Earlier this month I had a welcome invite to spend an evening at River Cottage near Axminster on the Dorset/Devon border. Having loved every minute of my self funded trip there earlier this year for an advanced gluten free baking course with expert Naomi Devlin as part of my own commitment to CPD, I naturally jumped at the chance. The last few months have been rather busy, it was the week prior to app launch and more than anything I was excited about sitting on the train from London with a book and some tunes for almost 3 hours each way.
I’ve followed River Cottage since it’s early television days when Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall first popped up to teach us about River Cottage’s way of cooking using seasonal, organic and locally sourced foods. A trip to River Cottage today shows this is still very much their aim. Vegetables where possible are harvested from their own organic kitchen garden situated next to the famous farmhouse, and meats and seafood are also sourced from the local area. The day of our visit the head chef informed us that each day they fix their menus depending on what produce they have available. A chef job that sounds like the most fun, yet nerve-wracking opportunity.
I was invited to River Cottage with Foodies 100 and shared the evening with lots of other food and parenting bloggers, many of whom I already know well. After a 3 hour train ride to Axminster, followed by a taxi ride with Nicola from A Kitchen Sanctuary and Erica from Nine To Three Thirty – who were both staying at my hotel, the final part of the journey was to get a whole lot more bumpy in the form of a tractor ride down the step valley from the car park to the secluded cottage area.
It was nearing dusk when we arrived, and with a threatening air of a rain storm in the air, most of us headed around the grounds for a quick wander and photo opportunity whilst we waited for everyone else to arrive. In that time I managed to take as many photos as possible of the various varieties and colours of autumnal kale and chard.
After some light networking involving an ‘I’m a celebrity in the jungle’ style hand in the covered box exercise (full of fruit and veg not snakes and spiders) and some discussions on blogging collaborations we moved to the dining room for the main event – A chef demo and a seasonal banquet.
The demo focussed on how to best brine meats for a succulent Christmas season. Soaking turkey in gin sounds like a fantastic idea, and if I ever get the chance to host Christmas then this is definitley something I can imagine taking on board.
Then the main event, dinner itself. As I have a tough time taking photos without natural light you’ll just have to imagine how good everything looked as well as tasted. It was a seasonal food lovers delight from the appetizers right through to the dessert. A bit too much food to be eaten in one session left me a bit stuffed, but I enjoyed (and mindfully ate) every well put together mouthful.
I was sitting with familiar faces in Vicki from Free From Fairy, and Sus from Rough Measures, we were all really impressed with the trouble they went to to accommodate our various dietary requirements. It was also great to meet new folk, like table neighbour Tara from Tara’s Busy Kitchen amongst others.
Seasonal veg featured heavily (though no kale bizarrely). Littered throughout the meal we sampled Choggia beetroot, fennel fronds, romanesco in a purée, celeriac, carrot purée and to accompany the main meal savoy cabbage fried in butter and garlic. Local meat and seafood made an appearance too; Exmouth mussels, braised pulled local rabbit, and river cottage pork brined ham with honey and mustard. For the vegetarians, UK grown beans from Hodemedods were a welcome side dish to poached egg and parsnip rosti. Dessert focused on autumn fruit of the moment – apples served up in various ways as a crisp, a puree and accompanied a rather sickly sweet ‘oh what the heck I’m at River Cottage I may as well’ honeycomb creme brûlée.
Soon it was time to go home, make our way back up the valley on the tractor, and grab a taxi back to our B&B in Axminster. A very enjoyable evening was had by all (she says very much in the manner of a school trip report).
River Cottage run evenings like this (minus the blogger networking obvs) throughout the Christmas season as well as during the rest of the year and you can find out all about their events as well as their cooking courses on their website.
Thanks to Foodies100 and River Cottage for inviting me on this trip. All opinions are my own.3