The Pheasant Philsopher’s Christmas Diaries: Party Punch and Mulling

No Victorian Christmas party was complete without a gleaming punch bowl full of inhibition-removing deliciousness. In richer households, these bowls would be silver or silver gilt, with matching chased cups and ladle, in middle class houses cut glass or crystal was offered, whilst lower down the social pecking order china, wood or pewter was most often used.

The tradition of Punches, although at their height during the 18th and 19th centuries, could well have emerged from an even earlier tradition, one of which dates back to Saxon times, and perhaps earlier; the Wassail cup. This was a communal vessel, passed around a party to the shouts of ‘wes þú hál’ old English for ‘good health’ or ‘be healthy’ and was often brought out during Yule or Christmastide, filled with warm spiced ale, mead or more usually cider, it was also drunk to bless the orchards and ensure a successful harvest.

Mulled Wine also has much older roots too, Roman and medieval Europe offered wine sweetened with honey and spices known by the name ‘Hippocras’ which was often served warmed in the colder months – the spices were placed in a conical strainer and steeped in the wine – the name derived from famed Greek physician Hippocrates who is said to have invented the strainer to filter water.

Mulled Wine

serves 6

1 bottle good red wine

50ml brandy

2 cinnamon sticks

40g root ginger, peeled and sliced

6 cloves

40g brown sugar

1 orange sliced

1 cardamom, crushed

Gently warm all the ingredients together in a heavy pan – careful not to boil!

Wassail (Cider Cup)

Serves 6

1 litre still cider (or scrumpy if you’re brave enough!)

50ml Apple brandy (calvados)

50g honey (depending on personal taste and type of cider used)

1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

1 cinnamon stick

15g root ginger peeled and grated

2 star anise

2 dessert apples, sliced

Mull the ingredients together over a low heat to allow the flavours to infuse and serve with a cinnamon stick

An 18th century Fruit Punch Recipe

Peel six lemons and, using a pestle and mortar or strong bowl and the end of a rolling pin muddle in 375g white sugar and leave to sit for a couple of hours.

Juice the peeled lemons and set the juice aside

Pour 500ml of dark rum into a jug or bowl, add 250ml of brandy and 1.5 litres of water. Add the lemon juice, sugar and lemon, then leave for a further two hours before straining and serving with lots of ice


March Morning Musings from Monmouthshire

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I have to admit to being a little lax over the past few weeks, there’s been a lot going on, (not all food related) however, now that the worst weather is over and Spring is, hopefully, on the horizon, I’ve come home to roost a while.

This year, I’m hoping to put together a few ‘what’s going on’, food and drink-wise in Monmouthshire and the borders pieces  – some very good things are happening locally, including the 20th anniversary of the legendary Abergavenny Food Festival in September, 2018 is defiantly a great year for food and drink lovers.

IMG_2379The beginning of the year saw butchers Neil Powell come to Monmouth to take over the, recently closed,  Le Gourmet shop. Neil Powell meat is always excellent, locally sourced (and slaughtered) and the staff are extremely knowledgeable. It’s a real pleasure to visit and often has some of the more obscure cuts to stimulate the creative thought-process when it comes to recipe development. Why not call by for some breakfast staples, the home-cured bacon is delicious and alongside some black pudding and a variety of tasty sausages, a weekend brunch becomes a real indulgence.

The Anchor, in Tintern, nestled between the River Wye and the famous abbey has been the recent subject of a rather grand scale sprucing-up. Re-opening at the end of February, The Anchor has been much extended and diner’s can now enjoy views of the abbey as they peruse the locally sourced menus – mainly traditional pub favourites, with a few twists. Perfect for family dining, there are special offers for youngsters, see the website for more details. I wish them the very best of luck!

May sees the annual Welsh Perry and Cider Festival in the splendid surroundings of Caldicot Castle which also plays host to The Monmouthshire Food Festival in June. More details on those to follow.

