Foodie Hampshire

For me, the food is one of the best things about being in Hampshire. I adore the picturesque scenery – the views on a ramble through the New Forest or walk along the South Downs are simply stunning – but even they’re made better by knowing there’s a flask of fresh, fruity cordial in my backpack.

The thing is, with all the farms, dairies and bakeries in the area, there are just so many people here willing to take time and care over what they’re growing, making or cooking up. So in case you’re planning to take the hour-long train ride out of London on a day-trip, to drop in on relatives for the weekend or come and stay at Riverside Cottage, here are a few of my favourite ways to satisfy your appetite for local, independent flavour while you’re in the area.

Picnic in the Paddock

When I’m at Riverside on a clear day, one of my favourite ways to while away an afternoon is over a lazy, tasty picnic. I might only be heading out to our paddock, but I love the ritual of packing up a basket of goodies for the family. I don’t always have time to jump in the car and do the rounds, of course, but if I did, this would be my dream hamper:

Hill Farm Apple Juice

It’s so much fun choosing a new flavour to try from the juices made on the farm in Meon Valley. They have everything from traditional cloudy Hampshire apple juice to English russet, Cox & Bramley and, in autumn, apple with damson and sloe.

Lantern Bakery Bread

Everything at the Lantern Bakery is organic – from the cakes, pastries and biscuits to all kinds of bread – and since they’re part of the Real Bread Campaign, it’s all made the old-fashioned way too. There’s everything from cheese buns with a pumpkinseed topping to walnut, sesame and harvester breads, and since the bakery is part of the Lantern Community, all the profits go back into the charity.

Hampshire Cheeses

There’s nothing quite like getting stuck into a good gooey camembert out in the sun, and Tunworth Soft Cheese have got it spot on. But don’t just take my word for it; I hear Raymond Blanc, Neal’s Yard Dairy and food critics at The Times and The Observer are fans, too.

Riverside Treats

It wouldn’t be a Riverside picnic without some of our own goodies; I always pack one of our tasty jams or marmalades to spread on my crusty bread, along with a flask of lavender tea and a few packs of Bonilla crisps. As for the picnic blanket, that’s one of our luxury cashmere throws, of course!

Best of British

Psst… Alright, I’m cheating a little here. These guys aren’t from Hampshire, but they’ve got to be among the best of British.

First up: Patchwork’s flavoursome Welsh pâté, which you can get online or pick up at delis all over the place. You can’t go wrong with something hearty like their chicken liver, mushroom and ale pâté; and they even do veggie versions such as spinach and nutmeg or Tuscan bean.

Then there’s The Garlic Farm in the Isle of Wight. Again, you can get their goodies online, and this time they include super-tasty snackage in the form of their wild garlic mixed nuts; flavoursome and prettily packaged in a Kilner jar you’ll find a hundred uses for.

Finally there’s the picnic basket itself; and I’ve got my eye on the British-designed Optima hampers from Weybridge, Surrey. My pick – the four-person naturals picnic tea basket – comes with everything from plates and cups to cutlery, cool bag and even salt and pepper shakers.

Pubs & Restaurants

When you don’t feel like buttering bread and spreading pâté.

The Black Boy Pub

Not far from Riverside Cottage, this Winchester pub is your traditional alehouse, complete with five local brands and tasty pub grub such as beer-battered cod and chips and toad in the hole. In summer there’s the rustic sheltered garden, and in winter cosy log fires.

The Black Rat Restaurant

Another Winchester stalwart, the Black Rat is something altogether different; converted from its public-house origins, it’s now a Michelin-starred restaurant, serving up the likes of smoked carnaroli risotto, Hampshire wood pigeon, and elderflower panna cotta with New Forest gooseberries, crème fraiche, doughnuts, and champagne sorbet.

The Mayfly Pub

This is one for the fishermen; looking out on the River Test with its famous trout stocks, the Mayfly welcomes outdoor types in from the cold for the likes of salmon and monkfish terrine, rib-eye steak, spinach and mascarpone lasagne and pan-fried sea bass.

The Plough Inn

Over in Longparish, the Plough is the perfect blend of picnic and pub; they’ll bring food out to their garden if you want to lay a blanket out in the sunshine, or you can escape inside if the weather starts to change. Expect to see the likes of roasted quail, butter-roasted cod, and sticky toffee pudding on the menu.

