A year of local food

IT’S been quite a year for those who love good food, so grab a cup of tea and that last mince pie, and let’s look back at a few highlights.

Street parties

The Diamond Jubilee and Olympics were fantastic for bringing the community together and our area hosted more street parties than any other in the country.

We dragged out garden furniture, baked Union Jack cakes, drank fizz from plastic beakers, and spoke to the neighbours.

The villages did it all with vintage style: Kimpton held a Best Of British summer fete complete with dancing around the maypole. Wheathampstead held a “Jubilympics” with a giant picnic and Bonny Baby and Glamorous Granny competitions.

The Herts County Show in Redbourn had a Jubilee and Olympic theme and showcased British food, and St Albans’ very own Hedges Farm won prizes for their well-loved cows.

St Albans town centre hosted a huge street party with tables and chairs filling Market Place. We showed that if we have a good excuse, we love a party, and of course, sharing good food is at the heart of that.

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Markets and local food

Our local farmers’ markets and street markets continue to thrive, and seem busier than ever. We now have more local stallholders at the farmers’ markets, and you can find interesting food that isn’t available in supermarkets.

Some stalls offer very good value, particularly the vegetables, meat and country market stalls, while others are for treats.

You can buy excellent local apples, cheese and bread, although this year the low apple harvests meant that Highfield sold out of juice in just a few weeks.

The St Albans Food and Drink Festival finale in Market Place was jam-packed, helped by the perfect autumn weather. It was a lovely celebration of our independents, from the more established restaurants doing outside pop-ups, to the one-person entrepeneurs who simply set up a stall to sell their own chutneys or flapjacks.

It showed that there is plenty of good local food out there, and that we are very happy to eat it.

The Festival continues to do well, with all events selling out and the town centre events being packed. This could grow even further with more investment – please keep up the momentum St Albans council!

We also found our first Young Chefs of the Year during the Food Festival, hosted by Oaklands College. The judges were hugely impressed by the skills of the 14-15 year olds; real talent for the future.

Rise of the independents

Plenty of new businesses thrived this year. The Foragers at The Verulam Arms and The Bakehouse showed that if you have a good idea, do it well, and work really hard, you can have a success on your hands.

Both went on to win awards at the St Albans Food and Drink Festival Awards, and are busy whenever you go in. I think the key to both of these was the fact that they chose to focus on good quality British food.

We are bored of going into pubs where the food is from the freezer, or into cafes where all the cakes are from the same industrial warehouse bakery.

Starbucks customers voted with their feet after the tax furore; I hope they walked just the few steps it takes to discover one of our many excellent independents nearby.

Lots of entrepeneurs chose to start small. Absolute Indian Cookery School, Juice Dub, The Local Kitchen, St Albans Delivered, Queen of Herts, and many others have taken a great idea and got on with it, whether from a van, a small premises or from home.

High street shop rates mean that not everyone can afford a town centre presence, but that isn’t stopping them. We are also very lucky to have Godfrey’s Fish and Chips in Harpenden – more on them soon!

Many of our local independents found national recognition. Winner of Best Local Bar at the Food and Drink Festival Awards Mokoko also won Best Spirit Bar in the UK (The Great British Pub Awards), beating bars in many major cities.

The Pudding Stop was a finalist in the prestigious BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards.

Lussmann’s won the RSPCA Good Business Awards winner in the Independent Restaurant category and went to 10 Downing Street in recognition of their Sustainable Restaurant Association credentials. Hammonds End Farm and Redbournbury Mill were visited by Paul Hollywood and will feature on his new BBC show.

Thinking of others

Even in lean times there are plenty of people thinking of others. A group of campaigners are striving to bring more Fairtrade awareness and goods to St Albans, and hope to regain Fairtrade Town status for St Albans.

In church halls, schools and fairs all over the area, cake sales, barbecues and harvest suppers bring people together and raise funds.

Pat Ring took this a little further than most and aims to raise �10,000 for Iain Rennie Grove House from the sales of her book “Cake”. Liz Thompson (Queen of Herts cakes) raised nearly �800 for the MS Trust and Help for Heroes from a cake sale at her home.

Many pubs in the area continue to be the hub of their community, and you can find good food, good beer, and a warm welcome in many, as always in St Albans.

I have written this column for three years and it has been a joy to talk to fellow food enthusiasts – there is always something interesting to cover in the local area.

If you have a local foodie event or new business that you would like to tell us about please contact hertsad@archant.co.uk.

You can also look back at past foodie articles and contact me directly at my blog thelocalfoodie.wordpress.com