Feast of Dorset Food Festival at Deans Court, Wimborne

When I read that The Foodie Bugle was a new online magazine dedicated to the “sourcing, preparation and enjoyment” of good food and drink, I thought that these three aspects of horticulture, cookery and dining described all our activities and life at my home, Deans Court, in Wimborne, Dorset.

Deans Court has always had a strong association with good quality, organic food. Under the supervision of my partner William Hanham’s mother, it was the first garden in the country to be accredited by the Soil Association. When William inherited the house and gardens in 2009 he was keen to retain this sustainable culture.

Deans Court was originally a mediaeval deanery, situated in the historic Dorset town of Wimborne, surrounded by 13 acres of historic gardens, woodlands, orchards, trout stream and organic kitchen garden. It has been the seat of the Hanham family since the 16thCentury.

The plans for the “Feast of Dorset” really began in the beginning of 2009, when we decided to host a food festival in the grounds of the house. By September 2010 we were showcasing no less than 50 local, artisanal South West food producers, attracting over 10,000 visitors and a host of interesting exhibitors together with a handful of talented chefs and cookery writers, including Valentine Warner, Rose Prince, Richard Corrigan, Matt Follas and Mark Hix.  Visitors enjoyed a wide variety of activities, including falconry, archery, beekeeping, foraging, pit roasting, bread making and apple identification. It was such a huge success it went on to win ‘The Independent’s Food Festival of the Year’ and was credited as “an up and coming rival to Abergavenny”.  We have always had a passion for great food and drink, and it was a delight to share our enthusiasm with the market town of Wimborne. Having launched the Food Festival, we then decided to develop further foodie events, such as cookery and kitchen garden courses.

We were very lucky to be introduced to Chef Jez Barfoot by some friends. He had just returned from living in France for four years, had just entered MasterChef and had made it all the way to the quarter final. He offered to prepare gourmet lunches for our charitable National Garden Scheme openings, private tours and courses, using produce grown in the kitchen garden itself. We have since converted one of our vaulted cellars into a state-of-the-art industrial kitchen to prepare and cook all our guests’ food.

With the help of our new Head Gardener, Julian Ings, our ¾ acre kitchen garden, surrounded by a serpentine wall, built during the Napoleonic wars, is a fantastic starting point for our hands-on workshops. ‘Planning your kitchen garden’ has been a great success and we are looking forward to 6thApril 2011, where, with the help of around twelve ‘students’ we will re-design the herb garden, increasing its size and diversity. Although it already has a strong culinary emphasis, we are looking to develop its medicinal, or ‘physic’, qualities further.

Julian Ings’ hard work has been of great benefit to Deans Court’s gardens. We are now producing so much fresh, delicious, seasonal fruit and vegetables that we are launching our own “Veg-box” scheme this May. It will be a small operation to start with, consisting of around only 20 boxes per week, but we are already very excited to see our waiting list steadily growing.

We will be pleased to offer the recipients of our boxes the chance to buy honey, harvested from our own set of 14 hives. Jars of honey, along with plants, vegetables and preserves are also on sale during our garden openings.

Deans Court is not just a place for fine dining, we enjoy the outdoors, and all that nature’s bounty has to offer. Expert forager Robin Harford is holding a couple of foraging courses. They are quickly becoming staff favourites – now that we all know what is edible in the garden, I am quite worried there will not be much greenery left in the borders! Our Event Manager, Jonathan Cornish, is also lining up a number of new events, including two Open Air Theatre shows this summer.

This summer is also the start of something very exciting for Deans Court, as we will begin to host wedding receptions. So as not to ruin the natural unspoiled beauty of the gardens, we are limiting ourselves to just six weddings per year, and we are proud to say we are already fully booked for 2011, and are well on our way for a full booking list for 2012 as well. That being said, one of those spots has been taken by William and I, as we are tying the knot this year!

My family and I are very much looking forward to welcoming you to Deans Court, and if you would like to follow up on any of our news and events, do please visit our websites at www.deanscourt.org or www.feastofdorset.com

Feast of Dorset Food Festival

17-18 September 2011

Deans Court, Wimborne, Dorset BH21 1EE

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