Saturday, 26 September 2015

An Inspirational Day at Blog Camp River Cottage

A picture of River Cottage HQ in Axminster, Devon, UK


I was recently one of the lucky bloggers whose name was pulled out of a hat to take one of the remaining Foodies100 places for a fun filled day to River Cottage HQ near Axminster in Devon and Wednesday was the day it all happened.

To say I was excited was an understatement! I’ve been blogging for almost 3 years and it’s only now that I’ve the “child free” time available to experience blogging events and not worry about childcare arrangements. My first was a couple of weeks ago in Swindon for the Gorgeously Green Gathering and this was my second.

And boy, my River Cottage experience didn’t disappoint. As blogger events go, it was organised to perfection and I came away the most inspired I’ve felt in a long time.

Like many of you, I’m no stranger to River Cottage. I’ve watched pretty much all the programmes from the very humble beginnings of Hugh’s journey and we used to live just up the way from the original River Cottage and would pass it on our walks with the girls. As a family we have attended one of their half day River Cottage experiences and also went to their Summer Fair about 4 years ago. Hubby has attended one of their bread making courses with his father (lucky thing), so I couldn’t wait to see how things had developed since I’d last been and also what was planned for the day.

Picture of River Cottage's Blue Tractor Trailer


There was a mixture of Food, Lifestyle and Parenting Bloggers at the event and we all started our day with a rather bumpy tractor trailer ride down to River Cottage HQ from the car park. The anticipation from everyone was palpable and the hum of excited chitter chatter filled the trailer as we bounced our way down the track.

Picture of River Cottage Outside Yurt

Picture of River Cottage Yurt with Log Burning Fire


Once we’d all safely disembarked, we were taken into a Yurt with a beautiful log burning fire and given a breakdown from Jason of what the day had in store for us. We were divided into 3 groups and I was in the red group. I was excited to see that I was in the same group as Annie Spratt from Mammasaurus and, as I later found out, Chris Mosler from Thinly Spread. It was like being with blogger royalty!

Picture of Bloggers socialising at Blog Camp River Cottage


We were then offered refreshments and some very delicious mini pain au chocolat and omelette canapés. This gave us all a chance to chat, and for some to catch up with old blogging friends.

Picture of omelette canapes served at Blog Camp River Cottage

Picture of Mini Pain Au Chocolat at Blog Camp River Cottage


Our group had ‘Food Styling’ first with the lovely Lucy from ‘Capture by Lucy’. I have to say that I felt completely out of my depth with this session, but I took away so many tips and tricks which inspired me to really try harder with my photography. I love taking photos however at the moment I only have my iPhone and my Sony Compact Automatic which is very limited on what it can really do. Seeing so many of my fellow bloggers with “proper” SLR cameras made me realise that I really need to update mine if I intend to take my passion further.




Lucy imparted such a wealth of tips and advice; what books to source for inspiration, useful apps, how to use the colour wheel when choosing props to compliment the food we photograph, how to use stones, Lego or Bluetack to make a tea cup rim appear straight and how to create the effect of steam using a tampon. Yes, a tampon!




I came away from this session a touch shell shocked if I’m honest and wondered if I was worthy of being there with all these seasoned food photographers, however to have that level of expertise coming my way was fabulous and it made me think harder about what I was photographing throughout the rest of the day.

Our second session was with the wonderful Will Livingstone, Head Gardener at River Cottage HQ. Will is a long standing member of the River Cottage team and his passion for what he does is infectious. I think what hit me more than anything about the whole day was the passion and commitment all the staff have in making River Cottage HQ what it is. There’s an energy there which sweeps you along. We were encouraged to try things from the working gardens and really experience what River Cottage had to offer. Nothing was off limits and we were encouraged to ask questions and really immerse ourselves in the experience.





River Cottage HQ is set in approximately 90 acres and is certified organic by the Soil Association. As we’re currently in #OrganicSeptember being somewhere such as River Cottage felt very fitting and brought home the amazing possibilities with “going organic”. River Cottage’s Soil Association certification is their benchmark, however as Will imparted, they try hard to go beyond these standards which is amazing.

They have ewes, beef cows, pigs, chickens, ducks and guinea fowl. They also have bees which produce their own honey for them. As River Cottage has grown they are no longer completely self-sufficient, however what they can’t grow or produce onsite they source locally from small producers within a 30 mile radius. This is the same for their cafés too.

They are fully sustainable with a well for their water, wind turbine to generate electricity and a reed bed sewage system for the toilets.



The kitchen garden is Victorian style with a 4 bed system. This enables them to rotate crops, which in turn reduces pests and disease in the soil. Their 4 beds contain Legumes, Brassicas, Roots & Onions and Others. To give an example of their crop rotation, they may plant peas and beans as they produce nitrogen, then they would rotate and plant brassicas next as they need nitrogen in the soil to grow well and so on. It’s all very clever yet very simple too.



I tasted my first Nasturtium Flower which Will encouraged me to eat in one. I did and it was quite peppery in taste almost like watercress. These later featured in our cookery session in the afternoon. I was also able to taste some of the delicious ‘All Gold’ Raspberries which were growing in the fruit garden. I had only the day before been chatting to my youngest daughter about whether yellow raspberries existed. She was watching a programme on television whilst I busied myself with other things, and asked me if yellow raspberries were real. I said “no, they are pinky red. You know that”. However, she was having none of it and told me to rewind the programme (oh the joys of modern TV eh?) and low and behold there on the screen were yellow raspberries. That was me told!


To then be up close and personal with those very same raspberries the following day made me chuckle. And boy do they taste good. They are less tart and have a mild sweet taste. According to Will these are a good choice for gardeners as birds don’t think they’ve ripened due to the colour and leave them alone. Clever gardening indeed.



