Thursday, 05 August 2021

Join the Henley Show — then join us for lunch!

TROPHIES, rosettes, shields and prize money are all up for grabs at this year’s Henley Show,

TROPHIES, rosettes, shields and prize money are all up for grabs at this year’s Henley Show, which takes place on Saturday, September 10, writes Paul Clerehugh.

Classes include home-grown vegetables, fruit and flowers, preserves and cookery, arts and crafts — including knitting booties and hats with fold-down cuffs, all of which are donated to the local special care baby unit (Boris Johnson was recently spotted buying yarn and needles from Macy’s, Henley).

Win a trophy (and 20 quid) with your Victoria sandwich (raspberry jam filling dusted with caster sugar) or boiled fruit cake or coconut loaf — although you might be competing with a semi-pro.

The giant vegetable category, always a hotly contended class, packed with oversized innuendo. Largest pumpkin, biggest marrow, heaviest cabbage, heaviest tomato, heaviest onion.

Although a dark cloud hangs over the massive veg class. Somebody won last year’s Middle Wallop Agricultural Show with a marrow bought from Tesco. A torrid affair.

I visited John Craven’s Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace recently — brilliant! But the Henley Show 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 stop kids fiddling with their iPads. My monkeys make a beeline for the helter-skelter, ice cream van, shopping and cute animal section.

So much to see, so much to do, eat and drink. Working gun dog demonstrations, dog classes for pedigree and novelty, falcon display, cattle lines judging best of breed, more than 30 rare breed sheep classes, ferret racing and a poultry tent.

Best of all, there’s the people-watching to enjoy. Ruddy-faced boys with jug ears in the Campaign for Real Ale tent flirting with the girls. Old boys on tractors with incomprehensibly hairy ears. People picnicking — exhaustive hampers, tartan travel rugs, picnic rubbernecking.

Such an English affair. Find the garden and allotment area — pots of asters, bundles of chrysanthemums, dahlias and roses. Lots of trade stalls and a Q&A for advice on all aspects of your garden. There’s a county shopping market, vintage tractors, classic cars tootle around the arena for the coveted first prize.

Various horse shows make up an integral part of the day. Heavy horses, thoroughbreds, foreign breeds, working horses, show jumping at the Pony Club.

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

Hungry? There will be plenty of interesting food stalls and catering vans. Bring a picnic or join myself and the Crooked Billet team for lunch any time from noon to 4.30pm.

My favourite part of the Henley Show is preparing a field-to-fork luncheon for hundreds of farmers and members of the public attending the show. Farmers are a particularly appreciative bunch to cater for — they appreciate the ingredients.

Ninety per cent of my produce is sourced locally: slow-cooked salt beef, local gammons, Hambleden venison (I’m thinking of doing Venison Wellington, hot generous flaky pastry venison sausage rolls with Oxford sauce), tomatoes from the Henley allotments, (must remember to ask Lady Mortimer if it’s okay to raid her greenhouse for chillies). Even flour and sugar for bread and dessert is local. There will be cheeses from Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire — and not-so-local sea trout and chocolate.

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

For membership information and to book lunch with Paul Clerehugh and the Crooked Billet team contact the show office on (01491) 413619 or email

• Paul Clerehugh is chef proprietor of 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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