Wow, wow and wow ! What an incredible weekend I have just had at Sarah Raven’s first (and hopefully not last) summer feast at her beautiful home and gardens, Perch Hill, near Burwash in Sussex. I went with my dear friend Michelle and we have spent the last 48 hours eating and drinking, learning how to eat and drink and how to grow veggies with 158 other people who were all passionate about food and gardens.
We stayed in a yurt aka a large bell tent.
Which was comfortably furnished with 2 air beds and duvets, fairy lights up the pole and a vase of fresh flowers.What more could we need?
This is the view from the greenhouse looking towards the camping fields. When we arrived the weather was drizzly and it seemed a long way up to the tents with our bags but there was a group of extremely helpful people to carry our bags for us, including Adam Nicholson himself who proved to be very proficient with a wheelbarrow laden down with lots of luggage.
Having dropped off our bags we headed down to the main marquee for the evenings feast. We sat at tables of 10 and enjoyed getting to know other people with similar interests. We were greeted by our hosts, Sarah Raven and Adam Nicholson, who had managed to hit himself in the head with a sledgehammer while helping get everything ready ! Friday night’s dinner was selected by none other then Yotam Ottolenghi, one of my very favourite chefs ever. He is Israeli born and his cooking style is influenced by the countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Armenia, Iran and Syria. He chatted about the food we were about to eat and then it was time to get stuck in. The roasted aubergines with Feta and preserved lemons were just divine. Eaten with crusty bread I could have just eaten that for the rest of the evening. The beetroot puree was much nicer than I expected and I will be looking up the recipe as I have quite a few beetroots my garden to use up. The main meal is one of the most delicious meals I have had for a long time. The lamb was so good I think I had at least 3 helpings, I couldn’t stop myself. Perfectly cooked, it was pink, tender and moist if you chose a middle bit and very well cooked on the outside and full of spicy flavours. There was also a Tahini dressing which is not in the picture but it was just amazing. The three salads were excellent too; tomatoes with pomegranate, new potatoes with peas and little eggs (quails?) and mung and French beans. It was perfection on a plate. Dessert was pureed blackcurrant with cardamom cream, topped with walnut crumble. Again, the flavours were all quite strong but they worked brilliantly together. There is no doubt, the man is a culinary genius. Having eaten plenty we headed off to the large barn where there was a bar and an excellent live band, The South Downs Way, playing country music which fitted the mood and ambience very well indeed. The two of us were very happy (and full and inebriated) by the time we tottered off to our tent up the hill for the night.
Apologies for the fuzzy picture but it gives an idea of how lovely it was. Yotam (we all felt we were on first name terms by then) is standing on the far right; he stayed for almost the entire weekend with his partner and baby. Saturday morning dawned very hazy but not raining. Due to the miracle of the digestive process, I was able to eat again in the morning and tucked in to some granola with yogurt and cherries, bacon with chilli jam, delicious raspberry jam and a very treacley brown and delicious roll with butter. I was clearly not on a diet this weekend! The main marquee was festooned with colourful lights, bunting and tablecloths and was a very pleasant place to sit, eat, drink and make new friends.
I enjoyed a little potter about this beautiful place after breakfast.
I have greenhouse envy! This is the other end of the greenhouse, where people sat, chatting and reading. Yotam is on the right with his family.
There was a choice of activities for the morning and we chose to go on Adam’s guided walk around the farm. We are so glad we did as we discovered what a very lovely man he is. Such an intelligent man with a real passion for and understanding of the land and the history of this area. He is a natural raconteur with a brilliant sense of humour. An absolute pleasure to spend time with.Time to gather together again in the main marquee. Look at this extraordinary vase of flowers which is absolutely HUGE. There’s our Shelley Belles, chatting away. We were then treated to a cookery demonstration by Yotam. Did I ever tell you that he is one of my favourite chefs? He was great. He had a very proficient assistant too.Lucinda from Cocolicious :-)
After showing us how to cook 3 dishes Yotam signed books but I already have the ones I wanted so didn’t buy any more. Lunch time. I had a quiche with roasted onions, goat’s cheese and anchovies, with a carrot salad and a green salad. Absolutely delicious. Followed by meringue, strawberries and cream which I don’t seem to have a photo of so here’s another one of the yummy lunch.
Now I do confess dear reader, that by now I did need a snooze so I missed Sarah’s talk on growing and making salad’s but sometimes, needs must!
I was awake and in the barn in time for a lesson on making cocktails and I certainly tried a few!
Sitting in the garden in the early evening with a good cocktail and many interesting people to chat to is a splendid way to pass time. Big thumbs up for the Negroni.
Dinner on Saturday was chosen by Hugh F-W who also gave a cookery demo. He then went for a stroll while Gill cooked for us. I bumped in to Hugh and he said hello and that he remembered me. I suspect he was thinking of someone else but I enjoyed my brief encounter with another of my favourite chefs. Gill is Hugh’s assistant. I wonder if these two learnt anything new!
The lamb’s liver was delicious. I think this was roasted onions and nuts on courgette slices.Labneh (cream cheese) with raspberries and watercress was pleasant. New potatoes and roasted beetroot was ok.Strawberry panzanella was disgusting. It was just wrong and no one liked it on our table or indeed elsewhere, so far as I could determine. A huge thumbs down and a big yuck.
Served with mackerel and gooseberries which was really good. The mackerel was cooked very well and went well with the gooseberries. Hugh did make up for what we considered to be, mediocre meal with dessert which was outstanding and better than Yotam’s. It was a gooseberry posset (like a thick custard with gooseberries underneath) and lemon verbena shortbread. Despite all that food and drink, I made it through the night and woke up to a cloudy last day at Perch Hill. I wandered through the vegetable gardens. The plants are packed so densely.
Through the greenhouse where I admired this lovely display. Breakfast was similar to yesterdays and we then had question time which was very interesting and entertaining. Sarah joined too but I took the photo before she took her seat. This morning our chefs were joined by Valentine Warner. Adam remained interesting and amusing. Michelle and I both wanted to take him home as he made us laugh so much but we thought it may seem a bit rude to Sarah :-) After a really good Q and A session we went in to the greenhouse to learn how to make headdresses. We could have learnt how to make bread with the Lighthouse Bakery but opted for some fun with the Flower Appreciation Society instead. This may be a greenhouse but it has all kinds of interesting things in it. I made quite a simple headdress – they are actually really easy to make. This was a frivolous, pretty and fun activity. We posed for photos outside amongst the lavendar. Then back to the main marquee for a cookery demo by Valentine who got in to the headdress spirit :-) I sat here, with the summer sunshine on my back, a breeze and a delightful view, feeling very blessed to be part of such an amazing event. I hope Sarah was happy with it as it truly was superb. The final lunch was delicious; lemon chicken, green salad, beansprout salad, couscous and potato and lentil salad. Followed by a surprising and totally delicious pudding of jelly and ice cream which was paraded in to a round of very well deserved applause. Have you ever seen such a pretty jelly? Strawberry and rhubarb jelly with basil ice-cream, summer fruits and a biscuit. Fresh and quite sensational. Then it was time for good-byes and thank yous to Sarah’s incredible team of workers. Everyone worked so hard to create a truly magical and very memorable weekend.
Thank you very much to Sarah and Adam for such an amazing weekend. We are so happy to have been part of it and definitely felt very blissed.