When I was a little girl, there was a TV series on in the afternoons called Farmhouse Kitchen. It ran from 1970 to 1990, and was on at 2.30 in the afternoon, so watching it probably meant I was off sick from school. I think, as long as we weren’t vomiting and really nauseous, it was a way to keep us quiet. I used to love it: that, and the original Emmerdale Farm back when it really was a tale of ordinary farming folk, and the most exciting thing that happened was a touch of mastitis or some foot rot in the sheep.
I suspect that, living in a suburban village in Merseyside, these were as close as I ever got to country living bar the week at my Mum’s Cousin’s farm in Devon. There aren’t many sheep farms round us, although a few miles down the motorway in Cheshire there are dairy farms a plenty. However, whatever: farm programmes and countryside-focused programmes kept me well quiet on my school sickness days.
It’s funny what a role nostalgia plays in your life, isn’t it? And how solid a part TV nostalgia plays in modern life. Lately my husband and I have been watching Crown Court on Talk TV, taping all three 20 minute episodes to watch in one marathon hour long programme. We both remembered it from childhood and he is quite honest… it probably played a part in making him want to be a lawyer. Funnily enough, his friend, Jeff, said exactly the same when we met up for a meal. He’s now watching it weekly as well.
And I’m still hooked on countryside and farming programmes. Knowing how farms operate, how close to the bone some of them get and how precarious a situation they can be in, at the mercy of the weather, the red tape, the Gods of Fortune. I’ve enjoyed Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon, especially since it’s one of the few programmes where Jeremy Clarkson actually comes across well. It was a very good way of putting across how time-limited some farm jobs were, like ploughing, seeding or harvesting. Who knew that the humidity of the air made such a difference to whether wheat or corn could be cut? Or that sheep need fences beyond fences to stop them escaping? (actually, I did know that one: I’ve seen them jumping short gates to follow the herd)
All of which is a long-winded introduction to today’s book.
Kate Humble is absolutely an outside broadcaster. From Animal Park to Escape to the Farm via some other outdoor activities, she’s been on screen in the rain, wind and snow. And seems to like it. I read her book, A Year of Living Simply during the long Winter lockdown of 2020 and it worked like a holiday on the farm: if I was locked in, shut up and unable to access the outside, at least this book gave me hope of better days to come. I’m enjoying Humble by Nature, which is the telling of how they came to own and rent out a farm nearby and then as one of my Advent books last year I was treated to Home Cooked, her latest cookbook. You can find Kate online at her website, on instagram as Kate Humble and Farmer Humble and on Facebook.
Kate’s book starts with a confession: “I’m not a Cook. By which I mean I’m not trained, nor in any way am I a food professional… but I do like cooking — albeit in what someone once described (not unkindly!) as a rather slap-dash way.” The recipes, she goes on to say, are those she makes all the time. They are “recipes inspired by the various scrappy bits of paper I have tucked in notebooks, pinned to boards or shoved into a (very disorganized) file made prettier and less disorganized.”
It’s true the recipes in the book are good, steady, solid fare. There’s no pretention here, and very little faffing. What there is is a solid emphasis on seasonality, on fresh food and storing some goodies for later. I like that the recipes all link back to Kate and her life. There are loads of egg recipes, simply because anyone who has kept hens or ducks needs egg recipes and very welcoming neighbours to clear the glut.
Each recipe has an introductory paragraph, a mini back tale on where or who or why Kate has the recipe, all told with a very clear tone that is undeniably Kate. It’s like your best friend has put the recipes you love when you’re at her house into a book and then added the useful notes as well… “This came from Uncle Albie” or “Sainsburys had Harissa paste in”. With Kate, she tells you about Wye Valley asparagus, about the joys of foraging for wild garlic, mushrooms, free herbs in the hedgerows and how each must be done in season.
She’s honest about her ability or lack of ability: each section starts with a soda bread recipe because, as Kate writes, “Soda bread is easy. I’d like to say even foolproof”
And the sections… here I am, arse above tip, telling you there are sections without explaining how the book runs. That seasonality… the whole book is split into four section by season, and starting with Spring. Each season starts with a short introduction about what makes it special for Kate, what is happening on the farm and which style of eating and cooking suit each season. For Summer Kate writes that “You can go to the fanciest restaurant in the world, but I promise you after an afternoon of loading bales onto a trailer, when you are hot and dusty and happily exhausted, nothing beats a picnic sitting on the freshly cut grass, back against a hay bale and dog at your feet.”
The book is illustrated throughout with photographs by Andrew Montgomery, set in Kate’s house, her gardens, her farm and small holding. There are a lot of animal photographs, and some of the food staged in an unfussy, achievable way. There is literally nothing chic or expensive about the asthetic. Solid, wood, homemade, rustic, linen, slightly worn, knocked edged. It’s seductive, and would take either a firtune to source with antoque equipment or years to create with well-worn, slightly chipped acceptance of a less-than-perfect style. I like it: it’s not precious, and you get the feeling that, were you to drop by invited to her kitchen, Kate would sit you down with an enormous mug of tea poured from a Brown Betty teapot and a slice of cake on a chipped willow-pattern saucer while you listened to the pot simmering away with the lamb stew or tomato curry on the range.
