My journey to River Cottage HQ crossed three of my favourite counties as they sleepily greeted the day and began to throw off the low lying mist which cloaked them on this cool September morning. Leaving Somerset behind me I drove through Dorset and on into Devon through a landscape which is all huge skies and rolling hills and I felt my heart lifting and my soul breathing deeply.

I was visiting River Cottage with a bunch of like minded bloggers to take part in a day organised by Foodies100 – and, oh what a day it was! It began with a tractor and trailer ride down the steep, bumpy track to Park Farm where we were welcomed and given an outline for the day – as reception rooms go the River Cottage Yurt has to be one of the best!

My day began with a little meander around the gardens with friends and my camera. River Cottage is such a welcoming place, we could wander in and out of the kitchens asking questions and snapping pictures, amble through the vegetable patch nibbling at edible flowers or stroll through the fruit garden helping ourselves to sweet raspberries.

Our first session was spent food styling with the totally fabulous Lucy Heath from Capture by Lucy. I like to think I’m a reasonable photographer and, as I learn my way around my new camera, I can see that I am improving but it was really useful to get some tips from someone who is brilliant at it!

Four Top Tips for Better Food Styling and Photography

  1. The top tip I came away with is to move away from white plates as my background – they are doing me no favours most of the time. Experiment with coloured plates and see which ones make your food colours zing. Lucy has a handy downloadable colour chart on her blog.
  2. Make an extra portion and photograph it at leisure instead of eating cold food/making your family suffer for your art! Why try to capture the perfect image at 8 o’clock on a winter’s night when you can do it on a sunny Saturday morning?
  3. Buy lots of recipe books and study the photography closely. I do this anyway but I usually buy for the recipes rather than the pictures – now I can do both, hurrah!
  4. If you’re taking an over head shot prop plates/bowls with a bit of blutack/lego or whatever you have to hand to prevent them looking a bit odd and flat. This works really well – unless you are photographing porridge or soup and the liquid decides to do what liquids do and wander off, I had quite a bit of porridge on the table at the weekend!

I enjoyed faffing about with fruit, veg and props and was quite pleased with this shot

Food Styling with Lucy Heath at River Cottage

I enjoyed faffing about with fruit, veg and props and was quite pleased with this shot

 

Our second session saw my group touring the gardens and farm with head gardener Will Livingstone. As a long term organic gardener and vegetable grower it was fabulous listening to Will talking passionately about crop rotation, compost and companion planting – I was in heaven! I long for more space to grow and, having seen this plot in operation my yearning to move is now even stronger!

Lunch didn’t disappoint and my fellow vegetarians and I enjoyed a wholemeal spelt ravioli filled with leeks and cheese sitting on a ragout of garden vegetables. It was topped with a drizzle of pesto using the last of this year’s basil harvest and served with a bowl of garlicky corn and some freshly baked bread to mop up the delicious juices.

Gorgeous.

Dessert was a fennel meringue, madagascan vanilla and coffee ice-cream with salted caramel, honey roasted damsons and an oaty crumble. I don’t think I need to say anymore do I?!

Our last session was spent making soda bread and fresh butter with Group Head Chef Gill Meller. I’ve made soda bread and butter more times than I care to remember but, oh my goodness, did I enjoy this session?! Wandering into the fields with Gill to pick blackberries to add to our soda bread and into the garden to pick nasturtiums and violas to add to my butter had me grinning from ear to ear.

Our soda bread was flavoured with chopped apples from the farm, our freshly picked blackberries, fresh sage and thyme and a drizzle of honey. I added grated goat’s cheese to mine and scattered some oats over the top. When I got home it was pronounced to be ‘amazing’.

Butter making is one of those simple pleasures – something so easy and satisfying to do I wonder why I don’t do it more often. This was double the pleasure as we had the satisfaction of using the buttermilk bi-product in our soda bread!

I picked nasturtium leaves and flowers, some violas and a sprig of bronze fennel which I laid along my butter before rolling it up, wrapping it in greaseproof paper and popping it into the fridge.

And this is what it looked like when I sliced it to spread on another freshly baked soda bread next day at home. It tastes subtly peppery and is a wonderful addition to my nasturtium recipes! 

While our bread cooled and our butter firmed we were free to wander and chat until the tractor arrived to take us back up the bumpy track to our cars. I may have taken HUNDREDS of pictures but I’ll content myself with sharing just two more and saying I had just the best day – River Cottage is wonderful, if you get the chance to go there, do! I’ve been eyeing up the courses on offer and hinting that one as a Christmas present would be a very lovely thing!