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Food blogger Elinor Hill, aka the Beach Hut Cook, loves to rustle up cocktails and family feasts by the seaside. She lives in East Sussex and shares her beach hut-inspired recipes at beachhutcook.com, or follow her on Instagram @beachhutcook.
Have you always lived by the sea?
No, but when we returned from Germany with two young boys in 2006, where my husband had been working, we got a string out and worked out the nearest coastline from his new job – it was Bexhill. We got our first very small beach hut there soon after moving. Since then, we’ve upgraded to a bigger hut on the shingle.
It must be a challenge cooking in a shed...
You’re out in nature so it could be a disaster, or a great success! Everything takes a lot longer than conventional cooking, especially when cooking over fire, but you’re wonderfully distracted by the sea and laughter around you. We have friends over, my sons (now 19 and 22) and their girlfriends, and we all chop together.
So is your space like a camping kitchen?
Inside the hut, there’s just a gas cooker. It was always a single burner but recently we’ve replaced it with two burners and a grill. Our house is 350 metres from the beach so we transport our ingredients in a wicker trolley I found in a local junk shop. Outside the hut, there are tables, deck chairs and a fire pit. We stay up all hours and just keep throwing logs on. We use the cuttings from the apple and cherry trees in our garden, as these smell heavenly.
What sort of food suits outdoor dining?
You need to keep it simple. On the fire pit, my favourites are things like paella, which you can cook in a large flat pan, or fish cooked in wet newspaper. I think food that ‘feeds the eyes’ is important – I like serving everything on big platters. It’s more relaxed.
How did you get into cooking?
My mum was a great cook. There were three kids and Dad was always working. My sister would look after the grill, I’d lay the table. It was simple food but it tasted good. When she died, I lost the desire to feed people. But when we got the hut, I’d write a list, then shop and a recipe would evolve. I started my blog as a place to keep the recipes. The process became a way of talking to her.
So this is partially therapeutic for you?
Oh yes. What’s beautiful is this place never sits still. It can be empty at dusk, when everyone is going home, but in the midday sun, it’s full. The best time is when everyone stays for the sunset. We get out loads of blankets and cushions – it’s so peaceful.
Do you forage much for your ingredients?
We do a lot of shrimping. My husband is the best, the rest of us get distracted by the fun of the waves. We also enjoy making cocktails from picked ingredients. Herbs like mint, basil and rosemary are a simple way of adding flavour and colour. On a summer’s day, cocktails add an injection of glamour and it’s wonderful drinking one, watching the boats sailing past.
Are your dishes just for the beach?
No, you could do this with an outdoor fire at home, or camp stove on a camping trip, or festival. But mainly, whether camping or on the beach, keep things achievable. It’s more about the coming together to enjoy good people and food. Life is short, so spend time with those you love.