A Brief History Of The Perfect Pork Pie

If you live in Norfolk, when anyone mentions pork pies you know they’re likely to be talking about those made by Bray’s Cottage. In 2017, Bray’s celebrates 10 years of trading and so it was an ideal time for me to meet the founder and owner Sarah Pettegree and chat to her about the porky deliciousness of her pies and sausage rolls and also find out a little more about the woman behind the brand.

After a degree at the University of East Anglia, Sarah found employment as a civil servant at the Ministry of Agriculture, working as a humble clerical assistant because “I needed a job”. The job didn’t pay particularly well and there were no career prospects but luckily Sarah later passed a Civil Service promotion board and was offered a role at HMSO (Her Majesty’s Stationery Office) which surprised her seeing as she wasn’t very good at maths: a management accounting job! There was no other offer on the horizon and so Sarah bit the bullet, learned to do the job well and eventually became a qualified Chartered Accountant.

When HMSO was privatised in 1996, Sarah was made redundant and worked in various contract positions for organisations such as Norwich Union and CITB. Thanks to experience gained in her previous job, she was able to train managers on various in-house business management systems. While this meant she was moving away from accountancy, it was also giving her an opportunity to learn how people ran their businesses. At the same time, the television programme “Dragons’ Den” was in its early days and Sarah was interested to watch the start-up process surrounding new business and whether they succeeded or failed.

Sarah had always felt the pull of the countryside and once she realised she no longer wanted to work in Norwich or London, she moved to the Norfolk countryside in 2001 and took time to think about what sort of business would be sustainable. One of her early ideas was to do something using her arty skills – Sarah had studied painting and sculpture at the Open College of Arts – but realised although it would be enjoyable, she would be unlikely to earn a living from it.

Then she thought of something food-related. A friend had a couple of saddleback pigs and the idea of making pork pies was born. Sarah felt that the traditional pork pies that were generally available in supermarkets or even butchers’ shops were all quite “samey”, with no unusual or interesting flavour combinations available.

Sarah’s pies took off and her initial sales – via a website with a mail order facility -resulted in an article being written by the Food Editor of The Sunday Times. Sarah’s first big customer was “The Green Grocer” in Norwich and in 2006, they told Sarah that her pies were their best-selling product (after potatoes). They are still a valued customer today.

 

Here’s Sarah at one of the many Norfolk foodie events she attends – doing what she does best!

 

These days, you can buy Bray’s Cottage “Pies by Post” via the website otherwise you’ll find them only at independent retailers and pubs. During any given week, Brays could be making between 1,000 and 3,000 pork pies and there are seasonal spikes at times like Christmas and Valentine’s Day. You can even buy a pork pie “wedding cake”. A small range of sausage rolls was added to the Brays repertoire when one of Sarah’s retailers mentioned that the ones available elsewhere weren’t particularly good. There are now two sizes of Brays sausage rolls and two flavours: plain and with onion marmalade. Interestingly, the onion marmalade pork pie is Sarah’s best seller. Having tasted it, I can see why!

 

 

Apart from Sarah and her partner Derek (who gave up his music career a few years ago to help with the business), there are 8 members of staff at Brays who are the “bakers and makers” of the pies and sausage rolls. Derek mostly deals with administration, book-keeping and the local deliveries although Sarah pointed out that he can also bake! Sarah now focuses on growing the business, marketing, PR and maintaining a lively presence on social media.

I asked her if there had been any low points in her pork pie career and she said the early days of setting up a small business are very challenging. You have to work really hard and it takes over your life. Now, 10 years on, Sarah said it’s more manageable now there are people to whom she can delegate and she has time to appreciate the rewards: working in a great environment, supplying a product that people love and also having fun along the way.

I asked what the future holds for the Bray’s Cottage brand and Sarah said “more of the same”. She wants to grow the mail order side of the business and link up with more Norfolk and UK wide retailers. At the moment, some of the places in Norfolk where you can buy Brays pork pies are Picnic Fayre in Cley, Back to the Garden in Letheringsett, Walsingham Farm Shop, Henry’s Coffee Store in Cromer and Blakeney Deli.

There are other stockists of Bray’s further afield too e.g. London, the Midlands, Wales and the North of England. A full list of stockists is on the website.

You can find Sarah at Creake Abbey Farmers’ Market on the first Saturday of every month (during the season) and at bigger local Norfolk events including the Aylsham Show and the North Norfolk Food Festival.

And if you want to learn how to make outstanding pork pies yourself, Sarah runs classes in Norwich. Details are on the website but spaces sell out fast.

