The Pheasant Philosophises; part 2

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A couple of weeks ago I trawled my county (and adjacent ones) searching for the best produce I could find to fill my fridge and cupboard for the week ahead. Today I went to a supermarket and it was as though I saw it all with new eyes. I was disgusted by the rows of processed rubbish- filled refined carbohydrate based foods, pesticide covered veg and dubious meat. As I was with my son, who at 11 still has the odd craving for Doritos and Cereal (in between demands for goats cheese and olives), I decided to do a bit of a test. Telling a child that something is bad for them never seems to put them off, in my experience anyway, so I resolved to encourage a little bit of self-education. We put a pack of Doritos in the trolley and compared the ingredients to the most basic tortilla chips available in the shop, for price comparison it was £1.40 vs 45p. He read the ingredients with an ever changing expression of horror, by the time he got to MSG which he knows is not good he was thoroughly put off and returned the product to the shelf. He then took up the, unappealingly plain, packaged Tortilla Chips; ingredients Maize, Rapeseed Oil and salt. “It’s a no-brainer Mum” , he said as he put them back in the trolly.

Which got me thinking; why do people assume that the value brands are rubbish? In a society where there are people struggling to make ends meet, why do so many buy branded products. I have watched programs on the television about people learning to get by on benefits and often they fill their trolley with brands believing that you pay for quality – which you do, but really only when there is a greater divide; an organic chicken and a basic chicken for example. But when it comes to basics versus own brand I don’t see a big difference and often the basics ingredients list is far more transparent and uses far fewer (unnecessary) ingredients hidden behind their chemical names.

But, as a consumer, you must remember that shops always place their value ranges below eye level forcing you to look a bit harder. I fully believe that even those on a low budget should be able to feed their families well, and the very basics such as pasta, rice and flour are not expensive. Perhaps look towards vegetarian options or make use of sustainably sourced tinned fish; a little goes a long way! And finally do a bit of planning, if you know what you’re having on each day it’s much easier to stick to a budget.

Daylesford Harvest Festival – Organic in bundles!

I have always been intrigued by the Daylesford brand and have intended on paying them a visit for quite some time. Last weekend, I found the perfect excuse as they were holding their annual Harvest Festival. It was a lovely day out and although the day began a little gloomy, the sun shone on Daylesford.

Without doubt, Daylesford is marketed towards a certain type of person; its shops and ethos have been criticised for being elitist but I found it quite lovely. It is like entering a magical world where nothing is wrong, almost like Marie-Antoinette’s Petit Trianon with its pre-wiped hen’s eggs for collection and its beribboned lambs. Daylesford is geared towards those to aspire to the country life. Everything is exceptional quality and the prices reflect this, however they also reflect the ‘behind the scenes’ effort which goes into the food, products and service offered by Daylesford.

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Owned by Lady Bamford of JCB fame, and located on the Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire border between Stow-on-the-Wold and Moreton-in-Marsh , in the heart of the Cotswolds,  it is one of the most sustainable working farms in the country. Fully organic, Daylesford comprises the working farm, holiday cottages, cookery school, original farm shop, restaurant, cafe, lifestyle shops, spa and nursery. The Daylesford branding is everywhere, which is strangely comforting and provides effortless continuity. Granted, some of the prices (especially in the clothing department) were eye-watering for mere mortals but the food hall was an absolute delight. I was extremely impressed by the chilled cheese room which offers dozens of cheeses including their own Single Gloucester, Double Gloucester, Blue and a Camembert-style cheese, all of which were excellent. The butchery and fish counters were impeccably presented and offered a rich variety of produce, predominantly from the farm (although of course not the fish!)

It being an open day, we enjoyed visiting the animals and learning about the different rare and historic breeds which make up the Daylesford livestock. There were sheepdog trials, cray-fish catching, donkey patting….everything shouted ‘true country living’ (although quite a number of their clientele had driven up from Town and were a little under equipped for the muddy fields!).

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I have to say, Daylesford is ‘well done’, its sister shops in London are stocked with the same superior quality ingredients as the Farm Shop and everything feels fresh and good for you (even the cakes). I didn’t dine in the restaurant as it was extremely full (although I full intend to return soon) but took the opportunity to indulge in a ‘smart’ takeaway – their wood-fired oven was offering glistening mozzarella and salami covered organic pizzas which looked delicious, however we chose the slow-cooked pulled beef with ‘slaw in an organic roll. Eaten in the sunshine with a cold bottle of their own cider it was idyllic, although extremely busy. The day finished with the purchase of a few delicious pastries, made in the on-site bakery; and a bag full of sumptuous cheeses, organic milk and a rather super organic mint jelly.

