I’m pleased to say that I attended my first annual Wokingham Festival this August Bank Holiday weekend (with sunshine!) and given the lively and friendly atmosphere that greeted me there, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it anywhere else. Running through from Friday evening to Sunday night, the event itself is now in its eighth year after gathering growing popularity and success, following the hard work and dedication of local residents Stan Hetherington and Kate Lole. The pair took on the festival from the council six years ago in order to keep it going and now coordinate everything between them (no easy task). It presents itself as a very welcoming community day out (you can purchase day or weekend tickets at a modest price) with something to offer all of the family. Being a big fan of not only food and drink, but music as well, I was in my element for hours on end.
The festival is split into five main areas, having just undergone a change of layout to allow more space around the main stage. You enter into the exhibitors marquee where you will find many award-winning local food and drink items, plus a section of wares from further afield. This leads through to the restaurant marquee where you are faced with an array of delicious cuisines originating from around the globe, in addition to the bar selling a plethora of local ales, lagers, perries and wines. As you walk outside you can see the In-toto Theatre to the right where all of the chef demonstrations and tasting sessions take place. The TradeMark music stage is the focal point – surrounded by plenty of grass for accommodating spectators with additional food suppliers and local organisations dotted around the edges. Finally, there is a ‘kiddie’s corner’ equipped with various outdoor toys and tents offering activities such as face painting and loom band making.
The first thing to catch my eye on Saturday morning was the ‘Medieval Pye stall’ and his fascinating range of gamey treats including, rook, crow and squirrel pies!
This was also my first introduction to the ‘Medieval Squealer’ – much similar to a sausage roll in appearance and invented by Henry the Eighth (story has it) in reference to the noises made by the wild hogs and boars that were hunted during those times. With the addition of a few herbs and spices they were then turned into these delicacies (I liked the sound of the mixed game one – pork, venison, rabbit, pheasant and partridge). In the end my husband opted for the rabbit in mustard and white wine pie which we sat and ate out in the open on our picnic blanket. Very pleasant and tasty it was too.
Now, I certainly don’t have a sweet tooth by any stretch of the imagination (you’ll notice by the lack of ‘puddings’ on my blog) but I stumbled across a lady that really does know her stuff. ‘Mummy Makes…Fudge!’ displayed a huge choice of differently flavoured fudge which I happily sampled. You have to try it to fully understand but basically, she’s got it right. The salted caramel was my favourite and I wasn’t surprised to hear her say that it was her best seller and also the winner of the ‘Great Taste Award 2013’. I went back for more…twice.
It became apparent early on that all of the exhibitors here are hugely passionate and knowledgable about what they do. They were very approachable and talked enthusiastically about their products, willingly sharing the stories behind them. This was also true of the ‘Med Foods Ltd’ stall. They boasted a fine mix of various dried fruits, olives, nuts, Turkish delight and Baklava.
They tried to tempt me with their delicious cashew nuts by offering me a cheese flavoured one with a chilli flavoured one, then inviting me to eat them together. I have to admit they complimented each other well! I was also told that this combination is good for the memory, interestingly.
However, it was the honey coated that got my vote (to be eaten alongside a nice cold beer!)
I bustled my way around and sampled most of the exhibitor stalls over the course of the two days, including ‘Delights of Italy’ and their flavoured olive oils, ‘Ascot Ales’, ‘Chutney Trace’, ‘Deliciously French’ with their great smelling cheeses and lovely looking hams, ‘Shemin’s’ award-winning dairy and gluten-free curry paste (ideal for busy working folk), ‘Kush Cuisine’ Caribbean preserves and also ‘Wren Products’ which is certainly worth a mention. They specialise in gourmet monofloral honey – honey in it’s purest form. It was amazing to learn of the many health properties within each one that can be used to treat a number of ailments. For example, as a long term migraine sufferer, I was told that their lavender honey could offer me some relief, and you only need to use a few drops at a time. I may well indulge in a pot in the near future!
On the sweeter side, my children were thrilled with their treat bags filled with retro candy (bargain at £1.50 a go) from ‘The Sweet Cabin’ who are based over at Holme Grange in Wokingham. I’ll be keeping them in mind for future party bags!
I resisted the urge to get involved with the cakes until Sunday afternoon, when I gave in at the sight of the novelty Belgium chocolate, chilli and orange brownies that had been handmade by some very talented cake decorators/chocolatiers at Yately based ‘A Sweet Affair’. Possibly one of the moistest brownies I’ve tasted to date, with a subtle little kick of chilli as well. Great stuff.
Wokingham Restaurant ‘Miltons’, in collaboration with Cantley House Hotel, were one of the festival sponsors this year, and it was great to have a chat with Laura Robb who manages their weddings and events. They were handing out vouchers for two for one meals in the restaurant, in addition to running a competition to win dinner for two or a nights stay in the hotel. I obviously participated (fingers crossed) while having a bite of their lovely afternoon tea tasters (I can highly recommend the carrot cake – beautifully tangy frosting) and a sip of their prosecco. I think a visit is well overdue.
Speaking of alcohol, whilst perusing the vast array of local ales available from multiple breweries at the bar (Berkshire’s Binghams and Butts to name a couple), I was drawn to the ‘Tutts Clump’ Royal Berkshire Cider which is brewed in Bradfield, West Berkshire. It seemed to be the apt choice, plus with a generous six percent volume, it attracted my attention. I do like a cloudy cider and the medium sweetness was spot on for me. Not surprisingly, I decided that just the one was enough on a Saturday afternoon!