IMG_1129In the Forest of Dean, The Severn and Wye Smokery is still going from strength to strength following its outstanding eco-friendly rebuild last year. A great location, just off the A48 at Chaxhill, it offers delicious food and drink, a well-stocked deli (including, of course the famous smoked salmon). Look out for special tasting menu evenings and other special events, but even stopping by for a quick lunch or morning coffee is sure to inspire. The fish counter is outstanding and so fresh, you can almost feel the sea beside you. Having spoken with the owner, I can see a true passion for sustainability and a plan for the future which could be quite outstanding. Watch this space!

And finally, let’s not forget the wonderful small farmers’ markets which can be found dotted about the countryside, from St Briavels and Woolaston, to Usk and Grosmont, with many more in between  – these places are a haven for devoted food lovers, the producers are mostly small scale and totally dedicated to their art. Supporting at grass-roots level is so very important at this time of political uncertainty, and with such excellent produce around, why turn to supermarkets and mass production? – just look about you, and try to make cooking (and sourcing) a real experience from field to fork!


A Few Foodie Thoughts In The Bleak Midwinter

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After Christmas, the harsh month of January brings about a distinct need for creative culinary construction. It begins with the craving for spring. Soon after the Christmas items disappear, just as the Easter eggs start filling the supermarket shelves my heart yearns for oranges. There’s something wonderful about those Spanish oranges which conjure up the most vibrant sweetness winter has to offer. There is a historical decadence –  I can imagine standing on the dock waiting for the old orange boats to arrive, perfuming the air – and, now I am compelled to share a fetish – a peeled orange sliced into rounds, sprinkled with sugar and served at tea time with white bread and butter. This was my paternal Grandmother’s stalwart, a strange comfort of my childhood.  Of course, oranges mean marmalade and the chore of prepping pound after pound, however, when you open one of those little jars in the warm of a summer’s day,  it’s suddenly worth all the effort.

January, often the darkest and bleakest month – and certainly, the most depressing,  is a time of soup or Cawl as we call it in Wales. Cawl gyda caws – cheese with soup, a surprisingly good combination especially if one pairs a good, hard sheep’s cheese with a lamb stew. In times of revolution the Welsh called for caws gyda bara (cheese with bread); and I am inclined to agree, simple yet always satisfying.  Soup is still ‘home’ – My mother constantly has a pot of lamb Cawl waiting for us to dive into any time we pop around. A hearty, steaming bowl, a thick slice of Alex Gooch (alexgoochbaker.com) sourdough bread smothered in fabulous Netherend Farm Butter made on the other side of the Forest, and, maybe a slice of Smart’s Double Gloucester, a fine example of one of the few great Gloucester cheese-makers remaining.

Weekdays often begin with a Winter breakfast of thick creamy porridge bathed in maple syrup and double cream, the oats first soaked overnight – a perfect start to a days foraging, although not foraging in the conventional sense. A circumference of 15 miles encompasses all manner of fabulous local producers giving a varied choice of specialised products most of which far exceed those found even the better supermarkets. And afterwards? Arriving home to a Winter frost calls for steaming mugs of cocoa, made the old way with thick, creamy, non-homogenised, whole milk (Oh for the days of unpasturised legality!). Whisking the mixture over the stove creates a delightful froth on which to balance the all-important marshmallows, whilst selfishly hiding the usually alcohol-infused nectar. I think a dollop of whipped double cream is essential (providing the cocoa is scalding hot), as is a freshly baked biscuit or bun, something plain to enhance rather than interfere with the robust chocolate flavour.

