A growing tradition

I was never particularly bothered by Halloween growing up. Our family didn’t celebrate it and as I grew older, it felt like a particularly commercialised ‘festival’ with a bit of nastiness (in the form of the trick option of trick and treating) thrown in. I could definitely take it or leave it. But for the last two years, I have been pleasantly surprised by having an excellent time on Halloween and both times, they were at the Passage House Inn. Incorporating fancy dress, good music and fundraising into the night, they seem to have got it down to a fine art! Last year, was particularly spectacular with their three day extravaganza including a sponsored head shave, raffle, live music and marquee full of activities for children including pumpkin carving and face painting. It was also incredibly successful in that they raised over £3000 for the very worthy cause of Children’s Hospice South West.

halloween

I was gifted a lovely book (Festivals, Family and Food) by a friend and was interested to learn that Halloween corresponds to May Day (or Beltane) which marks the beginning of summer’s warmth and vegetation as it recognises November 1st (Samhain) as ‘the first day of Winter’s cold and barrenness’. Obviously, there was a lot more to it than just an observation of changing seasons as they also remembered the dead and anticipated ghosts, ‘general mischief, witchcraft, magic and hobgoblins of every sort’. Personally, I shy away from the connotations of spirits, magic and otherworldly activities but I can very much get on board with consciously marking the change in seasons.

Ever since living on a boat for 3 years, I find myself particularly aware of what is going on in nature around me and continue to somehow try and mould our lifestyle so it fits the seasons. I think it’s easy in this day and age to keep the same routine week in, week out, all year round but I think our ancestors had it right. Spending more time outside when we have lighter evenings is undoubtedly good for our bodies and souls and means that when the darker, barren months creep in, we can spend more time indoors, catching up on the activities that might have been neglected during the previous outdoor based season. Being fluid and not fighting the limits or opportunities that the season offers seems like a very sensible approach to me!

Over the last few years, I’ve started to find myself relaxing when it comes to Halloween. I think even if you don’t like the darker side of it, there is still a way in which everyone can engage with it. So this year, I’ll be heading down to the Passage again as they continue in their tradition of fundraising for Halloween. This year they will be offering pumpkin carving for the children in the afternoon, live music from Exeter based Dirty Money in the evening, a raffle for Children’s Hospice South West throughout the day and as always, a bit of fancy dress. This year Halloween falls on both a Saturday and the Rugby World Cup final which they’ll be showing inside for all the Rugby fans so there’s no excuse not to bring the whole family down for a brilliant day out. I’ll see you there!

Something wicked is coming this way…

If there’s one thing we pride ourselves on at the Passage, it’s our passion for getting involved in our local community. Whether that is fundraising for local charities, helping to host the annual Ferryman’s Swim or sourcing our fish from local fishermen, we believe that it is vitally important to support our locals and small businesses in the community. With that in mind, we are pleased to announce that next week we will have a guest ale in honour of a play being opened by Exeter Alternative Theatre (EAT) for a special one night only performance on the 12th October at Barnfield Theatre. EAT is run by Louis and Emma Ravensfield, much loved locals at our bar.

The play in question is ‘Crowley’, a production that explores the life of Aleister Crowley, a man given the epithet, by some, of ‘the Wickedest Man in the World’. Louis tells us that they ‘will be combining live performance, projection and music to create a sensual depiction of the inner workings of a ‘disorganised mind’ (Crowley, Moonchild, 1923) and the play even comes with its very own celebratory ale.’

CrowleyBeerMat-FINAL

EAT have teamed up with Big Rabbit Brewery, based just outside Cullompton, who have created ‘Crowley – The Wickedest Ale in the World’ especially for the production. It will be available in the theatre bar on the night and leading up to the big night, will be available at a few select local venues. The Passage is proud to be one of these venues and to be hosting this ale in support of both a local brewery and a very local theatre company.

So why not pop along to the Passage this week to try the Wickedest Ale that’ll ever pass your lips and make sure you head to the Barnfield Theatre on the 12th October to enjoy an intoxicating and intense production by the inimitable Exeter Alternative Theatre.

