Explore Britain's Food festivals: Eat, drink and be merry
As the 'barbecue summer' fizzles out, Aoife O'Riordain samples this season's gastronomic events
Tuesday 22 September 2009
The poet John Keats extolled the pleasures of the "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" in his classic "Ode to Autumn". In celebration of this time of plenty, and as British Food Fortnight is in full swing, towns, villages and stately homes up and down the country are blooming with food festivals, fairs and celebrations dedicated to all things gastronomic. See celebrity chefs in action, pick up some helpful tips and get the opportunity to stock up with meat, cheese, drink, fruit and vegetables from the people that produce them.
Now in its third year and held in the grounds of the imposing Cawdor Castle (01667 404 401; www.cawdor castle.com) in Nairn, Living Food has quickly become the premier showcase for the very best produce available in the surrounding towns, villages and islands of the Scottish Highlands. Guaranteed to live up to this year's slogan, "Eat and Enjoy", Saturday's festival will see the 50 or so participating stallholders selling everything from Aberdeen Angus beef, rare breed pork, wild venison and locally produced fruit and vegetables to locally produced textiles, tweeds and accessories. An organic barbecue and beer from the Black Isle Brewery will keep hunger pangs at bay. Tickets cost £2.50.
The organisers behind the Manchester Food and Drink Festival ( www.foodanddrinkfestival.com), which takes place from 1 – 12 October, have come up with a novel way to help burn off those calories after a spot of over-indulgence. It has plotted three one-hour "festival food walks", explaining the city's culinary history, including the origins of Chinatown and the evolution of the Manchester markets from the Middle Ages to the present day. Sustainability and food waste are the buzzwords at this year's event, which includes a comprehensive array of foodie happenings as well as appearances and demonstrations from celebrity chefs such as Clarissa Dickson Wright, the Hairy Bikers and Michael Caines.
It is little wonder Melton Mowbray has become the home to one of the country's largest annual celebrations of regional food, given that two iconic British staples are from the area – the Melton Mowbray pork pie and Stilton cheese. Expect plenty of the aforementioned classics as well as bread, cakes, chocolate, honey, cordials and locally cured meats to taste and buy at the East Midlands Food and Drink Festival on 3 and 4 October. More than 200 exhibitors will descend on the grounds of the 16th-century Brooksby Hall from 10am to 5pm to display their fare; and there will be book signings, lectures and cookery demonstrations at the festival's Rangemaster Theatre. A children's festival is also scheduled for 2 October. Admission costs £6 (or £5 through the eShop at www.goleicester shire.com). See www.eastmidlands foodfestival.co.uk for further details.
Cassis made from locally grown blackcurrants will give a slightly Gallic flavour to the Flavours of Herefordshire Food Festival on 24 and 25 October. Between 10.30am and 4pm, producers from the surrounding area will be selling their artisan foods and locally grown fruit and vegetables. There will be cookery demonstrations by the chef Gino D'Acampo, tastings and talks in The Cider Press, while children can join in the fun with autumn traditions such as apple bobbing and pressing fresh apple juice. Entry costs £5. No trip to Herefordshire would be complete without a tour along its cider route, where you can sample the offerings of 14 large and small producers in this idyllic corner of England. See www.visit herefordshire.co.uk for further details.
To coincide with the end of its Seafood Week, the fishing village of Emsworth on the edge of Chichester Harbour, West Sussex, is playing host to a traditional-style food festival and seafood market on 25 October. The piscatorial theme will be in evidence among the 50 stalls selling fish and non fish-related produce as well as music from The Old Seadogs. At 10am, visitors can join the Emsworth Oyster Trail, a guided walk to learn how this village was once a major oyster fishery. See www.emsworth seasons.org.uk for further details.
All things edible and local will be celebrated in the grounds of Kent's Sissinghurst Castle Garden on 26 and 27 September. These stunning gardens, created by the writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Harold Nicolson, will play host to a Food and Beer Fair between 11am and 4pm over the weekend, with a wide range of stalls selling locally produced foods. There will also be a chance to tuck in on site, with various stalls selling freshly cooked food. Admission to the gardens costs £9.80. See www.nationaltrust. org.uk for further details.
The English Heritage-owned Audley End House and Gardens in Essex, the 19th-century former home of Sir Thomas Audley, has a weekend of harvest-themed food and events on 26 and 27 September, from 11am to 5pm. As well as selling produce such as fruit and vegetables, there will be games and competitions for all the family. Admission costs £10.70. See www.english- heritage.org.uk for further details.
This coming Saturday sees the Aldeburgh Food Festival swing into action with a weekend of gastronomic goings-on, when more than 70 producers as well as food and wine writers, chefs and interested gourmets come together at Snape Maltings. With demonstrations and events headed up by the likes of the chef and Independent food writer Mark Hix, Matthew Fort, who has written about food for The Guardian since 1989, and the chef Fergus Henderson, this promises to be a must-do for foodies. The festival is open from 10am to 4pm on both days. Entry costs £5. There will also be an array of fringe happenings over the ensuing week, with everything from farm tours and walks in the nearby RSPB nature reserves. See www.aldeburghfoodand drink.co.uk for further details.
Between 2 and 11 October, more than 40 events will be taking place across the countryside in celebration of the eighth Exmoor Food Festival ( www.exmoorfoodfestival.co.uk). Farmers' markets will be in full swing throughout the duration as well as one-off events such as a pony trek on 3 October through the breathtaking Doone Valley, which culminates in a post-ride cream tea.
Gourmets will be out in force for the Dartmouth Food Festival ( www.dart mouthfoodfestival.co.uk) between 21 and 25 October. Bigger than in previous years, the sixth festival concentrates not just around Market Square, with much of the action also taking place along the picturesque banks of the river Dart that flows through the centre of town. The festival kicks off with a street cooking demonstration by Mitch Tonks, Michael Caines and Fergus Henderson. The ensuing few days include opportunities to browse among market stalls, to enjoy a giant charity cream tea, a Devon-inspired cider, cheese and apple tasting and an Irish-themed night in association with the Dartmouth Music Festival on 23 October.
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