Former Suffolk teacher is serving up sensational afternoon teas

Debs McKenzie of Suffolk Slice

Debs McKenzie of Suffolk Slice - Credit: Archant

Many of us dream of retirement. No more answering to ‘the man’. No dragging ourselves out of bed to the beat of the alarm clock. 

But there’s one thing I’ve learned to be true. Retired folk are busy. I mean, really busy. I’ve got a friend who regularly complains she can’t get a look-in with her parents because they’re always ‘here, there and everywhere’. Good for them, I say. 

There are many people for whom ‘retirement’ is actually a codeword for finally doing what they love. 

Which is exactly how Suffolk Slice, launched by former teacher Debs McKenzie, came about. 

Scones and brownies made by Suffolk Slice

Scones and brownies made by Suffolk Slice - Credit: Archant

Debs, from Bildeston, began her teaching career 43 years ago, based for most of that time in Essex, before crossing the border into Suffolk in 1995, where she ran Moat Barn nursery school in Hasketon. 

After losing her dad, and spending time supporting her mum, Debs sold the business and took on a ‘temporary’ teaching job at a school in Capel St Mary...staying for 13 years until her retirement last summer. 

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It wasn’t to last. 

“On the final day of term I threw everything in the car and drove to Cornwall,” Debs says. “Our family has a house there and I said we should just go because I knew I’d find that day tough. I loved my job and I thought I’d get a bit morbid if I stayed at home.” 

Off she popped for a couple of weeks of TLC, alongside her daughter, coming across an online selling site offering a converted horse trailer while browsing the web on holiday. 

“I’d had in the back of my mind ‘what am I going to do when I get home?’ There’s only so much ironing you can do,” she laughs. “I’d thought about making some things, and doing a few farmers’ markets but my daughter showed me the trailer and it looked perfect.” 

The duo went to see the trailer on their way home from the West Country, snapped it up, and just weeks after hanging up her school lanyard, Debs was set on a whole new path, beginning by catering a private party for a friend of a friend. 

Sausage rolls and sandwiches made by Suffolk Slice

Sausage rolls and sandwiches made by Suffolk Slice - Credit: Archant

The intention was to focus on shows and events, but word-of-mouth and interest on social media has meant January and February have been ‘crazy’ for Debs, who says she thinks her attention to detail and “nice homely touches” are what have led to the almost overnight success of Suffolk Slice. 

At events, Debs will take along a few big cakes (think Biscoff and chocolate orange), a huge range of cupcakes, from Maltesers to Baileys, Pimms and strawberry shortcake flavoured. Then there are brownies. Sticky slabs of gingerbread. And boxes of scones, cream and jam, or miniature afternoon teas to takeaway. 

Afternoon tea delivery is available around the BIldeston and Hadleigh area, branching out to nearby towns and villages (she’s quite flexible), with a huge selling point being that, instead of lots of little cakes, customers get a proper, big, fat Victoria sponge delivered with their tea, to cut up and share. 

“It’s £15 per person. For that, customers get finger sandwiches with a choice of three fillings. I can cater for vegans and veggies, and I use all-local produce. So fresh free-range eggs from the farm up the road, and proper Suffolk ham comes from the butcher. I use good quality Cheddar. Then we have homemade sausage rolls, which I coat in sesame and poppy seeds, classic brownies, fruit scones with Cornish clotted cream and jam, or cheese scones with onion marmalade and cream cheese, and a whole Victoria sponge, which will feed three to four people.  

“I pack it all up in my farmers tray and deliver straight to the door.” 

Boxes of afternoon tea from Suffolk Slice

Boxes of afternoon tea from Suffolk Slice - Credit: Archant

The baker has enjoyed cooking her whole life. “I’ve always baked and done family events. People would say ‘can you make me some brownies?’ or ‘can you make me a nice cake?’. It’s something I’ve loved to do in my downtime so seemed a natural route to fill my time when I retired. The nice thing is I can work it around me. I choose how many shows to do, and I can still block out time for my family.” 

Her favourite bakes? 

“I love to make big cakes – and I can make flavours to suit people’s needs, but I don’t do fondant work and decorations. I’ve eaten cakes that look beautiful but don’t taste nice, or are too dry. For me cakes are all about flavours. They’ve got to be moist and light, with a great taste. That's what I work on. 

“I do like my Maltesers cupcakes and others I make with salted caramel in the middle!” 

Debs needs a couple of weeks’ notice to prepare afternoon tea, which can be ordered via also find Suffolk Slice on social media. 

Suffolk Slices Victoria sponge

Food and drink editor Charlotte Smith-Jarvis says Suffolk Slice's Victoria sponge is the best she's ever eaten - Credit: Archant

The Suffolk Slice experience 

Debs kindly delivered me an afternoon tea to try. The boxes of goodies were delightfully packaged – a lot of care had gone into the labelling, and tying each package up in ribbons. It felt like a proper treat. 

Our dining table was fully laden with freshly baked, freshly made goodies. The egg and cress, cheese and pickle and ham sandwiches were packed with tasty, high-quality ingredients. The scones split neatly down the middle, with a tender crumb. 

The sausage rolls had a puffy, delicate pastry and very delicious meaty filling, again, made with proper ingredients. Ten minutes in the oven rendered these irresistible. 

We all went nuts for the brownies. Deeply fudgy, with a very liberal dose of white chocolate chunks throughout. 

But the showstopper was the whole Victoria sponge. Sandwiched with sweet vanilla buttercream and strawberry jam, dusted with icing sugar, and finished with sliced strawberries, it is the best Viccy sponge I’ve ever eaten anywhere.  Seriously. I consider my own sponges to be light, but Debs’ was simply extraordinary. Cloud-like, puffy and soft. I’m still dreaming about it. 

Highly recommended!