 

 

Sarah said her life now is so different from when she used to be an accountant and she thrives on the positive comments she receives about Brays’ products. “After all”, she said, “nobody ever told me I’d produced the best spreadsheet they’d ever seen”!

 

http://www.perfectpie.co.uk

 

This article originally appeared on the Norfolk Places website.

A review of Creake Abbey Farmers’ Market, Norfolk

We’ve recently moved to North Norfolk from south London where every month in our small town a ‘Farmers’ Market’ took place, or rather, what a non-country town would class as one anyway. There were usually about 15 stalls and while you could buy cheese, some meat and fish, vegetables and cakes, most of the stallholders were not local and the goods weren’t particularly exciting. The Council wouldn’t allow two stalls to sell similar wares so you didn’t have the option of trying a variety of foodie things from different suppliers which I found a little disappointing.

So when I saw that Creake Abbey in North Creake, Norfolk, holds a monthly Farmers’ Market with over 50 – yes, fifty – food producers in attendance, I simply had to go and have a look. From where I live, this meant a 70 mile round trip but for a morning out where I could indulge my curiosity for all things food-related, it would be worth it. As luck would have it, it was a fine day and the drive there was easy. The traffic in Norfolk is nothing like it was near Croydon!

When I arrived at Creake Abbey on Saturday 7th May, I really didn’t know where to begin browsing as there are some permanent shops on the site, a café, a food hall as well as the various stalls run by the local producers. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop – slightly overwhelmed by the scale of it all but desperate to see as much as I could.

To sum it up and as detailed on the flyers for the market, you could buy: the finest meat and vegetables, pies, pastries, puddings and tartes, fresh juices, cordials, breads and ‘morning goods’, dairy produce, cheese, plants, herbs, beer, chocolate, fudge and more. Many of the stallholders provided tasting samples which is a great idea although my Slimming World leader may have been slightly aghast at the amount of things I had to try!

I can’t list here all the wonderful produce I saw although I’ll give a shout out to the companies whose goods I purchased on the day.

Here is the lovely Candi from “Candi’s Chutney”.

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I love a good chutney or pickle and Candi has come up with some sublime flavours. I had to sample several (ahem) but went away clutching jars of Parsnip & Chilli, Norfolk Nobbly (yes, really!) and a seasonal asparagus chutney. For me, a plus point is that Candi doesn’t fill most of her chutneys with lots of dried fruit as I really don’t like sultanas and raisins. Apparently a new flavour is under development and I’ve been told gin will be involved. Now that is one to watch out for! Candi’s website is: www.candischutney.vpweb.co.uk

I was delighted to find that the Fruit Pig Company sold their own version of an elusive sausage that I’d been hankering after for a while and so I nabbed one of the last packs of ‘merguez’. This is traditionally a red spicy mutton or beef based fresh sausage flavoured with cumin, chilli pepper and other spices and originated from Arab / North African cuisine. I first tasted it when I lived in Paris years ago but sadly you don’t see it much in the UK although you can find it at specialist or ethnic butchers. You can order your porky goodies online including some posh black pudding: www.fruitpigcompany.com

Here is the very friendly, smiley chap I bought the merguez from:

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I met Sarah who produces the most divine “Bray’s Cottage Pork Pies” and I simply had to buy a seasonal special which was pork and wild garlic. I took this home and shared it with my husband – he was a happy man! Both he and I recall the awful mass produced pork pies we used to be given in packed lunches when we went on school trips in the 1970s. Thank goodness there are people like Sarah who have elevated the humble pork pie to superstar status. The ingredients are simple but high quality: North Norfolk outdoor reared pork, a secret blend of herbs and spices and a hot water crust pastry plus other ingredients depending on the season. There is no jelly in the pies so what you taste is pure porky, herby goodness. The website is: http://www.perfectpie.co.uk

I know from personal experience that you can buy Bray’s Cottage pies in places like ‘Back to the Garden’ in Letheringsett, ‘Bakers and Larners’ in Holt and ‘Picnic Fayre’ in Cley but of course the pies are to be found elsewhere too. Here’s Sarah on the stall, which I have to say was looking extremely ‘sold out’ by the time I got there.

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Finally, I didn’t just buy things I could eat – I also found a lovely tea supplier called “Nelson & Norfolk Tea Co” run by Mark Richmond who is based in North Walsham. I purchased a couple of his fruity, caffeine free blends which smelled absolutely wonderful. Mark has over 20 years’ experience in the tea business and his range includes the very popular ‘Norfolk Tea’ (an all-day blend of black teas), ‘Norfolk Earl Grey’, chocolate tea, fruity teas and green teas.

