This is the second time I've visited the Manx Food and Drink Festival and though it was great in 2010, it was even better this year. Much was to be had over the 24-25th of September including demonstrations and tastings from local producers, on-site competitions and shopping and even celebrity chefs. This all set in a new and beautiful venue with generally good weather made for an eventful and delicious Manx weekend.
While last year I attended as a casual spectator, this year I was on hand as stand-coordinator and representative for the 'Allotment Forum' - a rather stuffy name for a fun and informal association of public allotments on the Isle of Man. Enthusiastic volunteers from three of our allotments offered the opportunity of joining up with the grow-your-own movement, a chance at winning a box of allotment vegetables & preserves, and plenty of on-site advice on organic gardening and trouble-shooting. It was a lovely two days and I met so many interesting people including those who had gardens or allotments of their own and even a few who wanted to offer their own land for public gardening. But probably the most exciting visitor we had was the hunk of daytime cookery - James Martin! During his book-signing, Brenda (from the Douglas allotment) and I invited him to come down for a tour of our stand and an introduction to what we're all about. Not only did he follow us down then and there but he also graciously pulled the winning ticket for our vegetable box raffle - as Brenda said "What a star!" :)
Though I wasn't able to get away from the stand for much of the time, I did have a wander around the event with my husband on Saturday. Folk dancers were twirling in the sunshine and the great smells and Celtic music created just the right atmosphere to put smiles on everyone's faces. The location was a winner as well with the little field below the Nunnery providing a wind-free and green setting for some of the finest food on the Isle of Man.
Radcliffe Butchers was one of the more popular stands and their juicy selection of fresh local lamb, beef and pork was definitely the star attraction. A family butcher based in Castletown, they offer local free-range, organic and rare-breed meat alongside specialty sausages, pies and other deli goods. The craft of butchery was also on display and a long queue of customers formed in front of Christopher Lennon who skillfully hacked and sliced the meat to perfection.
The Individual Cake Company was a very busy stand as well and their beautifully decorated and mouthwatering cupcakes were difficult to resist. One little old lady stopped by our allotment stand to buy herself a raffle ticket and in leaving forgot her carton of cupcakes on the table. We lost her in the crowd but about five minutes later it opened up again and we spotted her with a distinct look of distress on her face. She spied her cupcakes in the same instant and her anguish was instantly replaced with sheer delight at finding her little treats again. And I don't think I've ever seen anyone snatch anything away so fast in my life!
At one point I spotted a fellow hauling a case of cider away from the Apple Orphanage's stall. Though their new cider was debuted at the event, I sadly didn't get the chance to taste it for myself. Made from 100% apple juice, they allow only the wild yeast on the apples to ferment it, as tradition dictates. This is opposed to conventional cider production which requires less than 80% apple juice and the use of commercial yeast. So you can bet that I'm looking forward to the next opportunity to have a taste of natural local cider! I just love what this company is doing on the island in general - though they have their own orchard, most of the apple juice they use comes from the average Manx back-garden. Anyone can bring in their apples to them and in return you receive a fair share of the freshly pressed juice. The remaining juice is then fermented and/or bottled and then sold on to the public. The cooperative business model they've created not only helps to reduce local apple wastage but creates products that everyone can enjoy.
The Farmer's Den Farm Shop set up their tent in one of the most photogenic places on the site and I couldn't help but get a shot of its down to earth fresh veggies against the beautiful stone facade of the Nunnery. Open at the Pooil Vaaish Farm at the Arbory in Castletown, they can also be found setting up shop at the island's farmers' markets. All naturally grown, their selection of local and seasonal vegetables and fruits rival that of the produce we grow at the allotments. I just love that they have their Kohlrabi in prime place on their table as well - I wish more people would give it a go.
And if you need some gorgeous dishes to display your culinary masterpieces in, just head over to Faye Christian's Ceramics. I'm still raving to people about the pottery class she gave us in August and can happily say that I use many of the pieces I made on a daily basis. I was so pleased to hear that the class even inspired the creation of her new dark brown mugs - they're just below her right arm in the picture. How wonderful is that?