The Monmouthshire/Gloucestershire culinary traditions are deep-rooted in those whose families arrived here for work, moving from the rural farm professions into a more promising industrial future.  When one says ‘Gloucestershire’ three things spring to mind pork, cheese and cider. Monmouthshire is a more veiled delight, clinging to many Welsh traditional recipes whilst asserting its Anglo allegiance. Monmouth Pudding, probably the most famous Monmouthian dish is rarely seen on a menu yet is one of those fabulously rib-sticking puddings deserving of a place after a robust Sunday roast. Moist layers of jam and crumb-thickened custard give the Monmouth Pudding its distinctive red stripe. Personally I believe it to be named after the famous Monmouth Cap, historically made in the Overmonnow district  – their distinctive shape reminiscent of the pudding bowl. And so we are spoiled for choice every Sunday, will it be a handsome leg of Welsh Lamb, enrobed in its buttery sweet fat studded with rosemary from the gnarly old bush which sits, like a pondering wise woman, in the corner of the courtyard; will it be a plump Madgett’s Farm chicken, encrusted with crunchy sea salt, its sage and onion voluptuousness bursting from its moist depths; or will it be a handsome Gloucester Old Spot shoulder, rolled and stuffed, its crackling crisp with a surprisingly delicate perry gravy at its  side; finally and perhaps the King of the Sunday table, a prime rib of Usk Valley Beef, rare and juicy, with puffed up, courtier like, Yorkshire Puddings sitting alongside this, most decadent of dishes. A stately queue of puddings wait in the shadows for their moment, and arrived flanked by homely jugs of rich yellow custard. This is how a weekend should end; or how the week should begin.

January is also a wonderful month in which to bake. Childhood memories are filled with the smell of sticky buns cooling on the kitchen table; my maternal Grandmother, now almost 107 and still thriving, would stand me on a stool in her tiny cottage kitchen, a tea towel for an apron, and let me pound the rich dough, showing me, with her cool hands the ebb and flow of the master baker. I’d wait beside the oven demanding a bun straight from the tin, but no, they needed glazing. On went the sugar and water, the buns proudly glistening until, juggling the hot bread from hand to hand, I managed to take a bite.

In the adjoining sitting room, the fire would crackle alluringly, the little brass toasting fork waiting to be called into duty, creating piles of slightly charred toast to anoint with rich salted butter. There would be buns to take home in an old Danish cookie tin, perhaps some fairy cakes and best of all some fruit fingers made with pastry leftover from the apple pie. Folded with sugar and dried fruit, and sliced into rectangles, these ensured that nothing went to waste. My maternal Grandfather, a somewhat eccentric artist, would make bread with wholemeal flour and honey, and would stand over the stove, stirring great pans of butterbeans or ‘fruit on the turn’ to make into his legendary ‘Rocket Fuel’ wines. Some memories stay with you for ever.


Festive Goodies from The Wye Valley and The Forest of Dean

Every year, I do my very best to source my Christmas foods locally – and living in such a fabulously foodie area, it’s surprisingly easy to do. Restaurants place such an importance on food miles and rightly so, but it’s not just about the environmental impact, it’s about supporting those small businesses who a passionate about their products and who are relying on you for survival. So, here’s my guide to the best places to source delicious food and drink for your festive celebrations in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean.

Party Drinks and Nibbles

There’s no doubt that you’ll find yourself hosting at least one party over the coming

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©HannahFreeman

weeks, or at lasting bringing some goodies to a friends gathering. One of the most popular drinks at this time of year, and perfect for the colder weather is Mulled Cider and, being in the heart of the British cider country you’ll find yourself spoiled for choice. I think a medium cider is most suited to mulling, you are then in control of how much sugar or honey you add. I like Awre based Severn Cider, a family business dedicated to its art. I enjoyed a tour and tasting a few weeks ago with other members of The Guild of Food Writers and was extremely impressed by the quality and variety on offer – we were immediately furnished with mugs of mulled cider which was very welcome after a long, and rather, chilly day. I like to add honey, cinnamon, cardamon, apple slices, fullsizeoutput_1814grated nutmeg and a splash of cider brandy (Dymock’s Charles Martell’s is perfect) – but its all down to taste, and you can cheat with one the supermarket sachets, then add some cinnamon sticks and apple.  And what to serve alongside your mulled cider? How about a good old sausage roll – surely an essential part of Christmas! I love the  delicious Wild Boar sausage rolls from Cinderhill Farm in St Briavels, it’s hard to stop at one (and they are extremely generous portions). Served alongside one of Chepstow based, Claire’s Kitchen’s chutney they make a very simple addition to any drinks party or buffet.

