Fun had by all at our 3rd Cook Local session

We’re still buzzing with excitement after sourcing, cooking and heartily munching through 5 courses of local vegetarian food last night at the WI kitchen in Ipswich.

Thanks go out to the 10 lovely people who came to learn new dishes with our fantastic volunteer chef Lesley Bennett, who helped them cook up a mushroom ragout, butternut squash curry, barlotti bean barlotto, baked raspberry-stuffed apples and a classic Suffolk apple crumble. We finished the meal tasting 10 local apples donated by the Suffolk Traditional Orchards Group, paired with 3 delicious Suffolk cheeses. Is your mouth watering yet? Ours certainly were!

In all the excitement we forgot to take photos, but thanks go to to an enthusiastic attendee Elene, who snapped some of the courses on her phone for us. We started with a mushroom ragout using local Trimley mushrooms and Marybelle cream. The mushrooms smelled and tasted amazing! We had this as a starter with a nutmeg mash and local Tattingstone greens from Ponds Farm.

Mushroom ragout starter, with nutmeg mash and local greens

Next up, a two-pronged main course of butternut squash curry and barlotti bean barlotto. Squashes are just coming into season at this time of year, and we were pleased to find barlotti beans growing in Newbourne. The beans come in fantastic purple pods, and with a bit of pre-cooking, gave some additional favour to the barlotto. Barlotto is a local equivalent of risotto using pearl barley, which is grown right here in Suffolk. It takes a little longer to cook than arborio rice (40 minutes or so), but was really worth the wait. Both dishes were packed with colourful local veg, including sweet red peppers from Newbourne, which I also found growing in lots of other farms near Ipswich.

Butternut squash curry and barlotti bean barlotto, topped with Shipcord cheese

We were amazed that a 500g bag of pearl barley (75 pence) gave us enough barlotto for us all to eat, and about half of us to take another portion home. A genuinely affordable protein! We bought ours from Norfolk distributor Shire Foods – a slight cheat as it will have gone out of the county for packaging and distribution – but our chef Lesley knows a local farmer who grows it. The challenge now is to find these local growers who can sell direct to us. Like the Great British Bean project, which seeks to find a local market for Suffolk fava beans, it would be fantastic to boost the local market for pearl barley, to avoid all the transportation costs of moving it around the country for packing and selling.  It would be great to be able to buy Suffolk-grown pearl barley in local shops, instead of relying on regional and national importers and distributors. Perhaps this can be a future Transition project?

To finish the meal we had an apple feast, and to call it a feast was not an understatement! As if we weren’t already pretty stuffed by this point, we all found room for a well-stuffed apple. Foraged blackberries and some raspberries from Hubbard’s Hall farm in Bentley, just outside of Ipswich, were stuffed into cored apples, sourced from the Suffolk Traditional Orchards Group leader Paul Read, who supplied apples from his orchards in Thrandesdon. We also used some large Grenadier cookers to make a big crumble.

Baked apple with raspberry and blackberry coulis

Finally we had a cheese and apple tasting board, with 10 varieties of apples grown in Suffolk. From the well known local St Edmund’s  Russet and Lady Henniker, to more interesting ‘aquired tastes’ of suspected Suffolk originators, such as the Black Colman and Red Ellison, many were a little sharp and early but it was great to see the variety of apples grown here. By growing a sufficient variety of apples, and with careful harvesting and storing, Paul told us he eats his local apples all year round!  Paired with Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses‘ gold and blue, and a Rodwell Farm Dairy mature Shipcord, we all went home very well fed.

Thanks to everyone who came and joined us, and to our wonderful chef Lesley for sharing her knowledge and skills with us.  It was a great opportunity to share cookery tips amongst a group, and great fun eating the fruits of the evening’s labour together afterwards. As we supped homemade elderflower wine to celebrate, we concluded that a (largely) 30 mile meal is definitely possible and pretty affordable. See Kirsty’s blog for details on how she sourced the ingredients, and some example costs. Local veg is cheap and delicious!

The final Cook Local Session in next Wednesday:  local game. We’re looking forward to seeing some familiar and new faces for our final session, and even starting to dream up ideas for a regular cooking/supper club. Watch this space!

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