Sunday, 5 October 2008

"Can I have a decent sized bunny please?"

This weekend saw the first ever Darlington Food Festival.

We missed it yesterday by going to Gateshead to buy Carl some new corals and shrimps for his marine aquarium from the dudes at Cyberaquatics. That night I made seafood stir fry - and yes I am aware of the irony. Cyberaquatics has been branching out, and now stocks snakes, lizards and various cute furry rodents, including "Classic rabbits." Quite what was classic about them I don't know, they just looked like your average bunny to me. I think they must have had a population explosion though, because there were five little bunnies in one cage, and they were priced at £6. Not bad! They were pretty big too - I silently named one "Lunch" and seriously considered getting one for the ferrets (a bag of ferret food now costs £5.49...). Carl told me I was cruel. I don't think the ferrets would have agreed.

But as usual, I digress...

This morning we toddled down to the food festival, held in the Market Square. The website claimed there would be "around 100 stalls". There wasn't, but as the Darlington Councillor shows on his blog (with a video) it was absolutely packed on both days. Typically, the first stall we encountered was a guy from Wakefield selling exotic curry mixes, chutneys and pickles. Carl got his beloved Lime Pickle, I tried an award winning aubergine chutney (with aubergines grown in Yorkshire), and picked up some tips on marinating paneer... After that we spent quite a while "sampling" artisan cheeses from Wensleydale (caramelised onion cheese being the favourite here). Of course I had to try The Coffee Company (the only one?) - who had a proper espresso machine with a hand pump. We were accosted by a wandering band with trombones all dressed as chefs outside the Caribbean food stall, and also by a bloke dressed as the mad hatter, advertising the Mad Hatter Tea company. Having sampled that North-East staple foodstuff - chorizo, we bought plenty of exotic sausages from Broom Mill Farm near Bishop Auckland, including chilli,lime and ginger sausages which I can't wait to try.

Inside the main tent there were cookery demonstrations done by a "TV chef" who I'd never heard of, (having looked it up, it turns out she's on This Morning - never having got up in time for that, this could explain my ignorance!). There were also more stalls - fantastic Pie Men with proper thick pastry pies crammed full of Serious Meat. We tried a Cumbrian Rocket from the dried meat stall- a fiery hot pepperami type thing. There were also a few fudge stalls which my parents would have loved, more cheese, and more sausages. One stall was decorated with a load of feathers- ah ha! A purveyor of the finest ostrich meat! - steaks, mince, pies, even a joint of sorts, constructed with ostrich and chicken breasts. From Preston!

I really, really enjoyed the festival, it was great (and inspiring) to see really good quality produce available fresh, often organic, and well, just Real Food I suppose. There was one stall selling t-shirts promoting the Slow Food Movement with lots of information leaflets, which I relished until I noticed it seemed to be mainly about things happening in Italy. There were several other stalls which we didn't get a chance to see, but with the exception of our sausage man, nothing was spectacularly local. Sure, Wensleydale, Wakefield, Cumbria and Preston aren't that far away, but then chorizo, lime pickle, and ostrich steak aren't really typical dishes of Northern Britain either. There was some black pudding on offer, but I was expecting to see more "traditional British cuisine" from "local" sources. - But then, I wouldn't even know what that would entail actually.

But back to the point...between the fabulous pies and the Cumbrian Rockets, there was another miscellaneous meat stall. It had beef sausages with Newcastle Brown Ale in them, which was good, but it also had a huge tray of vacuum-packed (but still bleeding) rabbits and hares. These,even without their heads or skin, were far larger than my "Classic Rabbit" Lunch, and considerably less messy to consume. I proffered a fiver, asking "Can I have a decent sized bunny please?". I got one. I love rabbit - it has such a distinctive smell, and really rich taste. We wandered home to cook it for Sunday lunch. ("Lunch" went into a casserole, with red wine, onions, carrots, parsnips, garlic, rosemary, and my own secret ingredient, a double shot of espresso - and very nice he was too. The ferrets approved of the leftovers as well!)

On route home however, I saw something which shook me to my very soul, sent icy shivers down my spine, and produced indignant levels of bile in my stomach.

They're putting a fucking TESCO EXPRESS in the Cornmill!!!!! Aaaaaaaaaaargh!!!!!!
Darlington actually achieved a certain claim to fame in a wonderful book called Tescopoly by Andrew Simms - we are one of very, very, few towns in the UK that doesn't have a Tesco. In fact, we saw off Tesco when they planned to build a massive one right on the corner of the market square, 200 yards from Sainsbury's. Three planning applications to turn an old petrol station on North Road into a mini Tesco have already been rejected as well. Go us!! We shall RESIST!!! Or so I thought. But no, for some INSANE reason, someone, somewhere has agreed to let the corporate monopoly take over an empty unit in the shopping centre.

It just makes me so angry that this is being built, when there are small, independent,companies offering fantastic quality food from a few miles down the road. Instead of supporting our indoor market and shopping there, it's a safe assumption that a good proportion of the Darloite population will traipse round a generic, soulless supermarket buying completely unethical, mass produced, over processed, unseasonal food shipped in from the other side of the globe - because it's "convenient." Tesco is "easy" and non-scary. Food is 'sanitised' and made appealing by packaging; it looks safe and uncomplicated to prepare. My Lunch bunny was quite literally bones and blood and guts in a bag - turning him into something edible was quite a task. But it was completely worth it, and I far, far prefer eating like that. Hopefully events like the Darlington Food Festival will convince other people of that too!