For a change we didn’t go for music, and the music there was would best be described as informal. The first we encountered was a scratch group of children in a rock band, though as someone remarked “If only we’d had the opportunity at their age.” The objective was food, though, and Suffolk has some of the best in the country. Drink too, although only the non-alcoholic could be sampled on a summery September day among hundreds of cars.
We are used to crowded carparks at Snape but have never parked in such a crowded overflow meadow, except at the Hyde Hall Flower Festival.
Generously provided with hessian bags by Tiptree – we’re not exclusive: Essex and even Norfolk producers had stands – we decided the fish and shellfish on the Maximus stall would have to wait until lunch time. The main Avenue was lined both sides with game, herbs, flowers and snacks (even for dogs) and we were asked if we were members of Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Not only that, we’d been to Lackford Lakes the day before to celebrate its 30th anniversary. They gave us a pack of greetings cards: very welcome for thank-you notes and Christmas.
Our target was the Tiptree stage, one of two announced although a third was operating. Guest speakers were giving demonstrations of their skills. We had missed Dhruv Baker, a Masterchef winner, but were lucky enough to hear two of Vernon Blackmore’s chefs on ways of preparing Gressingham duck. One runs a pub near Woodbridge, where we must go one day. The other gave a fascinating demonstration of duck leg en papillotte, with a reduced red wine and marinated wild blackberry sauce. An idea well worth trying as a variant on the Italian one we know with blueberries.
Having secured a seat we stayed for the highlight of our day: the Spanish chef Jose Pizarro, at one of whose restaurants in Bermondsey we’d had a splendid meal a few years ago. He cooked duck also, but wild mallard, with strips of pumpkin and pardina lentils. His fish recipe was razor clams with Serrano ham and cava vinaigrette. Both are in his new book, “Catalonia,” so we must try them.
It was quite a struggle back to Maximus, who had we were told been awarded “best in show”. Fortunately they still had enough crab and seafood salad for our lunch, though we had neglected to buy bread to go with it and had to go back to the producers’ marquee for a baguette, then find a bank overlooking the reed beds. Another winner we looked at was Hodmedod, growing quinoa and pulses in Essex. They’d been awarded the BBC Farm Food prize for 2017. Unfortunately their lentils had been so popular none were left for us.
The reed beds path is where the concertgoers stroll with their pre-performance drinks, but was filled with start up producers at the festival – a really encouraging sign. Less encouraging was a mother’s response to her small son who, seeing people walking the paths between the beds, had tried to launch himself across them towards the inviting pseudo-Buddhist prayer flags on the far bank.
Less dangerous options for children were the rides and activities on the Hillfarm Family Meadow. There were also the results of some guided beachcombing walks and a trail around some animal-themed clues.
After a refreshing free drink at the Co-op stand we found our way through the street food courtyard to hear Martha Collison, a Guardian journalist on the back of her “Bake Off” performances, demonstrate madeleines. Four-to-five hours in 20C was only to seem tiring once we’d returned home. Nonetheless we revived ourselves with coffee and some more baguette, this time topped with Tiptree salted caramel spread, a splendid departure for the self-described “most traditional of English jam makers.”
Why we hadn’t been to the Festival before I don’t know, but we definitely will go again.