Category Archives: food

Foraging in the hedgerows – spring

Today I went foraging in the woods with friends for the fresh green tops of stinging nettles which are just coming into growth to make nettle and ginger beer. I can’t yet vouch for the flavour – it takes about 7 days to be ready to drink, so watch this space.

Even if it turns out barely drinkable it was a good reason to get out into the spring sunshine, which angled through the new leaves and splashed on colonies of white wood anemones. Top tips are avoid anywhere dogs might have used as a toilet, and stick to the bright green top growth rather than the older, darker leaves.

There is a good recipe here – fingers crossed it turns out well, and is worth the odd sting. Go try it!

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Stinging nettle pic by foreby on flickr
Wood anemone pic by Vinje on flickr

Full of festivals

Secret Garden Party Pirate Ship

It struck me today that Cambridge, in particular, overflows with festivals. Whatever your hyperspecialised desire, there is probably a festival that will include it in this town. I just got an email from the Food and Drink festival about their fundraising quiz, where you go and drink wine and eat cheese and try and answer insanely specialist food and drink questions in one of the beautiful medieval college halls. Worth doing it for the architecture alone, which is frankly wasted on undergraduates.

The image above of dawn breaking over a pirate ship is from the Secret Garden Party. It’s a kind of English-country-house-themed tiny Burning Man, part music festival, part theatre event that takes place over four days in the grounds of a Georgian country house outside the city.

The University culture means that more cerebral festivals are strong – we’re having a Darwin Festival in July to celebrate the anniversary, and there is always the Festival of Ideas in November, to mop up anything intelligent that hasn’t been covered to death earlier in the year. Also the science festival starts this weekend under the auspices of the university, which deliciously has guidance on some events “Warning, loud bangs”. And for grown ups we can “join the Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, Professor David Spiegelhalter as he discusses ‘Statistics: can we sex them up without dumbing them down’. ” Telephone booking is now open.

A particular favourite is the Shakespeare festival – it takes place in July in various college gardens, and is again worth it as much for the architecture as the acting, although the standard is fairly high.

Edit: I forgot Cambridge Word Fest, which is booking now for April with a cornucopia of literary events and workshops.

Then there is of course all the music, so much music. The Folk festival, the Summer Music festival, the Rock fest (in association with a beer festival, naturally) and on. Put out more flags, it’s going to be a beautiful year.

folk-festival-imagesImages of the Folk festival by Arkadyevna on Flickr
If I’ve left any out of my list please do let me know.
Science Festival 9-22nd March – Science fun for adults and families
Cambridge Word Fest 23-26th April – Book events and writing workshops for all genres
Cambridge Super8 Festival 29th April – 2nd May
Cambridge Beer Festival 18-23rd May – Real Ale drinking
Strawberry Fair 6th June – Free festival of music, theatre, arts and crafts
Cambridge Comedy Festival 8-14th June – Live Comedy
Cambridge Shakespeare Festival June-July dates TBC  – open air shakespeare in college gardens
Pink Festival 09 date TBC – Gay open air music festival
Darwin Festival 5th – 10th July – philosophy, literature, history, theology art and music arising from the life of Darwin
Cambridge Fringe Festival 16 July – 2nd Aug – open access performance
Cambridge Summer Music Festival 17 July – 8th Aug 09 – world class classical music
Secret Garden Party 23rd – 26th July – music theatre performance camping
Cambridge Folk Festival 30th July – 2nd August 09 – world class folk music
Cambridge Rock Festival 6-9th August – Rawk and Beer
Cambridge Film Festival 17-27th September 09 (submissions open 1st March)
Festival of Ideas 21st Oct – 3rd Nov – explore more about the society we live in
Cambridge Music Festival 8-29th Nov – Serious classical music trienniale, commissions new work
flags_and_skyNB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Forage in the hedgerows

After the first hard frost it is sloe picking time. They grow on blackthorns – easy to spot because they grow the same size as hawthorns but with oval leaves and really quite ferociously long thorns. They aren’t as ubiquitous as hawthorns, but most country walks in East Anglia are likely to throw up several.

This is a typical thorn. Our sloe picking expedition was punctuated by a quiet chorus of ouches.


The ripe berries are beautiful on a sunny autumn afternoon


It didn’t take long for us to collect a whole bowl, leaving plenty of less accessible berries for the birds. Then spit spot back home, and we put them in the freezer overnight to simulate a hard frost – we’ve only had a couple of light ones so far. Apparently you can make sloe jam or eat them fresh fresh from the tree, but we saved all ours for infusing in gin – find the method in good old wikipedia. It should be ready in time for christmas. An extra tip is when you have drunk the gin, try infusing the leftover berries in sherry. I haven’t tried this yet but it sounds lovely.

Available for free in a hedgerow near you. You can eat the berries but not the leaves of the Blackthorn tree.


Local, seasonal, delicious

The Elbournes have been growing orchard fruit for five generations. Their farm shop in Meldreth has been there since 1967, but is only open in season – pretty much August to February. The apples there smell so much more apply than those in the supermarket – the orchards are around Meldreth and the next village, Melbourn, so they don’t have far to come and can be picked when properly ripe.

It’s a treat to drop in to the shed and pick out some interesting apple varieties from the wooden crates.

They have been very proactive in planting and selling heritage varieties. South Cambridgeshire was traditionally always an apple and plum growing area, famous for it, and they are carrying on the tradition and growing varieties I, an apple lover, have never heard of. 


They do well known varieties as well, generally at less than supermarket prices, and full flavoured apple juice pressed from single varieties, which is also available in farm shops around the area. Have a look for it if you are in the South Cambridgeshire area. Also, occasionally homemade apple muffins still warm from the oven appear on the cash desk.

There were two but one got eaten before I could take a photo…

Do seek them out and remember what apples should taste like – a touch tarter and more complex than the modern commercial varieties and perfect with Wensleydale cheese from the Hawes Creamery.

NB the shop is now closed until the season starts again in August.

Cam Valley Orchards Farm Shop
25 Whitecroft Road, Meldreth,
Royston, Herts SG8 6ND
07770 461 685
Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday only, 9AM to 6PM, August – February
No website

Velvety Icecream


Norfolk icecream company Parravani’s have the kind of back story of passion, obsession and love that Häagen Dazs executives would kill for.


In 1898 Giuseppe Parravani stumbles ashore from Italy with only a piece of paper with his brother’s name on. Miraculously, through the power of word of mouth about good icecream, he finds said brother in Norwich, where he has already opened up an icecream business in Ber Street.

They work together and Giuseppe saves up enough to buy a horse and cart and starts selling delicious ice cream village to village around Bungay. Meets an italian girl (fleeing icecream unfriendly famine back home)? They fall in love, marry and settle down near Bungay and raise dairy cows to continue making fabulous quality ice cream. Giuseppe dies young (from overwork possibly, after rising every day before dawn to collect ice from Lowestoft and coming back from his rounds after dark) but his family continue his legacy and eventually horse-drawn carts give way to motorised ice cream vans. Several generations of Bungay area families grow big and strong on the delicious stuff.

These days you don’t just have to live on one of their routes, they do wholesale around East Anglia too. I came across their wares in an unlikely little icecream parlour in Framlingham called the Lions Den and fell in love. You will too. Rich creamy ice cream married with perfect grownup flavours – I had maple and Walnut, but could easily have gone for Italian Marmalade, Stem Ginger or any one of about thirty others.

Seek it out.