Tuesday, 8 March 2011

the Great Little BakeOff, or when Hollywood came to rural Kent

Wingham BakeOff 3

When friends, family and neighbours found out last year that we were planning to move from London to a teeny-tiny village in east Kent, the most common reaction we elicited was one of a dreamy wistfulness - along the lines of ‘I don’t blame you – I’d love to leave London’; or ‘I’d love to live in the countryside’; or words to that sort of effect. Of course, there were contrasting views, too, such as ‘I could never leave London’, or ‘I’m a city girl/boy through and through’, and ‘I could never live in the country – I hate spiders’ (fair point).

To be honest, we were looking for the best of both worlds – a home in the country, for a bit of peace and quiet in our daily lives (police sirens screaming past our front door at all hours in SW12 didn’t always do it for us), but fast and ready access to London for when our hankering for the bright lights gets the better of us. Thank you, high-speed rail link.

With our rose-tinted specs determinedly on, we also hoped to find a sense of community, a commitment to the area – where we could feel a part of ‘something’, and where folk pull together for the common good. Just like in the olden golden days. Obviously you can find that in parts of London, too, but it certainly wasn’t happening where we lived.

On Saturday, we witnessed the most brilliant illustration so far of precisely that community and commitment in action.

Our local primary school needs a new playground surface. The grand sum of £20,000 is required to get the job done – money that local and central government simply aren’t willing or able to spend.

Enter Paul Hollywood – a local, for one thing, and celebrated baker for another – and a Big Idea. What if the school held a mini-version of the Great British Bake Off to raise the money? (For those of you who missed it [why? how? where on earth were you?], GBBO was the televised baking competition which entertained us over several weeks last year, and which proclaimed the lovely food blogger and Twitterer, Edd Kimber, as the worthy winner.)

A plan was hatched in the form of said bake-off. Money would be generated by charging everyone a small fee to enter their baked goodies, and an entrance fee to be charged on the day to anyone wanting to come and see and eat cake. Word was circulated around the neighbouring villages. Glittering prizes were promised. Stellar judges were lined up: not only the dashing Mr Hollywood (aka the Silver Fox)...

Wingham BakeOff 7

Dashing. Silver. Foxy.

... but also his fellow judge on GBBO, the evergreen Mary Berry*, AND the winner of Masterchef 2010, the gawjuss melty-eyed Dhruv Baker, and, er, Rufus Hound.

Wingham Bakeoff 4

Judging. It's tough work, honestly.

But it was also a huge gamble. Would the mighty reputations of the judges positively scare people off? And would people even come?

Stupid questions. The bakers of east Kent, including the children, baked like their lives depended on it.

Wingham Bakeoff 1

The children's (under-12s) competition. Mighty impressive.

Large cakes, small cakes, cookies, savoury bakes and bread crowded the massive trestle tables.

Wingham Bakeoff 5

And the locals turned out in their hundreds. For most of the time, it was too packed even to move. The judges got going...

Wingham Bakeoff 9

Oh, the scrutiny, the tension.

... while never in my life have I seen so much cake eaten in one place. And not just by the judges (whose task wasn’t necessarily the dream gig you might imagine, viz. Dhruv: “it was a dream to start with but Rufus and I were not eating professional amounts (like Mary) and were stuffed pretty quickly!”).

Wingham Bakeoff 6

Dhruv and Rufus deep in discussion. R: 'Can you eat any more?' D: 'Please don't make me.'

The paying public also played its part with suitable gusto, devouring those cakes removed from display as soon as they were deemed not to have made the final ‘top 20’ (for another money-raising bargainous charge of £1 per stomach-busting slice). Everywhere I looked, there were plates piled high with carb goodness, along with chunky mugs of tea, being taken back to friends and family seated around little kiddy-sized tables.

So many cakes, so much happy munching, so many smiley, happy faces (sugar highs, don’t knock ‘em). And if we weren’t contributing enough by eating cake, more money was being prised from our pockets in the form of side attractions (really? Dhruv needs a side attraction?) which included raffles, ‘name the bear’ and ‘guess the weight of the cake’ competitions, and stalls selling homeware and cookery books.

But, like all good things, the feeding frenzy - sorry, jollity - had to end some time. There’s only so much cake folk can eat in an afternoon, after all.

Wingham BakeOff 10

Dhruv. Eating 'non-professional amounts'. Struggling. Eh, Dhruv?

Late into the afternoon, final decisions were made, prizes announced, speeches made, and thanks went out to all involved. Everyone had pulled together. Everyone had a great time. The school will get its playground, and that, in turn, will help ensure that families with children will still want to come and live here, and that the villages and their communities live on.

