Potluck Pizza Night Invokes the Hippie Spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

Potluck Pizza Night Invokes the Hippie Spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

In recent years, Martha’s Vineyard has become associated with presidential vacations, multi-million dollar homes and a short-lived reality television show featuring beautiful rich blonde kids.  Co-existing with all these things, the Vineyard I know and love is a less-flashy and more laid-back place. Even if the people you meet are trustafarians, you wouldn’t know it from their lived-in shorts and dust-covered cars.  For a quick blast to the hippie past, the Orange Peel Bakery’s potluck pizza night invokes the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

The Orange Peel Bakery still uses the honour system for payment.

Martha’s Vineyard and the Hippie Years

In the 1960’s, the hippies washed ashore onto Martha’s Vineyard much to the early distrust of the local islanders.  At least the Vineyarders were more welcoming than the people of Nantucket though who had a strict policy of sending hippies back to the mainland.

In 1969, Martha’s Vineyard came on to the national consciousness briefly when a young (and married) Senator Ted Kennedy had his car accident on Chappaquidick which killed both his female friend and his chances at the US presidency. Luckily, the scandal referred to Chappaquidick by name.  Many people do not associate Chappaquidick with Chappy, the local’s name for the occasional-island that is across the harbour from Edgartown in Martha’s Vineyard.

The hippies of Martha’s Vineyard bobbed along in the 1960’s and 70’s stream happy in their own drug-filled haze and music.  Some of the young people had grown up summering on the Vineyard, while others were on-island more by luck than judgment.  For example, one name you hear often is that of Peter Simon, a photographer who still lives on the island.  Peter is the little brother of Carly Simon and son of the man who founded Simon & Schuster publishing house.  He grew up spending his summers in the Vineyard.  In any event, they all got into feeling groovy on Martha’s Vineyard.  Like all youth movements though, the hippies grew up.  They eventually got jobs, got married and had kids.

Laid-back Living

The liberal free-spirit of the hippies is still alive and well in Martha’s Vineyard even in these days when hipsters have replaced hippies.  A part of Moshup Beach near Aquinnah is still unofficially clothes-optional.  Many people don’t lock their homes and cars. You see lots of farm stands, flower stands, etc by the side of the road which are run on an honour box payment system.

What do I love about the Vineyard?  It’s not a ‘scene’ like the Hamptons. There is next-to-no nightlife in the Vineyard. Even the island’s most happening nightlife at Oak Bluffs is pretty lame compared to other places off-island.  The real action happens at dinner parties in people’s homes.

Sure, there are the famous and wealthy people sprinkled around the island.  They get to blend in because there are so many of them around.  Bill Clinton was famous for playing the saxophone at the bar at Lola’s in Oak Bluffs.  We stood in line behind the Obama kids at an ice-cream store. When their secret service agents asked if they could jump the queue with their charges, they were politely refused.  They were forced to stand in front of me and the 6 over-excited-about-ice-cream-and-oblivious-to-anything-else children I had with me.  I can tell you the noise levels were pretty high. Bwahaha.

The handyman who comes to help repair our screened porch regularly (because the kids kick the screen every single time they open the door) is an ex-hippie who still wears tie-dye and cut-off shorts (unironically).  He’s happy to regale us with (occasionally cringe-worthy) tales of the island’s free-wheeling past.  Nice guy, but I’m pretty sure a chunk of his brain was baked years ago.

Pizza Nights at the Orange Peel Bakery

I was reminded of this spirit of communal living when we went to have dinner at the Orange Peel Bakery in Aquinnah.  The owner, Julie Vanderhoop, is a member of the Native American tribe that were established in Martha’s Vineyard long before European settlers came to the island.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

My friend’s little boy was desperate to go into the Native American teepee in the back yard but that was off-limits.

Although the main bakery is in Aquinnah by the cliffs, we went to the very popular, bring your own topping pizza nights run by the Orange Peel Bakery on State Road.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

A mailbox is the first sign that you have found the place.

When you pull up to the address on State Road, you think you are entering someone’s house party.  In front of an ordinary Vineyard house, people in deck chairs are sprawled across the lawn, children are running about and music tinkles over the scene.  The actual pizza making process is organised on the side of the house next to the giant stone oven. The oven is lined on the inside with French clay and the outside with local Aquinnah stones.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

People are sprawled over the lawn eating, drinking and conversing while the music plays.

