La dolce eater
From coast to countryside, Suffolk has the kind of fine food heritage which makes it the envy of the nation.
So when well-respected food journalist Rose Prince singled out Suffolk as a homegrown haven for top-notch food produce, it came as no great surprise to the county’s foodies.
“This is a county where, if you only scrape the surface, you will find enough food to fill you to your ears,” she wrote.
“Villages still have small butcheries, roadside honesty box sales of honey, eggs and vegetables are typical and fishermen sell their catch from beach huts.
“The richness of Suffolk is not an accident. Locals are loyal to their independent shops and have fought to keep the superstores out.”
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In a bid to convince the county that a Suffolk-only diet was not only delicious but also practical, the region’s first online farmer’s market, We Love Local Food, challenged a food fan living in Suffolk to eat an exclusively local diet for a week.
Local writer Karen Cannard, who lives in Bury St Edmunds with husband Adrian and sons Joseph, eight, and Thomas, five, took up the gourmet gauntlet.
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Paul Campbell, who runs We Love Local Food – which combines a not-for-profit online local food delivery service with a social enterprise that helps people back into the workplace - posted a message on social networking site Twitter asking for a volunteer to road test a Suffolk-only diet.
“Paul’s message was very inviting!” laughed Karen, who has previously written about ‘the rubbish diet’, when she spent a week feeding her family a diet where she created no un-recyclable waste.
“It said: ‘Do you want free Suffolk food for a week?’ How can you turn an offer like that down? Although I was very enthusiastic about eating local food, and cutting down on air miles and packaging, I’d never tried to live off Suffolk food exclusively, and I jumped at the challenge.”
Karen kept an online diary of her local food week at thesuffolkdiet.com where she charted the highs (kippers, Suffolk Pie, Ipswich Lemon Tart) and the lows (oysters) of eating food produced in the county.
“I was amazed at the sheer variety of food that is produced right here in Suffolk – you’ve got every kind of meat you might want, game, seafood from our coast, dairy products, oils, an incredible choice of vegetables and fruits in season and a great selection of cider, beer and wine,” she said.
“Eating out was where I struggled the most and when I started the challenge I felt too shy to ask cafes and retailers if their food was sourced from Suffolk, but by the weekend I found the question rolled more easily off my tongue.
“It was great to try new dishes and I loved cooking old Suffolk recipes and trying out new flavours. I made pastry with mash, pasta out of local flour and even tried kippers and oysters for the first time.
“The only things I really missed were tomatoes, which are out of season at the moment, and fresh peppers. Long-term, I’d struggle without rice and couscous, quick-cook pasta and, of course, chocolate.”
After her week was up, Karen said the challenge had encouraged her to eat more locally-produced food while continuing to create as little waste as possible.
“The Suffolk Diet week really opened my eyes,” she said.
“I now feel much more committed to buying good quality produce that is local to Suffolk or at least the East of England. I think it’s important to invest in the local economy and reduce food miles.
“The challenge has also encouraged me back into the kitchen to cook meals that I’ve never tried before. I’d recommend that everyone gives it a go!”
* The bulk of Karen’s Suffolk food was provided by welovelocalfood.co.uk, which sells food exclusively produced in Norfolk and Suffolk.
Suffolk food diary:
n The day before: I’ve chosen my food for the week from the welovelocalfood.co.uk website. It’s as simple as using any online supermarket system, but the key difference is that it tells you exactly where your food is coming from. It’s like going on a virtual gastro-tour around the county. I’m fairly confident that I’ve got the week sussed, easing in gently with chicken burgers on Monday and ending the week with a delicious pot roast on Sunday. I’ve made sure I’ve got a wonderful basket of ingredients to play with, including onions, carrots, mushrooms, blue cheese, yoghurt, mayonnaise, chutney, pesto, guacamole, minced beef, chicken, bacon and sausages. I’ve even got smoked kippers and kale. I’ve also supplemented the basket with a lemon drizzle cake from The Vanilla Bakery at Bury St Edmunds’ market, lavender and mint chocolate chip fudge from Yum Yum Tree Fudge. Aspall’s Cyder, red pepper chutney from Stonham Hedgerow and Suffolk wine. We relaxed the rules today and started early: smoked salmon from Pinney’s of Orford with scrambled eggs from hens in our garden and Scotch pancakes made with flour from Maple Farm. Delicious.
Day one: Today I ventured down the unchartered path of granola from Munchy Seeds based in Leiston, combined with yoghurt from Marybelle dairies in Halewsorth and chopped apple from the High House Fruit Farm in Sudbourne.
