On a fine Spring Sunday, some friends and I went on a little adventure out to the middle of nowhere, also known as East Devon. The purpose of our trip was to visit a friend who had recently moved in with her other half in a beautiful little red bricked cottage somewhere near Sidmouth.
There are few better feelings than driving out into the country when the weather is good and you have a free day ahead of you. It gives a notion of escapism and living in Exeter, it’s also a reminder of what beautiful idyllic surroundings there are here. As we left the city behind and headed off the beaten track, I was goggling out of the window (don’t worry, I wasn’t driving!) at the huge houses that went whizzing by, nestled amongst the grass and rape fields, like a green and bright yellow patchwork quilt.
We landed at our destination and as we stepped through the garden gate I was already in my element. To the right, a polytunnel which looked to be overflowing with plants and vegetables caught my eye. I figured it would be rude to go noseying before saying hello so I carried on towards the house. But then, what was this? The scent of wood smoke was in the air – my first thought was that the woodburner was lit for our arrival – but as we rounded the corner we saw a pizza oven built out of the same rustic red brick as the house, smoking away happily.
We were very impressed and the knowledge that we were going to be treated to homemade pizza for dinner provoked squeals of delight. Homemade pizza = three happy girlies!
After enjoying a cuppa and a catch up with our friends, not to mention some prettily decorated cupcakes for energy, us ladies took the two boisterous black Labradors on a walk. The scenery was unspoilt and beautiful and we meandered along dirt tracks, through fords and forests. Pausing occasionally to admire the views down through the rolling Devon countryside, we nattered all the way around and worked up an appetite worthy of a pile of pizzas.
As we rounded our way back to the house, the pollytunnel was calling me again and I managed to drag the others in for a forage. All manner of treasures lurked in the warmth: sweet peas, chard, kale, herbs and ripening big fat juicy strawberries, elevated in beds. We took a selection of anything we thought would make a good topping for our pizzas and headed indoors.
Sitting around the kitchen table, we set to work slicing and dicing the pizza toppings, being bribed to labour by a selection of crisps and dips provided by our hosts.
We had every imaginable topping: mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn, spring onions, red onions, green, orange and red peppers and just in season asparagus. I contributed some chorizo for us meat eaters and our hostess, Kate, was wilting kale, red onion and garlic together to add to the options.
While we prepared the toppings, Rob took care of the base, having a good work out kneading away at the dough.
As well as churning out six bases for the pizza, he also rustled together a loaf of bread packed with nuts and spices and some flat breads for us to nibble on whilst waiting for the pizzas.
We made an excellent team and in a conveyor belt style, us girls creatively decorated each base with a carefully considered combination of toppings. It was fantastic fun choosing which flavours were complimentary and we were like kids in a sweet shop dribbling over the kaleidoscope of diced foods before us.
Our first pizza was one of the best: a colourful rainbow of tomatoes, sweetcorn, peppers, mushroom and onion, starting of course with a layer of tomato puree and finishing with a generous scattering of grated cheese. Further combinations included wilted chard and chorizo, asparagus with cheese, mushroom with red onion and peppers and raw chard with tomatoes. We were practically salivating and could hardly wait for our creations to be ready to consume.
As each culinary masterpiece was finished, it was whipped from under our noses by Rob and carefully fed into the pizza oven to bake away. Then a replacement blank canvas was positioned in front of us artists for work to begin on the next. The oven was doing its job well and getting hotter by the minute so as soon as we had finished one pizza, a freshly baked specimen was ready for us to sample.
We dove in greedily, burning our fingers and mouths on the hot cheese – but we didn’t care. Some how when you’ve really worked to create your dinner it tastes that bit better. These pizzas weren’t just choose your own topping, they were almost grow your own with some of the vegetables coming from the pollytunnel just a few yards away and the bases being crafted by Rob’s fair hands.
Silence descended upon the kitchen for the first time all day as we munched away, savouring the mixture of flavours. The bases were the perfect thickness, offering a light crunch without being doughy and the smokey taste from the outdoor oven came through without being overpowering.
When down to the final base, we piled every scrap of remaining topping onto the pizza, creating one last edible dome. Not wanting to waste anything, this gave us a random combination of flavours which worked surprisingly well. Soon there were only crumbs left and we shared that satisfied full feeling, with the added smugness of all having contributed directly to our feast in a hands-on way.
After a quick tidy-up, we enjoyed mugs of steaming tea as dusk settled in the valley around us. Sleepy and happy, us visitors said goodbye to our hosts and leaving the picturesque countryside behind, we made our way back towards the city. As we approached Exeter we all agreed that this had been one of the most enjoyable days we’d spent in a long time. Excellent company, scenery and homemade food were the perfect ingredients to create a heavenly Devon Sunday.