It all started off very early in the morning when I was picked up at 5.30am for a car trip down to Dorset with 3 other local food bloggers. Arriving a River Cottage HQ‘s car park we waiting for a tractor to take us down to the main building. It’s quite a way down a very steep track and the ride was a little bumpy. On arrival we tried some goodies from the kitchens.
These little omelette slices went down very well with their fermented salsa and spring onion topping. There was something for those with a sweet tooth too, with some very moreish mini chocolate croissants.
My first session was in the cookery school. Gill (if you watch the River Cottage programmes you’ll have seen him) taught us how to make soda bread and butter. First of all we made the butter. We started off whisking by hand, but it was soon clear that most of us would need mechanical help, if we were to make butter this side of Christmas, so out came the electric mixers. From there on it was child’s play. I was genuinely surprised how easy and quick it was to make butter from double cream.
Next up we made soda bread with spelt flour and the buttermilk which we’d made as a by-product of the butter making. This is the kind of thing I love about River Cottage: the philosophy of making good use of everything. This was no ordinary soda bread either because we added interest by adding some freshly picked blackberries ( plucked with our own fair hands) and some apple from the River Cottage orchard.
Next up was a session with food photography session with Capture by Lucy. It was the first time I’d attended one of Lucy’s sessions and I found it very useful. We got to play around taking lots of arty photographs with food, but there were some concrete tips on how to take better pictures. I learnt a lot and I now know where I can look for more inspiration too as Lucy shared a number of her influences.
After all that taking pictures of food, we were ready to eat some. We had lunch in the barn. It was really, really good. It was great to see everyone together and check out the autumn fashion inspiration.
For our main course we had Dexter beef (reared at River Cottage HQ and aged for 5 weeks), which had been slow cooked (for 36 hours) till it was meltingly tender. It was served in a wholemeal ravioli on a bed of vegetable ragu (from the kitchen garden), with oh-so-freshly baked bread and the most wonderful corn on the cob that I have ever tasted.
Dessert was a fennel flower meringue, served with vanilla and coffee infused ice cream, with salted caramel and damsons. I’m not a coffee drinker, although I often eat coffee flavoured cake, but I’m not sure that I’ve tried coffee ice cream before, and it was delightful. The salted caramel really lifted the dish and the damsons were full of rich, autumnal flavour.
After lunch we went on a tour of the kitchen garden and the farm. As we went round it became clear that vegetables are now at the heart of the River Cottage philosophy. I think a lot of people associate River Cottage with meat or fish, but it’s moved on to bring vegetables to the heart of things. After all River Cottage is all about sustainability and making the best use of things, so vegetables are key. Even within vegetables some produce is makes a lot more sense than others. Food fashion fads like micro-greens can be wasteful of seeds and soil resources, so when you are trying to feed large numbers of people sustainably they just don’t make sense. River Cottage HQ is no longer self-sufficient in terms of fruit and vegetables grown, but they do as much as they can themselves and then source as locally as possible.
The stars of the garden and farm tour were the very friendly pigs. They looked so happy and well cared for. The same was true of the chickens. River Cottage rears animals for the table and makes good use of all parts of the pig (or other animal), which I think is a very respectful way to farm. If the pigs taste as good as the Dexter Beef that we had at lunch time, I’m sure there will be many visitors that agree. In fact, it’s the Pig in a Day course that is beckoning me back to River Cottage. I think I’ll be doing making sausages before long.