Having managed to exclude my (very wonderful, very busy, headteacher) sister from my birthday celebrations last month by carelessly allowing my birthday to fall on a Wednesday, I needed to atone.
And to the rescue came Sarah Raven with her first ever ‘Perch Hill Summer Feast’. The event was to be held over the 12th/13th July at Perch Hill Farm, Sarah Raven’s base in East Sussex, and the programme was a mix of flowers and food – what more could one want? I signed us up.
I picked my sister up from the local station and so we arrived together at the farm. Having had our bags wheelbarrowed to our accommodation by the charming Adam Nicholson (Sarah Raven’s husband, 5th Baron Carnock and grandson of the writers Vita Sackville-West and Sir Harold Nicolson) we arrived at our……tent.
Now whilst we were aware we were ‘glamping’ and the bunting and flowers were very pretty, I think the lack of power in our tent and the hike to the toilet and shower block, did come as a bit of a shock. However, all was forgiven as we downed our welcome drink and listened to one of my favourite chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi, speak about the evening’s dinner. The meal was fabulous – tasty, colourful mezze starters followed by gorgeous lamb and zingy salads – tomato with pomegranate was a revelation. And for pudding a walnut, blackcurrant and rhubarb crumble. Yum.
After a slightly fitful night (!) but a restorative breakfast, we headed to the marquee to listen to Sarah talking about the Perch Hill garden and also demonstrating a hand tied bunch.
I have actually been to Perch Hill before, at least fifteen years ago (maybe twenty) in the very early days, when I attended a one day course with my mum about growing flowers for cutting and making a hand tied bunch, so Sarah’s three elements of foliage and three flowers (the bride, bridesmaid and gatecrasher) were familiar to me. It was still interesting seeing her creating a magnificent bunch from the arrayed buckets of flowers – not least because I’m growing almost everything she used!
The flowers were followed by a demo from the lovely Yotam, and then lunch. After lunch Sarah demonstrated her ‘perfect’ salad (with five separate ingredients of lettuce, salad leaves, salad herbs, salad veg and edible flowers). We also tried a number of tisanes (herbal infusions) including Lemon verbena with basil, Black peppermint and a number of scented leaf pelargoniums – ‘Mabel Grey’ and ‘Attar of roses’.
By this stage the sun had come out and my sister, ever the Girl Guide, headed back to the tent to to air it. On the way we wandered through Sarah’s Cutting Garden, which was lovely and very abundant, but actually smaller than I remembered.
We also admired some good looking veg
On the Saturday evening we had another cookery demo, this time by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Gill Meller from the River Cottage, and after the demo we ate a menu they had put together.
The starter of lambs liver with Merguez spices, was gorgeous, but the main, a tasty mackerel fillet with gooseberry and mint salsa, I felt was rather confused by three different salads including strawberries, raspberries and beetroot. But the gooseberry posset and compote with lemon verbena shortbread was a lovely finale – although to repeat a fruit already used in the main, seemed strange.
Sunday saw me in the greenhouse with the girls from the Flower Appreciation Society making a floral headress,and my sister back in the marquee attending a talk about breadmaking by Elizabeth Weisberg from the Lighthouse Bakery.
We were both then entertained by the last cookery demo, this time by Valentine Warner. Whilst maybe not the slickest of the demonstrators, he has a lovely, approachable manner, and certainly generated quite a lot of laughs (possibly not all intentional).
Prior to this was a Q&A session with all the main speakers.
I wasn’t sure how interesting this would be, but there were some fabulous questions from the floor, with topics including GM crops, teaching cookery in schools (“we should call it fire and knives” Valentine Warner) the nutritional content of flowers and what is your fallback meal (“I’m more of a ready meal man myself” Adam Nicholson).
However my favourite was the first, regarding how each of the individuals had retained their authenticity in the face of celebrity, and how they continued to ‘follow their bliss’. This phrase, introduced by the questioner, was enthusiastically adopted by the speakers, who all genuinely seemed to be managing to ‘follow their bliss’ despite competing demands and busy lifestyles.
It’s an interesting concept and one we should all bear in mind. After all, you’re the only one who knows what your ‘bliss’ is, so it’s definitely up to you to follow it.
But before I get too deep and philosophical, I think I’ll cut to a picture of jelly, as that was the finale, before we headed home.
Oh and apologies for the quality of the photos – in my excitement I forgot to bring my camera!