>> Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Two weeks ago I went to Fruitcamp.
There wasn’t really any camping involved, but there sure was a lot of fruit.

I heard about this day-out from a workmate who forwarded an email around the office – I was the only one out of the sixty-odd of us to attend, but all I can say is, everyone else missed out. Big time. When I saw the email I couldn’t resist. I was pretty much sold when I saw it featured fresh cherries. Everything else (baking with fresh fruit, jam-making, a relaxed outdoor country lunch, an orchard tour, fresh apple juicing…. sounds amazing doesn’t it?) was really just a bonus.

I convinced my friend Sarah to come along (convinced is probably the wrong word, she loves food as much as me and this was exactly her cup of tea) and off we went, wellies (or gumboots if you’re from the antipodes) in tow.

We were treated to an indulgent, relaxed day filled with fresh fruit, good food and the great outdoors. It was the perfect day for Londoners wanting to escape the city, slow down a little and take a breath of fresh air.

We started the day with a tour of the Manor House Farm plum, apple and cherry orchards. The cherries were beyond belief. They literally dripped off the trees in big shiny bunches. As we walked through the orchard we were instructed to pick as many as we could for our cooking classes later on that morning, but, let’s be honest, I’m pretty sure more cherries were eaten than what ended up in the fruit bag.

Once back at the farm, we were divided into two groups to bake, make jam and learn about alcoholic fruit infusions and apple pressing.

For someone who had always shied away from making any kind of preserve (I think the sterilising of jars and the fear of ruining an entire supply of fruit in one go, somehow always deterred me) the jam-making was definitely the highlight of the culinary part of the day.

I learnt that: it really is that easy, anyone can do it, and all you need is a lot of good quality fruit, some pectin and a good candy thermometer. Simple.

The baking, on the other hand, while lovely and very enjoyable to watch, was a little on the basic side for Sarah and I who both already love and know how to cook. In saying that, there were others in the group who obviously learnt a great deal, so it just depended on your particular level of skill. If we had been able to get our hands dirty and make our own cherry tart, clafoutis or cherry yoghurt cake, we would have been even happier campers. (However, obviously we were cooking outdoors without the facilities of a commercial kitchen close at hand, so I’m not sure how realistic this would be!)

Lunch was a veritable feast served in the sun as a picnic on the farm’s grass tennis court.

We had: baked mackerel skewers with a fresh sweet cucumber and red onion pickle, pulled pork with a chilli gravy, home-made coleslaw, green salad and cherry frangipane tart and lemon mascarpone all served with sparkling wine from a local Kentish winery. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of the food – it was really delicious, but I think I was too busy eating to remember to pull my camera out!

And the cherry on the top? We were each given a bottle of home-made apple juice, a jar of the jam we had made on the day and a bag of full of cherries! Now if that isn’t value for money I don’t know what is.

It sounds like School of Food will be setting up another couple of Fruitcamps later on in the season, and depending on the level of interest, perhaps even a boutique Kentish beer tour. If any of you in England and within easy reach of the South-East, are interested, just visit their website and sign up to their newsletter for future updates.

School of Food: Kent, England


(Did you think I’d cleverly glossed over the fact that it was three months since my last post where I said I was going to be back soon? And, cheekily, with a post that didn’t even include a recipe? Well, to make up for it, I have a lovely recipe made with the cherries I brought home from Fruitcamp lined up and on it’s way by the end of the week. Fingers crossed....)



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