Christmas Dinner

Many people look for a simple, no cook starter for their Christmas Dinner, I think that fullsizeoutput_1842really top quality smoked salmon fits the bill perfectly – my personal choice would be the smoked Var salmon from Chaxhill’s Severn and Wye Smokery. Having been lucky enough to tour the factory recently, I learned a lot about the different varieties and curing styles. Having tasted my way though their entire catalogue I settled on the Var which offers a good balance or smokey richness and full flavour. Served alongside some good local bread and a handful of organic leaves, it allows plenty of time to relax with your guests before the main event.

There are the traditionalists who favour a good free range turkey – I have ordered mine from Monmouthshire Turkeys near Raglan – and those who look for a different option so how about a Free Range Goose or Slow Cooked Confit Duck from Madgett’s Farm? Well IMG_1706known throughout the area they offer a really good selection of poultry and game, and make some rather excellent sausages and stuffings to serve alongside.

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Veg is from Organic grower Paul’s Organic Veg. For really fresh brassicas (including those essential sprouts) Paul is your man and he offers veg boxes of various sizes to take all the veg buying hassle away. Next you’ll need some really good sausages and bacon. I think its hard to beat the bacon from Trealy Farm, found in some of the most exclusive hotels and restaurants in the UK, the charcuterie is second to none. For sausages, the Cowshill Herd in Hewelsfield are my first choice, their rear breed pork sausages are perfect for wrapping and serving alongside the bronzed bird.

Pudding, or cheese and pudding?  Of course making your Christmas Pudding is preferable IMG_7705but where cheeses are concerned we are extremely fortunate. A good cheese board should comprise a hard cheese, creamy, goats and blue. A good start would be a wedge of Smart’s Double Gloucester, then a round of deliciously soft Angiddy, a Welsh cheese made from Jersey Milk at Brooke’s Dairy, a slice of the internally famous Stinking Bishop and for a blue…..well, you may have to nip out of the area, The Marches Deli in Monmouth has some excellent and well-kept artisan cheeses and they are always happy to guide you through them. If a heavy classic pud is a little too much why not try some extremely naughty adult ice-cream from Forest and Wye, this artisanal ice-cream comes in flavours such as Baileys and Kahlua, Islay Whiskey and Coffee and Speyside Whisky and Coffee – all remarkably individual and all packing a definite punch. They’re more conventional flavours are pretty fab too – or for those in the Monmouth area its hard to beat Green and Jenks Italian Gelato, take-home packs always available.

So to finish a good meal you need a good digestive and some choccie. Again, I would turn to Charles Martell and one of their devious perry, cider or plum spirits – these are a real treat. The Chocolate Bar in Lydney’s Taurus Crafts is one of the best local makers of fine chocolate, with a moreish selection knowing when to stop buying can be tricky but some good truffles on the table to serve with coffee are essential.

IMG_1852Whatever your foodie preference this Christmas, look about you and explore. Half the fun of the festive season id sourcing all those seasonal goodies that you restrict during the year – indulgence is Christmas and in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean, you can indulge to your heart’s content!


Bangers and Bonfires #UKsausageweek

Bonfire Night; the air is filled with woodsmoke, a hint of sulphur remains from the sausagesrecently released fireworks. The sparklers have sparkled and now, hunger strikes. What better warming winter dish to turn to than the humble British banger? A childhood favourite, steaming from the barbecue and tucked into a pappy white roll, maybe a few sweet and sticky onions and, of course,  an obscene amount of tomato ketchup, the Hot Dog, ‘English style’ is most synonymous with this time of year. In celebration of this humble foodstuff #nationalsausageweek has been held annually showcasing the best and most inventive sausages around, this year, however it’s #UKsausageweek

There has always been regional variation in sausages, spice blends and the addition of various herbs have been part of sausage culture for centuries however in the past couple of decades flavours have become far more interesting, varying from the sublime to the ridiculous. Personally, I don’t think you can beat a good old breakfast sausage however it depends on exactly what one is serving it with.

