This is a love story.


Sourdough loaf baked by Matthew Rawlings of The Great Northumberland Bread Company

It is a story about passion, fire, determination and desire. The desire of a few local people to share what they know – and love – with the people around them. A story about damned hard work, frustration, laughter and – I imagine – tears.

It was a random Google search that directed me to this story, a random search for, of all things, a campsite. As I flicked from page to page, site to site I came across a farm that offered wild camping up in the hills of Northumberland.

The farmers, Lee Gray and Beth Sutherland, also offered a food box scheme which caught my eye and somehow lingered in my mind – and bookmarks folder – for a few weeks until the thought of yet another trip to the supermarket to buy beans flown in from Kenya and meat reared in Holland drove me back to my computer to put in my first order.

That was nearly a year ago and since then we have munched our way through fruits, vegetables and meats more exotic than anything I would have picked out from the cling filmed selection on offer at the local food giant. A pheasant stew fed us for an entire week last November, we just added another tin of tomatoes to the slow cooker and mashed up another pile of spuds. I’ve roasted a Guinea Fowl, stir fried wild garlic, grated celeriac and sunk my teeth into a piece of belly pork roasted with star anise that would make Jamie Oliver proud.

There has been a big trend for local food, local produce and real cooking over the past few years and I am so very glad that we chose to take the plunge and eat what arrives each week. We open our front door on a Thursday morning and there, in a muddied crate, fresh from the farm, is what we’ll be eating that week. From a busy working mother’s point of view it not only removes the stress of the supermarket shop, it solves the question of “What shall we have for dinner tonight?” It has all been decided for us, we eat what is in season, what is available and what the farmers give us.

A winter of kale was enlivened by stir frying the school uniform green leaves with garlic, chili and soy sauce or by baking them brushed lightly with olive oil and salt. (Beth gives a newsletter each week if she has time which has recipes and top tips on how to cook what). In time we worked out which cuts of meat needed a long low heat and which needed a quick flash in the pan and, on the week that the first organic duck arrived, we managed to eat the entire bird between the two of us, no kids allowed. This was cooking as it would have been fifty years ago, when the seasons and the produce determined what was available. There were no strawberries in November, no kumquats or nectarines in April.

Sourdough bubbles

One part of the box that we all fall upon each week is the loaf of bread that comes wrapped in a brown paper bag, neatly twisted at each corner. Last week’s bread was a soft white loaf that we devoured in minutes – helped by a pat of butter and a jar of strawberry jam. This week’s offering was an amazing sourdough loaf – Northumberland’s answer to the famous Parisian Poilane bread. This loaf has the perfect amount of ‘chew’ and is as far removed from a supermarket loaf as a sparrow is from a flamingo. Baked by Matthew Rawlings of The Great Northumberland Bread Company up in the hills of Etal it is the sort of food that makes you want to stand in the street and shout about how brilliant it is, how bread can come out of something other then a tie topped plastic bag and how it tastes, oh, how it tastes.

Deep inside the muddied crate this week were two plastic bags filled with fresh mackerel fillets, the results of ┬áLee and Beth’s first customer fishing trip the night before.

You shall have a fishy, on a little dishy ...

The skins glistened like polished silver and pewter as I pulled out my recipe books to plan the next feast. A recipe for mackerel with sage butter was quickly bookmarked as I slashed the white flesh and did the obligatory dusting with a light coating of flour. The bubbling butter in the pan sizzled as the skins hit the heat and the kitchen filled with scents that make me wish for scratch and sniff photography.

Slashed and floured ...

scratch and sniff ...

The veggie box had also yielded some grass green spinach leaves and a pile of muddied new potatoes (two bowfuls of which I had cooked the night before then eaten, curled up on the sofa, with nothing more than a dab of butter and some salt and pepper).

The bread toasted, the fish fried, the spinach wilted …

Toasted sourdough, ready for the fish to be scrunched onto it.

This is where the love story ends. A meal fit for a king sourced from the hills, dales and rivers around my home. Produced by people who love what they do and who are good enough to share what they do with those of us who, until a few months ago, didn’t know their celeriac from their celery and their monkfish from their mackerel. Next stop: wild camping …

A Northumbrian feast

With thanks to Lee and Beth from G and S Organics

and Matthew and Zoe from


One Response to “This is a love story.”

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