Early on a Sunday morning as the last of my preserves were loaded into a van, I must admit I felt a nervous flush of pride as it spelled us being ready to head of to Harrogate for The Guild of Fine Food Show.
It was a fair old jaunt from West Wales to Harrogate and on arrival there was a buzz of stallholders bustling about getting their stands set up. The other exhibitors all seemed very professional and many of them had custom built stands. My stand however, included an old BSA bike and a slightly rusty 1950’s shop till. As we pottered through the exhibition hall with half a tree and boxes of fruit I prayed that the stand design idea would work.
I have always loved the series, ‘Open All Hours’ and my original stand design idea was to create an old shop, but the stand we booked was very small measuring just one metre by two metres. So my grand designs had to be scaled down. Thankfully, I have an innovative and practical husband who came up with the idea of making a stand for my shop bike so that it could be suspended up a fruit tree, after a little bit of creative brainstorming, it was decided that we would make it look like our delivery driver,(Wayne), had tried to take a short cut and I made a sign that read, ‘we told Wayne we don’t take short cuts with our jam and marmalade’, we hung this sign in the tree.
After a few hours of stand dressing I stood back with the rest of ‘Team Seren’s Kitchen’ with a beaming smile. Our stand looked great and totally different to anything else in the show. A shop bike was suspended in our faux fruit tree, crates of fruit and marmalade graced the stand; an old shop till was decorated with copies of my book and jars of jam. We were ready and we were nervously excited about the opening of the show the next day.
Bright and early we arrived at the show and in what seemed like the blink of an eye the doors were suddenly open and potential trade customers flooded in. We received many compliments about the taste of the preserves and indeed the stand design. We also learned a few marketing tricks from other stallholders and took onboard helpful feedback from visitors to the stand. Before we knew it the show was closed and we all had thoughts of dinner on our mind, but it turns out the show wasn’t quite finished. All the stallholders were invited for a glass of wine and some nibbles as an opportunity to mingle and also hear a de-brief from The Guild of Fine Food. Unbeknown to us it was also an opportunity to hear who had won ‘the Best Stand in Show Award’.
It seems that the hours spent learning how to do photo transfer onto old crates, waxing and sanding apple crates, wiring fruit onto a stylised tree, fiddling about with an old bike and scouring Ebay for an ‘Arkwright’ style till were well worth it as we scooped the Best Stand in Show Award and received our certificate.
We are already talking about our next stand design and we have some wild and wacky ideas, so watch this space!
Food has always been of great importance to Seren and despite her being renowned for her historical recipe recreations, her culinary skills were not honed, in the kitchens of top restaurants, but in the home kitchen from the age of being able to hold a wooden spoon.
When Seren was born her mother was taken ill and so she spent her early years being cared for by her grandmother, Minnie. This was to prove instrumental in the development of Seren’s love of cooking, for her grandmother was an accomplished cook, who’s kitchen was always awash with terrine’s, home-made pastry and traditional puddings. Minnie’s love of good food and her zest for life meant Seren’s childhood was filled with days of hedgerow picking, baking, traditional preserving and cooking recipes from the depths of a family copy of, Mrs. Beeton. She learned from an early age how to make Victorian puddings alongside elaborate noble pies and perhaps this explains her love of pastry making and the reason she won an accolade from The Great British Pie Awards this year.
Today Seren has great skill in bringing historical food to life and making it accessible and understandable to the modern cook and diner. Her enthusiasm and love of historical food and British cooking is evident in her presentations and she loves to revive forgotten recipes. She recently took part in ITV1’s Country House Sunday and has given live cookery demonstrations across the country at food festivals, historical houses and castles.
Trained as a herbalist and nutritionist, she has a deep understanding of improving health through food. Her interest in historic remedies and herbal folklore eventually extended to researching British food history, and reignited her early passion for cooking. Fifteen years on and Seren has amassed extensive knowledge and is now renowned for her historical food recreations and interpretations.
Seren’s interest in food history does not just extend to old recipes and cooking techniques, but to ingredients and manufacturers. From the age of fourteen Seren has collected food and drink packaging from early Victorian to the 1960’s. Her collection is now extensive and provides a wonderful snapshot in time that accompanies her vast knowledge of the development of British food and drink companies throughout history. She also has a huge collection of antique kitchenalia and moulds which she uses to replicate historical recipes and portray past eras.
Her training in herbalism and nutrition has not been wasted for despite her merits as a food historian and period cook she also delights in creating British Classic dishes for those with food allergies and intolerances (such as gluten and dairy intolerant). Her botanical knowledge has made her a keen wild food educator and forager that lends unusual as well as historical twists to all her cooking. There are also many points at which food and medicine intertwine throughout history and Seren is able to portray these developments and has also undertaken a lot of research into the British spice trade.
To Seren historical food is not a job, but a way of life.
Visit Seren's blog: Serenity Kitchen