Almost as soon as I saw the house, I imagined giving cooking lessons in it. At the time, the kitchen adjoined a scullery, and behind was an old pantry, complete with the original cupboards and shelves. Then, down a small flight of steps, there was the original larder with a northfacing window, cool as a cave and furnished only with a long slate shelf. For a cook fascinated by food history, this was Eden.
Two years later the first lessons have taken place and the house is now – it still feels strange to say – a cookery school. I thought for a long time about how and what I wanted to teach, within the capabilities of the house itself.
We are in North Dorset, a few miles west of Blandford Forum, having moved here from London two years ago. Dorset has a diverse food culture. It is a county where farming is a mix of arable, dairy and meat; its long coastline provides an abundant supply of seafood; and it is home to many extraordinary food producers.
In our village alone we have Houghton Springs, the only fish farm in Britain producing Arctic char; a cidermaker; egg producers; beekeepers; and a cheese-maker. Just down the road there is an excellent poultry farm, Piddle Valley Chickens, and also – rather extraordinarily – a wasabi farm.
To the south are Poole and Purbeck, Shaftesbury to the north. The house sits on a hill above the village of Winterborne Houghton. It is the Old Rectory to St Andrew’s church and, as in most such houses, the kitchen and utility rooms are located at the back, behind a silencing red-baize door.
In the end I came up with the One Day Cooking Lesson, designed to inspire, with six new dishes ideal for entertaining – but also for your own suppers. It is a format chosen to solve a cookery problem I suffer from myself.
Over time I have cooked enough to come across that inspiration block when I fall out of love with cooking. Cooking for a family can do this to you. I have staples that are perfect for dinner parties, but after a while I tire of making them.
When cooking feels like a chore, it is time to look for a new idea that rekindles your enthusiasm. Browsing cookbooks for new recipes is one way to respond, but a cooking lesson is a useful dry run for testing a recipe. Dishes I teach feature seasonal ingredients, and each could be served alongside another, as with the recipes here. But since most meals consist of two to three courses, you can choose from a ‘menu’ of six.
I take practicality into account, choosing recipes in which elements can be prepared in advance. Colour, presentation, cost, flavour combinations, experiments with unusual ingredients, improvisation – the One Day Cooking Lesson is all about building confidence. I like to teach the importance of simplicity, of making things easy for yourself so you can enjoy cooking for others.
Lessons are tutorial-style, with a social element. Numbers are between five and eight students and we talk a lot, not only about the recipes in hand but also about sourcing ingredients, techniques and planning. We meet at 10am, then cook as a group – not at stations like on Bake Off but around the table and at the stove. Everyone gets to hone their skills and learn new ones.
It is hands-on for using tools, handling pastry or sauces, putting the final touches to canapés, understanding timing or learning to carve. We taste as we go, so all can learn to season. It is like a study group, with people meeting and making friends over the food. Towards the end of the course we sit and eat lunch at the kitchen table.
If I find an interesting local ingredient, we might do a tasting; often conversation drifts to non-food-related topics, but the day is about adding to your knowledge and firing up passion. Now and again all cooks need this, even the professionals.
I have to say, however, that these days are so enjoyable, they do not feel like work at all.
To book a cooking lesson or a stay at the Old Rectory, visit roseprince-cookerycourses.co.uk
Cook with Rose: recipes from her classes