Whilst for those of us stuck here in changeable old Blighty the prospect of a Mediterranean Food Festival might seem slightly bizarre at this time of year,
at the National Botanical Garden of Wales it would be unthinkable to hold such a celebratory-sunshine event, at any other time of the year.
But, why…? Well; for those who haven’t visited the Garden, it’s certainly well worth the trip: there is so much for the family to see & do across this beautifully-landscaped, extensive site.
And the ‘crowning glory’ is the Great Glasshouse,;which is the largest single-span glasshouse in the world, covering some 3,500m², protecting & conserving some of the most endangered plants on our planet.
And right now things are looking particularly spectacular; for whilst many of us are still only just starting to hail the first modest green shoots of Spring putting in an appearance, here in the Glasshouse the plants are ‘blooming lovely’! Because of its’ floral inhabitiants the Glasshouse sports a balmy, year-round Mediterranean climate; hence it is a particularly wonderful place to visit on an otherwise seemingly typical blustery-changeable UK weather-weekend, such as this.
To celebrate the sultry Mediterranean Spring erupting naturally in the balmy environment of the Great Glasshouse (wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the UK, I can tell you!) the finest artisan food producers gathered together to marry their diverse talents & applaud this multi-national Gourmet Food Festival; accompanied by diverse folk & even opera music to enhance an already warm-&-relaxed atmosphere.
With our traditional-yet-uniquely-modern goats’ milk recipe & crafting traditional Italian-style gelato made only with pure, natural igredients rather than just ordinary ice cream, as we do; we’d been privileged in our invitation to participate.
Tony & I hastened to the event; & after some initial confusion (there was also a Plaid Cymru* conference going on elsewhere in the grounds, & we were sent there by a confused car park attendant) we set out our stall & I got ready to trade; as Tony was returning to the Ffarm to finish the chores before ostensibly returning to assist me.
Trading was initially quiet; with the first visitors only trickling in at around 10.15am. I generally find that mornings are inevitably slow for us, anyway; apart from the occasional child shyly purchasing a cone things don’t usually ‘hot up’ until around lunchtime. And with the weather outside somewhat cold & with an inhospitably grey sky even though the temperature within was comfortable ,there were initially few takers for our frozen treats.
Mind you, the other traders found things similarly laid back; plenty of customers drifting past but few actually purchasing. I soon had a solid, reciprocal trade going on with the marvellous chilli-&-chutney company, WhyNotHot; we’d met before at the Llanwrtyd Wells Food Festival a few weeks before & again sent customers to one another; mine, if they felt they needed warming up after consuming gelato; his, to cool down after eating ultra-hot chilli!
Fellow goat-keepers & food producers Kid Me Not were also there, selling their diverse range of chocolates, cheeses & fudge (try the orange & ginger – delicious!); & a gentleman selling crêpes & wine – who we thought was onto a winner. In fact we were all excitedly looking forward to pancakes for an early lunch when he was abruptly forced to close his stall; as ironically the unusual climate in the Glasshouse wouldn’t permit his hotplate to work properly. So there were rumbling tummies all along the aisle as a result….
Situated as we were at the end of the traders’ row, we were adjacent to Ferranti; who sell gorgeous olive oil from a venerable 800-year-old grove in Spain. I just had to buy a bottle of the delicious Sevillenca, its taste evocative of my many wonderful memories of the time I lived out in Italy for a while. Mopped up with a chunk of rustic, crusty Mediterranean bread it proved the perfect snack for the weekend’s balmy climate whilst cocooned within the great glass dome.
We were stunned by the talented opera singer, & I offered to translate for eager visitors:
“Oh yes, now she is waxing lyrical about the amazing Lovespoon gelato, how it makes her want to sing – & that its’ cool, velvety texture is perfect for her voice”, I intoned casually as I scooped, whilst they bust into laughter at my opportunism. And when the man with the maracas struck up, & I had a scoop in each hand….well, it was my chance to have a dance – & it certainly attracted some highly-amused if curious customers!
At around lunchtime the pace picked up considerably; & I was soon scooping like a madwoman whilst there was still no sign of Tony. He did attempt to telephone a couple of times, crossed wires assuming that I’d call if I needed his help; however of course as I was so busy I had no chance of answering.
At last there was a brief lull, & I managed to contact him.
“Where the Hell have you been?!” I sputtered angrily. “I’m rushed off my feet, here.”
“Oh, sorry; I thought you were going to call if you needed any help. I did try ringing you, but…” his voice tailed off apologetically.
“Some assistance would be appreciated – I haven’t stopped all day.” I snarled. He eventually arrived at around 4pm – just in time for a few final scoops before helping me pack up the stall until the following busy day (where thankfully we did work together – although ironically it was a little quieter & I could have just-about coped alone).
I immediately took a much-needed break having not had a chance to pause, all afternoon; exhaustedly snatching a cup of coffee & going for a wander around the now near-deserted Glasshouse.
Strange, hollow sounds were emitting from a far corner of the ‘globe’. Was something wrong with the climate control, I mused, as I strolled out of Chile & across into Australia. To my surprise in a shaded alcove sat an Aborigne playing a digeridoo, eyes closed, lost in a faraway world of his own.
He was there again the next evening; the echoes reverberating rhythmically, atmospherically, around the insect’s-eye canopy of the dome. A strangely small world…..
*Plaid Cymru – the leading Welsh political party.