Sarah Irwin introduces us to the wilds of Walthamstow and the meadows and marshes that inspire her botanic ice creams.
“IT is a very special place for wild life as it is in-between the marshes and the forest” is how Sarah Irwin describes Walthamstow, north-east London. "I use a lot of flowers and leaves in what I do and there is an amazing wealth of ingredients here to stumble upon. I like the idea that I share the environment with the things that I am cooking with.”
Since launching Osinsky Ice Cream two years ago, Sarah has created flavours that pay homage to the romantic and magical world of botanicals. Field camomile, blackcurrant leaves, lemon balm, cobnuts, rowan and sloe berries find their way into her forager’s basket. “I feel absolutely that smell and taste, vision and touch are all so connected. If I am walking along the pavement and see a privet hedge, I'll pick some to squash between my fingers. It has the most incredible scent of pears.”
Growing up in Oxford in a house built on what was once part of the University’s orchard, Sarah’s interest in edible wild food was fostered early. “In the garden there were apple, plum, quince, cherry and pear trees, lots of berries and different herbs. So as children we would go into the garden and pick everything that was in season like wild strawberries, raspberries and currants and then squash them all together and freeze them in cupcake cases, like little fruit lollies.“
Today, her favours are more refined, while retaining the whimsy of her childhood imaginings. Ask her about her range of ice creams and sorbets and she immediately shares that “chamomile ice-cream is my favourite; it is like being cuddled by sunshine. It is so warming and romantic.” Or her rose hip sorbet that she says has “a slightly medicinal taste - they don't taste as red as you would expect them to“. Other flavours have included bay leaf, sage marshmallow, elderflower and fromage blanc, and Walthamstow honey and sesame. She has even used honeysuckle and lilac, making floral syrups to be added to her ice-cream base.
Such curiosity and enthusiasm for capturing the essence of each ingredient has even seen her collaborate with Left Bank Brewery. As part of last year's London’s Urban Food Fortnight, she paired a Berliner Weisse with a damson and juniper ice cream, a brown ale with a chocolate and almond torrone ice cream and an American pale ale with a passion fruit curd and Tahitian vanilla flavour. Of the latter, she shares that, “someone told me that it tasted like a Gauguin painting - which was the most wonderful compliment that anyone could give me".
Working to the seasons and to what she finds foraging, Sarah creates five flavours a month that can be ordered online. Pints are then either delivered (in areas of East London - check first) or picked up from the ice cream kitchen at Blackhorse Workshop in Walthamstow. You can contact Sarah on firstname.lastname@example.org.
E5 Bakehouse for their beautiful bread but also their café that engages you in the making, the proving and the baking of bread. Woodfood and Warner for the most amazing Trinidadian sorrel drinks made from hibiscus flowers – she also makes some wonderful sorbets! I get my honey from Local Honey Man - he's local to me but he has hives all across East London. There is Wood Street Coffee - another Walthamstow favourite.
LONDON AS FOOD CITY
There has been a lot of change in the last ten years. People are much more enthusiastic and discerning about what they are eating. People now care about provenance and the integrity of food. There is a real push for “think global, act local” with lots of new independents opening up, as well as lots of speciality businesses.
UK FOOD HERO
Petra Barron who established what is now KERB. She has been so instrumental in establishing street food culture in London.
COOKBOOKS THAT INSPIRE ME
There are a couple that I really like including Fäviken Magasinet by Magnus Nilsson; Fern Verrow cookbook has lovely recipes and talks beautifully about biodynamic farming. The two books that I pick up consistently is Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere and Sarah Raven’s The Garden Cookbook. For ice cream, you can't do better than The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments by David Lebovitz.