The Boho Baker - the blogger who is passionate about baking and Lancashire
PUBLISHED: 09:21 16 January 2018 | UPDATED: 09:21 16 January 2018
Our new columnist, Debby Donnelly-Addison is determined to fly the flag for produce from the county, as Emma Mayoh discovered
Baker Debby Donnelly-Addison can pinpoint the exact moment she fell in love with baking – her sixth birthday.
‘It was this cottage birthday cake my mum made,’ recalled Debby. ‘I was obsessed with it and it was the most wonderful thing I’d ever seen. I’d really wanted it because of the cottages I’d seen near our house in Ormskirk, these beautiful little houses I adored.
‘The cake was everything I’d ever dreamed of. Mum has added all of these gorgeous little touches, little plastic birds that you’d think are horrible now but I loved. She used Shredded Wheat for the thatched roof. My mum has always been amazing at injecting that little bit of extra magic into everything she does. She tells me to add little touches into my designs and they make them perfect.’
Debby spent hours making and baking food with her mum, Susan, brother and sister, during her childhood in Ormskirk. Despite having three “fussy eaters”, the way her mum cooks – and her ability to make something out of nothing – has always been something that’s inspired Debby.
‘My mum made us all separate meals. It’s the kind of thing people on Mumsnet would have a field day with,’ joked Debby. ‘This meant mealtimes were anything but relaxing. They were hell. But it also gave us such a good introduction to cooking.
‘My mum learned from my grandma who made the most of all ingredients and leftovers because money was tight. That’s been passed on to me now. It’s ingrained in me. My mum is a simple cook but she’s amazing.’
Cooking and baking is something that’s followed the 34-year-old throughout her life. It’s also been something that has been therapeutic for her in tough times. Debby used to work as a family lawyer, commuting from Lancashire to Telford in Shropshire every day. Baking was her way to relax after a long day.
It also brought her back to health after she was diagnosed with a bone marrow condition that meant months in hospital.
‘I thought it was working in a stressful career,’ said Debby. ‘I was having massive bouts of memory loss and was feeling really tired. I thought I was depressed. It turns out I was really poorly.
‘I was admitted to hospital with septicaemia. I was really paranoid and thought the doctors were out to get me. I was taking pictures of them all and then I checked myself out. My GP came around to my house because my life was at risk. Then they discovered the problem with my bone marrow. I cut out all processed food and I started to feel better.
‘Baking was something I did when I was still feeling poorly. It was something I loved doing. I also had to make changes to my life and cut out everything that drained me. I’d spent my time fighting for other people as a lawyer but it was time to fight for myself and for my health.’
Once Debby was feeling stronger she turned her hobby into a career and launched cake business Vanilla Nova in 2011 in Southport. The business, which she runs with husband Dave, has gone from strength to strength, dominating the wedding cake industry. Her sugarcraft has become renowned and they are considered a go-to place for their divine designs.
But Debby was looking for an outlet that represented her lifestyle. Early in 2017, she launched Instagram page, The Boho Baker, promoting the recipes she loved to create as well as producing excellent dishes made with good quality, local foods. Her profile took off in a big way, proving demand was there for the wholesome recipes she develops.
‘I was doing yoga and being a lot more conscious about my food,’ said Debby, who has also become a recipe developer for Booths. ‘I started to live my life in a more conscious way which is what turned me onto what food I had nearby, rather than going to a supermarket.
‘I couldn’t understand when there was such good stuff available right here that people still bothered going to a supermarket. Amazing strawberries are grown just down the road but people were still buying the ones bought in from Spain. It didn’t make sense to me.’
The Boho Baker business also gave her a way to promote the local produce she loves to a wider audience. In her recipes she likes to have a “hero” of the dish - a meal that relies on one superb ingredient she has found from a producer in Lancashire.
Debby, who is currently writing a cookery book set for release this spring, is determined to change habits and encourage more people to consider the food they have on their doorstep as well as celebrate the stories behind the producers, farmers and retailers.
‘Lots of places have fantastic produce but there is nothing like the people in Lancashire,’ said Debby, who does cookery demonstrations for Booths as well as events internationally. ‘There are all these fantastic stories and histories behind them, whether it is a farmer whose family has worked the land for more than 100 years or characters who are passionate about what they do.
‘But to me it’s also about being accessible. I want anyone to feel they can give my recipes a try. They are very manageable and I always give hints and tips. I love edible flowers and I can guarantee everyone has a flower in their garden that would taste great in a dish. I would like to make more people aware of what can be achieved and it doesn’t have to be complicated.’