I remember watching the first ever series of River Cottage and being really inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Over the years we’ve followed him on TV, watched the move from the original River Cottage to its new base near Axminster and continued to be inspired by the River Cottage way of life. Hardly a week goes by without me making a HFW recipe, and when we went to River Cottage for a meal in 2008 it was beyond a shadow of a doubt THE best foodie experience of my life. It could never be topped. Or could it?
In late September nearly 50 lovely food bloggers made the journey to River Cottage, convening in the car park at 9am, ready for the very bumpy tractor ride down the hill. Since my last visit to River Cottage the original barn/dining room had burnt down and been rebuilt, and a shiny new cookery school building had been added. It was bigger, slicker, but still as beautiful.
We were greeted by the team, ushered into a yurt and briefed about our day. We were split into three groups and we could each have a turn having a farm and garden tour, make some bread and butter and have a go at some food styling and photography with the ever lovely Lucy (aka Capture by Lucy). But first, breakfast canapes and coffee, all with a Devonshire view to die for.
Jim, the affable assistant gardener took us first round the kitchen garden, and then around to the farm area where the chickens, pigs and polytunnels are kept. The kitchen garden is at the back of the cottage and is beautifully maintained. Jim explained the principles of crop rotation and showed us all the crops and flowers growing there.
The garden was coming to the end of the summer season, and every space is filled with lovely produce and flowers.
After our outdoor tour, we gathered in the cookery school kitchen with Head Chef Gill Mellor, who talked us through making butter from scratch as well as baking a fruity, herby soda bread – all done and dusted in an hour and a half. I was particularly taken with the butter, which we filled with herbs gathered from the kitchen garden. It was messy and fun and I was determined to have another go once I got home.
With our bread cooling, we headed to the dining room for a much needed sit down and a bite to eat. When I last visited in 2008 I’d eaten the best meal I could ever imagine, so I had fairly high expectations.
I’m a vegetarian so I was presented with a wonderfully rich, delicious garden ragu, full of amazing herbs and vegetables from the kitchen garden, nestled on top was a wholemeal ravioli with a cheese and spinach rarebit filling and it was incredible (I’m drooling at the memory). On the side were some corn on the cob pieces which had been tossed in garlic and herbs and griddled to perfection.
I didn’t think things could get any better than the plate of food I’d just polished off, but I was wrong. The fennel flower meringue, coffee infused ice cream with salted caramel, honey drizzled roasted foraged damsons with molasses crumble was a triumph and a pudding experience I will never forget and I suspect one which will never be surpassed.
Lunch was also a great opportunity to chat and get to know a few other people. It was also I suspect the most photographed meal in the history of River Cottage!
Post lunch we convened for a food photography session with Lucy. I’ve been to one of Lucy’s workshops before and everyone always leaves feeling incredibly inspired and with a few more tips, skills and props in their armoury. This was no exception. Though my photographs during her session we nothing to write home about, I have since taken on board a lot of her suggestions and I’m making some improvements – step one – buy a proper DLSR!
It was by far the highlight of my blogging career so far. Getting the chance to spend a day in such a wonderful place with wonderful people. I learned a huge amount about food and blogging and food blogging. I was a very, very special day. Thank you to Foodies100 and to the team at River Cottage for organising it. Next time I won’t leave it so long before I visit again.
If you’d like to read more about Blog Camp River Cottage, you can find out more on the Foodies100 website.