This months ‘Piglet Tries’ comes from Kathryn, who after having to postpone her trip to River Cottage last year, finally got to spend the day learning all about the River Cottage growing practices and cooking ethos. She even got to make a few dishes for herself! Here is her recount of her day:
Going to the River Cottage Farm in Axminster has been high on my bucket list for a number of years so when we had to cancel our trip last Spring we were devastated. Having said that, good things come to those who wait and it certainly was true in this case.
The day started early leaving Oxford at 7am for the 3 hour drive down to Axminster. Fuelled with coffee and a few good playlists, we were finally on our way! When we arrived at the farm, we were greeted at the top of the hill by some of the team members before making our way down the path down to the HQ. The views were honestly breathtaking as we could see for miles and miles into all the valleys. Tea and coffee were on hand when we arrived and then we were brought a delicious ‘snack’ of a freshly baked sourdough roll with beetroot leaves and a poached egg. Something so simple but so utterly delicious. I knew from then that the day and everything we would see and eat was going to be amazing.
After the welcome introduction, we were taken to our individual stations and met our River Cottage Chef for the day, who was called Stephen. First on the agenda was making some dough for a loaf of bread and then another dough for pizza. We did this all by hand, not a single mixer in sight!
Next, it was off to explore the garden and the rest of the grounds. One of the gardeners from River Cottage took us all round the grounds showing us where they grow all the veg used in the kitchen, talking us through their sustainability practices at the same time. For example, they use a rotation crop system to keep the soil as healthy and nutritious as possible and use a worm farm to help improve the quality of their compost.
Sadly the pigs they keep on the farm were a bit shy on the day and didn't make an appearance, although I am told they are very friendly. On our way back to the kitchen, we picked up some fresh herbs that we would be using later for our fresh pizza!
Back to the kitchen and time to see how our dough was getting on! The pizza dough was first and, as a huge pizza fan, I was so excited to this. We were taught how to best fold and stretch the dough so we would end up with a crispy bottom and doughy edges. After shaping and topping with freshly made passata, salsa verde, mushrooms and spinach from the garden we each got to put our pizzas into their on-site wood fired oven. I can honestly say, it was one of the most delicious pizzas I have ever eaten!
*Top tips from the chef*
- When making pizza, do not over fill as you will be left with a soggy bottom.
- Put plenty of semolina on the bottom of the tray so the dough easily slides off, or if using a standard oven, make sure the bottom of the tray has a good coating of semolina so it comes off easily.
The next task was to create the starter we would be having with our meal at the end of the evening. On the menu was pan fried asparagus with a poached egg and a beurre blanc sauce. Being the overly eager person I am, I somehow managed to volunteer myself to do the egg poaching demonstration in front of the whole class. Thankfully there were no mistakes and I managed to do the perfect poached egg and even impressed with head chef with my skills, what a relief!
It was then time to relax and enjoy our starters in the courtyard with a glass of fizz and the rest of the group. The amazing kitchen team cooked us a delicious main course and pudding. The majority of all the ingredients used in the dishes has all come from either the River Cottage garden, or local farms around the Dorset area.
It truly was one of the best days I have had and made memories that will last a life time. I hope you enjoyed the little snippet into my day and the photos I have shared and I cannot recommend doing one of the courses if you too are a River Cottage fan. The next course on my list will be either "River Cottage in a day" or "Much More Veg". If you also wanted to have a look at what they have available, I will leave a link here.
By Kathryn Norris