Image Description: Tim Wraith, the cookbook compiler, holding the cookbook in front of a sign reading: ‘Our vision is for high-quality end of life care to be available to everyone who needs it in Oxfordshire.
Sobell House is an Oxford-based hospice that provides palliative care for people across Oxfordshire. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of talking to Tim Wraith, Sobell’s Corporate Partnerships Manager, who fundraises for the charity and was the compiler of their new cookbook Food and Kindness.
Can you tell me a bit about the cookbook in general: where the idea came from and why you decided to do it now?
We do lots of different fundraising things throughout the year, and my job is to work with local businesses who want to support what we do. But obviously, with Covid taking over here we had to cancel things like mass participation events, so we had to think of different ways to get support; Lorraine (our head of fundraising) suggested a cookbook.
We had two ways of doing that. We could have done quite a cheap and cheerful cookbook, where somebody produces a book full of adverts, and the adverts pay for the book. We’d get it and sell it for £5, and that’s quite a cheap and cheerful book.
As a hospice, we get fantastic support from our local community: they have dinners for us, they do things behind the bar at the pub, they make things for us, and a lot of those businesses have been decimated this year. So it’s two things really: it’s to support what we do here at the hospice with fundraising, but equally it’s to say, we have a fantastic local foodie community here, who are going through a tough time, and we wanted to give something back, and highlight what they are about.
Mezze Publishing, who produced the book, specialise in regional cookbooks like ours. It cost about £12,000; I went to the business community of Oxford, many of which supported us greatly. So the £12,000 was covered and didn’t cost the hospice anything, which means every £15 purchase directly supports end of life care for people in Oxfordshire. It feels as if we’re living in quite a dog-eat-dog world at the moment with what’s going on, but I think it’s just a lovely example of businesses and the community coming together to help each other in difficult times.
Is cooking something that’s encouraged a lot with patients?
People come for a mixture of reasons to the hospice; 30% of people who come will go back home, though they’re all ill to a certain extent. It’s more linking food and hospitality and the community – we try to make the hospice like a home, as much as we can. It’s a hospitable place, and obviously food is all about community; it’s very important to a place like Sobell house because we try to produce nutritious food and encourage people to talk when they’re having a meal – food sort of breaks down barriers, it connects us with people, it’s all about friendship.
It was me who came up with the name, Food and Kindness, because I think they go together – I’m a big foodie person, and I love cooking. During the first lockdown, I did a cooking for homeless project in town for around 4 months with my daughter – we cook twice a week in a small industrial kitchen in central Oxford for the homeless community. You really get a lot out of it yourself – you think you’re helping people but ironically, you’re really getting more out of it, because you’re enjoying doing it. That was the thought behind the book as well: there’s such a link between hospitality and hospice, and food is an important part of life here at Sobell.
It really seems as if the community rallied behind the cookbook and your ideas!
Definitely. Have you ever watched This Country?
The vicar (played by Paul Chahidi) is one of our charity ambassadors. We found out about six months ago that we looked after Paul’s father around five years ago, so Paul has become a brilliant ambassador to Sobell House, and it has opened-up loads of opportunities. He connected with Mel and Sue from The Great British Bakeoff, and they then got Mary Berry into the book. Paul also knows Stephen Fry, so Stephen Fry is in the book as well, so that just gives it a bit of a stardust and celeb angle as well as a local business angle.
Has coronavirus impacted your views on ‘food’ and ‘kindness’? Do you think that, over the pandemic, there’s been more kindness in the world?
Oh, massively. I suppose I see close-up, really, when I’m going around asking people to support us. Looking back in my own life, I’ve suffered two bouts of quite serious illness, and when you’re ill you see great acts of kindness. In a hospice, when people are very desperate, understandably, and their family are, you see glimpses of incredible kindness, and we have seen masses of kindness over the last 7 months. We all read headlines in various papers about misery, but really when you start delving down, you do see great acts of kindness.
