Tag: foodie

Fungi foray frolic in West Dorset

A fungal foray with John Wright is not mushroom hunting as I know it. Childhood memories of my mother’s picnics and my father whistling to keep hunters away are miles from a day at the Kingcombe Centre in West Dorset.

There are similarities of course. Baskets, knifes, eyes to the ground, a reassuring smell of decay when the nose gets closer to the undergrowth and that warm feeling of joy when a mushroom is found. Or a toadstool.

The point of taking part in a foray with Mr Mushroom himself is to learn. There were a few newbies like me and a few reoffenders who clearly thought it was worth re-foraging with Mr Wright. The world of fungi is a vast underground world where the initiated want to learn more and the foodies don’t want to go home empty handed.

Our foray was at the Kingcombe Centre in West Dorset, part of a Nature Reserve where the fields have never seen fertiliser, where the preservation of our local ecosystem is not a fashion. A very special place not just for the lucky visitors but also for the underworld. The 75 different types of fungi we found in about four hours should prove my point. Only one do I uncompromisingly know, a very exciting one at that, a chanterelle.

Our first lucky find in the hedge outside Kingcombe Centre was tall, thick stemmed, white with a greenish cap. It brought a big smile to John’s face as he dug it from the ground, bag at the base and all. He proudly showed the group and introduced us to the one mushroom you should avoid at all costs: The Death Cap. Need I say more. Not as pretty as its red and white cousin that fairies are keen on but more dangerous.

Of the remaining 73, I had come across a few but could sadly name none fully. English name or latin name. A beautifully fat boletus find was quite exciting. Being red though, it was totally the wrong colour for supper but perfect for a photo opportunity. John obliged by holding it up against the cloudless blue sky.

I still don’t know the difference between a toadstool and a mushroom. I might be the proud owner of a signed copy of the River Cottage Handbook No. 1 (John commented that he was honoured to sign his ‘Mushrooms’ book for a Française, cheeky charmer) but to me, they’re still all Champignons. All 4,000 species that you can find in Britain.

I learnt lots of interesting facts about fungi. For a start, they are the reproductive organ of a world that lives underground. From there, inevitable sexual innuendoes follow. How about the nipples on the magic ones that can take you to seventh heaven or leave you sorely disappointed and a carefully pronounced volva at the base of the hard stem of the Amanita phalloides. I’ll leave it at that, not my forte, I was brought up by a Catholic mother who was master picnic organiser but stayed away from such language. John on the the hand was far more masterful with his words, let alone knowledge, and had us giggling throughout the day.

A few titbits I gathered were of far greater interest. The reason mushrooms are often found at the edge of a wood or near a car park is not, as I thought, because mushrooms need a bit of sunshine to warm their caps but because the organism that lives under the ground is suddenly worried that the environment it is thriving in is running out. Time to reproduce and out come the fruits for spores -babies in the making- to be scattered, and for animals to pick, munch or nibble.

Of far more interest for my stomach is that the mushrooms my family still hunt for, once the first rains have blessed the sunny South of France and its pine and oak forests, can be found in this country. The Saffron Milkcap. For once, the clue is in the Latin name: Lactarius deliciosus. I found one years ago, somewhere in the South West and John confirmed you can find them in this country. I wasn’t dreaming after all.

Should I tell you where? If a delicious mushroom is to be found, should its location be shared? Well, here is one thing the French and the English have in common. My Dorset farmer friend and his father don’t share their secrets for Field Mushrooms hotspots with each other. My family don’t divulge their pine forest autumn picnic locations to all and sundry.

It looks like I will be spending the next few years hunting in pine and oak woods of Dorset to leave my children our own little mushroom secrets. I’ll be thanking John for renewing my love of the forest undergrowth, his little book in my basket, keeping away from beautiful white tall mushrooms with a volva.

John Wright shows off the Death Cap:

John Wright's Death Cap

Photogenic Boletus:

Beautiful boletus

Kingcombe Centre courses:



The inn down the lane

From nouvelle cuisine to a country pub down a tarmac lane so remote, it has grass growing on it. The sun is shining so we decide to drive around West Dorset lanes just for the sake of the views and find the Three Horseshoes Inn just around lunch time.

