Delights from the Real Food Festival

So, as mentioned previously, last weekend I went to the Real Food Festival at Earl's Court in London. I'd been last year too and enjoyed it so much that I was determined to go back, despite being mid-Finals panic. My mum and I last year ended up struggling back with about fifty bags packed full of everything you could possibly imagine, from granola to chorizo to rhubarb cordial to mozzarella. This time, we came prepared: I took a suitcase on wheels. And a good job, too - several kilos of veal is not easy to lug back through London to Oxford. 
We were greeted, upon entry, by a pen of sleeping piglets. I would be lying if I admitted that the adorable baby animals weren't part of my reason for wanting to go back to the Festival. There was also a Jersey cow and its calf (above), a sheep show, some chickens and some lambs (which were being fed when I walked past, and so surrounded by children that it was impossible to get a proper look at them). Some might argue that it is odd cooing over animals at a food festival, when you are then going to go off and eat things made from them, but I think the opposite is true: too many people in this country are totally out of touch with where their meat comes from. If you buy it in a vacuum pack in the supermarket, you have no idea where the animal was from, or even which bit of the animal the meat is from, sometimes. It might sound odd, but I quite like seeing the deer hanging up outside the covered market in Oxford, or buying a chicken from the butcher and getting him to joint it for me: if an animal has died to be on your plate, the least you can do is pay it the respect it deserves and make sure it came from somewhere with high standards of welfare. People who shove a packet of skinless, boneless chicken breasts into their supermarket trolley (and I am not criticising, because that is me sometimes when out of time/the market is shut, and not everyone is lucky enough to have access to a butcher) probably don't think about where it came from or what it took to get it there, and I think that is important. I also think we eat far too much meat, as a nation, with the result that we are driven to battery farm and cut welfare corners in order to supply the demand...but that is another post's worth.

There were some wonderful meat products at the Festival - I tried some amazing venison sausages, some excellent chorizo, the aforementioned veal, and saw several stalls proffering inviting displays of charcuterie. I ended up with the veal and some cooking chorizo, which was better than a lot of chorizo I have tasted, and I look forward to making something with it. 

Other than that, there were stalls offering everything under the sun. The problem was finding enough stomach room to try it all: it's a bit weird going from one stall and eating a piece of cheese to another and eating a cupcake or some ice cream. Highlights include some excellent Sussex blue cheese, wonderful Italian blood orange sorbet, Caribbean spice cake, duck and pear sausages, white pomegranate tea, pistachio chocolate, sloe gin, several glittering cupcakes, the best chocolate brownies in the world ever, perhaps...the list goes on. I ended up with this:

Sussex blue cheese, veal, chorizo, honey, tea, and these funny fruit snack bars which are like cereal bars, but with no cereal: they just contain dried fruit and nuts that have been squashed into a bar. They're delicious and come in three flavours: apple and cinnamon, lemon and lime, and coconut and pineapple. They're called "pack tunch" and I think you can get them online. I don't normally eat cereal bars because they're mostly about 80% sugar and not at all healthy, but these were delicious and good for you too. The tea I had tried at last year's festival, and was a big fan of the White Pear flavour, so much so that I bought a whole box, plus sample boxes of five others, including sweet peach and ginger, lavendar Earl Grey, and Bombay Chai. 

In all honesty, I'm not sure why I didn't buy more. It is a bit of an overwhelming experience though: hundreds of stalls all offering you delightful things to try, plus other stalls selling proper cooked food (we had a nice Moroccan harissa chicken flatbread, which was MUCH spicier than last year when we ate the same thing, and had our noses and eyes watering - luckily with our VIP tickets we were entitled to a free glass of COLD cider!), cookery demonstrations, taste tests...we were there for four hours, but I could easily have stayed for another two at least. I would love to go back, and can't wait for next year. There is so much wonderful produce out there that you would never ever discover if it weren't for the festival, and most of it is so much better than you'll ever find in the shops. I am just going to savour my veal, chorizo and cheese (not all together) for as long as possible, until next May...

Tonight's dinner was a salad of couscous, spring onion, prawns, coriander, sweet chilli sauce, lime juice and diced Alphonso mango - I have some that are overripe now and need eating more quickly than I can manage (shocking, I know). I know sweet chilli and lime are not really very orthodox with couscous (it was an experiment I carried out when making couscous for a barbecue), but the whole thing was incredibly delicious and I am amazed with my culinary skill (because obviously it took a lot of skill to fry some prawns, and stir the other ingredients into the couscous...). Will be making this one again. Maybe tomorrow, as I still have 3 mangoes to eat. Then I'm going to Cowley to buy another box of 12...