Lancashire Life visits Gracemire Farm, Salwick

PUBLISHED: 19:39 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:01 20 February 2013

Farmers Richard and Fran with Harry, Freddie and Labrador Joy

Farmers Richard and Fran with Harry, Freddie and Labrador Joy

Cookery editor Philippa James visits a Duchy farm, catches up with local award winning chef, Kate Rooke and shares her pavlova recipe

RICHARD flew past me with a jug, fresh from the milking parlour. It was such a cold day you could see the steam rising from the surface. 'Won't be a minute, Freddie's crying and he wants his milk...'

Richard returned and leant on the front door post. He looked earnestly at me and said: 'You know, if you're ever short, come up and see me. I can always give you a couple of inches.' I raised an eyebrow at Richard and said: 'I really think you may want to re-phrase that.' He looked horrified. 'I meant inches for your column!'

And so started a friendship with the Tomlinson family, of Gracemire Farm, Salwick, the third generation to have worked the land here. It's a Duchy farm - that is, owned by the Queen, as are several on the Fylde. Richard's parents had been on the farm for 30 years, but swapped after Rick met Fran (her family are also farmers) at Newcastle University.

When I caught up with them again Fran, who is pregnant with baby number three, laughed: 'Even Joy, our Labrador, is expecting at the moment!' Harry, 3, had gone out with his Dad, and Freddie, nearly 2, giggled non-stop, as we nattered. 'The children just love it, they are always out helping their Dad on the farm. They are very lucky.'

I asked Fran how she felt about the boys having milk straight from the dairy. She said they checked with health professionals and only started the babies on farm milk when they were over 12 months old. Besides, they know the provenance of the herd. The boys certainly looked in rude health, with rosy cheeks, and boundless energy.

Sitting in the kitchen, with washing drying, above the Aga, and a huge metal teapot bubbling away, the farm felt like an idyll of rural domesticity. But it's also hard work with milking at 6am and at 4pm. This is a joint effort by Richard, his Dad, Brian, and cowman, also Brian. There's also feeding the calves, scraping out, bedding to be laid, fencing 'and chatting!' said Fran. 'The yard is always full of visitors, there's a lot of chatting in a day.'

The farm is very diverse. There are five hundred sheep, scattered around the fields, and lambing has gone really well, this year, with some big lambs, I was assured. This is sold as 'Gracemire Grass-fed Lamb in a Box' and is only available by private order, or at Lytham St. Annes farmers' market, the running of which was taken over by Richard in March 2008. At Christmas they have turkeys which are sold locally.

I commented to Fran what a lovely, easy-going guy Richard was and she summed him up: 'Well-respected, and always ready to help people, with a sunny disposition.' And almost as if his ears were burning, Richard breezed in with Harry. 'Did you tell Philippa about my award?'

'Oh, no!' laughed Fran, raising hers eyes towards the ceiling,

'Rick was nominated The Sexiest Farmer in the North West, he still holds the title; we've never heard the end of it!' Richard added that he'd opened a supermarket on the strength of it..

It was time to take my leave of this blissful, domestic setting, as I walked through the door, Richard summed it up so eloquently. 'You know, Philippa, I wouldn't swap this job, for the world!' You can contact him or 01772 690377

Top marks for Kate

As well as having more top chefs that you can shake a stick at, up here in Lancashire, the county is blessed with much up-and-coming young talent. I travelled to Penwortham Priory Sports and Technology College to catch up with the National Young Chef Champion 2008, Kate Rooke.

The competition was launched by EBLEX, the beef and lamb sector company, and sponsored by Quality Standard beef mince, with secondary school pupils being asked to submit their own, original, nutritious and creative recipe, along with cooking methods, a time plan, and to come in under 10. The aim is to encourage students to take an interest in food and healthy eating.

A record number of entries was received and Kate was chosen as the national winner with Kate's Kofta Kebabs, served with paprika potato wedges, raita and hot tomato chutney, all prepared, cooked, and plated up within an hour! The judges were celebrity chef, James Martin and Denise Spencer-Walker, food advisor from EBLEX.

