Which #Norfolk #market is your favourite – and why?

“The countryside is an enterprising place. According to the Prince’s Countryside Fund, rural businesses contribute £22 billion in domestic food and drink sales to the UK economy every year; while rural tourism generates another £14 billion.

Rural businesses also employ 5.5 million people and range in size from small enterprises to large manufacturing businesses. Measures to help them invest in new premises and machinery and create new jobs can only be good news for the UK economy as a whole, and rural businesses in particular.”

National Farmers Union

Chocolate Torts from Pye Baker

You probably already know that I am passionate about championing local food and drink. I’m particularly keen that we all do what we can to support the independent, specialist producers who are the lifeblood of our rural economy. That’s why I love going to local markets, browsing interesting stalls and sampling delicious delicacies.

We are particularly lucky in Norfolk to have a huge number of local markets, from small monthly affairs in village halls, to established weekend farmers markets and, of course, the Norwich Provisions Market. Although I am slowly working my way round the county, I haven’t had time to visit all these wonderful markets yet. So I would like you to help me by recommending your favourite #Norfolk #market.

As enjoyed by 'Aggers' @Aggerscricket

Now some of you may be stall-holders on a market – and it would be great to hear from you (I hope also to meet you at a Norfolk Food & Drink Network event). But please don’t simply recommend the market because you are there. Instead, declare your interest and then tell us about the other stalls. This is social media after all and it thrives on people sharing information and supporting others.

Thank you for your help – I look forward to reading your comments. Remember: please share the twitter handle, facebook page or website for the market if you know it – as well as the opening times. And the postcode would be handy too – so other people can find it easily

Kind regards

Huw

PS: You can tweet me your ideas too – just use ‘#Norfolk #Market‘ in the tweet to make it easy for others to find and share

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please help a grieving child by donating £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

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Thank you for reading

This is one in an occasional series of posts about social media and business communications. If you find them interesting or useful, please give them a star or five and share with others. I hope you will join the conversation by adding your views below or contacting me on twitter or Google+

Kind regards

Huw 

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

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#NFDF2014 Days out in Norfolk – Part 2: celebrating our food & drink heritage

Naturally, you have all read part 1 of this series on days out in Norfolk (haven’t you), so you’ll know that the following visits weren’t directly food and drink related. However, we didn’t go hungry and in one instance we tried a new (to us) local delicacy – which illustrates the role of food and drink in Norfolk’s tourism offer (as Pete Waters at VisitNorfolk often points out, it accounts for nearly 30% of visitor spending). More importantly, most of the attractions have strong links with or celebrate our farming community both past and present and remind visitors of its importance to the local economy.

WARNING:
This is quite a long post – so grab a coffee (or beer or wine), get comfortable and stay awhile.

Tuesday 5 August – The Great Hospital, Norwich

The Great Hospital (a #Norwich12 heritage building) is an amazing institution that has been at the heart of community life in the city for over 700 years and still provides sheltered accommodation for local people. Although it opens The Lodge each Friday between April and September, the church, cloisters and medieval refectory are normally closed to visitors to protect the privacy of the elderly residents. However, as well as hosting special functions (such as weddings and conferences), the Great Hospital holds occasional open days and we took the opportunity of going along to one during the recent Norfolk Open Churches week.

Aside from seeing this historic building with its beautifully carved dragons in the brackets on the roof beams (much like those in the equally splendid Dragon Hall, another one of the #Norwich12), I was there to see fellow Norfolk Food & Drink Champion Charlie Hodson, who had recently been appointed Executive Chef at the Great Hospital. Over excellent tea and cake (made by Charlie’s talented team) we chatted about how he was introducing more locally produced food to the menus both for residents’ meals and for the grand occasions. If you ever get invited to one, leap at the opportunity because the food will be delicious and you will know that Charlie has paid particular attention to its provenance.

