Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a big fan of Vale House Kitchen, and I’ve been on a few of their lovely cookery courses – you can read all about my adventures in marmalade-making here. Vale House is a beautiful old manor house, tucked into the side of a hill on the outskirts of the village of Timsbury, and owners Bod & Annie have turned the barn behind the house into a cosy little cookery school. I must admit I’ve had my eye on this course for ages – there’s nothing that gets me in the mood for Christmas like a bit of festive baking – so I was delighted to get stuck into Christmas this year with the Edible Gifts course, led by expert baker and preserving queen Vivien Lloyd.
|Expert Viv demonstrating her marmalade gin|
We started, as Vale House courses always start, with big mugs of tea and something delicious to nibble – in this case, Vivien’s wonderful frangipane mince pies. I’ve always been a bit of a humbug about mince pies but these were gorgeously light, topped with melt-in-the-mouth frangipane (I reckon I’ve never liked the supermarket ones because there’s too much pastry going on) and just the thing with a cuppa. Suitably fuelled up, we started the day by making plum chutney – I don’t know about you, but on a cold winter evening, I think it’s hard to beat a really good cheeseboard with a glass of red wine, and of course, every cheeseboard needs chutney. We started preparing our ingredients while Viv explained her secrets to a really good chutney, one of which is using exactly the right vinegar – in her words, supermarket own brand vinegar is a cleaning product, not an edible condiment… with big pans of chutney bubbling away and smelling mouth-watering, we moved on to the next task – half the class made Cheese & Chutney Crackers (using some plum chutney Viv had made earlier, Blue Peter style) while half made Chocolate Quake cookies, which erupt and crack in the oven so they look fabulously photogenic.
|Chocolate Quake cookies|
Worn out from our hard work, we retired to the cosy downstairs dining room, warmed by a little log burner, for a well-earned lunch. I have to confess that part of the reason I love Vale House (aside from the beautiful location, and the lovely owners, and the fact that the courses are fantastic) is that lunch is always pretty amazing – Vivien rustled up some wonderful homemade garlic bread, a rich and cheesy pasta bake, and a carrot and endive salad, followed by pear and chocolate cake with clotted cream.
Fed and watered, we returned to the classroom to make the aforementioned amazing mince pies, filling them with Vivien’s homemade mincemeat (we all got a couple of jars to take home, too, so I can make some more), and to decant our plum chutney. We finished the day with a few tips from Viv on making liqueurs for Christmas, including a lovely lemon brandy (surely just the thing to chase away coughs and colds in the winter months) and a gin infused with marmalade that I just can’t wait to have a go at. We were all loaded up with a basketful of our freshly-made goodies to take home, and I left feeling marvellously festive – Christmas is going to be particularly delicious this year…
|Beautiful old Vale House|