Food critic Richard McComb on a cool success story being brought to this year's BBC Good Food Show at the NEC.
It started as “the world’s smallest ice cream factory” and has gone on to win acclaim for its painstaking recreation of classic English flavours – from gooseberry and elderflower to damson and sloe gin.
Now Rachel Hicks hopes to bring her award-winning desserts to a wider audience after winning a Producers’ Bursary Award to appear at the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC.
The awards are designed to recognise the outstanding work of small producers, and Rachel’s business, Herefordshire-based Just Rachel, gets a free stand to display her trademark luxury ice cream for the five-day show, which runs until Sunday.
The Good Food Show is known for attracting big names from TV cooking and this year is no exceptions, with star turns by James Martin, Birmingham’s own Glynn Purnell and MasterChef’s John Torode and Gregg Wallace. Other big name chefs demonstrating their skills include Tom Kitchin, Michael Caines and Atul Kochhar.
However, the show also provides a great opportunity to find out about some of the best artisan producers around, including the popular Ludlow Producers Market.
Rachel’s appearance at the show comes as Just Desserts celebrates its 25th anniversary. Now based at Bromsberrow, near Ledbury, Rachel started making ice cream in 1987, mixing together a classic combination of rich Herefordshire cream with flavour-packed natural ingredients.
Born and bred in Bournville, Birmingham, she left university armed with a degree in botany and an ambition to travel. It was while she worked her way across the United States and New Zealand that her eyes were opened to the possibilities of top-notch ice cream, rather than the insipid version commonly available back home.
She recalls: “It was in the mid 80s and ice cream in this country was very poor quality. You could get white, pink and brown ice cream. The pink had never seen a strawberry and the brown had never seen dark chocolate.”
Rather than following the trend of using cheap flavour enhancers and E numbers, Rachel decided to turn the clock back and revisit the old recipes of the grande dames of English cooking, such as Mrs Beeton and Eliza Acton. Notions of additives and chemically-assisted food technology were frozen out by this ice cream evangelist.
Rachel visited the British Library to swot up on historic recipes and developed her fledgling ideas at her then home in White Leaved Oak, close to where she lives today. Her property was adjoined by a two-up, two-down stone cottage. “I converted it into the smallest ice cream factory in the world. It was a proper cottage industry,” she recalls.