I’ve never met the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, yet she has been a hero of mine for many years. Debo, as she is known to her friends, now a feisty 90 year old was the youngest Mitford sister. He recently published autobiography called ‘Wait for Me’, immediately conjures up images of a determined little girl desperately trying to keep up with her five sisters. I recently took a couple of days off to visit her family home, Chatsworth House and Gardens in Derbyshire. Members of the Cavendish family have lived at Chatsworth since 1550. It’s a huge stately house in the midst of a 100 acre garden in the centre of the 1,000 acre Chatsworth Park, surrounded by the Peak district national park. It takes serious initiative, a ton of creativity and buckets of hard work to keep the roof on a stately home of this size.
Her Grace also loves chickens as I do and once complained that when John F Kennedy and his brothers came by helicopter to visit their sister-in-law Kathleen’s grave, her neighbours chickens were blown away by the force of the helicopter blades and were never seen again! Kathleen Kennedy died in a plane crash in 1948 and is now buried in the Cavendish family plot at St Peter’s Church near Chatsworth. Chatsworth attracts in excess of 600,000 visitors from March to Christmas every year. People come from all over the world to see the house, extensive gardens, parkland, sculptures and a farmyard full of happy farm animals. Visitors can see the cows being milked; under-fives can have fun on the pedal tractors or learn how to sow seeds. There’s several fantastic farm shops the most recent has just won the ‘Best Farm Shop’ in Britain award. It’s stuffed with local produce. Six butchers work full time in full view of the customers to prepare joints from meat much of which is reared by tenant farmers on the estate.
There are several restaurants, cottages to rent and a couple of pubs with rooms including two called the Devonshire Arms one in Beeley the other at Pilsley. I loved the yummy lamb and mint faggots in gravy they served there. When I inquired about how they were made they told me they were for sale in the Chatsworth Farm Shop with many other tempting things.
If you are in the area Hardwick House originally owned by Bess of Hardwick is a ‘must see’ not only for the utterly beautiful collection of tapestries and handmade rush floor covering but also for the original kitchens (now a restaurant) with dressers full of polished copper and kitchen utensils.
Just down the road is Stainsby Mill a stone mill which still grinds flour once or twice a week. Sadly they weren’t milling flour on the day we visited but none the less it was intriguing.
Derbyshire has several food specialities. I loved the oatcakes. It was quite difficult to get a recipe, their slightly spongy texture resembled South Indian flatbreads. Nowadays most people buy them but I found this recipe at www.derbyshireuk.net/recipes.html. We tested the oatcakes and found them delicious but not quite as light as the ones I bought, perhaps one could reduce the oatmeal by an ounce and replace it with an equivalent amount of white flour. You may also need to add a little bit more water if the batter is standing for more than half an hour.
The Derbyshire Fruit Loaf is reminiscent of any Irish tea brack but I loved the addition of a few spoons of marmalade. Like a tea brack it keeps for ages and is delicious served buttered or unbuttered.
We stayed in Fischer’s Baslow Hall in Baslow, where Max Fischer and his Chef Rupert Rowley get huge ratings in the Good Food Guide for his innovative food, lots of foams and little bits to nibble. Max keeps a half acre kitchen garden packed with fresh herbs, vegetables and fruit. We had a delicious compote of plums with lemon verbena for breakfast and I couldn’t resist the home made passion fruit marshmallows, one of several tempting petit fours made by the young kitchen team. Max and Rupert also co-own Rowleys Restaurant and Bar in Baslow. We particularly remember a sweet potato soup with chilli oil – here’s a delicious recipe from Neven Maguire’s book ‘Neven’s Real Food for Real Families’
Neven’s Sweet Potato Soup with Ginger and Coconut
Choose firm sweet potatoes with orange flesh for their vibrant colour.
Serves 4 – 6
450g (1 lb) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 leek, finely chopped
1 teaspoon freshly grated root ginger
½ red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 lemon grass stalk, trimmed and halved
1.2 litres (2 pints) chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon tomato purée
250ml (9fl ozs) coconut milk
2 tablespoons torn fresh basil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Place the sweet potatoes in a baking tin, drizzle over half the sunflower oil, tossing to coat evenly, and roast for 20 – 30 minutes, until tender. Set aside.