Pick yourself up a pizza crust with sauce and cheese and then head on over to the toppings table.  Put on your own toppings or help yourself to someone else’s toppings.  Then you hand the pizza over to the person operating the very hot stone oven.  Soon you will be rewarded with piping hot pizza of your own creation.  The person slicing the pizza will give you half the pizza, and the the other half of the pizza will be donated to anyone else who wants it.   You can repeat the process as often as you want (or until the dough runs out!).

The rules are simple.  You bring whatever pizza toppings you want.  Everyone’s pizza toppings are shared.  Bring chairs if you want or a picnic blanket.  It’s a good idea to bring drinks as well.  Hang out, eat pizza and talk to your neighbours.   Lots of people come straight from the beach.

Our children loved making their own pizza. They also tried pizza combinations they would not have otherwise tried because the toppings were there.  One unexpected delightful combination was a s’mores pizza – pizza base (no cheese or tomato sauce!) with marshmallows, Hershey’s chocolate and brown sugar.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

My daughter was very pleased with her pizza creation.

Pizza nights are run on Wednesday and Friday nights this summer at 22 State Road and cost $15 per adult and $10 for children. The money is put into an honour jar.  Check online with the Orange Peel Bakery because the days may change.  We are being less Type A, remember?

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

My daughter tucking into a dessert pizza – S’mores pizza is made of a pizza base with marshmallows and hershey chocolate.

A Photo Gallery of Potluck Pizza Night

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

A sign indicates pizza night is happening! People park on the side of the road.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

The seashell-strewn drive looks like many other homes on the island.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

A band plays folk music

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

The bakery is known for it’s freshly baked goods.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

A pizza base ready to be bedazzled with toppings.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

Pizza toppings range from the gourmet (arugula, prosciutto etc) to the child-friendly (marshmallows, hershey bars etc)

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

After pizza, our kids played in the back yard of the house.

Sunsets on Martha’s Vineyard

After pizza, you should try and catch the sunset in either Aquinnah or in Menemsha.  Aquinnah cliffs are a bit further up the road, and Lobsterville Beach is the next turning after the Potluck Pizza at 22 State Road.  If you go back down-island a bit, you will come to Menemsha beach.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

Today’s sunset is brought to you by the colour pink.

It’s the perfect ending to a perfect day on Martha’s Vineyard.  Bonus:  If the kids aren’t tired before, a bit of running around on the beach before dark will definitely get them there.

 

Debunking the Origin Myths Behind Seven Favourite Foods

Debunking the Origin Myths Behind Seven Favourite Foods

Our recent trip to Sicily had me rethinking the origins of some of my favourite foods.  It all started when I went traipsing through Sicily in search of Sicilian pizza (as I know it) only to come up empty.  I realised that travelling abroad has shattered more than a few food myths that I knew from living in the United States.  It’s not just Sicilian pizza but other firm favourites that turned my food world upside down.  Here are some of the origin myths behind seven favourite foods from around the world that many of us love.

myths surrounding 7 favourite foods

Debunking myths surrounding seven popular foods

Here are seven popular foods that got adapted as they emigrated from one country to another.  Stop now, if you can’t handle the truth.

Yes, this YouTube clip from A Few Good Men is gratuitous but I love that movie, too.  This scene will never get old.

Italian Food

Sicilian pizza

I have an undying love pizza which I blame on my New York upbringing.  In New York, we have two types of pizza – the triangular slices known as Neapolitan pizza and the square slices known as Sicilian pizza.

In fact, I even took the kids on a pizza tour of Brooklyn with A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours so they too could appreciate good pizza (as the Italian-Americans intended it).  The highlight of the tour was comparing a Neapolitan pizza at Grimaldi’s Pizzeria located underneath the Brooklyn Bridge with what is supposed to be the best Sicilian pizza in Brooklyn at L&B Spumoni Gardens. My family was evenly split on which type of pizza they preferred.

A slice of Sicilian pizza from L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn

A slice of Sicilian pizza from L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn.

Imagine my surprise when I get to Sicily and I can’t find Sicilian pizza (as I know it) anywhere.  What??  My childhood and all I hold dear comes crashing down around me as I am offered one triangular slice of pizza after another. I would have cried if I wasn’t busy stuffing my face full of one delicious slice after another.

