Chiswick Book Festival kicks off with Local Authors’ night

Image above: Local author Sara Ward’s book Living the Good Life in the City

Living the Good Life in the City – Sara Ward

The Chiswick Book Festival is now just over a week away, with the Local Authors’ night on Wednesday 6 September in the Boston Room at George IV and the ‘official’ opening on Thursday 7, with TV presenter and gardener Alan Titchmarsh talking to Rosie Fyles, head gardener at Chiswick House.

I’ve been reading Sara Ward’s book Living the Good Life in the City and we have a copy to give away.

Image above: Sara with one of her favourite hens

Sara runs Hen Corner from her end of terrace house in Brentford, and as the name suggests she keeps chickens as well as growing her own fruit and vegetables. She will be one of the local authors delivering their ‘elevator pitch’ at the Local Authors’ night and she will also be hosting a talk, with home cooked samples, at Hen Corner on Sunday 10 September.

She and her husband started researching the provenance of food when they had their first child, now an adult. Living the Good Life in the City is the story of their journey to self-sufficiency. It is full of wit and wisdom, delivered in Sara’s very personal and personable style:

“My favourite part of the day is collecting the eggs from our flock of twenty-seven. When I reach into the nest box, I always thank the girls and comment on the number that they’ve laid that day.

“If it’s a good-sized clutch I congratulate them – and if it’s not, then I reassure them that maybe it’s that time of year when the days are shorter and they’re too busy growing new feathers for winter warmth, so pushing out a daily egg is just too much to ask.”

It is also beautifully produced, with lots of lovely glossy pictures.

Image above: Living the Good Life in the City – A Journey to Self-Sufficiency

Don’t be fooled by the enthusiastic idealism. There is nothing hippy dippy about Hen Corner. The presentation may be homely and informal but Hen Corner is all about practicality.

‘In a good year, we collect over £3,000 worth of food.’

The book is a glorious mix of food information and anecdotes, with recipes and handy hints for growing and making your own food.

The only time I ever made jam it was in a pressure cooker in my student digs. The thing exploded and created an impressive fountain of hot liquid that hit the ceiling and covered the whole room in a fine sticky mist. In the ensuing decades I have never been tempted to try again, but reading Sara’s chapter on marmalade I might give it another go. I like the look of Sara’s honey, lemon and ginger marmalade.

On her first attempt at making marmalade the mixture boiled over, repeatedly, and she ended up using every pan she possessed to decant it as she realised had far too much mixture for one pan.

We have been making marmalade in England since the 17th century she says, based on recipes passed down from Roman times (so I can’t be the only one to have ended up with a sticky ceiling, surely).

As she makes her way through home made breads and pastas, sausages and cheeses you can almost taste and smell the food. As you read about the challenges of growing vegetables in a suburban garden you are seduced by the sustainable / climate arguments of growing your own but she also convinces you that it might be rather fun.

Images above: Three of Sara’s products which won awards at the Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Awards: Cranberry & Pecan Sourdough, Apple & Chilli Jelly and Apricot Couronne

She set herself the goal of creating a family meal entirely from her own produce. That must be immensely satisfying.

“Once you’ve tasted home grown asparagus cooked within minutes of cutting the spears , you won’t be interested in the supermarket bundles wrapped in plastic any more. Humble potatoes scrabbled from the ground, quickly boiled and slathered in butter is a dish fit for royalty.”

She starts small, with sprouting mung beans, working her way through crops for pots and patios and onto full-on can’t-cope-with-the-amount fruit harvests that require urgent pickling and preserving to avoid waste.

“That which stores well – Winter squashes keep for ages in a cool place, rhubarb and runner beans are happy in the freezer, and other foods can be preserved or fermented into your favourite tipple.”

Image aboves: A pasta making course at Hen Corner; Some of the range of food and drink produced at Hen Corner

There is advice on how to protect vegetable plants from slugs, mice, pigeons and foxes, and explanations of all the different methods of preserving food. Chutney, she says, is the answer for all those green tomatoes that just will not ripen.

The book progresses to the more hardcore pursuits of chicken and hen keeping (and even a bit about livestock – pigs and goats) and finishes with celebration. Sara is big on tradition and celebration, saying thank you for what the earth provides, with ideas for Valentines, Easter and Christmas food.

Win a free copy of Living the Good Life in the City

If you would like to win a copy of Sara Ward’s book Living the Good Life in the City, answer this question:

Q: How long have we been making marmalade in England?

Email your answer to: putting Living the Good Life in the Cityin the subject box.

The winner will be randomly selected from the correct answers we have received by midnight on Wednesday 30 August.