Friday, November 18, 2011

Crocs in the Fens

The other night I helped out at a tasting evening at Johnsons of Old Hurst. Through a friend of a friend, I ended up manning a stall selling sloe gin, sloe whiskey, sloe vodka,sloe brandy, cherry brandy and damson brandy. Being a person of timeliness most of the time, I turned up early. Way too early. I fell asleep in the car in the late evening sunshine listening to Radio 4 and watching crows on the fence debating whether a toy tractor in the kids yard was a good place to poop or not.

I didn't snooze for long though, my phone woke me with a start. My friend C1 was not far away in Huntingdon. I had an hour and a half before my new-found colleague from Sloe Motion arrived, so she drove up to join me and we headed to the cafe for a hot chocolate. But there was a large modern barn, with a glass side, next to the cafe. And a sign that said 'to the crocodiles'. Who could resist? Sure enough, there were four crocs in or by the pool. You can see a video of them on Youtube.

The farm was in the middle of a building project, there were builders and farm workers running around everywhere. Though the cafe was actually closed, a nice young lady let us have our hot chocolates and I enquired whether the tasting event was to be held in the cafe that evening. No, she replied, she was preparing to feed all the builders. The tasting evening was taking place in the new build outside - which wasn't finished.

Amazingly enough, they did get the building finished enough to run the event. A horseshoe shaped series of barns linked together with exit into the farm shop (stocked with fresh meat, veg and a whole host of wonderful tasty delicatessen type goodies). My new colleague arrived and C1 waved farewell, wishing me luck.

After a thorough briefing on the making of sloe gin, the farm where it's grown and the history of  the drink, I was ready! Thankfully the barn was just about ready too, with a cardboard door to prevent egress without visiting the farm shop.

The farm staff were really friendly and helpful, and I think Sloe Motion were the only third party supplier there. As seven thirty approached, the queue began. And it was a huge queue! Steadily from 7.30 to 9.45 a non-stop stream of general public entered through one end of the barn and tasted their way down sausages, pork pies, multiple cheeses and fruit concoctions to eventually finish their session off with a quick slug of sloe gin (or whisky etc). Of the two hundred or more people who paraded through the tasting alley, I was amazed to bump into two people I knew. Yes, out there in the Fens, nowhere near my usual territory at all. One was the son of my ex next door neighbour, the other a nurse I had previously worked with. They both recognised me (not I them) 'by the earrings', Julie said. Hmm... I am known for my dangly earrings when I remember to wear them.

Generally the evening was a great success with the farm shop doing brisk business and lots of complimentary comments on the various comestibles. As the general public thinned and the tables were bare but for crumbs of their delicacies, we tidied up and chatted. The farmer and his family were very friendly and mostly wore US Western gear. I fit right in with my Arizona cowboy boots!

After I had packed up, I went into the shop and bought some lovely veg and was very kindly given a present of some sausages by the farmer. That was really kind! And, of course, they tasted delicious. They weren't crocodile sausages, but you will be able to buy crocodile meat from him soon.

Photo courtsey of National Geographic
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