Sicilian pizza straight from the oven in Palermo

Sicilian pizza straight from the oven in Palermo, Sicily looks a lot like Neapolitan pizza.

I finally solved the mystery thanks to Mimmo, the chef at Osteria Bacchus in tiny Sant Ambrogio, where we took a cooking lesson.  Mimmo told us about sfincione which eventually became the Sicilian pizza that I know.  Sfincione is focaccia bread topped with onions and oregano and liberally drowned in tomato sauce.  It is served cut into square slices.  The anchovies and cheese topping are optional. Here is a recipe for sfincione the traditional way.

sfincione street seller in Palermo

A sfincione street seller in Palermo.

Sfincione is traditionally eaten the night before the Catholic festival of the Immaculate Conception and on Christmas Eve.  On the StrEAT Palermo tour, though, we found a Sfincione cart which sells it throughout the year.  I can see some similarities but in my opinion, the gooey melted cheese of New York Sicilian pizza is what makes it extraordinary.

Spaghetti Bolognese

On my trip to Bologna, I discovered that Spaghetti Bolognese is not actually an Italian dish.  I had been lying to my children all these years.  The people of Bologna like to put their ragu sauce with tagliatelle which is flatter and wider to hold onto the sauce better.  The ragu sauce itself is meaty but not as saucy as we know Bolognese.  Spaghetti is a popular pasta from Southern Italy and the sauces tend to be thicker.

the traditional ragu sauce in Bologna

The traditional ragu sauce of Bologna is not very thick. The Brit who wanted more sauce on his Indian food (see the story below) would not be impressed.

pasta bolognese in Cefalu

The bolognese sauce we know in the USA is thicker like this one we had at Osteria Bacchus in Sicily.

Our trip to Sicily highlighted how thick their version Bolognese sauce is.  No doubt, it is this version that made it to the USA along with all the Southern Italian and Sicilian immigrants.  Just like so many other American exports, the American version became the standard.

English Food

English Muffins

My brother was devastated to find that he couldn’t find English Muffins when he visited me in England.  Thanks to the ever-present television commercials, we had grown up hearing about how Mr. Thomas had emigrated to the USA in 1874 bringing his traditional recipe for English Muffins.  The muffins had those nooks and crannies for holding onto butter.   You could have them for breakfast or you could use them for making sandwiches.

A toasted English muffin with butter

A toasted English muffin with butter for breakfast.

You get muffins (like the American cupcake-version) but not English Muffins.  The closest you get in British supermarkets are crumpets. Crumpets like what Little Miss Muffet was eating sitting on her tuffet.

Although they look similar, crumpets are thicker and have smaller air pockets.  Frankly, they are not as good as Thomas’s English muffins. I’m so glad he brought his recipe to the USA. The butter doesn’t melt in crumpets as well, and they don’t get crispy.  In a pinch, though, as any good carbohydrate lover will tell you, they will do.

Unlike Little Miss Muffet we decided to forgo the whey and have crumpets with butter and jam.

Unlike Little Miss Muffet, we decided to forgo the whey and have crumpets with butter and jam.

Indian Food

Chicken Tikka Masala

The origins of the much-loved Indian dish Chicken Tikka Masala are fairly murky.  Both the British and the Indians have laid claim to the dish. It is now a much-loved dish found in Indian restaurants all over the world.

One popular story says the dish was invented in the United Kingdom by a local chef when a customer at his Indian restaurant deemed  chicken tikka too dry. The British, you see, are big on gravy with their meat. The chef threw in a can of tomato soup, some yogurt and spices to create a mild sauce for local taste buds.  It’s probably not true but I love this story involving a grumpy chef and a stroppy customer.

via GIPHY

 

Other restaurants in the United Kingdom, though, have claimed to have created the dish.  The upshot?  No one knows for sure who created the dish.  Moreover, any Indian restaurant that claimed this dish was probably operated by Bangladeshis who had cornered the market on Indian restaurants in Britain.

creamy Chicken Tikka Masala

I personally am a big fan of the gravy in Chicken Tikka Masala.

Another version put forth by Indian foodies is that Chicken Tikka Masala has a long illustrious origin in Indian history.  Chicken tikka was cooked for a Mogul Emperor who was paranoid about choking on chicken bones.  Chicken tikka masala, itself, probably derives from the popular very-Indian dish, Butter Chicken (or murgh makhani) created in New Delhi in the 1950’s.  When Butter Chicken was brought to Britain by immigrants who adapted the dish for local tastes, a whole new uber-popular dish was created.

