Five miles apart in rural Oxfordshire are the villages of Watlington and Wallingford. In both of these small communities, villagers have shaped their own high street by backing two local businesses: Five Little Pigs in Wallingford, and Orange Bakery in Watlington. “What really matters to both Aimee and myself is community,” explains Kitty Tait, the co-founder of Orange Bakery. “We have this shared principle, which is why we get on so well.”
Aimee Hunt is the co-owner of Five Little Pigs, a bustling bistro named after former Wallingford resident Agatha Christie’s 1942 detective novel. The business – which Aimee co-owns with locals Rob McGregor and Sam Smith – was crowd-funded in 2021 by a Kickstarter campaign that raised just over £50,000. “It’s just such a great way of monetising community support,” Aimee explains. “Plus you’re not at the mercy of banks the whole time.” They took over a light, bright premises on the high street, opening their doors in 2021 just as Covid restrictions were lifted. They now serve an evolving menu of locally-sourced, modern European small plates that are guided by sustainability and seasonality.
Kitty also crowd-funded her bakery, which she runs with her father, Al Tait who, in 2019, quit his job as a teacher to bake beside his daughter four mornings a week. They too relied on local support to open Orange Bakery, successfully raising a total of £10,000.
Aimee’s career began with feeding friends, then friends of friends, before she eventually got fed up “always having food in my domestic kitchen that no one was allowed to eat!” She rented a kitchen in the commercial space beneath her flat and decided to add a couple of tables in the window. “I thought, if no one turns up, that’s fine, because I’ll be busy fulfilling catering orders out back,” she says. “But for the first two years, I didn't have time to do any outside catering because people kept turning up.”
Kitty’s route into baking was entirely unplanned. As a 14-year-old, she began to struggle with anxiety and depression. “I couldn't go to school – I couldn't function. I just couldn't go through those motions anymore,” recalls Kitty, who is now 18. Her family’s support was immeasurable, but “nothing seemed to work.”
Everything changed when Kitty watched her father bake a plain white loaf following a simple, no-knead method. “In that moment, I just fell in love with how this gloopy dough, given a little time, could turn into something amazing,” she says. “It just felt like maybe, that's what my mind could do.” Six months later, they opened Orange Bakery.
Today, every Saturday there is a queue of people waiting outside her door. Within 90 minutes of opening, the bread counter is bereft of her classic sourdoughs, flavoured breads (her favourite being sesame and miso) and seven types of pastries and buns, including cinnamon buns, marmite and cheese swirls, pain suisse and Chelsea buns. “I used to be very anti the Chelsea bun,” Kitty admits, “but we received a lot of requests for them, so I decided to do them my way by adding thin slices of crispy apple and soaking the raisins in garam masala and tea so they are really lovely and plump.”
The duo – who discovered each other through a local food magazine – clearly have the support of their villagers and, as well as a shared respect for the community they serve, they are both committed to showcasing “what other people can do”. For Aimee, this commitment is evidenced each day on every plate through the suppliers she uses. “We have the most phenomenal producers around here,” she says. “For a start, I’ve got Kitty’s bread …”
Aimee’s commitment to using sustainably sourced ingredients is wholehearted. They use two local cheesemakers – Norton & Yarrow and Nettlebed Creamery, whose whey they take as a byproduct. Their meat is from Calnan Brothers in Watlington, who source their meat locally from the Cotswolds. Aimee even has a supplier known affectionately as “Pete the rabbit killer” who sporadically “drops bunnies off at the door.” Trouts are caught and smoked at the trout farm ten miles away in East Hendred.
The fruit and veg served at Five Little Pigs is grown organically by Mark Stevenson who owns The Clays – a market garden on the edge of nearby Warborough. “It’s from him that I've gained a really good understanding of how difficult and soul-destroying farming on any scale can be,” explains Aimee. “And the best thing about that relationship is the story we can pass on to our customers.” Everything chalked up on the menu is subject to the vagaries of the season and the suppliers. If a crop succumbs to slugs or a batch of cheese fails, the dishes will necessarily change.
As well as bunnies, Aimee is open to unannounced deliveries of local gluts. The recent appearance of a box of new-season Jerusalem artichokes has resulted in the creation of a fleeting small plate in which some are whole-roasted until “tender and fudgy” and others are “whizzed into a silk-smooth purée.” The dish is finished with “foraged three-cornered leek oil and preserved lemon sauce.”
Foraged ingredients also appear behind the bar, where local finds are steeped, distilled or transformed into glowing tinctures or unusual syrups. A recent addition to the seasonal cocktail list is the nocino sour, which is based on Aimee’s homemade green walnut liqueur. “After being picked and halved, the green walnuts are steeped in vodka for six months or so,” Aimee explains. “Slowly the drink takes on an inky black colour with a touch of verdant green. It is then strained and sweetened with demerara syrup and aromatised with bitters before being bottled.”
Over at the bakery, Kitty wants to showcase the community that showed her such great support in the beginning. She has just recently started training willing members of Wallington. “We’ve got four really lovely local customers who have been there since the beginning, who each do a day and a half a week for us now. They are only a month in, and already they are nailing the croissant dough,” she says, proudly.
Each Friday, Kitty has a break from the ovens to focus on her latest initiative – her “breaducation programme.” After her book, Breadsong – which is part memoir, part recipe book – was published, Kitty felt compelled to help more beginners into baking. A new, equally successful crowdfunding initiative ensued and Kitty is now able to sell no-knead starter kits at the bakery. Each kit sold pays for another kit to be sent out to local schools, prisons and community groups free of charge.
Just as our conversation is drawing to a close, Aimee dashes out to check the rolls she has in the oven – a batch of Kitty's Herby Butter Rolls that will soon be appearing on lunch tables at Five Little Pigs. “They look fine,” she says. “They're quite resilient to be honest.” Both women, it would seem, are following the right recipe.
Kitty Tait’s Herby Butter Rolls for Five Little Pigs
500g strong white bread flour
3g dried yeast
A handful of three-cornered leeks and fresh herbs
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
Melted butter for brushing once baked
1. Pop all your ingredients into a bowl and mix into a shaggy dough, Pop a cover over the top and leave anywhere from 8 - 24 hours.
2. Scoop your dough out onto a floured surface, divide into 14 chunks, roll each chunk into a ball and place on a baking tray to prove for 1 hour. Preheat your oven to 220c and bake for 15 minutes until golden.
3. Blitz three-cornered leeks and herbs in a food processor, adding rapeseed oil until it gets to dripping consistency.
4. Melt your butter in a pan and add the herby mixture, then brush over the buns as soon as they come out. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before eating!
Interview by Nell Card.
Photographs by Camilla Greenwell.