http://www.camrovision-landscapephotography.co.uk/

Blickling Hall by Paul Macro

Saturday 16 August – Blickling Hall

I’ve walked round the park at Blicking plenty of times – it is beautiful in all seasons – and sat in the courtyard to watch an open-air performance of Pride & Prejudice (which was great fun) but oddly I had never been inside the house. So it was a pleasure to finally walk past the grand heraldic bulls that stand either side of the main entrance and step through the ancient oak door into a hall that has greeted royalty, politicians and members of high society for hundreds of years. Now a National Trust property, it has been preserved to look like the family house it once was, with a minimum of ‘museum’ type signs.

It’s a fascinating place, with beautiful furnishings. Although I quickly tired of all the portraits of long dead nobles in their finery (one ruffed earl is much like another), I did enjoy reading about life below stairs and listening to the archive recordings of interviews with some of the last people to serve as butlers and cooks when it was still a private residence. The painted arts & crafts style decorations on the ceiling in the ‘brown room’ had a wonderfully irreverent feel , which perhaps explains why the last lord to live there had them covered up. And the gardens were beautiful, particularly the parterre with its formal structure of yew topiary inter-laced with wide herbaceous borders in hot and cool colours.

However the real surprise, and in many ways my favourite part of the visit, was the little RAF museum, commemorating the women and men who had served at RAF Moulton during WW2. It’s packed with personal belongings from the airmen, photographs, maps, and period memorabilia, including facsimile newspapers you can read and anecdotes from those who risked (and in many cases gave) their lives in defence of our liberty. It really is a poignant place and worth the price of admission alone.

After quickly dropping into the Hobart Gallery to see an excellent exhibition of landscape photos by Paul Macro and Stephen Mole (who have kindly supplied pictures for this post), we headed over to the Muddy Boots café. I’m not normally a big fan of National Trust cafés – there is something of the school canteen about many of them and the hot food never looks that appetising. However, on this occasion I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy a large mug of very good coffee and an excellent scone (that tasted ‘home made’ rather than mass-produced) with clotted cream and jam. I was also pleased to see that, in a nod to buying local, they stocked Parravani’s icecream.

It’s worth remembering that the National Trust doesn’t just preserve fine buildings but is also an active landowner. As well as the woods and parkland, Blicking has around 3,500 acres of farmland, which generate an income to support the estate. This farming heritage is celebrated every year when the park plays host to the Aylsham Agricultural Show – if you missed it this year, make a note to visit in 2015.

<<Grab a refill!>>

Sunday 17 August – Bircham Windmill

I admire bold industrial architecture – and in many ways prefer it to the grand houses of the aristocracy. It tends to be eminently practical and, like all good engineering, wastes little on unnecessary frills and adornments. I have a particular affection for Norfolk windmills – the old type used for grinding corn (or, in some cases, as wind-pumps for draining fields) – in part because they remind me of my family roots.

My great-grandmother, Charlotte Varina Johnson, was the daughter of a Norfolk miller, James Johnson. From about 1850 to 1890 the Johnson family owned two mills (one wind-powered and one water-powered) on Scarrow Beck, which borders the Blickling Estate. Charlotte went on to marry Hubert Burgess, a local farrier, who died in World War 1 having been gassed while tending to horses in the trenches and whose name is on the roll of honour in Erpingham churchyard.

Digression over: Bircham Windmill (which is in working order, although it no longer grinds flour) is not just a fascinating industrial heritage attraction. It is also home to a number of rural enterprises, including an excellent bakery, a craft shop, a campsite and a self-catering cottage. You can either buy delicious breads, cakes and sticky buns to take away – or you can enjoy them as part of a meal in the tea room (which also sells pork pies made by a local butcher – naturally I had to try one and it was delicious).