Mark’s website is: www.nelsonandnorfolktea.co.uk

This was the tea stall on the day I visited:

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I chatted with lots of other producers – including ‘Ollands Farm Foods’, ‘Chilli Fundamentals’ and ‘Hands On Preserves’ – but sadly my spending money on the day was limited otherwise I would have bought more goodies. There’s always next time though as the Farmers’ Market is held on the first Saturday of every month (except January). If you are free on Saturday 4th June 2016, I recommend you go along as Creake Abbey definitely holds one of the best Farmers’ Markets that I’ve seen.

The website with all the details is: www.creakeabbey.co.uk

 

 

Disclaimer: I was not asked to write about Creake Abbey Farmers’ Market and the above article represents my impressions on the day. I was not given any freebies or incentivised in any other way in return for a favourable review.

 

 

Fun With Friends, Cakes and An Extra Slice!

IMG_1543I’ve previously mentioned that I belong to a Twitter-based group called ‘The Sunday Baking Club’. During the week a baking theme is set for the following weekend and on the Sunday, people post photographs on Twitter of their creations. The top 10 are selected and put to a public vote. Whoever gains the most votes wins the big prize, namely a ‘virtual’ Golden Spoon Award. With an incentive like that, who wouldn’t want to take part?

Anyway, the BBC picked up that the group existed and Dominique the organiser was asked if any members would like to attend filming of ‘An Extra Slice’, which is the spin off to ‘The Great British Bake Off’ and airs on a Friday night. A robust group of individuals (me included) took up this exciting opportunity and on Sunday 20th September 2015 we found ourselves heading to Waterloo station to meet up before heading to the TV studio nearby. I didn’t have to travel too far as I live in Surrey / south London but I was astounded to see that other Bake Off loving Sunday Baking Club fans had travelled from the Midlands, Staffordshire, Norfolk and even Leeds to attend the filming. Now that is true dedication to the baking cause. Some of the attendees had met previously while others identified themselves by their Twitter names which was very amusing but put everyone at ease right away. It did feel a little weird though saying “I’m The Little PK. How do you do?”!

Of course, our group didn’t just consist of a number of bodies – there were large amounts of cake and patisserie items too – well it was ‘patisserie week’ after all. I’m in awe of those people who travelled great distances with large boxes while navigating trains, tubes and buses and managed to keep their bakes in one piece.

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We trooped of to the ITV studios and arrived at 1.15pm to be checked in. Here’s the group photograph taken in the reception area. What a fine, upstanding bunch of cakey bakey enthusiasts we are. Can you tell we were just a little bit excited?

We were given rather fetching lilac wristbands and then were escorted to a room where we had to sign a confidentiality agreement. This was because we would be seeing the following week’s episode and would know before the general population who was booted out. After that, we unveiled our cakes and bakes and a chap called Oliver walked round asking people for details of what they had made. The TV team were clearly going to highlight any unusual or interesting bakes that would be discussed during filming. image2 - Copy (15)

I’m afraid that I wasn’t able to bring anything spectacular. As I’d spent the day before viewing houses, I hadn’t had time to make a large cakey extravaganza so I’d kept it simple with lemon madeleines and cherry bakewell chocolate dipped Viennese whirls. They tasted rather good though so I was pleased with them. (I used Edd Kimber’s recipe for the Madeleine which was in his book “Patisserie Made Simple”.) At least I had something to display when the phrase “Show us your bakes” was announced later on.

However, some of the Sunday Baking Club devotees had come up with some great creations – more about those later.

All this took us to almost 2pm when we were told we wouldn’t be needed until 3.45pm so most of us toddled across to the pub and had lunch which involved varying degrees of sausages and mash, fish and chips and possibly someone had a salad. I’m not quite sure what that was about when the day was all about cake and indulgence. However, it does explain why some people are slim and I’m not! We knew it was going to be a long day so we needed to fuel up while we had the chance. Ahem. Let’s move on……

Back at the studio and after a bit of hanging around and a briefing from the Extra Slice producer, we were led into the area where filming would take place. Our group was fortunate that we were all seated in ‘First Class’ i.e. at the tables close to where Jo Brand and the celebrity guest panel would be sitting. Except that Jo Brand was not available that day and so the lovely Sarah Millican was standing in.