We then met the pigs and chickens and saw what the poly tunnels grow throughout the year. I could chat so much more about this part of the day, but with so much more to tell you, I must move on.



We came back after our tour to the aromatic smells of lunch wafting from the kitchens. And what a delight this was. Gelf Alderson one of the Head Chefs stood at the front of the dining hall and made our mouths water as he told us what we were to experience. We had homemade wholemeal ravioli made with Dexter beef which had been aged for 5 weeks and then slow cooked over a 36 hour period. This was then served with a tasty ragu, freshly baked bread and the most scrumptious corn on the cob I’ve ever eaten. I was in need of a tooth pick afterwards and the lovely Jason gallantly found me a wooden skewer which did the job perfectly! Thanks Jason; you saved the day. Nothing worse than sweetcorn stuck in your teeth!




 Desert was a sumptuous delight; fennel flower meringue, served with vanilla and coffee infused ice cream with salted caramel and damsons from the garden. It was a taste explosion in the mouth and each flavour complemented the next perfectly. I’m not a coffee drinker myself however I happily lapped this offering up. Delicious.




After lunch our last session of the day was with Group Head Chef, Gill Meller, who taught us all how to make butter from double cream and then soda bread using the butter milk we’d created from the butter making process. I never realised butter was quite so easy to make and I loved that we were able to add in leaves and flowers from the garden to create a work of art. I found the whole process really therapeutic and had forgotten how much I love being in the kitchen creating on my own without little people to direct.









To flavour our soda bread we foraged for blackberries which really tested our skills, as most of them had been picked by the earlier two groups. We all managed to find enough for our bread and we added in apple, herbs and cheese to make a tasty bread to take home with us and eat with our butter.






By this stage of the day I was buzzing with all the things we’d done. We headed back to the dining area for refreshments and more chat and were able to buy some goodies from the River Cottage shop if we wished.



Sadly our day had to come to an end and we all piled onto the trailer again and headed back up the bumpy track to the car park. Reality hit once more as I got into my car, however I was left completely inspired from my day out.

I had an amazing day, met some great bloggers and came away with a renewed passion in taking my love of food, cooking and nutrition further.

If you get the chance to visit River Cottage HQ, do it. It doesn’t disappoint. Dare I say it, for me it’s a magical place and one I’m keen to revisit sooner rather than later.

Until next time x

********


A heartfelt, “Thank You”, to Sally & Lindy of Foodies 100, and the whole team at River Cottage HQ. You made a group of bloggers very, very happy and I for one will be heading back as soon as possible to experience one of the many River Cottage cookery courses on offer x



18 comments:

  1. A brilliant write up of a fantastic day. I feel like we barely got time to chat BUT I know we will make up for that very soon. So pleased you had as good a time as I did and so glad you could come xx

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    1. It was SO great to see you again Vicky and despite not getting much time to chat, it was just good to know you were there xx I had an amazing day. Perhaps a joint course day together is in order ;) x

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  2. It was such a great day! Your photos look fab and you are one better than me as I only have my iPhone. Your butter looks fantastic - wish I'd thought to put flowers and herbs on the outside of mine.

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    1. It was great to meet you Caroline and I was so impressed with how far you travelled to be there :) If you take all you pictures on an iPhone, then there's hope for me yet! x

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    2. I meant Claire not Caroline ! Sorry xx I'm terrible with names - LOL!

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  3. Lovely write up Charlie and what beautiful photos! I wish I'd added more to my post now :P also nice to see that my wellie boots made it into one of your shots haha! Was lovely to meet you too :)

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    1. It was great to meet you too Emma x And I need to know where you bought those fabulous yellow wellies. My youngest daughter & I would love a pair :) Hope to meet you again in the future xx

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  4. What a lovely write up Charlie and the photos take me straight back. I wish I'd included more in my own post now. It was lovely to meet you and thanks for featuring my wellington boots in one of your photos haha!

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  5. I so enjoyed reading about your day Charlie, what a wonderful experience and so inspiring xxx

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    1. Glad you enjoyed reading it Annie :) If you've not been to River Cottage yet, we really must go. You'd love it xx

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  6. This is such a wonderful and informative write up of the day! I love the flowers on your butter, and agree with you completely about the sweetcorn - it was so tasty wasn't it? xx

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    1. Aww thank you Michelle xx Like you I'm still buzzing about what a fabulous day it was. I only knew one person there, so felt a touch daunted, however I shouldn't have worried as everyone was so welcoming. Great to meet you last week xx

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  7. Thank you for sharing your day. I have really enjoyed reading this. I have to admit to being more than a little jealous x

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    1. Glad you enjoyed reading it Karen xx If you get the chance to go to one of the River Cottage events or courses, do it. You won't be disappointed. You can then pop in for a cuppa en route :) xx

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  8. Fabulous write up Charlie and your photos are terrific! I take loads of my pics on my phone because it's always there to hand and easier to carry about than the hefty one! It was lovely to meet you (may be giggling at the 'Royalty' line!) and I do hope we get a bit more time to chat next time! x

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    1. Aah, thanks for your lovely comment Chris :) What did we do before an iPhone eh? So handy for those impromptu pics. It was lovely to meet you too and I too hope when I meet you again it will be for longer so we can have a natter. And you will always be blogging Royalty to me - LOL! You, Annie and a few others xx

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  9. Not sure how I missed this post! Looks like a fabulous day which I loved reading about. Huge River cottage fan x

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    1. Thank Sandra x It was an amazing day and I have another one I'm just writing up which I attended about a week ago, along with a fabulous lunch I attended where I actually met Hugh :) He's such a lovely guy. Glad you enjoyed this post x

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