JESSICA CARTER steps into the busy Somerset office of The Bay Tree co-founder Emma Macdonald, and snoops around with relish (literally)
For a lot of people, a day working from home is spent balancing a laptop precariously on the arm of the sofa, the coffee table decoupaged in paperwork, or maybe locked away in a study-cum-spare-bedroom, trying to block out the constant barking of next door’s dog. Emma Macdonald, though – who often finds herself taking care of business from her Somerset-based house – has a very different set up. Instead of a desk, you’ll find her at an AGA, and in place of a keyboard or telephone, it’s a wooden spoon or a kitchen knife at her fingertips.
Armed with her mother’s cucumber relish recipe, this professionally trained chef founded The Bay Tree – which now produces a myriad of preserves, chutneys and other larder staples – over 20 years ago. Not only did Mum supply the first product, as it turns out, but also the company’s original headquarters.
“We ran The Bay Tree from my mum’s kitchen, using her AGA, for about a year,” Emma says, handing me a welcome mid- afternoon coffee. “The people who live there now are still trying to get rid of the smell of chutney, apparently!”
She describes her first HQ as traditional and homely – it’s a picture that her own kitchen, with its carved wood, traditional tiling and earthy colour palette of greens and beiges, also paints.
The AGA remains Emma’s apparatus of choice when testing recipes for her new products or cookery books (of which there are currently two, including The Bay Tree Preserving Book, available from the company’s online shop). The cooker takes pride of place underneath a carved-wood fire surround in the chimneybreast. I do, however, also spy a cheeky electric oven.
“I’ve always used an AGA – I love them,” says Emma. “They centralise the family home. I only tend to use the other oven when real precision calls for it – or when it gets too hot for the AGA over the summer.”
Speaking of summer, that is exactly when the room must surely come into its own. Emma’s unique house, which was built in the ’60s, began life as a ‘bungalow on stilts’, meaning the large, roomy kitchen is elevated enough to afford some cracking views over the surrounding Somerset countryside (best enjoyed from out on the long, decked balcony, I’d imagine).
Back inside, back in winter, we chat about what this busy working mum finds most important in a kitchen.
“Practicality,” she asserts, without hesitation. “I like to have everything I need all around me.” Indeed, she picks out the hanging pot rack – which is suspended in the centre of the room like a huge silver mobile of various metallic utensils – as her favourite feature of the kitchen.
When it comes to family cooking, then, it’s no surprise to learn that nothing beats a fuss-free one-pot wonder here, which Emma often crafts out of what she already has in the cupboards (a lot of pheasant at the moment, since you ask). If this culinary creative ever feels compelled to consult a recipe book (a rarity, by all accounts), her mum’s ex-housemate, Mary Berry, is the go-to gal.
“You feel safe with cooks like her,” she says. “Traditional, practical recipes are definitely my thing – I’m always multitasking. It all comes down to the balance between work and family; the easier it is to work in here, the more time and attention I find I have for other things.”
Seems this industrious entrepreneur has found the secret to a stress-free kitchen. And if it ever does get too much, there’s always that balcony to escape to…
Phoptography by AL DEANE