We watched the following week’s episode and therefore were aware of who got knocked out. As I’m posting this after this has become public knowledge and after the Extra Slice show has aired, I can now say that I was very disappointed that Paul the Prison Governor left this week. He’d had a few hairy moments earlier on in the series and it was sad to see that patisserie week got the better of him. I was hoping he would be in the final but it wasn’t to be.

After we’d seen the episode, the panel came in and filming started. The panel consisted, as usual, of three people and I’m embarrassed to say that I’d only heard of Gregg Wallace. The patisserie expert was a lady called Cherish Finden who is the Executive Pastry Chef at the Langham Hotel. It seems one of her finest moments was making doughnuts for Lady Gaga but from what she said, they were above average doughnuts. The other panellist was a (very) young comedian called Joe Lycett who was quite funny and had a style of delivery reminiscent of Julian Clary (who is more my age group). Sarah Millican introduced the proceedings and discussed the episode with the panel. I thought she did a good job of covering for Jo Brand (who I would have liked to see) but Sarah does talk remarkably quickly and I found it a bit of a challenge keeping up with her!

The filming then moved to showing bakes – both good and bad – that had been sent in via social media. The less successful bakes did elicit a few sniggers but they were very funny. I think it’s great that people can make fun of themselves and are such good sports.

And then, the moment I’d been looking forward to – some of the Sunday Baking Club members were picked out to discuss their bakes which was great fun. Rebecca talked about her ‘drunken Mary Berry’ cake

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and John spoke about his elegant looking ‘chocolate and Marmite macarons’ which clearly intrigued the panel, who insisted on tasting them. Now I’d tasted one of these earlier in the afternoon and John didn’t mention Marmite to me at the time. I found it to be delicious but either my taste buds are lacking or I have got used to Marmite but I could only sense a rich chocolatey flavour, certainly no hint of the savoury yeastiness that you either love or hate.

One or two other bakes were picked out for discussion but I wasn’t close enough to see them properly. And then hilarity ensued when a lady was asked to show what she had brought along and it was – apparently – a hedgehog made of choux pastry with a few chocolate fingers added. Well, the studio dissolved into laughter as quite frankly, it looked like a hedgehog that had been run over. It looked like roadkill. To paraphrase the Monty Python dead parrot sketch (yes, I am that old….), “The hedgehog is no more. It has ceased to be. This is a late hedgehog. It’s a stiff.” You get my drift.

And then came the big moment when poor evicted Paul was interviewed about his performance during patisserie week and his thoughts on the whole Bake Off experience. I thought he was a lovely chap even when he was ribbed about his flat Genoise cake and his banana disasters. Given the amount of time that was spent filming the panel discussions which was then going to be edited down to fit the half hour time slot for the programme, I felt that not much time was spent on Paul and his story but that’s life I suppose. The filming concluded with Sarah Millican recording the trailers for the programme and redoing a couple of earlier talky bits.

We, the audience, didn’t leave the TV studio until almost 8.30pm so it turned out to be a very long day although it was good fun (bar the various times spent hanging around). I love meeting up with fellow baking enthusiasts and the members of the Sunday Baking Club are a great group of people. I went home tired but happy with a warm, fuzzy glow after meeting up with the cakey crowd. The fact that I was also clutching a box of marvellous macarons given to me by SBC member Joyce rounded off the day nicely.

Having now viewed the programme, I was a bit disappointed that I’d blended into the background so well that the cameras completely missed me (apart from one fleeting glimpse at the beginning) thus depriving me of even 15 seconds of fame. BUT it was lovely that my baking friend John had his Marmite macarons tasted and discussed by the panel and to see bakes by other friends getting some screen time. Sadly Rebecca’s cake (pictured above) didn’t make the final cut.

I leave you with a final cake made by Clare that was fabulous but perhaps a little too risqué for the BBC!

Hollywood cake SBC

A Review of ‘Number 28’, Holt, Norfolk

Number 28 cafe

I had the good fortune to have lunch at the Number 28 café when I met some friends in Holt, Norfolk, earlier this year. There are quite a few eateries in Holt with a range of offerings and prices – some more reasonable than others although I have to say that Holt isn’t the sort of place you are likely to get a dodgy meal. Number 28 was appealing as it offered food made on the premises, the seating area was light and airy and the owners were very friendly.

