Andrew Neil asks ‘what on earth is happening at the National Trust’
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So it makes sense visitors are often in no hurry to leave…especially when there is tasty food on offer. In fact, 69 per cent of people welcomed back since the Trust reopened its doors in June last year have eaten at one of its cafés. For some visitors, it’s an integral part of their routine, with many stopping by every week for the same slice of cake and a conversation with staff and volunteers.
Whether at The Boathouse at Fell Foot in the Lake District, the Weaving Shed at Gibson Mill, West Yorkshire – an off-grid café powered entirely by the weather – or one of the many listed buildings, the cafés offer a slice of stunning architecture along with your meal.
Ahead of our Happy Days family ticket giveaway starting this Saturday, Matt Drew, the Trust’s head of food and beverage, explains: “Food brings people together and it has given us so much joy seeing families and friends reunite, our regulars return and new visitors stop by.”
Continuing the obsession with pandemic home baking, visitors to the Trust’s website couldn’t get enough of its cheese scones. There was a 3,000 per cent increase in people accessing the famous recipe during lockdown.
And while a scone is a quintessential part of the National Trust experience, it’s not the whole story. The charity describes its menu mantra as “good food, doing good” – it prides itself on using carefully-sourced, seasonal ingredients, made fresh on site, with the proceeds from sales helping to care for that attraction’s historic building, garden, coastline or countryside location.
Farming with nature is key to the National Trust food story, too. It gets many of its ingredients from its farmers. Meat, flour, dairy, fruit and veg, eggs and even cider is sourced from tenants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who produce tasty food while caring for the countryside.
Allowing field margins to grow to benefit birds and pollinators; laying hedgerows; changing cattle grazing patterns and cutting hay meadows later in the year are just some of the ways the Trust’s farms are responding to the crisis facing wildlife in the UK. Keeping things even more local, some ingredients are sourced close to home with 60 kitchen gardens growing fresh produce to be delivered direct to the kitchen door.
Two development chefs are then responsible for capturing the flavours of the season and creating the dishes visitors find on Trust menus across the nation. They produce four cookbooks and 150 dishes a year.
Cafés are encouraged to reflect their individuality too.
At Birling Gap, East Sussex, the café not only offers stunning seaside views from its cliff top terrace but tells the story of a local legend. In 1790, a ship travelling from Malaga to London was wrecked just off the beach, spilling its cargo – 800 boxes of lemons – on to the sand. According to locals, the beach was glistening with lemons.
Ever resourceful, villagers turned the lemons into curd, tarts and cakes. Some 230 years later, it inspired the National Trust café to feature lemon dishes on its menu. Sharon Peters, Birling Gap’s food and beverage manager, says: “Visitors love the link of a shipwreck and baking as it is such a unique and unusual connection.”
As the old saying goes, when life gives you lemons… make lemon curd.
- For more information, including opening times, ticket prices and travel, visit nationaltrust.org.uk
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