A couple of weeks ago I think I fell a little bit in love… with the River Cottage.
I spent a day there experiencing a taste of what it has to offer along with 50 other fabulous food bloggers and I had a really brilliant time.
I’m assuming at this point that you’ve all heard of the River Cottage from the famous cookery programs. But if you’re anything like me (until recently that is) you won’t know about the other things it has to offer.
The River Cottage is the home of an award winning cookery and chefs school where you can learn about anything from game cookery, to christmas bread making, to vegetable growing and foraging. If you prefer to have someone else doing the cooking then they hold a whole host of dining events (and if the food tastes anything like the food I ate when I was there, I’d definitely recommend one of these). There are also four canteens, award winning restaurants and delis in Axminster, Bristol, Plymouth and Winchester showcasing the best local produce.
Everything at the River Cottage is built on the foundation of sustainable, local, seasonal produce.
Anyway, on to my day…
The day started with a very bumpy tractor ride from the car park to the main house, before heading into a firelit yurt for a quick talk about our day.
This is the first blogging event I’ve been to and I was ever so slightly worried that everyone would know each other already and I’d be hovering in the corner looking awkward. However, it turns out that food bloggers are lovely 🙂 and given I spend my days reading everything they have to write, I realised I knew people too even though we’d never met.
Our first activity was a food photography session with Lucy Heath from Capture by Lucy. She shared some great tips including how to improve your food photography using lego (I’ll be testing this tip out along with a few others in a dedicated food photography post soon).
Lucy demonstrating some food photography
We were then taken on a tour of the smallholding by Will Livingstone, the head gardener. I found it impossible not to get swept away with his enthusiasm for the River Cottage and it’s ethos. Some of the stories he told about commercial farming really made me start to think about what I eat and where the food I buy comes from. The great thing about it was that it wasn’t preachy – that’s a sure-fire way to make me switch off and stop listening. It was engaging.
During our tour we got to sample a few bits from the River Cottage garden, including golden raspberries (apparently if you want to grow raspberries at home you should go for the golden ones as birds don’t think they’re ripe so leave them alone – a little fact I picked up) and nasturtium flowers (I thought they’d be sweet but they were really peppery – great for salads).
Golden Raspberries and Nastertiums
A few of the River Cottage crops and animals
After a nice walk in the sunshine it was time for lunch – beef ravioli with vegetable ragu, followed by damsons with coffee ice cream and fennel blossom meringues (there were other flavours going on too, but I was far too busy enjoying it to write any more down 🙂 ). I’m not sure if it’s the fact that all of the food was organic and locally sourced, or the fact that the chefs really know what they’re doing, but it tasted goooooooood!
The main course
After lunch it was the part of the day I had been most looking forward to, heading into the River Cottage Cookery school to make butter and soda bread. Despite being a room full of food bloggers, surprisingly few of us had made butter before. I have wanted to ever since I saw Mary Berry do it on TV once, I’d just never gotten around to it.
Me and my butter
The class was led by head chef, Gill Mellor, who demonstrated what we needed to do before we had a chance to try ourselves. We started off by heading back outside to forage for blackberries – I like the River Cottage style of foraging. Being told exactly what I’m looking for and where I’ll find it really took the concern I usually have about accidentally poisoning myself away.
We then headed back inside to whip up some butter (quite literally). This involves beating cream until it separates and looks revolting, squeezing out the excess liquid and popping it into the fridge to set (I’ll share a proper recipe soon). We then saved the buttermilk to make some spelt soda bread with apples, honey, nuts and cheese, as well as the blackberries we foraged.
Head chef, Gill showing us how it’s done and a little bit of foraging for blackberries
It was a brilliant class and was over far too quickly. I’d love to go back and take one of their full day classes sometime (or maybe I’ll really go for it and try one of the 2-day or 4-day courses!).
Time for a bit more coffee and chatting before heading back onto our tractor and off home.
It’s difficult to pick out which bit of the River Cottage I loved the most, was it the peaceful rural setting? The delicious food? The well equipped, well run cookery school? The passion of the staff for the place they work? It’s difficult to say, I suspect it was a little bit of everything.