Kate's Food Technology Teacher, Shelley Lewis-Lavender, said that the teenager was speechless at winning and she was blown away by her prize of two nights in London, visiting the Saturday Kitchen set to watch the programme being filmed. She also went to Roast restaurant and experiencing a lunchtime service and dinner with James. Shelley added: 'James was great - he treated Kate like his little sister, joking and encouraging her.'

Kate said that the whole trip inspired her to a career in the food industry. A talent for cookery evidently runs in the family as sister, Helen, is partnered with another year ten pupil, Lucy Hothersall, to enter the Lancashire Young Chef Competition. Shelley was keen to add how many other students from the college have gone on to careers in the food industry, working with chefs in top hotels and restaurants. There is a very tangible sense of pride in the students at the college. I wish the girls the very best of luck in the contest, and, a hearty: 'Well done, Kate!'

Strawberry teas forever...

So many of us have been touched by friends being diagnosed with breast cancer that it is always great to hear of different ideas for fund-raising - .and what better excuse for getting a gaggle of friends together than to have a Strawberry Tea, to help support the 46,000 people who are diagnosed with this illness every year.

Your event can be anything from a family gathering to a full-blown neighbourhood 'bash' where you have a Jacob's Join, and everyone brings a strawberry themed dish.

Annette Hayes-Savage, 34 from Chorley, was affected after her mum was diagnosed with cancer, and she had her first party in the back garden in 2007, with strawberry themed refreshments, and a strawberry treasure hunt. She raised an amazing 685.

To request a fundraising pack full of ideas and strawberry recipes visit: or call 0870 164 9422. Meanwhile, here's a start:

Philippa's Pavlova

Serves 6

4 Free-range egg whites
225g/ 8oz Caster sugar
1 Teaspoon corn flour
1 Teaspoon malt vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon, preferably, vanilla extract,
Or 1 Teaspoon of vanilla essence.
450ml/ 16fl oz Double cream
1 Punnet strawberries2 Kiwi fruit
Splash of Cointreau - optional

(You can use the egg yolks to enrich a quiche, my recipe is on the Lancashire Life website, or in home made Lemon Curd.)

Pre-heat the oven to 150*c / gas mark 2

It is really important with meringue of any type to use a clean, dry, completely fat-free bowl, my 'top tip' is to use a glass or stainless steel bowl, as plastic bowls can hold onto traces of fat. It is also important when separating the eggs to ensure that not even the tiniest drop of yolk goes into the white, or it will fail do whip up.

Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment, not greaseproof paper, if you want a perfect result!


Separate the eggs, placing the whites into a large mixing bowl, and whisk until soft peaks form, that is, where the tops of the peak 'flops' over.

Add half the sugar, and incorporate, then add the corn flour, (I sieve over the mixture, to ensure spread evenly.) the vinegar and the vanilla extract.

Continue to whisk until it goes really pure white, very glossy and starts to leave 'firm' trails as you whisk.

Add the remaining sugar, and mix on a low speed, until mixed in.

Using a spoon, or spatula, scoop the meringue out, into the middle of the baking parchment, and then spread into an oval shape, making an indent in the middle, where your whipped cream will go.

Pop into the oven at 150*c/ gas mark 2, and put the timer on for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, peep into the oven, if it looks to be browning, turn the temperature down to 130*c / gas mark . Check and, if necessary, turn the baking tray around after a further 15 minutes, then bake for a further 30 minutes, until a skewer, or sharp knife inserted into the thickest part comes out clean.

Whilst the Pavlova is baking, whip the cream, adding a splash of Cointreau for additional decadence, before the cream gets too 'firm', and a little caster sugar, if desired. Hull and slice the strawberries, peel and chop the kiwi fruit.

Once the meringue is cool (You can make the meringue the day before you need it, just keep in a tin, or an airtight container.) pile the cream into the middle, and scatter with the fruit. If you have any cream over, serve in a small bowl.

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