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


Well, I’m back…

A long weekend in Cheshire and NorthWales is to be highly recommended. We were, as always budget conscious and enjoyed two nights away with Master A (who is a rather vocally pedantic pre-teen) at The Bear’s Head in Brereton which is close to Sandbach and about 30 miles from Manchester. The room was clean and tidy and the complimentary buffet breakfast was perfectly good; this is not a five-star premises but was comfortable and convenient and the room cost only £114 for both nights…and of course, to keep costs down, we hammered hell out our family National Trust membership!

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On our way ‘up north’ we stopped at the National Trust’s Shugborough Hall, once home to Lord Litchfield, photographer extraordinaire. The house is beautiful and is slowly being restored having been recently handed back to NT from Staffordshire council. I last visited as an eight year old and in the twenty five or so ensuring years little has changed. It’s a great place for families to visit, the grounds are spectacular and it’s quite easy to loose yourself in the formal gardens and wild parkland. Stafford is of course, home to the Staffordshire Oat Cake; a griddle-cooked pancake often served with bacon and eggs for breakfast, a dish worth seeking out.

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Our second visit of the day was to Little Moreton Hall near Congleton. This was about fifteen minutes from our hotel and is quite delightful. Known to be the best example of a black and white Tudor Manor House in Britain, it sits in splendid isolation with a small moat, knot garden and is surrounded by beds of sweet smelling herbs.

That evening, to the dulcet whinge of Master A, we dined at The Vicarage.  It being a Sunday evening we couldn’t say no to a roast and enjoyed local Cheshire pork with all the trimmings; admittedly the portions were not as generous as we would have liked but it tasted delicious and even Master A was content once he’d demolished a home-made, brioche-bunned burger as big as his head. I also ‘discovered’ Rum and Raisin ice-cream.

Our second day took it towards Manchester, and to Quarry Bank Mill, famous as the location of Channel Four’s gritty period drama, ‘The Mill’.

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Walking through the various rooms, hearing the machinery and learning about the cotton industry in general was fascinating, even Master A didn’t moan too much! Occasionally immersing ourself in our industrial history is so important, how many children wear cotton today and don’t know where it comes from, know nothing of children in a bygone time who suffered, worked and often died in pursuit Britain’s most valuable industry?

Nowadays, here at least, it’s much more ethical and I did treat myself to some cotton fabric woven at the mill and printed locally, which depicts the mill, the ‘big house’ and the Apprentice house (a building which housed poor children from city workhouses who were indentured to work for 9 years at the mill for their keep only). There is also a great cafe with some really tasty local dishes and of course ice-cream to keep the little ones happy!

That afternoon I achieved a lifelong ambition (well a 20 year ambition anyway) I went to

………

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Pemberley!!!!!!

Well, not exactly….Lyme Park to be precise but I did tread in the footsteps of Mr (Colin Firth) Darcy…sadly my Mr D refused to recreate the shirt and lake scene, but you can’t have everything.

Saying that there were a lot of rather odd, Austenland types wandering around dressed as Eliza Bennet…but with the charming additions of camera and mobile phone. The house was lovely and you could pick up your ‘I Love Mr Darcy’ totes in the shop, so well worth the visit.

Our final day took us into North Wales and to Wrexham’s Erddig estate which I absolutely adored. The family were definite hoarders and nothing was thrown away resulting in a collection of over 30,000 objects to be curated by the National Trust. The history buff in me got in the way this time and I happily spent a hour or two reading the wonderful poems which the squires had written about their servants; many of which were accompanied by oil portraits (18th century servants) and photographs (19th an 20th century staff).

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There is a lovely poem of blessing  in the servants quarters which I think everyone should have a copy of  in their kitchens.

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Steeped in culture and history we stopped for a nice cup of tea and a piece of cake in the cafe;

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where Master A completely let the side down by drawing a selection of bright pink willies on the fairy themed children’s colouring sheets (although they were apparently ‘funny men’ with big (hairy) eyes and long, pointy noses). Enough said!

With the weather a little overcast we headed to the internationally famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct designed by the eponymous Thomas Telford (who built himself a rather nice little pad in full view of it). We boarded a boat and enjoyed an hour or so peacefully meandering over the aqueduct and back again. It is a true feat of industrial engineering…and totally worth a visit!

 

So all in all a lovely couple of days and please do check out the links for more details.

And finally a few words from one of the former owners of Erddig…(although the peace and beauty may be a little lacking!)

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