Regular readers of this blog may recall that I am a bit of a Hugh Romantic: I've watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage TV series from the start, bought the books and savoured it all. Although he promotes what's an impossible dream for almost all of us - few have the time or space to devote to keeping pigs or even chickens - I liked the way he dived head first into the challenges of self-sufficiency and showed how interesting it can be to explore ways of finding food locally.
But having watched a few episodes from the latest TV series, I have to say I am really very disappointed. I hesitate to call it a "new" series, because that's exactly what it isn't - rather, it's a rehash of scenes from previous programmes. I guess there are lots of viewers who haven't seen the previous series, but for those faithful Hugh watchers it's a bit of a bore to see him shooting rabbits at night - again, and taking to the skies to find wild mushrooms - again. Tonight, however, there will be some new material in the form of the River Cottage Road Trip. Hugh explains in his November email newsletter:
The River Cottage Road Trip consists of two brand new one hour shows which, as well as a full update on life and activities at RCHQ, see me heading off to Scotland, Cumbria and Yorkshire on trip that is part holiday, part research and development mission, to unearth some of the finest treasures from our Northern culinary traditions.
Fair enough, but I have one other gripe. The newsletter also offers readers the chance to win the red Land Rover Hugh used to get about Dorset during the previous two series in a £10 a ticket raffle for charity. Great, you think, until you read that the vehicle in question "more or less blew up while we were filming the road trip, and it needs a serious amount of work (hundreds of pounds, certainly) to get it back on the road". Then read on to the small print and you discover the following:
You also should know that the Land Rover is stored in Dumfries in Scotland – it is not driveable at present but it is repairable. The prize is for the Land Rover only and this does not include any repair/collection or transportation costs. The prize winner must collect the vehicle by 31 January 2006 otherwise they will incur storage charges.
What an utterly crap prize! They should be paying the winner to dispose of it! I wonder if you can enter but insist that you only want to win one of the other, much more decent, prizes, like a River Cottage Christmas hamper? I'd expected better of you, Hugh.
I guess I should have seen all this coming. The rot really started to set in for me when I read Hugh's preposterous tea-making ritual in Observer Food Monthly, which rightfully won a place in Private Eye's always hilarious Pseuds Corner. It's worth reading in all its pedantic glory, but here's a taster:
Now, to make my tea, I need two good-sized mugs. I boil the kettle. The hot water goes into one mug first, stays for a few seconds so the mug is heated, then goes into the second mug. The tea bag goes into the first, hot, mug, boiling water is poured in, to within a couple of millimetres of the top, and the two mugs, one containing brewing tea, and the other containing hot water, are left to stand. After about five minutes, the mug of brewed tea is placed in the sink, where some new hot water (freshly re-boiled) from the kettle, is sloshed into it, so it overflows by about half a mug. This is to stop the well-brewed tea being too strong. The full-to-overflowing mug is now tilted a little bit, so it spills out enough tea to allow room for some milk ... [and so on for several more pars]
Still, I don't expect I'll be invited in to River Cottage HQ for a quick cuppa now I've slagged off his raffle anyway ...