What I do know?  It’s tandoori chicken in a creamy tomato sauce and it’s delicious.  Good enough for me.

France

French Fries

Sometimes I wonder if Americans put the word French in front of something so that it automatically sounds more sophisticated.  For example, French Fries sounds pretty elegant for something that McDonald’s serves in the millions.

Francophile Thomas Jefferson had his French chef prepare potatoes like the French do for a dinner in the White House.  Although the Belgians claim they started frying potatoes long before the French, the name came about because Americans gave naming credit to the French.  Somewhere in the early 20th century the name French Fried Potatoes got shortened to French Fries.  To make matters more confusing, British English distinguishes between fries (thin-cut) and chips (thick-cut).

Origin myths of some favourite family foods

Origin myths of some favourite family foods

French Toast

I grew up loving French Toast which my mother would make on weekends as a treat.  French Toast is also not from France but has been around for hundreds of years as a way to use up stale bread.  Dipped in milk and egg and then fried, stale bread suddenly became fancy (and French).  I love the story (probably apocryphal) that the French part got added because an 18th century grammatically-challenged New Yorker named French sold the dish at his restaurant.

The Croissant

And, to make it a perfect threesome for French food fables, pretty much all the experts agree that the croissant came from Austria.  According to legend, the shape comes from the crescent moons on the Ottoman Empire flags.  The Austrians made the bread to celebrate an Ottoman defeat.  The Viennese were known for their pastry prowess which is something they pride themselves on to this day. Although an Austrian baker brought the croissant to France, the version we eat today with the flaky buttery pastry was a French innovation.

Food Adaptations

So, it’s not just people that emigrate and adapt to their new environments.  The food they bring with them may change to the extent that it is unrecognisable to the people in their homeland.  As you can see, it’s not all traffic from Europe to the USA either.  Anywhere you get people moving, you will find they bring the comfort of their favourite food with them.

debunking the origin myths of five favourite foods

I find it ironic that both the tomato and the potato were brought back from the New World by European explorers.  They went into dishes that travelled to the United States.  American popular culture exported them to the rest of the world.

What other food fables do you know?  I’d love to hear them.  Go on, I’m a big girl.  I can handle the truth.

Exploring Sicilian Street Food in Palermo With Children

Exploring Sicilian Street Food in Palermo With Children

When I heard that Palermo was ranked as one of the best places in the world for street food, I knew our family would have to check out the scene.  We love our street food and it’s a fast, easy and casual option for eating out with children.  We had checked out the Vucceria market of Palermo earlier in the week but found the choice of vendors overwhelming.  Our Italian is non-existent and most of the market vendors don’t speak English.  So, I duly signed us up for a street food tour with StrEAT Palermo.  We were on a mission to try out street food in Palermo with children and we needed expert guidance.

Sicilian street food in Palermo with children

The StrEAT Palermo Tour

Lead by a man named Marco, the owner of StrEAT Palermo, we meet some of the street food vendors of Palermo – Tony, Giuseppe, Mario.  Yes, that’s their real names. I’m not sure we would have met these guys on our own because the markets are a labyrinthine tangle of streets. It really helped to be with someone who knew where to go and what to buy.  To the delight of my children, Marco had little foodie passports  on which we got stamps when we tried out the different types of food.  Nothing like collecting stamps to bring out their competitive spirit.

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

My daughter has a competitive streak but drew the line at eating offal.

There are three major street markets in Palermo, the Ballaro, the Capo and the Vucceria.  The oldest, the Capo, was established by the Arabs and has been going strong for 1200 years on the same streets! You can see the Arab influence in the tiny winding streets and the way the market is laid out – divided into food, clothes, leather goods etc.

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

The entrance to the Capo, the oldest market in Palermo.

The Vucceria, located near the Piazza San Domenico, is probably named after the French Norman word ‘boucherie‘ because it used to sell meat. Now it sells everything, including non-food items.  In the evenings, the Vucceria becomes a trendy hangout, with people eating, drinking and playing table football.

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

One entrance to the Viucceria opens onto a grand piazza.

Bring on the Sicilian Street Food!

