Port Eliot Festival: food for the mind and the belly

Most people are torn between heart and mind. Take me to Port Eliot Festival and I am torn between belly and mind, constantly on a relay (uphill) between the walled garden for my literary fix and the food tent, this year sponsored by Fortnum and Mason.

The result? A befuddled brain, sweaty brow and a dramatic fall into a pile of churros and chocolate come late afternoon (an amazing brain clarifier if you were wondering).

The extreme end of my fickle intellect meant sneaking out of a panel debate on growing your own peas, up the hill and right into the depths of the private life of author Elizabeth Jane Howard (I reckoned the peas could wait but the scandal of a writer who had slept with her best friends’ husbands couldn’t).

Saturday’s mental intellectual leap was half a feminist fix from the Vagenda magazine duo on what to call your vagina in the 21st-century right into the heat of Thomasina Miers and cooking with chillies. Never the twain should meet.

Here are some of my best food bits (recipes and cooking tips) from this year’s 2014 port Eliot Festival:


Hemsley + Hemsley: Fortnum and Mason Flower and Fodder Stage, Friday @11:30.

Forgive me if I was initially scathing of two sisters who are as beautiful as they are competent in the world of food. Hemsley and Hemsley don’t label themselves as anything in particular; they talk of ‘clients’, have written an excellent cookbook and develop recipes as well as maintaining a website and a blog stocked full of recipes and tips for eating healthily.

What endeared me to them most however, was their opening statement: “We are very much into fat. We find that we feel much better when we eat saturated fat. Butter, coconut oil and bone marrow are all extremely nourishing.”

I relaxed back into my chair. This was most excellent news.

Their first recipe was a very clever way to get round that post-meal craving for something sweet (mine often manifests itself in teaspoons of Nutella):

Coconut Bliss Fudge Balls


220g block creamed coconut (warmed in a little warm water in a jug)

3 tbsps light tahini

1 tbsp honey

a sprinkling of sea salt

Line an 8’x8’ baking tray with parchment paper, pour the mixture in and sprinkle with any or all of the following: cacao nibs, goji berries, chopped dried fruit, cocoa and put into the freezer for a few hours or fridge overnight until set. Then roll between your fingers into little balls and consume as and when a ‘sweet fix’ is needed.

Ten top Port Eliot Festival tips for better eating from the Hemsleys:

Make your own smoothies rather than buying them as they will contain much more sugar. For a simple strawberry smoothie blend strawberries, cucumber, fresh mint, an avocado (or substitute a handful of nuts for the avocado), a tin of coconut milk and a little honey.

Use a spiraliser or vegetable peeler to make courgetti (courgette spaghetti) and substitute rice for grated cauliflower.

Cook in batches, preferably on a Sunday, and freeze the extra – it takes just as long to make one shepherd’s pie as it does two.

Use soy only in a fermented form and avoid soy yoghurt and milk.

Use butter, lard, ghee or dripping. Avoid all processed margarines.

Make homemade broth by boiling up some bones. A weekly ‘bone broth’ was by far the sisters’ biggest push for health and nourishment. Any extra stock can be frozen and added to sauces.

Avoid nut milks – they are expensive and contain about three nuts as well as other stabilisers and gum – just throw a handful of nuts into a blender or your cooking instead.

Substitute quinoa for rice in risottos or arancini.

Buy organic as much as possible or at the very least, meat and dairy products that have good provenance (ask your butcher questions about where it comes from if not).

Use (and grow if possible) more herbs.


Rose Prince and Sarah Husband: Flower and Fodder Stage, Friday @13:00

“You have to work out if they are taking the piss or not.”

This was Sarah Husband, ex-school cook, responding to Rose Prince’s request for help with her son’s eating problems.

“Take it away if they say they don’t want it. Most sensible children won’t starve themselves to death.” This was no nonsense stuff.

Rose Prince, food writer and famous for her work in The Telegraph and more recently for the Pocket Bakery which she encouraged her children to set up so they could make their own money, was demonstrating flat bread while Sarah Husband was on the caponata.

If you want to have a go at making your own bread, this is a great place to start:

Flat bread dough (makes 2 enormous pizza or 6 – 8 flat breads)

550g flour (ideally Caputo Blu online from Casa Giulia or use a mixture of strong white flour with 00 flour)

5g dried yeast or 10g fresh yeast sprinkled or rubbed into the flour.

Add 1 level tsp seasalt

Pour in 20g olive oil (weigh it).

350g milk mixed with the same amount of water, slowly poured into the dry ingredients and mixed until it forms a dough.

Knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until the dough is silky and elastic.

Let it sit for a few minutes and knead for another 10 minutes.

For the first prove, put the dough into a bowl for one – one and a half hours with cling film on top or, for a better result, in the fridge for 24 hours.

Shape the bread into about 6 – 8 balls (150g is perfect for a pizza) by cupping your hand over the ball and making bigger circles with your hand (don’t use a lot of flour on the surface as this makes it harder).

Prove again for another 15 – 20 minutes. Flour your hands (with only a small amount) and by trying not to let the air out – pull gently at the ball shape until it is roughly the thickness and size of a poppadom (this part is hard and you must be delicate).

Lay the flat breads out on a baking tray on top of a piece of baking paper and put on the hottest temperature in your oven for 12 minutes until cooked.

OR to make filled breads – put about 3/4 of a burrata mozzarella ball, mint, rocket onto onehalf of the bread, wet the edges with water fold over and press the sides together like a pasty. Do not make an opening in the top of the dough. Sprinkle flour on the top and cook above.

For a naan variation – use coconut oil instead of olive and add desiccated coconut and nigella seeds on top.

Other belly-filling highlights at Port Eliot Festival 2014


Mark Hix at The Orangery (full review to follow). £45 a head for three courses. The absolute highlight was the main course – a rare breed chicken – Indian Rock – skewered on a carving board, bum up, foot still attached. No intensely-reared chicken would ever be served with feet (you can guess why). I chewed the foot, we crunched on the herby skin and when we requested a doggy bag for the unfinished carcass, got a whole chicken in return to take back to the tent! Breakfast has never been so satisfying (except for the arrival of Martin Parr on the first morning to document our camp breakfast).

Lobster Roll at Rum & Crab Shack. This place has been recommended to me time and again. Private chef Darren Broom took over the festival venue with two others to help him out in the kitchen. He developed three dishes of his own with two classics from the St Ives’ venue.

Festival prep for the shack (beautifully boudoir inside) involved making 1200 ‘hotdogs’ filled with a crab and fish mousse, ordering a quarter of a tonne of fresh lobster in and liaising with Dick and James Strawbridge to make sure there was no overlap in dishes. The most popular dish was crab claws which had sold out by the time we got there.

I had lobster roll with chips – perfect festival fodder, messy food, high in carbs but felt like a bit of a treat. Delicious. Priced at the top end of the fast food on the site at £15 but then the Strawbridges were asking for £18 for a butterflied lobster tail.

Sipsmith cocktails:


Mid-morning churros and chocolate.


Biggest festival food regret:

Not entering the jam competition with first prize being the opportunity to be sold at Fortnum’s!


















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