little bites of heaven

Having bought out the Farmers’ Market on Saturday, I was prepared for friends coming round for dinner on Sunday: they’d well and truly entered into the spirit of the 50 mile food challenge and although perhaps a little wary about what I might be cooking for them, brought runner beans, aubergines, a marrow, the largest turnip I’ve ever seen, loud blousy dahlias, a bottle of local beer and, joy of joys, a bottle of local English wine – HURRAY! 

I relaxed after the first course – cheese souffle – was described as little bites of heaven, after which we had pork in cider, mounds of mash, french beans, carrots, then blackberry and apple crumble with the thickest cream I’ve ever bought, the jug being more than a little redundant. As many people have considered the idea of eating only local food for a month completely mad, I hope I’ve convinced a few people along the way that it can be hugely enjoyable, as well as better for the environment.

And today I’ve been down near Bridgwater at Oatley Vineyards www.oatleyvineyard.co.uk , talking to Iain Awty about his wines, vineyard etc. It’s a fairly small site, about three acres planted twenty years ago with two kinds of grape: Madeleine (which had been picked on 26 Sep) and Kernling which will ripen in about four weeks. I wasn’t worried about the quality of the wine – English wines have improved hugely from the sweet flowery wine of 20 or so years ago, but even so, I was very surprised by how lovely and dry the wines were.

We walked round the vines with Iain explaining how they have learnt to live with nature rather than struggling against it, eg some of the plants growing near badger setts are trained to produce the grapes higher up with the leaves trailing below in order to stop the badgers eating the grapes, and rather than netting the vines to stop the birds eating the fruit, the ancient hedgerows are grown packed with berries to provide an alternative food source. The hedgerows were indeed teeming with blackberries, rosehips, sloes, spindleberries etc which in theory were keeping the birds happy until after the grapes have been harvested.

Producing about 500 cases of wine a year, they only sell to individuals either in person at the farm or at the Bath and West Show, preferring to know who they sell to and to get feed back, and also saving on marketing costs. I loved the morning so much I’m hoping to return in four weeks, when the Kernling grapes are cricket ball red, to help pick the harvest and join the celebrations.

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