Our morning tour started of with Tony and his frittola cart.  Frittola is basically veal leftovers (fat and cartilage) boiled and fried in lard.  My daughter who is a vegetarian at heart (American hot dogs are her downfall) started to look a little green.  She conceded defeat in the stamp-war early.  No way was she eating offal of any sort. (No, I’ve not had the heart to tell her what goes into an American hot dog).

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

It was an adventurous start to the tour with frittola (boiled, deep-fried veal waste).

Next on the list was babbaluci – small snails cooked in oil and garlic.  You suck the snails straight from the shell. Marco tells us that there is a Sicilian saying that you can never suck too many snails or kiss too many women.  I’ll take his word on it!

The babbaluci are usually served in a paper cone.  You suck the snail and toss the shell on the ground (of course – Palermo is not the cleanest city).  When babbaluci are traditionally eaten on the feast of St. Rosalia, the patron saint of Palermo, the sound of crunchy discarded snail shells under the feet of pedestrians add to the general noise and hubbub of the city.

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

Babbaluci are smaller than French escargot.

Thank goodness for some of the less adventurous street food.  My daughter really wanted stamps on her StrEAT Palermo passport but not at the expense of eating offal or snails. She loved the arancina (deep-fried risotto balls), panelle (deep-fried chickpea squares) and crocche (deep-fried potato balls). My son thinks its hilarious that the crocche are nicknamed cazzilli (little penises) because of their shape.  It wasn’t all deep-fried goodness though.

We had some non-deep-fried starch, too, in the form of sfincione (spongy focaccia-type bread with tomato and cheese).  Sfincione, by the way, is the predecessor to Italian-American Sicilian pizza.  But don’t call it pizza in Palermo!

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

Sfincione being sliced up to be served.

The last of the hardcore Sicilian items we tried was pani ca meusa, the famous spleen sandwich of Palermo.  It wasn’t all spleen, there were some lungs in there, too. All of it boiled and deep fried (sense a theme here?).  My son and my husband thought it was delicious.

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

A spleen sandwich sitting in the pan waiting to be served.  This local sandwich specialty is from a 500 year old recipe that was originally created by the Jewish population.

Photo Gallery of the Palermo Food Markets

I hope you get a sense of the crazy cacophony of colour that marks the food markets of Palermo.  Discovering local foods is one of the joys of visiting a new place I find. For example, I had no idea how many different types of tomatoes you can get in Sicily. In my local supermarket, you get a choice of two sizes (big red or small red). Sometimes the small cherry tomatoes come on a vine and you pay extra for that farm fresh look!

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

Farm fresh vegetables for sale at the Capo.  I have never seen some of the vegetables before including some large zucchini which was almost as long as my children were tall.

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

We were told that you need to find your favourite fishmonger and then stay loyal to them. Woe betide you if you are caught cheating on your usual vendor.  Loyalty seems a Sicilian thing (even to the fishmonger).

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

This local delicacy of  dried tuna ovaries in powder/block form is often used to sprinkle on pasta.

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

Boiled octopus being diced to be served to waiting customers.

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

Fresh tuna being sold at the market.

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

Signs in Japanese. Marco told us that most of the tuna caught in Sicily is exported to Japan.

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

Salt from the famous Trapani salt flats. Yes, they really are a euro for a bag!

Sicilian Street Food in Palermo with Children

Freshly dried oregano, a staple of Italian cooking.

Street Food in Palermo with Children

Was this street food tour a good idea to do with children?

Well, my daughter ate enough to be full.  The tour ended with a traditional Italian gelato which made her very happy.  My son, the more adventurous eater, ate everything and liked it all.  My husband and I were likewise split.  I’m never going to like offal no matter how deep-fried in lard it is.  I just don’t like the texture and chewiness in my mouth.

street food in Palermo

Overall, I’d say the StrEAT Palermo tour was a great experience and we learned loads of cool trivia. As for Marco, he was great with my children.  We were a group of 10 people and we had the only two children on the tour.  Marco made sure they felt included in the group with his jovial personality.

I had read that we would be visiting churches but we didn’t.  Neither did we finish the tour near Palermo Cathedral as was stated.  So, in true Sicilian fashion, the details are a little fuzzy but the gist of the tour was as advertised.*

*StrEAT Palermo has pointed out that we were on the shorter summer tour which starts in June.  We thought we were on the longer winter tour because we actually booked the tour in May but the date of the tour flipped into June.

