Tuesday, 4 October 2011

What I did this summer

When we last spoke the summer was just getting in to full swing, and what a glorious two weeks it was.  

Most of the vitamin D that I soaked up was courtesy of a weeks holiday to Devon to see Bo.  A holiday where I ate a pasty every day until my loving boyfriend pointed out that I might not fit my behind on the plane seat home.  So up'd it to 2 a day in defiance.  

Devon has to be the world capital of gluttony.  Where else in the world do main food groups consist of carvery, clotted cream and scrumpy?   The air is heavy with the smell of buttery pastry and sweet caramelised sausages. Clotted cream ice-cream, jam and fudge are touted on every street corner until you can do nothing but scream YES!! Give me something delicious that will clog up all my arteries, right NOW! If there was no such thing as calories or regret then Devon is the place to happily fill your chops for all eternity.  Not that you would remember anything about this contented existence because the scrumpy is officially the fuel for most space missions. I (A SCOT!) could, on average, manage half a pint before falling off my summer wedges.

But here's why this place is special, here's why its not just some run-of-the-mill British seaside holiday that ticks all the tacky boxes but bores you to tears. It has some of the best produce and producers in the whole of the country and they seriously know how to show it off.  The seafood, the cheese, the butchery, the apple juice - everything about it screams the Land of Plenty.  Newton Abbot, where Bo was based, was a large-ish town a little smaller than Stirling.  Not big enough for a Topshop - which is the measurement I use for towns.  The farmers market was twice weekly and so vast that it spilled into a large indoor market too.  It took me three hours before I felt that I had explored enough and I would have happily gone back every single day.

That post farmers market lunch will go down in history.  It might even make the grade for one of the courses in the (ever expanding) menu for the 'last meal before I die'.  Creamy Ticklemore goats cheese and local onion chutney sandwiched in the freshest sour dough, washed down with Cox apple juice and followed by blackberries, picked on the way home, sprinkled over clotted cream ice-cream.  The King of lunches.

I also was treated to a mystery tour that ended in dinner at The River Cottage Canteen in Axminster, as all good mystery tours should.  Situated amongst the deli where you can oggle at all the best produce that Devon has to offer, and then wait, expectantly, for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's team to serve it up to you.  We started with a few glasses of local cider and huge bowl of mussels cooked in more cider, bacon and wholegrain mustard.  So sweet, so juicy, so fresh and with decent loaf to mop up every last drop.  For the main course I finally plucked up the courage to tick one of my New Years resolutions off the list. Mackerel.  I have to be totally honest, I'm not a fishy person.  White fish I can handle but oily fish have never been on the shopping list.  The thing is, I know I should like it.  It's good for me, it's sustainable and it can handle some serious flavour.  Plus it's Nigel Slater's favorite fish and he's my favorite cook.  So therefore on the 1st of January I wrote number 7 on the list - 'Learn to love mackerel'.  I have been slightly putting it off for 8 months, but I wanted my first mackerel to be the best mackerel ever plucked from the ocean and cooked to complete perfection.  Who could do this better than the River Cottage team?

So there they are, served whole with braised rainbow chard and roast peppers.  And (drum roll....) I cleaned my plate.  The freshness of the mackerel perfectly complemented the sweetness of the roast peppers and the earthy kale*.  I don't think you'll catch me cracking open a tin of sardines in the near future but for a first taste it was near perfection.

It was a sad, sad day leaving the delicious delights of Devon and if someone wants to give me a job there I'd be down like a shot.  Although I will have to learn how to take out my waist bands.

Devon was, unfortunately, a lone food highlight in a summer of just eating for energy's sake.  I've survived a long distance relationship, moved house, completed an NVQ, packed in three trips to the Edinburgh festival, put in a ridiculous amount of hours at work and waved goodbye to my little brother who moved to Australia. Thank goodness Autumn is here.

So dear readers get ready for an autumnal bounty.  I'm already planning great culinary adventures, tell me about yours...

*Kale is my new favorite vegetable.  Last week while on a 'thinking walk' I stumbled upon Stirling Council's new initiative to replace boring flower beds with mini allotments filled with kale, sweetcorn, tomatoes, peas and artichokes.  In celebration I took a quick snap of the kale leaves in the late summer sunlight, this photo now sits proud as the title of this blog.


  1. Sounds like you had a lovely foodie holiday.

  2. Yes, I sure did! I think that the other half was expecting something more romantic but I just went about yakking and eating!