Beaminster, new foodie kid on the block

My article on the travel website Simonseeks.com “Beaminster: New foodie kid on the block’ has won a prize for being informative and inspiring.

What do you think?

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Eat Dorset Food Fair

Have just returned from the Eat Dorset food fair and I am still salivating. Foodie heaven on my doorstep. Literally. The fair is in the grounds of Parnham House in Beaminster, so I should have walked but decided not to. I knew I would have too many bags to carry back.

I started by watching Lesley Waters demonstrating an appetising menu: bread filled with dried figs and black pepper, pheasant terrine, chunky apple marmalade, seared venison with roasted beetroots and potatoes…

It’s such a good idea to have chefs demonstrating the produce sold on site because it entices you to try new things. Lesley is brilliant, she really embraces the whole local food phenomenon that has grown in this country in the last decade and runs with it. She uses these local suppliers for her school near Dorchester, so whilst a cynic would say that she gets a good deal from them, I say she’s chosen to live and work down here for a reason: because there is so much choice of tasty local food.

So filled with new ideas I had to go and choose what to spend my money on. Not an easy task. This was not a fair filled with grannies and their marmalades or other chutneys. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve bought a few chutneys from grannies in my time but today I was after real local stuff to fill my fridge with and the tricky bit was to choose wisely. Today I wanted something new.

Lesley showed us how to marinate some feta cheese. Really simple, very mouth watering. Thing is, Woolsery are not allowed to call their cheese feta because this is Dorset not Greece. Why they’ve decided to call it Fiesta though is a quandary. The big softie or ‘Woolsery’s crumblie’ would have spoken more to me but what do I know! All the same, I still bought some and will stuff it into a jar with some good olive oil; haven’t decided which herbs to use yet but I can’t wait to eat it with a baked potato or with some pasta since it won’t last until next Summer for a salad.

Another show stopper for me was the Real Boar company. Despite my brother-in-law being a wild boar hunter near St-Tropez I had never tried boar salami. It hits the taste buds strongly as you’d expect but leaves a lingering subtle taste of red wine and for some reason made me think of blue cheese, although you will not find any Blue Vinney in it.  The texture is fine and silky, it melts in your mouth and is utterly delicious. I subsequently found out that they supply the George Cinq -the man heard the French accent so he impressed me with the Parisian Palace first- but also Jamie Oliver. Well, I’m not surprised. If I had a restaurant, I would find a way to put it on the menu. In the meanwhile, I am thinking dinner party.

Now we have two ‘big’ names in Dorset that export abroad and have cleverly marketed their ethos through to their packaging: Dorset Cereals and Clipper Tea. Big bold designs for scrumptious products. Clipper are actually based in Beaminster and their fair trade tea in unbleached tea bags has been my favourite cuppa since my mother in law introduced me to them when they took over the Numatic factory some years back. As for Dorset Cereals they had a special offer on, so despite my “New Stuff’ policy I could not resist a bargain; plus I ended up with lots of little freebies. Don’t you love freebies?

Honey was something I was keen to find. My kids love it but try as I may to find English honey in the supermarket all I could find is utter nonsense. I don’t want honey that’s flown from New Zealand. I know we have a problem with bees dying everywhere but why does the honey have to fly from the other side of the world to land on my doorstep? Even worse, the cheaper brands are from ‘mixed sources within the EU’. Where has this honey been before it went into the jar, let alone on my kids’ toasts? What a joy to find honey from Hugh and Gillian Land who have hives near Sherborne. I should have bought more than one jar.

Another foodie find was Rapeseed oil from the The Seed Company. My Mediterranean roots make me reach for the olive oil before I’ve even thought about cooking, so I have placed the new thin bottle by the cooker so I don’t forget to use it. Apparently it can burn to a much higher temperature than olive oil, let’s see if I can be convinced to use an oil that is as expensive as the thick green cold pressed nectar. Last time I tried a new oil for cooking it promised to have carotin in it which is supposed to be good for you, it looked orange but when I fried it, my whole house stank of fish. Can’t remember the name of it, probably because my brain is worried I might buy it again by mistake. I have a better feeling about Rapeseed though. Could be the nice little green canvas bag they gave me to carry my bottle. Another freebie.

It wasn’t all food though. There were some beeswax stuff -makes sense since there were honey suppliers- and seeds from Peppers by Post. These guys also grow chilli. We bought a plant from them a few months back. What a winner. It stands proud at the end of the kitchen table near the window and it has produced dozens of chillies -purple, white, yellow, orange and red ones. The whole family loves looking after the plant and it is still growing in October. I am chief waterer though. For five pounds, that was the best investment in spices we’ve ever made! Another non foodie stand well worth a visit is Green Drawers. It’s the most eclectic stand there. Interesting eco products, cushions with hand woven covers or made from prints from a local artist -Liz Summerville; and those bags like my Mum used to have to go shopping with when I was a kid. They look like posh and bright onion sacks with a handle. If you can remember before the plastic bag days that is. I love them, bought a bright pink one to leave at the bottom of my handbag. And yes, I filled it with organic sausages, bacon and chipolatas from Sydling Brook Farm.