For the traditional mash and onion gravy combo I like a flavoursome banger; pork and leek or pork and apple. We are extremely lucky in my region as we have some really excellent butchers, farm-shops and small-holders selling directly to the public. In a previous post I expressed my enthusiasm for the wonderful pork from Monmouthshire’s Decent Company, but within ten miles of my house I can find everything from Gloucester Old Spot and Cider, to Lamb Merguez Style, Wild Boar and I’ve even seen Squirrel. There are those flavoured with chilli, truffle and cheese; one extremely delicious flavour is Black Pudding and Gloucester Old Spot.

There is nothing more depressing than staying in a B and B, or Hotel and being served a fine textured, slurry-esque breakfast sausage with your bacon. I want a decent banger and a good sausage often makes or breaks a weekend break! The supermarkets are coming closer to the mark, and British outdoor bred pork does have a higher welfare standard than the factory farms found in many parts of Europe. We do, of course, have such shameful secrets here, so I try to seek out butchers who provide free-range pork which is local and, in many cases, rare breed or heritage.

These I will pull into the sausage category even thought some are technically a ‘Pudding’ – all certainly deserve a mention. In Northern Ireland, Hugh Maguire’s fabulous Smoked Black Pudding was awarded supreme champion in the much coveted national Great Taste Awards 2017. In Cornwall and the South West Hog’s Pudding is a delicious and now rather rare treat – do seek it out if you’re in the area. Scotland’s famous Lorne Sausage is made with beef, the dense, seasoned,  meaty squares playing a leading role in the Scot’s Cooked Breakfast.

England is extremely famous for the ‘Cumberland sausage‘, coiled and highly flavoured, and often served with the redcurrant and orange based Cumberland Sauce. Each county has its own variety. Amongst others, there are Suffolk Sausages, Wiltshire Sausages and Glamorgan Sausages (a poor man’s recipe of the 19th century where Caerphilly cheese, leeks and breadcrumbs made a tasty, and a now fashionably vegetarian supper dish). One local charcuterie make a wonderfully decadent German-style wild boar black pudding sausage from the wild boar found in the Forest of Dean.

Of course, traditional British cookery and sausages often go hand-in-hand. We have Toad-in-the-Hole,  Bangers and Mash, Sausage Casserole – to name a few. These are real comfort foods and form the basic recipes for many winter suppers.

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Last week I used some fabulous spiced lamb sausages to make a pseudo-tagine with chick peas, preserved lemons and some sweet potatoes to bulk it out a little. The sausages were dense and meaty, no fillers or msg needed.

So, in celebration of #UKsausageweek , here is a little run down of my top five traditional sausage recipe ideas, tweaked for variety;

1) Wrap the sausages in streaky bacon and fry to colour, before adding a Yorkshire pudding batter into which a little sage has been infused.

2) How about trying a chilli flavoured sausage set into a batter of cornmeal and eggs; a Tex Mex twist on Toad-in-the-Hole which works really well with a good dollop of Salsa and Guacamole on the side.

3) Make a creamy root vegetable mash with seasonal parsnips and serve with a fruity banger, Pork and Pear, or Pork and Apple; or a plain well-seasoned sausage and a little apple puree beaten into the mash

4) Skin the sausages and make into tiny meatballs, adding a little crushed fennel seed, bake or fry and add to a traditional Italian tomato sauce. Serve with spaghetti for meatballs sausage style.

5) Skin four different complimentary flavours of sausage, layer into a terrine mould and bake until brown and sizzling for an easy meatloaf. This is also delicious served cold with salads and a good puddle of strong English mustard.

There is no doubt that sausages are a constant crowd pleaser, they weren’t rationed in the war (although were difficult to get hold of), and every country in Europe has their own variation; so this week why not expand your sausage horizon and think out of the box – the British Banger is here for the duration!