We paid for our StrEAT Palermo tour ourselves.  There are affiliate links contained in this article.  If you click on these links, we will receive a small commission at no cost to you.  

Tips for Experiencing the Street Food Tour in Palermo

Street food in Palermo is definitely for the adventurous foodie! As my daughter showed though, even vegetarians will find plenty to try. The StrEAT Palermo Tour is very easy to find and meets in central Palermo.

Practical Info To Know Before You Go

We stayed at a villa provided by Massimo Villas in the nearby town of Cefalu. Although we liked the hustle and bustle of the Sicilian capital of Palermo to visit on day trips, we preferred staying in the quiet, Mediterranean, stuck-in-the-1950’s charm of Cefalu. If you would like to stay in Palermo itself, my travel colleague Barbara from Jet-Settera recommends where she stayed – the 4-star Mercure Excelsior Palace.

We rented our car through Hertz of which we are gold members.  Driving and parking in Palermo is pretty easy.  There are unofficial African parking attendants who will keep an eye on your car for a small tip.  We rented a 7-seater Volvo which was fine in Palermo.  In retrospect, we would not have rented such a big car to navigate the small villages and roads outside of Palermo.  My husband (not me!!) dented the car a couple of times and we wound up paying a fine for damages upon our return of the Volvo.

Further Reading:

Sicily: A Short History by John Julius Norwich

Sicily: Recipes From An Italian Island by Katie Caldesi & Giancarlo Caldesi

Spring in Sicily: Food From An Ancient Island by Manuela Darling-Gansser

Made in Sicily by Georgio Locatelli

Discovering River Cottage and its Farm-To-Table Fare in England

Discovering River Cottage and its Farm-To-Table Fare in England

In the United Kingdom, when you hear River Cottage you immediately think of a posh man with curly brown locks who traded London (aka The Big Smoke) for the rural idyll of the English countryside.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is one of the early proponents of farm-to-table fare in England when he set off on his agricultural adventure in 1998.  He established River Cottage in a small game-keeper’s lodge in Dorset which he had previously used as as weekend home (as if the double-barrelled name hadn’t given enough of a clue to his privileged background).   Hugh’s River Cottage has had a major influence on the growth of the popularity of local, organic and seasonal food in the United Kingdom.

Learn about farm-to-table fare at River Cottage HQ and also eat at River Cottage Canteen

River Cottage is an industry in itself between the dozen television series, the 20+ books, the renowned chef-training school, the cookery classes at its HQ, the weekend dining experiences at HQ and the casual restaurants at the four River Cottage Canteens.  I was told they are expanding the brand into Australia as well.

I really want my city kids to understand the process behind how their food is grown and importance of quality in what they eat. What better place to do it in England than River Cottage?  In New York, we have been to Stone Barns on the Rockefeller estate.  Stone Barns though is a more recent addition to the farm-to-table scene having been set up only in 2004  We had a tour of River Cottage HQ and we also had lunch at River Cottage Canteen.

River cottage HQ Farm to Table

The glorious English countryside around River Cottage HQ

River Cottage HQ

River Cottage HQ is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Covering 90 acres of prime Devon agricultural land, HQ is approximately 1/3 self-sufficient.  Animals are raised and the vegetables in the kitchen garden are grown in numbers only enough to pass through the kitchen without wastage.  Around 50 people work on the farm, including the agricultural and office staff.

We were given a tour of River Cottage HQ by a member of staff, Kate Parr.  Kate was enthusiastic about country living and knows her farming stuff well.  The daughter of a tanner and the partner of a dairy farmer, she knew all the answers to my children’s random farm questions including ‘do the lambs and piglets have names?’.  The answer is that the animals aren’t named because they will be ‘passing through’ the kitchen soon enough.  You can’t treat farm animals like pets – clearly a lesson hey had not learned reading about Wilbur the pig in the book Charlotte’s Web.


We were at River Cottage HQ just in time for lambing season.  The little lambs we saw were at most a week old.  My children loved watching the lambs toddle about on their ungainly legs.

River cottage HQ Farm to Table

Life is good until the silence of the lambs in September.

My son briefly thought about becoming a vegetarian until he realised he could never give up bacon.  On the plus side, the animals at River Cottage have a great life gamboling about the great English outdoors while they are alive.  As Kate noted to the children, animal husbandry is a necessary thing because otherwise these animals would just wind up in zoos without any other purpose.

