Our innovative cookery class for people who have lost a spouse or partner was featured on national radio this week on the BBC’s Radio 4 Food Programme in the first of a new series about How We Eat called Eating Alone.
The show’s presenter, Sheila Dillon, visited our kitchen to speak to our Chef Chris Took and participants of his Cooking with Chris course, which was first launched five years ago to teach the recently bereaved vital skills in the kitchen, improve confidence and motivation to cook as well as to help people meet others in a similar situation.
We run two six-week courses a year for adults and for teenagers and each week, Chris and his team of staff and volunteers lead up to eight participants as they take it in turns to prepare starters, main courses and puddings, learn practical cooking skills and pick up tips on buying and preparing fresh ingredients, timing, batch cooking, using left-overs, freezing and cooking for one.
The group comes together at the end of each evening to sit down and share the three-course meal they have prepared.
Ash Taylor, 49, from Hemel Hempstead, took part in last Autumn’s course just weeks after his wife Leigh, 47, passed away at the Hospice following a 12-week stay. Sheila spoke to him about his experience.
“Leigh was the main cook and did all the planning, preparation and cooking for our family, for me and my son Sam who’s now in his second year at Uni,” Ash explained.
“After she died, I lost interest in food. I work all day and when I got home I just didn’t want to cook and existed on ready meals. Chris’ patience and sense of humour rubs off on everyone and the course reignited my interest in food as well as giving me lots of new recipe ideas. Now, I buy huge amounts of fresh ingredients at the supermarket, especially vegetables, and enjoy the cooking experience.
“I cook at the weekend – lots of different stews and casseroles with a drop of red wine, I freeze quite a bit and settle down in front of the TV most nights with a glass of wine and my dog Louie for company. I even cook fresh stuff for him – how bad is that?! I’m inspired! It’s only me and the dog to cook for – well I’ve got to cook for somebody, haven’t I?!”
Former teaching assistant Sandra Wicks, 68, from Chipperfield, told Sheila how the course has not only got her cooking and eating again properly, but the biggest thing it’s given her is friendship after suddenly losing her husband Terry, 69, in April of last year and finding herself in a ‘very, very deep hole.’
“I didn’t know which way to turn,” she said, “to start with, I thought what’s all this going to be about but we’re all the same, we’ve all lost partners and I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
“We’ve made some lovely things – cakes and savoury dishes. One of the most delicious dishes I’ve learned to cook here is Lamb and Apricot Casserole (recipe below) which I’ve made many, many times, but the biggest thing the course has given me is friendship with people who’ve all been through the same and where it doesn’t matter if you laugh or cry.”
Kate Phipps-Wiltshire, Chief Executive at The Hospice of St Francis commented, “Many people would be surprised to know our Hospice is running a cooking course but this is just one of many original initiatives we’ve devised to support people going through tough times. Preparing and sharing food is such an important part of living, when we lose the people we have always cooked for it has a far reaching impact. It is with grateful thanks to everyone in our community who supports the Hospice financially that we can introduce this kind of innovation and help others to endure such loss.”
To listen to the programme visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b096gnqz.
The Hospice is featured 18 minutes in.
Chris’ Lamb and Apricot Casserole Serves 6-8
1.5 gm (½ oz) butter)
1.4kg (3lb) boneless leg o shoulder of lamb, cut into 4cm(1½ inch) cubes
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 celery stick, sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced
1 pint stock – chicken or lamb stock cube
1 glass red wine (optional)
1 bouquet garni
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
4 oz dried apricots, halved
For Beurre Manie – 1 level tbsp. flour and ½ oz butter
- In a large frying pan, add the butter and fry the lamb, a little at a time, until browned. Remove from the pan, and put in the casserole.
- Fry the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in the fat remaining in the pan for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Add these to the casserole.
- Pour over the stock and wine and add the bouquet garni, rosemary, pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper and apricots. Cover and cook at 150C, 300F, Gas mark 3, for about 1½ hours, until tender.
- Remove bouquet garni.
- Make beurre manie with flour and butter rubbed together. Add small pieces at a time to the lamb, and stir well until thickened.