Re­gional & Sea­sonal: The Bull, Ditch­ling

Landscape (UK) - - Life At Nature’s Pace -

In the shadow of the South Downs, spring is slowly be­gin­ning to un­furl. The first green shoots are push­ing up through the earth in the kitchen gar­den of The Bull in the East Sussex vil­lage of Ditch­ling. In­side, the pub is a refuge from the still change­able weather. Its dark beams and open fires wel­come vis­i­tors pink-cheeked after a brac­ing walk on Ditch­ling Bea­con. At 814ft (248m) high this is the third high­est point of the Downs. The Bull is one of the vil­lage’s old­est build­ings, dat­ing to the early 16th cen­tury. The orig­i­nal own­ers were the Nevill fam­ily, the lords of the manor of Ditch­ling. It is their coat of arms, fea­tur­ing a bull’s head, which has given the pub its name. Since 2003 it has been owned by Do­minic and Vanessa Wor­rall, and to­day is run by gen­eral man­ager Molly Raftery. “It’s a beau­ti­ful old build­ing,” she says. “The feel of the pub is dark, cosy and ro­man­tic. “Look­ing out from the gar­dens onto the South Downs, sur­rounded by grow­ing food des­tined for your plate, is won­der­ful. Our gar­dener sits with our chef at the start of each sea­son to dis­cuss what’s com­ing into sea­son, what to grow next and when it’s all best to use.” For the past three years, the kitchen gar­den has sup­plied herbs, fruit and veg­eta­bles for the pub. Menus at The Bull change reg­u­larly, with an over­all fo­cus on qual­ity, sea­son­al­ity and lo­cal pro­duc­ers. “We’re pas­sion­ate about food and taste. The only thing we don’t make our­selves is bread and that’s purely be­cause of a lack of space. Ev­ery­thing else comes in fresh as raw in­gre­di­ents. It’s the only way we’ve ever done it and we can con­fi­dently say we know ex­actly what’s in a dish, be­cause we have put it to­gether,” says Molly. The names of the pub’s sup­pli­ers rat­tle off her tongue. Fish comes from Brighton and Ne­whaven Fish Sales. “They use short-range boats that come in to shore near Hove La­goon.” For 13 years Rus­sells of Has­socks, lo­cated four miles away, has sup­plied fruit, while beef is sourced from Trench­more Farm in Cow­fold, 11 miles away. Here there’s a spe­cial re­cip­ro­cal ar­range­ment. “We have our own brew­ery, Bed­lam Brew­ery, four miles away in Al­bourne. The spent grain from the beer-mak­ing goes to Trench­more for feed­ing the cat­tle,” ex­plains Molly. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween pub and brew­ery brings a his­toric tra­di­tion at The Bull full cir­cle. Un­til 1851 the pub had its own brew house at­tached to the main build­ing. “Peo­ple can sam­ple the beers here, and we use them in some of our dishes too.” Among The Bull’s sweeter dishes is the tra­di­tional steamed

suet dessert of Sussex pond pud­ding, with a caramelise­d lemon sit­ting at its cen­tre. First recorded in the late 1600s, the pud­ding con­tains large amounts of but­ter and su­gar. This fea­ture gave rise to its name. When cut into, the caramelise­d sauce oozes out to form a pond around the pas­try case. Over time, fruit was in­tro­duced. It is not known ex­actly when a lemon be­came pre­ferred, but it is thought to be a 20th cen­tury adap­ta­tion. “It has a tart flavour and it’s quite heavy, but with cream to cut through it, it’s de­li­cious,” says Molly. “You don’t see old-fash­ioned pud­dings like this very much any more and it’s al­ways been pop­u­lar. Peo­ple ac­tu­ally call us to see if it’s on when they are com­ing.” The pud­ding has been mel­lowed slightly to suit mod­ern palates. “In­stead of us­ing the tra­di­tional whole lemon, we take the zest and pith off, and use slices of lemon in­stead. We have re­fined it a lit­tle, other­wise it can be bit­ter,” says Dion Scott, The Bull’s head chef. A keen for­ager and kitchen gar­dener, he loves plan­ning and over­see­ing the plots. “Be­cause of the weather in this part of the coun­try be­ing a bit warmer, ev­ery­thing comes in ear­lier and stays a bit later. I like hav­ing things come on the menu be­fore any­one else. It makes spring an ex­cit­ing time.”

Set in the rolling South Downs, a his­toric Sussex pub serves its own ver­sion of a 350-year-old pud­ding

re­gional & sea­sonal

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