As well as being able to climb up inside the windmill – making sure you keep well away from the machinery – you can actually walk out onto the little balcony that runs round the tower half way up and even step out onto the platform right at the top by the ‘fantail’ (not for the faint hearted – especially when the wind is gusting Force 5-6 as it was when we visited).  There are various exhibits inside the windmill explaining its history, how it works and how it was restored. It really is quite fascinating and makes you realise just how hard a miller’s life was and how integral is was to the community.

Outside there are various animals for children to pet and feed, including sheep, goats, rabbits and guinea pigs, and there is a pony they can ride. You can also watch the sheep being milked everyday – which is a great way for children to learn that milk doesn’t just come out of a bottle – and you can buy the wool for spinning and knitting. Sometimes you can watch someone demonstrating how they make cheese from the milk. Unfortunately they weren’t there when we visited – but we did buy two of the four cheeses they make: Norfolk Charm, and ‘feta style’ Miller’s Fancy.

Both cheeses were delicious and well worth trying if you can get your hands on some. The Charm had the texture of Wensleydale but with a richer flavour – it worked well crumbled onto hot pasta. While the Fancy had a fresh flavour (I preferred it to traditional Feta because it was less salty but still had that lovely creamy texture) and worked well in a salad with olives. I am not sure if you can buy these cheeses in any other shops – best call the windmill if you are interested – or visit (when it’s not too windy).

http://www.camrovision-landscapephotography.co.uk/

River Bure by Paul Macro

Sunday 24 August – Canoeing on the River Bure

Now I’m probably not the most adventurous chap you’ll ever meet but every so often I do like to get out into the countryside and explore ‘the path less travelled.’ And what better path to explore than a stretch of one of our county’s beautiful rivers? Not the river path mind but the river itself – in a canoe – with some bush-craft and archery lessons thrown in for extra fun. That’s just what is on offer from the Canoe Man with his Swallows & Amazons adventure day.

The Bure Valley is a beautiful part of Norfolk – with gently rolling hills, winding lanes, broad fields and lush water meadows. The upper reaches of the Bure are particularly tranquil because no motorboats are allowed beyond Coltishall and there are no big roads nearby. Aside from the occasional mournful hoot from the little steam engine running on the Bure Valley railway, all you can hear are the birds, the grazing cattle and the wind in the willows.

We joined a group of seven other people (one family up from Cambridge on a day trip and another from London camping at the Top Farm near Marsham) and were led by an extremely knowledgeable young man called ‘Monkey’. Having met at Wroxham (which was pleasantly bustling even at 10:00 on a Sunday morning) one of Monkey’s colleagues drove us to Buxton Mill where we picked up our canoes. From there we paddled downstream for about an hour and a half (at a leisurely pace) to a secret campsite in a small wood near Hautbois (pronounced Hobbis).

After a packed lunch (we all brought our own – so we enjoyed sourdough bread and chocolate brownie from Dozen, as well as home-cooked lemon chicken made with excellent local free-range chicken from Harvey’s) we had fun making campfires and learning about various survival techniques for starting fires – some of which were quite spectacular. We then spent about an hour pretending to be Robin Hood – there is something particularly satisfying about the sound of an arrow thudding into its target.

The canoe back took longer because we were paddling against the (albeit gentle) current and a pretty stiff wind that every so often would sweep the unwary into a bank of reeds – resulting in much muttering and back paddling. It was exhausting but in that satisfying way you get with hard physical work, like chopping logs or digging the garden. The final treat was a small tub of Ronaldo’s ice-cream from the tourist information centre when we got back to Wroxham – a perfect end to a perfect summer’s day – thank you to all the Canoe Man team.

River Bure in winter by Stephen Mole

River Bure in winter by Stephen Mole

Monday 25 August – Gressenhall

We certainly had the best of the weekend weather on our canoe trip – and the worst of it on our visit to Gressenhall. We chose this attraction over the Aylsham Show because our daughter particularly wanted to see the special ‘Village at War’ exhibitions commemorating both world wars.

