It all started with a green and white polka dot tea-set. Bone china and a chance find in Greenwich market 4 years ago. The sort of tea-set to conjure images of old fashioned summer afternoons with lashings of pop and tea and cakes on the lawn. It co-incided with my becoming the proud of owner of such a lawn – complete with a magic apple tree in the centre, its shady branches the perfect canopy for picnics and teatime treats.
Like so many frazzled and cooped up Londoners embracing the pastoral idyll, we quickly bought into the idea of “country life”. And that included home baking. I’d been rather good at cake making as a child. A sort of adolescent Nigella, though pudgy and with spots -not a goddess at all. On Saturday mornings, having consulted Marguerite Pattern, I would unveil the Kenwood chef and set about producing elaborate cakes and pastries for the family tea.
At the age of twelve I was creating bijoux christmas cakes – snow white and piped to perfection – and selling them to neighbours. At fifteen, with my friend Fiona, we tripled our pocket money cooking dinner parties for our parents and their friends. My speciality – the showy desserts that were all the rage in ‘70s Bromley. Multi-layered black forest gateau, encrusted with chocolate curls, light as a feather pavlova, filled with the new exotics – kiwi, mango and kumquat.
Heady days indeed. And great fun. But somehow, since then, I had lost the art of baking. And so the arrival of the polka dot tea-set was the perfect opportunity to re-kindle my love affair with teatime indulgence. I started off with traditional fare – easy to make scones, victoria sandwich, sticky gingerbread. Then came jams and chutneys. Three years ago I managed to cultivate my own sour dough starter. Amazing! And the source of a weekly batch of tasty bread and pizza. From there it was a small step to the food for free movement and John Seymour’s complete guide to self sufficiency. This we consumed fireside one Christmas (along with rather a lot of wine I suspect) to a point where we were seriously considering the practicalities of “the Thunderbox”. Two years on we have lost some of that earlier naivity. We grow loads of our own veg and brew pretty good beer, cider and other country beverages. But the installation of a thunderbox, proably wisely, is now raised only in the presence of house guests who have outstayed their welcome.