Driving through the English countryside is like you’re living in a romantic period film. The greens are lush, the roads are narrow and the hills are rolling. Our family is addicted to exploring England through road trips, and so back in May we loaded up our car and drove west through Dorset and Devon, England, landing in Axminster for a visit at family-friendly River Cottage.
River Cottage was founded in 2004 by Hugh Fearnly-Whittingsall, and the Cottage gained fame through a tv series and cookbooks celebrating farm-to-table food. Every May, River Cottage hosts a food fair showcasing its award-winning cookery courses, its beautiful grounds and, of course, delicious, fresh food. It’s basically the perfect event for food-obsessed families, with plenty of activities for kids, too.
Donkey rides, face painting and pony grooming were all on tap for little ones, which required an additional fee ranging from £3-5 per activity. Other kids’ activities are free (since under 16s don’t pay admission) such as ‘welly wrangling” (basically flinging old rubber boots into an open field, during which our kids could not stop laughing) and also a mud pit full of old pots and pans. Our kids could not get enough of the mud pit — so bring extra clothes if you go!
After we managed to pry our kids away from the children’s area, we headed over to an outdoor cooking “masterclass” to make flatbreads and lamb koftas (meatballs) led by River Cottage heavyweight Gill Meller. I was worried at first about how the kids would fare in front of open fire pits and roasting, but, as it turns out, the folks at River Cottage were prepared for our littles.
We did have to help them get our skewers onto the grill, but otherwise, the kids loved being a part of preparing our lunch (note: you should let the River Cottage HQ staff know well ahead of time that you’re planning on bringing littles, and double-check that the masterclass you’ve signed up for is appropriately kid-friendly, or at least adaptable to being kid-friendly).
The activities didn’t end there. The food fair brings in artisans, restaurants and food purveyors from all over the Devon and Dorset regions, so we spent a little time just wandering the grounds and sampling delicious ciders, jams, coffees and sandwiches.
Then it was off to another masterclass on ferments and salads while the hubby headed back to the mud pit with the kids. Seriously, they could not get enough of this mud pit. I’m thinking about ways in which I can build one in our city apartment. So far, I’ve gotten as far as “buy giant tub,” but then I get stuck on the part where I can make a mud pit without actually using mud.
In the ferments class, which took place inside River Cottage’s fully-equipped cookery school, we squeezed the daylights out of red cabbages, learning how to make sauerkraut and the proper salinity rate (about 1.5-2.5%) for perfecting a delicious ferment. Then, we tried some premade ‘kraut on a delicious poached egg, monk’s beard (also known as agretti, a funky looking peppery chive green), housemade creamy, tart labneh and sprouts. The salad was dressed with a lovely mustardy viniagrette, and everything was grown right at River Cottage.
Of course, at this point we should have been full. We should have probably left and ventured on to explore some of Devon’s other attractions, like the Jurassic Coast (which we did manage to stop by the next day). We didn’t though. Instead, we ventured to the Cottage’s restaurant and had a three-course lunch consisting of a silky glazed short rib, pea gnocchi with monk’s beard and a chewy barley risotto with paper-thin slices of smoked fish with a bright orange, juicy medium-boiled egg. The entire meal burst with freshness, and I could taste the gorgeous countryside in every bite.
Later that afternoon we ventured onwards to Coaxdon Farm, our accommodation for the evening. The farm owners were there to greet us and introduced the kids to baby lambs, which they later got to bottle feed:
I mean… how could you not love Devon after feeding its baby lambs?!