River cottage HQ Farm to Table

I bet the foxes in the area are salivating over these chickens.

Visiting River Cottage HQ

Located at Park Farm, Trinity Hill Road, Axminster EX13 8TB, River Cottage HQ is on the border between Devon and Dorset.  It is conveniently located near the resort town of Lyme Regis and the train station at Axminister.  There are trains from London to Axminister which take about 3 hours.  Taxis are available from the train station to HQ.

River cottage HQ Farm to Table

HQ (or The Death Star if you are into Star Wars analogies).

Check out the excellent website for River Cottage for a calendar of all activities undertaken at River Cottage HQ.  Cookery classes run from one day affairs to four-day classes.  Most of the courses are about 20 people maximum.  The one-day classes are the most popular.  You learn to cook all day and then it’s a full supper based on what you cook. It’s surprising how much you can learn in a day.  For example, you can learn how to butcher and cook an entire pig in a day.  It’s the nose-to-tail approach cooking so there is no wastage of the animal.

Dinners are available at HQ from Friday to Sunday as communal dining events for about 60 people.  It’s advisable to book up to 3 months in advance as dinners are very popular.  You start with a tractor ride down to the farm, canapés and drinks in the yurt and then a set menu dinner.  As long as you mention it in advance, they are able to cater to different dietary requirements.

River cottage HQ Farm to Table

Growing purple broccoli

Children are welcome during the summer months with a special reduced rate for lunch or dinner at £10.  Although there are no restrictions on children attending the regular weekend dinners, keep in mind the atmosphere will be for adults and there is no reduced rate for children.  I don’t know about you but my kids don’t eat a meal that is even close to the starting rate of £70/person.

River Cottage Canteen

The River Cottage Canteens are conveniently located in several small towns around England.  The closest River Cottage Canteen to London is in Winchester.  We went to the original Canteen at Axminster near River Cottage HQ.  With industrial touches and high ceilings, the Canteen & Deli looks urban and hip.  It  wouldn’t look out of place in trendy Shoreditch in London but is remarkably different from the nearby stodgy-looking Conservative Club headquarters and charity shops lining the street of this little market town.

River cottage HQ Farm to Table

Wait… are we still in Devon?

We had issues with parking our car nearby (which was news to me because I thought limited parking was just a London thing).  The efficient staff were used to dealing with people who couldn’t dilly dally but didn’t want to be rushed either.

River cottage HQ Farm to Table

A healthy starter of carrots and pita with squash hummus.

Although I was desperate for a Diet Coke (hanging out with children for an extended period makes me crave caffeine and sugar in increasing quantities), mass-market sodas don’t fit in with the River Cottage ethos.  I was pacified with a ginger drink which was actually very good.

River cottage HQ Farm to Table

Could it get more English-sounding than a Rhubarb Bellini??

My daughter ordered off the children’s menu and had a Welsh rarebit. My son ordered the brisket and devoured it to my dismay. I had ordered the Merguez spiced lamb meatballs and had assumed I’d be having some of his brisket.  Nope, not a chance.  He did offer me some of the parsley mash and cabbage that came with the brisket.  Thanks kid.

River Cottage canteen Axminster lunch

Clockwise from Top Left: mozzarella on toast, merge sausage, brisket, and pork crackling

The Canteen displays a list of the local suppliers of their farm-to-table fare.  None of the food is sourced though from River Cottage HQ which only raises enough meat and produce to supply their own needs.

River cottage HQ Farm to Table

Industrial lights and a suppliers list on a chalkboard, naturally.

The River Cottage Canteen in Axminster is located at Trinity Square in Axminster EX13 5AN.  The Axminster Canteen is a short uphill climb from the train station and pretty much in the centre of the market town across from the church.  You can book online through the website.  It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is also a deli at River Cottage Canteen if you just want to take stuff away for a delicious picnic in the countryside.

River cottage HQ Farm to Table

Pies available for takeaway at the deli.

River Cottage and Farm-To-Table Fare

We had a great visit to River Cottage HQ.  It was only supposed to take a half-hour but Kate kindly spent almost an hour and half with us.  I think my children came away with a pretty good understanding of how much effort goes into the raising of good food.  They can definitely taste the difference of good quality food and it’s only right, they appreciate the background aspects before it shows up on their plate.

