Vegetarian food blog featuring nourishing home cooked recipes, creative baking and luscious chocolate.

A Day at River Cottage

River Cottage Collage

A day out at River Cottage HQ on the beautiful Devon Dorset border has much to recommend it, especially when the sun is shining. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of visiting for a second time.

Last year I spent a thoroughly enjoyable day making preserves with Pam Corbin and Liz Neville in the excellently equipped River Cottage cookery school kitchen. Last week’s visit was rather different, but equally, if not more, enjoyable. It was a food blogger’s bootcamp. A food blogger’s what, you may ask? Fifty (ish) food bloggers from as far away as Aberdeen and as close as, er, Cornwall, got together for a day of workshops, networking, food and fun.

River Cottage

I may not have mentioned the tractor in my previous post as I arrived late and walked from the car park down to River Cottage. As the name implies, the cottage is at the bottom of a rather steep hill. A tractor and trailer is there to ferry arriving guests down to the farm and take them back up again. It’s a good way of getting to know one’s fellow companions as the ride is rather a wild one; the humps and bumps threw us virtually into each other’s laps. It was a really good ‘ice breaker’ and got everyone laughing, exclaiming and chatting.

On arrival at the farm we were ushered into a large yurt, complete with hay bales and log burning fire and given our order of the day. This was quickly followed by refreshments in a sunny corner, including some welcome frittata canapΓ©s  and chocolate pastries. Coffee and tea making facilities along with pitchers of cool water and elderflower cordial were readily available all day long.

River Cottage Photography Workshop

After a bit of friendly catch-up time, we were divided into three groups and it was off to our first workshop. My group started off with a session on styling and photography with the wonderful Lucy Heath who blogs at Capture by Lucy. She had so much to share and so many tips, a full day was needed with her alone. As it was a hands on session outside and she was talking as we were taking photographs, it was impossible to write anything down. The consequence of this is that I can’t remember nearly as much as I’d like to. However, there were a few of tips I did hang on to:

  • Take inspiration from the photographers you like and try and figure out what it is you like about their style.
  • Keep the story internally coherent. i.e., don’t show a spoon, however nice it is, in a picture about bread and butter – unless honey is on offer of course. 
  • To make your photos really jump out, try to add colour and use a colour wheel to get a complementary effect. So, for example if you have red tomatoes, add some green veg or if using lemons put them on a blue plate. To help with this, Lucy has a colour wheel on her blog for you to download. Never have a dark subject on a white plate as it’s difficult to get a good contrast and it flattens the picture. How many chocolate cakes have I photographed on a white plate – oops!
  • Layer pictures up to add depth. Lucy is a big fan of crinkly cloths. An example of this is have a cake, sitting on a cake stand which is sitting on a cloth – preferably a crinkly one.
  • If taking overhead pictures, use a bit of blue tack, a pebble or whatever else you can find, to gently tilt taller objects towards you in order to keep good perspective and stop them looking as though they are leaning at an awkward angle.
  • Take several ‘hero’ shots. Don’t just think about the blog, but take a square one for Instagram, a different one for Twitter and another for Facebook as they are all displayed in different ways. This also stops your readers getting bored with seeing the same shot over and over again.

River Cottage Will

This session was followed by a tour of the farm by Head Gardener, Will Livingstone. This was really interesting and assuaged some of the doubts I’d had on my first visit as to what the farm was really for. The ethos is all about sustainability and local sourcing and the farm is organically certified by the Soil Association. The food grown on the farm feeds the thousands of visitors attending courses and events and anything that is not home grown comes from a 30 mile radius and is provided by small growers and businesses.

River Cottage Pigs

The garden is very prettily laid out and was bursting with autumnal bounty. As well as vegetables, herbs and edible flowers, there was also a lot of fruit. We were let loose in the golden raspberry patch and there were many exultant oohs and ahhs to be heard. From the garden, we made an obligatory stop at every gardener’s delight, the compost heap. Will was keen to tell us about the principles and benefits of organic gardening – he didn’t need to convince me. It was then a wander up the track to see the pigs, chickens, orchards and pollytunnels. The pigs were the stars of the show and I’m sure were the most instagrammed subject to appear that day and probably the next too.

