A Taste of the Unexpected hits Malvern Autumn Show

Saturday morning dawned bright and fair which was just as well because I was due to drive up to the Malvern Autumn Show, not only to see the pictured Mark Diacono and Joe Swift exchange their top tips re chillis, but also to meet up with a number of blogging and tweeting pals (see here for a full rollcall).

A further treat after reading Mark's book (A Taste of the Unexpected which I reviewed last Friday) was the opportunity to find out more about some of the foods he talks about and to see about sourcing some of them. That and the added attraction of cider and perry tasting plus the whole harvest festival atmosphere of the show to sample ;)

The Good Life Pavilion not only turned out to be a good place for us all to meet up, it was also the venue for Mark and Joe to strut their stuff. Their morning session was all about the alternatives out there for us to grow tasty, useful but unusual foods. First up was Szechuan Pepper, suitably modelled here by Michelle. It's the pink outer coating if the berry that has all the flavour: I experienced a taste of citrus, followed by mint, then salt and a long spicy, tingly afterfinish. My tongue and lips certainly knew they'd sampled this little beauty, or as Mark says It's a little lively isn't it?

Talk of growing peaches then followed with a basket of the delicious flatter shaped variety Saturn handed round for us to sample. We learnt that Joe has an aversion to peach skins as he shuddered every time one went near him. I think Mark was rather shocked that the whole lot disappeared during the first session: they were meant to last for the entire show!

Discussion of chilli varieties and the scale used to determine their heat then ensued (Scoville units - our shops usually stock those of around 7,000, but Mark had bought in his Nagas which weigh in at around a scorchio million). I was delighted (and rather relieved) to have the opportunity to try a chilli called Apricot which was much milder (500 units) and full of fruity flavour. I'm hoping to persuade NAH to use it in his cooking in the future.

In the afternoon Mark and Joe made different versions of one of the recipes from the book: Nectarine Salsa. Mark's was made using shop bought ingredients and Joe's using home grown produce, including some fresh from River Cottage. Here you can see Joe about to show off the knife skills he learnt on Celebrity Masterchef last year. The results said it all: the shop one looked anaemic and whilst its flavour was perfectly acceptable, it wasn't a patch on the brightly coloured home grown one. From the approving noises I heard around me the rest of the audience seemed to think so too.

Sourcing wise I didn't manage to buy any of the items I'd planned, though I have plenty of ideas of where to go next and I've also confirmed if I want to make quince jelly, then growing plenty of Chaenomeles will be acceptable. That's the decision re what to grow for my edible hedge on the allotment sorted then.

After a final natter with everyone, I then found shopping inspiration on the way back to the car park where I bought some excellent produce for tea from the food market plus some decorative 6ft high rusted iron reedmace (shown as bulrushes in the sculptor's catalogue here) and some more practical rusted iron spiral stakes for my Eryngiums.

Altogether a fabulous day and here's to next year :)


  1. And what was the Szechuan Pepper used in? Sounds like an interesting taste experience.

  2. Hi VP

    I'm interested that you're planning to make quince jelly with ornamentals, particularly in view of what you said about the jam you tasted at the show. I've often wondered whether an ornamental quince would make tasty jelly, but have never tried it out, since making crab apple jelly with my mother-in-law's beautiful but utterly tasteless tree. It didn't matter WHAT you flavoured the jelly with, it just wasn't worth eating. Will you keep us posted about how it goes, both in the hedge and in the kitchen?


  3. Glad you got your supports in the end. I saw some on my way out as well and thought of you but hands were full so didnt ring you plus I would have been useless as describing where I was!!

  4. Dear VP, when Gail and I saw that the fall Malvern show was upon us, we sighed wistfully, wishing we could join you all once again. The peppers and peaches sound delightful. I will look for that mild one with the fruity taste, wonder if it is available here across the pond. I envy the metal!


  5. the szechuan pepper looks most interesting! glad you had such an enjoyable time.

  6. I love Szechuan peppercorns!
    I also love homemade chutneys in preference to bought ones - and, indeed, I've just made a huge batch of Old Dowerhouse chutney, Green Tomatochutney and Mango chutney ....the pantry is full!

    Glad you had a good time at the show - I'll get there one year :)

  7. +1 for loving Szechuan peppercorns, but sadly the rest of the household doesn't share my enthusiasm, so I doubt I'll get to grow them. A chaenomeles hedge, on the other hand, sounds fab - if the jelly is tasty... Look forward to hearing about it...

  8. Compost in my Shoe - we just tried it. It's a meal enhancer, (or transformer as Mark puts it) which you would use just like ground black pepper

    Joanna - will most definitley do so. I've been looking at cultivars and have been struck by how many say fruits can be used to make jelly. My only concern at the moment as that the cultivation guidance says prune after flowering which I'm sure would severely reduce fruiting potential

    PG - I think I must have got them from the place you saw. Just as well 'cos they and the reedmace were very heavy!

    FG - it's called Apricot. I'll look out for the seeds. It seemed most strange not to have you and the rest of the gang there :(

    Petoskystone - thank you!


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