Christmas at Abbots Hill

PUBLISHED: 13:36 11 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:15 20 February 2013

Christmas at Abbots Hill

Christmas at Abbots Hill

Turning a dilapidated farmhouse into a family home and cookery school has been a labour of love for Lesley Waters and her husband Tim, she invited Peter Booton to join her as they prepare for a proper Dorset Christmas

Moving from a fabulous old manor house to a dilapidated farmhouse may seem an unlikely move to most people, but for celebrity chef and regular Dorset contributor Lesley Waters and her family it was the logical next step. We featured their previous home at Evershot back in December 2006. Five years on we visited Lesley, her husband Tim Macpherson and their two children, Isaac and Scout, at their new home near Halstock to find out about the move and what Christmas holds in store for them this year.

Lesley takes up the story. After The Old Manor at Evershot we rented an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere to see what it would be like to be more remote. Six months later we went looking for a suitable property. We wanted somewhere old, with a little bit of land, and something remote. An estate agent showed them Abbots Hill Farm. It was the first property they looked at. It was such a funny old place but it had a feel to it and the views were amazing. We both loved the old farmhouse even though it was in terrible condition and hadnt been lived in for two years. There was no central heating, only a coal fired stove in the sitting room. We were looking for a project and my God wed found one! she laughs.

They bought the farmhouse with nine acres of land in October 2008. Tim worked like a Trojan for two months, doing stuff like painting, digging and re-pointing the brickwork so that the builders could get on with their work. They did an amazing job. Our priorities were a heating boiler, log burners and hot water. Tim even fitted out a temporary kitchen for me. It was so small you couldnt get a cat in, let alone swing one. We painted everything white and put down just cheap carpets to make the place liveable and clean.

While the initial work was under way the family stayed in rented accommodation until January 2009 when they moved into the farmhouse. It was bitterly cold as Lesley recalls, Fortunately the house has thick walls and when it warmed up we were as cosy as toast.

Abbots Hill clearly had considerable potential and its new owners were quick to realise this at the outset. An old barn adjoining the house would, when converted, be an ideal location for Lesleys cookery school. There were a number of sizeable outbuildings too, which could prove useful in future. Wed always wanted to find something self-contained, explains Lesley. At Abbots Hill we have the space to grow gently and slowly.

Another disused and solidly built barn stood a short distance from the house and at right-angles to it. Tim visualised the barn being converted to living space and joined to the house by an oak framed, single-storey extension, walled with full height glass doors to maximise light gain. This would serve as the dining room and provide a link between what would be a drawing room in the converted barn and a spacious new kitchen in the extended farmhouse.

Three years later with the farmhouse extension and barn conversion complete, Lesley has a superb new kitchen fitted with solid oak units, designed and made by Green Man Woodworks in Middlemarsh, a black Aga she lovingly calls my black beast, and the walk-in larder shed always wanted.

When it came to designing the kitchen I was very specific, says Lesley, who has featured on numerous television cookery programmes. I didnt want it to look kitcheny, which everyone laughed at. But I did want it to look really warm and friendly and practical, because Im a very practical person. Im not into all the gadgets and didnt want my kitchen full of them. As long as Ive got a good stove and some sharp knives Im rocking! There is also a conventional oven, she points out. Not everyones got an Aga and so when we test recipes its important to have a conventional oven too.

Above the kitchen in the newly extended part of the house is a wonderfully light and spacious master bedroom offering superb panoramic views of the surrounding West Dorset countryside. A familiar feature here is the large ornate rococo bed which Lesley and Tim brought from The Old Manor. We both love the mix of old and new, enthuses Lesley. The shabby wooden doors dividing the family room in the converted barn from the dining room represent a gradual transition from new to old.

There is still work to be done in the original part of the house and, outside, plans are afoot to increase the number of raised beds for vegetables, which Tim has built with old railway sleepers, from two to eight. Gardening doesnt come naturally to me, admits Lesley. So Ill need a bit of help. Theres nothing like digging up your own carrots, beetroot and potatoes, as well as having lettuce all through the summer. It makes total sense to do a lot of that here so we can be self-sufficient with the cookery school.

Lesleys latest book A Year at Abbots Hill is based around her new family home. As well as a wonderful selection of mouth-watering seasonal recipes, the book is her story of the first twelve months at Abbots Hill, suitably accompanied by photographs taken by her husband Tim who is an accomplished professional photographer. Weve done it out of love of Abbots Hill, because we felt it deserved a book, explains Lesley. Weve also dedicated it to our children for getting through the mud and mess. They were wonderful!

Christmas this year, says Lesley, will be a much more comfortable occasion than the first one they celebrated in the old farmhouse when they were living in a virtual building site. All our family and friends are coming to us, beams Lesley. Itll be turkey and baked gammon with all the trimmings on Christmas Day. Were a very traditional family, she admits. My father buys the turkey, my sister brings the gammon and everyone helps. Dad peels the potatoes, Mum makes the gravy because hers is the best Tim opens the wine and Ill be drinking the champagne! Tim adds, She works really hard actually, and wont rest.

