Friday, April 25, 2008

A real good time at the Real Food Festival

If you like visiting farmers’ markets then you will just love the Real Food Festival at Earls’ Court. It a giant farmers’ market, jam-packed with small food and drink producers where you can meet the people who really know and care about their produce, who’ve grown it, tended it and now are here to sell it. You get to sample their produce, discuss the provenance and uses and in some cases you can even meet the produce. As soon as I entered I was intrigued by the sawdust strewn floor, this isn’t Earls’ Court as I’m familiar with and then the second thing you spot is a pen. A pig pen! And the two rather sleepy and porky inhabitants are Pinky – the Middlewhite and Perky – the large black pig (though he was quite small really).

I think they were the only livestock, I spotted a chicken but as it didn’t move from the spot where it was perch proud atop a pyramid of eggs, I am assuming it wasn’t live. After stopping to greet the porkers, I didn’t really know where to turn, I was literally like a child in a sweetshop, and it was truly a cornucopia of foodie delights. There were Pooh-hypnotising jars of honey and a petition to save the bees, stands chock full of chocolate, gardens of herbs, mountains of goats’ cheese (ughh), pots of tea, links upon links of sausages and cupboards full of every condiment imaginable.

To ensure I wasn’t absolutely laden within moments of arriving I vowed to flit from stand to stand like a butterfly and make a considered opinion after exploring the entire hall. Halfway round I found one of the cooking demos and thought I would watch for a while and then continue my grand tour. However they wanted more participants for the next session which is how I ended up making some dough and then a slightly wonky fougasse under the tutorage of Richard Bertinet.

It was a lovely idea, you got to shape (or butcher) the dough as Richard the French boulanger wandered around and wielded his scraper. He doesn’t believe in kneading and pummelling in the traditional way, he works the dough in a very distinctive fashion. And when your dough was “like a baby’s bottom” you dusted it with the merest amount of flour and returned it to the bowl to rest. As his audience might tire of expectantly lurking around the stand for an hour, he instead produced large bowls of previously proven dough which he portioned and handed out so we could each make our own fougasse loaf. These could be customised with black olives, tomatoes, rosemary and/or salt. Naturally I chose just the latter and after about half and hour returned to collect my warm, fragrant and surprisingly good-looking albeit rather arrow-headish loaf. And unsurprisingly I also furnished myself with Richard’s latest book Dough, luckily complete with CD so I can examine his unique dough working technique at leisure.

Whilst my bread is happily baking, I continue my culinary expedition, I wandered onto the white and airily modern Daylesford Organics stand to try and get another deliciously smelling ginger candle but they only seem to have grapefruit and horror of horrors, vine tomatoes!

I find a fabulous array of Richard Bramble gorgeously decorated plates, bowls, boards and linen. It is definitely a collection I would give house-room to if I had any room in my house or flat even.

I’ve hankered after the stunning mussel-festooned porcelain bowls for just so long but I always did wonder if I would feel obliged to only heap them up with creamy, garlicky, finely diced leek-flecked mussels. Such a quandary!

And the same theory applies to the limited edition Jersey Royals bowl, produced to commemorate 125 years of Jersey Royals. They are also on the Jersey stand itself, filled to the brim with the first-of-the-year flaky skinned tubers.

For once to be sensible I have to concede that I have neither the space nor the arm power to transport these highly covetable delights home I console myself with some of their cards itself. I think they will adorn my kitchen cupboards beautifully until I acquire additional enough cupboards to start housing my collection.

On my travels I bought some tasty free-range chicken liver pâté from Brookland White Artisan Poulterers and some of my favourite Stark Naked pesto (come on Waitrose, when will you finally stock this?), they have a bunch of varieties but I went for the usual basil and for a change, some chives.

Harvey Nichols were there promoting their wonderful Grana Padano cheese which I discovered at their cheese and wine evening back in October and have enjoyed ever since. I learnt two intriguing facts, the leftover denuded Grana Padano wheel is often use to house a risotto for a party (what a wonderful idea) and apparently it is also suitable for lactose intolerant diners. Though I've been unable to confirm either statement.

After tasting several balsamic vinegars I went for some unusual varieties from Apulia Blend, firstly a couple of gold meal winners balsamic vinegar syrup with white truffle, a balsamic vinegar with orange and a very intriguing white balsamic vinegar.

I was initiated into the world of granola with some tasty snack pots of jumbo oats, dates and apples from LoveDean. I’ve never liked adding milk to cereal and the fact that these granolas are promoted as milk free nibbles is all terribly interesting.

To enhance my green credentials I purchased some Onya Bags incredibly light nylon bags to use when weighing fruit and vegetables at the supermarket, instead of the usual plastic ones.

I pondered getting some oysters from Fishworks for a future ‘project’ but decided to get them nearer to home so in the interim grabbed a few photos of the magnificent looking crabs and lobsters – a veritable shoal of Pinchies!

Amongst the food and drink producers were also a smattering of the regular suspects at food shows, Proven Products selling my beloved silver Swissline Bamix, Woll Pans and a new one for me some rather fabulous Titan turbo peeler from the ebullient peeler man (who's not going to love a silver versatile peeler with turbo written down the side?) As astonishing as it may seem, I managed to find a shiny contraption that I didn’t possess so I just had to nab this new gadget.

Action against Hunger have been able to procure all sorts of treats for a “Love Food, Fight Hunger” campaign goodie bag. They kindly swapped the Hardens’ guide (which I get anyway) for the Tana Ramsay book (yes, another cookbook that I don’t possess, astonishingly!) and as well of the edible delights pictured there was also a big bag of porridge and another of crisps. It is of course an awfully good cause, and despite the alarming weight of the resultant bag, I hope they will be snapped up by everyone.

I don’t even think I managed to get round the entire show, by the final bell I was flagging considerably looking like a flour dusted packhorse toting all my exciting purchases as well as lashings of pamphlets and frankly couldn’t carry much more even if I did find more things I wanted. I am pleased that sanity prevailed and I didn’t squirrel away some Richard Bramble porcelain in my copious bags, well almost pleased now I’m home!

There are two more days left of possibly my number one ever food show. I noticed that their tagline is ‘fall in love with food all over again’ - I don’t think I needed to fall in love with food again but I’ve certainly fallen in love with food shows again!

Hurry, hurry, hurry to Earls’ Court tomorrow or Sunday, you will have a real good time!

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