So here it is

Merry Christmas!

Everybody having fun?

Good. Then let’s begin.

This is where my Devon A-Z challenge comes to an end. You will remember that I had managed to find at least one food or drink producer, or a cafe, a restaurant, a burger bar or a mobile food van, for every single letter of the alphabet. And often more than one. Every single letter of the alphabet that is, except two.

X and Z were going to require some creative thinking.

If I lived in Cornwall then I could have considered Zeus IPA, although this is brewed by Coastal Brewery, so that should technically be filed under C. If I came from Somerset then Milk Street Brewery’s Zig Zag beer could have been a contender. In both cases, however, I did not have a choice; they were not from Devon so they couldn’t be included on my list.

What about X? There are fewer words starting with X than there are with Z. Have a go now, how many can you think of? I bet you have come up with xylophone and x-ray, but any others? Looking around for something, anything, that starts with X was proving to be a fruitless undertaking. In this case, X most certainly did not mark the spot.

But I kept my ear to the ground and I persevered. A rumour reached me that there might be a greengrocers in Great Torrington called Xanadu but, before I went all Marco Polo and set off in search of the Kublai Khan of cucumbers, I found a better option. It might mean that I had to bend my rules slightly, but I am nothing if not a maverick* and I was prepared to stretch the rules if I had to.

The South Hams Brewery produce a beer called (thank you, thank you, thank you) XSB. Which begins with an X. Okay, so ‘South Hams Brewery’ starts with an S and, yes, technically this should qualify it as an entry under that letter, but I’m a maverick remember. And so I bought myself a bottle and I put another tick on my list.

XSB

Now, if I was going to stretch the rules for one letter, then where would be the harm in doing it for two? In for a penny, in for a pound. With a renewed vigour I set off in search of my final letter, the final letter: Z.

Zatar blendIn the end I found it in the middle of a big pile of little bags. These bags were carefully arranged across a table at a fair and each one contained dried herbs and spices. Some bags were full of just one herb or one spice, and some had a mixture. Each mixture had a name and one of these names was Zatar Blend. The company that produces these herb and spice mixtures is called Ash Tree Farm and they are based near Dartmouth, In Devon. So if you squint and don’t think about it too carefully, that pretty much fits the bill. And I certainly wasn’t going to argue. I paid my money and bought a bag, and put the final tick on my Devon A-Z list.

In celebration of ticking off the last two letters of the alphabet, I decided to combine the two things together. Not literally, of course; I didn’t pour the herbs into the beer. I’m not that much of a maverick. But I did pair the bottle of XSB with a dinner of herb-crusted salmon. The beer was perfectly okay, not a classic, but a decent-enough session beer. It is a bit malty, a bit bitter and it dies away pretty quickly, leaving a slight echo of bitterness. The Zatar mixture is very pungent and leans quite heavily on the thyme, particularly in how it smells. I liked the sesame seeds in the mixture and, overall, it added an extra saltiness to the fish but did not have as much impact as I was expecting.

Zatar salmonBut I wasn’t disappointed. I was relieved. I had thought for a very long time that I would not be able to complete this challenge at all. Yes, I had to bend the rules and, yes, at the end of the day the point was to try lots of local food and drink, it wasn’t just about ticking off an arbitrary list of things. But I had started and, Magnus Magnusson-like, I was determined to finish.

So thank you for bearing with me and continuing to listen as I obsessed about what letter I was eating. You will be as glad as I am that, as 2014 draws to a close, I can now say that I have finished the Devon A-Z challenge.

Merry Christmas!

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*I’m not entirely sure that I am anywhere close to approaching being a maverick, but the story sounds better that way. And everyone loves a maverick.**

**See Top Gun.

 

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