Chef cooks up a Norfolk treat

It might have smelt like international cuisine but the mouthwatering ingredients that went into the bubbling stew and sizzling sausages were all straight out of Norfolk's backyard.

By NICK HEATH

It might have smelt like international cuisine but the mouth-watering ingredients that went into the bubbling stew and sizzling sausages were all straight out of Norfolk's backyard.

Be it freshly caught cod off Weybourne or ripe beetroot plucked from an allotment in Scarning, near Dereham, Norfolk chef Jennie Lock showed you don't have to take a step outside the county to cook up a storm.

Nearly every ingredient of the sumptuous seven dishes she prepared during Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse's May Day Food Fair yesterday was sourced locally.

The fair aimed to get people to reconnect with the rich bounty offered up by Norfolk, from the cool coastal climate of north Norfolk that produces "the best barley in the world" to the tart and earthy flavours of the orchards of Ashill Fruit Farm, near Watton.

Ten different local producers showcased some of the county's finest delicacies - Orchard Farm with their fat Gloucester Old Spot sausages from a herd reared at Bodham, The Real Ale shop with its luxurious beers brewed from barley grown outside Wells, and North Elmham Bakery with its rich, crusty Saxon bread.

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Mrs Lock, who owns Greenbanks Country Hotel and Restaurant at Wendling, near Dereham, said: "As a chef I have discovered there is such a rich variety on my doorstep I really rarely need to look anywhere else."

Even the origin of the recipes is local: Mrs Lock's Norfolk Stew was a traditional recipe from a centenarian who had spent most of her life working on a farm in Attleborough.

Nowhere is this natural wealth more evident than in the 200 golden acres of barley grown at Branthill Farm, near Wells, that is used to supply 14 Norfolk microbrewers in the county.

The farm has won several industry awards for quality and traceability and Graham King, of Branthill Farm and The Real Ale Shop, said: "North Norfolk is one of the best places in the world for growing barley and just what is needed to make top notch real ale," he said.

Rose Sheen, duty manager at Gressenhall, said: "We want people to see all the really good local stuff that is on offer here and take some local produce home with them.

"As long as you didn't mind eating seasonally you probably could feed yourself entirely from Norfolk."

Apart from titillating the taste buds families were also able to rediscover the joy of cultivating their own food, with the chance to plant seed potatoes in earth freshly ripped by the farm's hulking Suffolk Punch horses pulling a 19th century plough.

This tradition of self-sufficiency was also evident in the workhouse's Cherry Tree Garden, a recreation of an English cottage garden, with its exuberant floral borders of purple hoary stocks and blue Forget Me Nots and large vegetable patches sprouting with shallots, carrots, onions and even gooseberry bushes.

Mrs Sheen said: "You can see the mix, attractive flowers but also vegetables to support the family, if you look at council houses built between the two world wars you will find they all have these massive gardens to help the family feed themselves. It would be hard to go back to that today because there just is not the space now."

Richard Dalton, Gressenhall farm manager, said: "I hope that today will help people feel connected with the process of growing food.

"They will pick up a seed potato and put it in the ground and hopefully come back later in the year to dig up their potatoes when they have matured.

"Ultimately nothing tastes as good as fruit or vegetable that you have grown and picked yourself.

"Hopefully today will also give people a taste of what is on offer, Norfolk is phenomenonly productive with some of the UK's best land, from the wheat and the barley grown around here to the Fens with its sugar beet, potatoes and carrots."

The day also featured talks and re-enactments by the museum's volunteers on the history of food and agriculture, traditional farmhouse bread and cake making, tractor and cart rides and a food-themed Art Attack session for children.

Fair visitors Shelagh and Geoff Hayton are currently raising funds for the restoration of Dereham Windmill and revealed their plans to use the restored mill to grind wheat grown at Gressenhall to help produce a truly local loaf.

Mrs Hayton said: "It is just so lovely to live in an area where you have everything on your doorstep; when you can do that there's no need to buy something that's travelled half way around the world."

cOMMENT - Page 20

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