Stadhampton was a brief affair though thoroughly enjoyable. The bank holiday weekend at Sudeley Castle shortened our weekend by a day and with the restaurant team fully assembled it was time to start to really get into things. After a wonderful visit to the brilliant Zippo’s circus directed by our very own David Hibling, we were ready for another busy weekend.
We passed an asparagus farm on the way back from Oxford, picked up several bunches and quickly decided on the journey to make an asparagus, stewed white onion and courgette tart. Cooked slowly with cream like you would a custard tart so it just holds its shape (you can’t really call it a quiche!). We also passed a quaint village butchers in Benson with Aylesbury duck legs, beautiful sausages, pork belly and lovely chickens which led me to think of a cassoulet flavoured with pigs trotters and various beans and pulses. This is a dish that reminds me of fishing in France with my Father. We would stop off at the local village and pay 10 euros for a massive bowl of rich cassoulet with confit duck legs and a carafe of wine served by some Madame who has been serving this way for decades. Nostalgia in a dish! Dessert was easy…people love their tea in Stadhampton so naturally it had to be a lemon tea posset with biscotti and raspberries.
As we started packing up the tent on Sunday night it felt as if we had just put it up. As always we received a lovely reception at Stadhampton and we had some wonderful people in the restaurant. The puppet show, having been put on hold due to the lack of puppeteers available, started up again with a new routine helped along by Cal our director and Maxi the magician.
The trip to Blenheim Palace was very pleasant, much more so than that of the journey to Stadhampton with blue skies and a light breeze. The grounds are jaw-droppingly stunning! The vast lake over looked by the grand gleaming palace with pristinely kept lawns, hollow oak trees and of course a mini railway track. Waking up to the beautiful scenery around us made me think Kedgeree, a dish that I love which lets us use a bit of spice and a few more exotic herbs and things that I rarely use at the circus. With this version I’m serving it with some soft boiled duck eggs, samphire grass and some deep fried shallots, a dish which we all know came back with troops returning from India to Scotland.
Looking around Woodstock I realised that there was no butchers, green grocers or fish mongers…. Lovely as it is, there wasn’t much I could play with apart from a man selling strawberries in a lay-by whom I almost completely cleaned out! I decided to revert to the Tamworth pork that we rear at Toti’s farm, Five Acres. I sweet cured some of the bellies last month during rehearsals and left them to hang. Braised for a number of hours the Sel Rose keeps the sweet tender flesh, a bright pink and the skin goes beautiful and crispy. Accompanied by the hot weather, we decided upon a spring green and French bean salad, not cooked al dente but just enough until they start to give and naturally split. Mixed with some harrissa I bought many moons ago in Tunisia, some cocotte potatoes and the main course was complete.
I felt like some more nostalgia for dessert and with the elderflower on the trees racing my nostrils it was obvious how I was going to use those strawberries from the now redundant man in the layby; strawberry and elderflower jelly with bowls of whipped cream and short cake thrown on the table after the puppet show. Perfect.
At last we have a break! The musicians are practicing their juggling on the lawn outside the burgundy wagons as people in the queue for the 2:30pm show look on in amusement. I write this staring out at the interval treats…ice creams, mugs and oversized teapots waiting for the onslaught of famished circus goers. We’re up at 5am tomorrow, London looms and the busiest two weeks on record; the restaurant has sold out once again…