Food Fight!

On the eve of The Devizes Food Festival announcing their schedule, I contemplate what attributes taste, be it class, culture or trends…..

 

You know, we chat and cover a lot of musical genres here, some are picky about what they like, but I think food is even more subjective. After all these years, for example, I just discovered the better half favours apricot jam tarts in an assortment box. That’s just weird, everyone knows the blackcurrant ones are the best and raspberry a close second.

More Facebook group members have fallen out over the great pineapple on pizza debate than Brexit. Forget fights over Oasis or Blur when you throw in a tin of Quality Street and ask them to arrange from best to worst. The other day, right, I took a shark-sized bite from a doughnut only to discover to my absolute horror, some compete psychopath had put custard in rather than jam. What kind of sicko even contemplates that?

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Pure Evil, at Asda

While many children will only eat a thing if it’s endorsed by Spongebob or their favourite superhero, (I appreciate this; love Peppa Pig, especially lying on a bread bed smothered in ketchup,) the affluent will consume any old entrails provided the name of it has been swanked up. Give it a Mediterranean namesake and they’ll pay triple the price-tag. I’m not buying it; crème Anglaise? Custard, mate. Jus, don’t give me jus, it’s watery gravy; stick another oxo cube in it for crying out loud. Fromage et jambon panini, yeah right, it’s a cheese and ham toastie, pal.

baconsandich

Whether it’s pondering if peas should have a home in a pasty, or if gherkins belong in a Big Mac, what divides us all is our taste buds. They don’t rely on gender, race or religion, they just randomly respond to some things better than others, or do they? I mean, tastes can attribute to class; The Queen chomps on swans by the dozen, but I only get penguin biscuits. You can tell my working-class background by the stench of Iceland’s hotdog pizza on my breath. Yet when I spotted in their fridges a chicken tikka lasagne, even I considered it a trailer-trash step too far.

swan

Tastes also fluctuate depending on trends. Have you noticed, no one slices pork now? It’s got to be “pulled.” Pulled pork meant something entirely different when I was a teenager! My gran would slap us if she saw us buy a premade sandwich, yet delis sell them by the truckload. They sell grated cheese in bags, we buy it; have cheese grater, left abandoned, crying in the cupboard.

It also attributes to culture, yet exploited by soundbites like delicacy or gourmet. What may be considered an exotic delicacy here, is actually staple diet elsewhere, because it’s cheap and in abundance. Take maple syrup, so pricey for a drizzle, yet lucky Canadian’s have it running from a third tap!

Maple Syrup Weekend

Rice, couscous and noodles are popular in Asia because they are obtainable and economical, treated like potato and bread here. Yet we lap these things up. There’s posh pubs in East London who sell tourists plates of pie with eel liquor as if it’s a local delicacy, a word usually meaning rare, luxurious food, sophisticated. EastEnders ate ‘pie n mash’ because of poverty, eels were leftovers at the port, just as lobsters were too in North America until the mid-19th century.

By Dickens, how far are you willing to take it, gruel? Japanese Fugu, or bird’s nest stew? Flamingo tongue, a prized dish in ancient Rome. Escamoles in Mexico, that’s ant’s larvae to you and me. Half a million dogs are slaughtered annually for meat in the Philippines; teatime kids! I know we must convert to vegan, but think “bacon” and it’s an ecological step too far for me. I can and will eat vegetarian food, so long as there’s a chicken on the side.

If it’s not the ingredients it the presentation, honestly, I don’t care if it’s slopped on a plate like a car crash, dribbling over the edges, provided it tastes nice. I don’t need to be waiting an extra ten minutes for you to “plate-up,” carefully aligning each faultlessly equilateral chip atop of my cod, delicately garnished with a smudged splash of ketchup and pea puree. That’s if it’s served on a plate at all. Masterchef, right, seems the strength of the “dish” is based upon purposely not being on a dish at all. What’s wrong with a plate? Spaghetti Carbonara served in an old go-kart tyre, beef wellington in an actual welly. Duck-a-l’orange in a paddling pool, minted lamb kebabs on a pavement slab, that kind of thing; nobody order the coq-a-vin.

duck

If I contemplate it’s all a bit much, I digest the Devizes Food Festival have launched this year’s events on a new website, by a new committee. 28th September to 6th October, sets the dates, time enough for you get over my rant about habits in the Philippines. They’ve adopted the pineapple as their logo, but why, you may ask. Interestingly, you can grow pineapples in the UK with use of a polytunnel; who knew and why didn’t they tell me? Because I’d go scrumping no doubt; blinkin’ love pineapple, me.

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Partly because the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality and friendship, the connection is Adam Taylor’s ‘A Gardener near Devizes.’ Published in 1769, there’s a treatise on how to grow a pineapple. No polytunnel needed to heat it, he used a horse manure pit, probably for the first time too. This pineapple hothouse meant smaller estates could afford to serve pineapple, but did Adam order it as a topping from Dominoes, I ask you?!

