Fresh foodie ideas at Rothamsted festival

Rothamsted café

Rothamsted café - Credit: Archant

Did you make it to the Rothamsted Festival of Ideas weekend? It was a rare opportunity to explore the extensive site and find out what goes on. We went as a family and it was brilliant to learn about the world-leading research going into our food production – and the food available there was excellent too!

A Parker and Vine salad.

A Parker and Vine salad. - Credit: Archant

With the world’s population growing by the second, one of the challenges we face is how to feed everyone. Rothamsted do research into plants and crops and how to make sure we can grow enough around the world to eat. I was interested to see a chickpea plant for the first time – you need a huge plant to harvest enough for one tin of cooked chickpeas! We also saw lots of varieties of wheat and rice, which my teens had never seen before.

We all know that fish is a good source of omega 3 oils, but I was interested to learn that the amount of omega 3 is falling in fish as their food sources become depleted – scientists are trying to find more sources. One plant is camelina (a flax seed), which is a brassica like mustard seed and canola so it can be grown to make amazing oil. The Rothamsted team are working out how to get nutrients from algae into it which is a rich source of omega 3. This knowledge is then sold around the world.

Tractor tours were taking families out to the fields beyond the main buildings (you can walk near them any time) and I chatted to one of the scientists who looks after the crops, sowing, tending and harvesting. There are hundreds of projects happening at any one time, with some taking up just a square metre. They use drones to check how the crops are getting on. Did you know that Rothamsted has also won medals at the Chelsea Flower show, showcasing the plants they grow?

We had a break in the ‘games field’ where there were food trucks ready to feed all the visitors. The girls loved the wood-fired pizza, and I chose Parker & Vine salads from their pop-up tent (the shop is based on Leyton Road). Emilio and his familiar blue van were also there, selling falafel and halloumi wraps. Farr Brewery were doing a good trade in their own beers and Prosecco.

If we had more time the girls would have liked crepes from Nicky’s Little Kitchen who are also based locally – they do the classic sweet options, and also mozzarella, rocket, peppers and ham filled crepes. We ate our delicious lunches sitting on the hay bales that had been dotted around the field for visitors, alongside a display of the high-tech vehicles that harvest the plants.

It was a rare chance to have afternoon tea at The Manor House – this was the original home of John Bennet Lawes who has left such a legacy in Harpenden. You can hire some of the Manor House formal rooms for parties and weddings. Tea and cakes were also served in the main staff restaurant, which is a lovely bright space. And the good news is that the staff restaurant is open to the public all year round, so if you didn’t make it to the Festival of Ideas but are curious about the site, you can pop in.

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A cooked lunch is excellent value, with soups at around £3 and main courses for under £5. They do a good choice of puds and bakes such as brownies, so perfect for a coffee break if out on a walk. There were picnic tables outside and plenty of space on the grass to sit if it gets busy.

We don’t always pause to think about where our food comes from, and many of us take food security for granted.

Having this research take place right on our doorstep is fascinating, and I am delighted we got the chance to discover more about the work taking place.