Flora Shedden on her new book, pregnancy cravings and not watching The Great British Bake Off
It’s easy to forget that Flora Shedden isn’t still 19 years old.
That was her age when she was the youngest ever finalist on Great British Bake Off in 2015.
She has a baby due in December, and she’s just launched her third cookbook, Supper: Recipes Worth Staying in For. It seems she might be a carpe diem kind of person.
“Yeah, I like to keep busy,” she says. “I've always been that way. I like a project and I think I'm also just really terrible at saying no to things and situations.
“I don't feel like I've actively gone out to, you know, do X, Y and Z. I’m very fortunate that I've been able to do what I have.”
However, don’t ask her who she wants to win the latest series of The Great British Bake Off, which has its finale coming up on November 15.
“I didn’t watch it when I was in it, and I haven’t watched it since,” she says. “It was far too traumatic. Nobody wants to hear their own voice let alone see their own face, it’s very scarring. So many people keep me updated on what’s happening on it, which is very sweet”.
The newest book required a lot of brain-storming, since Shedden wasn’t quite sure what her potential readers’ habits would be post-lockdown. Her previous publications were Gatherings: Recipes for Feasts Great and Small, and the eponymous tribute to her bakery and cafe Aran.
“It takes over a year to put the books together and everything has been so changeable,” she says. “I was worried everybody would be rushing to restaurants, which is great, they definitely should, but they might not want to stay in and do all the things that we did for so long. However, I don't know anybody that can afford to eat out every single night and I think we kind of wanted to keep that idea of getting people together. Going into this winter, it's going to be a tricky one and there’s that idea of gathering around the table and cooking a bit more efficiently. A lot of the meals have ideas about leftovers”.
In a similar vein to the last books, this is a very beautiful read. The photographs were taken by Laura Edwards, earlier this year in Shedden’s flat, as well as some other locations, and there’s a lovely wintery light across platefuls of food, candlesticks, bone-handled cutlery and crinkled linen tablecloths. The pictures look like Dutch still life paintings.
Shedden loves cookbooks and she wanted this to measure up to some of the favourites on her kitchen shelves.
“I've always been a really big fan of everything Diana Henry does,” she says. “Her recipes are brilliant classics with twists that you know will be crowd-pleasers. Georgina Hayden has done a lot of really beautiful work recently, including her books Stirring Slowly and Taverna.
"There are so many talented, talented food writers our there. It does make it very daunting to add to the mix. It can be quite stressful because there's so many books I admire and love.”
Although supper might feel like a bit of an archaic word, Shedden is reclaiming it to mean a “relaxed evening meal” – something that’s more ad-hoc than dinner. It’s also a social and convivial thing, though she’s included a page in the book about eating solo, in case anyone should feel left out.
There are dishes such as a halloumi, melon and tomato salad with chilli; cavolo nero, sausage and ricotta lasagne, and a caraway and pistachio cake with margarita picante. There’s a Thirty-Minute Tea section, soups and lots of cocktails, including a basil gimlet, which is dedicated to Granny Joan.
The Cornish pasty recipe didn’t make it to the final edit. “They weren’t as good as the ones in Cornwall, so they got scratched,” says Shedden.
Almost all of her recipes have been tried out on friends and family, as well as customers in the cafe, “unbeknownst to them”, not that the author would have any shortage of willing guinea pigs in Dunkeld.
“I'm lucky that I grew up here and so I know a lot of people here,” she says. “I think we can take for granted how special it is as a community. We're very fortunate in terms of everybody looking out for everyone else.
“Particularly with being pregnant at the moment, I haven't had to buy anything. Everybody turns up with bits and pieces and it's lovely.”
As the town foodie, lots of people have been asking Shedden if she has any cravings.
“No weird ones, but I have been quite addicted to apples and Innocent Smoothies do this green juice that I cannot stop drinking,” she says.
There are also a few recipes in the book that she’s been returning to this season.
“I really like the porchetta,” she says. “I’ve done that one quite a lot, particularly coming into the colder months. I love that for comfort.
"It can be quite versatile for a nice big meal and then for sandwiches. I've cooked the potato and chard gratin the most. You just shove everything in a bowl, then bake it. It's really comforting and so simple.”
Supper: Recipes Worth Staying in For by Flora Shedden, Hardie Grant, £22 hardback