In Their Footsteps - new cookbook celebrates 25th anniversary of Jervaulx Abbey Tearoom
PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 December 2018
Bakes, cakes and chutneys from the family tasked with caring for a historic North Yorkshire gem
Buying a house is always a voyage of discovery. You might find a few spoons left in a drawer, a forgotten chew toy behind a radiator or rolls of painfully unfashionable wallpaper piled in a dark corner of the attic. What you don’t expect to find, however, is a 12th century Cistercian abbey at the bottom of the garden.
But that is precisely what happened when Major Van Burdon and his wife Jean bought Jervaulx Hall in 1972.
‘When they bought the house, they got a plot of land too,’ said their granddaughter Anna. ‘On the land was an old farm that was dilapidated and rundown and an old abbey ruin that no one seemed to care about.’
Lord Aylesbury had tried to beautify the landscape around Jervaulx Abbey in the 1800s with expansive patches of flowers and trees, but since then it had been pretty much left to its own devices.
‘Very few people seemed to know the abbey was there, so Major (Anna always refers to her grandfather as ‘Major’) introduced an honesty box and encouraged people to wander down and have a look.
‘My grandparents weren’t looking for a business when they bought the hall, they were looking for a home. But, equally, neither was looking to retire anytime soon – they weren’t quite ready for a pipe and slippers life.’
Major took on the challenges of the property and the estate, while Jean bought a little caravan equipped to serve teas and coffees to visitors. Sylvie Bowes (known to the family as ‘Silly’) was brought in to man the caravan – and is still doing her bit today in the Jervaulx Abbey Tearoom.
Major died in 1980, leaving Jean and their children, Rae, Gilly and Ian to run the estate.
‘My dad (Ian) inherited the farm, which suited him fine because he was always more of an agriculturalist than his brother and sister,’ said Anna. ‘He had help from Peter King (known as ‘Petey’), who began working at the farm aged 14 and still works for us now.’
Ian also took on day-to-day responsibility for the abbey, a task that was not made any easier when, in 1982, he was handed a 60-page document compiled by English Heritage denouncing Jervaulx as one of the most dangerous heritage sites in Britain.
‘It was so ridiculous it was almost funny,’ said Anna. ‘We inherited the abbey; we didn’t build it.’
A specialist York architect drew up an eight-phase programme of work to bring Jervaulx up to spec – a programme it has taken the family the best part of 30 to complete as and when funding was available.
While Ian concentrated on the farm and abbey, his wife Carol turned her gaze to the refreshments offering. She opened a tearoom in 1994, focusing then – as now – on home baking. Youngest daughter Anna joined the team in 2009 and, in 2014, her sister Gayle came onboard, bringing Where The Ribbon Ends, her successful bespoke celebration cake business, and her husband, Alan, with her.
The Burdons are a close family and loved the idea of working together, but there was also a degree of necessity as Ian had long-term mobility problems caused by a serious car accident that resulted in a staggering 30 operations in 30 years and, in 2014, suffered a catastrophic spine infection that put him in intensive care.
Ian is now well and enjoying life as a private hire driver, Anna and Carol run the tearoom, Gayle designs and makes beautiful cakes – including those for wedding parties who get married in the abbey ruins – and Alan has retrained as a stonemason so he can help maintain the time-battered remains of the 12th century monastery.
After years of handing out photocopied pamphlets of their most popular recipes, the industrious Burdon family have also finally collated their favourites in their debut cook book, In Their Footsteps, launched to coincide with the 25th anniversary of their tearoom.
Featuring more than 50 recipes from flapjack to piccalilli and including a range of dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan puddings and cakes, it’s a collection that the family have developed over the years using ingredients sourced, whenever possible, from North Yorkshire producers.
Ian, ever the farmer, still takes pleasure in popping into the kitchen with basketfuls of produce to challenge his wife and daughter. But his mischievous dares have actually resulted in some of their most popular cakes and preserves, such as plum crunch, gooseberry and elderflower cake, beetroot relish and beer and apple chutney.
Nothing goes to waste in the Burdons’ kitchen either. They even manage to transform crumbs into Belgian chocolate raspberry truffle cake.
‘We’re always experimenting and innovating,’ said Anna. ‘We like to offer our customers new things to try, but it’s also about keeping ourselves interested too. Can you imagine baking the same cakes day in and day out for 25 years?’
While many visitors understand the value of a great slice of cake with their tea, few understand the challenges of looking after such an important part of Yorkshire’s heritage.
‘People assume we get lots of funding or that we’re supported by English Heritage or the National Trust,’ said Anna. ‘But it’s all down to us.
‘This isn’t just our history though; it’s everybody’s. We’re just the lucky custodians of the abbey. It’s up to us to protect it for future generations. It’s hard work but it’s also a great privilege.’
The Burdons close the tearoom from late October to mid-February, but that doesn’t mean they’re not busy working. There are always plans to be made for the new season, maintenance on the abbey, the farm to run, signage to update, information boards to create and dozens and dozens of other little jobs that culminate in long days and late nights.
Luckily, there is one day when Ian, Carol, Anna, Gayle and their partners can sit down to reflect on the highs and lows of another year at the abbey.
‘Christmas is the only time we get to sit down as a family and properly relax,’ said Anna. ‘I absolutely love every minute of it. That special feeling of togetherness is unbeatable.’
After a traditional lunch with all the trimmings and a bit of compulsory Christmas TV, the family always takes a little stroll down to the abbey.
‘It’s a wonderful place every day of the year but, at Christmas, it’s even more magical,’ Anna concluded. ‘Christmas is our time to be together and we wouldn’t want to be anywhere but Jervaulx.
In Their Footsteps, £15, is available from Jervaulx Abbey Tearoom (when it opens again in February), online at jervaulxabbey.com and from Amazon and book shops.