Pub with rooms. The menu is more gastro than old boys’ local and they’ve run out of Bath chaps and Hooke Farm trout. No matter, I fancy a Blue Vinney ploughman and the husband goes for battered cod with triple cooked chips. Yep, good ol’ fish and chips for lunch. Takes all sorts.

We can hear children as we sit down on the terrace with wide green views. You’d think they are just behind the wall, a perfect demonstration of how sound works in amphitheatre. A few minutes later, the school below starts work again for the afternoon so the only sounds left are the birds, the wind in the parasols and a distant dog listening to himself. Otherwise you’d wonder whether there’s much life around.

When my square wooden platter arrives I pull a face. There’s a heap of thin and pretty greenery on the edge and I am wondering how to eat this without half of it ending up on the floor. It looks like young sweet pea shoots and tastes delicious. Brain figures that fingers are de rigueur. If the man in the nice restaurant in France (many years back) thought it was OK for me to eat with my fingers because chefs don’t like plates coming back with food, then why not?

Apart from the juicy shoots, there was a large chunk of blue veined Dorset delight, some very light and airy home made bread and two chutneys. The first was classically vinegary with soft fruits -no crunchy out of a jar sharp stuff here-  the other more of a compote that has not reached mushy state so the soft bits of fruits have a gentle texture. This one would have probably complimented a Farmhouse Cheddar better, Blue Vinney being a bit stronger it overtook the palate (ok, killed the fruits if you prefer).

The husband enjoyed his triple cooked chips and battered cod. The cod portion was large enough and the batter was a bit on the heavy side but the chips were deemed delicious. There is a price to pay for triple cooked chips at lunchtime and I can hear the husband snoozing. You can’t beat a Ploughman in a country pub. And as country pubs go, this one sure has the location, a great terrace with half a dozen tables, the pretty church next door and new owners.

Our terrace neighbours said: “Very pretty but I wouldn’t want to live here; silly little roads”. Fair enough, this is a place you come to because you like being remote. No marquee, no sea views, just an inn and a village. The Jurassic Coast may be down the lane, it may as well be abroad. That’s why I liked the place.

Ploughman: £7

Battered cod + triple cooked chips: £11

Three Horseshoes Inn, Powerstock

Bull Hotel, relax… you’re in Bridport

As you drive into town, you can’t miss the dark blue 17th century Inn with a gold Bull overlooking the pavement. A Bridport artist gilded that Bull, old fashioned way; she works on the St Michael trading estate. I like that about the place. The meat comes from the butcher next door, the apple juice at breakfast is from a farm down the road, the amazing beds from a company whose impressive showroom is just outside Bridport.

I’ve been a few times for cheap and cheerful lunches (they have a ‘crunch lunch’ for a fiver which is great value for money) and once for a friend’s 40th which was a great laugh. I was curious to know what an overnight stay would be like and thought a night without the kids would be a great idea…

And it was. The bed was wonderfully comfortable (although ours did creak a bit but hey) egyptian linen and all, the Neal’s Yard bottles were bathroom size (no nasty plastic throwaway stuff) and we loved the mixture of old and new. Philip Starck lighting worked well with a french inspired Toile de Jouy wallpaper and plain chocolate walls with a silver tinge. Taste is very personal and if you like twee, you might want to find somewhere else. If you like bold statements and smile at quirkiness this should be down your road.

Supper? Well, we liked. Went for a sharing evening all the way with a Côte de boeuf and a cheese platter. The meat was tender in the middle yet crusty and black on the outside, sliced onto a wooden tray laden with hand cut chips, crispy yet not fatty, oversized sweet and crunchy onion rings, a large mushroom and some rocket salad. There was also a tomato each. I don’t understand tasteless tomatoes in winter (southern french pompous palate probably) so I gave mine a miss. It went back with the herbed butter which was unnecessary. The meat was succulent and did not need any addition. It did not need any more salt either, if you’re one of these add salt before tasting, beware.

The cheese platter was a good selection of local fare, from the famous Blue Vinney (which I love) to the Dorset Red (delicious if you like smokey) via a Somerset Brie and of course a farmhouse Cheddar. The husband liked the chutney which tasted too much like curry for my liking. He also loved the pudding of raspberry soufflé which was a bit too sugary for me but then I’m more of a savoury kinda girl.

