Fergus Henderson on festivals and feasting

After a battery of festivals and feasting, even the élite troops are wounded, writes Fergus Henderson.

Having visited South Australia recently, at last I can write a piece that's in tune with your seasons, rather than the usual stab at trying to imagine what the weather is doing on the other side of the world. Unfortunately the weather had a certain English nature to it - quite fresh and a certain amount of rain - but this did nothing to dampen the spirits, thank you very much for asking. I hear that Adelaide can reach fierce temperatures, so a little cool in the air was something of a relief. But enough wittering on about the weather, and on to the festival, Tasting Australia.

An encampment had been built in the main square, which had the feeling of a food lovers' refugee camp - albeit a very well-equipped and vittled one. I attended two dinners cooked in a nose-to-tail fashion and full of splendid things; it's always an interesting experience having someone take your ideas (once you publish a recipe, it's out there for people to do with it what they wish) and run with them. Though the blood macaroon was possibly a step too far for me; I'm going soft with old age.

On this trip, I noticed that with age you become more susceptible to jetlag. Where I used to cock a snook at the time difference, now I get the feeling of being in a bubble - and a hard one to pop. Luckily there was a fine bash on Sunday night with many chefs, friends and a barrel of Old Tom Gin, which proved to be good bubble-popping stuff.

All hail Australia! The cooking, the concern with good ingredients and the spirit of the new abound.

I sped back to the old country in time for my wife, Margot's, 50th birthday, which entailed various feasts, not least a splendid lunch of spider crabs. These wonderful creatures look amazing, and by golly they taste good, with more than a hint of the prehistoric. The next day we cooked a flock of quail, marinated in pomegranate and grilled on the barbecue, giving rise to the perfect singe. Finally, this three-day Festival of Margot concluded with shoulders of lamb pot-roasted with white wine, broad beans, garlic and asparagus, resulting in a delicious subdued green gunge. After three days of eating (some might say to excess), the garden started to resemble Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, with bodies felled by a surfeit of lunch sprawled across the lawn. There was the hardcore still munching on cheese, but time was almost up even for these élite troops, eventually crawling off somewhere to rest: "Wounded, no dead, sir!"

One would be forgiven for thinking, that's quite enough of a good time, but, we reply, this time it's for the children. The Soho Food Feast is a jolly weekend when chefs with ties to London's Soho (which is many, due to the great number of late-night watering holes) gather and cook small samples of their food: Peruvian, Thai, British, New Zealand, it's all there; and all to raise money for the Soho Parish Primary School. St John filled up the troops with ox-heart buns and pickled walnut dressing - just the thing to soak up Trevor's generous pouring in the wine-tasting tent.

Now there's one more festival to go. It strikes me as strange that the young in Britain can't have fun in the countryside without 30,000 other people covered in glitter and silly hats, all prepared to put up with the most rudimentary plumbing. And there isn't just a couple of these events; you could almost fill your summer with back-to-back festivals, though I'm not sure how your liver or brain would pan out - pickled and fried I should imagine.

For our sins, we are bringing St John to the fields of Oxfordshire for the Wilderness Festival, packing our knife rolls with our bed rolls. I will let you know how I survive the pickling.


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