My good foodie friend (her of the cheese making kit) and I went to the Food & Drink Fayre in Newark today, in the sunshine. I have to admit I went off with fairly low expectations as the marketing had been pretty low key and fairly short on detail. I’m always a bit suspect when no list of firms taking part is forthcoming.
However, I have to take my misgivings back (but not the amazement at their lacklustre marketing). Perhaps they got lucky because the sun shone, but there were lots of people wandering, tasting and buying. A big truck hosted a stage for ongoing demos and music, and also was being put to good use tonight with an open air showing of Mamma Mia. Hopefully the audience, with a little lubrication perhaps, will sing louder than Pierce.
Back to the food. The one thing that the outing really reinforced, beside the fact that I do love a potato roasted in duck fat, is that these are fabulous hunting grounds for unexpected and unusual foodie gifts, as well as immediate food shopping for the week ahead. There’s stuff you might buy for a “just in case” moment, as well as the more person specific stuff.
And I hate to mention the word, but once the kids go back to school in just a couple of weeks, you just know it will be downhill to Christmas. My absolute for finding fabulous gifts and presents of any type is shop in plenty of time, as rushed last minute things are always a) a compromise b) often disappointing and c) more than you planned to spend in the first place. So getting out to your local food festival or fayre now will at least furnish you with some good ideas if not actual gifts.
What caught my eye today? Here goes:
1. Short courses at The School of Artisan Foods – please, sign me up for every course, these sound amazing and are in the beautiful surroundings of the Welbeck Estate, which is also where they make Stichelton unpasteurised cheese. I think these courses would make a great gift for a foodie and cover everything from preserve making to a basic brewing course, hand raised pies and terrines and even wild yeast baking. Half days start at £65 with full days from £125, including refreshments and lunch. Worth travelling for I would say!
2. Poacher’s Pasties – these were scrumptious, a pasty of pheasant and venison. You can get them sent mail order across the country, as well as some very good pate. Richard Glover describes himself as a whingeing Pom but we found him very dry and amusing, and he can’t half dish up a good pasty!
3. Chapman’s Finest Fishcakes – direct from Grimsby, making the most of the local fish and potatoes. There are very traditional fishcakes which were awarded the Gold Prize at the Great Taste Awards in 2008, but I rather liked the smoked haddock with smoked bacon. Not available directly from them online, but they are at the local food markets in the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire area.
4. Spire Brewery – for the beer drinkers, this is a small brewery based in Chesterfield. We didn’t do a lot of tasting, but I am rather partial to a stout, so would suggest their Sgt.Pepper Stout, or perhaps the Beer-A Lynn. You can go do a brewery tour, and even talk to them about a personalised beer.
5. My Secret Kitchen – I’m not normally a fan of party plan events, but quite liked this one. Perhaps it’s because it’s the first one based around food. I’d not heard of them before but they are nationwide. We tried the red pepper cheese ball mix, which was retro but interesting, the balsamic reduction, which I can imagine being very useful and the maple caramel sauce, which was just divine. It all seemed like good food and a non pressurised sell, so we will probably book a session, get a few of us together, some wine, and see what we really like.
The other thing to always look out for at these events is the Country Market stall, otherwise known as the WI. I would always stock up on home cooked jams, curds and pickles. These always make a good standby gift to take if you’re going for dinner somewhere, although the curds don’t have a very long shelf life. Jams and pickles will still probably be good at Christmas, so you could use them as the basis of your own gift collection for someone.
Go find your nearest festival or fayre, and support your local producers! They need you this year more than ever!
Photo of Huddersfield Food Festival by Janet 59.