There’s been a fair few reviews on Bridport’s Bull Hotel since they opened. They appeal to the growing number of people who have moved back into the area after a London stint or time elsewhere, as well as visitors who want comfort and a certain amount of luxury in a relaxed, modern atmosphere. Think affordable Babington House and you won’t be far wrong.

Saved by the naked chef

Do you remember the world before Starbucks? That’s the one I landed in. Late 80’s, from the South of France, took food for granted and could not hold a glass of wine outside of meal times. Nowhere to go to sip a decent café (au lait).

The 90’s came along. Expensive coffees invaded the world whilst many of us were already hooked with fast-nasty-food for a pittance, plastic toy thrown in. I got caught by both. London, busy, convenient… Weekly shoppings at my local supermarket because I had no time to go and find butchers or greengrocers and… you try and park in London, it’s a nightmare. So, every little helps.

Yes I know the naked chef is the other supermarket. All the same, my salvation started with my friend Louise, some white fish on a bed of raw green beans and some vanilla. Delicious, simple and different. Inspired, I went off and bought ‘Jamie’s kitchen’.

Looking back, I think I lost the plot  because the raw ingredients I kept buying were insipid. My food was all about tomatoes or courgettes. Here they were more water than taste, aubergines or fennel cost almost more than gold. I dreamt of peaches in Summer, nectar oozing out and juice dribbling onto my plate.

If somewhere along the line you are a foodie then you want to pass this love to your children. When my son was about seven, I asked him which celebrity he would like to meet. ‘Jamie Oliver’ he answered. No singer, presenter or a character in a film, he chose a chef. Result. Food and its image was beginning to change in the UK. Lovely jobbly.

Mid naughties and J’s ‘School dinners’ programme came along. Why did schools ever stop providing a canteen to pupils? My French brain still thinks this an aberration. This is the first year that both my children are having a cooked meal for lunch. 2010. My youngest is even lucky enough to be fed by Local Food Links in Dorset. They won a Catering Gold Mark for using local, organic  and sustainable when possible. I know this is not the case all over the UK and many schools import all their meat from abroad and still cook unappetising fast food. There’s always room for improvement.

Nevertheless, despite criticising Jamie for ‘being in bed with a supermarket’ -quoting a chef friend of mine- or for his excessive presence on our screens followed by his array of books he, and Hugh, Rick, Lesley not forgetting Keith who started it all; they are all contributing to this country getting the balance between eating to live and living to eat back where it should be. It’s been fascinating to watch. And taste.

Beaminster, bonne bouffe et belle campagne

Mon article sur Beaminster a gagné un prix sur le site Simonseeks.com.


Mais je ne voudrais pas que ceux qui ne parlent pas Anglais se sentent delaissés… voici donc une traduction:

Vous savez ce sentiment de bien-être qu’on éprouve parfois lorsqu’on voyage? On se sent comme chez soi même si on est dans un pays dont on ne parle pas la langue. Je me souviens il y a vingt ans, ressortir du vieux tunnel qui mène à la ville de Beaminster et soulever mes paupières, agrandir mes yeux et sourire. Devant nous, une petite ville tranquille avec un clocher carré qui dépasse, au fond d’une cuvette aux verts multiples. Tout autour, des champs et des haies qui évoquent bien la Normandie et ses bocages.

Malgré ses 200 maisons listées aux Monuments Historiques en pierre locale, ses petites rues , sa place centrale et ses magasins, Beaminster n’est pas une ville particulièrement connue. Mais c’est ici qu’il y a vingt ans, je me suis sentie chez moi. A l’époque j’étais une Londonienne stressée qui faisait ses courses au supermarché une fois par semaine et le plaisir d’aller du boucher à la marchande de légumes en passant par la boulangerie m’a fait penser à mes vacances en Normandie. Vingt ans plus tard, j’habite en ville.

