Chef’s Pantry is favourite for foodies
Barbara Young meets Elizabeth Lewis, one of the owners of The Chef’s Pantry and The Little Black Bear Bakery, which specialises in home produced preserves, condiments and sweet treats based on traditional family recipes.
With its motto, “Creating preserves the way nature intended” perfectly capturing the business’ philosophy and spirit, The Chef’s Pantry is home to a wide range of home-made preserves, condiments, cakes and bakes created with flair from time-honoured Lincolnshire family recipes.
Two years ago, former chefs Elizabeth Lewis and her mother Beryl, together with members of their family who have been involved in the food business for generations, moved from Hertfordshire to undertake extensive renovation of the 19th-century Yew Lodge in Algarkirk, with the dream of setting up a business which would highlight their passion for food with authentic, natural flavours.
Launched last year, The Chef’s Pantry features a range of quality products made from fresh ingredients with home-grown garden produce being the stars of the show.
“Making our own came from need as there weren’t the products, or quality, on the market at the time,” explains Elizabeth. “As a family, our thoughts have always been that if you work hard and are passionate about what you do, success will follow.”
Their ethos is to use the freshest ingredients and cook without additional preservatives and colouring.
“Our fruit and vegetables are locally sourced if needed, but we pride ourselves on being able to grow the majority ourselves, while also supporting and promoting local businesses. We have a small carbon footprint and strive to find ways to reduce waste and recycle.”
The handsome Georgian house, which has taken two long years to restore while the family lived in a caravan for nine months, sits on just over an acre of gardens which have been fully maximised.
“The caravan was either freezing cold or boiling hot and a bit cramped, but during the day we were out working on the house, so the time soon flew by. It was not at all like the many happy holidays we had as children in Skegness but like you do, we managed!”
Once part of the Sheriff of Rutland’s estate (Cotton Thompson, 1804), the family were faced with the challenge of renovating a neglected property which had no kitchen and needed new floors walls, ceilings, electrics and plumbing.
Now restored to its former glory, the farmstead features two five-star rated kitchens with storage and an office, as well as three large greenhouses and space to expand further as the business grows.
Lincolnshire has always held a special place in the family’s heart, which made it the ideal place to relocate to, and launch their business.
“My mother was born in Grantham and her family farmed in Lincolnshire for many years so we enjoyed frequent holidays here. We found this house in 2018, but almost didn’t manage to buy as it had several other offers – luckily fate intervened.”
Elizabeth describes the early days of getting the gardens and greenhouses up and running as “a learning curve”.
“Like any grower, some vegetables and fruit have done very well while others have been a complete failure. Maintaining a supply all year round means planning, but this way we have potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage and leeks [when we need them]. We also grow horseradish wasabi and all the herbs we use in the chutneys.
“Knowing what you eat and how it was grown, without chemicals or pesticides, is incredibly important for us. It’s also very rewarding to eat something you’ve grown, as well as good exercise after eating too much cake – and a great stress relief in a busy world.”
The unique recipes from Elizabeth’s grandmother Margaret have also played an important part.
“My Nan left me some cookbooks which are mainly handwritten, with a few newspaper and magazine clippings. The recipes are very similar to the way we cook all our fresh ingredients naturally and we use these for our jams and chutneys, such as our Lincolnshire Green Bean Chutney and the Yellow Belly Mustard Sauce – one of my grandad’s favourites. I also use them for cakes and puddings such as seed cake, scripture cake and Miss Luxmore’s nut cake.”
The recipes have also prompted Elizabeth to compile her own cookbook, which she began writing during lockdown.
“It includes some of the recipes I’ve tried but with additions to give them a modern twist, as well as in their original form. Many have names that are long gone from people’s minds so without making them it’s hard to know what they should look like!”
Food played a big part in Elizabeth’s early life too: “Smelling strawberry jam cooking while playing outside or watching my Nan rub up pastry in the kitchen evokes fond memories. The cakes my mother made for me as a child shaped the chef I became.”
As well as seasonal jams, marmalades and chutneys, The Chef’s Pantry also makes and sells chilli sauces, jellies from chillies and herb flavoured mustards, while in the bakery section you will find loaf cakes, fruit pies, tarts, traybakes, brownies and special occasion cakes.
“As a family we all have our own strengths individually, but combined together it has led to a successful business,” says Elizabeth.
“My mother and I are the main chefs and my son William, a talented cook, helps in the kitchen with the cakes and preserves. My father and partner have both run a gardening business for many years and help grow the vegetables, while my brother does the technical part, including website and IT requirements.
“Feeling passionate about your idea is just the beginning; seeing your business grow, that’s the dream. I’m often asked if I would do it all again? Yes, without a doubt, it’s been an amazing journey so far and the voyage has only just begun!”
For more information visit www.thechefspantry.co.uk
Blackberry, Rhubarb and Vanilla Jam
This makes a beautiful fruit jam – a balance of sweet and tart flavours. You can make it later in the season with frozen rhubarb too, should you get a glut. It is perfect with scones or as a filling for a Victoria sponge cake.
Dice the rhubarb and place in a pan. Sprinkle the sugar over and leave overnight in order to extract the juices. The next morning, slowly cook the blackberries in a separate pan. Gently heat the rhubarb mixture until all the sugar has dissolved and then add the cooked blackberries. Bring it all to a quick boil and cook for about 15 minutes.
To test for viscosity, scoop a teaspoonful of jam onto a saucer to see if it sets. If it is still runny when cool, boil for a further 5 minutes or until you are happy with the consistency. Then take the jam off the heat and transfer to sterilised hot jars using tightly fitting lids. Store in a cool, dark place.
Other flavours can be added during cooking such as natural orange extract or finely diced stem ginger if preferred.
Green Bean, Tomato and Chilli Chutney
This is a perfect chutney for Lincolnshire sausages or to accompany a good strong cheese. It can be as mild or as hot to taste as you wish; remove the chilli seeds for a milder chutney or use scotch bonnet chillies for more of a kick. The chutney can be eaten straightaway, although flavours deepen if left for four weeks. Keeps for 12 months.
Remove any strings from the runner beans, then chop them into small pieces.
Put into a large pan, cover with boiling water and add a teaspoon of salt.
Bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes until tender.
Peel, core and roughly the chop apples. Peel and chop the onions. Core and finely chop the red pepper.
Drain runner beans and then return to the pan. Add onions, apples, red peppers and tomatoes to the pan.
Pour in the vinegar and simmer until the fruit is cooked.
Add the chillies to the pan with the salt and sugar. Simmer and stir frequently until the chutney is thick.
Pour into hot sterilised jars and seal immediately. Store in a cool place and refrigerate after opening.