Home Cooking in Louisa's Larder
Larder at Lodge Farm
A love of home cooking and gardening has been the inspiration behind a thriving business established on a 10-acre smallholding in the Herefordshire countryside.
After taking some surplus vegetables to the local WI market, Louisa Stout from Lodge Farm at Deep Dean, near Ross on Wye realised that her hobby could possibly turn into a moneymaking venture.
She explains: “In the beginning I sold our surplus vegetables to pay for the seeds for the following year, but then I thought if I did something with the vegetables I could sell them for that much more and increase the profit.”
Louisa brought in her love of cooking and began to sell homemade cakes and pies and gradually became involved in the Ross Farmers’ Market - and although the market hit a rocky patch, it was re-launched this year and now has strong local support.
She says: “One of the reasons Farmers’ markets have proved so successful is that it is the producer selling direct to the customer; so the customer can ask direct questions and the producer can explain where the product is from and what’s in it.”
Louisa explains her interest in food: “I come from a cooking family – proper cooking – where you use raw ingredients and you’re cooking from scratch. My childhood memories are of my grandmother starting to make supper at 11 o’clock in the morning and I would like my children to have this same love and understanding of food.
“I’m not hung up on organic food, but I like good food and I think it’s important to have it fresh and when it’s in season. If everything is available all year round, there’s nothing to look forward to.”
Louisa turned one of their fields into a vegetable garden and is considering using a polytunnel to extend her growing capacity. She has 20 free-range hens which provide eggs for her baking and she also sources locally produced meat. As well as cakes she produces a variety of savoury pies, casseroles and lasagnes.
“When you’re cooking for the WI there are so many rules and regulations,” she says. “Any meat products have to be completely covered by either potato or pastry for health and safety reasons - so I couldn’t do a venison casserole unless I stuck a load of mashed potato on the top.”
With the Farmers’ Market there is more flexibility, but even then her soups and casseroles have to be sold cold for people to reheat at home.
“The laws for Farmers’ Markets are now changing. If you are using meat in your recipes the kitchen has to be of a particular standard. It has to be inspected and you’re given a number that has to be displayed on all your produce,” she explains.
These new regulations were one of the reasons that prompted Louisa to move her food preparations out of the family farmhouse.
“Before we even started converting the barn we had the environmental health people out and talked to them about what we needed. We worked with them designing the kitchen – we needed an extra sink for food preparation. We needed three separate fridges for storing raw meat, cooling cooked dishes and storing the cooked recipes; no wooden surfaces were allowed – so it would have been impossible to use our existing family room as a commercial kitchen.”
Even the family aga is not coping with the increase in business.
“At the moment I’m using a 2-oven coal aga to cook on, and if the children have a bath or the wind’s blowing in the wrong direction, the temperature of the oven changes,” Louisa laughs. “Even the capacity of the oven is not enough – I could sell double what I am able to produce in our family kitchen, so it’s a case of I need a bigger oven and I need to move the business out of our home.”
The success and growth of the business has created some dilemmas. “I want to keep the business special because if I grow, I want to be careful how I grow so that I don’t become like everybody else. It’s a balance. If I suddenly had a big commercial kitchen with a huge mixer and an enormous walk-in oven – I wonder how that would affect the quality? At the moment all I use is a hand whisk.”
As the Larder at Lodge Farm expands Louisa is looking to bring her skills into creating suppers and dinner parties for people to enjoy in their own homes.
“I want to produce something personal. People can phone up or I will visit them and we can discuss a menu. It’s got to be food I can make and let it go cold and can then be reheated – there are many recipes where flavours are actually improved by doing this.”
It is this personal touch and link with her customers that is bringing success to the Larder at Lodge Farm.