Farm to Table Fare was made popular in England with River Cottage which is a growing empire

Go on, pin the picture onto Pinterest. You know you want to.

This post is linked up with Pierced Wonderings, Weekend Wanderlust and The Weekly Postcard.

Pierced Wonderings

weekend wanderlust

Travel Notes & Beyond
A Must-Visit Gastromarket For Foodies – Mercado Merced in Malaga

A Must-Visit Gastromarket For Foodies – Mercado Merced in Malaga

Recently opened in the fall of 2015, the Mercado Merced in Malaga is another star in the constellation that is the city’s recently burgeoning foodie scene.  The best known of the Malaga food markets is the Mercado de Atarazanas located in the old Moorish arsenal building close to the harbour.  The Mercado Merced is a smaller and more curated affair.  Based on the world-famous markets in Barcelona and Madrid, the Mercado Merced straddles the line between upscale deli, local convenience and tourist attraction.

The mercado merced in Malaga is a recently refurbished gastromarket in the centre of town

The Mercado Merced is incredibly convenient for tourists because it is located just across the street from the birthplace of the city’s most famous son, Pablo Picasso.  The Mercado Merced is also located off the Plaza de la Merced (market square) which is one of the city’s main squares. It is a short walk from the city’s pedestrianised centre which has attractions such as the old colosseum ruins, the Picasso museum and the Cathedral of Malaga.

The Plaza de la Merced was a public market place in the 15th century so it’s only fitting that the Mercado Merced is located nearby. In recent years though the Mercado had hit a slump in trade and was rejuvenated to attract local foodies. With a giant obelisk honouring some forgotten politician in the middle, the Plaza de la Merced is surrounded by cafes perfect for people watching.  For good food though I suggest you hit the Mercado Merced itself.

a family-friendly gastromarket in the centre of Malaga on the costa del Sol in Spain

The market has a mix of traditional vendors selling meat, fish and groceries as well as tapas-style places where you can sit to eat and to drink.  The tall tables are arranged with high chairs so you can either stand around or sit down.  We arrived during siesta time so we had no problem finding a table (and plenty of vendors that were open).  I can imagine it is busy though during regular trading hours just by the quality of the food and the hipster ambience.

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

The place is somewhat hipster cool.

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

very fresh fish

The tapas range from traditional favourites like tortilla to international fusion like Korean BBQ salmon.  My daughter loved the chicken sate.  Although delicious, it didn’t really taste like sate as I know it – not much peanut flavour and heavier on the white mayonnaise-type sauce.

the Mercado Merced in Malaga

Chicken sate but not as you know it from Indonesia

There are many family-friendly choices from the croquettes at La Croqueteria Gourmet to the mini-burgers.  You will find something that will make everyone happy (even the fussy ones!) as well as keeping the foodies in ecstasy.

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

Mini burgers selection included bull and goat meat

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

The mini crepes (or as they bill themselves, culinary pancakes) from POF with dulce de leche were a nice way to finish off the meal.

This stall belongs to a local city bar, Antigua Casa de Guardia which sells the sweet wine that the area is known for.  Established in the mid-19th century, the bar is the oldest in Malaga and produces its stock from its own vineyard.  If you aren’t into sweet wine, fear not, there are lots of beer and wine sold at other stalls.

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

A perfect glass of muscatel

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

Iberico ham croquetas, freshly deep fried, with wine and cheese – delicious!

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

There was an entire stall dedicated to all things octopus.

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

Spanish home sold by the handful. Very more-ish if not Moorish.

The Mercado Merced in Malaga is located at Calle Merced 1 on a corner off the Plaza de la Merced.  It is open 6 days a week (closed Sundays) from 11AM.  I highly recommend it as a good place to stop off for a bite to eat and to people-watch.  It is a less intense setting also than the Central Market at Sao Paolo in Brasil. The Spanish laid-back attitude means no one is trying to sell you their wares while you are simply browsing.

The smaller more intimate setting also meant it did not turn off fussy-eaters like my daughter.  She ran like a bat out of hell from the Boqueria in Barcelona (meat everywhere! the smell!!) and we all had to trudge grudgingly after her.  At Mercado Merced in Malaga at least all of us were able to sit down and eat well.

This post is linked up with City Tripping.

 

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