When Annie and Sam Hanbury found their new home near Bridport came with a ramshackle but highly productive market garden there seemed only one solution to what to do with all those raspberries, apples, pears, medlars, blackcurrants and gooseberries – make ice cream.
Lots of ice cream.
‘The garden had been abandoned,’ says Annie. ‘We had to hack our way through bushes in order to pick the raspberries, but they were the most amazing raspberries. Still are. That garden supplies all our raspberries.’
Within months of moving to Dorset with their four children Ivan, Nikolai, Tintin and Katya, from Asia where she and Sam had worked in finance and ran their own companies, Annie enrolled at the Gelato University in Bologna and learned the science of ice cream making from master gelatieres. Back in Dorset she spent a year perfecting recipes and in 2016 Baboo Gelato began trading.
It now has kiosks at West Bay and Lyme Regis and is available through a network of 70-odd delicatessens, farm shops and restaurants. As flavours go Baboo is very much of the moment.
‘We have found the Dorset food community very welcoming and incredibly supportive of one another. There is room for lots of different traders each doing things their own way and people quite genuinely help each other out.
‘There’s a real energy about the Dorset food scene and I’m sure it’s because it’s isolated from London – people don’t come here and then go to work in London, but we all have to make a living so why not look to the amazing resources we have here, the land, the fruit, dairy, veg and so on?’
Baboo – the name is a tribute to Annie’s Russian grandmother who taught her to cook (‘babushka’ is grandmother in Russian) – has a string of regional food awards to its name and a repertoire of thirty-one flavours with more on the way. As well as gelato, there is a range of sorbets, coated, rippled and layered lollies and four flavours of ‘baboos’ – balls of ice cream (coconut, salted caramel) or sorbet (raspberry, passion fruit) hand dipped in dark chocolate.
Annie’s recipes are meticulously recorded on spreadsheets so that every one can be made the same way every time. Ice cream making is a precision business it seems.
‘Oh yes, definitely,’ she says. ‘It’s not like cooking where you can add a bit of this or a little of that, when you make ice cream everything has to be in balance. You have to blend water, sugar, fat and protein to make the actual ice cream – too much fat and it will freeze too hard, too much sugar and it will be too soft – but also in the flavouring as a little more of one thing will affect the taste of another. It’s a very scientific process.’
Indeed. Not that anyone at Baboo makes a big fuss about the distinction – it’s all ice cream after all – but authentic Italian gelato is served slightly warmer than traditional ice cream. It’s also denser and softer because it doesn’t contain as much air, fat or sugar.
Baboo is far more concerned about using local seasonal ingredients. Its milk comes from an organic herd that’s less than ten miles away from the company’s Salway Ash headquarters with its busy kitchen and Annie’s recipe lab. The milk is high in fat so doesn’t need a lot of added cream and the herd’s diet of lush grasses, herbs and flowers gives the milk a richer flavour.
‘We went for a visit during the height of the summer heat and the farmer had brought the herd under cover and was blowing cold air over the cows – as a measure of how well the animals are looked after that makes us very happy.
‘This summer we managed to get a thousand kilos of strawberries from the farm at Forde Abbey. Their flavour was superb and we puréed them so they can be kept, but once they’re gone they’re gone. We don’t use flavour pastes so we don’t guarantee absolute consistency of flavour.’
Neither will Baboo be making a feature of wild and crazy recipe combinations created to challenge customers and generate publicity.
‘We had a B&B that asked us to make egg and bacon ice cream to serve for breakfast but I said no. However, I did formulate a toast and marmalade flavour for them and they’ve been very happy with that. River Cottage asked us to make cardamom ice cream, which worked very well for them, and I want to perfect a toffee apple flavour for Halloween.
‘I’m also working on a popcorn recipe, I’m about halfway there, and we keep getting asked for bubblegum. I’ve always said I wouldn’t do it because there’s nothing natural about that flavour, but I’ve found I can make that tutti-frutti taste with bananas, oranges and lemons with beetroot juice to make it pink. Whether kids will accept a bubblegum flavour that’s natural remains to be seen.’
Puddings, cocktails and customer requests have inspired other recipes, but the Baboo repertoire also includes the intriguing named Flu Buster – a frozen cold remedy perhaps?
‘People used to tell me they didn’t eat ice cream in winter because they had colds or whatever so Flu Buster is for them. It’s a sorbet made with lemon and orange juice for vitamin C, honey for the throat and a kick of ginger and cayenne to open the airways.’
Future plans include more outlets and bigger premises, but Annie’s vision for Baboo harks back to the place that inspired for the whole venture – the Island Creamery ice cream parlour near where the family lived in Singapore.
‘It’s a wonderful place, a real community hub for local people. We used to visit with the children most Sundays on the way back from walks in the park. Kids would go there to do their homework and if they brought their granny she got a free ice cream, there was always something going on.
‘I’m hoping Baboo can achieve a similar sense of community and people do come and meet at the kiosks to a certain degree, perhaps more so in the winter when we only open at weekends. We have lots of schools and local groups visiting the kitchen and lab, we sponsor the Lyme Splash Water Polo Championships and a kids’ football team in Bridport.
‘We’re building something here and always looking for ways we can give back to the community.’
• First published by Dorset Life – The Dorset Magazine