Well, the General Election is upon us. At least with the Real Food Festival we have a prospect of something which is honest, good and wholesome. Unlike promotional festivals it focuses on quality food and drink, produced sustainably and ethically, from all round the UK. Smaller producers are encouraged to appear by having the cost of their stalls subsidised.
But the festival is more than a simple (though huge) Farmers' Market. Garden Organic will be giving practical demonstrations about composting, seed planting, root crops, worms... the Chefs' Theatre will be led by Raymond Blanc, cookery workshops will involve hands-on participation, learning new techniques and actually producing food. A show called Chocolate Unwrapped is a dedicated chocolate event of talks, tastings and workshops. Public debates on food issues are also promised. It adds up to a very packed day.
The Festival runs from Friday 7th to Sunday 9thMay. Tickets bought in advance are £9.50, while the charge on the door is £15. (However, if you join the Soil Association now, for £24, they will give you a free entry ticket.) Children under 16 are admitted free. You can visit the website here: www.realfoodfestival.co.uk.
Late but not missed: asparagus
Flowers and crops may have got off to a very late start this year but one of the great tastes of Spring - asparagus - is now available. Nick Rumble grows his under cover, but even so he didn't start cutting a crop until late March - almost a month after the normal date. He reckons to continue producing until about the 2nd week in May, when the field grown crop will be ready.
He grows an older variety of asparagus - Cito - which he considers has the best taste of all. Newer varieties may produce more spears and hold their heads longer and so be more commercially viable, but he feels that Cito's taste outweighs its lower yield and less even appearance.
To form your own opinion, go and buy direct from Nick at 46 North Road, Great Abington. It is probably best to ring in advance (01223 891908) especially on Fridays or Saturdays.
Pork for connoisseurs
Bacon Connoisseurs' Week caught my fancy after I saw two supermarket wrappers, both of which said that the product was from 'outdoor reared British pork'. As in most of it is not outdoor? Perhaps we are too used to seeing Suffolk fields with pigs and their arks to take in what may be normal practice elsewhere.
Anyway, one of the purposes of the Bacon Connoisseurs' Week back in March was to educate us about the range of quality cures available. Some prizes were won by dry-cure bacons (including Marks & Sparks, actually), but there were also prizes awarded to a Bramley apple and Calvados cure, and to an organic beer and black treacle cure.
This latter put me in mind of traditional Suffolk sweet cure bacon and Barwells in Bury St Edmunds (www.barwellsfood.com). Their magnificent Suffolk Black bacon means any trip to Bury St Edmunds should include a visit to their Abbeygate butcher's shop and deli. The bacon is dense with taste - meaty, a little sweet and gently smoky - and a star ingredient for a classic 'Full English'.
If you wish to buy traditionally bred pigs directly from producers who keep rare breeds pig try some of these. Pigs in Parcels (www.pigsinparcels.co.uk) have Gloucester Old Spots (GOPs), as does Bridgefoot Farm Shop at Flint Cross (www.impeccablesolutions.co.uk). Potton Pig Company (www.pottonpigs.co.uk) have Berkshires and Large Blacks.
A tempting opportunity for a comparative tasting is offered by Cambria Farm Shop, Prickwillow Rd, Isleham. Jane Wilton Clark breeds and rears GOPs and British Saddlebacks, but also keeps Oxford Sandy and Blacks, which she considers have the best taste of all.
People used to talk about April and May being the hungry gap in terms of vegetables. However, foragers know how and where to find fresh, free, wild food. Jacky Sutton Adam is running a four week long evening class on the subject, biking, foraging and walking round a variety of Cambridge sites. She expects the group to crop useful amounts of a minimum of 20 different plants, and to learn about preparing and cooking them.
The classes start on 22nd April, running from 7.00 - 9.00pm. For fuller details see www.wildfoodie.com.