Heat the remaining oil in a pan. Add the onion, leek, ginger, chilli and lemon grass and sweat for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the reserved roasted sweet potatoes with the stock and tomato purée, then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the liquid has slightly reduced and all of the vegetables are completely tender, stirring occasionally.
Pour the coconut milk into the pan and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Season to taste. Remove the lemon grass and then blend with a hand blender until smooth.
To serve, ladle the soup into warmed bowls and scatter over the basil.
Passion Fruit Marshmallows
180g (6 ¼ oz) passion fruit juice
20g (¾ oz) powdered gelatine
500g (18oz) caster sugar
240g (9oz) water
60g (2 ½ oz) egg white
Boil the sugar and water to 125°C. Mix the passion fruit juice and gelatine and whisk until it thickens. Add the passion fruit juice and mix into the syrup. Pour the mixture over semi-whipped egg whites. Continue to whisk the mixture to stiff peaks. Pour into a lined 15cm (6 inch) square container, the mixture should be 2cm (1 ¾ inch) deep, leave to cool. Cut into bite size pieces and roll in icing sugar before serving
Makes 15 approximately
450 g (1 lb) fine oatmeal (we used Macroom Oatmeal)
450g (1 lb) plain white flour
25g (1 oz) fresh yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 ½ litres (2½ pint) warm water
Mix the oatmeal, flour and salt in a warm bowl. Cream the yeast with the sugar and add ½ pint of the warm water. Pour the yeast mixture into the dry ingredients and add the rest of the water, mix slowly to a thin batter. Cover and set aside in a warm place until well risen, about 30 minutes.
Grease a large heavy frying pan over a medium heat; add a very little clarified butter. Pour a ladle or cupful of the batter on to the hot pan, shake the pan until it spreads into a round. Cook like a thick pancake for 3-4 minutes on each side, don’t turn until all the bubbles have burst.
The oatcakes will keep for 2-3 days. Reheat and serve with bacon and eggs or with lemon juice and sugar or toasted with honey or cheese.
Bakewell is a charming little village, well worth visiting. We’ve all heard of the Bakewell Tart but in Bakewell in Derbyshire – home of the Bakewell tart and Bakewell pie – they prefer the latter. They sell them in local shops but here is a recipe to make your own.
Serves 6 approximately
6oz to 8oz puff pastry
sieved raspberry jam – ¼ lb approximately
225g (8oz) butter
1 egg and 7 egg yolks
225g (8oz) castor sugar
Line a round or oval pie dish or plate at least one and a half inches deep with puff pastry. Spread the base with sieved raspberry jam. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a bowl over simmering water, adding the eggs and sugar. Stir until the custard is thickened. Flavour with a few drops of almond extract. Pour into the pastry, cook in a preheated oven at
180°C/350°F/Mark 4 for 45 minutes turning the heat down after 20 minutes to 160°C as necessary. Rachel’s Bakewell Bars
Derbyshire Fruit Loaf
Makes 2 loaves or with
10 – 15 slices in each
450 g (1 lb) mixed dried fruit
225g (8 oz) caster sugar
300 ml (½ pint) hot tea
1 x organic egg
450 g (1 lb) self raising flour
½ teaspoon mixed spice
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons marmalade
4 tablespoons milk
1 x 18cm (7 inch) cake tin or 2 x 450g (1lb) loaf tins
Put the dried fruit and the sugar into a mixing bowl; add the hot tea and leave to soak overnight. Next day, preheat the oven to
180°C/350°F/Mark 4. Grease the cake tin or with grease proof paper. Stir the beaten egg, flour, spices and the marmalade into the fruit, milk, sugar and tea mixture. (We added 4 tablespoons of milk to soften the dough) Pour into the cake tin or tins/ Bake for l hour in loaf tins or for 1 ¼ hours in a cake tin or until firm to the touch or until a skewer pushed into the cake comes out clean. Do not open the oven during the first hour of baking time or the fruit will drop. This cake will keep well. Serve cut into slices.