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Daylesford should be billed as an experience; I’d recommend a weekend away in one of their beautiful holiday cottages (which form the bulk of the original farmhouse) – you’re but a few steps away from a delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner – indulge in a treatment in the spa, sip a coffee on the Cotswold stone terrace or sign up to a masterclass or day course at the cookery school. There is a lot to do but do go with very full pockets, you may need to book up almost a year in advance due to the popularity of the holiday accommodation. All in all, it’s a place to forget about the world, forget about the credit card bill and just indulge.

The Abergavenny Food Festival Part 2: The Producers #AFF2017

 

 

PrintAs I mentioned in my earlier post, the stars of Abergavenny Food Festival are without doubt the producers. Whether nestling between the little booths or creating fine displays in the prestigious Market Hall,  the producers have an infallible passion for food and drink which is infectious and wonderful. Most are happy to chat and I unreservedly apologise, to those who are behind me in queues, for holding them up. I am a questioner; I want to know about the product, the sourcing, origin and inspiration. I’ve been privy to some wonderful tales from lost family recipe books, to accidental discoveries, to lifelong ambition; as well as meeting those farmers whose forebears have farmed for generations through difficult times; inherently believing in their crop or herd – families for whom the ‘organic’ and ‘buy local’ campaigns are finally paying off.

 

 

IMG_7331I love that there is always something new to be learnt. Food is an ever evolving subject and the little  things gleaned at such festivals can often form the basis for longer articles, recipes or books. I do feel a little guilty though, because were I to buy from every stall I taste (and enjoy) I would be empty of pocket and overly full of larder; however that is not to say that I can’t take my new found knowledge and share the products at a later date and so many companies offer internet shops or mail order these days. I always rather fantasised about those great hampers ordered from Fortnum and Mason and arriving in the Highlands, at grand houses, after spending the night as freight on those wonderful steam trains – I suppose I seek nostalgia – and having seen the creative thought which goes into much of the artisanal packaging these days I feel a return to these glory days are on the horizon, and it warms my heart!

I also get great pleasure from passing a stall with a hand-drawn ‘Sold Out, see you next year’ sign; whilst it is obviously a great accolade for the producer (who are no doubt cursing themselves for not having made enough, even though many were working on very little sleep and far too much coffee in the weeks leading up to the festival) it also demonstrates a belief in future success.

The diverse and  rich varieties of food and drink related produce to be found at festivals are a testament to the British public’s return to real, local and artisanal foods, whether it be sauces, whose recipes come from as far away as Borneo wth Sorai; delicately flavoured gin with autumnal botanicals from Sibling Distillery or a jar of Forage Fine Foods herb rub bursting with the smells and tastes of a summer meadow, there is a story and a demand – rubbed into a leg of Welsh lamb and then slowly roasted, the herb rub is absolutely exquisite.

As I wander through the markets the smells which waft about are all too tempting; from the jars of Joe and Seph’s Willy Wonkaesque popcorn, to the elegant displays of cakes, pasties, real breads and finely sliced charcuterie. The cheese market is difficult to pass through without adding at least another four cheeses to my already overladen refrigerator. This years haul, (chick in tow, who is possibly even more of a cheese lover than me) added mature yet smooth unpasteurised cheddar from Batch Farm; IMG_7492award winning firm Somerset goat’s cheese, creamy and surprisingly mild, and charmingly named ‘Rachel’ from White Lake Cheese ; the Bath Soft Cheese Company’s Wyfe of Bath, an organic Gouda inspired cheese (although there was much debate over whether to also buy their rather marvellous Bath Blue); and  finally a donation to Macmillan (sponsors M & S’ chosen charity) secured us two packets of classic soft and milky Abergavenny goat’s cheese, a fitting final choice given the location. Soft goat’s cheese is something I always have in the refrigerator, it’s my go-to topping for oatcakes, toasted sourdough or even to add  a surprising savoury lift to cheese cake.

