I wanted to share with you a feature I wrote about a new Cornish cookery school, first published in Cornwall Today.
In which pasties & cream learns how to make, er, pasties and cream (more pictures below the fold):
You can hardly swing an artisan baguette in Cornwall without hitting upon a specialist bakery course, a filleting masterclass or a foraging walk, with everyone from chocolatiers to fishmongers to high-end restaurants now running niche cookery lessons on the side to meet our seemingly insatiable appetite for food education. The flourishing market for food skills and selectively sourced ingredients is, I like to think, part of the nation’s long journey back from the anonymity of the supermarket to the origins of our food.
If ever there were somewhere to help us reconnect with the land without forgoing modern sensibilities, it is Philleigh Way, a dedicated new cookery school on an old farm amid the pristine pastures of the Roseland Peninsula.
The business is the brainchild of brothers-in-law James, a long-time foodie who has left a 15-year career in law, and trained chef George, who earned his stripes in the kitchen at Bustophers in Truro – and their aim is to teach ‘new generation country cooking’.
It’s a back to basics approach, drawing on generations-old recipes and precision-sourced local ingredients, combined (and this is the really attractive bit) with the comforts of a state-of-the-art contemporary kitchen. Unlike the predominantly demo-based courses on the market in Cornwall, Philleigh Way stands out for its custom-created space, with workstations for up to ten people and no expense spared in the fit – marble surfaces, Neff ovens (à la Great British Bake Off), Robert Welch knives and Le Creuset cookware in the kitchen – not to mention the satisfying crunch of gravel on the approach.
No rough and ready farm experience, then, but nor is this an operation that shies away from the necessary mess, mud and blood of real food. One of the courses on its calendar is called, quite simply, ‘Pig’, during which you learn how to butcher an entire pig and make sausages. Or there’s the Game day, during which you will deal with a venison carcass, including the techniques of gutting, skinning and jointing. Less bloody but no less physical is the Bread day, which gets to grips with the arts of kneading, ‘knocking back’ and shaping.
I attended Philleigh Way’s most popular course, entitled ‘Cornwall in a Day’. From the name, it is tempting to expect a whistle-stop tour aimed squarely at tourists. To their surprise, it has so far been booked mainly by locals and it turned out that this Cornishwoman (despite the blog name) had much to learn about how our local specialities end up on our plates. I donned a crisp, white logoed apron and perused the recipes for the day’s line-up of Cornish big-hitters: clotted cream, saffron buns, Cornish pasty and crab.
Over the course of the day, we prepared each one from scratch, first putting raw milk from a local farm through a separator to see the cream slowly emerge and ‘clotting’ it even more slowly over a heat; learning the deceptively tricky art of pasty-crimping; killing, cooking, hand-picking and dressing a whole crab; and baking saffron buns infused with the unmistakable flavour and colour of real saffron (not artificially coloured as with many mass-produced renditions).
Philleigh Way signs you up to the dream of country cooking with an envy-inducing kitchen, and green and pleasant surroundings, but sends you home with serious practical skills and meaningful knowledge. Never again will I see crab on the menu without thinking about the energy that has gone into prising its morsels of sweet flesh from the compartments of the complicated shell. Nor will I dollop clotted cream without thinking about the five litres of milk that go into producing each tub.
Despite being a ‘school’, there was nothing dry about the experience – flutes and a chilled bottle of Prosecco appeared just before lunch, chill-out music played while we picked away at the crab, and there was a steady stream of banter between the brothers-in-law as they competed in the fields of pasty-crimping and the plumpness of their saffron buns.
The real star of the show, though, was conspicuous in spite of her absence: Granny. Throughout the day, the hosts referred to their oracle of traditional Cornish cooking, George’s grandmother, 87-year-old Betty Spear, who sounded like she could crimp a pasty with her eyes shut while throwing together a heavy cake.
The day made me thoughtful of how what most of us need from courses is less the ability to cook one or two exotic showpiece dishes than nuts and bolts knowledge of what happens to food between plough and plate, sea and sandwich – the kind of skills and heritage that would once have been passed down through the generations but somewhere along the line the links seem to have been lost. Thankfully, the connections are live and crackling in this corner of Cornwall, where Granny Spear’s cooking expertise is finding a wider audience than she could surely ever have imagined.
‘Cornwall in a Day’ costs £115, bookable on the website. Philleigh Way Cookery School, Court Farm, Philleigh, Truro, TR2 5NB, 01872 580893, www.philleighway.co.uk. First published in Cornwall Today.