5 Foodie Minutes with … Jane Steward

Every now and then we are going to hang out with some of the cool foodie folk we get to work with to find out a little bit more about what makes them tick, both on the ‘shop floor’ and in life more generally.

We call the series “5 Food Minutes with …

We recently swapped notes with Jane Steward to coincide with the introduction to our shelves of her delightful medlar products. This has been the perfect example of the way our sourcing works … in this case, Sarah Pettigree – maker of extraordinary pies at Bray’s Cottage – recommended that we check out Jane’s produce … we loved it … we ordered it … you’re buying it!

Read on to find out more about Jane’s foodie influences and recommendations.

 

Hi, who are you and what foodie mischief do you get up to in your day job?

Hello Mr Deli, and thank you for inviting me.

I’m Jane Steward of Eastgate Larder. I am reviving the ancient, long forgotten medlar fruit from my home in Eastgate, Norfolk. We’ve planted an orchard of medlar trees and currently make an award winning medlar jelly and a medlar fruit cheese. They are accompaniments to all kinds of savoury treats including cheese, charcuterie, meat and game. The business is just over a year old, barely a toddler!

A native fruit of Eurasia, around the Balkans and Iran, the medlar, mespilus germanica found its way to England when the Romans came to call. Incidentally, they also brought us the apple, a native of Kazakhstan. The apple, medlar, pear and quince are all members of the rosaceae family. Who’d have known?

What inspires you?

Crikey, the tears are welling up. It’s more ‘who’ not ‘what’ for me.

David, my wonderful husband, who introduced me to the medlar when I set eyes on the tree his Father had given him in the 1980s. What was this weird fruit, what could you do with it, where could you find out what you could do with it … yes, it really piqued my curiosity. He’s changed my life. And pretty much everything amazing that’s happened in the last few years, well, it all leads back to him.

My three lovely girls, Louise, Ellie and Lottie who, with David, encouraged me to venture into the wonderful world of being a ‘maker’. Ellie is the graphic designer and ethical brand guru responsible for the Eastgate Larder look and feel.

All the wonderful, talented, kind, helpful, thoughtful and friendly Norfolk food producers I’ve met since embarking on this new life as a grower and maker. You know who you are!

And a special ‘thank you’ to Sarah Pettegree. Exactly a year ago our stalls were alongside one another at the Aylsham Show. A chance five minute conversation sharing a story from the early days of Bray’s Cottage was game changing. Please have a hug!

Where in the world do you get to hang out doing your foodie thing? Can you tell us a little of what is so special to you about ‘place’?

We’re in Eastgate, a hamlet near Aylsham in Norfolk, halfway between Cromer and the fine city of Norwich. I’m a Londoner by birth and upbringing (until the age of 53) and feel as though I’ve found my spiritual home. I probably owe my life to our move here, and the early successful treatment of a cancer by the amazing Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital who screen all 55 year olds for bowel cancer.

It’s entirely appropriate to say ‘thank you’ by planting a few trees, so that’s what we’ve done. An orchard of 101 Nottingham medlars plus a specimen orchard of the other named varieties. So far we have planted Royal, Breda, Dutch, Westerveld, Macrocarpa and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. This autumn we’ll plant the Iranian, Bredase Reus and Boom en Vrucht. Norfolk will have a ‘national collection’ of its own.

Norfolk energises and calms me. I love the idea that this county is the cradle of civilisation in Europe, with evidence of habitation on the Happisburgh coast going back hundreds of thousands of years.

Which 3 food (or drink) producers should the foodie world know more about?

Blackbird Cottage  Maker Ruth Capocci  produces rillettes and a divine chicken liver parfait. She and her beautiful products are a wonderful and recent discovery. She can be found at the Creake Abbey Farmers Market each month. I think she’s going to become better known in the autumn thanks to BBC2 {Mr Deli was amused by the section on Ruth’s website entitled ‘a potted history’ … delicious play on words}.

Jane Murray of Wymondham and her flock of dairy ewes. Her White Lady, Deopham Blewe and Wissington cheeses are among the most exciting food discoveries I made when we first moved here. White Lady is a soft cheese, which ripens to a state of fragrant perfection and was extensively involved in the development of my medlar jelly. She’s not on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Look out for her delicious cheeses, they are to be found outside Norfolk!

St. Giles Gin, a relative newcomer to the Norfolk gin scene. Founded by Simon Melton, this fragrant gin is distilled not far from Eastgate with botanicals including rose petal and lemongrass. It’s just perfect served over ice, sipped with a twist of orange zest.

You have £30 in your wallet/purse and an open mind about supper – where do you head to locally and what do you buy?

Drive straight to Overstrand’s crab and lobster shack to buy two tatty-shelled lobsters (as recommended by the fisherman owner), then on to Cromer to buy some chips and mayo to accompany them. That’s it. Devour the lot while seated on a bench looking at the sunset.

Favourite food writer?

Another mean question, Mr Deli. I may need to be greedy here.

Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson … I discovered them in my late teens and I read them like novels, then and now.

I love Alastair Little. In 1995 I did one of his cooking holidays in Italy. La Cacciata was the place. His top tip: if it’s home-made, don’t fret if that’s how it looks!

Nigel Slater. Probably my favourites are his two volume Tender. Vegetables and fruit. A man who loves writing as much as he loves growing, cooking and eating {Mr Deli has forgiven your greediness because you popped his favourite food writer into the list}.

Most comforting ‘comfort food’?

Mmm, maybe A.N. Wilson’s slow roast shoulder of lamb with borlotti beans … Felicity Cloake’s Best fish pie with peas and ketchup … though I’m about to have a smashed avocado with lime and chilli flakes on home-made granary toast with a poached egg on top (it’s a late August lunchtime and it’s raining outside …).

 Thanks so much for hanging out with us, Jane … and keep doing your marvellous medlar magic!