’ve still only experienced a fraction of what it has to offer – a return visit is on the cards.
Browns of Holbeck: www.brownsholbeck.co.uk
School of Artisan Food: www.schoolofartisanfood.org
The Elm Tree, Elmton: www.elmtreeelmton.co.uk
How to Make Bread, Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. Photography Steve Painter. £19. ISBN: 978-1-84975-140-7. Ryland Peters & Small. www.rylandpeters.com
Clumber Park: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clumber-park
Experience Nottinghamshire: www.experiencenottinghamshire.com
For anybody interested in learning about more of Nottingham’s food and drink we heartily recommend The Nottingham Cook Book – a celebration of the local food and drink including over 50 recipes.
The Nottingham Cook Book. £14.95. ISBN:978-0-9928981-5-1. www.mezepublishing.co.uk; www.experiencenottinghamshire.com
Nottingham Underground: http://www.foodytraveller.com/features/europe/798-nottingham-underground
Nottingham Above Ground: http://www.foodytraveller.com/features/uk/826-nottingham-above-ground