River Cottage Ragout

After all this excursion, it was time for lunch and what a lunch it was. A ragout of vegetables with a spelt ravioli filled with cheese and leeks for us vegetarians. This was drizzled with pesto made from the last of the season’s basil. It was also accompanied by bread and a bowl of sticky chilli and garlic corn on the cob. The layers of flavour were just exquisite and we were all mightily impressed. However, when it came to dessert, silence reigned. It was generally agreed, it was amongst the best any of us had ever eaten. Fennel pollen meringue, coffee ice-cream with salted caramel shards, honey roasted damsons and oat crumble. The table was decorated with jars of flowers from the farm and the company was convivial. What more could we ask for? Well we may not have asked, but along came a tray of chocolate truffles, which I, for one, was unable to resist.

River Cottage Dessert

The last activity of the day for our group was making butter and soda bread with Chef, Gill Mellor. When I initially heard this, I was a little disappointed. We were food bloggers after all; making soda bread is pretty basic stuff and butter is something most of us have done accidentally by over-whipping cream. However, I should have had more faith. The River Cottage chefs are nothing if not creative.

Once we’d made our butter, we flattened it out and added a layer of edible flowers and/or herbs on top. I picked a few heart’s ease for mine and also nasturtium leaves, but kept a fairly light touch. We then rolled up our respective creations tightly and left them in the fridge to firm up. When I cut mine into slices, it produced a beautiful swirled effect as well as adding interesting flavours.

River Cottage Butter

The buttermilk produced from the process was used to make the bread. But first we were sent out to forage for blackberries. Blackberries? Yes, we weren’t making just any old soda bread, ours was to be a blackberry and apple one with cheese and herbs thrown in for good measure. I managed to break mine up when trying to move it whilst still hot, so I don’t have any photos. However, it was so delicious I made one at home a couple of days later and have now posted a recipe for blackberry and apple spelt soda bread.

After that it was time for a bit more chat and last minute photo taking, then back into the tractor for another bone shaking ride back up the hill to the car park.

You may like to read some other takes on the day

Many thanks to Foodies100 for arranging such an excellent day and to River Cottage HQ for being so hospitable and welcoming. I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own.

Comments

  1. Leave a Reply

    Kath
    29th September 2015

    Sounds like you had a fab time. I was very jealous of your FB feed. I like the idea of the honey roasted damsons. I might try to give those a go.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th September 2015

      It would have been lovely to see you there Kath. I think you’d have liked it. The damsons were superb, along with everything else. I think this was the first time I’d tried them in anything other than damson jam and chutney.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th September 2015

      It was such a shame you couldn’t make it Bintu, would have been lovely to have seen you there.

  2. Leave a Reply

    Monika @ MY FOOD & HAPPINESS
    29th September 2015

    Oh so jealous for missing this! Sounds like you had a great time. The photography tips from Lucy are really useful! Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th September 2015

      Thanks Monika. What a shame you couldn’t make it. Apart from anything else, it would have been good to meet you. Not that I managed to meet half the people there!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th September 2015

      It was a fabulous day out Roz. Being in Cornwall I don’t get many, so this was especially appreciated.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th September 2015

      Wasn’t it just Sus? Sorry I didn’t really get to speak to you – this time!

  3. Leave a Reply

    Janice
    29th September 2015

    That does look like a lot of fun and so much tasty food. Thanks for the photo tips, there were a couple there I hadn’t heard of.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th September 2015

      Thanks Janice. A shame it was a bit far for you to come, but hopefully another time.