Sometimes I buy a cookbook and try a few recipes before putting it to one side as a nice but unnecessary idea because so many of the recipes would be expensive to make, using cuts of meat that you just can’t justify for anything but the best. That’s not the case here. So many of Kate’s recipes are created using ingredients from the garden. I am almost inspired to plant tomatoes again, to give courgettes a go (no: there’s only me who likes them) or to find a patch of wild garlic to forage from. I probably won’t: fulltime work doesn’t have much wiggleroom, but I can live vicariously through Kate.
I have consciously added several of her recipes to my repertoire, though. Last weekend we had the Sausages in Red Wine recipe, complete with mash and bashed swede and carrot. It was delicious, easy and made excellent gravy. I’ve tried the Chocolate and Marmalade Loaf as well, which is available as a recipe online, and I am making soda bread more regularly as a result of the seasonal recipes within.
Each season is a mishmash of recipes, with no clear system or order. There’s always a soda bread for the season, ideas for breakfast, main courses and puddings, but different seasons include different things. Summer, for instance, has a range of jellies and summer-infused herbal tea. Spring has homemade wild garlic pesto, Autumn is heavy on the fruit puddings and Winter has a glorious recipe for marmalade, together with a couple of recipe ideas for using it.
Winter, surprisingly or not, barely mentions Christmas and certainly the recipes are not tied to the feasts of Winter but good, solid, comfort eating of the best sort. I wonder if, on the back of this recipe book, Kate intends bringing out a Christmas book next year or the year after. I can imagine one showing homespun decorations, a few good game recipes, a family Christmas cake or pudding and advice on leftovers would be a cute addition to her stable. Certainly I’d buy it and enjoy it.
I’ve read the book through at least twice, but again (like so many of the books I love) this is one to dip into, to keep by the bed or in the comfort basket and just flip through until a picture catches your eye. Or just open at random and read the next recipe. I’ve copied out the most popular ones in my house, which is my habit with a good recipe book, so that frees me up to keep it for cosy reading by the fire, or flicking through last thing at night when a novel is too much but I need to feel grounded. It’s a good book, one I have really enjoyed. And, as usual, I leave you with the flipthrough.
How to Hygge the British Way is my gift to the world. I don’t get paid for writing it, I’m not in it for the kudos, financial rewards, to become an influencer, work with brands or otherwise make any money from the blog. That’s why there are no ads, and any products I mention and recommend have either been gifted to me or bought by me with my everyday wages or donations from supporters. Every book I review has been bought and read by me, unless stated otherwise.
I do get a couple of pennies each time someone buys from the Amazon links on my page, as an Amazon Affiliate, but otherwise if you’d like to support me, I like to give something back in return. That’s why I write books. It always feels good if you get a book back in return for some money. You can find a full list of my books at my Author’s Page on Amazon, but especially recommended for this time of year are:
Cosy Happy Hygge: Setting up a rhythm to life and rituals to enjoy it to make for a more balanced life that handles waves and storms better. Lent is a season of rituals and resets. The book has small and easy ways to make your life flow with grace and happiness, which lead to more hygge.
Happier: Probably my most personal book, it’s the story of how I used hygge and the little things in life to help boost my happiness. I still go back and reread to remind myself what I need to do to be a happy human. And it’s always the little things.
And my Christmas books are still all available now to buy ready for next season:
Have Yourself a Happy Hygge Christmas is the basic, all round Christmas hygge book, with advice and ideas on how to make hygge (the cosiest way to be mindful and live in the moment) a large part of all your celebrations.
Enjoying a Self-Care Christmas is about taking time to look after yourself at the busiest season of all and is only available in ebook, with its own advent calendar of selfcare ideas.
Celebrating a Contagious Christmas was my answer to Christmas in Lockdowns in 2020 but might (sadly) prove useful for a few more years to come. It has advice on celebrating small scale, and keeping a Christmas flexible. I’m itching to write a new Christmas book, on simplicity, frugality, minimalism and making the meaning of your Christmas more significant, but time, time, time…
If you’d like to support me, but don’t want to buy a book, I have a Paypal.Me account as Hygge Jem. Every little helps, so even a few pence goes towards the books, goods and courses I use and recommend on the site. I’m grateful for every little bit that brings me closer to my dream of full-time writing, and I know I couldn’t still be writing if it weren’t for the support of many readers and friends out there. Thank you all for every little bit of support, emotional, physical and financial, you give me.
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The photo between post and promotions is a photo by Karen Cantú Q on Unsplash. I liked the scarf, the coffee mug held tightly and the hint of hope for spring to come with the little daisy. And the Header is the book on my desk, a cup of chai next to it and a candle lit…. it was a grey morning, but it’s blossomed beautifully into a sunny afternoon!