Wow! What a Showcase!

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As the dust settles on the Wye Valley & Forest of Dean’s premier food event, The Forest Showcase, let’s take a little time out to look back at this event, which is set in the famous Speech House fields, right in the heart of the Forest of Dean.

The sun always shines on the righteous!

It’s uncanny that the October sun always seems to shine on the Showcase (most years anyway). Event organisers Amanda and Rachel (whose blood pressure has now returned to normal) were a little apprehensive about the weather. The run up to the Showcase was rather gloomy. Nevertheless, sure enough, as the big day drew closer – the sun began to shine. The weather can have a real impact upon any event that is held towards the end of the tourism season!

The sun shone at the Forest Showcase Food & Drink Festival
The sun shone at the Forest Showcase Food & Drink Festival

Great festival atmosphere at the Forest Showcase Food & Drink Festival 2014

So many of the great exhibitors choose, or need to have outdoor pitches, which all adds to the festival atmosphere. Previous autumn showers have seen festival goers rushing for the cover of the food hall and cookery marques – the largest on the site. Nevertheless, the other smaller marquees can end up being jam-packed when the heavens open. However, this is the forest and it’s October, so all of the foodies generally come prepared.

It’s a good compact site, which means that your transport isn’t a half a mile away from the action. So, it’s handy for those personal things you don’t want to carry around and even handier for dropping off all your purchases so can enjoy the show and the fun.

Highlight of the day: The Extraordinary Squirrel Burger Challenge

Yvette Farrell, owner of Harts Barn Cookery School, set ‘The Extraordinary Squirrel Burger Challenge’, where cooks and chefs competed to make the tastiest burgers from squirrel meat (humanely caught in the forest, of course). The four contestants did an excellent job and all came up with extremely delicious, creative and well presented burgers.

Yvette Farrell judging the best squirrel burgers!
Yvette Farrell judging the best squirrel burgers!

Judges, Yvette and Lawrence Jeffries of Gloucestershire College, went into hushed session before declaring Holly Hayes of the Garden Café, the overall winner. Her burger and melted mozzarella cheese creation stole the limelight. However, Joe Parke, Sophie Drinkwater (last minute entry to the line-up) and Mark Powell all followed close behind.

Lawrence Jeffries: Extraordinary Squirrel Burger Challenge judge
Lawrence Jeffries: Extraordinary Squirrel Burger Challenge judge

More on the controversy it caused later…

It’s always great to get people talking about local events and issues. Hopefully, many will be encouraged and galvanised into researching these subjects in greater depth. It’s important to remember however, that the Showcase has a much broader agenda, offering over 100 stalls, displays and activities on the day.

The field was full of fascinating local crafts, food and produce. If you missed it this year, you missed a real treat, and an opportunity to experience the different tastes and aromas. Put next year’s event in your diary in BLOCK CAPITALS.

Don't miss next year's Forest Showcase Festival!
Don’t miss next year’s Forest Showcase Festival!

The amazing McCrindle’s Steampunk-style cider machine!

An apparently ancient Steampunk-style chuffing machine clanked and whirred in the heart of the Speech House field. Whilst its bright orange wheels spun, one of the McCrindle’s boys seemed to be attending to the machine and constantly topping up the tank. Then, as if by magic, clear amber nectar trickled out, and then gushed forth from the cakes of apples as they were crushed by the cider press. Tom, who was on hand to assist with the machine, commented, that although it looked old and cumbersome, it was still in perfect working order.

The amazing McCrindle's Steampunk-style cider press
The amazing McCrindle’s Steampunk-style cider press

In the Food Hall

Meanwhile, in the Food Hall, the McCrindle’s crew were on hand, as were Severn Cider with their knockout Perry. Watkins and several other great producers were dispensing samples of traditionally produced drink to the thirsty visitors.

It's cider time!
It’s cider time!

The great Ragmans Lane Farm was also present, with its own tasty non-alcoholic drinks and great produce. There were awesome beers from Kingstone, and Bespoke Brewing offered meaty porters and real ales to the mix, plus there was also a fine collection of artisan wine producers.

