The Manx Food & Drink Festival is an annual event celebrating all that’s wonderful about food produced here on the Isle of Man. For such a small ‘country’ it’s astonishing to find as diverse a selection of fruit & vegetables, honey, flour, eggs, meat, juice, seafood, cider, mushrooms, and more. We’re also lucky enough to have producers who make finished delicacies such as artisan bread, preserves, chocolate, fudge, Biltong, sausages,Tofu, baked goods, and even handmade doggy treats. Just think of the banquet that could be created by using only Manx produce!
Each year I organise a stall for the island’s allotment associations where we chat to the public mainly about the benefits of growing your own. We also provide details on available plots at various sites, composting garden and kitchen waste, and the countless opportunities to grow fruit in vegetables in your garden, containers, and on sunny window sills. The pride you’ll have in cooking and eating homegrown will be the same no matter how big or small your harvest.
We also organise the raffle of a wormery (kindly donated by the IoM Government’s Waste Disposal Department) and a box of homegrown veg, proceeds of which are split between the participating allotments. What’s just as important about the raffle as the funds we raise is being able to showcase the types of produce that can be grown on the island. If you’ve got mainly outdoor space you’ll do very well with the staples of raspberries, courgettes, potatoes, peas, carrots, strawberries, and onions. Through the years I’ve found that more exotic veg such as Quinoa, Achochas, and Japanese Burdock can also be successfully grown in an allotment. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to a greenhouse or polytunnel it’s possible to grow masses of sweet tomatoes, peppers, and even grapes. Given the right situation and determination I’m sure that you could grow most anything on the Isle of Man.
Working with a group of volunteers meant that I could actually spend some time away from the stall without having to rush back after taking a few photos. Even so, I spent most of my time in the marquee where I sampled cheese, wraps, and smoked salmon, and then picked up a pound of Queenies (local scallops) for supper. Delish! A friend who volunteered at the stall took home about five bags of goodies including a litre of golden-pink apple juice from the Apple Orphanage. I wonder which apples produce that gorgeous colour?
Another part of the event that I thoroughly enjoyed was watching the Fabulous Baker Brothers at work in the food demonstration marquee. Present as this year’s major attraction, the two whipped up soda bread, fresh butter, and pan smoked local Mackerel. Sadly I couldn’t stay until the end (and the tasting part!) but I was delighted to catch up with them later on. They both graciously signed my copy of their book and seemed quite your average funny blokes with pints tucked away under their chairs to get them through the signing session. Maybe they’d had a bit too much to drink by the time I arrived because when we posed for a photo they picked me up for what I’m sure they called a sandwich. And yes, I really did squeal which probably makes me a food groupie!
If there were one thing missing from the event it was more of an opportunity to learn how to produce your own food. We start to do at the allotment stall but there’s so much more to home production than just fruit and veg. You could keep honeybees, hens for eggs, or even bake your own bread and brew your own wine. Of course not everyone will have the space or time to do it all but just making a batch of jam will have you thinking differently about which preserves to buy at the shop.
However it’s happened, the journey of how a carrot is grown and harvested or how cattle is raised for meat is missing from most people’s day to day lives. If more people were involved in that process I’m sure that buying habits would change for the better, whether for healthier choices or for ethically and organically sourced ingredients. Maybe this is something that we should think about for next year….