Sunday, 15 December 2019

Win lunch on me at the Henley Show

APPARENTLY, somebody won this year’s Middle Wallop Show’s best marrow category with a specimen bought from

APPARENTLY, somebody won this year’s Middle Wallop Show’s best marrow category with a specimen bought from Tesco. No chance of that with the Henley Show’s rigorous judging criteria,

writes Paul Clerehugh

Don’t trim foliage more than three inches from the top shoulder of your carrot — the judging criteria in the veg tent at this year’s Henley Show is fierce!

Carrots must be exhibited in sets of three. There’s £20 up for grabs for the longest runner bean. Competitors are caressing their courgettes and whispering sweet nothings to their heirloom plums to try and secure the coveted best in show tomato challenge cup.

Security at the allotments is on high alert with extra troops scrambled at the ready. No rabbit in the Thames Valley is safe at the moment.

The Henley Show on Saturday, September 12, is my favourite family day out. I love it because it doesn’t feel overtly commercial. It’s honest: a celebration of our agriculture, livestock and countryside with just enough bling to entertain the kids.

My girls make a beeline for the helter skelter, ice cream van, shopping and sheep show. Nobby, Larry, Sheila and other interesting breeds (that’s the mutton, not the kids) are introduced on stage, sheared and have their nails done. It’s like a Woolly Miss World.

Would it spoil things if I demonstrated how to trim a rack of lamb? I’ve also been sheared in preparation for the show, or to give its proper title, the Henley and District Agricultural Association Show.

So much to see, so much to do. Working gun dog demonstrations, dog classes for pedigree and novelty, falconry display, cattle lines judging best of breed, over 30 rare breed sheep classes, goat classes, ferret racing and a poultry tent. I bought a pair of drop dead gorgeous Speckled Hens last year.

Various horse shows make up an integral part of the day. Thoroughbreds, heavy horses, foreign breeds, working horses, showjumping and pony club.

Preserves, cookery and cakes will be judged in the produce tent. Mary Berry would be in her element. Jam makers be warned — you can only dress pots in red gingham fabric, no labels on the jars. Lemon curd should be presented with a waxed disc and cellophane cover. Entrants who disobey the rules may come to a sticky end!

Such an English affair: a village green, soppy labradors, undoubtedly a vicar sipping Earl Grey from bone china, nutters dancing with hankies, firkins of ale and proper English cake — reassuringly solid, enthusiastic coffee and walnut, Victoria sponge, simnel and something with a cherry on top.

Find the garden and allotment area; pots of asters, bundles of chrysanthemums tied with string, bunches of dahlias the colour of wine gums. Lots of trade stalls and a Q&A clinic for advice on all aspects of your garden.

There’s a country shopping market, vintage tractors, classic cars tootle around the arena for the coveted first prize. My girls took our Wolseley last year — it conked out in front of 5,000 onlookers and the sea cadets had to push them out of the arena, which they’ve struggled to live down. No Wolseley this year!

Myself and the Crooked Billet chefs will host children’s cookery demonstrations in the food and farming marquee. It will be very hands-on — they can join in and bake with the chefs. It’s an interactive educational marquee where children can learn about how food is grown and reaches the table — field to fork.

My favourite part of the Henley show is that I prepare lunch for 400-plus farmers and “members”. Farmers are a particularly appreciative bunch to cater for — they respect the ingredients.

Ninety per cent of my produce is secured locally: slow-cooked salt beef; glazed gammons from Emma Jackson at Blue Tin Farm Shop, Ipsden; hand-raised pork pies; game terrine; lots of fresh and raw crunchy salads; proper heritage tomatoes; chilli peppers courtesy of Lady Mortimer’s greenhouse. Even flour and beet sugar for bread and desserts are local. Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire cheese, including Rose Grimond’s delicious St Bartholomew’s from Nettlebed. (Not so local sea trout and chocolate.)

To join me for lunch you’ll need to support the show by becoming members. Membership benefits include a morning coffee and afternoon tea tent (simnel, Battenberg, coffee and walnut, éclairs), real ale and wine bar, access to the members’ enclosure, the opportunity to purchase ringside parking and posh loos.

For membership information and to book lunch with Paul Clerehugh and the Crooked Billet team call the show office (01491) 410948 or email

n Win a free luncheon for two with Paul Clerehugh at the Henley Show, to include free entry to the showground, free parking and VIP members’ passes. Simply email by Wednesday, September 9, with the answer to the following question. (There are two pairs of complimentary lunch prizes up for grabs.)

Q. Which village is Paul Clerehugh’s pub the Crooked Billet in?

Paul Clerehugh is chef at the Crooked Billet, Stoke Row, and the London Street Brasserie, Reading. Catch Paul every week on Food on Friday (2pm, BBC Radio Berkshire).

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