And that is exactly what we moved to the area for. The quality of cake baking around here has absolutely nothing to do with it, honest.

*fellow blogger, MiMi (also @meemalee), asked me the following question on Twitter: “Does she look as much like Nicholas Parsons in real life as she does on the telly?” I couldn’t possibly comment, except to say yes. Yes, she does. Or is it the other way around?


The Caked Crusader said...

Fantastic. I am a great believer in eating "non professional amounts of cake". It's made me the woman I am today i.e. fat.

things we make said...

You've got to love a village Bake Off! Fabulous. Our school always makes most money at events where cake is for sale, not that we manage to get anyone even vaguely famous in Ambergate.

That reminds me, I need to start planning for our Spring Fair. Mini Burger cupcakes perhaps?

Su-Lin said...

What a lovely idea! And how fabulous that the whole village turned up for it to - then again, how could they not with so much cake on offer...

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Cakey - I so hear you ;)

Claire - if you ask Dhruv nicely, you never know...

Su-Lin - well, quite. These are people who know what's good for 'em ;)

bellini valli said...

I hope that plenty of money was raised to build the playground!!!

Sabrina Ghayour said...

All that caaaaaaaaaaake!!!!!!! I want!

Gin and Crumpets said...

That is a staggering amount of cake! Do love a village event, though - was there bunting? Bunting and cake will be in my own personal heaven.

BribedwithFood said...

I love and I know the feeling of wanting to move to a village... One day I shall go back to the countryside too... One day...

And, no, it would not have anything to do with the cake either.
Well, maybe a little :)

Maggie said...

Looks a lot like cake heaven to me!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Val - indeed, it was!

Sabrina - too late...

GinandCrumpets - careful scrutiny of the photos will reveal bunting ;)

BribedwithFood - you're welcome here any time :)

Maggie - it was, it was!

Nicisme said...

What a fabulous event for your village!
What was the winning entry, and did you enter anything?

Choclette said...

What a fantastic event - I love it baker's heaven or is that cake eater's heaven. You certainly moved to the right place.

I'm echoing Nic's questions?

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

My my my!! The GBBO Roadshow!! And how delightful for it to take this informal format with REAL people in a village hall.

It shows Masterchef Live up for the commercial moneygrabbing farce it really is. The sad thing is, if this was ever anything other than a one off, that it would probably slide into the same kind of Ideal Home Show style monster with stalls for every cookware brand imaginable and demonstrations by the usual faces. Aaaagh I've just had a glimpse into the future, someone is bound to think this is such a good idea that it will probably happen.

I'd like to include this in my Top 10 Favourite Posts of the month - I'll DM you. Xx

Cakelaw said...

How cool is this event! So many cakes, so little time, and all for a good cause.

The Curious Cat said...

Wow! I love it! Large amounts of cake is always good - you can never go wrong!

Glad the move is going well for you. Leaving London is a serious thing really. I am not a city girl and yet all my friends are there and it is very close to my family home and I hate driving so it makes complete sense...but as the years roll on it grates on my natural state of how I wish to be living...

Come a day and I will need to move away...come back for visits regularly yes - finances permitting - but I'll need to take
the plunge...good on you for doing it! xxx

scandilicious said...

My god that is an amazing day out. I would have waddled away very full of cake, fat and happy :-)

Pia K said...

what a fantastic event!! and thank you for telling me who won masterchef 2010. not. ;) because i'm watching it now and i have been able to shy away from who's-the-winner. until now. sigh.

i think your moving to the contryside sounds an absolute bliss, admittedly i have to say i've never been a huge fan of london, of course it's a great city, but really, too large and too dirty for me (the only city where the sink has been all black/grey when i washed my face in the evenings). edinburgh and york being my perfect kind of british cities:) but oh the countryside, the villages, they are a delight. i have no idea really, as i do like the anonymitity of the citylife in general if i'd like the smalltown/village life, but it does look like bliss (from a staying at B&Bs, strolling around, driving through, visiting pubs point of view:)

(wf being "tosch", i wonder what's that about??)

meemalee said...

Thank you kindly for confirming my suspicions about Mary Berry!

Looks like you had lots of fun :)

By the way, the cake at the top gives me the fear.

Foodycat said...

What a brilliant event! I could go for a very amateur amount of cake about now.

Anonymous said...

It was a wonderful day - thank you for the write-up! My daughter won the junior section and it is wonderful how the village comes together for things like these.

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