Wednesday, 16 May 2012


FORMER teacher and librarian MAYA PIERIS is best known for her Four Seasons range of handmade preserves and her interest in historical cookery. She was named Dorset Food Hero 2011 and has won awards from the Guild of Fine Food and Taste the West, even though her home in Askerswell has been without a functioning kitchen for the past two years. Maya is a member of the History Girls, who specialise in historical catering, and who provided the buffet for the reopening of Bridport’s Town Hall. She writes a regular food column for Eggardon and Colmer’s View and has appeared on ITV’s cookery show Hungry Sailors.

HAVE you always been interested in cooking?
Oh yes. It was something my mother and grandmother did. They were really good cooks, traditional cooks, and my memory of my mother is of her cooking. Years and years ago I thought I should do something to do with cookery but I didn’t until a five or six-years-ago.

WHAT made you embark on a career in cooking?
I taught and was a librarian in various schools, colleges, that kind of thing. I had three really bad jobs in a row and I thought, ‘that’s it, I don’t want to be in four walls with a window and a door any more’. I decided to do what I love instead.

YOUR business is home-based, but you have no kitchen?
The house I bought in Askerswell had unforeseen issues which meant the kitchen has been pretty much unusable for the past couple of years. I’ve had to beg and borrow kitchen space, which has been interesting. But kitchen spaces, like the hall at Litton Cheney, have worked out brilliantly, so it’s really turned out okay.

HOW did the History Girls come about?
The History Girls came out of going to a poetry meeting in Cattistock. The Fox & Hounds pub there was giving people the opportunity to come and cater. It’s a brilliant pub, really old, and I thought it would be great to do some historical cookery there and use the evening to raise funds for the Bridport Museum. So that’s what I, Emily Hicks and Caroline Richards did, and that’s when we formed the History Girls.

WHERE do you get the recipes?
I am not an academic, I don’t have it all in my head. I am always reaching for recipe books. I think my first one was on bread-making that my mum gave me years ago when I was still living at home. I don’t know why it impressed me, but it did. I have about 300 historical recipe books now and I dip into them all the time. 

WHAT kind of things do you make?
Pickled mackerel called ‘caveach’ is very popular. It’s cooked very quickly in oil and then vinegar, spices are added, particularly mace, and it’s served cold. It’s really scrummy. And then there are little beetroot pancakes, very light with a horseradish sauce on top. People also love our little tarts filled with syllabub - sweet cream with sherry and sugar. You’ll find recipes for syllabub going back to the 1400s when it was just cream milked straight into a pot, whisked up with eggs and then eaten with alcohol. Cucumber cooked in butter, chicken stock and herbs is also fabulous.

DO you have a favourite thing to cook at home?
Not really. What I like is having people in the house. Once I have people coming into the house I think, ‘What am I going to do?’ At New Year we had a roasted cheese with a 16th century bread that I absolutely love and lots of different mulled wines, ciders and possets.

WHAT do you like about living in West Dorset?
I have never been in a place where you can engage with people so quickly. I spent years in Hitchin, Hertfordshire and was really well known there, but still it was hard to get anything going. But around here you suggest something and people don’t just say, ‘Great, you go and do it’, they say, ‘Yeah that will be fun to join in with’. It’s a real marrying of ideas, there’s always somebody receptive to something. For example I am secretary of the Bridport Food Festival - we’ve set up a poetry project with junior schools called Potting Shed Poetry and we’re bringing out a biscuit book. I’m also hoping to work with two artists I met at Bridport Art Centre, and in our village we’ve set up an apple pressing project. It’s just a great place to be.

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