Fantastic Vegetarian food on offer

For vegetarians, we spotted some fantastic homemade treats. For the carnivores, the ever brilliant farmer John Childs was there with his Cowshill Farm produce, as well as Silver Swan and their fine baskets of the very best cuts from their exquisite beef and lamb, all reared on the lush water meadows of a horseshoe bend on the River Severn.

Other attractions

It was open house at the extremely stylish handmade and surprisingly spacious yurt, where the traditional art of tannery and fine leather work by Scott Baine was on show. The Clearwell and Sling Scouts bigged up the Baden Powell vibe, as well as demonstrating wild camping and cooking a pork joint in a dustbin!

The craft fair marquee was continuously packed. At the traditional green wood turning demonstration and its “have a go sessions” for kids and adults, there was not a high visibility jacket to be seen – that’s one in the eye for ‘elf and safety!

Plenty of activities for all the family
Plenty of activities for all the family

Music, entertainment and the best cheese in the world

The Rock Choir – well, rocked. Buskers wandered the site – busking what else? – whilst kids made weird and wonderful creations out of fresh vegetables. This was fantastic, and exactly what a festival for locals and, visitors alike, should be. In the Food Hall, the queue for a taste of Mrs Smart’s Gloucester and Double Gloucester seemed was endless (I hope they had time for a cuppa). I can’t imagine anyone who lives in or has been to the Forest & Valley hasn’t yet tasted it.

Busking at the Showcase
Busking at the Showcase

One contributor to the Forest Showcase website said it all – “Thank you for a wonderful day at your festival, I particularly admired the children’s workshops. Of course we bought and ate too much food: but who could resist such a spread? Never mind, double exercise and half rations next week!”

A real festival atmosphere
A real festival atmosphere

Back to the controversy

Predictably the squirrel issue was controversial, in part it was meant to be, but the point of the challenge was chiefly to highlight the availability and great quality of wild food that’s available in the countryside. It also invited us to think more about where our food comes from, how it has been treated and handled and whether or not it is locally produced. This is what the Showcase is all about! It also touched upon some of the issues surrounding wild animal management in the Forest and Wye Valley. By necessity, some wild animal numbers are controlled for conservation purposes and maintaining the natural equilibrium of the forest. To do otherwise, would see our local area overrun with them, and the countryside degraded. Much of the high quality, low fat organic meat slips quietly into the food chain anyhow, but much of it is wasted.

Extraordinary Squirrel Burger Challenge contestant: undeterred by squirrel meat. In fact, positively enthused!
Extraordinary Squirrel Burger Challenge contestant: undeterred by squirrel meat. In fact, positively enthused!

Media exaggeration yet again

The national media had a field day with SENSATIONAL headlines, and various parties highlighted the opposing ends of the debate for brinkmanship on the subject. Desperate for a story, some of the media started to conflate the stories.

Lolo Williams, well-known RSPB figure and life-long conservationist turned TV and Radio presenter, had been quoted on his opposition to the boar cull. However, in his full quote (and we don’t mean a phrase that had been taken out of context), he himself advocated the humane management of certain species after scientific advice from conservationists. We contacted Lolo regarding the grey squirrels and he couldn’t have been clearer. “It’s my firm belief that in the short term, in order to preserve reds (red squirrels) we have to humanely control greys”. His concern is that the animals should have been dealt with humanely, which in the Forest Showcase event’s case, they were.

Inevitably the nationals identified a trend in several stories and, rather unfortunately, managed to merge the contentious issue of the badger cull with squirrel burgers. To be honest, for the sake of our local pride and economy these exaggerated stories could have painted a better picture for the area as a whole.

Of course, by the next day all the nationals had lost completly  interest in the story! Only the ghosts of this scoop remained live on in the USA magazines – “Brits go mad for squirrel” – really???

To Sum it all up

I happened to be at the Showcase with a London based journalist and she had the most succinct comment of the day – “People in the city love to see themselves as ‘country’ but they don’t really understand it. You have live here to do that, or come to something like the Showcase to get a real feel for it.”

Cowshill Farm: a great day at the showcase!
Cowshill Farm: a great day at the showcase!

We thought that the locally based Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Review shamed the dailies by reporting many of the issues in a very objective way – so, well done!

Check out the WyeDean Deli Confidential view on the wild roaming boar and other local issues in our regular blog, website and new magazine.

http://forestshowcase.org/

Forest Showcase 2014

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