Local producer feature: Tarquin’s Gin

Tarquin with bottles of his gin and his Cornish pastis (rather like Pernod).I’ve always enjoyed a long refreshing gin and tonic but, in these days of trendy drinks, gin has taken a bit of a back seat and become rather ‘old hat’. But now, it seems, gin is in! Boutique gins are all the rage and small artisan gin producers are springing up all over the place – we have several in the Westcountry. My partner in writing crime, Julia Wherrell, recently interviewed a new young Cornish gin maker for an article she was writing and, as soon as we discovered he used Devon violets in his gin, we thought you’d like to hear more about it…

At just 26, Tarquin Leadbetter seems rather young to have set up his own distillery – but that’s just what he’s done, making him the first person to craft gin in Cornwall for more than a century.

Tarquin is from Devon and, after living and working in London for a few years was very keen to get back to the Westcountry and start up his own business ‘doing something’ in the food and drink industry. Settling in Cornwall, he identified gin as a market with potential and spent the next 18 months distilling the spirit in a traditional copper still on his kitchen cooker.

”After a lot of work and research, I finally perfected my own recipe,” he says. “I use 11 botanicals in addition to the traditional juniper in my gin, resulting in a contemporary take on a classic London Dry.

“One unusual ingredient is the Devon violet. From these I take the delicate leaves, which add a vibrant green freshness to the gin and create something deliciously unique. At the heart of our process is a special flame-fired, copper pot still called Tamara, goddess of the Tamar. The copper gives the gin a very smooth finish – there’s no stainless steel and industrial quantities here! We make small batches of gin, fewer than 300 bottles at a time, and I check every one personally.”

The essential oils present in gin have also been used in herbal medicine for centuries. By looking at each botanical he uses – and its known effect – Tarquin has had fun drawing up a complete character profile of his gin.

“This might provide insight into the effects of drinking Tarquin’s Gin!” he jokes. Here’s the result of his research:

  • Juniper – a natural stimulant, great for versatility and effectiveness
  • Coriander – soothing and calming
  • Lemon – a mood enhancer
  • Orange – creates a feeling of happiness and warmth
  • Grapefruit – increases ones sense of humour and well-being
  • Cardamom – soothes the mind
  • Cinnamon – reduces drowsiness and irritability
  • Orris – therapeutic
  • Angelica – has a protective quality, but also helps to release negative energy
  • Bitter almond – wonderful scent and flavour
  • Liquorice – soothing
  • Violets – relaxing, soothing and inspiring

His gin is delicious. It is a little dearer than standard gin, but as a treat it is well worth trying. It comes in lovely wax sealed bottles and you should be able to find it in independent wine merchants across the country. If you come on holiday to Devon or Cornwall, you’ll have no trouble finding it as it is becoming immensely popular in this area. We reckon Tarquin is onto a winner!

You can follow him on Facebook or look for stockists on his website.

 

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There’s no need to gild the lily…

My garden is a constant source of inspiration – whether it’s for colour, scent or form. Just by looking at it out of the kitchen window, nature reminds me that so often, less is more, and it’s best to keep things simple.

I have included edible flowers in various recipes lately and, especially in the height of summer as now when we are all eating lots of salads, a delicate sprinkling of blooms or petals can make an ordinary meal look amazing. I threw this nasturtium and calendula salad together when we were working on a recent photo shoot for the blog and I thought how stunning it looked.

Although I have quite a range of edible flowers in my own garden I recently discovered a local company called ‘Greens of Devon’ who sell boxes of beautiful edible flowers by mail order. They also have a great website that includes a guide to all the edible flowers they sell – and there are a lot – and quite a few that I didn’t know were edible. For example, did you know you could tuck into tulips? That was a new one on me! They also include some very tasty recipes that you could try. Click on each flower in their guide and it tells you what the flower tastes like and suggests how you might use it – really fun!

Their boxed flowers are very much special occasion prices (!) but it is so easy to grow them yourself, cost should not be an issue. All these very common flowers are edible:

Pansy, borage, viola, pea, mallow, primula, dianthus, chive, rose and sunflower. Note that I am talking flowers and petals here and NOT bulbs – that’s a whole different area.

