My name is Louise. I’m a London girl who grew up in a small village on the Kent & Sussex border in the south of England. Aged 18, I left home to seek my fortune, drawn by the bright lights of the City. I swore never to return to the countryside as it was far too dull. Its interesting how you view things differently, and perhaps with more nostalgia, when you are older. After 27 years in London, I returned in 2013 and now live in a 16th century cottage in a beautiful Sussex village, not far from where I lived as a child, with my husband and our little dog.
When I was growing up, fruit and veg was home grown or hand selected at the local green grocer or farm shop, it didn’t come shrink wrapped in plastic from far flung places. Back then it was normal to buy food little and often from local shops as huge supermarkets didn’t really exist. It’s always been important to me to eat seasonal, locally grown organic produce and support food suppliers and producers who care about animal husbandry and the environment. When we moved here I decided I wanted to write about something I love – great food and about re-discovering everything that the countryside has to offer, including some nostalgic recipes from my childhood.
As a child, I spent a great deal of time outside ferreting about in the undergrowth building camps and suchlike. Many hours were devoted to ‘fishing’ in the garden pond with a homemade bamboo and string ‘rod’, some morsel that would have been largely unattractive to any prospective fish, stuck on a curtain hook on the end. This was always going to be pretty unsuccessful, as despite my dedication, there were absolutely no fish in the pond. My grandmother had explained this to me countless times but I could not be persuaded to give up on the off chance. Despite my lack of success as an amateur fisherman I was an ‘expert’ forager, whether it was the easy raiding of the vegetable patch for the sweetest of raspberries, or peas fresh in their pods, to hunting for cob nuts in the neighboring farmer’s woodland. These days, sadly, I don’t have my grandmother’s incredible kitchen garden, but I can still make the most of the wild food freely available in the countryside.
My grandmother, now 102, was my culinary inspiration growing up. She was an amazing baker who seemed to be able to conjure up the lightest of fairy cakes, chocolate sponges layered with butter cream icing and magical rose and lemon Battenberg on a daily basis. Dinner was always a relatively formal affair, freshly bathed and neatly dressed after a day of ‘fishing’, I would wait patiently for the first course while my grandparents enjoyed a sherry aperitif. Our starter may have been half an avocado, with a pool of mustard and herb vinaigrette where the stone used to be (in those days avocados were expensive and exotic) and Melba toast. We would have chicken casserole for the main course with fresh runner beans from the garden and minted new potatoes followed by peach melba, baked custard with a nutmeg crust or creme caramel all cooked in a wood fired Aga.
Inspired to create my own gastronomic delights, I used to invite my dolls to tea and serve them an array of mud pies I had prepared earlier in old plant pots. In those days television was limited to three channels and cookery programs were sadly not as frequent as they are now, I used to sit in fascination if any were shown, awaiting inspiration. One particular day I watched thoughtfully as a chef stuff some courgette flowers with mince. I knew where I could lay my little hands on some courgette flowers and decided they would make an excellent new receptacle for my mud pies. I hotfooted it down to the kitchen garden and picked every single courgette flower I could find, stuffed each one with my usual recipe of carefully selected earth mixed with water and presented them proudly to my mother. To say she was unimpressed is an understatement and as a result of my misadventure, we were denied some much anticipated homegrown courgettes.
My love of cooking and good food has meant that I have spent my life battling with my greedy nature and my desire to be slim. The overwhelming victor has always been my love of good food. It has taken me a long time to realise that the key to winning the war is balance.We are constantly bombarded with mixed messages – fat is the enemy, carbs are evil. I believe moderation and balance is the key and if there is an ‘enemy’ it is processed food. Eat a balanced diet of real, fresh food preferably organic, seasonal and local were possible, combined with exercise and you will be as healthy as you can be without being absolutely miserable.