Food: TV chef Silvena Rowe takes on the WI

Silvena Rowe and Aldo Zilli from Country Show Cook-Off, which starts on BBC Two on April 1. Picture: PA Photo/Handout.

Silvena Rowe and Aldo Zilli from Country Show Cook-Off, which starts on BBC Two on April 1. Picture: PA Photo/Handout. - Credit: PA

Village cooking contests are usually the stronghold of stalwart members of the WI, who are used to their home-cooked fare winning the rosettes.

Plain scones, from The Women's Institute Vintage Teatime, published by Simon & Schuster, priced £9.99. Picture: PA...

Plain scones, from The Women's Institute Vintage Teatime, published by Simon & Schuster, priced £9.99. Picture: PA Photo/Simon & Schuster. - Credit: PA

The last thing one Women’s Institute group were expecting was for a 6ft blonde, Bulgarian to steal their crowns, which is precisely what happened recently.

Fingerbread, from The Women's Institute Vintage Teatime, published by Simon & Schuster, priced £9.99. Picture: PA...

Fingerbread, from The Women's Institute Vintage Teatime, published by Simon & Schuster, priced £9.99. Picture: PA Photo/Simon & Schuster. - Credit: PA

But, when the leggy blonde in question is a celebrity chef - Saturday Kitchen star Silvena Rowe - it begins to make sense.

The Women's Institute Vintage Teatime, published by Simon & Schuster, priced £9.99. Available now. Picture: PA Photo/Simon...

The Women's Institute Vintage Teatime, published by Simon & Schuster, priced £9.99. Available now. Picture: PA Photo/Simon & Schuster. - Credit: PA

The mum-of-two incurred the wrath (and admiration) of the WI when she beat them at their own game on BBC Two’s Country Show Cook-Off.

Scotch eggs, from The Women's Institute Vintage Teatime, published by Simon & Schuster, priced £9.99. Picture: PA...

Scotch eggs, from The Women's Institute Vintage Teatime, published by Simon & Schuster, priced £9.99. Picture: PA Photo/Simon & Schuster. - Credit: PA

Rowe, who has lived in London for 27 years, is a regular fixture on BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen with James Martin, but in the new show she teams up with fellow chef Aldo Zilli to travel around the UK entering rural cooking contests with a focus on mastering traditional British fare.


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To add to the drama, the judges didn’t know that a renowned chef had entered - while the chefs were determined not to lose out to amateurs.

Each week, a new team of famous chefs pair up and take on accomplished home cooks, many of whom have used the same recipe for generations and are accustomed to picking up prized rosettes for their dishes.

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In Rowe’s case, the skilful amateurs in question were the WI. And the WI weren’t going to take a foodie defeat lying down.

“We chefs are notoriously competitive but the ladies of the WI were something else,” says Rowe, who has recently acquired a new puppy called Lord Nelson. “Let’s just say I won one particular category with a bang.

“And I not only won it, I won best of show, best of everything and the WI didn’t believe it. I was followed. I was mobbed by 11 different members of the Women’s Institute who were saying, ‘What is this recipe? We want it’, and ‘How did you do that?’

“One of them said, ‘I’ve entered and won most of the competitions for the last 15 years. This is your first time and you’ve won.’

“I am a self-taught cook so, in a sense, I am one of them but a step further. I was just like them all those years ago and for me cooking was just a glorified hobby. And when you’re like that, you remember where you come from. Very quickly in the programme I started thinking like that again.”

To make sure your bakes are up to scratch, follow these three stand-out recipes from The Women’s Institute Vintage Teatime cookbook.

Hone these treats now and come next year, maybe you can beat a Michelin-starred chef to the Country Show Cook-Off crown:

Plain scones

(Makes about 15 scones)

450g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting

115g margarine

50g caster sugar (for a sweet scone dough)

175-225ml milk, plus extra for brushing

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7.

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and rub in the margarine until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar if making a sweet dough.

Make a well in the centre and stir in enough milk to give a fairly soft dough.

Turn on to a floured surface and knead lightly to remove any cracks. Roll out to about 2cm (¾ inch) thick and use a cutter to cut out 5cm (2 inch) rounds. Knead the remaining dough and re-roll and cut. Place the scones on a greased baking tray and glaze with a little milk.

Bake until well-risen and golden brown, about 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Gingerbread

(Serves 12)

450g plain flour

225g light brown soft sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

2tsp ground ginger

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tsp cream of tartar

225g margarine or butter

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2.

Lightly grease a 30 x 25cm (12 x 10 inch) tin.

Mix together the dry ingredients and then rub in the margarine or butter. Press the mixture into the prepared tin.

Bake for about 45 minutes.

Mark into 12 bars when it comes out of the oven and sprinkle with a little extra sugar. Allow the gingerbread to cool slightly before cutting it into pieces.

Scotch eggs

(Makes 6)

6 eggs

400g pork sausage meat

2tbsp plain flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 egg, beaten

8tbsp breadcrumbs

Vegetable oil, for deep frying

Watercress or parsley, to garnish

Add the eggs to a small pan of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 6 minutes.

Rinse with cold water and peel while still hot. Cool in cold water.

Divide the sausage meat into six equal pieces and pat out into rounds.

Put some flour on a plate, season, dip each egg in the flour and cover with the sausage meat.

Flour again, dip in the beaten egg and roll in the breadcrumbs.

Heat the oil in a deep heavy-bottomed pan until it reaches 180°C/350°F on a sugar thermometer or until a breadcrumb sizzles and turns brown when dropped into the oil.

Cook two eggs at a time for 6-8 minutes until golden brown. Wait for the oil to heat up again before cooking the next batch.

Carefully drain with a slotted spoon on to kitchen towel.

Cut into halves and serve garnished with watercress or parsley.

Alternative tips:

- To cook in the oven, place on a baking tray and bake at 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5 for 25 minutes until golden brown.

- To make these even more tasty, use skinned gourmet sausages instead of the sausage meat. Try garlicky Toulouse sausages, pork and apple, or pork, pancetta and Parmesan.

Country Show Cook-Off starts on BBC Two on Monday, April 1

The Women’s Institute Vintage Teatime is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £9.99. Available now

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