Must be off now, there’s some cooking to be done.

Where are the apples?

A month ago we took the bikes and empty rucksacks to Elwell Farm down the lanes between Beaminster and Bridport. It’s that time of year when the orchards are in full swing and you can go and pick your own delectable sugar straight off the tree. I struggle with encouraging my children to eat fruits. Problem is, it’s partly -or mainly- my fault because so do I. Give us a peach in Summer in the south of France and we fight over it, almost. I let them have the last one, obviously. But try and appreciate most fruits from the supermarket and it just does not work. Apples are rarely juicy, pears are either hard as rock or let to ripen and you wonder if you are eating a sponge dipped in fine sand. I won’t even start entering the food mile debate. We’re lucky our local greengrocer has wonderful local produce but I thought that getting the fruits from the trees at the end of a bike ride might just tickle the tastebuds of my sporty men, big and small.

A month on, I go down to the cellar where we have stored the pears and apples we picked and I am amazed. They have all gone. That’s over three kilos of fruit in four weeks. I was planning to make compotes but all I managed to bake or cook is one apple tart and a few sauces to help sausages and meat get closer to children’s tastebuds. Could be that every time a little friend comes round I get the children to tell them where they come from. And kids love it. That’s how the last few pears went yesterday, after football.

My favourite bit is that my 12 year old loved it so much he decided to take his mates there on his birthday. A bike ride with a sweet purpose. Bless the owner, he was not open for pick your own that day but he let the kids pick the fruits anyway. Dad bought a few more kilos and all came back with smiles on their faces. We sent the friends back home with a bag full of apples and pears. Isn’t that the best ‘thanks for coming to my party’ bag ever?

Picking fruit at Elwell Farm
Picking fruit at Elwell Farm

Parlez vous English?

OK, si vous venez en Angleterre, il y a des chances que vous parliez anglais. Mais de la à comprendre un mail d’une compagnie irlandaise qui vous a vendu un vol – en euro, en France- il y a une marge, non?

Pourtant, pas plus tard que le mois dernier, mon père venait me visiter et il reçoit ce mail de Ryanair:

“IF YOU MADE YOUR RESERVATION ON OR AFTER THE 21ST MAY 2009 YOU MUST CHECK-IN ONLINE AND PRINT YOUR BOARDING PASS FOR PRESENTATION AT BOTH AIRPORT SECURITY AND AT THE BOARDING GATE. PLEASE NOTE THAT AIRPORT CHECK-IN IS ONLY AVAILABLE TO PASSENGERS WHO BOOKED BEFORE THE 21ST MAY 2009 AND PAID FOR THIS SERVICE”

Je passe les details, truc habituel avec Ryanair, vous devez payer en plus pour vous enregistrer à l’aéroport si vous avez acheté votre billet avant le 21 Mai. Donc, ça fait quatre mois que Ryanair a l’argent de mon père mais si il veut voyager, il faut qu’il paye en plus; chose habituelle, il faut le savoir.

Donc sachez que sous des déguisements de vols à petits prix, on se retrouve vite à payer plus qu’au départ; si on la chance que le vol que nous avons reservé et payé existe toujours. Sinon, on se retrouve à chercher un autre vol à la dernière minute. Combien de temps cela va t-il nous prendre pour nous rendre compte que ces compagnies nous prennent pour des débiles? Et on tombe dedans parce que c’est “pas cher”. Oui d’accord, mais quand on se fait avoir, ça coute plus cher. L’argent est dur à gagner en ce moment, on va continuer combien de temps à se faire avoir avec de fausses économies?

Pay as you book, check-in and board: travel Ryanair

The best joke I’ve heard in ages is this bloke serves a beer to Ryanair’s boss “That’ll be £1″. Seems cheap hmm??” Well, if you want that in a glass it will be £2.00.

Now you can add a third caveat. “Si tu veux que je te la donne maintenant, ça va te couter une livre de plus”. Oh you don’t understand, well I am sorry, I thought everybody spoke French. Oh no, I forgot the world has changed and everybody speaks English now. Or so does Ryanair’s boss O’Leary thinks.

My Dad gets this email in English a few days before travelling between Toulon and Bristol:

“IF YOU MADE YOUR RESERVATION ON OR AFTER THE 21ST MAY 2009 YOU MUST CHECK-IN ONLINE AND PRINT YOUR BOARDING PASS FOR PRESENTATION AT BOTH AIRPORT SECURITY AND AT THE BOARDING GATE. PLEASE NOTE THAT AIRPORT CHECK-IN IS ONLY AVAILABLE TO PASSENGERS WHO BOOKED BEFORE THE 21ST MAY 2009 AND PAID FOR THIS SERVICE”

So, not only is this in English but it says that if you want to check in you need to pay extra. How are you going to travel if you don’t check in? Was this made clear to the client when he booked? I think not.

The old man paid, travelled with them as I was waiting at the other end but refuses to travel with them again. Can’t blame him.

