As an integral part of the tour experience we provide, we like to treat our guests to a high quality, delicious and rejuvenating picnic break that not only ties in with our mission of supporting and promoting sustainability and connection with the land, but also helps us build better connections with our guests, and generates a chance for us to really get to know people as individuals through the humble power of sharing food and drink. We decided it would be more than suitable to create this blog especially during this time of lockdown, when small businesses such as the ones we promote through our walks need support more than ever. These difficult times have been challenging for all of us, so we would like to speak more about the foods we choose to share with our guests and the purpose of having such a picnic during our tours. And who knows – perhaps after reading this blog you might find yourself looking to purchase some of the wonderful products these fantastic businesses provide! You can find all of them elsewhere on our website, but I will be sure to post links to their websites at the bottom of this blog.
A younger me in the kitchen enjoying fresh oysters with my mum and brother back in Canada
Growing up, I have always had a great relationship with food thanks to my family. My mother, being Italian, greatly influenced how I view food right from when I was young. As kids, we always were in the kitchen helping my mother make food (whether we liked it or not!); be it simply helping her put dinner together, or having whole multi-day events making homemade sausages from scratch. As a family, we've always used food – both cooking and actually eating – as a way of bonding. It was always important to eat together as a family, and I have definitely have carried this sentiment forward into adulthood. So when Ashley and I were trying to figure out how to really connect to our guests in a more personalised way and show them ways of connecting them to the land they’ve come to learn about, we immediately thought of food; particularly the locally produced foods we have come to love since moving to Suffolk.
Out in the wild, it is common for social animals to build their social structures around the sharing of food and it is used as a way of strengthening relationships within the group. As people, we can’t help but follow suit. It's amazing the amount of comfort, connection and common understanding that can be gained through simply breaking bread and having a drink with one another. The food break of our tour is when we really get to know our guests and end up having some of the most wonderful and insightful conversations with one another, which is something we always look forward to. We have even comfortably discussed some quite controversial topics with guests over lunch, such as plant-based vs animal-based diets, ethical farming practices, and hunting. Yet in the presence of a delicious meal, we get to really share our own ideas and thoughts, and come away with a greater sense of feeling like we have had a real connection with diverse people.
This is what you can expect your packed lunch to look like when you come on tour!
Another reason why we especially like to serve our guests a packed lunch and a hot drink is the fact that it is simply a nice break to have during what can be a fairly long walk. During my time spent in South Africa, we always split up our long game drives with a quick snack and a coffee or tea. Mind you, the food definitely wasn't as luxurious as what you see here! Regardless, it's amazing how far just a bit of food can go when you are out in the wilderness with the elements and feeling tired and weary. Without fail, our guests always comment on how refreshed they feel after our short food break, and we never fail to notice it ourselves.
Besides all of that, we mainly serve our guests packed lunches for the impact that it can have on really reconnecting folks back to the land and to the community. The foods we select have each been very carefully thought through and sourced locally, with the intent of sharing with others our view of how we can commit to living sustainably and mindfully through our dietary choices. We hope to instil a new sense of appreciation for the local area in doing so, and ultimately show people how available and accessible good quality and ethically produced food can be.
On the walk, we provide a number of options for all our guests. To drink, we make available water, organic tea, organic coffee, organic milk, and even some locally made mead to sample! We also carry an extra thermos of hot water to make wild-foraged tea that we collect with our guests during our tour, which we steep as soon as we get to the picnic spot. To eat, we currently serve our guests a simple yet delicious and well-sourced assortment of cheese, bread, pickles and dried meat we cure ourselves. To ensure we are able to cater to everyone, we source the best vegan, vegetarian and gluten free substitutes out there – including the milk we provide for hot drinks! All of this is carefully packed away with a few other odds and ends into the magic blue backpack of mine that comes along with us on every tour.
A couple small wheels of Fen Farm's famous Baron Bigod; a truly traditional, raw farmhouse Brie which you will get to sample on tour!
The cheese we source is from the wonderful Fen Farm Dairy, located in Bungay, Suffolk. If you are not yet familiar with Fen Farm produce, then you really ought to look them up! Ashley and I are huge cheese fans, but only if the cheese we are eating is done right – keeping in mind proper ethics and a commitment to the environment. Fen Farm ticks all of our moral boxes, but most importantly it is our all-time favourite cheese in terms of taste. Their trademark raw milk Baron Bigod Brie wheel is an absolute must-have in every refrigerator in Suffolk at some point! Our guests always rave about how good the cheese is, and it’s a true testament to the amazing quality of the artisan foods which come directly from the land we call home, produced by some awesome folks in the wider Suffolk community.
Fen Farm's raw milk latte from the dairy shed, and the shed itself outside the farm
One of Ashley's favourite memories of Suffolk in the time we have lived here was our trip to Fen Farm as a quick stop-off during her 22nd birthday last year in August. We had recently discovered that Fen Farm had its own dairy shed located just outside the farm, complete with its own dairy vending machines and espresso machine; so naturally, we had to pay a visit! We left with an assortment of dairy delights including their raw farmhouse butter, milk, and brie, with two delicious raw milk lattes and a couple of locally baked artisan loafs of bread which we enjoyed in the sunshine right outside an outdoor vintage aircraft museum just down the road from the farm. If you're ever in the Bungay area you can't miss out!
