My first January in Suffolk has given us many stunning bright mornings and once again I de-ice the car to pop down to Orford to meet Harvey Allen, who runs the wholesale and retail side of Pinney's of Orford. Pinney's has a fascinating history worth recounting in some detail . . .
At the end of the second world war when Richard Pinney, like many of us since, decided he had had enough of living in London and headed for the countryside. After an extensive search he found a derelict cottage near Butley Creek, near Orford on the Suffolk coast and began looking for ways to make a living. his first enterprise was cutting rushes from local dikes and rivers, drying and platting them into mats and carpets.
He then turned his attention to the river and set about restoring the derelict oyster beds in Butley Creek. Oysters had been cultivated there since Roman times and had a fine reputation but the trade had died in the late 19th century. Despite being warned by local people that if he wanted to lose all his money, oysters were a good way to do it, he started laying down oysters from Portugal, which grew and fattened very well.
At the same time, being a keen fisherman, he caught some large sea trout off Orford beach. Not knowing what to do with them, he began to experiment with smoking in a disused compartment at the end of his cottage. The results were so good that he decided to buy some salmon and the smoking business grew from there. He developed a unique system of burning whole oak logs - a system which has been refined but hardly changed to this day.
In the mid 60s he decided to open a small restaurant for people to try these products and so the Butley Orford Oysterage began. In the 40 years since then it has involved successive generations of the Pinney family. The restaurant has moved to larger premises in Orford's pretty market square and the small shope at the back is about to move again to new premises right on Orford Quay. Many of the fish sold are caught with our own fishing boats. Daily landings include cod, bass, sole, skate, lobster and crabs, according to the season.
The smokehouses are still situated at Butley Creek next to the oyster beds. Trout, mackerel, cod roe, wild and farmed salmon, kippers and eels are among the products that are smoked every day, for the shop, restaurant and for our growing wholesale deliveries.The oysters grown now are the Pacific variety which thrive in the healthy oyster growing environment that makes Butley Creek such a special area.
Harvey and I chewed the cud for a couple of hours about the many challenges and opportunities facing producers such as Pinney's: how to start to sell through local Co-op supermarkets without upsetting long serving independent delis and farm shops; the decline of farmers markets for producers; the demise of Framlingham's landmark deli and general grocers, Carley & Webb, who've shut after over 100 years of trading; and the potential impact of Waitrose's announcement to open in Saxmundham in May on the site of Somerfield - all subjects worthy of their own blog.
The upshot of it all is that Food Safari will work with Pinney's to offer some behind-the-scenes tours of the oysterbeds and smokehouse at Butley Creek. You'll see for yourself the smoking process and get as close as you can (without actually going under water) to the oysterbeds and hear more about what fish are landed daily by the family's own boats. After the tour we'll head back to the the restaurant in Orford for a seafood lunch. The first event will be on May 30th to mark the launch of the new shop on Orford Quay. Visit our Food Safari web site for full details.