For the duration of the festival you can pick up a Pineapple Trail Sheet (for a small contribution) from Devizes Books or Wiltshire Museum during the Festival, and hunt for Princess Pineapple, and her eleven friends, peeking out from shop windows throughout Devizes. The Museum will also hold a display on the Pineapple, both in the treatise, and local architecture; yeah, you seen it too, just can’t think where!

pineapple

The Devizes Food Festival has a varied range of events. Devizes Mayor Judy Rose will be officially opening the Festival at the Corn Exchange for a FREE World Food Lunch on Sunday 29th September from 12.30. There you can explore the globe on a plate. With a handful of 50p vouchers to exchange, local residents with far flung roots invite you to sample a family favourite from their homeland, from the cuisines of Poland, New Zealand, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Fiji, the USA, Scotland, France and plenty more nations of the world. I asked if I could rustle up my Essex-stylee beans on toast speciality without response; what? It’s got Maldon sea salt on it.

Many other events seem to be about eating in strange places; Town Hall lock-up, Kennet Furniture Refurbiz, the bell tower at St Mary’s and even Erlestoke prison; porridge anyone? There are the usual food quiz and Come Dine With Us events, visits to Wadworth, a’Becketts Vineyard in Littleton Panell, East Farm at Winterbourne Monkton and a pumpkin prowl at VP Collins, Bromham. Oh, and it’s pizza time at Vaughan’s Cookery School. Peter, please divulge your opinion on pineapple on pizza.

peter

Check the website for details, of course the grandest moment in the Festival is the marvellous market, on the 28th September at the Market Place. I had a feast there last year, enough me to stop fussing about apricot jam tarts, custard doughnuts, Escamoles and why pork has to be pulled rather than sliced these days. Guess I’m obsolete, pass the prawn cocktail and switch on the teasmade.

market


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Devizes Food Festival’s Grand Market was Indeed Grand

One small stall holder selling their own brew of beer at the Devizes Food Festival’s Grand Market yesterday told me he was hassled by a woman claiming to be from a nearby Wadworth pub. According to him, the lady in question yelled, “we don’t want your beer around here!”

 

Wherever she intended to rhyme or not is beside the point; shameless. This small-business guy trekking from Bristol only to be bullied by the town’s big boys; any truth in this, I pondered, and if so I wished I hadn’t heard it at all. Other than this bizarre claim though, the day went with full swing, and a great time was had by all.

 

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While Wadworth sponsor the Food Festival, it’s presence at the Market was minimal, the real heroes of the alcohol variety was surely the recently changed Stealth Brew Co, formerly The Kennet & Avon Brewery, as in promoting their new brands, bought the music of local Jamie R Hawkins and the brilliant Rob Lear from Wales.

 
As their acoustic vibes bought ambience to the event, preventing punters from wandering off, Cellar Bar event organiser Mirko was swinging around handing out flyers for the highly anticipated Saddleback Festival. He updated his Facebook status claiming “this is the best food festival yet!” I was still hauling my ass out of bed with all best intentions of checking it out. But I also spotted a video posted, it scanned the event from a birds-eye view, or an overlooking window view at the least; certain randy pigeons didn’t shoot the film. For a “festival” it looked kinda petite, taking up a fraction of the Market Place.

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Now admittedly, I’m a Devizes Food Festival virgin, so no previous years to compare it, but upon sauntering the stalls I contemplated, actually it’s not a festival, rather the market section of a larger event spanning the fortnight. Admittedly, while this was the only free occasion and the others came with a hefty price-tag, for a market it was lively, colourful with fine aromas reaching beyond its boundaries. In fact, when amidst the little stalls of independent cuisine companies, it was plentiful.

 
With my new Stealth brew in hand I blagged an organic apple from Riverford Organic Farmers in Devon, making my beer preferably cider-like, yeah, I dipped it! Worked until I met Harry of Harry’s Cider from Long Sutton, or Harry’s employee at the very least, who gave me some gorgeous samples of raspberry and blackcurrant, and sweet, but the mango and lime flavour was to die for!

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Booze-wise, for I figure it best to cover them first, Devizes Bubble Bar was in attendance, teasing me with filthy-named cocktails; catch up with them at the Caen Hill Flight Festival. I also sampled wines from Pieroth, and a few homemade brandies made me happy I chose to take shanks pony.

 
So I sauntered, dipping crackers or bread into fine chilli rapeseed oils from Stanswick Farm in Shrivenham, or awesome relishes from Rosie’s, based in Chippenham and garlic meshes from the Garlic Growers.

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Ewe Tree Tarts looked appetising, a Black Dog fish stall too. Street food supplied by Cantina El Burrito, and fine sausage rolls from Little Jack Horners, but it was the novel idea of Ravi Ollie and his mate, I was impressed with the most; unusual to see this refined ravioli as street food, I usually just have the squidgy-concoction of a budget tin variety. (You know it mate, hangover munchy classic, on white toast, with a grate of cheddar; can’t beat it, you don’t even need the effort of chewing, just suck.)

 
Sweets were also in abundance, with the most beautiful cupcakes of NestCake from Shepton Mallet, Jacqui’s colourful display of homemade sweets from Broughton Gifford, and Chock-Stock polished it all off, Marshfield Ice Cream goes needs no enlightenment, its reputation precedes.

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All in all, this was food heaven, with only Face Painting and Clare’s Circus as entertainment for the kids, I could imagine your little treasures would be bored after a while, unless sugared-up, and there was plenty of options available here, so yes, family-(ish) fun, but more so for adults, the Devizes Food Festival’s Grand Market was indeed grand, and fulfilling; hats off to all involved; maybe even one of those nacho sombreros which Homer Simpson wore. Do they really have nacho sombreros in America? I suspect they do!

 

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