How to pot, pickle and preserve with tips from eco-chef James Strawbridge

The chef shares his artisan cooking and preserving skills for living the good life

Learn to make your favourite artisan produce from scratch
Learn to make your favourite artisan produce from scratch Credit:  John Hersey

James Strawbridge has a passion for sausage making. And cheesemaking. And curing, smoking, salting, kombucha brewing, butter churning and pickling. What’s more, the former chef turned TV personality, pasty maker (a brief venture with his wife, Holly), recipe consultant, photographer and ambassador for all things eco-friendly, is entirely self-taught. Now a father of three and living in Fowey, south Cornwall, the 36-year-old is the author of 10 books; his latest, The Artisan Kitchen (DK, £20), is a must-have for anyone even vaguely curious about traditional cooking and preserving techniques.

“It’s not all gadgets and gizmos,” he says of the methods explained in the book, which include fermenting and smoking. “It’s more about the basic knowledge. Most of the kit can actually be built from scratch.”

Strawbridge’s can-do, DIY attitude can be attributed in part to his father, the chef (again self-taught) and engineer Dick, face of Channel 4’s programme Escape to the Chateau, among many others. James was studying environmental history at university and cheffing in his spare time when his family moved to Cornwall and starred in the 2006 BBC series It’s Not Easy Being Green, which documented the endeavours by Dick, his then-wife Brigit, daughter Charlotte, and James, to create an eco-haven around their 400-year-old farmhouse – composting toilet ­included. “We did everything ourselves, from rearing ducks and pigs
 to growing grapevines and tending vegetable patches. We threw ourselves in the deep end, so we became very practical very fast,” recalls James.

Though he remains close to his father, who has two children with his second wife Angel Adoree, James admits he “spent a lot of my early ­career trying not to be like my Dad. He loves to make rustic, low-and-slow-style crowd-pleasers. I’m a bit of a history geek, so I like to look to the past for inspiration and reinvent things with a modern twist. My attitude towards cooking comes from Dad, though, the confidence to have a go and get my hands dirty.”

It was when the pair were filming The Hungry Sailors in 2011, travelling the country in search of gastronomic delights, that James caught the artisanal bug. “I got to see behind the scenes of all these fantastic producers, and learnt a lot. I decided that, rather than watching everyone else create these products, I wanted to do it myself.”

In between recipe development and photography commissions, he now educates his three children – ­Indiana, nine, Pippin, eight, and five-year-old Arietti – about the magic of home-grown creations. “They all love having these ‘funny pets’ as we call them – the sourdough starter, sauerkraut, kombucha. They get to see the whole cycle of food production, from planting something in the ground to harvesting it, preserving or cooking it, and eating it. It’s a pretty old-fashioned way, but I think it’s something we can all achieve at some level.”

James's wife and three children also enjoy a more natural way of cooking and eating Credit: John Hersey

In The Artisan Kitchen, James digs deep into the science of such processes: how fat behaves when making butter; why smoke acts as a natural preservative; thermodynamics at work in a wood-fired pizza oven. “As a parent, you’re always asked ‘why?’, and I want to be able to answer that question thoroughly. To know about the process of making cheese, or preserving vegetables, makes you appreciate the flavour more.”

The book isn’t solely for those itching to build a clay oven or a smoking chamber (though they are well served); his lively explanations, recipes and projects will ­reassure even those who balk at the idea of a sourdough starter. “It’s OK to make mistakes,” he insists. “Artisan food isn’t about perfection or consistency. If you buy a jar of pickle from the supermarket, it will be identical to the jar next to it. But if you make your own, it will be unique.”

His passion stems from higher up the family tree, too. “One of my biggest inspirations is my grandpa. Every lunch he would have a big tomato from the garden, some home-smoked mackerel pâté, home-baked bread and home-made butter. It was a simple lunch, but everything had been made in that one kitchen. Sitting at the table and knowing you haven’t bought a single thing – I can’t put into words how special that is. I want everyone to know that feeling.”

The Artisan Kitchen by James Strawbridge is published by DK on Sept 3 (£20). Order your copy from books.telegraph.co.uk