The street food stalls at Abergavenny do encourage gluttony, however when you’re presented with everything from Taiwanese Bao Buns to the South West’s (and that’s Bristol not the U S of A, whatever image the logo may inspire) now legendary The Pickled Brisket and their outstanding salt-beef stuffed brioche rolls; chocolate dipped authentic Churros or The Guardian’s 2017 number one choice for Pizza, our own Cardiff based  The Dusty Knuckle Pizza Company.  There was hog roast, Aberaeron honey ice-cream, Legges of Bromyard’s traditional British pies, Welsh venison and even Ghanaian street food – you could have easily taken all your main meals for a fortnight and still not covered everything. Abergavenny Food Festival champions all good food, yes a lot of it is classically British, but also a lot of it stems from other cultures; many of these chefs and producers, although British born and bred, have carried with them a great passion for their ancestral cuisine and it’s rather lucky for us, that they have. DSCN0635

I could quite easily write a whole book about just one year’s festival in Abergavenny, there is so much to see and do and taste; but alas, I am forced to be content with rifling through my collection of cards, leaflets and recipes until I can match taste to name and put in my online orders. I have also been know to drive Mr D rather mad on weekend breaks when I’ve insisted on searching the lanes of some rural county (inevitably without a sat-nav signal) for a farm shop selling something of which I only half remember the name, but found absolutely delicious at Abergavenny.

Of course, I obviously am looking forward to next year’s 20th anniversary celebration but may well have to consider some sort of abstemious routine in the early days of September!

Whilst I attended the Abergavenny Food Festival as a guest, all opinions are my own as are the images.

 

 

Digging for Ancestral Roots in our Cookery…..?

I think that most of us were probably taught to cook by family members; whether Mum, Dad, Grandparents, Great-Grandparents or the more extended family. IIMG_4936 learnt a lot from my Grandmothers; though each was very different in their approach to cookery. One was very much a bake-from-scratch cook; still alive today (at 106) she taught me bread making, jam making and gravy making; she learnt all that from her mother who was born in the late 19th century. Grandma’s rubbed-in cakes and Welsh bake-stones have weathered the years and are still regularly baked in my kitchen at home. Grandma was very much a wartime wife; she embraced rationing, skinned rabbits and ‘made do and mended’.

My other Grandmother, Nan, born in 1922 and sadly no longer with us, was a classic 1950’s housewife; she enjoyed convenience, loved M & S and, as she got older, rarely cooked at all, but when I was a child she would make choux pastry Chocolate Eclairs (which I’ve always considered rather complicated) and Coconut Pyramids (from the eponymous Marguerite Patten); her Beef Stew with Dumplings was always served on a plate rather than in a bowl and the trifles which adorned the birthday table were always from a packet. However, there was something she always made from scratch and which we all found rather amusing – Porridge. At home, porridge was a thick and creamy affair, adorned with honey or syrup or sultanas, it was thick and unctuous. My Nan’s on the other hand was solid, a greying cloddy mass made with half water and half milk then surrounded by another pool of cold milk. It stood like an iceberg, its undercarriage swamped and its head lightly adorned with sugar. It tasted fine, but it looked….well ‘different’! IMG_7474

It was only after doing a bit of research and talking with my Nan that I realised why this porridge was ‘different’ – and it was all down to her ancestry. My Nan made porridge that way because she had learnt it from her mother, and her mother from her mother – and that lady (all the way back in the mid-19th century) was called Florence MacDonald and was born a little way outside Inverness in 1858. Having looked into the Scottish porridge tradition I discovered that it is served, very thick, in bowls and alongside is placed a communal bowl of cream. The horn spoon goes into the porridge (which is served savoury or sweet) and then dunked in the cream. The leftover porridge was then tipped into a ‘porridge draw’ and spread about so as to set firm; this

IMG_1821was carried by crofters and workers to eat during their lunch break as it travelled more easily than oatcakes which tended to crumble.

Although, it’s likely that this was how Florence cooked and served her porridge, a gentle evolution has obviously occurred – an amalgamation of two bowls into one and the result being my Nan’s ‘different’ porridge. Having discovered this I do wonder whether I should make my porridge that bit thicker and carry on the tradition….who knows how far back it goes? I’m sure if we looked about us, we could

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 find dozens of hacks and recipes which travel deep into our family history, not all of us are lucky enough to have a family recipe notebook added to and stained and use, to carry these recipes, we just have our memories and these memories should be treasured and handed down to the next generation. In a gesture towards my heritage I do always stir my porridge with a Spurtle (the traditional carved stick-like porridge stirrer) and I only stir clockwise, superstition or tradition; you decide.

