When Cecile Creemers and Sjaak Kastelijn decided to move to Yorkshire from their native Holland, they were keen to find an opportunity to develop their passions for art and gardening. Just three years o, this enthusiasm has led them to create an inspiring art centre and wildlife garden set in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside. As well as the gardens and art exhibitions, there are art and gardening courses, children’s craft activities and great food in the cafe, all of which explains why the Dutch House is fast becoming a popular destination.
It was while they were living in the small village of Hovingham that Cecile and Sjaak first saw Mill Green Farm, a house with converted outbuildings just outside Crayke. The setting was perfect, there had already been a cafe on the site, and there was space to develop gardens for Sjaak and an art studio for Cecile. With plenty of ideas for the kind of business they wanted to run, Cecile and Sjaak spent a great deal of time making sure that their plans would be accepted by the local council before any contracts were signed. But after much hard work, the Dutch House opened for business in May 2010.
Entering the café through large double doors, you step into the courtyard which opens out onto the garden beyond. On warm days the courtyard is a sheltered place to sit and enjoy the sunshine, the views of the garden and the fields beyond, with a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. The art studio and cafe form a ‘U’ shape around the courtyard. Visitors are encouraged into the art studio, to see the latest exhibitions of work by local artists. The studio is also used as the venue for workshops and courses ranging from painting and photography to stone carving and willow sculpture. The art work spills out into the gardens too, where sculptures are carefully incorporated into the landscaping.
Exploring the gardens is the perfect way to work up an appetite before visiting the cafe. The garden has been designed to be attractive to both people and wildlife and is divided into different garden areas, including ornamental and herb borders, a landscaped sculpture garden, wildflower meadow and a children’s play area. And for anyone wanting to make a really close up inspection of the plants and insects in the garden, there are identification books and magnifying glasses available to borrow.
The cafe is at the heart of the Dutch House. Cecile and Sjaak run it together, sharing the cooking and the washing up. The cafe’s menu is inspired by a Dutch love of pancakes and lists a range of fillings. There are sweet favourites like icing sugar and syrup, or banana and chocolate spread, and delicious savoury fillings such as Old Amsterdam cheese and tomato, or bacon, apple and brie. And then there are the Poffertjes – small, fluffy pancakes served with a generous dusting of icing sugar. These are a Dutch speciality, and are very popular with children.
But it isn’t only pancakes on the menu. There is always a homemade soup, which Cecile makes using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Hearty, warming soups for the colder days of the Yorkshire winter, give way to lighter soups using herbs from the garden in summer. Freshly made sandwiches come with a side salad, and can be made with gluten free bread. And then there is the delicious range of home baked cakes, displayed temptingly on a table near the cafe door. All of the cakes are made by Cecile using recipes she has collected over the years. A firm favourite is the Dutch torte – a soft pastry case filled with apricot, prune or plum and topped with flaked almonds.
One of nicest things about the cafe is the bright and welcoming atmosphere. Cecile and Sjaak take time to chat with customers, and are always happy to talk about their plans for the Dutch House, or tell the story of how they arrived here. The cafe’s walls are decorated with the work of local artists and craftspeople, and the pictures are changed regularly as new exhibitions arrive. And while the pancakes are cooking, children can create their own works of art on a huge blackboard that runs the length of one wall.
It’s just a short walk from the cafe kitchen to the garden to collect fresh herbs from an impressive selection growing in borders along the walls of the courtyard. Herbs are regularly used in the cafe kitchen to add flavour and freshness to the soups and salads. Earlier this year Sjaak built two raised beds to make a small vegetable patch at the back of the cafe. Rocket and cut-and-come-again lettuce leaves are now being picked and used in salads, and later in the year there will be courgettes, carrots and beans to harvest. The wildlife friendly theme for the garden extends to the vegetable patch too. All the vegetables are grown using organic principles, there are edible flowers grown among the vegetables to attract beneficial insects, and the slugs are kept at bay using coffee grounds from the cafe.
In a short time, Cecile and Sjaak have created a welcoming and relaxing place to visit, with a unique atmosphere, plenty to see and, of course, great pancakes.
Dutch House : www.dutchhouseyorkshire.com