Depuis peu, nous avons un chef people (Mat Follas, qui a gagné un programme télé pour chefs amateurs) sur la place et son restaurant Le Wild Garlic (Ail sauvage) a été un super succès. Mat et son restaurant représentent bien ce qui définit le Dorset de l’Ouest. Pas très grand, mais parfaitement proportionné, simple et terre à terre le tout épicé juste ce qu’il faut pour être intéressant sans vous emporter la figure.

La région a depuis longtemps attiré les gourmets qui ne mangent du poulet que s’il est fermier -et bio, encore mieux, ont l’eau à la bouche à l’idée d’une pomme fraichement cueillie et adorent les marchés. Un des premiers marché fermier était à Bridport, notre ville voisine, il y a vingt ans. D’autres chefs people  anglais comme Lesley Walters et Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall ont leurs établissements aux alentours. Ce qui les unit tous, c’est une passion pour les produits du terroir. Nos moutons de Portland donnent une viande succulente, le fromage Blue Vinney n’est pas aussi fort que le Roquefort mais est un bleu qu’il faut absolument goûter.

Un fruit (ou un légume) qu’on n’associe pas avec l’Angleterre c’est le chilli ou piment rouge. Et pourtant.

Imaginez… près de la plage voisine de West Bexington, un couple au nom de Michaux (pas très Anglais, c’est vrai) produisent un piment rouge si fort qu’il fait exploser l’échelle de Scoville. A plus d’une million de SHU, le ‘Dorset Naga’ est un des piments les plus forts du monde. Etonnant, comme le West Dorset qui réserve plein de surprises. Paradis pour les randonneurs et amateurs de balades, les villages comme Stoke Abbott et Netherbury sont des destinations parfaites. On ne serait pas étonné si au détour d’un chemin on se retrouvait nez à nez avec l’inspecteur Barnaby. Par une journée ensoleillée, les maisons en pierre locale prennent des tons dorés virant vers l’orange avec le coucher du soleil. Superbe. N’oubliez pas vos chaussures de marches ou une bonne paire de tennis, les vues de la crête des collines qui entourent la ville vers la Manche valent le détour.

Au printemps, les jacinthes des bois couvrent le sol des bois de Hooke, havre de tranquillité où vous rencontrerez peut être une biche. J’ai vu un faon l’année dernière, adorable. La région est protégée (comme les parc régionaux Français) car grâce à climat plus chaud que la plupart du reste du pays, 80% des animaux présents sur les Iles Britanniques sont représentés dans le Dorset. C’est toujours un plaisir, lorsqu’au milieu d’une balade on distingue un cerf au loin ou on surprend un faisan.

Une fois de retour, en quête de confort, chaleur et bonne bouffe dans une atmosphère sympa, le choix ne manque pas. L’hotel Bridge House est une maison de prêtre du 13eme siècle avec tous les conforts du 21eme siècle. Un restaurant aux nappes blanches et une brasserie aux prix plus abordables offrent des repas excellents -souvent basés sur des mets Français- avec des produits locaux comme des crabes de la baie de Lyme ou des champignons du Dorset. Même la lavande pour le dessert vient du jardin. Pour une expérience bien anglaise (ils font de nombreux week-end chasse) le Bridge House vaut le voyage. (En Fevrier 2010, chambre à partir de £116).

Si vous recherchez plutôt une ferme et quelque chose de plus simple, vous aimerez Trish et sa ferme de North Buckham au nord de Beaminster. Les enfants pourront donner à manger aux poulets ou se balader sur un poney. (Cottage Badger (blaireau) à partir de £350 pour 7 personnes).  Trish a également des chambres d’hôtes et un excellent petit déjeuner avec du pain frais fait maison. Meerhay Manor, sur les hauteurs de Beaminster a également des chambres d’hôtes et un cottage pour 2 personnes.

Il faut savoir que c’est tout de même un peu dangereux de venir visiter notre cuvette. Je ne suis pas la seule à être tombée amoureuse de la région au point de ne plus repartir. A bon entendeur salut!

The Wild Garlic Restaurant: http://www.thewildgarlic.co.uk

The Bridge House Hotel & Brasserie: http://www.bridge-house.co.uk

North Buckham Farm: http://www.northbuckhamfarm.co.uk

Meerhay Manor: http://www.meerhay.co.uk

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.