Rising to a culinary challenge

We decided some time ago that we would spend the Diamond Jubilee weekend at our Hut in a remote valley in North Wales. It is a place that time has forgotten and we adore it. It was built in 1929 by my great grandfather and generations of my family have been going there ever since.

It was always our favourite place to spend our school holidays and I have so many happy memories of building dams in the stream, cycling down the lane to collect pails of milk from the nearby dairy farm, playing ducks and drakes in the pool beneath the waterfall at the head of the valley and climbing the Pony Mountain that overlooks the breathtakingly beautiful valley in which the Hut is nestled.

We headed there at the start of the Jubilee weekend, setting off in fairly appalling weather – but determined that our spirits would not be dampened as we have been to the Hut in all weathers including 10 ft snow drifts, glorious sunshine, howling gales and torrential rain, the latter being the order of the day when we arrived. Here is a photograph of our welcoming party…

We lit the tiny Rayburn as soon as we arrived to ensure that the stove would be hot enough to cook supper on. The simplicity of the kitchen at the Hut always makes me want to be really adventurous with food. The kitchen cupboards contain a highly eclectic range of old-fashioned kitchen equipment with virtually no modern additions for decades. Incidentally, there is electricity but no running water so a trip to the spring with a bucket normally precedes most kitchen activity.

It is a delightful process creating something other than reheated cottage pie at the Hut. On deciding what it is that you wish to cook, the next step is to go on a reconnaissance mission amongst the various cupboards, the larder and the trunk under the sideboard to see if you can find the necessary equipment and ingredients. (Very fitting for this particular weekend, there is a portrait of the Queen on the larder door, which has been there ever since I can remember).

On this trip, it was mayonnaise that was going to be the first thing to test my culinary skills. Firstly, the only vaguely whisk-like thing I could find other than a fork was this…

With egg yolks, rapeseed oil and (pre-war) mustard powder at the ready, I held the whisk over the bowl only to find that the rusty cogs kept jamming, therefore prohibiting the operator from whisking and simultaneously holding the handle at the top. The problem was resolved with simple division of labour – one person to hold the handle, one to whisk and one to keep the bowl steady.

Next on the agenda was bread-making. Having brought fresh yeast and strong flour with me, I knew the ingredients weren’t going to be a problem. The thing is, I’m so used to having everything to hand in my own kitchen that it only takes a matter of seconds to weigh out the flour and measure the water so there was a minor hold-up while I tried to remember the quantities and then convert them into fluid ounces (the only measuring jug I could find) before mixing them in a large saucepan (closest thing to a mixing bowl) with my hands (closest thing to a bread scraper). Thankfully, the Rayburn didn’t let me down. The dough rose sky-high on the warm shelf over the hobs and the resulting loaf was one of the best I’ve ever made – we ate most of it while it was still warm with alarming amounts of butter.

Having put the Rayburn through its paces with bread – and also banana cake, which we had for pudding one night – I wanted to try slow-cooking a leg of lamb. The temperature of the (only) oven is really down to guesswork but something that is hot enough for doing bread is too hot for slow-cooking – so having piled the best part of a bag of furnicite into the fire for longevity, I had to shut down the stove to ticking-over levels so we could go on a long walk and not come back to a piece of charcoal in a pool of burnt oil.

I butterflied a leg of lamb then opened it up and spread some crushed garlic, olive oil, seasoning and anchovy puree on the underside before putting it into a roasting tin with some roughly chopped onions and a glass of white wine. I covered it with greaseproof paper (there wasn’t any foil) and left it in the oven for about 5 hours. Yet again, the Rayburn delivered. The lamb was perfect. We ate it with mint sauce, crushed new potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli along with the caramelised onions from the pan and the cooking juices.

I can’t imagine anywhere I would rather have been for the Jubilee weekend yet I also appreciate that it’s not for everyone. If you like your bathroom with heated floor, power shower and fluffy white towels, the Hut is probably not for you, although in my book the ensuite facilities are second to none.

6 comments on “Rising to a culinary challenge

  1. Alex Mayfield on said:

    Oh Kaffer, that is brilliant! A superb summing up of the Hut with all its eccentricity written with the love for it all laid thick on top. Fab pics too. Think this should be forwarded to everybody in the family. Loads of love, Alex xxxxxxxxxx

  2. Merry on said:

    Such a fun blog. So Hut like.

  3. Rupert & Liz on said:

    Wonderful photos especially the ones of the whisk and the en-suite bathroom. Who says that the latest trend in smart b and b’s of having the bathroom in the bedroom is new. It has been done at the Hut since 1929.
    The lamb sounds absolutely delicious. You have quite clearly mastered the foibles of the old Rayburn magnificently. So impressed by the bread.

  4. Mel Templer on said:

    We were lucky enough to be there and ate all of Kaffer´s amazing meals, just one superb dish after another. And she made it all look so easy! A thousand thanks for such a memorable weekend. Can we come back? x

  5. Rorie Delahooke on said:

    Pouring rain outside, no running water, pre-war utensils and a Rayburn with no temperature gauge… cooking doesn’t get tougher than this! The slow roast lamb was a masterpiece. Thank you for a lovely time and more wonderful hut memories xxx

  6. Lesley Moffatt on said:

    Oh this looks fantastic!!! I would love a retreat hut like this. however we probably would end up with the reheated cottage pie and then beans on toast!!
    lots of love. xxx

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