Other than having an interest in food (I really do love cooking and eating), writing a food blog and over 20 years' experience feeding my family, I have had no formal cooking training. I’m completely self-taught.
This is why, when Learning with Experts launched their River Cottage Cooking Diploma, I jumped at the chance to sign up. I will, finally, after nine years of sharing family recipes online with the world, actually learn how to cook!
The River Cottage Cooking Diploma is a collection of 48 cookery lessons divided into 12 individual courses covering everything from vegetables, foraging, fermenting, smoking, shellfish, spices, sourdough, gluten-free baking and much more.
You can choose to do the Expert option as I have, with personalized assignment feedback and coaching (among other perks) or the more affordable Peer option, where your work is shared with your classmates for feedback.
Everything is done online in small classrooms of no more than 20 fellow students, and you can do each lesson at your own leisure. Each course has four lessons followed by an assignment where you put what you’ve learned into practice.
The first course I started with, given that it’s cold and wintry outside and I am craving all the carbs, was the pie making course "The Pie Shop" taught by Tom Morrell.
I had no idea what to expect when I started this course, and I confess I was really impressed with what I found!
First, the videos by Tom Morrell felt like I had a personal cookery tutor in the kitchen with me. I watched through each video to learn the techniques taught – namely, how to make hot water pastry, rough puff pastry, shortcrust pastry and suet pastry.
Then, after purchasing the ingredients needed for the recipe assignments, I watched the videos again with my laptop on my kitchen table, pausing as needed to follow the instructions properly.
I really liked how Tom explained the details of creating each recipe, and not only the how-to instructions, but the why behind each trick and technique.
Of the four types of pastry taught, I’d only ever made shortcrust from scratch before, so I learned loads. With the hot water pastry, we learned how to make a traditional hand-raised pork pie, which was a lot of fun to do.
I loved making the rough puff pastry – I will likely never buy shop-bought again as puff pastry is so easy and enjoyable to make. With the shortcrust pastry, I learned how to blind bake properly – I shall never have a soggy bottomed crust again! I’d also never cooked with suet before, and with this lesson we learned how to make a suet pudding and spotted dick – British classics which, for some reason, were completely new to me.
It’s remarkable how flour, fat, salt, water and/or egg can come together in so many different combinations, depending on how you work with it.
I have already begun my next course on the River Cottage Cooking Diploma. My plans are to complete the entire collection and get my signed certificate from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I’m silly excited about this, and I hope to see some of you in the classrooms!
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