Just as with anything you do design-wise, think about colour and form to get the best effect with edible flowers. For the salad, as I was using big bold nasturtiums, I didn’t want to confuse things with a mix of colours, so used a similar coloured calendula to keep it striking and simple. Other times, when I have sprinkled petals, or tiny flowers like violas, over cakes I might go for a range of colours to give more of a naturally scattered look – but hey – the choice is yours! Experiment! Go mad and chuck a few petals around the kitchen! Richard, poor chap, is used to me doing such things, so never bats an eyelid on his way to make a coffee. Hey ho! 

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An ancient ‘fast food’!

Think of Devon, and you probably think of cream teas. Think of Cornwall and it’s pretty likely you’ll think of a Cornish pasty. Gosh, didn’t we enjoy tucking into them as children on the beach – sadly, my memory is always of pasty with added sand! But this immensely popular dish is a great example of an early packed lunch or convenience food.

There’s lots of historical evidence confirming the existence of the Cornish pasty, the earliest as far back as the 13th century during the reign of Henry III. The pasty became commonplace in the 16th and 17th centuries and, by the 18th century, it was established as a Cornish food eaten by poorer working families who could only afford cheap ingredients such as potatoes, swede and onion. Meat was added later. 

By the end of the 18th century it was the staple diet of working men across Cornwall. Miners and farm workers took this portable and easy to eat convenience food with them to work because it was perfect for their needs. Its size and shape made it easy to carry – its pastry case insulated the contents and was durable, while its wholesome ingredients provided enough sustenance to see the workers through their long, hard working days. 

There are hundreds of stories about the evolution of the pasty’s shape, with the most popular being that the D-shape enabled tin miners to eat them safely. The crust (the crimped edge) was used as a handle which was then thrown away due to the high levels of arsenic in many of the tin mines – ugh! 

The Cornish pasty recipes were handed down from generation to generation, often by word of mouth and rarely written down because they were made almost every day. Young girls were often made to practice crimping techniques using plasticine before being allowed to work with pastry!

You’ll find lots of different recipes online, but here’s a nice simple one to try. I personally think the addition of white pepper helps give it that lovely peppery kick that I remember so clearly from my childhood. Enjoy!

To make 4 Cornish pasties

Ingredients 

  • For the pastry
  • 125g chilled and diced butter
  • 125g lard
  • 500g plain flour, plus extra
  • 1 egg, beaten 

For the filling 

  • 350g beef skirt or chuck steak, chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 175g swedes, peeled, finely diced
  • 1/2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp ground white pepper 

Method

 

  1. Rub the butter and lard into the flour with a pinch of salt using your fingertips or a food processor, then blend in 6 tbsp cold water to make a firm dough. Cut equally into 4, then chill for 20 mins. 
  2. Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Mix together the filling ingredients with 1 tsp salt. Roll out each piece of dough on a lightly floured surface until large enough to make a round about 23cm across – use a plate to trim it to shape. Firmly pack a quarter of the filling into one half of each round, leaving a margin round the edge. Brush the pastry all the way round the edge with beaten egg then carefully fold the empty half of the pastry across to form a semi-circle, or ‘D’ shape, and pinch the edges together to seal. Lift onto a non-stick baking tray and brush with the remaining egg to glaze.
  3. Bake for 10 mins, then lower oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4 and cook for 45 mins more until golden. Great served warm for lunch, in a picnic… or on the beach!

 

 

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Living the good life…

Many of you will know Sandra Goodman as our bright and bubbly Customer Service Manager… but there’s another side to Sandra that you probably don’t know about! To find out about her ‘other life’, read on… 

Sandra met her husband, Charlie, in 2011 and they set out to fulfil a lifelong dream – running their own smallholding. With property prices sky high in Devon they headed west to Cornwall. In the wonderfully named village of Polyphant they found their dream home – an old barn once used as a potato store and now converted, in a rather rustic way according to Sandra, into a two-bedroom house.