Despite drizzle in the morning, turning to torrential downpour later, we had a marvellous time and the various groups of reenactors put on a brilliant show in period British and US uniforms and civilian costumes. I was particularly moved to see the ‘farrier’ with his portable furnace – looking much as my great-grandfather might have looked on a rain drenched field in northern France a hundred years ago.

WW1 Farrier at Gressenhall (photo used with permission).

WW1 Farrier at Gressenhall (photo used with permission).

Even without the military themed events, Gressenhall is a fascinating place – if you haven’t been and you have even a remote interest in the history of rural life, you must make a day of it. As well as an immense amount of moving detail about the place itself, which was once a workhouse, there are numerous displays telling the story of Norfolk’s farming heritage both in the main building and down on the farm. One of my favourite rooms in the house looks at the archaeological evidence of early hunter gatherers and the development of agriculture in Norfolk, with an amazing collection of flint tools.

The farm not only demonstrates traditional (pre-heavy machinery) farming techniques but also plays an important role in the conservation of some our native rare breeds – including the magnificent Suffolk Punch, the (to my mind) lovely large black pig, fine Red Poll cattle and Norfolk horn sheep. We were lucky enough to see two of the Suffolk Punch in action pulling an early harrow over the stubble field – it was a beautiful sight and felt as if we had travelled back in time.

Inside the farm buildings there are more displays telling you about the animals, the wildlife on the nature trail, and the people who lived on, worked and shaped this land over the centuries. This is the heritage the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival celebrates each year – so it seems fitting to have visited just days before the launch of the 10th and biggest festival. We hope you enjoy this year’s festival as much we have enjoyed championing it – and we applaud all those who have volunteered to make it such a success by organising so many varied events.

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please donate £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

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About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them (if you do, please give them a star or five).

If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading – best wishes – Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

NFDF coloured logos

Discussing #NFDF2014 Norwich Restaurant Week in #NorwichLanes with @RafflesFood – over delicious Rapido lunch.

NFDF coloured logos

This year is the 10th anniversary of the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival and the organisers are determined to make it the biggest and best yet. The festival is already the largest in the UK – with volunteers running numerous events, both large and small, across the county from 30 August to 12 October. However, this year we want to do more in Norwich – which is where the festival started.

Among the many events being planned is the ever popular Battle of the Bangers, which last year attracted over 5,000 sausage lovers to taste the finest our local butchers have to offer. There will also be the City Farm and a Norfolk Producers market – all outside The Forum on Saturday 6 September. This will coincide with the final day of the reinvigorated Norwich Restaurant Week, which will run from 1-7 September and is being supported by Norwich BID and Norwich Lanes.

The current chair of the Norwich Lanes committee is Jayne Raffles. She and her husband Nigel have been running restaurants in Norwich for 24 years – and currently have three in the Norwich Lanes district: St Benedict’s, The Library and Pinocchio’s. I had the pleasure of meeting them both for a Rapido lunch in Pinocchio’s to discuss their plans for making the most of Norwich Restaurant Week.

Fresh fast food to savour

I have to admit to having a real soft-spot for Pinocchio’s. It’s the place we tend to go for family celebrations, including the day we moved back to Norfolk, the night (four years later) when we finally moved out of a rented house into our own home, as well as various birthdays and anniversaries. It reminds me of the family-run trattoria in Bologna we tried when we visited Italy – with good, honest food, prepared fresh every day.

Nigel, a talented chef who is responsible for the food in all three restaurants, uses local suppliers (such as Easters) and fresh seasonal produce wherever possible. “It’s important to provide great tasting food and great value food, if we are to compete with the big corporate chains. We make virtually all our bread at Pinocchio’s, particularly our pizza dough, although we use a specialist Italian supplier for the ciabatta because they make it using the traditional slow fermentation method.”