As the bar resided in the restaurant marquee, I was looking for something modest to nibble on to compliment my cider. There was a fantastic selection of hot food to choose from to suit all tastes (I noticed that vegetarians were also well catered for) including seafood or meat paella from ‘Street Food Spain, artisan hotdogs from ‘Chillidogs’, traditional sweet and savoury crepes from ‘La Crepe des Delices’ plus curry and noodles from ‘Thai Style’ for those with a slightly larger appetite. The trestle tables were near enough full at all times during the day time with people happily munching away, which is an indication of the standard of food in itself. There appeared to be a frequent queue at the ‘Roly Poly’ gourmet street food van, where content folk were walking away with giant baps filled with slow roast pork shoulder, fennel and sea salt infused crackling, sage and onion stuffing and apple sauce. Need I say more?
I have a deep appreciation for scotch eggs (eggs in general actually) so naturally I couldn’t help but stop by ‘Kirsty’s Kitchen’ to have a look at her impressive range of handmade treats. The only downside was that I couldn’t eat them all – particularly with them
being so reasonably priced at just £2 a pop. Flavours ranged from her best selling ‘Black Pudding’ (they sold out pretty quickly) to ‘Ploughman’s’ which I decided on after much deliberation. These are no ordinary scotch eggs, they have a wonderful soft set yolk that is deep orange in colour. I am hooked already.
I managed to catch two of the demonstrations in full over the course of the weekend. Sadly, I missed Italian cookery and book signing by BBC chef Giancarlo Caldesi and cocktail mixing tips from Andy Rogers of local bar ‘The Redan’ amongst others. However, I did enjoy an introduction to wine tasting from Michael McAuley at ‘Laithwaite’s Wine’, Binfield. I don’t think I’ll ever drink a glass of vino in the same way again! There was lots of audience participation and of course tasting of fine wines. These sessions are great for bringing new bottles to your attention that you wouldn’t normally select. Their ‘Collovray & Terrier 2013’ particularly stood out, especially as I’m not usually partial to Chardonnay. It’s my new drink of choice.
We cook and eat curry at least weekly at home, so I was really excited to sit down and learn how to make my own ‘Mattar Paneer Sabji’ (peas and paneer) and parathas. Kran Sondh from ‘The CookCurry Club’ which offer a local freshly prepared, wholesome, home cooked Indian takeaway service, gave an excellent tutorial on how to make both of the above which I was anxious to share with my husband. This session attracted a decent crowd and I scribbled away throughout the hour, eager not to miss any top tips. Then we were given the opportunity to try the dish at the end. Paneer isn’t something we usually dabble with and it was certainly good to experience a different type of ingredient within Indian cuisine.
My children had lots of fun at the festival and it was such a help to go to an event that is geared up to keep kids busy. My son enjoyed jumping on the space hoppers and my daughter (being Loom Band mad – isn’t everyone?) was keen to make some bracelets courtesy of Hobby Craft. We were in line for about ten minutes (I could see why they were so popular afterwards) to meet ‘Magic Moments Entertainment’ and they both stood mesmerised as they were made their very own Pink Panther and a monkey in a tree out of brightly coloured balloons. All in under five minutes as well!
I have spoken mainly about the food and drink so far, but I haven’t yet mentioned the fabulous line up of musical entertainment that performed throughout the weekend. I think the beauty of a festival like this is being able to sit down (I saw lots of camping chairs!) and enjoy a drink and a bite to eat, in a relaxed atmosphere with a variety of music. Again, most genres were covered, providing something for everyone. The first acts I watched were Sophy Lole and Nic Thomas. I like an acoustic sound anyway, but both of these solo artists played a very chilled set to the audience that was perfect for a lazy Saturday afternoon.
I left the festival before the evening bands arrived but was glad that I caught Bruce Neil at Sunday lunchtime who drew a sizeable gathering with his skilled guitar work, followed by Talia Smith of ‘The Voice’ who played with a country/folk vibe. By early afternoon you were struggling to find an unoccupied patch of grass!
Later on I witnessed that the Wokingham members of The Rock Choir had the audience (young and old) singing and up on their feet dancing to some of their cover versions (one that sticks in my mind was Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer’!) and Funk Lab continued the theme, belting out recent hits such as Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ and Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’.
For me, the favourite was the penultimate act, a three-piece band called Serious Blues. I must commend the younger lad on lead especially, on both his blues guitar playing and his vocal. The boy’s got soul! Some other festival goers who were stood next to me were in agreement. A brilliant and inspiring ending to my first Wokingham festival experience.
One of the reasons that we decided to move to Wokingham initially was because we really liked the strong sense of community spirit among the people who live here. Social occasions like this are a real testament to that. That said, although it was promising to see new sponsors such as Shinfield’s Michelin starred restaurant ‘L’Ortolan’ showing their support this year, I’m surprised that more businesses in the vicinity haven’t yet jumped at the chance to climb onboard. From speaking to them over the weekend, I can see that the ones who have – both returning regulars and newly recruited – really get a lot out of it and value their time here, as do visitors alike. I hope that it carries on attracting local suppliers and that it continues to thrive, so that we can all benefit from such an interesting, entertaining and enjoyable family event on our doorstep. Great job Stan and Kate…roll on Woky Fest 2015!