Another new event this year the Dorothy Clive Gardens Chilli Festival is being held at the Dorothy Clive Garden. The garden is set amidst glorious countryside where the borders of Staffordshire, Cheshire and Shropshire intersect, on the A51 midway between Stone and Nantwich.
The 12 acre garden, initially conceived by Colonel Harry Clive for the love for his wife, has evolved continually since 1940 and hosts a huge variety of trees, shrubs, bulbs, plants, perennials and climbers.
The objectives of the Dorothy Clive Garden are to maintain and enhance the garden to the memory of the late Dorothy Clive and to be used as a place of rest and recreation for the general public and also for educational purposes.
The recent bank holiday weekend on the 26th & 27th August saw the 7th Benington Lordship Chilli Festival take place in the beautiful grounds of the Benington Lordship Gardens, near Stevenage, Hertfordshire.
Having attended the West Dean Chilli Festival the day previously I was still keen to attend one of my more local chilli festivals. Arriving just as the festival opened I wandered around the grounds to get a feel for which businesses where in attendance. With the revised date for the West Dean Chilli Festival clashing with Benington Lordship I was concerned that many regular names may have pulled out but it was good to see that many of the popular names such as Fire Foods, Cambridge Chilli Farm, Mr Vikki’s, and Chilli Pepper Pete were still able to attend. Several new exhibitors to Benington (but regular exhibitors on the chilli festival scene) such as Dartmoor Chilli Farm and Hot Headz were also present.
Crowds gradually started to filter into the grounds and as the morning progressed towards lunchtime, temperatures were high and so was people’s thirsts – the Fallen Angel Brewery was proving popular with its choice of chilli beers in bottle and on tap. Equally in the food garden queues were forming at the food stalls. This year attendees were able to treat themselves to a wide variety of world foods: Moroccan, Indian, Philippian, Tunisian and Mexican. All were proving to be very popular by the length of the queues at the respective stalls.
A Mariachi band provided musical entertainment, playing a mixture of traditional Mexico folk music as well as some great interpretations of current hits, whilst people enjoyed their lunchtime snacks.
Chillheads looking to purchase plants were well catered for with a wide variety of chilli plants available from the Garden’s own stall and Edible Ornamentals. Varieties of freshly harvested chillies were also available from Completely Chilli and Edible Ornamentals, the latter who were proving very popular with visitor as they selling superhot varieties such as the Dorset Nagas. Of course those looking for treats at the other end of the heat and flavour spectrum were well catered for too with a variety of chilli chocolate products being available from Cocoa Loco and Dartmoor Chilli Farm.
Of course it wouldn’t be a chilli festival without the requisite chilli eating competition. In advance of the competition huge crowds had gathered on the grass embankment waiting to watch the spectacle of a small group of people face the challenge. The table was set up with an inviting beer, and as the contestants were called forth to their seats, the enthusiastic crowds cheer them on. The crowds were delighted even more when at the last minute a member of the Mariachi band decided to participate in the competition.
Things kicked off pretty easy with some Serrano chillies followed by unripe and then ripe Birds eye chillies. Unsurprisingly everyone was still in at this stage but things then moved up quite a few notches on the Scoville scale when the next variety brought out where yellow 7-Pot chillies. Whilst it clearly looked like some were struggling with the heat at this point, everyone managed to eat the pods. Unfortunately however shortly thereafter the first retirement came, when one of the contestants made a hasty exit to the milk station, having rubbed his eyes with the hand he used to handle the 7 Pot.
The heavily artillery of Bhut Jolokias and Moruga Scorpions were the next varieties to be brought out and not surprisingly these chillies began to create casualties. Even the people’s choice – the lady from the Mariachi band – dropped out at this point taking too long to eat her Moruga chilli. The contest now came down to two men – the two Martins. Two more rounds of ripe pods were eaten by each of them before eventually one of the Martins reached his limit and the other Martin was declared the winner, collecting his prize of a case of beer.
It was clear from the large amount of people who had gathered to watch the chilli eating competition that the festival was in full swing. There was definitely a warm and friendly atmosphere at this festival and this was confirmed when talking to many exhibitors (both new and old). As with previous years the festival was attracting large crowds of families and enthusiastic chilliheads alike and no doubt it was this balance of people, along with a generous dollop of bank holiday sunshine that was helping to create such a great ambience.
This weekend is the amazing Upton Cheyney Chilli Festival.
This year Michael Michaud (Sea Spring Seeds) will be giving hot tips on growing chillies, while Matt Simpson (Simpsons Seeds) will be providing some expert chilli tasting sessions, there are lots of stall planned for this year and to entertain the kids, a Punch and Judy, Pony Rides, Bouncy Castle and a selection of traditional games and even a Chilli Cook-off.