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This time last week I was enjoying a morning of venison cookery in the stunning old kitchen at Dunham Massey National Trust. As a volunteer and editor of an internal National Trust newsletter on food I went along to find out what it was all about.
What a wonderful morning. In my opinion there were several things that set this cookery demonstration apart from others:
Firstly, the setting. The event was held in the original old kitchen at Dunham Massey, a room that you would normally wander through on your tour of the house. It is an impressive room, bright with high ceilings, a massive Aga, a beautiful collection of copper pans, and a hefty big wooden workbench.
Secondly, the venison. The meat used in the cookery demonstration came from the deer park – perhaps if you a regular walker at Dunham Massey you might have even passed that same deer that we got to sample.
Of the four items we entered at the produce show (pumpkin, 3 potatoes, raspberry jam, and sloe gin) we won two first prizes! One for our jumbo pumpkin…
And the other for our 3 potatoes – which we were really surprised about and very pleased…
Sadly our sloe gin and raspberry jam didn’t get a prize, but I did make them pretty labels…
And the sloe gin was snaffled up by one of our local councillors…
I came across this incredible story today about two donkeys who delivery groceries in a village in Gloucestershire. It’s apparently been going on since before WWII and has been recently revived. The is project is run by volunteers and supported by donations from the local community.
Anyway, I just think it sounds fab and want to start something similar myself, despite living in a very flat town.
This is a fantastic new website with a map tool to help you find ‘real bread’ and locally produced flour near you. Just pop in your postcode and it shows you places nearby that sell high quality bread and local flour.
Here’s my map (click on it for a larger version):
There’s some places I’ve not heard of before that I’d like to go, and there’s some places that I knew baked their own bread, but I didn’t know how good they were at sourcing local ingredients. This website gives you a series of ‘ticks’ for most places next to each of their loaves of bread.
The Smokehouse near us looks like this (click on it for a larger version)…
Spend two and a half minutes watching this short film about how community vegetable gardening is helping those caught up in the Balkan wars. Read about it here on the Ecologist website.
Mr Rigg is home from work, we’ve got the Christmas carol’s on, the Camembert is out of the fridge ready for tonight’s baked Camembert cheese fondue, and I am feeling tremendously Christmassy.
Our night before Christmas involves eating a lot of gooey cheese with chunks of sourdough bread and going to midnight mass at our favourite little village church in Dunham Massey. And we have snow.
Wishing everyone a very happy night before Christmas!
Image: Pretty Little Green Things
On Sunday we entered a couple of items into our local produce show. Sadly I overcooked my lemon drizzle cake and it came in a miserable fourth…gutted. My marmalade didn’t even come anything – I won’t be trying that Country Living recipe again.
Thankfully we got three 2nd place awards – for our giant yellow courgette, a pretty arrangement of hedgerow berries, and a plate of fruit scones. The recipe for my scone’s comes from my colleague and friend Jane – who makes the best scones ever. No question.
My version of Jane’s fruit scones had a ‘lovely appearance’ but I lost marks because I didn’t tidy up the edges (i.e. pull off the currants that were sticking out…) and they needed a pinch of salt. Hmm. I’m not sure I can be doing with winning 1st prize if I’m required to carefully tidy up the edge of my scones, and besides, I like rustic food.
To reach Stockley Farm you must go down winding country lanes that seem to lead you nowhere. This added to the mystery of the night – we knew when and where to turn up and that the the dinner would be seasonal, local and mostly organic. Otherwise, we we in the dark.
Dinner was held in a field in a large yurt with a smaller yurt attached at the entrance, it’s outside draped with bunting and inside haybales, piles of cushions, pots of summer flowers and boxes of Riverford veg.
Inside the main yurt there were large ash tables with benches and chairs. In the centre of the yurt was a large wood-burning stove gently heating the room.
We took a cushion to sit on and took our seats at our table, said hello to our fellow diners and supped on our drinks (organic larger for Mr Rigg and a Luscombe Scilian lemonade for me).
And so dinner began.
Starters were platters of homemade dips (one of beetroot, another of courgette, a baba ganoush and a hummous), bowls of crisp vegetables (including khol rabi and purple cauliflower!) and a basket of bread.
The main course was all served at the table ‘family’ style – large platters to pass and share. There was…
- slow-roast lamb and perfectly pink leg of lamb served with Puy lentils
- butternut squash and pecan tart for the veggies
- hispi (pointed) cabbage with runner beans
- broccoli with lemon and chilli
- carrots braised in honey and flecked with cumin seeds
- and a salad of watercress, fennel, orange and olives.
Dessert was also served at the table to dig into yourselves – there was…
- a generous bowl of blueberry and custard Eton Mess
- delicate slithers of pear and almond tart
- and dense chunks of chocolate and walnut brownie (possibly the best brownie ever – moist and cakey, dense and fudgy, deep with dark chocolate with only a hint of sweetness, and an earthiness from the nuts.
I haven’t gone into detail on the tastes and flavours of each item, because truly everything was stunning. Most of the dishes are in the Riverford Farm Cookbook (which I own and adore) but last night we both tried dishes I would normally overlook.
For example, I (usually) deteste the idea of fruit in a salad – so one that combined orange and olives just didn’t appeal to me and so I wouldn’t try making it at home.
But with the dish there for you to have as little or as much as you wish, you think ‘oh well, why not!’ and so I tried it … and I enjoyed it. Oranges and olives do go together in this delicious salad.
Our table was a mixture of young and old: a married couple with children who are Riverford customers, a family spanning the generations, and a younger couple like ourselves who’d booked the night as an anniversary treat.
The staff were friendly and polite, the food was fantastic, and the atmosphere in the yurt was happy, relaxed, and full of chatter.
If only eating out was always this pleasurable.
Sorry – no food pictures, was having too much fun and it was too dark!
Image: herebejames on Flickr
I almost forgot – we have signed up to get milk from our local milkman. I know I’m way behind a lot of people in switching to support my local milkman, but the time has final come and we are really enjoying it.
The milk is even delivered early enough for Mr Rigg to have fresh milk on his cereal (he leaves the house for work at 6.30am!). Who could ask for more?
We are a full fat organic milk family, and I’ve been assured that the milk we get is sourced from within a 60 mile radius, which sounds good enough for me.
There’s something so satisfying about a glass bottle of milk and those silver metal tops that you gently push to release. I also like that it’s reducing the amount of plastic we have at home (although we can recycled plastic milk bottles). Happy days.
Every so often an email from the Chicken Out! Team pops into my inbox. Yesterday, I received an email telling me that ‘2 out of 3 farm animals on the planet are factory farmed.’ How shocking is that?!
I didn’t realise that the world was in such a bad state when it came to factory farming. I guess I assumed that many countries still have strong rural farming practices, that don’t involve mass scale production.
Although on one hand it is terribly depressing to hear such a shocking statistic, I am thankful to campaigns such as Chicken Out! for keeping me well-informed.
Following the link to their website I discover that the likes of Waitrose, the Co-op and Sainsbury’s were all ‘Good Chicken Award’ winners – it’s nice to know that some of the ‘big boys’ have a commitment to changing the welfare of the much maligned chicken.
Here’s a great video to tell you more about what Compassion in World Farming are doing:
You can also find an incredible online photography exhibition depicting the lives of farm animals across the world (from a content sheep on a smallholding in India to battery calves in New York state): Focus on Farm Animals.
And if you’d like to sign up for the Chicken Out! e-newsletter you can find details here.