This little piggy went to market….then into the freezer…..and it was yum!

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This weekend I’ve gone a little bit pork mad. On Friday I took delivery of 1/2 a free-range, rare breed pig from Martha Roberts’ The Decent Company. I was very impressed by the obvious bond she has with her pigs and (so far) I am certainly not disappointed in the quality of the meat.  Rare Breed Pork is quite a bit darker than your usual ‘supermarket’ pork, the fat is creamy and generous and the skin crackles beautifully, the flavour is richer and more old fashioned from when meat tasted like meat.

Martha’s Monmouthshire based smallholding is enchantingly described on her lovely postcards as being high in the hills, and the pictures of her happy sounder (love that word) of swine are a testament to their very ‘decent’ upbringing. I chose 1/2 a pig which is a little over 20 kgs in weight, and costs £160, which when you consider the variety of cuts, is very reasonable. The Pork arrived packed in neat, insulated boxes with lovely little branded cards stashed neatly in a zip lock bag. Within minutes my son had set upon one of the ten packets of sausages and within twenty minutes were sampling some of the nicest sausages I’ve tasted in a long while. They were perfectly seasoned and my 106 year old grandmother, who is staying with us for the week, declared them to, “taste like sausages used to”, which is quite an accolade.

There was an excellent variety of joints, ribs, belly (more on that later), a lovely hock from which I am going to make a pressed parsley terrine, chops not much smaller than my son’s head….the list goes on. We stashed most of it in the freezer, admittedly it does take up most of the freezer….and it’s very likely that within a few weeks we’ll all have grown a curly tail!  Pork is such a versatile meat and you could easily cook a different dish every day for a month and still have dozens of options.

I  have always been a great supporter of the Welsh pig industry. A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a day at Humble by Nature in Monmouthshire, in conjunction with Porc Wales and I learned a great deal about a meat which was very much used in Welsh kitchens. To read more about my experience, click here.

So, this morning, after panicking that I had no bread in the house I knocked up a quick Soda Hedgehog Bread and oven-roasted a few sausages. IMG_0131Served with Tracklement’s Sweet Mustard Ketchup and Proper Tomato Ketchup they went down a treat for Saturday Brunch.

My husband has also decided that now is the time to begin his foray into bacon making and having worked his way through the curing sections of my extensive cookery book library he finally decided to ‘wing it’ a little. The result, which is curing in the refrigerator, is a cider and honey cure with sea salt.

We elected not to use nitrates so we will probably slice and freeze the bacon soon after curing. It is a great ambition of mine to have a proper inglenook fire so that I can hang bacon and hams inside and let the sweet woodsmoke flavour the meat. One day…I keep telling myself. We also made a great slab of crackling with the discarded rind,  which I’ll probably serve alongside bowls of homemade brandied apple sauce with drinks before dinner.

Tomorrow we have guests for Sunday Lunch so I very much looking to sharing this lovely leg joint with them, with all the trimmings of course, and I’m quite sure they’ll all enjoy it as much as I will!

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Into the woods…..The Forest Showcase Food Festival 2017

IMG_7740As a great supporter of local food festivals, I am always delighted to share my enthusiasm with anyone who cares to listen. It now being ‘food festival season’, I am spoilt for choice. Last weekend I attended a small but perfectly formed festival in The Royal Forest of Dean, about twenty minutes drive from my home.

The Forest of Dean is one of the oldest English forests still in existence and has seen Kings, Princes and Lords ride in the chase under it’s great sprawling oaks. At the heart of the forest is The Speech House, the old Verderers court (click here for the history bit) and last weekend the grounds of this impressive, Carolingian building were packed with producers, musicians, visitors, artists and, of course, food and drink.

 

The Forest Showcase has been fortunate to enjoy splendid autumn sunshine over the past five years, however this year it just wasn’t meant to be.  Despite the rain, and the organisers took extra measures to ensure everyone stayed as dry and mud free as possible, it was a very pleasant way to spend an autumnal Sunday morning. IMG_7745All my good intentions of not going over the top went by the wayside as I was presented with an Aladdin’s cave – in the form of the producers tent.