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The ciabatta we had for lunch certainly tasted delicious, packed with chicken, mushrooms and pesto. As did the arancini, deep fried rice balls with chorizo and smoked mozzarella, and pin-wheels (rounds of bread) filled with a rich lamb ragu. Sadly I was driving, so had to pass on a glass of Moretti (my favourite Italian beer if you must know) but the homemade Sicilian lemonade was so deliciously refreshing I was slightly surprised the Famous Five didn’t arrive on their bikes with Timmy the dog just to knock back a jug or two.

Supporting cultural life in the city centre

As you would expect, Jayne and Nigel are also passionate about promoting local, independent restaurants. “It’s the independents who help keep Norwich special,” says Jayne. “They stop the city turning into just another clone town and they attract visitors who are vital to the local economy.”

This passion is reflected in Jane’s championing of the Norwich Lanes organisation, which promotes independent businesses in the city centre. As chair, Jane works closely with the Norwich Business Improvement District (Norwich BID) team, which has raised £3m to improve the look and feel of the city centre. Both organisations support special events in the city centre throughout the year.

The Lanes committee is organising four big events this year. The first was the successful revival of Jack Valentine in spring, with Norwich BID’s help. Next up, on 6 July, is the hugely popular Summer Fayre – which just gets bigger and better every year. Then in October the Lanes will support the 5th Sound & Vision festival at Norwich Arts Centre. And finally, the organisers are planning a late night open-shop/open-restaurant event for December (more on this nearer the time).

Meanwhile, Norwich BID will be laying on street entertainment every Thursday throughout the summer. The Head Out, Not Home campaign (which runs 12 June to 28 August) aims to encourage people to stay in the city after work and make the most of the long (and, we hope, sunny) summer evenings. To keep up to date with what’s on each week, follow #NorwichEvenings on twitter or download the BID’s ‘Discover Norwich’ app.

Norwich Restaurant Week

Both Jayne and Nigel see Norwich Restaurant Week as another great opportunity to attract people to the heart of our fine city and raise the profile of its independent food network. “We are trying to encourage all the restaurants, cafés and bars in the Lanes to take part and help make it a week to remember. The Food & Drink Festival and Norwich Restaurant Week in particular are vital to putting Norwich on the map as a modern food destination, not just an historic visitor attraction.”

Jayne and Nigel seem to thrive on being busy – so they are planning three events for the Food and Drink Festival. “We are going to have a Slow Food Festival in The Library (our restaurant on Guildhall Hill),” says Jayne. “The team behind the Aylsham Slow Food Festival (which is also an #NFDF2014 event) are helping to organise this and it will be like an indoor market celebrating the best in regional food.”

Nigel is organising an American pop-up barbecue in the Warings Store: “This will really appeal to people who love succulent burgers and other traditional American food,” he promises. Then, in the third week of September (not Restaurant Week but still during the festival) Jayne will be hosting a special #NFDF2014 event at City College. “Hopefully this will help inspire more students to pursue a career in catering.”

Celebrating our City of Literature’s heritage

Finally, as if all those events were not enough, Jayne and Nigel are planning an extra special event in November to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the reopening of The (Norwich Subscription) Library building in 1914 (after a devastating fire in 1898). This will run from 1-7 November and will involve The Bookhive, Jarrold, the Writers Centre, the UEA’s Writers’ Circle and the Blue Badge Guides. There will be children’s events on the Saturday (including pop-up bookstalls and storytelling) and authors’ evenings (including book signings) during the week.

Now that seems like a wonderful example of feeding the body and the mind – of which I suspect Epicurus would have strongly approved. It certainly works for me. Thank you Jayne and Nigel for an excellent lunch too.

Be a part of #NFDF2014

If you are interested in taking part in Norwich Restaurant Week, please post your details below and the organisers will get in touch with you.

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More info

If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please feel free to post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply. In future blogs I will talk more about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 (see my earlier post about being an #NFDF2014 Champion) – and other food and drink events around the county – I hope you enjoy them.

Thank you for reading.