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Food can be such a healer.
No matter if you have a terrible day, you can get in the kitchen and create something amazingly soothing from scratch – something that can nourish you and your family from the inside out. How special is that?
Food, and the cooking of food, has always been something akin to therapy for me. When I was going through my divorce the process of creating meals was a real sanctuary: my ex-husband would take the children out once a week for supper, and while they were gone I’d treat myself to a walk around Waitrose, picking food I’d go on that week to cook for the children and myself, recipes that would make our tummies and our hearts feel happier.
My trips to Waitrose became routine and I still see shopping there as a special weekly treat. In my opinion, their produce, choice and customer service can’t be beaten.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Waitrose’s cookery school a couple of times, but when I was asked to visit their farm in Hampshire, The Leckford Estate, for a Summer Garden Party I was another-level thrilled. Spend a day at the home – the foundation – of my favourite shop in the entire world? The excitement I felt was, I imagine, akin to a die-hard Elvis fan visiting Graceland, and I was beyond happy to have the chance to investigate Waitrose at Source.
The Waitrose Leckford Estate
Leckford Estate’s beautiful 80m herbaceous border
Waitrose is the only British supermarket to own a working farm, a sprawling 4,000 acre estate split down the middle by the river Test. Not only is the farm home to 550 Holstein/Fresian cows producing over 5 million litres of milk a week, you’ll also find apple and pear orchards, over 1,500 acres of wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape, chickens producing free range eggs and a vineyard with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. There’s also a farm shop, a golf course, a nursery, hotel, water garden and fishing facilities: put simply, it’s the most exciting farm I’ve ever visited!
Longstock Water Garden
Our day began with a stroll around the most beautiful nursery and garden, taking in the awesome 80 metre herbaceous border. It was the most beautiful experience for the senses, full of fragrant lavender and an incredible spectrum of summer colours. From there it was a quick wander through parkland to Longstock Water Garden, a place dubbed ‘The finest water garden in the world’ by the International Water Lily society.
And it really was glorious. Covering seven acres, the gardens were originally created in the early 1900s, becoming part of the estate in 1942. John Spedan Lewis, the founder of the John Lewis Partnership, spent much of his later life in these gardens (you can see the little hut he liked to work from just up there) and the Estate’s philosophy is to evolve the landscape so that it remains a vibrant, tranquil and beautiful place to visit.
We took a turn around the gardens sipping on apple bellinis made from Leckford’s sparkling wine and their own apple juice. Nibbles were the most incredible Monteray Jack tarts with bacon dust (yep, it’s a thing, and it’s amazing) with Mushroom Arancini, again using farm produce. I’m going to be re-creating these arancini at the weekend… so moreish.
The next part of the day was the most exciting because Waitrose really is all about the food. We were led to the most idyllic lakeside spot for lunch in wigwams, again catered by the brilliant cookery school in Salisbury, to feast on summer-inspired dishes. The styling and place settings were spot on – flowers and rustic wood everywhere – and it felt like such a treat to be spending the summer day with my all-time favourite brand in such a space.
My very on-brand dress was Marks and Spencer
I was seated opposite Colin from the Estate, who spent the lunch regaling us with the most wonderful stories of working at Leckford by Waitrose: a huge British organization that still sounds decidedly like a family business. The history of the brand is so multi-faceted, and it was wonderful to hear from the horse’s mouth what it’s like to be a partner in the business today (it sounds pretty great, by all accounts).
Lunch kicked off with an incredibly healthy-sounding courgette, spelt and cumin fritter. I was surprised by just how tasty this was, and again loved that we were eating Estate produce (25 tonnes of mushrooms are harvested there each and every week).
Our main course was fresh trout, impressively caught by Colin the day before. Again it was a seriously flavourful dish: the potato fondant was bursting with flavours of lemon and thyme and the confit egg yolk was inspired, adding a dimension of cream and butteriness. Another one to re-create at home, I reckon.
I don’t normally eat puddings (I KNOW) but this one stole my heart: pavlova with cherries. It was omg-delightful, just incredibly layered with flavour and SO light. I’d say I’d want to make this at home too, but really I wouldn’t know where to start so instead I’ve stored it in the section of my brain that houses ‘foods I’d love to eat at least one more time in my life’.
Wines were from the estate as well as one of my favourite producers – Chapel Down in Kent – but I just had a little taste of these as I was driving. I made up for this fact by purchasing a couple of bottles from the farm shop to enjoy at home…
Our final treat was again lakeside, and the opportunity to learn how to create a beautiful bouquet of cut flowers. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and though I don’t like blowing my own trumpet I thought I did a pretty good job ;) It was the best way to round off a really wonderful day out.
Huge thanks to Waitrose for treating me to the beautiful summer garden party – and thanks for always being my food buddy when I have a bad day: if you were a boyfriend it’d be true love by now.
Thanks to Waitrose for working with MTT as part of an ongoing commercial relationship.