Over 200 guests descended on Riverford’s Norton Farm in Hampshire last weekend to enjoy a special ‘polytunnel takeover’ and pop-up feast extravaganza.
Four feasts were served over the weekend with trestle tables set up in the polytunnels and outside, alongside rows of fragrant organically-grown herbs and other greens.
Guests enjoyed a cold drink on arrival as they sat on straw bales and listened to an acoustic singer before heading off for a farm tour, led by Norton Farm manager Chris Wakefield.
After seeing how organic herbs grow on a commercial scale, guests then had the chance to pot their own basil plant, in a seed-potting workshop with Riverford’s head gardener Penny Hemming.
Connecting with the soil was a key theme of the day – not only was food served on tables perched on the polytunnel’s soil surface, but the main course was actually cooked underground in a traditional cooking method used by the Maori people in New Zealand, as well as indigenous groups in the South Pacific.
Masterminded by chef Bob Andrew, a fire was lit in a shallow pit before carefully wrapped and seasoned root vegetables were laid on top of the hot charcoal and covered over with soil, before being left to roast slowly for hours.
The seasonal organic menu was made up of sharing platters piled high with fresh vegetables, including a tomato salad with avocado, cucumber and sunflower seed basil pesto; grilled little gem, broad bean salsa verde and veggie parmesan; baked roots, aubergine steak, maftoul, Wooton White cheese, preserved lemon, harissa and mint. For dessert, there were grilled nectarines served with ginger yogurt and orange blossom syrup.
“My favourite part of pop-up feasts is when we’re clearing up at the end and people who were strangers at the start of the meal are all having conversations about food, what vegetables they’ve tried and what they love,” said Riverford co-owner and events organiser Verity Carter. “It’s the whole idea of connecting over food.
“Another thing I really like is when people turn up on their own and they’re initially a bit unsure, but it’s such a sociable event they always leave having met lots of people.”
The Polytunnel Takeover event was open to the public as a special edition of Riverford’s Pop-up Feast roadshow, which travels around the country throughout the year hosting seasonal veg-inspired feasts for veg box customers at village halls and other community venues.
The next public event is the annual, and now legendary ‘Pumpkin Day’, held at Riverford’s headquarters in Devon, Wash Farm, on 26 October 2019.