Last Night’s TV – River Cottage: Summer’s Here

It’s official, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has one of the best jobs ever and I’m jealous of his Good Life existence. He gets to hang out in beautiful countryside, grow his own everything and have barbecues and get togethers in said beautiful countryside.

He also gets ample time to work on his puns which were as plentiful as his herbs in last night’s show and went from an extensive overuse of ‘pea’ puns during pea harvesting which included “recipeas” and “give peas a chance” to sheep shearing puns such as “we’re baaaaaaaarbers”. Very droll, but there’s no question that Hugh inspires the desire to be a smallholder and to grow and produce lovely food and wine… but there’s just one problem for me; it all requires effort and time.

For example, Hugh’s gorse wine took a lot of work to produce from picking the gorse and getting jabbed by nasty looking thorns to eventually turning it into a wine was a pretty long process and it’s a really lot easier to waz down to Tesco and pick up a cheeky little £3.99 vintage 2009. Yes it’ll taste like the pith of a cat but when you’ve trolled home after a day in the office, you aren’t likely to want to start raiding the countryside and getting stabbed by gorse bushes, no matter how romantic Hugh makes it look, and he does.

Ditto veg growing and even raising livestock; it all looks lovely but you don’t get to see how back breaking it is in Hugh’s shows, you just get glimpses of it but of course it all culminates in a boozy gathering of friends in a sun-drenched field, and it’s tempting to forget that if you did any of that yourself, you’d be too knackered and sore to want to invite your mates over for an outdoor party. You’d want to sit in a hot bath then go to bed and nurse your sore muscles and stabbed fingers.

However, it’s not all about the romantic allure of having ones own slice of the Good Life and in last night’s show, Hugh took by the horns the contentious issue of raising and eating veal… his love of puns must be infectious…

Hugh and Mrs Kimber

Hugh and Mrs Kimber

In his quest to find ethically produced veal, he met a farmer, Mrs Kimber, who produces “higher welfare rosé veal.” Long story short, she takes bull dairy calves – who normally have no commercial value as dairy stock and would be shot within hours of birth – and rears them to the grand old age of 7 months or so before slaughtering them for the veal market.

This might sound cruel, killing off lovely little baby bulls and everything, but the fact is, if they weren’t grown this way, then they’d have been shot a birth as I mentioned, so this form of farming is allowing them to at least have some life, albeit a relatively short one. However the conditions under which they were kept at Mrs Kimber’s farm are so infinitely better than those that are the ‘norm’ for commercially produced veal and I have to say, it swayed me a little on my previous stance of just-say-no to veal.

In the larger commercial veal farms, the animals are kept in horribly cramped conditions with little or no straw bedding and fed entirely on milk which is what gives veal it’s instantly recognisable whiteness. Instead of doing that, Mrs Kimber allows her stock to stay with their mothers out in a field for a certain length of time before they’re kept undercover – but still outdoors – and given some solid food as well as milk. It’s the solid food element to their diet, we were told, that gives the meat from these animals the ‘rosé’ appearance.

I suppose rosé sounds more foody and palatable than just calling it “pink meat” but I must say, Hugh and Mrs Kimber presented a sound argument for this type of veal; if we consumers don’t buy it, there will no market for it of course, therefore these little bulls will be shot at birth and have no life, whereas if we buy it, they at least get to be little bulls for a few months. Tricky one isn’t it?

However, that aside, much less contentious was the Land Share project which Hugh is very enthused about and which does indeed allow townie folks the chance to utilise a little bit of land to grow their own produce, and it’s a craze that’s really catching on judging by last night’s show. You can find out more about Land Share here.


So, cow based ethical debacles over, gorse wine with a coconutty palette, apparently, ready for drinking and sheep sheared to perfection, or at least ‘sort of shaved a bit’ in the case of the one Hugh tried to shear, it was time for him to cook up a storm for his sheep shearing cohorts. As always, Hugh made it all look childishly easy and he lobbed into massive pans a load of flora and fauna to produce a heaving Ma Larkin-esque table of goodies to be enjoyed outdoors… ahhhhhhhhh.

It’s not easy of course, but we don’t need to know that; we want the dream and the romance, and Hugh provides it nicely. Lucky sod… like I said, I want his job, or if not his job, I want to be part of his River Cottage gang and enjoy the benefits of having Hugh as a mate.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.