Friday, 18 November 2016

A Winter Feast at River Cottage

If you follow me on social media you will not have missed that I recently spent the evening at the iconic River Cottage in Axminster. River Cottage is a place that we, as a family, have followed since the start of their journey. From the early days when Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall left the city to live in the original River Cottage to developing Park Farm.

When we arrived at Park Farm I was amazed at the beautiful setting. We waited for the tractor at the top of a hill looking down, into the valley, where River Cottage is based. To access the cottage we were transported down in a trailer on the back of a tractor. As we made our way down the lane River Cottage gradually came into view. Nestled in the Dorset valley it really was a picturesque sight.

After a quick meet and greet we had the opportunity to explore the settings before the cooking demonstration. There is nothing I love more than being able to wander off on my own with my camera. There is something so relaxing and peaceful and the tranquil setting of the kitchen garden with the cottage that we all know and love over looking it made it an even more enjoyable experience, even in the rain. As we were visiting during autumn the garden had been run down in places but was thriving in others with the seasonal vegetables that depend on the colder weather. They had a few artichokes remaining as well as patches full of calvo nero, kale as well as Swiss chard, onions and carrots. It is any vegetable growers dream plot of land.

After a walk admiring the garden I stepped inside the legendary cottage. My first stop had to be the kitchen. We have watched Hugh create culinary magic in the kitchen and to be able to stand in there and behind the actual table that has been in endless programmes was a privilege.

We were then asked to make our way over to the River Cottage Cookery School shop, bar and demonstration area. Andy Tyrrell, River Cottages Senior Sous Chef, lead the demonstration and told us all about the curing process of brining. This is a skill that I have never used in the kitchen. I always believed it to be a lot harder than it actually is. Andy explained and showed us how to transform pork into ham, beef into bresaola and even how to brine a turkey for Christmas dinner. When brining meats you are simply submerging the meat in salt water with various herbs and spices. This is the natural and traditional way of preserving meats and ensuring they keep for much, much longer. Mass produced cured meats contain many unnecessary nitrates, but brining at home is not only the more traditional way but is also a healthier way. We, as a family, are true believers in knowing exactly what we are eating and cooking from scratch. So after seeing how easy the whole process is I know that I will definitely be brining a lot of meat in the future so keep an eye out for brining recipes a la River Cottage.

I was astounded when Andy demonstrated the process of brining the Christmas turkey. This is something which I have never done or even contemplated. As he was explaining the process all that kept coming up in my mind was “would it leave the meat salty?”. Thankfully we were able to taste some chicken which had been brined in the same process as a turkey for Christmas and I surprised by how moist and flavoursome it made the chicken. There was only a slight saltiness to the meat but it was beautifully balanced out with the additional herbs and spices. As the meat is only kept in the brine solution overnight it is such an easy process to add to my cooking repertoire. I have brined a whole chicken and next week I will be telling you how delicious it was!

After the demonstration I can safely say my days of buying a gammon to cook into a ham are now gone! From now on I will be curing my own ham and even bresaola. This demonstration has come at a perfect time as we are currently renovating the outhouses and the old coal shed is to be my new larder so now I know that I will be needing somewhere to hang the meat!

Once the demonstration was over we had time to do a couple of blogging activities both over in the cottage round the lovely log burner and outside in the yurt, listening to the rain on the roof and round an open log fire. While we were networking the River Cottage kitchen were hard at work preparing the winter feast that was undoubtedly to be the pinnacle of our visit.

Before we sat to dine we were offered an apple aperitif which had hints of a still cider but went down a treat.

Staff were going round with canapes and after one taste we knew that we were in for an extremely special meal. The canapes were:

  • Exeter mussels that had been cooked in apple juice and topped with chopped red onion
  • Toasts topped with local goats cheese, beetroot with a drizzle of honey and a sprig of dill
  • Pork and leek croquet's with a green tomato and date chutney
  • Crispy rabbit with capers and served on a Romanesque puree

Each and every canape was culinary delight, each bite was savoured and we were left wanting more.

After the exquisite canapes we went on to dine a meal that was truly outstanding! We had:
  • Celeriac ravioli with wild mushrooms and leaves
  • River Cottage cider brined ham, carrot puree, fried savoy cabbage and braised beans
  • Honeycomb creme brulee with apple puree and apple crisps

Each and every course was the perfect size and we did not leave too full. We even had enough room for some spelt chocolate biscuits with a cup of coffee.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to River Cottage and we are planning to return to visit as a family in the summer. I would love for us to visit one of the fairs that they hold throughout the year. But River Cottage host so many events from cookery courses to feasts like the one that we experienced.

Take a look at Hugh's latest recipe on You Tube...

This recipe is from the brand new River Cottage cook book, The River Cottage A - Z. Watching this video I still can't quite believe that I was there in that kitchen. This book is a must have for any kitchen and is definitely on my Christmas list.

Thank you to the fantastic team at Foodies100 for hosting this amazing event!

Disclosure: I visited River Cottage for the purpose of this post. No cash payment was received. All words, views and opinions are my own and 100% honest.


  1. awwww Kirsty what an amazing evening. I was meant to be attending, but my childcare arrangements were cancelled at the last money due to a family health problem, so i couldn't go. I knew the food would be outstanding as i went years ago and it was one of the nicest meals I have ever eaten. That chicken looks so succulent too.
    Glad you had a brilliant time and brining sounds really interesting , as does your new order plans x

  2. It was an amazing evening, wasn't it? I love the amount of detail you've put in your account of the evening, and your lovely photos. I also brined a chicken straight after being inspired by the folks at River Cottage and it was delicious! The children have just finished the last remaining of chicken breast for dinner tonight. x

  3. Gosh I missed that apple aperitif! How did I not see that?! It was lovely to see you again. I hope I don't have to wait as many years to meet up again!

  4. Sounds like a lovely evening! Would love to visit the River Cottage one day - their bread course looks fabulous.


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