Important region keeps its gentle quietness, says food writer Tessa Allingham
East Anglia is changing says local food writer Tessa Allingham, but it shouldn’t change too much she tells entertainment writer Wayne Savage.
Tessa’s just back from walking the dogs at King’s Forest. They enjoy having space to run about. She enjoys having the space to think. “I love the sense of eerie peacefulness to it. I hardly meet anyone, which I like, which makes me sound very anti-social,” she laughs. “I use that time to plan and I write so many intros in my mind. There’s that connection between exercise and fresh air and creativity.”
An artisan and champion of local produce, cooking and hospitality, she is part of FEAST Publishing, the team behind Norfolk Table and the Suffolk and Essex Feast cookbooks which celebrate the relationships between chefs and their suppliers plus their favourites recipes.
Originally from Lancaster, her great grandfather was the architect and artist Cyril Power. Particularly known for his linocuts, he lived and worked in Bury St Edmunds where food writer Tessa now lives with her husband and three children. He had a close working relationship with the artist Sybil Andrews after whom the new upper school in the town is named.
Her husband, who runs his own business outside Watton, comes from a Norfolk farming family so she knew the region well before they upped sticks and quit London.
“He was doing this ridiculous commute from north London and it just made sense. I was taking a little bit of time out to bring up three small children. East Anglia’s a very lovely part of the world and I could build up a freelance career as a journalist. It was a massive shift. I settled in by being incredibly busy, which is the way I am always. The National Childbirth Trust was a lifeline, particularly for someone like me who didn’t know a soul in Bury St Edmunds. I spent some time as an antenatal teacher for it.”
Tessa - who also co-authored Un-Earthed, celebrating not only Suffolk’s brilliant food producers but also its artisans and makers - gets the same feeling at Walberswick, where the family holidays every summer.
“It’s wonderful... and that beach, off-season is fabulous. Even in the middle of August you can get onto Walberswick beach, walk 100 yards to your right towards Dunwich and it’s empty. Walberswick is a very special place to us, we’ve got family there and it’s somewhere I gravitate towards all the time.
“My husband’s birth mother was brought up there and we’ve family there. I love the fact it’s four miles down a road that leads nowhere but to the sea; that’s so unique, four miles of nothing. The children have grown up with their Walberswick friends so they immediately go into a different way of being; it’s all about being on their bikes. There’s this lovely ease to it and as a parent it means I can stop fretting.”
Tessa finds Mundford, where her in-laws’ have their farm, another extraordinary part of the region.
“It’s got that peculiar sandy environment. What an intriguing and mysterious, arid place it is. It’s this ancient, silent forest, open heathland, sandy free draining soil which is great for pigs, carrots, onions, sugar beet, potatoes... I’m always intrigued visiting there.”
I sense a new food book coming...
Tessa’s talked a lot about Suffolk’s quietness. The more she travels through Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and into Cambridgeshire, the more she feels there are still so many stories to tell.
“My East Anglian hell would be not having enough time to tell these stories. I think we need to shout more, but by the same token I can’t see Suffolk’s personality ever being brash; I wouldn’t like the word shouting to have connotations of showing off. I love that reservedness about it, that’s part of its personality.
“We’re this sort of lump of land jutting into the North Sea, we’ve got no motorways coming here, there’s almost a cut off quality about East Anglia - not to do it down. But I think that’s changing, a lot is being done to encourage tourism which is great.
“It’s important that we don’t lose that personality, that quietness though, because it’s very special and should be preserved...”