 

 

A weekend of Munching in Monmouthshire: Meeting The Sponsors @Abergavenny Food Festival 2017

Last weekend my sleepy little corner of South Wales saw over 35,000 visitors enjoying the sights, smells and tastes of good food and excellent drink. I always feel very proud of Monmouthshire when I’m walking through the stalls, battling the crowds and tasting my way through dozens of local supplier’s goodies. This year was no exception and I have to say, it was possibly the best yet!

 

In fact, I had only intended on visiting on Saturday but time ran away with me and I discovered, by 4.30, that I’d not managed to get around half of it…so a quick shifty of plans and I was back on Sunday, Little Chick in tow, to cover all bases.

When blogging about the festival, it’s very difficult to know just what to focus on. The speakers and demonstrations were all excellent; the feasts were magnificent…however, the real stars of the show were the producers; those who make a living day to day, year to year,  from their products. Abergavenny is their way of showcasing their individual, artisanal and unique produce and to introduce some of the more unfamiliar items to a wider audience, helping them thrive within an ever challenging political climate. DSCN0641.JPG

 

Politics, of course,  rarely fail to infiltrate anything ‘country’ related and this years festival was no exception. There seems to be a bit of fear (major panic) on the wind of the British Farming industry, the uncertainty of Brexit being one of the main concerns. In the Farming Matters zone of the festival there were many passionate speakers on all aspects of farming and the various interlinked industries; without doubt this will make a post on its own and (with a little more research) I hope to share my ‘take’ on the British farming industry with you all shortly.

But, back to the event itself; and where to begin?

I was extremely lucky to be invited on a short tour to meet with some of the main festival sponsors – this year’s sponsors included Riverford Organic Farmers, Belazu Ingredient Company and the  Chase Distillery.

For the first year ever the festival utilised Abergavenny’s Linda Vista Garden as a ‘wristband free’ venue – opening up more of the festival for free and allowing all visitors to share in the essence of Abergavenny Food Festival. The garden played host to our tour and proved to be a lovely, vibrant yet relaxing area and a credit to the festival.

I was extremely delighted to meet with Riverford founder Guy Watson and to discuss with him, not only Riverford’s origins but also its future as an employee run company – and of course its eco-credentials.

 

Guy is a man really passionate about veg as befits the pioneer of the organic veg box delivery system and the Riverford yurt was offering free vegetable themed cookery workshops throughout the weekend and the samples we were given were absolutely scrummy – and obviously really good for you too! Affordable, pesticide-free fruit and veg should be readily available to all and although still a little of the expensive side I hope that with greater future demand organic will become the norm, allowing our health to reap the benefits.

Next we met with one of Mediterranean deli product purveyors Belazu‘s founders,  and were given a little insight into the company which began as an olive import business over 25 years ago – Belazu has always featured in my larder. Their Rose Harissa is used in our household on a weekly basis so I was very interested to discover the lengths they go to to connect with suppliers and ensure that only the very best quality produce ends up with their Belazu branding – the demonstration by their in-house development chef was extremely interesting and the lettuce cups filled with Sea Bass tartare were not only delicious but beautiful to look at too – after all we do eat mostly with out eyes. My ancestors were very successful merchants in Georgian Bath, they sold virtually identical products to Belazu so perhaps my heart is with them on that front too!

Finally, the  Chase Distillery tasting was particularly welcome, especially as a little pick-me-up mid afternoon and I can now confirm that their Expresso Vodka is as I imagined, quite a revelation. I must visit the distillery soon and write an extended post (note to self; take a driver) but I managed to work my way through most of their current offerings and can report that the standard is still as high as ever. One of my favourite Gins of all time is the Chase Grapefruit  which can always introduce itself, through its citrus filled burst, from the other side of a crowded room – I also tried their signature Marmalade Mule, a blend of Marmalade Vodka, ginger ale and Angostura bitters; it was, as expected, sensational and something I’m definitely going to replicate at home. It always amuses me that the Single Estate Vodkas and Gins are made from Single Estate Potatoes, it seems to be the epitome of glamour and economy!

