What does a self-confessed foodie do with her 3 month old son on the bank holiday weekend?
Visit the fair of course!
No, not the type of fair that includes dodgems, candy floss and bearded ladies. A much better one: The River Cottage Spring Fair.
Although I’ve heard great things I’ve never made it over the hill to Axminster for such an event before. So it was with much excitement that my husband and I packed everything but the kitchen sink into the car (necessary for a day out with a baby) and hit the road.
Following the success of our day out at the Exeter Festival of South West Food & Drink, I was quietly confident that this too would be an enjoyable experience with our son. After days of glorious weather I had visions of relaxing on a picnic rug, sampling delicious food and watching the entertainment, with little F happily wriggling and gurgling away.
But that beloved thing, the great British weather, had other ideas. The heavens opened just after we’d parked up and began the bumpy descent through a muddy field and down a stoney track to Park Farm. It’s true that a bit of rain never hurt anybody, but it did get them soaked to the bone and running for shelter. Of course everyone had the same idea so undercover sanctuary was scarce, but it gave us a good excuse to do some cheeky sampling in the suppliers tent.
Local South West Producers
Many of the market stalls were taken by suppliers to River Cottage, giving an assurance of quality and ethical standards. There was a mixture of products, with more traditional foods such as cheese from Quicke’s and cured meats from the guys at Good Game. It was fun to also taste some more unusual food combinations, including apple cider vinegar and salted honey ‘Fitcorn’ from Willy Chase’s and vanilla beer from Littlepod.
River Cottage Kitchen Garden
With the showers showing no sign of letting up, we bravely made a dash for it through the kitchen garden (well, as much as you can dash when pushing a pram), which was everything you’d expect from River Cottage – beautifully organised, yet informal and appealing to the senses.
I’ve often seen this kitchen garden on the television, with Hugh cooking up a masterpiece using his freshly dug up goodies, so it was satisfying to see it in the flesh. I admit to experiencing a small pang of envy that my teeny veg bed at home would never be a patch on this vegetable garden of Eden, but I guess we all need something to aspire to!
From the garden we moved to the courtyard and watched the chefs at work on the hot grill, whilst enjoying a latte (me) and pint of Old Jollop’s cider (hubby). We gave F a quick refresh in the baby changing room, then sought refuge from the rain to feed him. Possibly not the most appropriate place, but we ended up in the cocktail tent. Well, needs must!
After the three of us had enjoyed some liquid refreshment, the rain showed mercy and finally cleared up, so we made the most and stomped along the straw covered path into the meadow. This for me was the main attraction of the fair – the delicious food!
Quality definitely won over quantity here as there was space for more food stalls, but what was on offer was enough to make you salivate. From pimped up takeaway favourites like stonebaked pizza and posh kebabs, to pulled pork baps and River Cottage curries, there was something for every taste.
It was a tough decision but we opted for a kebab to start from the Posh Kebab Company, made with Angus beef and served on a flatbread with salad leaves and dressing. It was undoubtably the most upmarket kebab I’ve ever had and quite superior in taste and quality. A very appropriate company name indeed.
We couldn’t possibly leave it there so next we shared a ‘Porker’ pizza from Rebel Town Pizza, which consisted of caramelised onion, Cumberland sausage and green pepper, with basil leaves and healthy lashings of balsamic dressing drizzled on top. This particular pizza is apparently award-winning and I can see why – the flavours complimented each other well and the base was light and crispy at the edges. Watching it bake in the stone pizza oven added to the experience and although we didn’t have to wait long at all for it to be ready, I think we still demolished it in half the time it took to cook.
Something for the Kids
Fully fed, we turned our attentions to the entertainment – a man blowing giant bubbles. Well I guess you had to be there, but it really was quite impressive and certainly kept the hoards of children happy.
In fact, there was more than enough to entertain the mini masses. Wellie wanging and shelter building seemed to be popular, as did the coconut shy and bug house building. I think my favourite activity might have been the mud kitchen though, just the kind of dirty and quite literally down to earth activity that I loved as a child.
Entertainment for the grown-ups
It wasn’t just the kids who had an extensive entertainment bill to choose from. For the adults there was live music to listen to, a pop-up book shop to peruse and talks to enjoy from various experts on subjects ranging from foraging, to cooking and curing your own food.
Those seeking something more hands on could enjoy cocktail making masterclasses, a taster at the art of blacksmithing at the forge, or simply the sport of lifting a glass or two in the bar.
One Final Lap
After enjoying exploring the fair in what became a dry afternoon, we began heading back towards the entrance and decided to do one final lap of the outdoor market stalls. That steep incline back to the car was on our minds, so to give ourselves an energy boost, we spent a bit of time at the Old Jollop Cider stand. Old Jollop was the name of a tradition in Somerset where farmers gave workers cider at the end of the working day, to help cure their aches and pains. It seemed only right then that we sample some, purely for medicinal reasons.
The quality of these hand crafted Somerset ciders was impressive. The first that we tried was a vintage blend, which in cider can often be dry and almost sour, but this was a very pleasant and smooth drink. Our friendly cider maker was passionate and knowledgeable and no sooner had we finished one sample than he was pouring the next.
Our second drink was named ‘With A Twist’ – a sparkling cider with elderflower. The two flavours mixed well and created a refreshing drink.
The last cider was a full strength lightly sparkling variety, which was again very enjoyable and one that I could imagine being happily quaffed in the garden on a sunny afternoon. Unable to resist, we bought one of each for good measure, then began the steady ascent back to the car.
A Fine Day Out
Pushing the pram laden with our purchases of cider, sausages and bottle of Conker gin back up the hill, we congratulated ourselves at persevering through the rain to enjoy a fantastic family day out. My fantasy of picnic rug reclining may not have become a reality, but we still had a fun time and tried some delicious food and drink. The atmosphere was great and I hope to visit Home Farm again soon, perhaps for the next River Cottage Festival in August – when the great British weather might be a bit kinder!