Join Mary Cadogan on a voyage of food discovery

Mary Cadogan salad
As my husband and I head for our Ruby Wedding anniversary next year, my enthusiasm for planning and preparing meals for just the two of us has definitely taken a downward spiral. And feeding our family of 8 people spanning 4 generations for 7 days last Christmas was the final nail in the coffin – chiefly because 5 of them were staying in a gîte up the lane, and I didn’t know who was in for what meal at what time! Don’t get me wrong, I loved having them all, but not knowing where you are up to for meals isn’t much fun.

Mary Cadogan river

With beef and lamb now particularly expensive to buy – and having a very productive vegetable garden – I decided to treat myself to a one-day course in vegetarian cookery at Mary Cadogan’s cookschool in the picturesque village of Montignac-Charente, near Angoûleme. Tucked away on a side street just off the main square, husband Mick has created a charming home alongside the river, and admits that on hot sunny days he strips off and dives in to swim with the fishes.

Mary spent her working life as a food writer and stylist before becoming Deputy Editor of the BBC Good Food magazine, and in 2000 was responsible for launching their sister magazine Olive. Three years ago she and husband Mick moved to Charente and nowadays she works as a food consultant, writing about ingredients which inspire her, creating recipes and has recently launched her cookery school.

Mary Cadogan cookShe has two kitchens, the rear one overlooks the river where family and guests dine; the smaller one behind the front door is nicely compact, no wasted space, with utensils and crockery within easy reach in wall cupboards, grouped around a central workstation. I joined the three other ladies on the course and Mary discussed with us, over a delicious cup of coffee, exactly what each of us was hoping to get out of the day.

If I tell you that we prepared and cooked (where necessary) 8 dishes during the morning, you will realise that the emphasis was on learning as much as possible in the time available, and Mary’s enthusiasm for food and ingredients was infectious. It was with pleasure and a sense of achievement that we sat down for lunch to sample the dishes we had created between us.

Refreshed and ready for the afternoon, Mary introduced us to the art of pasta making, and I have to admit that at this point my culinary skills failed me! Whilst everyone else managed to roll out perfectly formed strips of pasta to cut for cannelloni, mine was more of a jigsaw puzzle! No day is complete without preparing a cake, and Mary’s recipe for Chestnut and Chocolate Cake is simple, easy to prepare and cook, and absolutely delicious coated in chocolate cream icing. ‘Add a dash of cointreau’, she said, ‘to really make it special’.

Mary Cadogan MickMick deserves a special mention for the fantastic job he did with rubber gloves and tea towel – can I borrow you for my next dinner party? – and the four of us agreed it was a wonderful day, our heads were buzzing with all we had learnt, and we were fired up with enthusiasm to try something new. Some of the ingredients we used are not found on the French supermarket shelves, so the day also provided an excuse to source them on our home patches.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, so much so that I have booked my husband on the BBQ and Summer Eating Day – he’s the one in charge of the bbq – and he is looking forward to preparing and cooking, amongst other things, paella.

To learn more about Mary’s cookschool, visit www.marycadogan.com.

Beryl Brennan

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