The story behind the meet up is an interesting one. I belong to a Twitter based baking group called ‘The Sunday Baking Club’. During the week, a baking theme is announced and anyone who wants to take part bakes something the following weekend and posts a photo on Twitter. The ten best, most impressive bakes are then put up for a public vote, with the weekly winner being awarded a (virtual) Golden Spoon. The people who take part in this each week are a very friendly bunch from all over the UK and beyond. Not everyone is an experienced baker while some people are extremely talented and could easily outdo the professionals. I’ve made a lot of online friends through The Sunday Baking Club and last year some of us met up at Cake Shows in London and elsewhere and I also attended a ‘celebration cake making day’ at Konditor & Cook next to Borough Market in London with some of these new friends.

The meet up in Holt was just for three of us. I was on holiday visiting my parents who live nearby, while Cathy – who I’d previously met in London – and Kevin both live in Norfolk. It’s strange to think that if it hadn’t been for the Internet, many friendships just would not have happened. I’m delighted to have made friends with a diverse group of people who all came together due to a love of baking.

So, we chose our lunch at Number 28: Cathy had a craving for smoked salmon (as you do) and chose a filled baguette which came with salad and tortilla crisps. Kevin opted for a chicken and vegetable pie and accompaniments and I had a delicious leek and gruyere tart, which was served with a fresh coleslaw salad and tortilla crisps. The portion sizes were very good: substantial but not overwhelmingly so. The main course dishes got the thumbs up from all of us with clean plates all around. We didn’t have room for dessert which was a shame, but there’s always next time.

What I must comment on – and highly recommend – is the hot chocolate drink I had. This wasn’t any old hot chocolate but white chocolate that was smooth, rich and not too sweet. It was clearly a good quality white chocolate (trust me, I know these things) which easily surpassed another one I’d had elsewhere a few days previously.

Chris and Kelly, who own Number 28, said they’d taken it over in September 2014 and revamped the café to their own style. I thought it was a very relaxing atmosphere with so much light and space – and there was more seating upstairs. Kelly said that they will be increasing their range of cakes in the coming weeks so I’m hoping that when I next visit the area, Number 28 will be doing the most amazing cream teas to go with the morning coffees, light lunches, and so on. The address is: 28, High Street, Holt, Norfolk, NR25 6BH

 

 

 

A (Gypsy) Tart with a Heart

Gypsy Tarts on rackI grew up in the 1960’s and 1970s, not years that are particularly renowned for exciting developments in the food world unless you consider Vesta chow mein, chicken Kiev or Angel Delight to be top notch cuisine. Celebrity chefs at the time included people like Fanny Cradock and “The Galloping Gourmet” although Delia Smith and Mary Berry were nipping closely at their heels and today are regarded as cooking and baking royalty.

My main food memories of that time are connected to school dinners, something most of us have experienced at some point in our lives and have mixed feelings about. Apart from the lingering odour of stewed cabbage, I mostly remember the puddings: semolina (often lumpy) with a blob of bright red jam in the middle, pink wobbly blancmange, lemon meringue pie, baked Alaska and suchlike.

My all-time favourite school dessert was called Gypsy Tart and I’ve been surprised to find out that many people have never heard of it. This is probably explained by the fact that it originates from the county of Kent where I grew up but it’s a little disappointing that its fame hasn’t spread further. Gypsy Tart is very sweet as it’s made with evaporated milk and muscovado sugar whipped up and poured into a pastry case. It has the advantage of being very quick to make (especially if you use a pre-made pastry case) and also cheap. The filling firms up as it cooks and the tart has a creamy, almost butterscotch-like flavour which instantly transports me back to my carefree childhood and the memory of the one school dessert that I actually liked!

You can make one large Gypsy Tart in a standard flan tin which can be cut into elegant slices or make smaller individual tarts – see the photograph. I appreciate that not everybody likes making pastry (it’s not my strong point, I have to admit as I have warm hands) or has the confidence to do so, therefore there is no great shame in using pre-made pastry cases from the supermarket. So, I give you a quick and easy to make, cost-effective and apparently ‘retro’ dessert with only three ingredients. How easy is that?

 

RECIPE

Pre-made pastry case – 1 large or 6 small

400 mls evaporated milk

330g muscovado sugar

 

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C / gas mark 3 and place the pastry case(s) on a baking tray.

Whisk the evaporated milk and muscovado sugar together for at least 15 minutes on a fast speed. This will dissolve the grainy sugar and result in a light, creamy filling.

Pour the milk mixture into the pre-baked pastry case(s) and cook for 10 – 15 minutes until the filling has risen and the surface is ‘tacky’.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool and set before serving. You can decorate the top with grated or melted chocolate if you like. The tart goes well with a dollop of vanilla ice cream or fresh double cream.