Wednesday, 26 May 2010

EYFC Essex Young Farmers Country Show

A belated report on the fantastic local food producers that I found at the The May EYFC Show

It was a new one on me, admittedly I had seen the odd road sign pointing to it in the past but this time I had decided to go and see what was happening. The EYFC or Essex Young Farmers Country Show was hard to research. The little I had found on the internet about it didn’t quite emphasise how large the show was and when we turned up the next day we were quite shocked.
The show was being held at Boyton Hall in Roxwell, Essex. We were first greeted by who I would assume to be young farmers dressed in luminescent security vests beckoning us into the car park. The car park was in fact a huge hilly field and just after lunchtime when we arrived was nearly full with 1000’s of cars.

The queues to get in weren’t too bad, but the cost of entry was a little steep at £10 per person. I of course arrived with a hungry head, I didn’t know what foody treats were hear but I did know that farmers and farmer folk in general loved their food and were the source of most of my foody moments.

We had all been out the night before so the first stop was a conveniently a hog roast stall that also sold sausages in rolls and bacon sandwiches, the smell of which had greeted us and then drawn us toward it with supernatural powers. The queue was long but moving quickly. The hog roast stand was serving 2 people every minute with an average order value of £10 you can only imagine how much money they made! The crispy pork was served in a white bap with plenty of sweet apple sauce, a delicious way to start the day!

Stomachs full we pushed on into the show.. We could see working steam engines and a traditional, what I think was a steam powered fair. No food to see here so we pushed on. The country show was exactly that and the stalls changed from trade stands selling the latest farming equipment through to grain salesman. We eventually moved into the hunting area where shotguns and antique rifles were on display. Moving into the first marquee we found our first food stand. A pie company who were demonstrating how to skin rabbits and prepare game. We stayed long enough to see an unsuspecting lady get hit with some rabbit entrails as an over enthusiastic chef pulled the skin off a rabbit in a single slick move (hilarious even with a mild hangover!). I was tempted to buy a game pie as they looked delicious but we moved on with the expectation of many more food stalls to come.

The next tent was a collection of competition entries from the children farmers. Brightly decorated wellies and more food! There had obviously been a serious bake off earlier in the day and the rich smell of chocolate filled the air. By the time we had got to this grand baking exhibition it appeared that a few hungry farmers had made it there first and in true testament to the young cook’s skills the cakes had become irresistible and some lay in taters.

By now the temperature was rising and although only in the late teens when the sun came out it made for short sleeves weather.

Finally I could see it gloriously sign posted by a huge sign on top of the marquee exclaiming the bright green words ‘Food Tent!’.. It wasn’t the next tent, but finally in reach. We passed through the craft tent with pace passing by various craft stalls including basket making and some amazing woodworking, anyway.. On to the food tent.

The tent was busy! No clear exit or entry was visible and turned away from one busy end of the marquee switched tactics and made for the second door. First to greet us was a small stall selling well, Ginger!! Everything you could ever think of made of Ginger including a homemade Ginger wine. What I wanted to find was local producers and farmers so although the ladies stall looked lovely I was not after one of her sweet treats. A lemonade stall, followed by a traditional candy shop. Finally at the end of the huge tent and through the busy people I saw it. The crusty Pie Company!

The Crusty pie company make pork pies of all flavours! The stall was busy, very busy and queue’s snaked in all directions I settled on an end and waited it out. By the time I got to the front of the queue my mind was made up, I could see they were bagging 4 large pies for £10.. Well it would have been rude not to do it! I opted for Spicy, Traditional, Stilton and an open pie with Apple Sauce on the top. Pies in the bag and my eye in I continued my search for local foods.

The rest of the tent lacked any specific producers, it wasn’t until I got back to the door that I entered I realised that I had walked by many stalls on my way in.

These stands were lined up in a nice orderly arc and I was going to investigate each one in turn.

The first stand was a farm called Great Garnetts. Great Garnetts farm in Great Dunmow, Essex produces its own pork and makes Gammon, Sausages and the first thing that I had to have Bacon! I always buy smoked when I see that it is naturally smoked, I grabbed the biggest pack of Back Bacon and bought it.

