It's the food you love. The food that transports you back to your childhood. The food that reminds you of your mum, your Nan and Papa, your Aunts, and your friends. The food you will cook today..
Saint food is the foundation of our community.
For the past 10 weeks Emma-Jane and Robin Richards of Saint Cooks have been baking alongside The Great British Bake Off TV show, posting short, fun videos as they bake along.
Each week on the show the contestants are given a new baking challenge, like making bread or a pasty – Emma-Jane and Robin take each week’s challenge and put a St Helenian twist on it for their bake.
Saint Cooks believe we can often overlook the ordinary and everyday act of sharing food. Because we all know, that we Saints like our food. They believe that by elevating what St Helenians across the world consider ordinary, we can celebrate what it means to be a Saint.
In baking along with the show, Emma-Jane and Robin baked some classic St Helenian dishes, and invented some new ones, for each week’s challenge.
They started in week one making coconut and lemon biscuits from which they created High Knoll Fort, complete with coconut grass and rocks surrounding the Fort (which is one of the ‘Seven Wonders of St Helena’).
For the next week, it was a chocolate eggless cake. Robin remembers making this together with his mum, what seemed like every Sunday (which probably helps explain his love of chocolate).
For the bread challenge during week three, Saint Cooks decided that instead of just making ‘bread-n-dance’ to put on top of the bread, why not put the dance into the bread? They created a tomato paste flavoured bread, which they then shaped it into the living legend Jonathan the Tortoise. This then was eaten with more ‘dance’ on top as well.
An Emerald Isle Trifle was next, for dessert week. Most Saints like a good ole’ trifle, but this one was made extra special by including fruit found on the island (now living in the UK, Emma-Jane and Robin spent days hunting African markets to find fresh tungi, guava and fig to use) and having the cake layer made into the shape of the island. And they also included Midnight Mist Coffee Liqueur into the cream. It turned out to be a massive trifle – it took Robin quite a few days of eating trifle for lunch and dinner to finish it all.
They returned to a Saint classic for week five, making curry puffs (a staple of Saint party food everywhere).
For week six they made something which Emma-Jane remembers a friend’s mum making when she was about 10, and she’s been obsessed with them since. It doesn’t really have a Saint name, but in South Africa they’re called Hertzoggies. Saint Cookes changed the recipe by adding what they call ‘Granny Hilda’s Tamlet Jam’. As kids, Emma-Jane and Robin would ‘split their tongues’ eating Tamlets; the jam was a nod to that memory, and the Tamlet tree that grew at Emma-Jane’s Granny’s.
Week seven proved one of the most difficult weeks, as the challenge was to make something vegan. When Emma-Jane and Robin were growing up on the island, St Helena didn’t really do vegan food – so there wasn’t anything classic to bake. Therefore, they decided to make an upside-down vegan cake, but include an Arum Lily on top in celebration of the island’s love of this flower (it’s also a plant they have in their own garden).
Weeks eight and nine continued with challenges that St Helena didn’t really have traditional dishes for: So Emma-Jane and Robin had to create new recipes inspired by classic ingredients.
For week eight they baked a stuffed mackerel Danish. Inspired by Saint fishcakes, they used the same mixture and encased it in a fish-shaped puff pastry – with some added ‘bite’ to remind Emma-Jane of her Nanny’s fish soup that she made almost every day for her papa’s lunch. This proved to be one of Robin’s favourite things they made, and he has plans to make them again with a selection of different fillings.
The challenge for week nine was to make a Patisserie. As this was a French bake, Saint Cooks of course made something Napoleon-inspired. Creating a new recipe using Saint-inspired flavours of banana and Midnight Mist coffee liqueur as the base, they created a ‘Napoleon’s Delight’ patisserie. It is a Saint banana bread cake, topped with Midnight Mist coffee liqueur mousse, topped with Napoleon's favourite snack (almonds) and his hat in chocolate form. Hopefully the Emperor would have approved.
For the last week, and show’s finale, they saved the best until last. Saint Cooks took the jewel of St Helenian baking, the humble coconut finger, and made it the star of a three-tier celebration cake. Included on the cake was a sugar-paste Jonathan the Tortoise, Arum Lilies, tuna fish and even a Wirebird. At sixteen coconut fingers high, it stands tall and proud celebrating St Helena and its baking.
“We have had so much of fun experimenting, inventing new twists on St Helenian classics,” Emma-Jane said. “It was great having to eat them as well... we’d love for you to give them a go.”
Connecting with the Cooks
There is no denying, St Helenian food is a heady melting pot of cultures, countries and peoples that make up the stock of our island’s collective food history.
Recipes are so much a part of life that we take for granted the diversity and versatility that Saint food can bring to the table.
Emma-Jane and Robin started the Saint Cooks website (saintcooks.com) wanting to inspire food-lovers everywhere to learn how to cook St Helenian food, and to hopefully encourage Saints around the world to share memories and stories associated with their favorite island dishes. Saint cooks want to celebrate home-cooking, and how the same meal can differ from family to family, generation to generation, town boy to country girl.
Although they now live in the UK, making a big pot of plo on a cold winter night transports them back to the sunshine down Lemon Valley or out Horse Pasture.
Visit saintcooks.com to share your stories about cooking Saint food, and to see our recipes.
To watch the videos of Saint Cooks baking along with The Great British Bake Off each week, visit their blog on saintcooks.com or visit their facebook page (@thesaintcooks) or instagram (@saintcooks).