As for the above mentioned “bread” we serve our guests, it’s actually much, much more than that. We like to serve our guests the ever-addicting bagels that we source from our good friend Avi at Bagel or Beigel (who, as a side note, also happens to be Canadian). Made right here in our village of Mendlesham, Avi lives and crafts his bagels just a stone’s throw from our cottage where we set off for our tours. Not only does Bagel or Beigel provide us their stunning baked goods which are made with a traditional family recipe, but also the homemade pickles that never fail to impress our guests. The bagels themselves come in a variety of incredible flavours, and the ones we provide on tour are always 100% vegan. And if his food wasn’t enough reason to rave about his produce, Avi’s customer service and work ethic is second to none. But be warned: even with the tremendous effort he puts into serving as many folks as possible, Bagel or Beigel quite often sells out; so if you want to get your hands on some of their products, you should be sure to place your order early! We enjoy his bagels and pickles so much that we often buy them for ourselves whether we have tours or not, and we have bought a few hampers for family members. For us, nothing beats some of these homemade bagels with a pot of coffee in the morning to start the day.
As for the meats we serve on our walks, I myself make small batches of South African-style biltong using meat from wild roe deer. The venison is sourced from a local family-run business called Wild Game Meats Ltd., located in Bury St. Edmunds. They are always a pleasure to deal with and have a wide range of wild game products. The venison I purchase from them comes in the form of a large haunch in which I butcher myself, season with my own special blend of spices (which I will not be sharing here!) and dry over several hours on a low heat in our fan oven. The result is always fantastic. Our meat-eating guests always mention how incredible the biltong is, and it really comes down to the quality of the meat. It's always extra special during times when we are sat at our picnic spot with our guests and observe wild roe deer grazing in the field across from us while we are eating. Having those experiences never fails to heighten that sense of connectedness, awe, and appreciation for the animal which is providing us with sustenance; something which builds a deep bond of respect and reciprocity. This is truly "field to fork" eating if ever we saw it!
Stages of my signature roe deer spiced biltong, straight from our local land to you
Ashley herself has a very special connection to biltong, being South African. Biltong is without a doubt a staple of traditional South African cuisine, along with game meats as a whole. She has memories going way back to the earliest days of her childhood of sharing bags of biltong with her family whilst sitting outside in the beating South African sunshine; from sitting by the pool in her uncle and aunt's garden (sometimes surrounded by monkeys who were keen to steal whatever they could), to looking out on the lakes of the Drakensburg mountain reach, to driving for hours through Kruger National Park before settling into a rustic thatched hut for the night, surrounded by the sounds of the bush. Biltong is a must-have on hikes and safari drives back in South Africa, being a delicious high protein snack, and you would scarcely find yourself on any long trip on the road or on foot without it.
Our standard packed lunch box next to our vegan substitution box
Having said that, as mentioned earlier, we do of course provide vegan and vegetarian options. We can substitute any of the food items described, and whether catering to guests with plant-based diets or otherwise, we stay true to our aims of treating them to the highest quality produce possible. Sticking to our ethics on supporting local, we source all of these products from our friends at Hank’s Deli & Supermarket. Located in the heart of Ipswich, our friends Geoff and Phil own and operate what is currently the largest vegan supermarket in all of the UK. As Ashley and I were once strict vegans, we have a vast knowledge on all the meat and cheese substitutes out there and we select only the best for our guests. We never want anyone to feel like they should have to expect less due to dietary restrictions, so we make a point to cater to everyone with the best vegan foods we ourselves have sampled and still enjoy to this day.
Food has always been something that has fascinated me. From the creativity of cooking to building bonds between people, the magic behind sharing a meal together is really something that can’t be matched with any other shared activity. It’s always such a treat for us to be able to sit down with our guests, take off our tour guide caps, and just hang out as friends who are out for a walk together. We take a lot of pride in the food we are able to share with the folks who come out on tour, and we highly recommend that everyone sample what these businesses have to offer. These folks aren’t just businesses we've sourced for the purpose of our tours, but are in fact our very favourite food suppliers and we regularly buy from them simply for our own personal enjoyment (and indulgence...). There is so much more we could say about each and every element of the food we provide, but this blog is long enough so we'll wrap things up here. Soon we will be adding some extra special additions to our packed lunches for our guests, showcasing other small businesses we love. So once lockdown is over and you're able to come for a stroll with us, arrive prepared to sample some truly divine culinary delights!
Fen Farm Dairy: https://fenfarmdairy.co.uk
Bagel or Beigel: https://www.bagelorbeigel.co.uk
Wild Game Meat Ltd.: https://wildgamemeat.co.uk
Hank's Deli: https://www.peninsulaveganfoods.com