A table full of homegrown, homemade food in a West Country kitchen surrounded by family and friends is a fond childhood memory of BBC Radio Bristol presenter Laura Rawlings. Growing up surrounded by field to fork connections, she learned vital skills that remain part of her life decades later, despite living in the centre of a bustling city.
One of four children, Laura grew up on a dairy farm in Wiltshire. She says, “we had a herd of dairy cows, and we also had pigs, sheep and some chickens.
We all had to get involved and help out on the farm from an early age, whether it was looking after the animals, feeding, bedding, chasing escapees or moving fences around fields.”
“We also had a fruit and veg garden, so we learned how to take care of plants. We would sell the surplus produce at a local market in the church, as well as cakes, jams, preserves, pickles, cordials – whatever we could make with what we’d got. My mum is a brilliant cook – she comes from a big farming family, so whether we were making cakes, puddings or tray bakes – all of the recipe ingredients were literally quadrupled!”
Making food from scratch was a key part of Laura’s childhood: “we made lots of things ourselves, even our own butter: we’d sit on the kitchen table with the large glass jar and my sister and I would take it in turns to turn the handle – at that age it seemed to take hours, but it certainly kept us entertained for a while!”
From her childhood on the farm, Laura has a strong connection to where food comes from. “When you know what effort goes into growing food and breeding animals – you appreciate what you’ve got and make the most of it. I learnt to cook from scratch and use every bit possible: whether it’s pickling, preserving, freezing, or turning the leftovers from Sunday roast into cottage pie or soup the next day, it’s about being resourceful and thrifty. I only have a small area outside my flat but it’s packed with containers growing veg – and a few of my favourite flowers.
“I’ve been lucky enough to learn how cook and have the confidence to try new ingredients. Growing up in a farmhouse kitchen has given me lots of practical experience with food: watching, stirring, seeing it change during a process, knowing when you need a bit more patience or just to stop messing around with it!”
“Sunday roast was a big event in our house – that would be when everyone on the farm would sit down together, before having mugs of tea and going off to do the milking. We’d all help out but it was my mum who would do the cooking – she’s in charge, and still puts on a mean spread in 2015.
My mum taught me what I know by giving me little jobs: my earliest job was to pick the veg in the garden, then peeling the potatoes (always a struggle for someone who’s left handed!), getting the chance to make and stir the gravy (crumbling in the oxo cubes), whisking the cream…..getting in trouble for opening (and slamming) the oven door to see if the Yorkshire puddings were rising!”
“It would always be roast meat – our own beef, or sometimes our own pork, veg from the garden, potatoes we would have dug up, homemade gravy and finished with a selection of different puddings.’’
“Sunday dinner is still a strong part of our family tradition and I look forward to sitting up to the table with everyone once or twice a month. The only difference is now I’ve progressed to washing-up duty!”
Laura is pictured on the right, with BBC Weather Presenter Carol Kirkwood