Yet, as a condition for our interview, she requested anonymity. She could not be photographed. She could not be named (Linda Riley is not her real name). Such exposure, she feared, could land her and her customers in court and liable to up to pounds 20,000 in fines.
Her crime? She bakes and sells cakes in a traditional manner. Most home cooks would recognise her staple ingredients: Home Pride flour, fresh eggs from a supermarket, Tate & Lyle Barbados or castor sugar, and so on.
But she is more than a home cook. As a teenager she trained at a college of domestic science. In her twenties she was assistant cookery editor of a leading food magazine, then taught in a London cookery school for two years before marrying a financial adviser and setting up home.
Four years ago she had some spare time and began baking cakes for craft-centre cafes, historic houses and local coffee shops. She and her son even took a 15-week sugar craft course together, learning how to make elaborate rosettes. This enabled them to do wedding cakes, which could sell for as much as pounds 400.
Her kitchen is immaculate, but a far cry from the stainless-steel labyrinths of professional kitchens. It is warm and homely, and betrays its professionalism only by having three ovens.
At the height of her business, Mrs Riley would have needed all three. She had begun baking for pocket money, but her cakes were so popular that she was earning between pounds 12,000 and pounds 18,000 a year. Now, as her husband nears retirement, her cake revenue is becoming an ever more important part of the family income.
So, two years ago, it made sense to spend pounds 8,000 on a new kitchen, one that would comply with Department of Health and local authority regulations for licensed food premises. It had stronger lighting, a double-drainer sink, a waste-disposal unit and two extractor fans. She replaced her worktops, floor and ceiling in regulation washable materials. Chairs were re-covered in vinyl so they, too, were washable. She and her son took a hygiene course, which, she says, 'taught all this yucky nonsense, like how to defrost a chicken.'
Her son adds: 'They told us to wash our hands after going to the toilet. And they seemed to be experimenting with steel-tipped Doc Martens to be worn in the kitchen, in case you dropped a knife on your toe.'
They got the certificate of training, which hangs in the kitchen, and registered with their local authority as an official food premises. Last December, an environmental health officer arrived to inspect the kitchen. 'He said that, because I had a washing machine, I could only do low-risk food, with no raw dairy, so I stopped doing my gooey desserts - roulades and the like,' she says.
Then, in February, the new Food Safety Act came into force. A Department of Health spokesman says this should not have affected Mrs Riley. Regulations governing premises such as hers, he says, have hardly changed since the Food Hygiene General Regulations of 1970.
But in June, another environmental health inspector - this time a woman - came to review the kitchen. 'She gave me this list,' says Mrs Riley. 'She didn't want me using fresh eggs. She wanted me to switch to something called 'liquid sterilised eggs'. But if I did use fresh eggs, I would have to crack the egg into a cup, throw away the shell, wash my hands with a product called Dettox, wash the counter with Dettox and repeat the process for each egg. You can't make a cake that way]'
Dettox, an anti-bacterial cleaner produced by Reckitt & Colman, manufacturers of Dettol, was one of many new requirements on the list. 'There were to be no wooden spoons, boards or rolling-pins. I had to change glass storage jars, which can be sterilised, to plastic ones, because glass ones chip. Well, plastic ones chip, too, and they hold the flavour of whatever you put in them. And I was to wear white overalls, with pockets on the inside.
'I was to put in three sinks, because you cannot wash a lettuce leaf in a sink where you wash your hands. Every cake had to have a label on it with the sell-by date of each and every ingredient. The paperwork of it] I had to wear a hairnet, and put up fly-screens on every window. I could not use tea towels, only paper. I had to air-dry cutlery. I had to get a new fridge, because mine wasn't cold enough.'
Mrs Riley calculated that all this would cost about another pounds 3,000, and stopped baking. Three months later, a local cafe begged her simply to ignore the regulations and send over her cakes. Even a senior health and safety officer for the region told her to ignore the regulations in order to get more cakes over to the cafe of a nearby historic house.
The Department of Health says that Mrs Riley can appeal through the Local Authority Co- ordinating Body on Food and Trading Standards, but she is reluctant to have anything further to do with environmental health officers. 'If you fully register,' she says, 'they come to do a booklet on you. I can't afford pounds 3,000 every time they visit.'
The most ironic twist came when, by chance, she met the environmental health officer who had insisted on the latest improvements. 'She came up to me and said, 'Linda, are you working?' And I said, 'No, you've made it impossible.' And she said, 'Oh, well, it's not essential to have fly- screens. I think we could do it with only pounds 500. Ring me and I'll come and help you.' '
Mrs Riley did not ring. 'They make out that they want to help, but pounds 500 is pounds 500. And I don't like the sound of liquid sterilised
eggs. I make wholesome, honest cakes with wholesome, honest
Except that, just now, she has to do it illegally.
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