Words Charlie Monaghan
Photography Elliot Sheppard
This festive season, we’re gifting our Christmas menu to our community of suppliers in exchange for recipes to share with you. Here, we’re making a jaunt across the Channel to Le Touquet in northern France to visit old friends of GAIL’s, the Gifford family, whose Tea Together brand has been supplying us with organic jams and marmalades for as long as we care to remember. On the menu? A delightful marmalade bread and butter pudding.
After visits to Lincolnshire Poacher dairy for a handed-down chutney recipe and to our cheesemonger, Rhuaridh Buchanan, for advice on the perfect cheeseboard, our festive series is in want of something sweet. And so to France, where, not far from Calais, is Tea Together, which has been making jams and marmalade with organic fruit using traditional copper pots for almost 30 years.
The business was started in 1995 by the English couple Nick and Judy Gifford under circumstances that remain a mystery to this day. “How did the jam start? We ask ourselves the same question!” Judy says in the couple’s kitchen in their house in the village of Saint-Rémy-au-Bois. After more head scratching and with the help of their son, Eli, who has since taken over the brand, some facts are agreed upon: Judy and Nick relocated to the area in 1991 after working in the TV industry in London. With Nick away in Sudan filming, Judy made some marmalade with some oranges she had lying around, using a recipe her mother-in-law had sent her. She began selling at local markets, but quickly diversified with jam, because the French were not so au fait with English marmalade. “At that time jam was the only gastronomical thing that the English had over the French,” says Nick. With locals won over, Judy received help from the local government, which was looking to support female artisans. The rest, you could say, is history.
Pictured clockwise from top left: our sour cherry sourdough awaiting its transformation into bread and butter pudding. Nick was busy making quince jam for the tearoom on our visit. The family dog, Polly, watches over the proceedings. Layers of bread adorned with butter and marmalade.
Except the story would not be complete without Eli, who took over Tea Together in 2010 after studying and working in England from the age of 18. Since he’s been steering the ship, Tea Together has tripled its sales and added an impressive roster of hotels to its client list, but not without staying true to the way Nick and Judy first made jam in copper pans, set over an open flame, with raw cane sugar and the best seasonal organic fruit available. It’s not rocket science – “Nothing we do is ever too complicated,” says Eli – but there’s an alchemy that sets Tea Together’s jams apart, something which eludes Judy to this day; “I don’t know why ours is so much better than others, but it is!”
We first got to know Tea Together back when we had only three bakeries. We have used their jams in seasonal bakes and stocked jars on our pantry shelves ever since – you might recall apricot and lavender leaf, raspberry and rose in our summer buns or the perennial favourite, Seville orange marmalade. Every season begins with a conversation with Eli about what we’re cooking and what might pair well with it, from which he develops complementary jams – “It’s nice to work in a way that is a conversation,” he says.
“Whenever the family come for lunch, it’s bread and butter pudding. I’m in my comfort zone with it,” says Judy.
Since handing over Tea Together to Eli, Nick and Judy have opened Le Tea Room from their farmhouse, serving their own homemade jams and marmalades at afternoon tea and brunch. Their house, which Eli grew up in, continues to be at the heart of family life, with Eli, his two siblings and their children gathering every week for Sunday lunch. “Time just stops at my parents’ house; everything slows down,” says Eli, who loves Judy’s Elizabeth David-esque cooking – “It’s just good, home cooked, hearty food. Last night mum made a very good cottage pie, but chicken pie, roast chicken or beef are favourites too,” he says.
Christmas this year will almost certainly be at Nick and Judy’s, and although a few details are yet to be ironed out – “I’d like to go out to a Chinese restaurant, but no one else seems to be on board,” says Judy – one thing is certain: the appearance of bread and butter pudding. “Mum makes it all the time, and certainly every Sunday, sometimes with Panettone, and normally with a big helping of jam,” says Eli. So, here it is, Judy’s much-honed bread and butter pudding recipe, given a festive spin with our sour cherry sourdough and Tea Together’s Seville orange marmalade.
Marmalade bread and butter pudding
Slap lots of good butter on bread cut roughly into triangles. Follow up with a lavish application of GAIL’s Seville orange marmalade.
Butter an oven-proof dish, then loosely lay the bread triangles in layers.
Beat up eggs; how many is keyed to the amount of bread. For this one, four eggs seemed about right.
Heat up full-fat organic milk; two and a bit pints for our dish. Cut the heat just before it boils. Pour milk over beaten eggs, whisking as you go.
Tip the warm eggy milk over the buttered bread and leave it to soak in for an hour or more.
Put in a preheated oven on the top shelf for a caramelised crust of glossy marmalade.
It’s down to your judgment when you call ‘done’. It must stay fragile and wibbly-wobbly under that crunchy crust.
Serve warm with spoonfuls of raw farm cream.