The “Holker Hall Chilli Festival” was music to my ears this first time I heard the phrase. I’ve never made a secret at my disappointment that most Chilli Festivals take place “down South” and normally involve a good couple hours drive for me. Holker Hall is about an hour from me. Naturally, I started to pay attention.
The Chilli Festival was an event that started at Holker Hall three years ago in 2013 with some help from The Chilli Pepper Company which is local to the area (The hall itself dates back to the 16th Century so it’s been around quite a lot longer!). It takes place over two days, which is good as I was only able to attend on the second day this year if I wanted to be able to take my wife, which of course I did!
We’ve been to Food Festivals before, but not an actual “Chilli Festival”. We were both quite excited to get out there and see what it’s all about.
The Chilli Festival started at 10:30, but we rocked up at about 11:30 not wanting to be faced with a queue to get there at the start. Fortunately the weather had been kind, it was a gorgeous day.
The car park was full when we arrived but there was marshals instructing you were you could park in one of the gardens. I did feel bad about driving over the grass, but, I guess they didn’t mind so much. It did also mean that parking was ample! It wasn’t immediately obvious there was an event taking place (apart from the parking on the grass which I assume isn’t a daily thing) but a short walk in the direction of the Hall revealed all.
The place was pretty packed already. Lots of people already milling about and taking it all in. I was a little overwhelmed with it all and didn’t know what to do first. My eyes were darting all over the place. In short, I wanted to do all the things.
We had a little mooch around and I saw some familiar faces. Well, not faces, as such. More like people I follow on Twitter and things. Was a bit weird if I’m honest. I kind of felt like I should introduce myself a little. Silly as the Chilly community is the friendliest place online. Also, plenty of places I’d not heard of, which is good – More things to try!
It was pretty much everything I’d hoped it to be. There was everything you could want from a Chilli Festival. I wasn’t disappointed at all. Hot Sauces, Chutneys and a wide selection of jams and other products infused with our favourite fruit. Even beer, which I kind of forgot to go back and get. Idiot.
All the stalls had their wares readily available to try which is great, you get to sample things you wouldn’t normally try. It gives you the chance to taste things you’ve read about but aren’t really sure if they’re for you. It’s all well and good reading about these sauces on the internet and listening to what others have to say about them. Actually being able to taste them for yourself before you buy makes all the difference. I’ve said it before, anyone can make something “hot” given the right chillies, being able to make them tasty as well is an alchemy all of its own.
Of course there is the other side of it; more than once I was stood at a stall tasting the different things and someone would come along, taste something and then express their surprise at how hot it was. Some people hear the words “Hot Sauce” or “Chilli Sauce” and immediately think of the ones that are commonly available in super markets and the like, but, some of these things are on a different level with the heat, and definitely the taste!
It wasn’t all about chillies though, there was a good selection of food stalls though, local farms with their sausages and some local Cheese stalls which got my wife’s attention, and money.
Delicious, delicious farm cheese made from “just over the road” according to the guy that sold it to us from, uhm, Cartmel Cheeses. In case you couldn’t tell…
And, of course you weren’t ever going to go hungry while walking around. Some of the smells comings from these stalls were amazing.
If I could have had something from them all then I might just have done. It was actually quite hard work deciding on where to go for a spot of dinner. Decisions, decisions. Probably worth a mention that even thought I was at a Chilli Festival I fancied a Burger. I managed to pick a stall that didn’t have hot sauce or chillies as a condiment before I’d actually bought hot sauce. School boy error indeed. How did I even manage that at a Chilli Festival? The clue is in the name, surely!
It wasn’t even all about the food tasting either, there was plenty of other things to get your attention with various events scheduled throughout the day.
Local company McClures sent along a Chef who gave 20 – 30 minute cooking demonstrations preparing three course meals quickly and with “relative” ease. I saw two of these partially. The Chef undoubtedly knew what he was doing but then again, he should. I doubt I’d be able to knock the same three dishes up in that time. Kind of like when it takes me an hour to do one of Jamie Olivers 15 minute things. It was good though to see how the professionals do it, and of course you got to sample the food afterwards, if you so desired. So, erm. Yeah. More tasting 😉
I’d be lying if I said I was 100% sure what was happening in the middle of it all. Every time we walked past there seemed to be something else on. There was a band with some entertainment for the kids were they could see they could throw a chilli into a net. They won a prize if they managed it. And, even if they didn’t from what I could tell. Which was nice for them 🙂
To break things up even more there was some Belly Dancers from A Taste of Cairo on hand who danced their way through crowds. They gave demonstrations and showed some of the customers how to do a few moves as well.