Compote of Plums with Lemon Verbena
Poach the plums whole, they’ll taste better but quite apart from that you’ll have the fun of playing – He loves me – he loves me not! You could just fix it by making sure you take an uneven number! Greengages are delicious cooked in this way also.
400g (14ozs) sugar
450ml (16 fl ozs) cold water
6 to 8 lemon verbena leaves
900g (2 lbs) fresh Plums, Victoria, Opal or those dark Italian plums that come into the shops in Autumn
Put the sugar, water and verbena leaves into a saucepan, bring slowly to the boil. Tip in the plums and poach, cover the saucepan and simmer until they begin to burst. Turn into a bowl, serve warm with a blob of softly whipped cream. Divine!
*The poached plums keep very well in the fridge and are delicious for breakfast without the cream!
Note: If plums are sweet use less sugar in syrup
Sloe or Damson Gin
It’s great fun to organise a few pals to pick sloes and have a sloe gin-making party. Sloes make a terrific beverage for Christmas presents. Either enjoy it neat or put a measure of damson or sloe gin in a glass, add ice, a slice of lemon and top it up with tonic.
700g (11⁄2lb) sloes or damsons
350g (12oz) granulated sugar
1.2 litres (2 pints) gin
Wash and dry the fruit and prick it in several places (we use a sterilised darning needle). Put the fruit into a sterilised glass Kilner jar and cover with the sugar and gin. Seal tightly.
Shake the jar every couple of days to start with and then every now and then for 3–4 months, by which time it will be ready to strain and bottle. It will improve on keeping so try to resist drinking it for another few months.
Gallweys Whiskey Truffles
The local food crusade continues to gather momentum
firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
There’s just time to catch the last of the sloes
Wait for Me! Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford sister, by Deborah Devonshire – published by John Murray
Chatsworth Estate, Bakewell, Derbyshire, DE45 1PP: 00 44 1246 565 300
Hardwick Hall, Chesterfield, Derbyshire S44 5QJ: 00 44 1246 850 430
Stainsby Mill, Heath, Chesterfield, Derbyshire: 00 44 1246 850 430
Fischer’s Baslow Hall, Calver Road, Baslow, Derbyshire:
00 44 1246 583 259
email@example.com, easy and fun to gather. If you make a batch of sloe gin now it’ll be ready to sip for Christmas. (see Wildfood). Fields in Skibbereen and Scallys in Clonakilty have been flying the flag for quite a long time. If you are in Schull look out for the ‘local produce shelf’ in Centra, on a recent visit, there were, cucumbers and leeks from Lisacahill, courgettes from Castletownsend, tomatoes from Rosbrinn, apples from Ballydehob carrots, cabbages from Goleen…Alternatively for more local produce visit Skibbereen Farmers Market every Saturday and the Schull Farmers Market every Sunday. Email are one of my favourite melting moments – fans will be delighted to hear that they have opened two Gallweys chocolate cafes – one in Tramore, the other in Waterford city – where you can not only sip hot chocolate guiltily but also have freshly roasted coffee, sandwiches, Panini, homemade soup and a couple of delicious desserts.
This is a delicious tray bake perfect for school lunches or to nibble with a cup of tea.
Makes 12 Bars
75g (3oz) butter, softened
25g (1oz) caster sugar
1 egg yolk
175g (6oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
200g (7oz) raspberry jam
100g (3 1/2oz) butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 eggs, beaten
a few drops of almond extract
100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds
100g (3 1/2oz) semolina
100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar
flaked almonds for sprinkling
20 x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) square cake tin
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Butter the sides of the cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.
First, make the biscuit base. Cream the butter in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer until soft. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and mix well, then sift in the flour and mix together to form a dough.
Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured work surface to the right size to fit the base of the tin and then press into the prepared tin. Spread the raspberry jam over the top then allow to chill in the fridge while you make the topping.
Place the melted butter in a bowl, add the beaten eggs and almond extract and mix well. Stir in the ground almonds, semolina and caster sugar.
Take the tin out of the fridge and spread the almond dough over the jam, being careful not to mess up the jam too much. (I usually place the almond dough in dots over the jam, then join it all together using the back of a spoon).
Sprinkle the top with the flaked almonds and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden and set in the centre. Allow to cool in the tin, then cut into fingers.