There’s a great quote by a lady called Cicely Saunders, who started the first modern-day hospice and she said, ‘you matter because you are you, and you matter until the end of your life’, and that’s in the DNA of places like Sobell House – everyone matters and is valued. End of life also often brings families together and can help to fix a troubled relationship. It’s been difficult for us to help facilitate this – early on in the pandemic we could only have visitors in when someone was imminently going to die, and that’s a very difficult thing to tell a relative, as only one was allowed in. These are very emotive and very challenging times, really, and that’s why I have even more admiration for my colleagues who are dealing directly with patients and families.
I’m sort of going off piece a little and not talking about Food and Kindness, but it all relates, it all goes back to that word kindness! I love the word kindness.
How did you go about sourcing recipes? It sounds like Sobell House has a very good relationship with the community already, did you just approach them and ask?
We wanted our book to reach out to our catchment area, it was important that we have someone from all corners of Oxfordshire (though it is quite Oxford-centric). Some people I knew already, and their businesses have pretty much ground to a halt. They were sort of my inspiration for the book really, and I wanted to do something to support them. I also came across other companies I didn’t know but thought sounded fun and exciting. So, it’s a real mixture of people in the book – people who I’ve known for years, and others who I newly reached out to for this.
Each of the businesses have been given a special heading by our writer Katie, so we haven’t just stuck on the name of the business, we’ve added a little extra care and personality for each one. It’s not a corporate kind of cookbook – every business has their story in, and they each have 4 pages: one for their story (basically how and why they came into being), one of local pictures, and 2 for the actual recipe. I say it’s more than just a cookbook – it’s a storybook as well.
Again, the kindness aspect, and building further connections to the community.
You bet! Some companies have promised to host gala dinners for us, or donate proceeds from dishes on their menu to the hospice.
The next one is a little tough… we have someone trying out a recipe from the cookbook. What’s your favourite recipe from the book?
Ooooh! It’s a bit cheesy, but that’s like asking which is my favourite child! I would probably say… the aubergine curry from Oli’s Thai, I love it. I like my sweets but I’m more a savoury kind of person, and I’ve had it more than a few times!
So, you’re more a starter than a dessert person?
If I had the choice of three courses, I’d go for a nice starter, a main course, and a coffee, rather than a pudding. No. 1 Ship Street do a lovely French onion soup, topped with a bready cheese thing, which is just fantastic.
I’m more of a sweet fan, and though I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet, I particularly liked the look of the elderflower crème brulee.
A brulee is just lovely, it’s a bit lighter, and the elderflower crème brulee is brilliant. Oh it does look nice doesn’t it – we went for dinner a few weeks ago and couldn’t resist. I love gooseberry as well, and it’s served with a gooseberry compote, yes yes yes! Perhaps I should become a food writer… I’m also a frustrated restauranter, I’d love to open one and my kids keep asking why I don’t just go for it – who knows, I might do one day!
That’s what comes next then – an OxStu exclusive!
Haha, you heard it first! I’ll come and find you when it’s open!
A few quickfire questions to finish: baking or cooking?
Christmas pudding, yule log, or mince pies – pick one.
Mince pies – on the 14th of December every year we have mince pie Monday at Sobell House where we have a little Christmas party.
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Ooh, a nice chicken curry.
And finally: what’s the worst disaster you’ve had in the kitchen?
Baking generally… I don’t know if I have the patience. It’s much more of a science than cooking, and you have to follow the recipe, so I say all baking has been a disaster for me!
The Sobell House Food and Kindness Cookbook brings together 30 recipes from a range of local chefs, restaurants, food writers and celebrities to raise money for the Sobell House hospice in Oxfordshire. This cookbook is not only in aid of a good cause, but is also crammed full of tasty recipes, featuring contributions from household names such as Stephen Fry’s hummus and Mary Berry’s Very Best Chocolate Cake. Food and Kindness retails at £15 and is available to buy on Sobell House’s website via https://sobellhouse.org/shop/online-shop/food-kindness-the-sobell-house-cook-book/
Image credit: Tim Wraith