For more information and to book: www.barnfieldtheatre.org.uk or call:01392 270891

Crowley pic

There’s nothing finer…

I think that wine is a very educational beverage and I think it’s safe to say that a lot of the clientèle here at the Passage agree. Admittedly, the various historical backgrounds surrounding ale, whiskey and cider are also fascinating but wine in particular, strikes me as a veritable treasure trove of tales and fables and therefore, is a very worthy choice of drink. Your mind, as mine does, might immediately think of France when you think about wine but actually, the heritage of wine in England and in particular in Devon, is pretty interesting and goes back at least 2000 years.

According to the folk at Sharpham Vineyard, it was probably the Romans that brought wine to England. No one is quite sure whether vines were actually grown here by the intruders but historians are sure that by the time of the Norman Conquest vines were definitely grown in England. When the Domesday survery was taken in the late 11th Century, 46 vineyards were recorded in Southern England.

Wine was especially made in monastic institutions around England and so, it is no surprise that tonic wine was made at our local Buckfast Abbey. In fact, so popular was their recipe for fortified wine with caffeine (good combination eh!) that Buckfast Tonic Wine is to this day, still produced and sold successfully and according to the Guardian, is oddly a popular choice for ‘neds’ in Scotland. The recipe apparently came from the original French monks who came to the Abbey in the 1880’s though was altered slightly in 1927 on the advice of a visiting wine merchant from London to produce a smoother, more palatable taste. Technically, it’s not actually a wine as it’s derived from mistella – a Spanish drink made from unfermented grape juice which is then fortified with ethanol – but I think we should let that slide.

But when it comes to the wine that we tend to choose to drink with dinner (rather than this fortified imposter), it’s Yearlstone Vineyard near Tiverton that claims to be Devon’s oldest vineyard. Founded in 1976 by Gillian Pearkes in the picturesque village of Bickleigh, the site is home to silty clay over red sandstone which is the perfect environment for vines. Pearkes was a pioneer in her experiments with different wine varieties as she tried to hone the best techniques for wine growing in the English climate. Other local vineyards include Sharpham who have been producing wine on their historic estate for over 20 years since the 1990’s and most recently, our very local and beloved Pebblebed Vineyards who have started producing ‘Exeter’s own wine’ from their vineyard just outside Topsham. From 46 vineyards in 1046, apparently there are now nearly 400 vineyards across England and Wales, producing almost 2 million bottles of the glorious stuff a year.

I find the whole process fascinating and as an amateur gardener, am very keen to try making my own one day. I’ve been growing fruit and vegetables to eat as a family for the last 6 years to varying success. Admittedly this year has been one of my worst years – half my tomato plants got blight, I kept forgetting to water my strawberries and my peas and beans seemed to get some kind of disease and died off early in the season. I’ve definitely had better harvests. My dear husband is not opposed to delving into the world of amateur wine making but he has asked me to do a bit more research before we invest in any vines! Thankfully, despite my poor crop this year a kind friend took pity on me and gave me some of her surplus produce which enabled me to fulfill another passion of mine – preserves! Last year I made some (if I do say so myself) scrumptious green tomato chutney alongside a variety of jams and this autumn I’ve made some rhubarb and ginger jam, blackcurrant and gooseberry jam and most recently, a batch of marrow and apple chutney. The former didn’t last long with jam loving friends and family around me but I’ve supplied the Passage with some of the chutney which just begs to be paired with a local mature cheese. Why not nip down and try some yourself whilst it lasts?!

Luckily, the Passage also has a gorgeous selection of wines so while I wait to be able to grow and make my own (and let’s face it, probably after my first attempt goes horribly wrong as well!) I know there’s somewhere I can go to have a carefully chosen delicious glass of wine down by the river. In fact, so seriously do they take their wine that their wine menu is reviewed and updated regularly. They are about to roll out their updated selection, just in time for Autumn and the run up to Christmas and on top of this new menu they will be offering wines from Pebblebed and Sharpham as part of their ‘English Wines’ selection in a nod to supporting local vineyards (and because frankly, they produce some outstandingly good wines!) I don’t know about you but whilst I might choose lighter drinks in the summer, you can’t beat a glass of red by a roaring fire when it’s cold and dark outside. So let’s raise a glass of this age old tipple and reminisce about times gone by together.