By Susan Farewell
Years ago, I fell in love with the English Cotswolds for all the same reasons everyone does—the honey-gold buildings, the tidy villages, the cute names (though not sure Upper and Lower Slaughter fit in the “cute” name category). What’s not to love about a place you simply go from one adorable village to another, poking your head into shops with names like “And So to Bed” and “Cooking: The Books" pausing here and there for a pot of tea and a warm scone with jam and clotted cream?
But on a recent trip, I wanted to dig a little deeper, to go beyond being the picture-snapping tourist, to do things that are not on every sightseeing map. Here’s a sampling of what I found.
Every Friday night, a crowd gathers at the Three Ways House Hotel in Mickleton, which is the Home of the Pudding Club, a tradition that was started in 1985. The club’s mission? To “preserve the tradition of the Great British Pudding.” Started in the era when frozen cheesecake and cardboard-tasting cakes were fast becoming the dessert choices at restaurants, it was established to prevent the demise of the Medieval dessert whose basic ingredients are flour, egg, sugar and milk.
To attend the group’s Friday night meetings, you do not have to be a member, but you do need a reservation. The evening starts at 7:30pm with a glass of Elderflower Pressé and an introduction to the rules and history of the club. After dinner, the unbridled fun begins with a ceremony that includes a parade of puddings, including well-known favorites such as Sticky Toffee, Bread and Butter, and Spotted Dick as well as unusual choices such as Sussex Pond and Lord Randall’s Pudding.
Puddings are served with custards and you can eat as much as you like, provided you adhere to the rules. For example, you can only have one pudding on your plate at a time. Cost for the evening’s meal and pudding is 35 pounds. Learn more by visiting the club's site. And…this is just the tip of the iceberg guys. Rumor has it the group is developing a “Wikipudia” and “iPud.”
Games You’ve Never Played
While London might be gearing up for the 2012 Olympics, the town of Chipping Campden is preparing to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Cotswold Olimpick Games. This annual celebration of games and sports was started by a local lawyer, Robert Dover, with the approval of King James around 1612 (though keep me out of this--there’s a bit of controversy about the actual date and question as to whether Dover actually founded the games or just took over from an existing event, and there has been other controversies swirling around the games themselves over the years).
Back in the early days, events included horse racing, sledgehammer throwing and fighting with swords and cudgels. Today, there are other “contests” including an Obstacle Run, a Tug O’War, and the Shin Kicking World Championship. Not sure you’re reading this right? You can watch a video here of contestants holding each other by the shoulders and kicking shins, trying to get opponents to the ground. All in good fun.
The day is festive in every way, with a local Corps of Drums and Pipe Bands as well as cannon fire. In the evening, there are fireworks, a torchlight procession into Campden and dancing in the square.
Cotswolds Cooking Tours
It’s hard not to get excited watching The Cotswold Chef, Rob Rees, prepare a meal. Using only local products (and by local, he means within 30 miles), he passionately whips together dishes some of us can only dream about creating.
Rob runs a Food Centre in Cirencester offering cooking classes which not only show you techniques for cooking itself, but educate you on what to buy when, how to get the most from farm shops and markets and how to use wild flowers effectively. He also conducts food tours that take you to and through the agricultural areas of the Cotswold Hills, introducing you to the area’s culinary inheritances including Double Gloucester Cheese and Old Spot pork as well as its best-kept secrets such as Blaisdon Red plums and River Severn elvers. Spend an afternoon with The Cotswold Chef and you'll gain insight into the local food culture. Learn more about cooking demos, classes and tours here.
Want to try one of his dishes right now? He has shared his recipe for White Onion and Cheddar Cheese soup, here. It's a perfect starter for a crisp autumn day.