Lesley continues. On Boxing Day we all go for a big walk and when we come back we drink wine and have a cheesefest with all kinds of cheese known to mankind. I do a homemade pear, tamarind and date chutney to go with them. I really do love Christmas, she affirms, with a broad smile. U

Useful Contacts

Building Services: Raymond Eversden Construction, Whitfield Farm House, Bradford Peverell, Dorchester DT2 9SL, 01305 264460.

Kitchen Makers: Green Man Woodworks (Cabinet making and bespoke joinery)

Unit 3, The Old Saw Mills, Middlemarsh, DT9 5QW, 01300 345436.

Architect: David Wren - Architectural Technologist, Greenacres, Bradford Peverell, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 9SW. Tel: 01305 263883.

Lesley Waters Cookery School

The Lesley Waters Cookery School at Abbots Hill opens in Spring 2012. Courses will include; Domestic Diva, Men Only, Wine and Food courses, special Masterclass Days and a new course for real beginners. As well as demonstration days well be doing much more hands-on because most people actually want to cook rather than watch, says Lesley. To find out more about joining Lesley to cook around her kitchen table visit

Parsnip and Chilli Soup with Cardamom Crumbs

For a sweet and velvety soup I look no further than a few mud encrusted parsnips. When it comes to flavouring for the winter, gutsy if the rule. Garlic is great, and herbs such as rosemary, black pepper and spices help with the warming process even more

Serves 6

2tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 small leek, chopped

1 red chilli

700g parsnips, peeled and chopped

1 lime, zest only

1 litre vegetable stock

150ml double cream (optional)

For the Crumbs

25g butter

7 cardamom pods, crushed and seeds removed

115g fresh white breadcrumbs

40g roasted, salted cashew nuts, finely chopped


1 Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onion, leek and chilli for 5 minutes until softened. Add the parsnips, lime zest, stir well and cook for 2 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

2 Remove chilli from soup, split in half and remove the seeds and stalk.Liquidize the soup in a blender with the chilli until smooth.

3 Return the soup to a clean pan and add the cream (if using). Stir well, season to taste and heat through gently.

4 To make the crumbs: melt the butter in a large non-stick frying pan. Stir in the cardamom seeds and cook for 30 seconds. Add the breadcrumbs, cashews and fry, stirring frequently for 5 minutes until golden and crispy.

Serve the soup topped with the crispy crumbs.

Roasted Salt and Pepper Pears

Sweet and savoury, these pears are perfect with air-dried ham and a platter of cheeses

Serves 6

6 ripe, Williams pears

2tsp cracked black pepper

6tsp caster sugar

1tsp sea salt

5tbsp cider vinegar

2 tblps olive oil


1 Preheat the oven to 200ËšC, 400Ëš F, Gas 6. Peel, half and core the pears and lay in a roasting tray cut side up.

2 Place the pepper, sugar and salt in a small bowl and mix well together. Scatter over the pears. Drizzle over the cider vinegar, olive oil and 2tbsp water.

3 Roast in the oven for 25 minutes. Remove tray from oven and turn the pears over, drizzle over a further 3 tablespoons water and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes until pears are golden and tender.

4 Serve the pears warm on a platter with marinated goats cheese (see next recipe to make your own) and air-dried ham.

Marinated Feta Cheese

This is so quick and easy to do and the results are impressive.

Serves 6

350g Fiesta Woolsery feta cheese

4 garlic cloves, peeled and bruised

handful of small sage leaves

150ml extra virgin olive oil

black pepper


Place the cheese and garlic cloves in a Kilner jar or airtight container and sprinkle over the chillies. Roughly tear the sage leaves and scatter over the cheese. Drizzle over the olive oil and season with black pepper. Leave to marinate overnight in the fridge if possible or for an hour at room temperature. Serve the cheese with the roasted salt and pepper pears.

Posh Fruit and Nut

These posh chocs are wonderful as a Christmas gift, just wrap it up with a pretty bow.

Serves 6 to 8

600g dark chocolate

85g milk chocolate

55g white chocolate

50g hazelnuts, toasted

50g pistachio nuts

50g selection dried cherries and berries


1 Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Place the dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate into separate heatproof bowls. Place each bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir with a spatula until chocolate has melted. Remove from heat and leave to cool for 5 minutes.

2 Pour the dark chocolate onto the tray and smooth out with a spatula. Using a teaspoon, drizzle over the milk chocolate and swirl into the dark chocolate. Then decorate the surface with nuts and fruit.

3 Make a paper cone with parchment paper and half fill with the melted white chocolate. Pipe the chocolate over the top of the fruit and nuts and leave to set.

A Year at

Abbots Hill

All these delicious recipes are taken from Lesleys new book A Year at Abbots Hill which is available from Lesleys Cookery School at Abbots Hill. The usual retail price is 18.99 (plus 3 P&P) but Dorset magazine readers can get it for 16.99 (plus 3 P &P). The first 50 copies ordered will be signed by Lesley. To order a copy email or call 0844 800 4633. More details can be found at

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