How do they get away with it? I know that they’re cheap but they have a website that still does not give you a full price until you’re almost at the end of the booking process, they undoubtedly pay their staff a pitance -considering their sorry faces- and now they charge you extra when you turn up at the airport. How much longer do we keep giving our hard earned cash to companies like that?

Fossiles et ciel bleu à Lyme Regis

Il est difficile de faire mieux qu’une journee ensoleillée dans le Dorset. Il fait une chaleur qui fait du bien aux os sans ramollir la cervelle, le ciel est bleu sans tout rendre délavé, une petite brise permet de se balader sans transpirer et mourir de soif.

Aujourd’hui, mon père avait lu un article dans un magazine français à propos d’une table à thé faite par un excentrique Anglais avec des fossiles. Nous voila donc partis avec une bonne excuse à Lyme Regis, direction le musée et le port. Nous commençons par une balade en ville où nombre de fossiles et autres pierres plus ou moins précieuses ont trouvé résidence dans des magasins de souvenirs. Même si certains fossiles viennent d’Afrique du Nord, beaucoup sont quand même de la région et il n’y a pas de tonnes de jouets en plastiques prêts à la poubelle avant même leur achat . Quant aux pierres précieuses et semi-précieuses on trouve de tout, un peu comme à Glastonbury mais un peu moins hippie.

Mais revenons à nos fossiles. La côte du Dorset de Lyme Regis jusqu’à Weymouth est classée par l’ Unesco comme “héritage naturel mondial” car elle est une des seules côtes au monde à préserver gentillement des fossiles de l’ère Jurassique. (Nous avons le pendant en Normandie autour de Villers). Et j’avoue que la quête de notre table d’excentrique nous avons mené vers des os et autres vestiges plutot impressionants. Pas avec un marteau mais avec une entrée de £3 (trois livres au 12 septembre 2009). Le musée de Lyme Regis est un bon musée vieille école avec un amalgame de choses trouvées, léguées et achetées représentant la région. La table est amusante, l’escalier en colimaçon un petit peu glissant, les fossiles bien interessants et les habituels piéces de monnaie (dont des sous français), sextant, cartes postables et autres donnent une vue de la ville comme elle a été.

Maintenant, c’est une station balnéaire plutot pleine en Septembre surtout par un beau week-end ensoleillé comme aujourd’hui. La plage de sable (importé de France) est une joie pour les enfants, le port est mignon et nombre bateaux offrent des voyages en haute mer, péche aux maquereaux ou simple balade. Longer la côte et ses falaises qui tombent dans la mer est sur ma longue liste de choses à faire. Comme de chercher des fossiles de ce côté de la Manche. En fait, si vous voulez ‘creuser’ vous pouvez acheter des marteaux en ville. N’attaquez pas la falaise par contre à moins que vous ne vouliez vous recevoir des cailloux sur la tête et toute la falaise avec. Les falaises tombent toute seule de toute façon et lorsqu’elles se détachent les pros de paléonto et autres se retrouvent par ici pour chercher un autre dynosaure au nom imprononçable. Mais ils restent sur la plage. Il est interdit de grimper la falaise, ce qui me parait plutot logique. Mon fils se baladait au bas d’une falaise il y a quelques mois et une pierre lui est tombée sur la tête. Beau trou dans le crane, Samu, points de suture. Donc les falaises, c’est dangereux. Elles veulent bien nous donner des fossiles de temps en temps, mais c’est quand elles veulent… A bon entendeur, salut!

British food

I thought I’d translate my previous post or at least give the British who don’t speak French (that will be most of you then?) a chance to read what I think about your food. Since I’m French you must be interested. We do food so much better than you… Or do we, still?

Bridport was voted the best town in Dorset for local food by ‘the Taste of Dorset’. This reminded me that when I went to France this year, I noticed that although the word ‘provenance’ comes from the french language we don’t seem to use it very much in restaurants and even shops. I have become far more aware of where my food comes from since living here in Dorset. We stopped at a run-of-the-mill steak and chips restaurant on our journey back from the South of France this Summer and the steak provenance was: France or Europe. Mmmm, that’s specific, no South American or Russian cow there then. Goodness knows where the spuds came from? I didn’t ask. Steak was nice though.

I remember interviewing Chef Jean-François Piège from the Ambassadeur restaurant in Paris (2 Michelin stars) three years ago. His main concern was getting the best rather than worry too much about where it came from. Now that figures when the smallest menu is at €70 and they do tell you where your meat comes from -or your caviar for that matter. In fairness if you check their menu, most of the produce is french anyway. But if you can’t get it in France, then Piège wants to know that he can get it onto your plate anyway. It’s a question of choice, n’est ce pas?

So, I’d say you can be proud of what you British have achieved in the world of food in the last twenty years. You are more aware, more discerning and Dorset is certainly a fantastic place to be when you are a gourmet. Just don’t settle for that MacDo (as French call it) or drink a Starbuck (they’re trying to invade the South of France now that Paris has taken the bait) and you’ll be more foodie than a lot of Frenchies.

Incroyable but true…