So. What did I actually come away with?
Well. As I’ve so far being unable to grow any Super Hot chillies myself, one of the first stalls that caught my interest was Yorkshire Chillies. They had a selection of pods available, I think it was the only one that did.
There was a massive selection to go at, but, I reasoned that I was already growing some. Some of my plants do have flowers, and, if we get a nice long Autumn. I am in with a chance of getting some. Still. I quietly tell myself as I pursue. Anyhow, I buckled. I REALLY liked the Moruga Scorpions I bought last year and, so…
Next up was my main weakness at the moment. Hot Sauce. I can’t get enough of these at the moment. I rarely used to bother with them, but thanks to Chilli Junkies and Devon Chilli Man. I’ve become somewhat of an addict. They’re quick easy, delicious, spicy fixes. Ideally I’d have liked to have taken most stalls offers up on their “3 for £10” offers. But, thanks to a recently sick dog my budget was a little limited for this event…
Witches Brew from The Chilli Pepper Company was a no brainer. Scotch Bonnet? Who doesn’t love those? Only a crazy person! Anyways, LOVED the taster and while their other sauces were gorgeous I was limiting myself to one per stall. This was a busy little place to be, I’d have loved to have said “Hello” actually. I ordered some seeds a couple of weeks ago from this company and had a little problem which was quickly resolved. But that’s a story for another Blog.
Next up to get a purchase was Daddy Cool’s. This stall had some VERY nice tasting sauces, particularity at the “top end”, I was torn between Scorpion Annihilation (Finish Him) (MORTAL KOMBAT!) and Fatalii Attraction. Obviously I chose the Fatalii in the end, mainly because it wasn’t at the higher end of the chilli Richter scale. Some days you just want a nice warming sauce instead of an assault on your one remaining taste bud.
Finally, I wandered by the Wiltshire Chilli Farm stall. Yet again, another stall filled with amazing tasting things. Some of their milder sauces were actually tempting me. When I first tried their Mango Sauce I was pretty much convinced that would be the one I was taking home. Then I came across the Pineapple sweetness of Golden Bonnet. I was sold on it. Instantly. The rest of this story is told in that picture above 😉
As a spice lover, I’m also a massive fan of curries. I can hold Curry up as the reason I’m into spicy food. They were my first real introduction to the world of “heat”.
These days I tend to make just the one curry of my own invention. It’s not because I’m lazy, but, I’ve fallen into a rut with it. I can admit that. I tend to forget that there are other varieties out there and so it was especially nice to come across a stall selling curry sauces, Spicy Monkey.
These things are AMAZING, I tried the Moroccan Tangine Sauce one first, it was Delicious. With a capital D. I knew from that moment I was walking away with some. Even it if it was three of just that one. Fortunately all the other sauces tasted good as well, we decided to take three away with us for our Curry nights. What we couldn’t quite decide on was the other two. She choose one and I choose one. It didn’t really matter which ones they were really, I choose the Hot Monkey Curry with my wife opting for the Persian version…
Which I thought was kind of cool, I’ve been getting into my Ales recently so this was a perfect choice.
Just. No chillies in it.
All in all we had a great day out, it’s located in the stunning scenery of the Lake District so even the drive in was worth the effort. The atmosphere at the Chilli Festival was great, lots for people to see, smell and thankfully taste. Everyone was having a good time, the young, the middle aged and the old. Some people had even brought their four legged friends down for the day.
In short, did I like my first Chilli Festival? Yes. Yes I did. If they do it again next year we’ve already decided we’re going back, the one thing I will say is that we’ll be going later on in the day. We spent about 3-4 hours there before we’d run out of things to do and there was Chilli Eating Contest due to start at 4 o’clock, it meant that we had two hours that needed killing and no real way of doing it. Holker Hall has grounds that could be walked round but they were an additional expense of £3.50 on top of the £6.00 we’d paid to get through the gates to the Chilli Festival.
It would probably have killed those two hours for us but it we’d already spent our budget (and perhaps a little bit more) and there wasn’t any cash machines on site that would allow us to get any more money out, shame really.
I’ve got nothing to compare it with really, only Food Festivals, and in all honesty it was closer to a Food Festival than I’d have thought, just one with more Chilli products. Which is never a bad thing really.
So I guess I’ll see you next year, Holker Hall!