Bilby Bites - the food blog from Bilby Marketing

Fun-Free Food Anyone?

After a lot of deliberation, I decided to visit the Exeter Food & Drink Festival on Sunday 11th April which is Family Day. After all, how can anybody with a food blog miss one of the most important culinary events of the year? The deliberation came about as a result of the diet I am currently on. After a month of feasting in Australia and in celebration of my birthday back in the UK, I decided that I would benefit from a sugar, wheat, dairy, alcohol & caffeine-free month or two to help get myself back in gear. I have done this once before in my life and found it to be hugely beneficial although it is pure torture to start with. However, try visiting a food and drink festival whilst you are trying to cut out anything that is remotely enjoyable from your daily menu. My visit to the festival was therefore going to be slightly tainted, but I really didn't want to miss it and instead I came at it from a different perspective – that of someone with a food allergy or intolerance. Forgive my tardiness in getting this blog entry live, but my disappointment at not being able to eat many things at the festival made writing this one very difficult!

Entering the festival from the Northernhay side, I was immediately drawn to the stand of The Little Cornish Curry Company. Manned by owner Nicky Lewis, the stand had pulled me in with the heady aroma of a cooking curry. Nicky helpfully answered my questions regarding the ingredients of the sauces and spice mixes which are largely gluten and wheat free. Because my challenging diet doesn’t allow me to touch sugar at the moment, the majority of the sauces were out, but the selection was impressive and I made a note to seek them out again once I had released myself from the self-inflicted grip of food hell. Ready made sauces include Indian Korma, Tikka Marsala, Jalfrezi and Madras, red & green Thai curry sauces and a Chinese sauce. They also selll ready made meals including Chicken Korma, Balti & Jalfrezi using free range chicken, Lamb Rogan Josh, Beef Madras, Naan Bread and Fresh Basmati rice. I also found something that I could try whilst on my diet, and that was The Magic Mix, a mysterious blend of Indian spices that can be used to make a variety of curries, including a Korma – simply add funugreek seeds & tumeric - and a Madras – just add fenugreek and chilli flakes. I have used this several times over the last few weeks and it is very handy. You can instantly put together a decent curry, when you don’t have much time, without having to bring together several different spices.

Wandering briefly through the Food is Fun tipi, I spotted the Dart’s Farm team and narrowly avoided ruining my health kick by succombing to the delectable Italian cheeses, pizzas, bread and pasta contained within; pure torture for someone in my position. Moving on into the main exhibitor’s tents it was absolutely solid with visitors. Getting close to many of the stands was quite difficult, even moreso than last year. Whilst there wasn’t much across the entire festival that didn’t contain at least one of the ingredients I was steering clear of, there were a number who advertised that they were free of some.

Gilly's Condiments was one of the first I spotted. Their products are said to be handmade using quality natural ingredients & traditional methods. All products are suitable for vegetarians, wheat, gluten & dairy free, so nearly up my street. Those that I made a note of trying out when I returned to food freedom were Caramelised Pineapple & Ginger Chutney, Chilli & Ginger Marinade and Vintage Balsamic Vinegrette as well as a Christmas Chutney which contains cinnamon, cloves, oranges, red wine and caramel. Oh, and I nearly forgot Strawberry & Balsamic Conserve. Oh boy, let the next few weeks fly past as I have too many treats waiting for me. Technically Gilly’s are based in Oxfordshire so I’m not quite sure where they fit into the South West category, but the produce looks amazing and these unusual combinations have got to be worth a try.

Whilst I wasn’t aiming at visiting any of the alcohol stands, I couldn’t help but spot during my travels, the wonderful chap manning the Brimblecombe’s Cider stand. He so completely embodied what you picture a cider gentleman to be with his fabulous white beard and moustache, that it made me smile. He looked like a very friendly man, but I there was no way I was visiting a cider stand when I wasn’t supposed to be having fruit, sugar or alcohol. I also spotted – yet another note for the future – that Brimblecombe's produce Biltong which is marinated in their own cider using beef from their own herd. My focus instead, was very firmly on cakes the majority of the time, as with my sugar deprivation they all looked even more sensational than usual. I hate to generalise but for many women the cupcake has a magical aura that pulls you in from 100 yards. I wasn’t disappointed as there were a number of producers exhibiting their dreamy pastel delights. The cupcake trend has swept the world and what a lovely trend it is – much better than Glee or Twilight which are way too ethereal in their pleasure giving. A cupcake keeps on giving, particularly when it comes to calories. Absolutely Cupcakes, Big Buns Cupcakes & Cakeadoodledo were amongst the exhibitors showing off their glorious fayre, all of which I was forced to avoid due to their wheat and sugar content.

Kay's Cakes, however, tell a different story as they are all made using naturally gluten-free, wheat-free flours such as rice, potato, tapioca and polenta (maize meal). Some are also dairy free. Based in Dawlish, Kay began making the cakes as a result of her own wheat issues. Kays cake range includes 1lb loaves of lemon drizzle, carrot, devon apple, sour cream and cinnamon & ginger fudge. She also produces larger 9” round cakes for wholesale as well as brownies, slices and cupcakes. If you are looking to try them out they can be found in various shops and cafes across the West Country including Dart’s Farm, Otterton Mill & Crealy Adventure Park. I have my sights set firmly on the ginger fudge loaf cake. Finally I have to give a mention to arguably my favourite stand of the day, Muffin Heaven, who make luxury muffins that can also be delivered as a wonderfully alternative gift. These muffins are not wheat or gluten free, but they were too attractive for me to ignore. Their Muffin Hug concept is genius – instead of sending someone you care about a bunch of flowers or chocolates, you can choose an individual, decorated muffin with a personalised message for £10 and for an extra £1 you can add a candle or sparkler. If one muffin isn’t quite enough for you, boxes of 4, 8, 12 plus a Keepsake Box of 12 are also available. The flavours are different too and include Chocca Mocha, White Chocolate & Raspberry, Cider & Apple, Honey & Lavender, Chilli Chocolate and Lemon & Vanilla. The cupcake craze will merrily continue to please us, but I’m all for a good muffin and Muffin Heaven have thoroughly piqued my interest.

In a strange way, I really enjoyed the festival this year despite it's challenges, but next year’s festival will be a different story. I’m most certainly not planning to be avoiding anything that contains sugar, caffeine, alcohol, dairy or wheat and so I will be able to indulge in all the wonderful produce that the South West offers we happy locals.