A kitchen in a farm in Cornwall, England is where Jane writes from, drawing inspiration from freshly-harvested produce and newly-foraged ingredients. Also making regular appearances are the animal and plant friends that populate the farm as well as happenings in town, making the award-winning blog a significant voice on the South West England food scene.
Tell us about The Hedge Combers.
I originally started the blog back in 2008 when my partner Jonny moved onto my family farm. He has a huge interest in botany and wild plants and we planned to create a map of our local area marking the best foraging sites for various wild food year round. Once it was up and running it didn’t really go anywhere so in time I took it over as a hobby blog talking about farm life, food and crafts.
Fast forward to 2011, and my dad was diagnosed with cancer. He was ill for almost three years before passing away and his illness affected me so deeply that I ended up quitting my business of 10 years as an acupuncturist. I felt like I’d run out of empathy for other people’s problems. I took on some minimum wage work locally and became focused on monetising my blog so I could be based on the farm and not have to go out to work. Food was the easiest subject for me to talk about consistently, so that’s the area I leaned towards.
Why do you write about food?
Basically because I am the greediest person I know! Food has always been a huge part of my life, but I’ve overeaten for so many years and had lots of shame associated with food. By opening up and sharing my kitchen adventures with people I’ve lessened the guilt and learned to laugh at my elaborate love of food! Also since writing and photographing food, I’ve found a way to relish it without necessarily overindulging in it.
How is life on the farm?
My parents bought our little farm back in the late 1970’s. It’s in a beautiful area which is popular with tourists although we are thankfully off the beaten track. My dad used to farm it on a very small scale but as he got older he rented the fields out to another farmer. Mum would cook for us on the Aga and everything was literally from scratch, including the butchery. I did rebel at 14 after watching a TV program about mass produced poultry and decided I no longer wanted to eat meat. I was vegetarian for eight years, finally going back to eating meat when I was travelling.
Nowadays my partner and I grow pigs every other year and I breed Muscovy ducks for meat too. I adore these birds, and I ensure they have a wonderful free-range life living on our lake and waddling up to peck at my kitchen door if I’m late with their breakfast! I am also very hands-on in processing them. I don’t like doing it and it does upset me, but at the end of the day I choose to eat meat and am prepared to take the ultimate responsibility for that. I wish that more people would get as involved with the food they eat; the meat industry would be a much kinder place for it.
What does cooking seasonally mean for you on the farm?
We have two orchards, the original one being hundreds of years old and with gnarled old sour cooking apple trees and a younger orchard that my Dad planted about 30 years ago with sweet apples and plums. We tend to pick the fruit and freeze it in two giant farm freezers. We did import a pressure canner from the US a couple of years ago, but I had a batch go mouldy and it terrified me to the point that I haven’t used it since. Sadly we don’t have a history of canning. We also have poly tunnels where I grow a good selection of fruits and vegetables year round. I wouldn’t say I’m the best gardener in the world, and it is difficult to stay on top of it in the height of the growing season, but even so we do eat very well from it! And we do forage things such as wild garlic, berries, leaves from the hedges too, and as we’re only a mile from a lovely little beach we have easy access to seaweeds, seafood and coastal plants.
What are you currently reading?
I used to have hundreds of cookbooks and last year I had a gigantic clear out getting rid of boxes of them. I kept all of Jamie Oliver's books as I love the photography in his books and his relaxed approach to food. Since getting involved with his restaurant, Fifteen Cornwall, I have fallen in love with the food itself too so whenever I need some Italian inspiration his recipes are the first place I go. My absolute favourite food writer is Nigel Slater. He is an English food journalist cum TV chef and has written several books. I adore his writing style and his are the only cookbooks I have ever read page by page, like a novel. His words are hypnotic, even if he’s talking about something as mundane as making the perfect chicken stock! Interestingly, I don’t really like his TV shows, but love his writing.
As for food blogs I obviously have a few favourites! My good friend Bintu is originally from Sierra Leone although she now lives in the UK. Her blog Recipes from a Pantry is full of colour and spice and her fusion recipes always get me itching to get in the kitchen and recreate them. She’s introduced me to so many new ingredients too which I love. Another favourite is Veggie Desserts by Kate. She is famous for baking the most unusual of vegetable-infused cakes and whilst I haven’t got around to making it yet, her kale and blood orange cake looks sooo good! Lastly, the other thing I read every single day is my filofax! It’s how I keep organised with the blog, social media, photography and life. This is the one book I never want to lose.
What's your favorite recipe on The Hedge Combers?
I think it has to also be my most popular recipe: The Best Flapjacks in the Whole Wide World. Ever. These are the English version of a flapjack—an oaty traybake—rather than pancakes. I not only LOVE to eat these flapjacks but I love the interaction I get in the comments from people all over the planet. This recipe has actually made me virtual friends. One lady wrote to tell me that she’d taken a box of these into the hospital so she could indulge in them after giving birth to her daughter. Bizarre but wonderful all at the same time!
Question from Michael and Megan of Fresh Off the Grid: Since we spend a lot of time traveling, we have a constantly evolving notion of "home". But food has a strange and beautiful way of connecting us to a sense of belonging. What meal always tastes like "home" to you? (Click here to read Michael and Megan's interview)
It would have to be one of Jonny's morning breakfasts. Our own sausages, bacon and eggs. It's a tough one to beat! As we spend a lot of time camping and cooking out of doors, any meal cooked over an open fire would taste like home to me. From the smell of the woodsmoke to the cast iron pans we cook with, I love it all.