The marquee was packed, and the atmosphere was convivial.

IMG_7701French-style bread and patisserie sat beside honey producers, cheese makers, purveyors of delicious locally made jams and chutneys, artisan gin, cider and marshmallows, and some rather fabulous pies and pasties from Cinderhill Farm near St Briavels.  There was ice-cream from Forest and Wye, cheese form one of the few PDO Gloucestershire cheese makers, Smart’s   and the eponymous Madgett’s Farm with their excellent free-range chicken, duck and local game. I also discovered a new, extremely local country wine maker and sampled a wonderfully decadent Rose petal wine, the taste of which brought back memories of early summer. I indulged in Fuffle, is a fudge or is it a truffle? Whichever is the true answer, it was delicious. I was offered roasted hemp seeds which were surprisingly moreish, the most exquisite fruit cordials (which would have worked wonderfully in a gin cocktail), cheeses flavoured with honey and fig and cakes in all shapes and flavours.

 

Away from the marquees, there were cider makers, caterers, a craft market, art exhibitions and stalls from various local charities including The Dean Forest Beekeepers, IMG_7700Apple pressing demonstrations were popular and I happened upon a rather good fruit and veg stall where I stocked up on locally grown carrots and broccoli.

Throughout the day a variety of musicians entertained the crowds.

In the demonstration tent, visitors were wowed by cookery demonstrations by, among others, Yvette Farrell who runs the Forest of Dean’s premier cookery school, award winning Hart’s Barn Cookery School.

Very much a family festival, the parent and child cookery classes were filled all day, with healthy eating advisor & cookery teacher Glyn Owen at the helm producing delicious Mezze.

But, if you did miss this year’s event, do not despair….the organisers have a Christmas treat in store!

“We are very much looking forward to our new Xmas event which is at Beechenhurst Lodge on Sunday 28th November…..so those that didn’t make this one because of the weather have another chance to sample and buy the best produce from The Forest of Dean and see some amazing Christmas cookery demonstrations….”

It’s already in my diary, I just hope there’s mulled wine on offer!

 

 

Although I attended as a guest of the festival, all views are my own


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.

 

 


Hidcote and The National Trust in general

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In 2015 we joined The National Trust. We were in Cornwall, the rain was beating down and had been for two days, the wind was rather dominant and it was the August Bank holiday.

What to do with a bored 9 years old and a borrowed 15 year old (my niece)? Also we were a little down on our uppers and the National Trust offered monthly instalments. And so we took the plunge and have never looked back. We have been to so many stunningly beautiful places; we have centred weekends away around National Trust properties, we have been inspired and in awe (and sometimes a little spooked). For family membership we pay about £9 a month and we try and visit something at least once a month (our record being 5 in 2 days, although we are off the Cheshire next weekend so watch this space).

I really love the ethos of the National Trust, the volunteers are knowledgeable and very enthusiastic, the cafes and restaurants are usually very good (although they do get very busy) but we often take a picnic. I’m a bit of a picnic addict, I have far too many wicker hampers, cool bags and melamine, I get very excited by picnic mats and multi-tools. Sad, I know. Often we’ll pack an empty hampers and stop at a farm shop or deli on route – sampling the local cheeses, breads or pies. It’s always lovely to immerse ourselves in the area, last week we enjoyed  a bottle of local cider and a chunk of Single Gloucester from Morton-in-Marsh’s cheese shop before visiting nearby Chastleton House .

We preceded our visit to Chastleton with a few hours wandering about the flagship gardens at Hidcote which were an absolute delight, in fact we plan to return there to see them in the other seasons, I should imagine early summer would be exceptional.

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The gardens would inspire anyone to turn their hand to horticulture, the wild cottage style gardens within gardens were wonderfully informal (and the ice-cream was good too!)

