The Husband took me to Venice, and we had a brilliant party (well, I thought it was brilliant - it was just what I wanted). I honestly didn't want any presents, but I was very spoiled, and one of the fantastic presents I was lucky enough to be given was a voucher for a River Cottage course. Yes really. Very spoiled.
It will not have escaped the notice of anyone of you lovely people who read this relatively regularly that I am a bit of a fan of Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall and what he stands for. The whole River Cottage thing - even though it's much bigger than it ever was when it was just Hugh and his sports car fresh from London, towing some pigs back to the first River Cottage - I just love it. And while it's surrounded by glorious countryside and is a stone's throw from a wonderful coastline, I'm sure our uncanny ability to end up in the environs of Axminster more often than not when we take off in the camper van has more than a little to do with the presence of River Cottage, a.k.a Park Farm, nestling just outside the town.
|Aidan and the fennel top & lemon focaccia|
|The temporary cookery school - a new one is being built|
Well, what can I say? It was the most brilliant day. Despite the bitter cold, even the tractor ride down from the car park to the farm itself was exciting - that first view of the Devon longhouse that I have seen on TV so many times was quite thrilling, and I was almost beside myself to actually get a look inside the farmhouse. That kitchen - wow. The one in all the programmes. Am I sounding star-struck enough yet?
Despite all this, really, honestly, the best bit was truly the baking. I would say that I am a reasonably competent bread baker, but I've lost a little of my enthusiasm recently - lots of factors conspiring against me. As a result of the day, I am totally fired up again, all my feelings about the value and frankly, the ease of baking amazing bread at home have all been reaffirmed.
Throughout the day, almost working backwards, Aidan explained the principles of sourdough, used either directly as the raising agent in a loaf, or in a yeasted bread to add structure and depth of flavour. Over the course of the day we made: a cranberry and yoghurt sourdough loaf
a yeasted chestnut and walnut loaf
foccacia (flavoured respectively with: fennel tops and lemon, roasted elephant garlic, rosemary and sea salt, leeks and blue cheese)
|communal foccacia dough making|
flat breads (which were served, again in true River cottage style with some amazing hummus, some utterly divine coriander lamb, some chicken liver parfait and some egg & garlic mayonnaise. I was too busy eating to take pictures. Just imagine typical HF-W party food. Slurp.)
pear, beer and cheddar soda bread
|It's not ugly, OK, it's RUSTIC. And bloody lovely.|
Italian Christmas Cookies
|a cross between a meringue and a macaroon and utterly gorgeous|
and pizza dough which we made our final meal of the day with - wood fired oven pizza - toppings including smoked pheasant, River Cottage cured ham, caramelised onions - are you drooling yet?). Once we'd had our own individually rolled and topped pizzas fired in the oven, it was indoors for warmth ( it was a wee bit chilly outside, despite the temperature of the oven) delicious salads, a Stinger beer, and a chocolate cake to die for (with clotted cream). All in time to stagger back up the hill - well, the tractor staggered up the hill) clutching our bags of bread. The car smelt divine on the way home - and the Husband finished the pizza as we drove back up the A303.
The whole day was incredibly relaxed, but we got through a huge amount. It helped that all the ingredients for each loaf came out of the kitchens in smart little bowls, pre-measured - no rummaging around in the depths of the cupboards for that ingredient that you're sure is in there somewhere, but Aidan's passion and enthusiasm for his subject and his openness to questions really inspired a huge amount of confidence in all of us, and as we ate our pizzas, we were all discussing what we would make for Christmas, spurred on by our day.
The best bit of the day for me: I have lost my fear of wet bread dough. I am a convert. No more will I panic and chuck extra flour into the bowl for an easy life. My bread scraper is on order, my starter is up and running again, and my bread is going to be FABULOUS.
There's a pledge you can hold me to. Watch this space.