The Good Life

TOAST experiences living the good life with Hen Corner

Wherever you live there is something timelessly delightful about traditional country living, from chutney making to bread baking and everything in between. TOAST chats to Sara Ward, founder of urban smallholding Hen Corner, to hear about her wonderful courses, her top tips on creating some countryside magic at home and a delicious recipe to try too!

I can hear the birds tweeting in the trees, the vegetable patch is abundant with courgettes and the hens are happily pecking away under the shade of an old apple tree. There is a constant, happy buzz coming from one of the nearby beehives, and the mouthwatering smell of fresh bread gently cooking in the oven is wafting through the air. I am not in the depths of Devon, or a quiet corner of Somerset, oh no. I am in fact at Sara Ward's Victorian terrace house in Brentford, West London, the home of Hen Corner

I’ve always lived in London - born in Barking in the East End and now living in Brentford in the West!” explains Sara.

Over the years we turned our family house into the urban smallholding that it is now, and around 9 years ago we were trying to think of a name to print on the labels of our homemade Christmas chutney - we live on the corner of the street and have 17 chickens in the garden, so Hen Corner seemed to have a ring to it!”

Today, Hen Corner is still Sara’s family home but it’s also the residence of the aforementioned 17 hens, 3 colonies of honey bees, a fruitful kitchen garden and a busy micro bakery which makes around 30-40 loaves of bread every Friday, along with hundreds of naughty sticky buns, cakes and some tempting savoury treats. A slice of the good life thriving in the capital; come to Hen Corner and you can also partake in a variety of country living courses too.

Hen Corner has evolved very organically over the last 9 years - we didn’t set out to create a business, this was just our lifestyle as a family, our hobbies if you like. Then a friend suggested that people might be interested if I started a blog, and so we published stories about our chickens, counted asparagus spears and told tales of our plans to keep bees at the bottom of the garden!” enthuses Sara.

The courses started in 2010 when Omlet, who make our fabulous chicken coops, asked us to help show others how easy it is to keep chickens in London. We then decided to offer up the opportunity to join in when we started preserving produce from the garden, and pretty soon we had developed a whole range of courses based on activities that we would be doing anyway, inviting others to come and try their hands at new skills!

Hen Corner Chicks

Sara’s brilliant courses are categorised into Chicken & Bees, Country Crafts, Bread & Baking, Preserving and Artisan Food & Drink. Toast and Marmalade Day, for example, involves making a delicious loaf of bread from scratch and a tasty pot of homemade marmalade too, whilst the Perfect Pasta course includes a masterclass on how to make fresh egg tagliatelle, butternut squash, sage and ricotta ravioli and homemade garden pesto – perfect for impressing guests at your next dinner party.

There are two main wings to our ethos here at Hen Corner - firstly that it’s wonderful to live here in London and wherever you live you can have the best of both worlds by incorporating traditional country pursuits into busy urban lives, and secondly - if we can do these activities at Hen Corner, you can do them with us and learn how to do them yourself in your own home” Sarah explains.

“I love that I’m living my hobbies and interests every day, I love that people are interested to come and join in and I love that I can create, encourage and inspire – it’ all so positive and fulfilling.”

Juliet Murphy Hen Corner Honey

Hen Corner Baking

Hen Corner Courses

Cheese in a Day is another great course for keen hosts – why not impress your guests by serving up your very own homemade hand stretched mozzarella, mould ripened camembert or tangy feta cheese accompanied, of course, by homemade rosemary water biscuits or perhaps a slice of freshly baked honey and whey bread – all of which Sara can teach you how to make in just one day.

We work closely with the seasons so can always be found making marmalade in January, tending the bees in the summer months and preserving chutney in September. The sausage making began when we had a pig share back in 2013, I was really keen to use all of the meat and needed to know how to process it quickly - we literally had half a pig on the kitchen table! I had fun learning and thought others would as well” explains Sara

I would say our most popular course is Bread: Sweet & Savoury - we run this session every month throughout the year. I think it’s the most popular as so much can be learnt in just one day that can completely transform your diet and lifestyle. I mean who wouldn’t want to learn the secret of the cinnamon swirl?!”

But – and I am almost definitely playing devil’s advocate here – with a fully stocked Sainsbury’s down the road and Ocado just a few clicks away, wouldn't it just be easier and far more convenient to nip down there and buy my bread, cheese, chutney, and perhaps a cheeky cinnamon swirl while I am at it?

We’ve all got used to buying anything that we want on any day of the year and this is where we can become complacent and detached from where our food actually comes from. Producing your own food brings a certainty of knowing what’s going into it, a creativity and pride in making something wonderful yourself and, even if you never make it again, an appreciation for farmers and food producers who work hard everyday to bring you the best they can!” Sara enthuses.

“Also making something yourself from scratch is so satisfying. It’s all about creativity; choosing ingredients, resources, materials and skills to design and create something that we are proud of, something unique, something precious for us and our loved ones to enjoy. It’s also something that can’t be bought - which makes it priceless.”

The Hen Corner Image Juliet Murphy

When Sara isn’t busy tending to the chickens, teaching the art of scone and jam making or whipping up some beautiful bread in the kitchen, she also hosts educational school trips and special family courses such as ‘Where does my food come from?” - a brilliant opportunity for children and grown ups alike to explore the garden, meet its feathery occupants and learn more about the bees and their produce of tasty honey. All this plus unique and inspiring corporate days, and private events too.

We are very flexible when planning corporate days and bespoke events, some themes are dependent on the seasons, especially bee keeping or preserving, but other activities work well throughout the year” explains Sara.

We’ve done a few birthday parties – for both children and adult, and we’ve hosted a couple of hen parties too - the first was making biscotti and marmalade, the second was an afternoon tea in the garden with goodies from the Micro Bakery. I must confess, every time we make sausages, I do think a hen party would enjoy it - especially with a few bottles of bubbly!”

Hen Corner Kids And Bees 

Aside from the copious amounts of cooking, creative country crafts, and delicious, homegrown food and produce, there is undeniably something very cosy and almost comforting about the style of country living. It has a timeless appeal and instantly creates a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere at home, whether you're entertaining or not. A roaring fire, floral prints, the smell of freshly baked bread, mismatched crockery, a homemade meal cooked with love, wildflowers in a jam jar on an old kitchen table…you get the picture.

When we choose reclaimed furniture over flat packed mass produced trendy pieces, we welcome the stories of the families who have used them before, we value the skill of the craftsman and respect the very trees that gave the wood for generations of use.” explains Sara.

I think country living is so closely linked to nature, with natural products, materials and skills that have stood the test of time. These help us feel part of something bigger, something that embraces seasons and change.”

If you’d like to create a welcoming, country living feel at home next time you’re entertaining (perfect for a cosy, autumn dinner party...) then you can find Sara’ top tips on doing just that as well as her delicious recipe for cumin and courgette chutney for you to enjoy making at home (and impress your next guests with) over on TheEdit now 

For more information and contact details for Hen Corner, and a full calender of their latest courses from keeping chickens, making cider, growing your own food or artisan cooking skills, visit their page in TOAST’s Little Black Book

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