You don’t know until you’ve tasted it, right?
This dangerously inquisitive stance has seen me drink moonshine in Iran, eat (possible) dog food in Mongolia, and some biscuits in Jaisalmer which made me fall off a camel. I’ve lived in a campervan, driven to Ulan Batur in a Nissan Micra, got stuck on a houseboat in Kashmir, and once almost walked to Cape Wrath.
I grew up in a version of ‘The Good Life’ with my parents in a south Leicestershire village. One of my earliest memories was a ‘game’ my mum had developed to keep us out of trouble, where she gave us a pot of milk to shake until it turned into butter. It makes me chuckle when I see children flicking about on Ipads to think how enraptured I was by the simple transition of milk to butter. Clearly a very simple child.
I had my own little patch of garden. And I remember being devastated one day, when I returned from a day at school to discover that a troupe of caterpillars had descended on my nasturtiums and eaten them all. I helped with lambing every year, apple-picking, pastry-making and bottling jams or chutney. And I watched my mum work through the seasons, from strawberries to raspberries, loganberries redcurrants, blackcurrants and blackberries. All a good grounding. Through a combination of copying my mum, cobbling along and a hell of a lot of reading, I learned how to come pretty competent in the kitchen.
Once I’d finished school, I spent a gastronomically-sparse three years at Oxford studying history at Trinity College, where there was only one pasta-encrusted hob in a communal kitchen for two hundred undergraduates. During university holidays though, I worked as a private cook in households up and down the country. In fact, I worked as a cook for a while during term time too, in a (now closed) restaurant called QI, by The Covered Market. All good fun, until my tutor spotted me in the kitchen, and yoiked me out. Apparently undergraduates aren’t meant to work during term time. Especially undergraduates who were failing in the study of Anglo Saxons, but thriving in the study of artichokes, aniseed and aioli.
After graduating, I did a post graduate degree in magazine journalism at City University. The fabulous Marcelle d’Argy Smith re-taught us how to punctuate by throwing objects at us whenever she didn’t like a sentence structure. I worked on a project to launch a magazine for independent food producers. And at the end of the year, I had an out-of-body-experience, during which I wrote 100 words/minute in a shorthand exam. All the time, I continued to cook, muscling myself into the kitchen at Bonnie & Wilde pop-ups, loitering round Billingsgate, and persuading friends to chuck £10 into a hat, to throw decadent supper clubs, like the one which replicated the last meal eaten on The Titanic.
My first job in journalism was at Class, the drinks industry magazine by Diffordsguide. I hunkered down in bars from San Francisco to the Rue des Bernardins. I learned an incredible amount about the science behind spirits and flavour pairings. And I developed an unusually strong opinion on how to make a daiquiri. After that, I moved to Reader’s Digest under legendary editor Gill Hudson. It was an old-school journalism apprenticeship: the tightest of tight subbing, the most detailed editorial meetings and exacting commissions.
While working at Reader’s Digest, I started this blog and became more and more interested in merging my love of writing with my love of food. So when the opportunity arose to work for online food start-up, Sous Chef, I jumped at it. I joined pre-launch, and worked up to the company’s first birthday. The webshop specialises in unusual ingredients, and my biggest job there was working out just how the hell to use a lot of the products, so that I could write useful and informative descriptions. As a result, I now have an encyclopaedic knowledge about dried tofu, Voatsiperifery pepper, ox bung, matcha, mallow and lots more. When I was there I also ran the blog, The Bureau of Taste, and helped develop recipes for kits like the haggis-making kit, or kimchi-making kit.
Since taking the plunge into freelance journalism, I’ve been lucky enough to work for lots of different publications – from a 26-part series in The Telegraph to a 16-page feature in Condé Nast Traveller India. As is often the way, the most exciting things have been the most unexpected. I’ve worked on the launch of Blogosphere magazine, and the Fish on Friday website. I’ve worked for semiotics and food strategy companies. And I’ve been deeply flattered to be invited to judge competitions and run the food and drink section of Reader’s Digest magazine. I also do the occasional bit of catering, and plan to do more if I ever manage to move house, and liberate myself from my 6ft x 8ft windowless kitchen!
In the midst of all this, I got married. The first blog post I did back in 2011 was published under the name Rachel Smith. I was cooking scotch eggs with Thomas Walker. Fast-forward three years though to June 2014, and if you scan through my portfolio, you’ll notice that my name changes to Rachel Walker. It goes to show the power of food, or perhaps the simple power of a scotch egg.
The nicest thing about blogging is this ability to document. I started this blog because I kept writing recipes on scraps of paper and then accidentally throwing them away. Now it’s become so much more than just a record of recipes. It’s a record of events. There’s the first fish I ever caught, the apple harvest with my parents, The Glorious Twelfth with Thomas’ parents, and all the other food-related events that mark the change of the seasons. There’s the pudding Thomas and I ate the night after we got engaged and my Granny’s gries schmarn recipe which is the only food I crave when I’m ill. I find food tremendously evocative like that. If you ask me to recall an evening from scratch, I get easily muddled. But tell me what we ate, and I could tell you exactly who was there, where they sat round the table, and everything which was discussed. Weird how the brain works. Or mine at least.
So (as this introduction implies!) this is more of a place of ramblings, rather than a purely recipe-driven, instructional site. I hope you enjoy reading it even a fraction as much as I enjoy writing it.