Pots and pans of provenance: Lockdown spawns new generation of chefs and bakers
Lockdown has spawned a new generation of home bakers and budding chefs.
With people confined to their homes, many have chosen to spend time in the kitchen whipping up comforting breads and cakes, trying new recipes, and making more meals from scratch.
And this has led to a huge surge in demand not just for flour which has been tricky to find in some shops but also for cookware.
At Shropshire pan manufacturers Netherton Foundry the team has witnessed first hand the impact of social distancing measures on the nation’s baking and cooking habits.
In the days that followed Boris Johnson first telling us we needed to stay in our homes the firm started receiving an increasing number of orders for baking sheets and cake tins.
“After lockdown started for about two days we were quiet. The small shops that stock our products were closing and we all thought this is going to be grim,” says Neil Currie, who runs the family business in Highley with his wife Sue..
“Then orders from our website started picking up and picking up and picking up. It got to the stage where the number of pans going out was 30 to 40 per cent up on what we would normally expect at this time of year. The whole world is baking. We’ve been surprisingly busy.”
Half of the team are currently working from home with the rest including Neil on site making their products.
They are crafted using traditional methods from cast and spun iron, oak and copper and all of the materials are principally sourced in Shropshire and its neighbouring counties.
“They talk about having food with provenance, we make pans with provenance,” says Neil, who designed his first slow cooker in 2011.
Last year was a huge turning point for the business as their pans were featured in seven different cook books including From the Oven to the Table by award-winning food writer Diana Henry.
“She’s the food writer who has Michelin-starred chefs looking at her books. Our products are on the front cover and all of the way through the book. We are proud that Diana used so much of our cookware when writing From the Oven to the Table. It’s nice to feel part of that world,” says Neil.
Wolverhampton-born Nigel Slater, who describes himself as “a cook who writes” has also repeatedly used their Prospector Pans during his recipe series in the Observer newspaper.
“It’s really exciting to see Nigel Slater put his great food in our pans,” says Neil.
Live fire and barbecue expert Genevieve Taylor also featured Netherton Foundry’s fire table and Dutch oven in her recent two-page guide of recipes and recommendations for cooking in the back garden in the Sunday Telegraph.
Neil has also seen the popularity of outdoor cooking increase in recent years and says the beauty of their cast and spun iron pans is that they can be used just as easily on open flames as they can on a hob in the kitchen.
“A lot of people are increasingly living in smaller houses so if you want to entertain, the best place is out in the garden. Cooking outdoors these days is a lot more than barbecuing a sausage on a disposable barbecue, a lot of people are cooking seriously outdoors on flames,” he says.
Cooking outside is also something that people also seem to have embraced during lockdown as people get more experimental with their meals.
“For the first four weeks of lockdown it was baking, baking, baking, which was surprising as nobody could get any flour, including us at one point. Then they were cooking other things and we were selling lots of woks and now we’re seeing a lot of barbecue and outdoor cooking things going out.
“I get the feeling people are thinking of the next few months and they’re buying a more durable product because they assume they will be using it for a while,” says Neil.
While he’s pleased that so many new customers have found their way to his firm’s website to order their products, he’s keen that independent shops don’t suffer as a result.
“We’re delighted with the website orders but when everything goes back to normal we want people to go back to these small shops – around 100 shops stock our products. They’re tiny shops and they’re essential businesses in our towns. “In Shrewsbury, there’s Cooking Kneads on Wyle Cop. If you live in that part of the county and you want something in the cooking world, that’s the place to go.
“People want to look at an item and get a feel for it. Shops are important for that. It’s important to go back to support them. Our towns won’t be the same if we don’t have them,” says Neil.
To help support their customers Sue and Neil have also been publishing a lockdown diary on their website (www.netherton-foundry.co.uk) to share how they are coping with challenges of home isolation.
Each day, they add a new entry with their thoughts and ideas, suggestions of things to do and also the occasional recipe.
“They are genuine things that have happened to us or we have seen or heard during the day. We wanted it to be like a conversation,” says Neil.
* Further details on Netherton Foundry are available at www.netherton-foundry.co.uk