The Wykeham Arms
If you like your pubs with character, you’ve got to give this one a go; from the pictures crammed quirkily all over the walls to the inventive ways its dishes are served, it’s a talking point from bar to secret garden. Personally, I can’t wait to try their new menu; think rack of lamb, fillet of bream, Hampshire beef burger and delicate desserts.

The Drift Inn

Right in the middle of the New Forest, The Drift Inn is the place to be during pony-sales season, when you can watch all the action across the way at Beaulieu Road Station over a real ale and a doorstep bacon, Brie and cranberry sandwich, or a plate of box-baked camembert with crudités or Fordingbridge trout baked whole.

El Sabio

That precious local produce meets authentic Spanish ingredients at the family-run Winchester tapas bar and restaurant. You’ve just got to try the bite-size meat paella, patatas bravas, char-grilled chorizo and hand-rolled pork and beef meatballs.

Cook it Yourself

…and when you feel like doing it all from scratch.

Fungi Foraging

From late September to late November, it’s worth getting out and about in the New Forest on a fungi foraging course; you’ll soon learn to tell your chanterelle from your oyster and your bay bolete from your amethyst deceiver (yes, really).

Winchester Cathedral Harvest Festival

The first weekend in October is all about the Winchester Cathedral market; which is, ahem, jam-packed with local produce. This year it’s being held under the tress from The Square to the cathedral from 10am to 5pm on the 5th and 6th, and you’ll be able to pick up everything from apples and game to squash and, of course, pumpkins for Halloween.

Olives in the Alpujarra

Riverside Lifestyle discovers the groves, the food and the culture of a beautiful Spanish region that’s off the beaten track. Their salty, oily tang makes them something of an acquired taste, but so is the sharpness of a crisp dry wine!

Not unlike wine, of course, it helps if you know what makes the olive taste so great. Riverside Lifestyle journeyed to deepest Spain so we could divulge the secrets of the best olives and olive oils. (And not so we could ski, sun ourselves and wander amongst the beautiful Moorish architecture. Honest.)

We hope you won’t mind us telling you that we also happened to stay at Riverside’s own olive grove in the Alpujarra, where the decades-old trees and ‘cortijo’ are looked after by our good friend John Paco, or JP as he is called! A dedicated olive aficionado, it just so happens that he was more than willing to share his know-how about the fruits, food and a few favourite must-dos of the little-travelled region with you.

A Working Olive Grove

“I have about 150 olive trees, which are harvested anytime between November and March. The longer you leave them, the sweeter the olives.”

JP’s trees have to be pruned every two years or so to encourage growth, and they’re watered once a month during the summer. So far, so simpler-life; but it does have its hardships: the olive fly is a major pest. One thing I can’t help loving about his sprawling grove is that he controls it the eco-friendly way: with pheromone traps instead of spraying.

Harvesting is a similar story. “It’s done by teams of people using large nets and bamboo poles,” he explains. “Once picked, the olives have to be pressed within days at the local olive mill, where it’s important to book the first press of the day.” The reason? “To get a cold press, and so your olives aren’t contaminated with other people’s; this gives extra virgin olive oil.”

As it turns out, making sure we get the best-tasting olives back home is a precise business in other ways, too. “It’s important to ensure that olives are picked before they become too saturated with water, or they’ll lose their flavour,” JP says. “Olives that are harvested black are used for oil, and olives that are for eating are picked earlier when they’re green. I harvest as late as possible to get the maximum oil, but it’s always a balance between losing olives to the wind and the fly and gaining the best possible flavour.”

Picking the Best of the Bunch

So what about when we’re choosing from the juicy fruits at our local deli: are there particular types of olive we should be on the lookout for?  “My main olive – the world’s most important, and Riverside Lifestyle’s olive of choice – is the picual, which goes to the mill and is used for cooking, dressing and a healthy diet,” JP recommends. “I also grow some Arbequina olive trees, which are smaller; these olives are bottled and used for eating.”

If it’s the table variety you’re after, tread carefully. “Table olives can be green or black. The green one in Spain is called the manzanilla, and is often stuffed with anchovies or chillies,” says JP. “Another table olive is the Sevillano, which has a low oil content and is only used for pickling.”