  4. Leave a Reply

    Mammasaurus
    29th September 2015

    It was a jolly lovely day wasn’t it? Lovely to meet you, if only briefly! x

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th September 2015

      Thanks, it was great fun. There was so much to see and do and so many bloggers to meet, most of the meetings were brief πŸ˜‰

  5. Leave a Reply

    Emma
    29th September 2015

    What a glorious early morning read!!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th September 2015

      Thanks Becca. I loved the rolled butter – a completely new concept to me.

  6. Leave a Reply

    Dom
    29th September 2015

    what a lovely day! I must go and do this one day.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th September 2015

      Yes indeed you should Dom. Would have been good to have had you there – maybe we could have a #smuts meet up there – would be fun.

  7. Leave a Reply

    Katharine
    29th September 2015

    Lucky you, it sounds like a wonderful day in a wonderful setting! Thanks for sharing those photographic tips – I’ll certainly think about them next time I’m taking a photo!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th September 2015

      Thanks Katharine, it was a wonderful day. Glad you found the tips useful πŸ™‚

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th September 2015

      It was indeed a fabulous day. I expect your 5 year old would have loved them even more than we did πŸ˜‰

  8. Leave a Reply

    Charlie Hughes
    29th September 2015

    It was great to meet you and those golden raspberries truly were yummy. Hope to meet you again in the near future x

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      2nd October 2015

      Thank you Charlie, it was good to meet you too. I’ve had golden raspberries in the past, but it was so long ago, I couldn’t remember what they were like.

  9. Leave a Reply

    Phil in the Kitchen
    29th September 2015

    I’m really pleased to hear that you enjoyed River Cottage and I’m especially pleased to hear that the tractor ride was so memorable. I spent a day there earlier in the year and the three (yes, three) tractor rides that I had were definitely unforgettable. But, actually, the whole day was memorable. I was only there to eat and drink and so, fortunately for all concerned, there were no other food bloggers around because I’m hopeless at networking. There was very fine food and drink, a great atmosphere and a crew that knew what they were doing. I was especially impressed that Will Livingstone didn’t make me feel like a complete idiot when I mentioned my kitchen garden disasters – even though I am. And if you get a chance taste the wines from the local Castlewood Vineyard then I can heartily recommend the experience.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      2nd October 2015

      How did you get three rides Phil? Will was a real sweetie and coped with us hoards remarkably well. As for networking, the joy of this day was that there were loads of activities and you could always escape into the garden if things became a bit too much πŸ™‚

  10. Leave a Reply

    Michelle
    30th September 2015

    It certainly was a bumpy ride on that tractor wasn’t it?! Everything about the day was wonderful, and I agree – a whole day workshop with Lucy would be an awesome thing – she’s so enthusiastic and inspiring about what she does! x

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      2nd October 2015

      It was a wonderful day Michelle and I have SO much to learn on the photography front – need a week of Lucy at least πŸ˜‰

  11. Leave a Reply

    Susan
    30th September 2015

    Sounds like such a great experience! I do love going to other folk’s kitchens and learning a bit of their craft! Your trip was to such a beautiful spot!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      2nd October 2015

      Thanks Susan. Yes, there is always so much to learn with food and cooking, that’s one of the its joys. And we were lucky to be in such a beautiful spot too πŸ™‚

  12. Leave a Reply

    Glamorous Glutton
    1st October 2015

    It sounds like an amazing day, I really wanted to come. Your lunch looks delicious too. River Cottage is definitely on my bucket list. GG

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      2nd October 2015

      Such a shame you couldn’t come GG. Would have been lovely to see you again and you would have enjoyed it.

  13. Leave a Reply

    Prateek
    1st October 2015

    This seems like a perfect little getaway, nothing like cooking with fresh produce!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      2nd October 2015

      It was a really fun day Kate and despite my initial sniffiness, I loved making the butter πŸ™‚

  14. Leave a Reply

    Nayna Kanabar
    8th October 2015

    It was such a lovely day.I love your write up and your pictures are beautiful.I have linked your post to my blog post of River cottage.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      9th October 2015

      Thanks very much Nayna. It was a wonderful day, I really enjoyed it and it was good to catch up with you again, if only briefly.

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