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Lady Ashcombe

PUBLISHED: 09:58 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 15:08 20 February 2013

Mrs Bell: The legendary cook of post-war stodge.

Mrs Bell: The legendary cook of post-war stodge.

There are plenty of reminders of Sudeley in the Umbrian Hills for Lady Ashcombe


I have just returned from a fascinating week in Florence with my art lecture group where we were immersed in the glories of that great Italian Renaissance city. I also took the opportunity to slip away and spend a few enjoyable days with my Italian brother- in- law and nephew in their charming rural home tucked away in the Umbrian Hills. He and my late and much missed sister- in- law Catherine created this small corner of paradise from a ruined farmstead of a couple of cow sheds and a pig sty (a task which looked barely imaginable when I first saw it over 35 years ago).



Echoes of Sudeley are scattered casually around the old stone rooms; family photographs, pictures, furniture and familiar objects from my mother- in- law's collection which I came to know well over the years of her life here at Sudeley. Catherine was a connoisseur of fine things as well as a brilliant cook and many English friends and I have enjoyed unforgettably delicious and lazy days of hospitality with her and Franco over the years. Together they presided over a delightfully unconventional kitchen, cluttered with all the culinary necessities of great cooking: walls lined with racks of wine, music, books, dog baskets, drink and conversation always flowing and a fiendish parrot screeching furiously in one corner. Ara the parrot is now circa 35 years old and has lost most of his fine plumage, but, still bad tempered and in full voice, he occupies the same corner and anyone other than his master who ventures too close to his perch is unlikely to come away unbloodied.



Franco has happily continued the tradition of great cooking for friends and family and I was treated to some memorable tastes and treats when there. However, one surprising relic of long ago life at Sudeley came with an unexpected surge of taste at breakfast from a large jar on his old oak table. It was the most delicious marmalade I have tasted since the days of old Mrs. Bell, who was my mother- in- law's cook at Sudeley over 40 years ago. Mrs. Bell, a cosy and kindly woman, was not particularly renowned or appreciated for her post war philosophy of cooking which tended towards the overcooked and under-flavoured school, with the exception of her puddings, cakes and marmalade. I remember well the sinking expressions of family and guests as we pushed the mutton stew or boiled tongue around our plates, until rescue came in the form of a heavenly crisp apple charlotte, munchy blackberry crumble, mouthwatering bread and butter pudding, or my favourite, sticky toffee pudding, and all accompanied by my mother-in-law's prize- winning thick double cream from the Home Farm



Catherine obviously didn't inherit her mother's disinterest in food, but cleverly carried away with her Mrs. Bell's best recipes, amongst which was the famous marmalade now precisely and caringly reproduced by Franco, along with her ginger cake and lime/ mint jelly, to the accompaniment of Ara's raunchy conversation. I am including the marmalade recipe here for those who wish to give it a go and was told that the real secret is in the quick boiling at the end. Another delight of the Italian table is that there is no nonsense about fat free, wheat free, calorie counting, carbs watch or any of the spoilsport guilt-making propaganda we are subjected to... and no one appeared any the worse for wear from it. I did notice, however, that my jeans seemed a little snug when I struggled into them this morning.



How about sampling a different era of Sudeley's life at the 'Meet The Tudors' weekend which will be on from Saturday, May 24 to Monday, May 26?. Not only will Henry VIII be strolling the grounds of his Tudor Palace but the Executioner will be looking for his next victim! The Royal Falconer will be displaying and flying the King's private collection of owls, hawks and kestrels. Immerse yourself in one of the most important periods in Sudeley's history. For more information go to www.sudeleycastle.co.uk.



I have just returned from a fascinating week in Florence with my art lecture group where we were immersed in the glories of that great Italian Renaissance city. I also took the opportunity to slip away and spend a few enjoyable days with my Italian brother- in- law and nephew in their charming rural home tucked away in the Umbrian Hills. He and my late and much missed sister- in- law Catherine created this small corner of paradise from a ruined farmstead of a couple of cow sheds and a pig sty (a task which looked barely imaginable when I first saw it over 35 years ago).



Echoes of Sudeley are scattered casually around the old stone rooms; family photographs, pictures, furniture and familiar objects from my mother- in- law's collection which I came to know well over the years of her life here at Sudeley. Catherine was a connoisseur of fine things as well as a brilliant cook and many English friends and I have enjoyed unforgettably delicious and lazy days of hospitality with her and Franco over the years. Together they presided over a delightfully unconventional kitchen, cluttered with all the culinary necessities of great cooking: walls lined with racks of wine, music, books, dog baskets, drink and conversation always flowing and a fiendish parrot screeching furiously in one corner. Ara the parrot is now circa 35 years old and has lost most of his fine plumage, but, still bad tempered and in full voice, he occupies the same corner and anyone other than his master who ventures too close to his perch is unlikely to come away unbloodied.



Franco has happily continued the tradition of great cooking for friends and family and I was treated to some memorable tastes and treats when there. However, one surprising relic of long ago life at Sudeley came with an unexpected surge of taste at breakfast from a large jar on his old oak table. It was the most delicious marmalade I have tasted since the days of old Mrs. Bell, who was my mother- in- law's cook at Sudeley over 40 years ago. Mrs. Bell, a cosy and kindly woman, was not particularly renowned or appreciated for her post war philosophy of cooking which tended towards the overcooked and under-flavoured school, with the exception of her puddings, cakes and marmalade. I remember well the sinking expressions of family and guests as we pushed the mutton stew or boiled tongue around our plates, until rescue came in the form of a heavenly crisp apple charlotte, munchy blackberry crumble, mouthwatering bread and butter pudding, or my favourite, sticky toffee pudding, and all accompanied by my mother-in-law's prize- winning thick double cream from the Home Farm



Catherine obviously didn't inherit her mother's disinterest in food, but cleverly carried away with her Mrs. Bell's best recipes, amongst which was the famous marmalade now precisely and caringly reproduced by Franco, along with her ginger cake and lime/ mint jelly, to the accompaniment of Ara's raunchy conversation. I am including the marmalade recipe here for those who wish to give it a go and was told that the real secret is in the quick boiling at the end. Another delight of the Italian table is that there is no nonsense about fat free, wheat free, calorie counting, carbs watch or any of the spoilsport guilt-making propaganda we are subjected to... and no one appeared any the worse for wear from it. I did notice, however, that my jeans seemed a little snug when I struggled into them this morning.



How about sampling a different era of Sudeley's life at the 'Meet The Tudors' weekend which will be on from Saturday, May 24 to Monday, May 26?. Not only will Henry VIII be strolling the grounds of his Tudor Palace but the Executioner will be looking for his next victim! The Royal Falconer will be displaying and flying the King's private collection of owls, hawks and kestrels. Immerse yourself in one of the most important periods in Sudeley's history. For more information go to www.sudeleycastle.co.uk.

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