Tasty Olive Dishes

Spanish cuisine is the perfect way to introduce olives into your diet without overdoing it on the flavour front. “Spaniards use olive oil instead of butter or vegetable oils on the whole, and often enjoy tomato and olive oil on toast; called tostada con tomate,” JP enthuses. “I personally enjoy a small thimble of pure oil first thing in the morning.”

If a shot of the slick stuff doesn’t do it for you, there are subtler ways to get more of it on the go; and top of JP’s list is gazpacho. Originally a cold, white soup from Malaga served with garlic and almonds, he tells me that nowadays Andalusians often take it with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. “Allioli – also called aioli, and made with garlic, oil and eggs – makes a really strong mayonnaise,” he adds. “There’s also all manner of tapas that uses olive oil; I especially like fried fish dishes like whitebait, or ‘boquerones’ in Spanish.”

The Riverside Lifestyle in the Alpujarra

Okay, I hold my hands up: we didn’t spend the entire time we were in gorgeous Órgiva on the olive trail. But let’s be honest; it would have been a travesty to come all this way and miss out on the local area.

JP was attracted to the place by its history and architecture, and the desire for the ‘campo’—or countryside—lifestyle. But there’s more to it than the fertile, temperate land that so loves his olives.

“The Alpujarra is noted for the white villages with their Moorish architecture, and the large number of people who pursue an alternative lifestyle,” he explains. They’re a people after my own heart, finding their own balance between working and making the most of life. “There are all sorts of walks, monasteries and working artisanal farms nearby, and you can stay in anything from a bed-and-breakfast yurt to an alternative therapy centre or even a Buddhist community.” As soon as he mentioned it, I knew I had to visit one of these during my stay; namely the O Sel Ling Buddhist monastery in the mountains above Órgiva.

Setting off by car I wound up and up the mountain path, passing the pretty whitewashed villages of Bubión, Capileira and Pampaneira on my way. You can’t help but notice that despite their similarities, they all have their own character, from their artisanal stalls to the quirky cafes and restaurants.

Eventually my little car could take me no further, and I climbed higher and higher on foot. Up here in the remote peaks, I passed the occasional converted house and scenic wooded areas, finally reaching 1,600 metres and the palato of O Sel Ling itself. Serene and spiritual, there was no-one to be seen; but that didn’t matter with a view like this: the Tibetan-style building, the colourful bunting fluttering in the breeze, the delicately carved and painted artworks, and the misty mountain vista.

Beyond the Groves

It wasn’t just the monastery; from the Riverside plantation there was beauty in every direction: the snow-tipped Alpujarra mountains are flanked by the Sierra Nevada and the Mediterranean coast.

“The mountains are perfect for skiing, trekking and horse-riding,” JP tells me; and he isn’t wrong. Later that day I find myself riding in the hills among the orange trees and olive groves, where views of the mountains and the sea are stunning. The pistes of the Sierra, meanwhile, are popular among locals, but a burgeoning discovery for outsiders, which means they’re free from the crush of tourism you might expect.

“Granada is only 45 minutes away, and the coast is about 30 minutes,” our olive gourmand promises, and sure enough, I’m just a short drive from the jaw-dropping beauty of the Islamic and Christian architecture and gardens that mingle in Granada and the Alhambra; a place where the light is especially striking at night. The Moorish poets mused that it was ‘a pearl set in emeralds’. And I have to admit, they have a point.

Homemade British Jams and Preserves

Don’t you just love a good dollop of jam? On toast or crumpets, lining Wonderland-style tarts, or stirred into hot rice pudding, a spoonful of the sweet stuff is a simple way to add zingy, fruity flavour to good food.

If you’ve ever thought about whipping up your own preserves, Riverside Lifestyle jam-maker extraordinaire, lets us in on everything from how to choose the best British produce to her top tips for balancing the flavour. Let the cooking commence!

Riverside: First things first; where do you get your fruit from?

Whenever possible we try and source our produce locally; our strawberries and rhubarb are grown eight miles from my kitchen, raspberries and gooseberries are from Andover and we’re lucky enough to have a great wholesaler close by who also sources locally. Obviously we can’t always do this; I’ve yet to find Hampshire mangoes, but who knows, maybe one day! Read more