I have long been an admirer of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with his passionate approach to food and thought-provoking television programmes. As I don’t eat meat I was particularly delighted when his latest series (shown last year on British television) focused on meatless recipes and featured some marvellous dishes to encourage people to eat more veg in both traditional and new innovative recipes and place it, quite rightly, centre stage in a meal.
So when I heard that there was now a one day cookery course centring on that series, I was keen to go and was extremely fortunate to then get the opportunity!
The details about this particular cookery course and the other courses offered, can be found on the River Cottage website
I signed up, and then one week later they had the devastating fire which gutted the lovely old barn that housed the cookery school. But, in true Brit fashion, within days had set up a temporary abode. We now had a cookery school set in a tent-but what a tent!
River Cottage HQ is now based at Park Farm situated just outside of the town of Axminster. And no, Hugh and his family do not actually live there themselves...
On the day we arrived it was overcast and tipping down with rain but the still the view from the car park across the Devon hills was rather magnificent.
A tractor pulling a covered trailer was our transportation down the hill from the car park to the farm itself. It lurched and zigzagged down a steep path giving us a good, though somewhat, rain drenched view of the farm and the fire-gutted old barn. I did attempt to take some photos but unsurprisingly they were a little on the blurred side!
Once there, we were able to dry out and have a good look around the accommodation that housed the new temporary cookery school. I have to say I have rarely seen such a better kitted out tent!! The front half is the dining area complete with bar in the corner and bunting and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling...
At the rear is the cookery area with room for 20 participants plus the chef.
At the side and away from our general view were the prep, washing up and storage areas etc.
The whole space was light and airy and a pleasure to work in.
Whilst we awaited some latecomers, we were served tea/coffee and freshly baked cinnamon griddle scones.
As they knew some of the participants were vegan or glutton free they had even made special ones for them.
I was most impressed that during the day whenever ingredients arrived for us then substituted ingredients were provided without being asked, for those with extra dietary requirements. As the course host Steve explained-as long as they have advance notice they will cater for dietary needs and had clearly thought about adapting recipes beforehand and providing, without any fuss, alternative ingredients.
And so on to the cooking!
There were twenty of us on the course and our host explained that the day would centre on the basics of cooking with vegetables and would go at the pace of the slowest.
This was probably lovely for those that needed the extra help but it did mean that for those of us who were competent cooks-if I dare put myself in this group-we understandably had less attention from the tutors...
For recipes from the Veg Series please see
We started off with making a basic vegetable stock complete with our carefully wrapped little bouquet garnis.
Note to self...in future ensure dangling and easily burnable string is not hanging over the side close to flames from the hob...
At the same time we made some Dahl and Flat Bread. The Dahl was very simply made with red lentils and the flat bread was made with Hugh’s Basic Bread recipe which we then rolled out into thin circles dotted with spices and dry fried in a frying pan until they quickly puffed up.
We ate this as a tasty halfway snack.
I would make these simple flat breads again-beautiful texture-crusty on the outside and soft in the middle. The Dahl was nice but personally I found Hugh’s recipe a little on the bland side and I prefer my own versions which are spicier and, I think for me, more flavoursome.
However, a few people on the course had never eaten Dahl before so for them it was spicy enough so I guess everyone has their own personal preference...
On to the next dish. Using some of the stock we prepared earlier we made a Summer Garden Soup.
Again nice, but not exactly rocket science to make.
If it had been up to me I would have de-podded the broad beans and then added them just before the end.
I also allowed my wild streak free rain and added a generous sprig of fennel that I had picked earlier from our walk around the vegetable garden.
Our main course was a Nettle Risotto using spelt rather than the traditional risotto rice.
Unfortunately there was a little confusion as some of us were told we were using barley and some spelt so I’m still not sure what we used!
Again we used the previously made stock. Using an alternative to rice meant more cooking time was required-unfortunately it took far longer than the tutor anticipated which delayed our finish time a little.
