Kate Humble never planned on writing a cookbook – an odd thing to hear from someone who is currently promoting their first one.
“I’m not a ‘grown-up cook’,” the wildlife and nature presenter confesses. “I just make food because you need to eat to keep alive. I don’t have any kind of pretensions of being the next Nigella or anything like that – I don’t have the figure for it, anyway.”
While Humble, 53, might not have gone to culinary school, she’s being as modest as her name suggests. In fact, her first cookbook – Home Cooked: Recipes From The Farm – was written after fans of Channel 5 show Escape To The Farm With Kate Humble practically demanded it. On the show, she had small segments cooking the simple food she ate every day – and people lapped it up.
“Around that time , everyone in the world was making sourdough bread,” Humble remembers. “Apart from me, it turns out – I tried like everybody else, and I killed more sourdough starters than I would care to admit. If there was a Royal Society for the Protection of Sourdough Starters, I would have been prosecuted two years ago, and in prison.”
Frustrated by everyone’s “smug photos” of sourdough on social media, one of Humble’s friends introduced her to an easy, foolproof soda bread recipe.
“There’s no yeast, there’s no faffing about, it’s incredibly quick, incredibly easy – even I could do it. And I did feel like a domestic goddess when I pulled out this perfect bread from the oven.”
Humble shared this recipe on her show, and her simple style of cooking struck a chord with viewers – and ultimately led to her first cookbook.
Not that it was an easy book to write, though. While the recipes are indeed uncomplicated (some incredibly so – there’s literally a recipe for putting Marmite on apple slices), Humble felt challenged by doing something so out of her wheelhouse.
“I was given two months to write it – while we were filming the series, so I nearly got divorced every day that I was writing it,” she says with a wry laugh – but ultimately, the laborious process was worth it.
“I’ve always lived by the adage, which is attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt – I’ve no idea whether she actually said it or not – but apparently she said, or somebody clever said: ‘You should really do something that scares you every day’,” says Humble.
“I love that idea of being challenged or pushed out of your comfort zone a little bit – not to the point where you’re terrified all the time.
“But it is easy to get a bit comfortable professionally, and personally sometimes we all need a bit of a jolt or a bit of a change.
“I think particularly in the last two years, where everything has been so weird, a lot of the time it’s been very tempting to sit with a duvet over your head and pretend the world isn’t out there. So for me, it was really good to have what was a hugely intellectual challenge – it stretched me in ways I had no idea about.”
Another perk of writing the book was the opportunity for Humble to reconnect with her loved ones – and indeed, the book is dedicated to all her friends.
“When we couldn’t all see each other, it was the perfect reason to pick up the phone, or write to somebody” – asking them about a meal they made once. “In a way it became a book of lovely memories, and that nostalgia of being together and cooking for each other – which of course we’re now able to do again, once we’ve done our bloody tests. In a way, it was a lovely way of exploring the sociability that I think is so important about food.”
Recipes from her mother, Diana, permeate the book – the person who taught Humble how to cook (“in a time wre dinosaurs were still walking the earth, it was so long ago”, she adds). This was when you couldn’t easily order a takeaway – particularly not in the rural area where Humble grew up.
“There wasn’t Deliveroo or Uber or any of those things – if you wanted to eat, you basically had to make your food,” she explains.
“The ingredients were pretty basic – there was no Ottolenghi in those days, no making things with incredible dried Iranian limes – it was shepherd’s pie, apple crumble, very basic stuff.”
This informed how Humble cooks today and what you’ll find in her cookbook. It’s arranged into seasons for two reasons: “The ingredients you’re going to get are probably going to be at their best if they’re seasonal, and the recipes you find per season are all actually what you want to eat at that time – I don’t particularly want to eat a big, heavy stew in the middle of summer.”
Ultimately, Humble wants her recipes to be easy, accessible and something everyone wants to try. “I’m not ‘A Cook’ with a capital ‘A’ and a capital ‘C’,” she stresses.
“This is not my profession, I’ve never cooked professionally.
“I cook at home, in a kitchen, on a domestic cooker.
“I haven’t got any fancy stuff – I don’t want any fancy stuff. And also, I’m busy. I’ve got a full-time job, plus animals to look after and a farm to run. I can’t spend hours and hours sourcing special things or faffing about.”
Home Cooked: Recipes From The Farm by Kate Humble is published by Gaia, priced £25. Photography by Andrew Montgomery.
Kate Humble’s tasty roast lamb with garden veg, oregano and feta recipe
For the lamb:
1 leg of lamb, about 2kg
2 garlic cloves, sliced
A handful of rosemary and thyme sprigs
A generous glass of red wine
For the vegetables:
400g broad beans in their pods, or 200g frozen broad beans
300g French beans
100g peas (fresh or frozen)
Leaves from 3 sprigs of oregano
Zest of 1 lemon, juice of half
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200C (400F), Gas Mark 6. Make sure your lamb is at room temperature before you cook it, so take it out of the fridge 20 minutes or so beforehand. With a knife, make small, deep cuts all over the leg of lamb and push a slice of garlic into each one. Rub over some olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.
2. Put the rosemary and thyme sprigs in the bottom of a roasting tin and place the lamb on top. Put in the oven and cook for about one hour and 10 minutes if you want your lamb to be pink (it is so much nicer when it is) or for longer if you want it cooked through. Remove from the oven, put the lamb on a board and let it rest for 10 minutes or so before you carve it.
3. Remove the rosemary and thyme sprigs from the tin and put it over a high heat on the hob. Add the wine to the juices and let it bubble for a moment or two to form a thin but tasty gravy. Pour into a jug and keep warm.
4. Cook the broad beans (shelled, if fresh) in boiling water for about two minutes. Drain and tip them into a bowl of cold water. Slip off the skins to reveal the bright emerald green beneath. This is, I admit, a bit of a faff, and you don’t have to do it, but they taste so, so much nicer without the skins. Set aside. Cook the peas briefly in boiling water, drain and set aside. Trim the tails off the French beans and steam or plunge into boiling water and cook until they are al dente. Drain and put in a bowl together with the broad beans and the peas.
5. Finely chop the oregano leaves and add all but a few (saved for garnish) to the vegetables. Add the lemon zest and then drizzle over a bit of olive oil to make the vegetables glossy, but not swimming in it. Squeeze over the lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and mix gently. Tip into a pretty serving bowl, crumble over the feta and scatter with the remaining oregano leaves.
Carve the lamb, pour the gravy over the slices and serve the vegetables alongside.