A camera in my bag, my pen and notepad in my pocket, I stand at the edge of the boat, wind whipping at my face. We approach the jetty and I prepare to make my way ashore.
I was there to report from the front line, letting you know what it is really like on the ground. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it: it was time for the Dartmouth Food Festival.
The Dartmouth Food Festival has been running since 2002, however this was my first visit to the festival, drawn to it by the promise of a wide range of local produce, which will all help towards my Devon A-Z challenge. We were also closer this year geographically, following our move to nearby Ashburton at the start of 2013.
I had walked to the festival from Greenway, a National Trust property upriver from Dartmouth, that was once the home of Agatha Christie. For any Agatha Christie fans among you, Greenway was the inspiration for the novel Dead Man’s Folly and was used as a location in the recent ITV Poirot film of that book (shown on ITV last Wednesday). From Greenway, it is a walk of an hour or so through woods above the Dart to reach the outskirts of Kingsweir and then a short ferry trip across the river to Dartmouth.
The festival was the expected mix of food stalls, demonstrations and talks. It was like the recent Ashburton food festival writ large. I started by grabbing a cup of coffee and settling down to watch a lecturer and student from South Devon College give a cooking demonstration. The student was cooking a tea-smoked duck, which he had smoked in his own mix of sugar, salt and tea leaves beforehand; something I had not come across before. His lecturer made a dish of brill and new potato mash with a lemon, caper and cream sauce. Both of these were then divided up and handed out to the people in the audience. I tried the fish; the “brill” scribbled down in my festival programme accurately describes both the type of fish and the overall dish. (And yes, I did spend far too long thinking up that particular sentence. I think you will agree that it wasn’t worth the effort).
Walking along the edge of the river, I browsed the many stalls that had set up shop in marquees all along the embankment. There was a heavy bias, as you would expect, towards local South West producers with companies heralding from Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Somerset and, er, Italy. A good number of the stalls had samples to try and I made the most of those, trying fruit wines from the excellent Norissimo wines, jams, preserves, fudge, chillis, beer and anything else on offer. I had a nice conversation with the guy from South Hams Brewery, who talked me through their range of four beers, built up over the eight years they have been brewing. They have another two under development, which they are still perfecting before they feel ready to unleash them upon the world. It sounds like a pretty good job to me.
In need of a little refreshment, I bought a cup of coffee from Osborne’s Coffee, a mobile coffee van set up at the water’s edge. The van is fully self-sufficient, with the coffee machine stowed in the back running off of gas or, on this occasion, the festival’s electricity supply, meaning that it is a truly mobile coffee shop.
I complemented my coffee with an uglibun from Shaldon Bakery. Possibly, the only bun with its own twitter account, this was my first opportunity to meet an uglibun in person. True, they are not pretty, but they are delicious and very filling; I had to have a break half way through and have a bit of a walk to make room for the second half. If you get the chance to try one, I would definitely recommend it.
For my lunch I very nearly succumbed to the temptations of Tom’s Pies again. Having already tried their pies at the Ashburton food festival, I forced myself to try something new, ending up with a pork, apricot and prune roll from Red Earth: a meaty, fruity, well-filled sausage roll that was very tasty.
I have recently been canvassing suggestions on twitter, to help me fill the gaps in my Devon A-Z challenge, and Sarah from Shebbear Cheese had suggested that their cheese would happily fill the gap I had against the letter “S”. Making my way inland to the Market Square, I fought my way through the crowds to reach their stall and said hello. This was one of the first times I had actually met a person from twitter in real life and it was nice to put a face to a twitter avatar. Of course, Sarah is also a blogger, telling her incredibly personal and moving story on her blogspot, meaning that many of us probably feel that we know her better than we really do. At any rate, I was able to buy a nice piece of cheese from Sarah and add the Shebbear Cheese Co to the Devon A-Z list.
Being in Dartmouth, it was the perfect opportunity to try a local staple, ice cream from the Dartmouth Ice Cream Company. I bought a honeycombe cone from their quayside stall before clambering onto a ferry, weighed down by my purchases, to be taken back upstream to Greenway.
And once back home, I was able to try some of my purchases. The Bramley Barton cheese from Shebbear is a semi-hard alpine style cheese, described on the website as having a “mild, nutty flavour”. It was very tasty and formed the central part of a late evening, can’t-be-bothered-to-cook, cheese supper. Mrs RB is a big cheese fan and liked the nuttiness of the Bramley Barton, claiming it has a slightly tangy finish as well. Sounding a little like Wallace, she was heard to express the sentiment that “it went very well with a nice cracker and a glass of wine”.
Considering the fact that we ate far too much cheese quite late in the day, while watching Cirque Du Soleil on the telly, my dreams that night were not as mad as they should have been…