When we did finally sit down and taste it I do have to say I was rather disappointed with the end result. Whilst I like risotto to have a little bite, this was altogether rather too chewy.
Others, I have to say, enjoyed the risotto and enthused about how healthy it was.
The nettles added a slight green element but again needed more to give more taste. Plus, I feel, a grating of cheese on top of the final dish would have added greatly.
Our final dish was pudding! We made a Rhubarb and Ginger Steamed Pudding. Rhubarb was caramelised with ginger, butter and sugar.
We then made a sponge mixture which was poured into individual bowls in which the rhubarb mixture had been first placed and then covered with greaseproof paper and placed in a bain-marie in the oven.
Mine promptly tried to escape with the sponge mixture pouring out of the top like an erupting volcano-and no- I didn’t take a photo of that!
However despite my pessimism, when the puddings were cooked, released from their greaseproof paper coverings and basins and then inverted on to a bowl the end result was absolutely delicious!
The rhubarb had a lovely caramelised flavour with a generous hit of ginger and the sponge was meltingly airy and soft. With some added cream it was sublimely delicious and definitely one to make again...and again...
I’m afraid my photo does not do it justice.
Just a few words about the fantastic River Cottage Team that looked after us for the day.
We were ‘meeted and greeted’ by our genial and very hospitable host Steve.
We had Robin in the morning as our chef tutor and Tim Maddams (pictured in the first photo) joined us for the afternoon session. Tim, in particular, is a real character. He is one of the Head Chefs and frequently appears on Hugh’s television programmes. Very approachable and helpful despite suffering from lack of sleep following the birth a few days earlier of his new baby daughter, Flora.
I did though, have to stifle my giggles, when he started to talk about the ‘journey’ a carrot makes from plot to plate, meeting other vegetables and intermingles with them-why does everything nowadays have to make a ‘journey’??
We also had an informative outside tour of the vegetables by head gardener Chris and I was particularly intrigued by the use of short lengths of guttering to grow micro herbs in! We saw the poor burned out barn which had housed the old cookery school and met the chickens and very friendly pigs which I fear will feature later on in the year in one of the more meat orientated cookery courses.
As the day drew to an end we raised the question to Tim our afternoon tutor that we had not made the vegetable hummus which had been mentioned that we would be making by Robin in the morning session. I had also been personally looking forward to this after having had the rather yummy and delicious Tri of Hummus at the restaurant the day before. Tim, it appeared, had not been told this and therefore had not planned to teach us this dish.
Realising our disappointment he quickly disappeared ‘out back’ to the prep area and not long after, the hard working crew who had looked after us so well all day, including doing all our washing up, managed to quickly rustle up the ingredients to make our Carrot Hummus.
So with a little tahini, honey, garlic and of course, carrot we made this wonderful hummus.
Really, really lovely and another definite one to make again with carrot and other vegetables.
I might even be really brave and make it with my ‘bête noir’- beetroot...
Finally we could take off our aprons and prepare to sit down and eat in our rather ‘posh’ tent!
To conclude, attending The River Cottage Cookery Course was very enjoyable indeed.
The weather may have been rather wet and miserable outside but inside the staff and team were extremely welcoming and enthusiastic.
Given the fairly recent destruction of the cookery school earlier this year, the temporary accommodation under canvas is truly wonderful.
The cooking space and the new hob and ovens are great and the dining area is rustic and relaxing and with a great view-and probably even better when it is sunny!
In terms of difficulty, the cooking itelf is very easy.
Personally I would have preferred much more of a culinary challenge and would have liked to have cooked more of the recipes from the ‘Veg Every Day’ recipe book.
However on the plus side each participant at the end of the day was given a free copy of that book which has a scrawl in the front which I take to be Hugh’s signature!
The cook book is truly fantastic and has many recipes which I have already started to use with great success so one to highly recommend.
I drove back home to Wales very happy and contented!