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As with all National Trust properties it’s very family friendly, there are lots of things for children to get involved in, we enjoyed the Croquet (although it did get a little bit, shin-achingly competitive). So it’s a thumbs up for The National Trust and no doubt I will be hopping on my soapbox to extol their virtues for many years to come!


A romance of Exmoor

  

Yesterday I returned from a foodie weekend break to beautiful Exmoor. From its bleak moors to its rugged coastline via its winding roads it is a stunning place to visit, even with the howling winds and driving rain of a British November day. It is also a foodie paradise, close to the border with Devon, this part of Somerset is very proud of its local produce, there is excellent beef, lamb, honey, cider and a plethora of chocolatiers. 
On our way across to the coast we couldn’t resist stopping at a cider farm. Torre cider provided a well needed break from the arduous journey – delicious mulled apple juice held back the chill and we stocked up on some Somerset scrumpy, cider vinegar and apple juice. There was a delightful farm shop selling cheeses, jams and churneys as well as a little cafe offering a delicious cider cake alongside more traditional fayre.

  

Saturday lunchtime found us in the picturesque village of Dunster, just inland, and with a commanding castle and famous round maketplace. We dined at an old coaching inn, The Luttrell Arms, a vast ancient building with great log fires, antlers adorning the walls and splendid mullion windows. I chose a minute steak ciabatta with rocket and Parmesan, a side of chunky chips dunked in Stoke’s tomato ketchup and a glass of excellent local ale.

   
 

 A quick stop in Porlock Weir as darkness fell forced us  into another sampling of the local brew and a brief walk along the seashore ensured we were thoroughly damp as we made for our destination, The Notley Arms, in Monksilver.

  
Nestled on the edge of Exmoor in a chocolate box village full of thatched cottages and ancient looking houses, Monksilver is an excellent place to pass the night. The Notley Arms is a 2 AA rosetted gastropub with prerequisite wood burner, leather sofas, quirky decor and a modern British menu. 

Once settled into our 4* room (with a thoughtfully provided thermos of cold milk and a cafetière of coffee) we unpacked and were very impressed with the facilities but having booked a table for seven thirty, and already feeling tired from the days exertions, we headed into the Pub. 

We were made to feel very welcome and were offered a cosy table for two tucked into the corner. The menu, which changes daily, was well composed and based around local produce. 

  

It was, of course, difficult to choose but eventually I decided upon the Sea Trout, Duck Faggot and Rhubarb.

We ordered bread and olives to begin.

  

The bread was almost brioche-like and complimented the balsamic olive oil beautifully, the olives were meaty and delicious.

My first course, hot smoked sea trout with picked cucumber, yoghurt and horseradish cream was absolutely perfect, presented in an outsize bowl it was fresh and zingy, the hit of dill from the pickling liquor was complimented admirably by the horseradish cream. 

  

The main course, rich duck faggot was extremely rich indeed. Served with a smooth and creamy truffle infused mash and a flavoursome jus, the faggot itself was as light as a feather but extremely filling. It took faggots (of which I am extremely fond) to a totally different level and is something I will be trying to replicate at home. 

  

For pudding I chose ‘Tastes of Rhubarb, Vanilla and White Chocolate’. Presented on a large charger it comprised various preparations of rhubarb, a concentrated Apple syrup, a rich mousse speckled with vanilla seeds, flavoured with white chocolate and topped with a black sesame seed brittle.

  
A couple of glasses of Pinot Noir Grenache, which worked surprisingly well with all courses, was followed with coffee and an excellent evening came to a close.

Breakfast the following morning was equally delicious with flavoursome butchers sausages and toast made from the excellent bread we had enjoyed the previous evening – the bacon was a bit of a let down but the yummy chive-speckled scrambled eggs partially made up for it. A good selection of Bonne Maman jams and Coopers marmalade was offered. All in all The Notley Arms is a place I will defiantly revisit, even as the wind howled about throughout the night it was warm and cosy and welcoming. 

www.luttrellarms.co.uk
www.torrecider.com
www.notleyarmsinn.co.uk