The grass is dry, the wheat is harvested, the days are hot but the breeze is cooler. My first Suffolk summer has been incredible and now I can sense autumn’s figure standing at the door, bringing with it that sense of change, with a hint of melancholy. This is how I feel after my last event at The Table.
I’ve been getting to know Woodbridge and its surroundings through its food – collecting it, cooking it and serving it. And so far its been a wonderful time. I’ve worked with Vernon and his colleagues at The Table for three more events and each was successful, exciting and rewarding in its own way. The latest was a ‘Lazy Breakfast’ street food night. Prepared and served in the restaurant’s expansive yet cosy courtyard, the evening had a truly joyous, convivial atmosphere, with the DJ’s soul records and the buzzing conversation. The food was a mixture of international breakfast classics – shakshuka, cornbread and bacon, blinis and smoked salmon, kedgeree, and cinnamon french toast – and the twist on the street food theme was fully embraced by the crowd of diners.
But the event that meant the most to me this year was my Suffolk Harvest & Summer Feast. It was something I have wanted to do for a long time – bring together some of the best seasonal ingredients from local suppliers and producers, with a substantive haul of tasty vegetables and fruit gathered from the surrounding woodlands, heaths, fields and shores. So I devised the menu:
Woodbridge Tide Mill wholemeal sourdough
Crab croquettes with apple, sorrel and coriander grass salad
Cider-cured mackerel, beetroot, pickled Peppy’s gooseberries and Newbourne white currants, rye sourdough
Beer-braised beef short rib, nasturtium pesto, burnt shallots
Salt-baked sea bass, fennel mayonaise, new potatoes, Deben shore vegetables
Plum jelly and hogweed ice cream
And from there, a vegetarian alternative to each plate, with similar accompaniments:
Carrot and coriander grass fritters
Suffolk yoghurt cheese
Burnt courgette, wood sorrel, Tide Mill wholemeal and greater plantain shortbread
Charred hispi cabbage, wet walnuts
I managed to collect coriander grass, sea aster, sea purslane and samphire from the muddy banks of the Deben – without losing my wellies, just – and wild fennel from higher up. With such a dry summer I was too early for fungi. A small and woodlouse ravaged beefsteak was all I could find. This remained unused. I gathered three kinds of sorrel from the woods and fields, along with greater plantain. From the hedgerows there was
hogweed and blackberries. The hogweed was infused into a custard to make an intriguing and moreish ice cream.
The gooseberries, pickled to go with the mackerel, were from my neighbour.
Nasturtium was overgrown into my garden (from my neighbour). All the bread flours were from locally grown grain and mills.
The Table were able to get amazing Deben-caught sea bass which were moist and sweet from the salt bake, and beautiful, chunky Ketley beef ribs. The croquettes were made with fresh local crab. I spent a lovely Friday morning outside The Table picking these. What was difficult was having to mash up each perfectly revealed meaty claw. Cold-pressed Suffolk rapeseed oil was used throughout. Pretty much everything that could be was from Suffolk, or at least East Anglia.
There was an enthusiastic and supportive mixture of guests – some friends and family, many just turning up on the night, perhaps holiday makers enjoying their own Suffolk summers. All with delighted reports of the meal.
It was a fabulous evening and it has been a stunning summer. I can now turn to new things and prepare for changes and exciting times ahead with confidence and hope.
I have also just found, at last, a nearby sea buckthorn shrub …