Kendal Food Festival: Foodie Paradise

Last weekend I had the ultimate foodie experience at Kendal Food Festival.

Not only did I eat/purchase some of the most incredible food, I was also educated in the importance of local, artisan produce. My food snobbery levels have increased somewhat dramatically, as I realised when I found myself tutting at the sourdough in Sainsbury’s, which I just know was NOT properly prepared with a good flour and a proper sourdough starter.

Ok, so it may be somewhat unrealistic for a poor graduate such as myself to ONLY eat artisan bread, locally and responsibly reared wild boar and unpasteurised farmhouse cheeses, but I am definitely going to make more of an effort to think about where my food comes from and how it’s produced.

In the spirit of foodie camaraderie, I am going to share a few of the important lessons I learnt at the festival.

  1. A sourdough is only as good as its starter – and they are surprisingly easy to make. An enlightening talk and tasting by Aidan Monks from Lovingly Artisan also taught me the importance of good flour (hint: it is very important).
  1. A proper, artisan sourdough is suitable for those poor gluten intolerant folks among us (I really do pity you). I wish I had taken notes, but as far as I remember the way the bread is made, developed and fermented results in the gluten elements which people react to breaking down. It’s obviously a lot more complex than this and there are many more benefits – I would urge you to pop in to Lovingly Artisan at Oxenholme Station for a chat with Aidan, and I think they run workshops/courses as well if you want to get involved http://www.lovinglyartisan.com/.
  1. Wild Boar sausages are good. This, coming from a former vegetarian, may surprise some of my friends and family. Peter Gott spoke about the importance of producing and eating local, artisan food, in relation to his years of experience farming pigs and wild boar. He also introduced us to the Slow Food movement – definitely worth reading about. https://www.sillfield.co.uk/slow-food/
  1. You can make a living from being really dedicated to cheese. This was a big one; I left dreaming of my new career as a cheesemonger.
  1. People who sell cheese are called cheesemongers. Who knew?
  1. A proper farmhouse cheese will taste different one day to the next – no two (proper) cheeses are exactly the same.
  1. Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire is the only unpasteurised Lancashire cheese (read: the only worthwhile Lancashire cheese).

If you hadn’t picked it up already, the highlight of my day was undoubtedly the cheese talk (and this is a big statement – I had a VERY good day). Andy Swinscoe, aka the king of cheese, runs an incredible cheese shop in Yorkshire, where they sell a selection of the very best cheeses. And if anyone is qualified to make that call, it’s Mr Swinscoe. His life has been a journey all over the country (and the world) building up a knowledge of cheese. I urge you to go to the Courtyard Dairy if you can, or order a cheese selection online at http://www.thecourtyarddairy.co.uk. Graham Kirkham spoke with him about Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese, which I already know and love. Every time I go back to Watford to visit my family I am instructed not to bother turning up unless I have some of the famous cheese from Lancaster Market.

If, like me, you are a cheese fanatic, then you will understand the excitement of discovering an incredible new cheese. I am a big fan of blue cheese of every variety, from gorgonzola to stilton – as a child in the playground I would pity my friends and their jam sandwiches as I tucked into my stilton on homemade bread (much to their horror – ‘but it’s mouldy!’). So when Andy brought out some Cote Hill Blue, my eyes lit up… and I was not disappointed. What’s more, as you can order it online, every birthday present for the next year is sorted. You are all very welcome, friends and relatives.

As well as the enlightening talks (except the meringue one – I was hoping for more than ‘mix egg whites with sugar, then cook at a low temperature) the streets of Kendal were lined with stalls selling everything from chutney to brownies. I enjoyed a delicious steak burger and a little pork pie – my vegetarian days are well and truly behind me. We also popped in to the 1657 Chocolate House. Anywhere where the entire first page of the menu is just different types of hot chocolate gets my vote. I opted for ginger and it was deliciously warming, and the atmosphere in the little wooden-beam-filled uneven-floored higgledy-piggledy building was lovely.

So, as you may be able to tell, I would definitely recommend the Kendal Food Festival to anyone. There were family events going on too with plenty for the kids, so make sure you don’t miss it next year.

http://www.kendalfestivaloffood.co.uk

Mince Pie Magic

I wasn’t going to get particularly excited about Christmas this year. It’s the same drawn-out buildup every year, the same overplayed Christmas songs, the same over-sentimentalisation of, well, everything. I say this every year, and every year I end up wearing tinsel singing Christmas songs at the top of my lungs¬†to anyone near me, and this year is, predictably, no different.

I’m not religious; Christmas day to me doesn’t hold any particular significance, but it’s the excitement, colour, sparkle, fun and festivity that overcomes all else in the buildup to the day that I can’t help but love. I gave in to the Christmas magic this week and committed two dangerously festive acts: I made mince pies and drank the ONLY flavoured coffee which is even remotely acceptable, a gingerbread latte. I’m not even a little bit sorry.

I don’t think it’s worth posting a recipe for mince pies; no further instructions are needed other than make pastry, fill, bake. The enjoying of the mince pies is a far more important process, as such¬†questions are posed as icing sugar or caster? Cream, ice cream or custard? Hot or cold?

The only thing I will say with absolute clarity is that there is NO excuse for buying shop-bought mince pies, they are so easy to make and taste so much better homemade. You don’t even have to like mince pies – put on some Christmas music, dance around your kitchen and enjoy the seasonal scent of festive baking, then take them into work or hand out to guests and spread the joy.

This blog is becoming more and more festive by the second – unintentionally (I told you, I can’t help but be consumed by Christmassiness) – keep an eye out for another post coming soon about the chocolate eclair Christmas tree I made with my sister last year…

Happy Christmas Countdown!

Pre-Christmas Custard Tart

So it has just hit me today that it’s ACTUALLY November. How did that happen? We’ve gone from fruit tarts and iced coffee to mince pies and gingerbread lattes in the blink of an eye. However, I am a strong believer that Christmas is strictly for Christmas time; nothing makes me angrier than a Christmas advert in August. The solution? It’s the perfect time for some christmassy-but-not-too-christmassy bakes!

There is nothing better than a homemade custard tart, and with its nutmeggy warmth this classic is perfect for the almost-Christmas period. I use two different recipes found from the almighty Google – The BBC Good Food recipe is great but uses shop-bought shortcrust (cheats). You can, of course, go down this route; it is a lot easier but just not the same… I have picked a random basic pastry recipe but any will do, just make sure you follow the steps in the main recipe and include nutmeg in the pastry, its worth it!

Tips:

  • Make sure there is no air trapped under the pastry or you will end up with a custardy-bubbly mess.
  • You will have heard this before but keep the pastry as cold as possible at all times. Particularly challenging if you are a walking-talking hot water bottle like myself.
  • Try it hot but make sure you save some to have cold the next day – its delightfully different but equally as delicious each way!
  • It is a little pricey but make sure you use real vanilla pods – nothing else will taste anywhere near as good.

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/13353/custard-tart-with-nutmeg-pastry-

http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/3080/shortcrust-pastry.aspx?o_is=Hub_TopRecipe_5

custard tart

Enjoy!