My personal pursuit of characters such as Simon Blackwell to photograph and blog came about after I read a headline in the Norwich Evening News “Norfolk food heroes celebrated in new book”. It made me stop and think about the phrase “food heroes”. The dictionary definition of a hero is: “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities”. I believe that Simon and his partner Caroline, who live in Watton, Norfolk, England, making pies and pickles, are indeed food heroes.
I have chosen my words very carefully. I, like others, first came across Simon on a BBC2 programme called “The Great British Bake Off” (or GBBO for short). A character portrayed by careful editing and a selective camera angle, I made assumptions and judgments in a split second. We all do when we watch a television programme. His immediate response after being told his journey in the competition was over was to tell another contestant, Rob, to “Pull your finger out”, to ensure he did not waste the opportunity that he had been given. He conducted himself like a gentleman throughout, but I could tell he was fiercely competitive. He seemed like the sort of person I would like to chat to over a beer and considering the size of him, I was sure he could drink more than one.
Thanks to the determined Scottish genes passed on by my mother’s side of the family I decided to try and organise a meeting with Simon to see whether the assumptions and judgments I had made were right.
In between the viewing of the BBC programme and meeting him and his family at their home I started exchanging Twitter messages with Simon and his partner Caroline, mother to their 2 children, pickle maker and one of the first women I have photographed who has looked straight down the camera lens with no fuss whatsoever and connected with it.
I met Simon as he was preparing to take his pork pies to the BBC Good Food Kitchen to be judged for a Bursary Award. A bit like his entry to the GBBO, he had seen a Tweet from Katy Truss, who manages the producer content for the BBC Good Food Shows, and thought to himself, “I could do that”. There is a spirit about him that is infectiously enthusiastic and genuine. He is entrepreneurial by nature and clearly a determined man.
His personal qualities will make him liked but in this business, as in any business, it is all about the product, and the product at Simon’s Simple Pies exceeds all my expectations. The pies are made to a 700 year old recipe, the meat is all butchered by hand, the hot water crust pastry is hand-raised, only the best quality pork is bought from Norfolk farmers, each pie is filled with homemade bone stock jelly, then topped off with a crimped lid, washed with egg and baked.
During the photo shoot we ate an apple, pork and Binham Blue pie which was beautifully moist, crumbly, rich and delicious. Supporting local producers is very important to Simon: flour comes from Denver Mill, Mrs. Temples provides the Binham Blue Cheese and all manner of herbs are sourced from their garden. This attention to detail shows clearly in the taste. There is also a “Black Beauty” pie, which features a layer of black pudding at the base.
The couple are also actively involved in charity work: Simon is Patron and Caroline is the Norfolk regional contact for “Free Cakes for Kids” (www.freecakesforkids.org.uk), a community service charity that provides homemade birthday cakes for those families that find it hard to buy them for their children. They would welcome your skill and help.
Simon Blackwell’s pies: www.simple-pies.co.uk To follow Simon on Twitter: @Buff_Baker
Caroline’s pickles: www.inner-pickle.co.uk To follow Caroline on Twitter: @Inner_Pickle
David Taylor’s photography: www.dctaylorphotography.co.uk To follow David on Twitter: @MyLunchTweet