Off The Plot – Food for Thought

2012 has been a peculiar year indeed, weird weather, the Summer in Spring, the wettest on record and a feast of some things and famine of (most of the) others. The allotment, foraging and feasting all had their moments and in the best of New Year Traditions looking back at the year that was and, in turn, looking forward to the year to come feeds the imagination.

Foraging

I began the year looking at Daffodils, no they aren’t edible ( I think!) but they are the first indicator that fungi can be found. Morels, those almost Alien like shrooms appear about the same time. I found only 1 however, dried up and shrivelled but to  the unseasonal heat has to be a factor. St. Georges unusually followed in abundance but the early Chanterelle season was a set back, again due the lack of rain. This also put pay to the early harvest of Porcini too and, in fact, if the truth be known, it was a bad year for them too. Too few also were the Charcoal Burners, Hedgehogs, Bays, Orange and Brown Birch and Blewitts but remarkably I found, by proxy, my first Saffron Milkcap, Alpine Strawberries and Raspberries – delicious they were too. So to next year and the coming crop. Weather permitting back to normal I hope and again, my eyes will be peeled in mid to late February for the Dafs to re appear. The odd truffle wouldn’t go amiss too.

Allotment

As opposed to foraging where it is an uneven contest between man and nature allotmenteering is more of a struggle of natural and unnatural equals. This year, however, the odds were stacked against us despite preparing and getting in early the potatoes before the frosts ( non-existent in March) reappeared to kill off the burgeoning new shots. Again, our imported Wild Garlic flourishing started the growing season off but like many a good start the fruits of the year disappointed. The Runners, French and Butter Beans, Sweet Corn ( murdered by squirrels) and the Purple Sprouting Broccoli were a let down. Even the pumpkins and courgettes flattered to deceive. All in all, apart from the spuds, the beetroot and cabbages the year was abysmal. So what to do in 2013? The plan is to focus on main crops of spuds and beetroot, attempt the beans and try to get more harvest from cabbages, sprouts and carrots. Onions, Turnips and Sproccoli will be rested.

Food

Although not grown and definitely not free food it plays a very important part in our life as can be witnessed by our extending tummies. The top three places to eat in 2012, in no particular order are:

1. The Three Horseshoes – Powerstock, Dorset. Try the Chateaubriand and even stay over as the accommodation is simple but stunning views are magical. Try looking at the Church across the road too. The graveyard and church internals are well worth seeing.

2. The Crocked Billet, Stoke Row, Newlands Lane, Stoke Row, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, RG9 5PU – Now check this place out, difficult to find but well worth it. The kitchen can cook and the food is just amazing and value for money. We will be returning in the new year. Try their Touraine Sauvignon Blanc too.

3. L’enclume, Cartmel, The Lake District. This wasn’t on recommendation but more inspiration as the Chef and Owner, Simon Rogan, did amazingly well on the Great British Menu in 2012. His organic, locally sourced food linked to seasonality really got our juices flowing. A 16 course taster menu and great breakfasts were a dream, a sensual and visual experience and unrepeatable. The wine list was good too, especially the Henri Bourgeois range.

The most overrated, sadly, was The River Cottage Canteen and Farm visits. I think in hindsight we have moved on and attraction of the once loved and cherished place we have now out grown.

Next year, apart from revisiting the first 2, the third is too far away really, we will investigate the two local restaurants of note in or near Woking – Drakes at Ripley and London House in nearby Old Woking. Hopefully a trip to a Ferme Auberge near Avise in Champagne and the wonderful Relais de Sillery, near Mailly, enroute to Sancerre will be a gastronomic distraction from a very long journey there and back.

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