The rain poured down as if it was never going to stop at the Feast of Dorset on Sunday 18th September, but nothing could dampen the foodie spirits of the hundred or so exhibitors and stall holders at the third Feast of Dorset. Located in the beautiful grounds of Deans Court, home to the Hanham family for the last 500 years, it showcases some of the finest food producers, chefs, cookery writers, restaurants and growers that Dorset boasts, over three full days. And, mercifully, two of those three days were actually sunny.
If you find bigger food festivals too commercial, hectic and overcrowded for your liking, then Feast of Dorset should be your choice for next year. The festival is run on a much more intimate, personal, family scale, like a big village fair, with plenty of room to walk around, a lake with swans, a walled kitchen garden, a tea garden and even an apiary.
One walk round the food tents and you will see just how much the region has to offer: from cakes to ales, cheeses, pies, pasties, sausages, game, preserves, wines, watercress and fresh fish, do not come without cash, stout walking shoes and a very big shopping basket.
Do take time to stop at Angus Denoon’s mesmerising street food stall of Jhal Muri Express: you can eat a paper cone full of Indian snacks prepared right before your very eyes. Angus has travelled all over Calcutta, learning the traditional street food recipes straight from the hawkers. The smell of fresh coriander, limes and ginger alone is enough to keep you there for quite some time, as you look at his multicoloured flower garlands and listen to Indian music: you could almost be on an exotic holiday. He has a food Blog at www.mongodenoon.wordpress.com.
The quality of the artisanal craftsmanship on display will not leave you wanting, and you will see a very wide range of skills from glassware, to pottery, linens, candles, woodwork and printed textiles. Do stop at the Hundred Aker Wood Pottery stand of David Archer, he is such a skilled ceramicist. He throws beautiful oven dishes, soup bowls, plates, pie dishes and platters, some of which are glazed in Celadon, with a very pale, shiny green tinge.
There is a wide variety of cookery displays, discussions, cookbook signings and demonstrations in the cookery theatre, featuring Tamasin Day-Lewis, Lesley Waters, Fran Warde, Mat Follas, Charlotte Pike and Rose Prince. The highlight was Sunday’s pasta demonstration by Italian cookery author, Anna del Conte and her granddaughter Coco, the inspiration behind her latest cookbook, “Cooking with Coco”, published by Chatto and Windus. Despite the raging weather, she carried on, ever the consummate professional, surrounded by a throng of keen, drenched spectators.
If the falconry display, foraging expedition walk, wine tasting, cake decorating and chocolate workshop tire you out, then the best thing to do is head for the Tea Room where a hot tea pot and a fresh slice of homemade cake can help you refuel for the second round of events. Or you could have lunch in The Garden restaurant, sipping newly launched wines or beers and sampling local cheeses, pies, pates and tarts.
Make sure you do not miss a walk round the beautiful kitchen garden and apiary at Deans Court, which was once an important religious centre in Saxon times. and while doing so you may well take part in the apple identification. Dorset was once the home to many of Britain’s orchards, and it is so impressive to see so many different and distinct varieties lined up and labelled by Peter Collett and Harry Baker, a world authority on the fruit.
For children Milly the black and white plastic Blackmore Vale dairy cow is the main attraction: they can squeeze her udders and milk from a pump is squirted into a pail.
Deans Court will be soon opening a cookery school in an old squash court which will be renovated. This will be home to Jez Barfoot and Matt Davey’s Black Dog Supper Club events as well as to cookery demonstrations and hands on courses. They are out in force during the festival in a wild food area, featuring a Maori pit-roast, a strip pig roast, tipi smoker and venison stew.
You can even rent a cottage on the estate outside of the festival days if you wish to visit more of Wimborne’s attractions and those of the surrounding countryside. Just one day at Feast of Dorset will whet your appetite for all that this foodie county produces, grows, makes and sells, but one day, for sure, is not enough.
Deans Court website: www.deanscourt.org
Feast of Dorset: www.feastofdorset.com
Follow the team on Twitter: @FeastOfDorset