Sandra says: “We knew instantly that this old barn, set in a picturesque valley with a couple of fields, was where we wanted to settle.”

Charlie, having been raised on a farm, has in-depth knowledge of not only livestock but wildlife and the countryside in general. Sandra’s background is in craft, interior design and floristry and she has a love of flora and fauna and all things country. 

Their aim is to be self-sufficient – yes, totally! To date, they have 20 chickens, soon to be 40, and are about to take delivery of a pregnant Oxford Sandy and Black sow, followed by two ‘Lowline’ cattle. These gorgeous ‘mini’ cows are bred to be about a metre high at the shoulder, they are easy to handle and docile and ideal for the ‘small acreage’ farmer, which Charlie and Sandra definitely are with their four acres having to produce a lot of food to sustain the two of them!

As well as livestock, they have also put up an impressive poly tunnel (in Polyphant – sorry!) and, when I asked Sandra what they were growing, I couldn’t write it all down quickly enough, but the list included: Carrots, onions, parsnips, potatoes, beans, peas, tomatoes, kale, cauliflower, butternut squash, aubergines, cucumbers, melons and lots more that I missed!

So far, Sandra says everything is germinating and growing really well in the poly tunnel, so she’s optimistic for good crops this year. Their next project is to prepare the outside veg beds and get even more produce underway.

Charlie and Sandra are keen to be as eco-friendly as possible and are looking at ways to generate their own power through a small wind turbine and solar panels. The River Inny runs through their land and they are permitted to take water from it to irrigate their crops as keeping overheads to a minimum is really important.

Sandra stays up in Devon three nights a week and then travels back to Cornwall where Charlie is based full-time. It’s a tough regime, but her enthusiasm when she talks about her Cornish life is so infectious, you just can’t help believing they will make a great go of it!

 

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Wine in the Westcountry…

I am fortunate to live in a county rich in locally grown and produced foods. Devon is unique in England in having a coastline on both its northern and southern edges and it’s an area where farming livestock is still an important part of the economy. We are also blessed with lots of artisan cheese makers, bakers and vintners, our climate being suited to all sorts of exciting foody businesses. Through my blog I’m going to take the opportunity to introduce you to some of our local producers and I hope you will be inspired to try their produce and their recipes!

I introduced you to the rather exotic Devon Chilli Farm a few weeks ago and now, equally surprising, I’m going to talk about Devon vineyards. There are no less than NINE in the county and some of the wines they produce are winning awards worldwide.

Internationally, I think Britain is probably more famous for producing gin and beer than wine but in fact, we have been producing wine since Roman times. Historically though, English wines were seen as a bit of a joke, with people making their own peculiar brews such a potato or parsnip wine (remember Reggie Perrin?) while commercially the quality and consistency was very variable. But, since about 1970 – and particularly at the beginning of the 21st Century – things have improved dramatically.

It seems that Devon, and Cornwall too, enjoys an ideal mix of soil and climate making them suitable areas for growing vines. The latitude and longitude are very similar to the well-known wine growing regions of France so it’s not too hard to see why this area is proving successful.

There’s a vineyard just down the road from our village that produces four types of wine, a white, red, rosé and sparkling. Rather unromantically, these days there are no peasants trampling round in great vats of grapes pressing out the juice with their feet (actually, that always put me off a bit!), today it is all stainless steel tanks and white coats, but the wine they produce is excellent.

The best-known vineyard in this part of the world is Sharpham. They also happen to make excellent cheeses, but that’s another blog altogether! Their Sharpham Sparkling Reserve NV recently won the ‘Best International’ trophy at the World Sparkling Wine Competition, beating French champagnes in the process!

If you are in this neck of the woods, the Sharpham estate is well worth a visit. There’s a lovely café on site for lunch before you walk through the vineyards that go right down to the banks of the river Dart and the wine tastings are inexpensive and very enjoyable!!

For more information, do have a look at the Sharpham wine website at www.sharpham.com

 

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