--- See Rick Stein's Cornwall 8.30pm Wednesdays from 19 May on SBS Food. Episodes will then also be available at SBS On Demand. ---
“It may just have been my parents’ romantic notion, but I’ve always thought that Cornwall wasn’t like the rest of the UK. Celtic maybe, a long way from anywhere and jutting right out into the Atlantic Ocean. Crossing the River Tamar for our holidays to Cornwall from Devon was like going into another country and in the car on our way to Padstow we were driving through an enchanted land, capped for my sister and me by seeing the sea at Trevose Head for the first time. Now, after so many years of living there, it still does feel different. I want to try and explain that difference, to tell you what Cornwall means to me,” says Rick Stein of his latest TV series, Rick Stein’s Cornwall.
For those of us who first think of food, the word ‘Cornwall’ might conjure up images of the Cornish pasty, or cream tea, or a saffron bun. And of course, Cornwall is known for its scenic coastlines and villages (the TV series Poldark and Doc Martin showcasing just some of its dramatic beauty).
But in his latest series, Stein shares some of the lesser-known charms of one of his two homes (he does, of course, usually spend a fair chunk of time in Australia too).
“This county is famous for rugged coastlines and sweeping beaches. But Cornwall has so much more to offer.” Across15 episodes, Stein reveals the Cornwall he loves, meeting locals (plus Australian-in-Cornwall Barry Humphries) and giving us a different look into the food, history, music, art, and culture of this corner of his world.
Here’s a taste of what you can expect in Rick Stein’s Cornwall.
Heading for home
In the first episode, Stein takes us to the place where his passion for Cornwall began – his family home at Trevose Head on the north Cornish coast, whereas a child he would go fishing with his father. “This is the absolute centre of my love affair with Cornwall. I mean, it’s a bit privileged but to have spent long summer holidays in a place like this, with a view like that, I mean, there’s no chance that you’re not going to remember it with great affection,” he says.
“I’m not the only one to have fallen in love with Cornwall. This county, with its rich culture and a variety of landscapes, has attracted artists, writers and all sorts of creative people for centuries. From the high windswept moors of Bodmin, made famous by Daphne du Maurier in one of my favourite books of hers, Jamaica Inn, to the subtropical climes of the Roseland Peninsula, the setting for Mary Wesley’s brilliant wartime novel, The Camomile Lawn. West Penwith, where I am now, is on the tip of the Land’s End Peninsula, this prehistoric land, the most westerly point in mainland England is, to me, one of the most spiritual parts of this county. When you think about it, this part of Cornwall has inspired so many British artists. I’m thinking of Barbara Hepworth, Bernard Leach, Ben Nicholson, Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost. That’s just to name a few. And why? Well, I think it’s the landscape, there’s something incredibly moving about the, sort of, almost prehistoric nature of the landscape here and the light. The light is spectacular.”
It's fitting, then, that he explores the wild yet beautiful landscape of the Land’s End peninsula with artist Kurt Jackson, before heading to the tranquillity of a heritage apple orchard preserved by head gardener John Harris (“a bit like a Noah’s Ark for apples”, Stein says). Here he picks some apples to make his mother’s apple Charlotte pudding.
Familiar faces and new friends
Stein’s journey sees him meeting many locals, from chefs and artists to farmers and fishermen. There are also some familiar faces: along with his son Jack (familiar to SBS viewers from the series Born to Cook: Jack Sein Down Under) he also meets up with Dawn French, another who has made Cornwall her home, and expat Aussie Barry Humphries, who fell in love with Cornwall in the 1960s (despite an unfortunate accident, which he recounts during his chat with Stein).
Can you name Cornwall’s animal emblem? You’ll learn a lot watching this show. Among the wonderful glimpses of the area’s Celtic history, vibrant creative culture and great food, there’s one more tidbit. In Episode 11, along with a trip to sea to fish for red mullet, there's also a story of efforts to support Cornwall's animal emblem, the clough, a bird belonging to the crow family. Coughs were thought to have died out on Cornwall, but a small miracle occurred and now there are cloughs in Cornwall again. They're still rare, but Stein heads out to see if he can find one - and he does.
Recipes with heart
In each episode, Stein shares a recipe inspired by a place he’s been or people he’s met. Some are in kitchens borrowed along the way, others outdoors.
After a visit to one of the country’s oldest butchers, Stein shows us how to properly cook a steak and make the perfect Bearnaise sauce. A mist-shrouded trek in search of Cornwall’s oldest building inspires thoughts of his own past and his first taste of the French fish stew bouillabaisse. Local cheese is celebrated in Cornish gouda quesadillas with caramelised apple and onion. Saffron buns are on the menu after he meets some saffron farmers. And if you’re on the fence about saffron as flavour, just listen to Stein and you’ll be turning on the oven and getting out the mixing bowl. “The taste of a Cornish saffron bun… it’s lovely... I think a saffron bun is probably the best way of eating saffron. But how do you describe the flavour? Would you say it was floral, it was fragrant? Some people say it’s a bit bitter. Some people say it’s a bit medicinal. Others say it’s earthy. It’s almost like perfume in a way. It’s so complex that it’s almost impossible to describe how it tastes. It’s more about how you feel when you eat it and when you smell it and then you feel cosy, you feel comfort, you feel a sense of the great things in life. And the sunniness of the yellow makes you feel a sort of sunshine and, and delight. But above all what I feel is the great glory of a still warm bun with cold clotted cream.”