The Isle of Man Creamery was another very busy stand and the queue to buy cheese was sometimes twenty+ people long! With an assortment of different cheeses including Mature Cheddar, Red Leicester, Ploughman's Pickle and Mango & Pineapple and a special deal of three blocks for £5 you can understand why. My favourites are definitely the more mature cheddars and I was pleased to pick a packet up for fifty pence at the close of the show. I've also heard on the radio this week that the Creamery have struck up a deal with an American company and so Manx cheese is now going to be available in some swanky shop across the pond. I'm not sure how I feel about that though - it's great to expand local business but the food miles on that cheese will be incredible. It goes against everything that protectionism of local food stands for.
The weirdest thing I tried at the show has got to be the mushroom ice-cream that Greeba Mushrooms was offering tasters of. The recipe was invented in partnership with Davidson's and is an extremely creamy and slightly fungi-flavoured concoction. The thing that turned me off wasn't the flavour, which I thought unique, but the little pieces of rubbery mushrooms that I can only think were included for decoration? Otherwise I'd say that the icecream would probably be interesting with savory dishes. A dollop served with tender pork medallions might be delicious.
Staarvey Farm was brave with their outdoor display of potted herbs and rainbow selection of preserves and cordials. We had a heavy shower at 4pm on Sunday and I hope they didn't suffer too much! I've happily become accustomed to seeing their wares at my local Shoprite and support the idea of buying local condiments. Marketing data aside, I imagine that many who try to buy local produce and meat often end up purchasing conventional ketchups, mustards, relishes and jams. I hope that someday we'll see a little kiosk of local preserves at every Tesco and Sainsburys across Britain.
Two lovely gentlemen from Manx National Heritage hosted a butter-churning demonstration next to our alloment stand. They learned their craft from an artisan at the Folk Museum at Cregneash and allowed people to have a go at both churning the butter and paddling it dry. I have a butter churn at home as well and I love both the butter and the buttermilk it produces. Purchased at the shop, buttermilk can tend to be sour and thick but straight from the process it is sweet as cream and the consistency of whole milk. They gave me a great tip on how to get my hands on some of the butter paddles they use so I'll be off to scour the antiques shops in Peel sometime soon. It's amazing how sturdy and useful antique tools are, especially compared with their modern counterparts.
Time-tested recipes for Christmas puddings, mincemeat and other delicious goodies were served up with Victorian charm by the proprietors of Aaron House. Their guest house along the promenade in Port St Mary provides delightful room and board with an authentic Victorian experience. Christmas pudding is a bit boozy for me but the scores of people crowding around to take home one of theirs is a good indication of how delicious they must be. Whenever I see a Christmas pudding I always have to wonder how old it is - you see, the older it is in years the better its supposed to be. I have a friend whose mother made one for him when he was born and every year she diligently tops it up with brandy and gives it a pat. He's now nearly forty years old so I don't doubt that it will be a merry occasion when the thing is served up - if no one keels over from alcohol poisoning first.
A stop by the Isle of Man Beekeepers stall is always a delight. I took their beginners course over the winter and am looking forward to starting up my own hive next Spring. The variety in taste and texture from one hive's honey to the next is incredible and the four honeys in the below photograph all have their own attributes. Nearly everyone has heard of clover honey and heather honey so its easy to understand that the bees' forage is what makes all the difference in flavour. Interestingly enough, some of the best honey comes from hives in cities, even small cities like our Douglas. The variety of flowers, herbs and trees in a city makes for healthier bees and delicious honey.
Faye Christian's brother is Pentti Christian of Ellerslie Rapeseed oil. Somehow that connection didn't click in my brain until the show and I think I'm going to have to send both of them some of my soap made using his oil. Though generic vegetable oil also comes from rapeseed, it can't even compare to the rich golden goodness that Pentti produces. It's similar to virgin olive oil in texture and it has a delicious nutty flavour that goes well with a number of dishes. The way I hear it he was originally trying to produce bio-diesel, presumably for the farm, and in the process happened upon this culinary winner. Happy accidents and all :)
And lastly, congratulations to Mohammed Hoque of the Taste of India in Ramsey for winning this year's 'I Love Manx Chef Competition'. It must have been tough being under the scrutiny of such high profile judges. Good on him for going the distance, and using Manx chillies as well! I don't doubt that he will be receiving a lot of new custom this autumn, us included.