The next stand was the Lymn Bank Farm who produces a number of handmade Cheeses from their farm in Lincolnshire. They had another irresistible deal; 3 Cheeses a packet of Oatcakes and a chutney of choice for £10! Fantastic, but which to pick!? I drew my weapon of choice – a tooth pick – and then begun my duel with these tasty cheeses. I ended up opting for a Lymn Bank Strongest which is basically an eye poppingly mature Cheddar, Two Smoking Barrels an interesting little cheese that encapsulates some of my favourite things.. Smoke and yeast extract (Marmite), although a little novelty yummy none the less! And the third was a strange cheese that just caught me by surprise – Apricot, Chilli and Lime! Although these flavours are not traditionally added to cheese they did catch me off guard and well.. I liked them! I added the oatcakes and a Sweet Tomato and Chilli Chutney to the bag, handed over my tenner and was very pleased with my purchase.

The next stand was one I was very familiar with.. The green mobile stand of Howletts Farm Game I recognised it instantly. They were a regular on the farmer’s market circuit and my primary source of good game!

This time I wanted more than just my next dinner, I asked the lady if I could speak to the owner to see if I could get on one of his shoots. It’s a long story but he agreed and well, it’s a long story that I’ll come to another time. As we weren’t really in any game season I bought some Wild Boar sausages, the Wild Boar are reared on Howletts farm too and regrettably we moved on again. The next stall sold one of my favourite local ingredients. Farmer Browns Cold pressed, Extra Virgin Rapeseed Oil, I snaffled a bottle and made my way onwards. We passed many other stalls but none that drew me in like the previous ones. My arms now laden with goodies we moved onto the Livestock area of the show.

Although I had got what I had come for I found this section of the show very interesting. I am not only obsessed by the provenance of food but the types and breeds too (particularly how they taste!)! This part of the show showed off the prize wining pigs including Welsh Blacks and Saddlebacks. The next section showed off Turkeys, Rabbits and then the various types of chickens. Next, the sheep and finally the Cows and Horses. The animals were great and the cutest and funniest of all was a single lamb that had clearly Baa’d so much it had lost its little voice.

One final stop near the exit was the new Horticultural stalls, this included yet another but smaller Marquee with huge displays of indoor and outdoor plants. I followed a sign that pointed out ‘Herbs’ and followed it to what can only be described as the Eden of all herb stalls!! The herb stall was huge almost 40 feet in length and at least 4 feet in depth and covered in interesting and varied foliage. It was being managed by a gentleman who later was to tell me that they were Herbal Heaven who also has an online shop. I am personally obsessed with Herbs and my garden is an Aladdin’s cave of herbs with every corner or pot with another edible leaf hidden within it. There was one herb that I wanted and could not find in any of the seed catalogues was Lemon Verbena (excellent in puddings) and here it was bang in the middle of the stand, that was 1! Being a lover of Wild Food too, when I saw that they had Wild Strawberry plants I had to have one. I have many Arctic Strawberry plants which also produce the very small yet super charged Strawberries and I wanted to compare the two, so the Wild Strawberry was number 2! Number three was inspired by the programme ‘Grow your own Drugs’ as I had heard that its root made an extraordinary Hot Chocolate as well as had incredible medicinal values, the third was Valeria and I wanted it for its root. I picked Borage (as the slugs had got mine) and I love its cucumber flavoured leaves and flowers. The girlfriend came in with number 5 a Lime Basil and then the sixth.. If Willy Wonka did herbs, he would have come up with this one. I have many types of Sage in my garden but the newest Blackcurrant Sage is the king! This really does give off the strongest most intense blackcurrant’y smell you can believe. The stall owner told me to use it in biscuits and cakes but when the plant settles in to its new home in my garden and kindly starts to grow more foliage I have plans for it that involve duck!

As per normal there was one last stop on the way out that just so happened to have a ‘I must have that’ on it. Hand weaved Willow basket just perfect for collecting Wild Mushrooms in a perfect gift for a forager.

And that was it, I long trudge back to the car laden with foody goodies and before you know it I was back home examining the finds!

The EYFC or Essex young Farmers Country show is a definite must whether you are a farmer, foody or just enjoy the country life! Can’t wait for next year!

British Food Home

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