Tea with Silvana de Soissons
Silvana de Soissons came bustling into her shop in a wave of cheerful energy, at once leaving everyone in the room feeling jolly. She was clutching a large bag of plump croissants, freshly collected from The Thoughtful Bread Company. Silvana is the founder and editor of popular magazine and shop, The Foodie Bugle. As a long time fan, I had come to meet the effusive lady behind the success story. Disposing of formalities, she immediately welcomed me into her store as though it were a home, offering me a cup of tea and a pastry. It was clear after spending only a few minutes with Silvana that she lives with passion and possesses a genuine interest in people, something that can’t be contrived.
Silvana’s ebullience serves to confirm her Italian descent. She hails from Lombardie in Northern Italy, but spent her childhood in Eritrea, where her father was a sugar farmer. Her journey to becoming an impassioned foodie was a quick one. She describes herself at three years old visiting the famous food store Peck in Milan:
"There from the ceilings hung prosciutti, on wall to wall shelves sat plump wheels of cheese, tall jars of artichokes in oil, metal tins of Cannellini beans, slender bottles of olive oil and terracotta vats of olives, capers and anchovies. My three year old’s eyes were wide open and could scarcely take it all in. The smell of fresh Amalfi lemons, Sicilian blood oranges, San Marzano tomatoes and ripe peaches stayed with me."
And thus a foodie was born. Growing up in an Italian family meant that fresh, simple and homemade food was central to Silvana’s daily life. She frequently sites her mother as the inspiration behind her passion for cooking.
She came to the UK thirty-five years ago to study Economics at Bath University. Naturally, Silvana embraced her new life with gusto. After a stint working in Capital Markets in the City of London, she turned her back on the corporate world in favour of food. In 2011, she created The Foodie Bugle Blog, using it as a platform to write about artisan food production and the slow food movement. She wanted to feature ordinary people in rural areas. Her honest and relatable writing voice quickly garnered a loyal following. After popular demand the blog evolved into a printed magazine. Next came a pop up shop selling artisanal home wares, which proved so successful that in 2014 she set up a permanent shop on Margaret Street in Bath.
The Foodie Bugle has since relocated and now sits at number 2 Abbey Street. Silvana enthusiastically tells me that the building in which the new shop resides dates back to the 1700’s and has been functioning as a store for the majority of that time. It seems fitting that it's right around the corner from the spectacular Bath Abbey and the iconic Roman Baths. The history of Bath is rich, living and important to the present. It’s this philosophy that’s so central to Silvana’s ethos as an independent business owner in this deeply historical city. She is a strident campaigner for small, family owned enterprises in the face of corporate chains, and is intent on preserving the unique personality of independent Bath.
I could linger in The Foodie Bugle for hours, chatting to Silvana, perusing the wares, wandering through the warren of light-filled rooms and eating slice after slice of delicious bake well tart. The shelves are decked with vintage kitchenalia, artisanal chocolate, Irish linens, beeswax candles, handcrafted stationery and beautifully drawn botanical sketches. Silvana focuses on selling useful, functional and simple goods; and every corner is punctuated by her signature style.
I’m a devoted fan, not only of the wares, but also of this tireless shopkeeper and I know every future trip to Bath will involve a visit to The Foodie Bugle.
Silvana kindly contributed her delicious recipe for La Torta al Pistacchio. It’s what I would describe as a cheerful cake with an Italian flair, much like Silvana herself.
La Torta al Pistacchio – Pistachio cake (Serves 6 people)
Ingredients 270 g. unsalted butter (Silvana uses Rachel’s Farm or Yeo Valley organic butter) 1 unwaxed lemon 1 vanilla pod or vanilla bean paste (Silvana uses Taylor and Colledge) 100g. blanched almonds 120 g. pistachio nuts 250 g. caster sugar ( Silvana uses Billington’s unrefined cane sugar) 4 free range eggs 40 g. plain flour (Silvana uses Alimonti 00 Italian flour)
For the topping 100 g. Pistacchio nuts Icing sugar ( Silvana uses Billington’s unrefined icing sugar)
1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. Butter and line a loaf tin of 30 cm. by 9 cm and 8 cm. deep.
2. Soften the remaining butter, grate the lemon zest, scrape the vanilla seeds out of the pod, beat the eggs till pale, finely grind the pistachio nuts and almonds in a food processor together.
3. Beat the butter and the sugar till light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one by one, add the zest, vanilla seeds or vanilla paste, fold in the nuts and the flour.
4. Spoon the cake mix into the lined tin, spread it all flat, tap the tin on a surface to eliminate and gaps, place the tin on a baking tray. Position the tin in the centre of the oven, and bake for 1 hour, or slightly more.
5. Test the cake by pressing two fingers on its middle, and if the top “springs back” at you and feels firm, the cake is done. Leave to cool slightly in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack.
6. When completely cooled, dust the top of the cake with icing sugar, and sprinkle finely chopped pistachio nuts on the surface.