Days Out: River Cottage Summer Fair 2015

Back in May we attended our first ever event at River Cottage for their Spring Food Fair. As we were taking the tractor ride back up the hill at the end of the day, we were already looking forward to our next visit, and, as luck would have it, we wouldn’t have to wait too long…

The view of River Cottage HQ from the top of the hill

Roll forward three months to Sunday 16th August, and we once again found ourselves heading back to the East Devon border for the River Cottage Summer Fair. The event, which was spread over two days (15th & 16th August) included a wide range of attractions, including demonstrations on the Main Stage from guests such as Ping Coombes (2014 Masterchef champion), Gill Meller (River Cottage Group Head Chef), John Wright (River Cottage foraging guru), Pam ‘The Jam’ Corbin (Cakes, pickling and jam expert) and Lily Simpson (Writer of The Detox Kitchen Bible) – to name just a few.

As we arrived on the Sunday, we got there in time to watch Gill Meller produce his ultimate fry up, which, despite having breakfasted already, got me wanting a Hobbit-style ‘second breakfast’! River Cottage’s Steve Lamb (Head of Brand, Author and curing expert) was on-hand to introduce and guide the presentations, with his usual infectiously enthusiastic style.

Gill Meller & Steve Lamb  Gill Meller  Gill's ultimate fry up!

Having missed it at the last event, I made sure we joined in John Wright’s foraging tour, which was incredibly insightful, educational and entertaining. Among the various food finds along the way, it was the Sorrel that I found particularly of interest – a little v-shaped leaf, that, once chewed, gives off a surprising lemony kick. John doesn’t shy away from the fact he loves his alcoholic beverages, and throughout the tour there were many finds that he informed us could go into the making of a tipple or two. Incidentally, John has a great River Cottage Handbook that you can buy, aptly titled ‘Booze’.

John Wright gives a foraging tour of River Cottage HQ  Meadow flowers which can be used for brewing  John Wright's foraging tour of River Cottage HQ

Speaking of handbooks, Tim Maddams (Ex-Head Chef at the River Cottage Axminster Canteen) was on hand signing copies of his latest book (‘Handbook No.15: Game’). Having recently reviewed the book – which is truly worth getting – it was fantastic to finally meet him, and we grabbed a quick photo together with Gill for the site:

Tim Maddams, Seb Brook & Gill Meller

As we were attending together with some friends – each of us with a child in tow, there were plenty of activities to keep the little ones entertained. There was a bouncy castle, archery, donkey rides, face painting, welly wanging, a coconut shy, falconry displays, craft workshops, chicken sumo wrestling, and much more.

During the day we noticed a number of attendees wearing beautifully constructed flower crowns, which our daughter, Amelia instantly wanted. This also worked quite well as good behaviour bribery material for the end of the day. The pieces were made by Meadowsweet flowers & floristry, who had a truly awesome stand, offering a bespoke crown making service on the day.

Amelia on a Donkey ride  Amelia checking out the flower crowns  Amelia with her (well-earned) flower crown

There was a fantastic selection of food on offer on the day; baked goods, pulled pork tostadas, pizzas, crepes, game products, seafood, ice cream – in fact, far too many to list here.

Despite sampling a few of the offerings from the many stands, it was the River Cottage lunch menu that I was saving myself for (having previously tried the menu back at the Spring Fair). On offer this time around were: Roast onions & greens, pearl barley Tabbouleh, potato & spinach curry, River Cottage baked beans with tomato & garlic, English yellow split pea hummus, roast carrot, seed & tahini salad, red cabbage slaw, rosemary & lemon focaccia and roast beetroot with slow-cooked courgette sauce & oregano. All this was one one plate for just £6.50, and it was absolutely delicious. Nowhere have I had so many flavours and textures on one plate. Needless to say it was incredibly filling, and for once in my life I was glad there wasn’t a River Cottage dessert on offer!

Some of the fantastic food on offer from Good Game  The River Cottage Summer Fair Lunch Menu  Lunch!

After lunch, we went for a walk around the River Cottage vegetable patch, in front of the house, which had evolved in colour, shape and scent since our last visit. In particular the Artichokes had now gone to flower, producing the most amazing purple blooms, which attracted several varieties of bees and wasps. Everywhere you walk in the main grounds, is full of edible goods. Worthy of note, to the left of the main house is an extensive row of Raspberries; both red and gold, and opposite those, covering the full length of the garden wall are several varieties of pear, displayed angularly. The aesthetic of both were quite striking, and I was, by now, developing a bout of Gardeners envy.

Artichoke flower in bloom (with Wasp)  The wall of pairs!  Edible flowers from the River Cottage vegetable patch

Despite the fact this was a River Cottage event, the spirit of the day was very much in keeping with a traditional British Summer Fair. Everywhere you looked, both adults and kids were having fun and taking part in all that was on offer. The weather held out, too, which was only a plus.

We will be back next year for the River Cottage Spring Food Fair, which will now be held over 3 days from 28th-30th May 2016. See you there!

Information  River Cottage, East Devon · OS Ref: SY4706298490 · Price: £12.50 (Adults) / £FREE (Kids Under 12)

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