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Whilst I attended as a guest of Abergavenny Food Festival; all opinions are my own as are the images used above.

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The Abergavenny Food Festival 2017 starts with a baaaaa….ng!

 

Last night I was delighted to attend The Abergavenny Food Festival Community Feast in the old Market Hall and I have to say, I was extremely impressed. This year’s decorations were bird themed and the air was seemingly filled with owls, chickens and chicks; the vegetable bunting was genius. IMG_7260

The Community Feast is the festival’s way of saying ‘thank-you’ for all the hard work put in behind the scenes by the community to make the festival what it is. It certainly was a ‘feast’ judging by the sheer quantity of food…..

The hall certainly looked fitting for a great harvest feast and the food, in association with Abergavenny’s own Angel Bakery was delicious. We were served organic pasture-fed Black Welsh Lamb roasted with herbs and garlic, huge platters of salad, colourful basil infused Panzanella, golden-roasted whole potatoes with rosemary, sauces and gremolata and generous slices of The Angel Bakery’s fabulous sourdough to mop up the juices;

All the cutlery, plates and serving dishes were biodegradable,  adding to Abergavenny’s eco-credentials and the atmosphere was rather akin to the great village feasts in France that I enjoy every summer; it was buzzy yet intimate and I met some very interesting people.

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Pudding was an equally spectacular effort; cloud-like, Summer Fruit  Pavlovas arrived at each table and were set upon with relish. The evening’s entertainment was provided by Welsh folk band Allan Yn Y Fan and the feast was opened (after a speech from festival CEO, Aine Morris)  with two Georgian feasting songs performed by a local choir. There was also a rather interesting short talk from the ‘Abergavenny Just Food’ group who’s current manifesto focuses upon Food Justice and campaigning for a fair, affordable and sustainable food system for Wales.

The evening finished with a traditional Twmpath dance and I think we all went home extremely full and rather merry (although that was also thanks to the rather moorish red wine which, though extremely light, was deceptively strong!)

Although I attended as a guest of the festival all views and options are my own.

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The Pheasant Philosophises Part 1

I spent last Saturday on a bit of a foodie mission. I tried to prove that my theory about city folk having better access to organic and artisanal producers than we country folk (who make and farm said produce), was wrong. I have to admit that I was, in many ways, right.

I think that inherently the produce is there, but the accessibility isn’t. I started by trying to find organic vegetables. I know that Monmouth itself has one organic grower, and there are market gardens throughout the county, but how was I to get the produce, and in decent quantities. Farmer’s markets are all very well, but buying once a week or once a month, in many cases, just doesn’t offer the freshness. When I am at my house in France I can go out every day to a market and buy fruit and vegetables harvested from the fields that morning; often these are organic; sometimes they are misshapen, pesticide free and just as delicious but without the certification. This is something Britain also needs to address. Where is the middle ground produce? I know how difficult it is to get organic certification in the UK but I also think that pesticide free, naturally farmed foods should be more available; striking a balance between health and pocket.

If I wanted to do a weekly shop I would need to travel somewhere in the region of 30 miles round-and-about to collect my local meat, bread, fruit, veg and dairy. You can see why supermarkets have become so dominant in our society; it’s convenience. I believe that we supporters of local produce should rise up and demand centralised cooperatives in smaller towns, where we can buy everything under one roof,  everything being local. It would encourage new food businesses, help boost older ones and offer a choice between regional and ‘big corporation’, and support our Farming industry which is being threatened by the darkening doors of Brexit. If we choose to eat seasonally and regionally it should be available to us. I find it so disappointing that if I lived in London I could nip out to one market, Borough, for example, buy great produce and know where it comes from, whereas here, in the centre of our rural, farming industries I struggle.

People complain that ‘out of town’ stores cause small businesses to close; even Monmouth is currently campaigning against the development of land near the A40 Dixon roundabout. I agree that we don’t need Monmouth branded with international money grabbing chains. So, why not throw away the plans for chain restaurants or pet’s supermarkets and build a glorious local food centre –  a tribute to Monmouthshire and its agriculture and fill it with all the great foods from around us; if our produce is good enough to be served in top British restaurants why can’t we share it easily? Somewhere where we can find all we need with great credentials under one roof – we are, after all known as Wales’ foodie capitol – so lets capitalise!