The people who make Christmas in Berkshire
PUBLISHED: 17:04 08 December 2015 | UPDATED: 12:05 09 December 2015
Busy, busy, busy! Claire Pitcher has been meeting a few of those who love this time of year and want to help you celebrate in style
Sweet and Sparkling Delights
Kate Saunders, owner of Blackberry Cottage near Ashampstead, brings joy to many over Christmas dinner every year with her delicious, unusual puddings. She used to be a sports massage practitioner, working with Olympic and Paralympic medallists, which is where her interest in food really helped: “Working with athletes means food and nutrition has always been a hot topic of conversation, and I’ve always had a passion for cooking and baking.”
It was one of Kate’s clients who inspired her business idea: “She was in despair over her child, who refused to eat any vegetables, or even much fruit.” So Kate made some chocolate brownies with spinach, as the vegetable is packed with nutrients. “My challenge was to make the vegetable the biggest ingredient; after a lot of trial and error we came up with a winning recipe, and not only were they demolished by all children and parents, they were asking for more.”
As well as everyday cakes she also produces seasonal cakes, including Christmas puddings. For Kate, the festive period is all about “family, fun, festivities and food. I was brought up on a working farm, so Christmas was always at home as the animals would have to be looked after, which meant that often we would have large family gatherings. We have been known to have 18 around the dining table.”
The run up to Christmas at Blackberry Cottage is very busy: “We’re often working 15-hour days to get orders out,” she admits. However, the Christmas preparation actually begins around June, when they begin ordering and sourcing products. “We start steaming in August, often steaming on the hottest days of the year. The puddings are wrapped and left to mature. Then, in October, they are wrapped in muslin and finished off with a pretty bow.”
This year, customers can choose from four different pud flavours, including: “Stout pudding, which is made with stout soaked fruit and is a real figgy pudding as it includes figs along with the usual dried fruits.”
Then requests also came in to make one with vegetables: “So we now produce Ale with Carrot to a traditional old recipe, which creates the most wonderful pudding.” Then there is the Free From option: “We produce a dark rich Christmas pudding which is gluten, dairy, nut, and egg free with no added refined sugar.” Last but not least, is a delicious moist rum cask cider pudding: “The cider is provided by a local cider maker, and the apples are mainly from West Berkshire,” says Kate.
Of course, Christmas puddings are just a part of Kate’s business, the rest of the year they bake cakes with those secret ingredients, vegetables: “Our ultimate aim was to make the vegetable the biggest ingredient in the cake but still taste like a regular cake, and this we have achieved.”
Order your cakes and Christmas puds online or find stockists at www.blackberrycottagefayre.co.uk or call Kate on 01635 579730.
Many Elves Make Light Work
Meet Conker and Wish, Santa’s Toy Factory Elves who are busy setting up the workshop at LaplandUK near Ascot. Conker is far from well behaved, which means he hasn’t yet earned his Elf Bell from Father Christmas. Wish, however, is very conscientious, so already has her Elf Bell. “My job is the most magical in the whole of LaplandUK,” exclaims Wish. “I grant the wishes the good Small Folk make to help them get what they would like for Christmas. I put the magic into the toys that makes them extra fun to play with.” It’s important all the Elves remain cheerful too, which is another of Wish’s responsibilities: “We do this by singing our special ‘Busy Elves’ song while we work, and skipping and dancing every day. It makes us happy and a happy Elf makes a happy toy.”
Every year is different in the workshops, with the ‘small folk’ always asking for different toys, and it’s Conkers and Wish that have to make their wishes come true: “We have fun making and testing all those new toys,” admits Conkers, who also has high hopes of earning his reward from Santa: “This is the year I hope to finish my Elf training and earn my shiny golden bell from Father Christmas to sew on the end of my hat. I have to be very good and try extra hard not to be too silly,” he adds, seriously.
Helping out Santa is a year-round job, as Wish explains: “There are more than two billion small folk all over the world so we are busy making toys every day. When I get time though, I like helping the Kitchen Elves bake with Mother Christmas. Last year I helped her make a huge rice pudding. She stirs in a secret almond and the Elf that finds it gets to make a special wish that will always come true on Christmas Day.”
But the question everyone is keen to know the answer too is what toys can the small folk expect to be making to take home? “Our head elf, Headcorn, says it’s a secret so I can’t tell anyone,” sighs Wish. “But I can give you a clue. They’re really cuddly and have red noses.”
LaplandUK is open until Christmas Eve. Find entry prices and more contact details online at www.laplanduk.co.uk or call 0871 6207063.
Lindsey Kitchin sees herself as “a bit of a modern day Constance Spry, drawing inspiration from the seasons.” She loves floral design, and runs The White Horse Company from her studio in Newbury. As well as creating flowers for events like weddings and parties, Lindsey puts together fabulous festive decorations to adorn homes. “I love the anticipation and the build up to the actual day itself,” she says. “I love bringing a bit of the outside in and the house smelling of pine cones and fir trees - heaven!
“Christmas is unique, with the colours, the association of specific flowers, such as amaryllis and poinsettias, the romance of lots of candlelight and roaring log fires.
“It is quite intoxicating and I love the fact that at this time of year even grown-ups seem willing to connect to their inner child.”
Lindsey’s Christmas making begins as the last leaf is blown from the branches, sometime in mid-November: “I embrace the inevitable and throw myself into my wreath workshops. I teach about a dozen classes throughout the first two weeks of December, sharing my skills and showing how to make a beautiful sumptuous door wreath. I never skimp on my ingredient lists and most of the foliage is all locally sourced,” she says.
Lindsey also has clients who invite her into their homes to decorate their houses for Christmas: “I literally get to deck the halls with holly and ivy, hang kissing balls of mistletoe as well as make beautiful centerpieces in time for Christmas. It really is such a wonderful time to be a florist.”
To find out more about Lindsey’s Christmas workshops, and other arrangements for delivery or collection, visit www.thewhitehorseflowercompany.co.uk or call 07885 036044.