Philippa James meets Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 December 2013

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Philippa James

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Philippa James

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Philippa James quizzes Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on a trip to Lancashire

Hugh Fearnley-WhittingstallHugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Elaine Silverwood and Sue Wardell, from award-winning SilverDell Books in Kirkham, National Independent Bookseller of the Year, asked me to help host ‘An audience with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’ at the beautiful Browsholme Hall, near Clitheroe.

He was there to talk about his latest book with 180 inventive recipes for all things fruity and a Channel 4 series called ‘River Cottage Fruit everyday’. Owners of the hall, Robert and Amanda Parker, said: ‘For Browsholme to secure this national book launch is quite a coup for us.’

Hugh invited me to join him and publicist, Anya Rosenberg, from Bloomsbury

In a packed Tithe Barn the audience had their canapés and fizz, and the air was electric as I launched into my first question, Hugh’s earliest memories of cooking? Aged only about six, his mother discovered that on rainy days Hugh could quickly be engaged with some icing sugar, egg white and peppermint flavouring. Always liking to experiment,Hugh found the set peppermint creams could be dipped into melted chocolate and became presents for the family. He grinned recalling his mum saying he was only shy ‘when it was time to wash up.’

Hugh carried this philosophy through to his own children who were let loose in the kitchen. ‘It’s a nightmare for a while, but a great way to get their confidence up. He admits to having been a faddy eater. ‘Because mum was always busy we were the generation who marvelled at ready-made meals, we were no strangers to Findus mince pancakes or frozen beef burgers.

‘This said I recall, vividly, mum presenting us with pigeon breasts with roast potatoes and redcurrant jelly. It was like a leap of faith, seeing the birds, before they’d been plucked, and realising where the meat had originated from… I never looked back.’

His wife, Marie, and ‘the four kids love my experiments - the kitchen truly is the heart of our home; I recently made them black pudding, and fried apples caramelised with brown sugar, they loved it.’

Hugh kindly praised me for my delivery of Lottery-funded healthy eating cookery courses in primary schools and he made the audience laugh when I mentioned cutting myself, badly, and a nine-year-old asked: ‘Miss, could we make black pudding out of your blood?’ Hugh punched the air with his fist, laughing: ‘Terrific, I love it!’

With reference to the locality of food, Olivia Assheton handed a Ribble Valley Food Trail guide to Hugh, and he mentioned that he has been spending time in Lancashire, of late, but was quite mysterious about why.

Closing the evening Hugh gained giggles after someone asked about unusual methods of cooking, these included baking carp on the bonnet of a Land Rover, ironing a kipper, poaching salmon on a dishwash cycle and, apparently, salmon does ‘very nicely’ in a sauna. As Hugh headed off he pondered whether he could use a trouser-press to cook with.

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