Christmas Markets and Making Merry – All the fun of the festive fair!

This week heralds the beginning of the Christmas Market season and we are spoilt for IMG_5471choice in Monmouthshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. I really enjoy visiting Christmas food festivals, they help get over the post Bonfire Night hump and provide the ideal excuse for a cheeky mulled wine or two, not to mention huge present shopping potential .

I have chosen five of my favourite (most) local festivals to take you through to the big day; already we have seen a couple of frosty mornings so here’s to winter and all it throws at us. These are not purely food festivals, many offer local crafts, musical entertainments and great street food; everything you need to get you into the festive spirit.

Abergavenny Christmas Fair  10th December 

IMG_7449The largest local Christmas Fair, Abergavenny Food Festival always holds the banner high when championing regional and artisanal produce. Two weeks before Christmas Day will find the Market Hall, and surroundings, packed with delectable festive delicacies, an excellent time to stock up on foodie gifts, drinks for those  Christmas Parties or nibbles for surprise guests. As always, expect the best of the best; it’s a great place to stock up on Christmas Sprits whilst putting you in the Christmas Spirit. There are several workshops and feasts taking place too, so please see the website for more details.

The Forest Showcase Christmas Food Festival 26th November 

This year’s Forest Showcase Christmas Festival is to be held at Beechenhurst Lodge in the IMG_7709heart of The Forest of Dean, a fairytale setting for any Christmassy event. There will be stalls, demonstrations, workshops, live music and children’s activities. Tickets cost £3 for adults and £2 for children, family tickets are also available. Expect local cider, festive bakes, local meats and cheeses and a plethora of yuletide goodies.

The Hereford Food and Advent Market Hereford Racecourse 2nd and 3rd December 

“The Hereford Food and Advent market will be a fun festive day out for all the family. Held at Hereford Racecourse on the 2nd and 3rd December 2017 from 10 am – 4pm. Cost £2 entry for adults and £1 for children . FREE parking.
We have a huge variety of food and drink suppliers and live music, where you can have lunch under a covered marquee area, and enjoy the German Christmas market atmosphere.
You can browse and purchase all sorts of Christmas gifts and visit Santa in his grotto. ( extra charge of £5 will apply )
Also available will be free craft workshops for adults and children, included in the entry price.
In addition we have a children’s creative workshop, run by The Creation Station where they can have fun with plate art, and Christmas baubles . Please visit the website and Facebook for details of The Christmas Keepsake Workshop.
Also available are fabulous Christmas wreath making workshops with Debbie from the Hibiscus rooms.”

Gloucester Quays Victorian Markets 16th-26th November, daily until 7pm

Gloucester Quays is a prime example of thoughtful regeneration. The docks, once one of fullsizeoutput_41athe busiest in England, went through a period of decay until being reborn as a fabulous tourist attraction offering everything from pubs, restaurants and bars through to designer shopping and even canal boat hire. The Victorian Christmas market is very beautiful, the little wooden booths offering gifts, regional foods, mulled wine, arts and crafts. It’s a lovely place to visit as dusk falls, when the Christmas lights reflect off the calm waters of the dock and, with a glass of mulled cider in hand you can explore this, most historic, of sites.

Taurus Crafts Christmas Markets  2,3,9,10,16,17th December Free Entry 

Taurus Crafts, near Lydney in Gloucestershire is part of The Camphill Village Trust, a charity which offers support and a community environment to people who may struggle with everyday challenges. Founded in Scotland, in 1939, the charity aims to help all, regardless of disability and its Taurus Crafts based community is a testament to its success. The Christmas Fair offers a holistic festive approach; food, drink, gifts, crafts and Christmas trees can all be found alongside music, choirs and activities. Full of little workshops and unusual, quirky stalls, Taurus Crafts is a really lovely place to pass a few hours being at one with Christmas, sipping hot chocolate and tucking into one of their delicious homemade cakes.


An Apple a Day….Or A Pint!

Yesterday was National Apple Day, but around here we are constantly reminded of the versatile fruit which first arrived on these shores with the Romans. Of course, we had our native apple, the Crab Apple, a small sharp fruit which is much underused yet still lurks in many a hedgerow, but the apple has come to represent so many things.

  
Living on the borders, with Herefordshire and Gloucestershire only a stone’s throw away, we have some of the finest orchards in the country on our doorstep 

Once famous for perry and cider, Monmouthshire is remaking a name for itself; small local producers almost always offering an excellent quality product. We drink it, mull it, use it in cooking.  It really is very handy to keep one of those imploding boxes of basic cider in the kitchen throughout the autumn and winter. It can be reduced to a sticky glaze for a free-range pork chop, poured into gravy or used to de-glaze the pan when making a cream sauce to serve with poached chicken. Inspired by the neighbouring  Forest of Dean, I often make a Chicken Forest-of-Dean-iere, my take on the classic Chicken Forestiere, replacing the mushrooms with apple and cooking the chicken slowly in cider before finishing off with a glug of cream, a little mustard and some finely chopped sage. This is perfect autumn fodder and even better with a glass of vintage cider on the side.

  
Monmouthshire’s Apple County Cider

www.applecountycider.co.uk

There are many farm Apple Days in October, the roads are filled with groaning trailers of apples awaiting their wooden crates. Cider Farms have their yards stacked with the crates which go off at all hours to be turned in the amber nectar. One of the loveliest local drives is from Ross-on-Wye to Ledbury, at this time of the year the air is scented with fruit, the road is slow (due to the tractors) but a leisurely half hour inhaling the country air is a very pleasant way to pass the time. There are signs to several Cider Farms on the road, the most famous, and most commercial, being Westons – famed Great Britain over – it even sponsors national sportsman. The visitor centre is definitely worth a visit, and be sure to squeeze in a tour if you can. The Restaurant is splendid and offers (as expected) a large variety of bottled as cask ciders and the food is really good.

www.westons-cider.co.uk
For a more ‘local’ experience, Broome Farm near Ross-on-Wye is also worth a closer inspection – the cider is sold from the cellar, a cool, slightly damp cider paradise located under the farmhouse itself. The steps down are hewn by years of use and the barrels sit temptingly waiting for you to make your choice. They cater for all tastes, including apple juice for the little ones. You can choose your favourite and they will vacuum pack it and box it for you to keep it fresh for 4-6 weeks after opening.

www.broomefarmhouse.co.uk
Of course, there are also the beautiful eating apples,  so many varieties and each one so different, some sharp and almost peppery which others are tinged with overtones of rose or peach. The tree at the bottom of the garden is groaning with fruit this year, it fruits every other year. Last time, we made fresh apple juice which I turned into jelly to accompany roast meats and belly and liver terrine, some apples were cooked and frozen for almost instant crumbles and some were eaten just as they were, with a large slice of unpasteurised local Single Gloucester cheese from Smart’s Dairy.

www.smartsgloucestercheese.com
I think that the British cider and apple industry in general is a wonderful thing, but so much more could be made of it – when I think about the huge wine festivals I have attended in France, with thousands of people eating,  drinking and dancing, all in praise of the wine it makes me a little sad.

  
Please….please seek out local Apple events, then, maybe one day British cider will again be as internationally famed as the wines of France.