Brunch was kippers from Pinney’s of Orford – a great start to the day. I think la piece de resistance had to be tonight’s main course; Sutton Hoo chicken burgers – my husband and I had chilli and lemon flavour, the children’s burgers were plain - accompanied by a range of the county’s salad vegetables and leaves and chunky chips made from Suffolk-grown potatoes drizzled with Hillfarm’s Rapeseed Oil. I even made my very own crisps!
n Day two: The day kicked off with more granola, then I had a training course and only managed a few biscuits and a High House apple for lunch. For dinner, my five-year-old helped with glee – he was happy to be put in charge of the biggest potato in the county while I “splatted the chicken in the pan” with a few splashes of rapeseed oil, onions, red pepper, button mushrooms and yoghurt. I also took the bull by the horns and had a go at cooking the curly kale, tossing it in some melted butter and chilli powder and serving it with lightly pan-fried potato cubes. A thumb’s up.
n Day three: Today I really wanted to put the ‘Suffolk’ into my food challenge by using local products to make a traditional Suffolk pie which I picked out of a book called Favourite Suffolk Recipes (Dorothy Baldock). The flour was from Maple Farm, the pastry needed mash which was made from local potatoes and butter (at the time, I had no Suffolk butter, but I’ve since discovered Domini Dairy, at Market Weston). The filling was Suffolk-grown mushrooms, onions and carrots, kale, a white sauce made from the flour and Marybelle milk and smoked cheddar from the Suffolk Smokehouse in Framlingham. I also added Suffolk ham to balance the ingredients. I was extremely happy with the result. We also ate bread from Viv’s Patisserie in Bury with Mirabelle jam, Maynards’ apple juice and sausage rolls from Barwells in Bury St Edmunds.
n Day four: It’s Suffolk’s ‘Creating the Greenest County Awards’ and I’ve been shortlisted in the Community/Communications and Events category for my work in promoting waste reduction. I started the day with Munchy Seeds Granola topped with Marybelle strawberry yoghurt and chopped apple and after some wonderful news from my sister-in-law announcing the arrival of her first baby, I cracked open a bottle of Ickworth bubbly. Lunch was James White apple juice and local salad, including potatoes, ham, beetroot and Purely Pesto’s guacamole and hummus. The bad news was that I didn’t win the award, but the good news is I got to eat more local food at the ceremony: Althorn Farm chicken served with seasonal vegetables from Home Farm, Nacton with Hasketon Apple and Almond Tart, served with cream from Rendham Hall in Saxmundham.
n Day five: Today, ladies and gentlemen, I made what is officially known as an Ipswich Lemon Pie – yes, I know Suffolk isn’t famed for lemon growing, but I used a lemon half that’s been sitting in my fridge for the last couple of weeks, so I could claim that its length of residency now makes it local produce! Breakfast was granola, I had a Manic Organic apple and beetroot drink from James White Drinks in Ashbocking at a caf� and home-made oven chips and the leftovers from day three’s savoury pie. I’m still amazed I made that pie!
n Day six: I was planning a variation on spaghetti Bolognese, so out came the pasta roller with 120g of Maple Farm Kelsale flour and a couple of fresh eggs from our hens. I was chuffed to bits that it worked – it didn’t look as pretty as shop-bought pasta, but it tasted good and was very cheap to make. I made the Bolognese sauce using minced beef, red onions and chopped carrots, fried in rapeseed oil and stirred in some ready-made tomato and basil soup from Purely Pesto. Topped off with some local salad leaves, it was a complete meal sourced from Suffolk producers.
n Day seven: The last day of the Suffolk Diet challenge. We tried oysters for the first time: the chorus of “do it, do it, do it” from my children as I hesitated before eating them will ring in my head forever! I am obviously a culinary wimp, so the only thing for it was to try cooking them. We tried again, this time wrapped in Suffolk bacon and served with cream, but I just couldn’t cope with the texture. I really felt gutted, as I had been so looking forward to enjoying them and it being a real highlight of the week’s experience. I’d also been amazed that it was possible to source such a delicacy from Suffolk and that they were so cheap, too. I really hope I can get over myself and give them a go another time. The finale of the week was far more successful, with a tasty pot roast of beef brisket served with onions and potatoes that were delivered by Paul last Friday. We finished the last of the kale and enjoyed a glass of Ickworth’s Lady Geraldine’s Blush. This week has been less of a Suffolk Diet and more of a Suffolk Feast. It’s definitely changed the way I eat for the better.