Visiting food festivals must rank amongst some of my favourite things to do in England. And that is despite having a decided dislike for crowds. I love the variety of food on offer, the number of small, local producers who arrive with cheeses, breads, sausages, pasta sauces, spicy dressings, spice mixes, wines, ciders, cakes or pies so delicious that you ask yourself why you were not bulk-buying your supplies from them already!
You can really feel the passion and enthusiasm these people have for the food they produce. You can taste their products, too.
England has food festivals to suit all tastes. Some are general,
celebrating English food or the produce of one county or region. Others are unashamedly dedicated to one product. Along with their 'featured' food or product, these events also
showcase other local producers and crafts. Cookery and craft
demonstrations are popular and entertainment and celebrations play a
large role. Just make sure you arrive hungry!
I like my food seasonal, simply because fruit and vegetables taste better in their proper season. Cheeses vary greatly in taste and sometimes even in looks depending on the month they were made. The availability of locally caught fish and shellfish will vary throughout the year and as for game ...
And this is where festivals come really into their own. They celebrate what's good and ready and at its best. They celebrate the work of local artisan producers. And - fortunately - every year there are a few more than the year before.
So what kind of tasty food can you look forward to if you spend a year in England?
There's not an awful lot going on during January, so soon after Christmas, but if you've not had enough sweets over the previous month, then you should note that January 8th is designated English Toffee Day!
February is the month to make English Marmalade. Then there's Pancake Day on Shrove Tuesday, a medieval housekeeping excercise that we celebrate with with all manner of fun and mayhem such as pancake races and - of course - much sweet food. And last but not least, there's the Wakefield Rhubarb Festival... just when you're most in need of something fresh and light.
March is a month for cooking, rather than celebrating, with food festivals thin on the ground. But there's plenty of fresh rhubarb around now, along with all manner of shellfish. Scallops are still at their most delicious in March and a dinner of scallops in their shell with a generous helping of cream and a hint of garlic, followed by pink rhubarb fool gives the first hint of fresher, lighter things to come over the next few months.
April tends to be dominated by Easter but, apart from Chocolate Easter Eggs, Hot Cross Buns and Simnel Cake we have fewer traditional dishes to mark the festivities. Some of the larger, more general food festivals - Lancashire, Wear Valley and Exeter - are held during April. These showcase local produce and producers and are a good way to get into the food festival vibe!
May is the month when festival fun really gets underway. There are Asparagus Festivals from the Vale of Evesham, where celebrations start on St. George's Day, right across the country. There's the Alresford Watercress Festival. And then it's National Herb Week, which is celebrated in herb farms, stately homes and many restaurants.
June abounds with all manner of wonderful food, and one most wonderful celebration of seasonal food: The World Stinging Nettle Eating Championships! Not precisely a food festival, perhaps, but really
good, old-fashioned fun, centred around the Bottle Inn in Marshwood,
Dorset. The contest apparently started with a
throwaway comment, when ex-Guardsman Alex Williams entered a 15'6" long
nettle for the 'longest nettle' contest. "If anyone beats that, I'll eat
it!" he's reported to have said. Apparently, somebody did, and Alex
Williams started the nettle eating tradition.
July is a true festival month: music festivals, history festivals, village fetes and food festivals take place all over the country. If your waistline can handle it, you could attend a different one every day of the month. If your waistline struggles, you should at the very least make space for the Chertsey Black Cherry Fair, the Whitstable Oyster Festival, the Nantwich International Cheese Show and the Pontefract Liquorice Festival!
August is still a holiday month and a time for produce shows and village fetes. Make time for the Egton Bridge Gooseberry Show, which dates back to the 1800s. Head to the Isle of Wight for the annual Garlic Festival and to West Dean Gardens for its famous Chilli Fiesta. And then, towards the end of the month, it's time for the Pershore Plum Fair.
Holidays are coming to an end, school starts again and there's
suddenly too much football on TV, but September is still a real good
month for fresh food and a bit of celebrating. The Ludlow Marches Food and Drink Festival celebrates one of England's culinary hotspots. Chilli lovers can make their way to Cumbria for the Holker Chilli Fest and for cheese lovers there's the Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival.
So, as you can see... we have plenty to offer whether you love to pick, cook, can, bake or simply taste. There's no reason not to explore some very tasty food while you're visiting!