West Dean is a 6,350 acre estate between Midhurst and Chichester in West Sussex owned originally by Edward James, a poet and art-lover, who set up the estate as an educational institute for arts and crafts after his death. That painting by Magritte of the back of a man's head reflected in a mirror, 'Not to be reproduced' - you know the one, this one:
That's Edward James, that is.
Anyway, I have wanted to do one of the 700 short courses that they run there every year for quite a while now but have never quite got round to doing it. Actually, that's not strictly true, I put my name down on a course to learn how to make glass beads last year but it was already full and, sadly, no-one dropped out.
The place is about 45 minutes drive from me and my brother, C, said they'd all be there at about 11am so we set off at 10.30, hoping to rendezvous with them there.
The car park was filling up by the time we got there, which was heartening because the weather was very overcast with extremely threatening black clouds, so it was good to see that people had made the effort to get out even though it might rain. But, hey, that's every summer in England these days, isn't it?
Basically, the Chili Fiesta is a food festival based around, well, chillies, actually, and all manner of associated hot and spicy foods. As you might well imagine, this makes for a testosterone-rich environment but, having said that, there were plenty of women and little kids too, and the atmosphere was very family friendly.
There were, as you might guess, a vast number of stalls selling all kinds of chili-related items, including bottles of sauces of varying heat, dried chilis, chili plants, etc., right up to sombreros, Mexican wrestler masks (which I was very taken with), t-shirts and caps emblazoned with appropriate logos and sayings, jewellery, paintings, ceramics, gardening clogs and everything in between. The stalls just went on and on. At every turning there would be more, and then you'd see a sign saying there were more stalls just beyond the walled garden, and then even more after that! There were bands from South America playing, a wandering Mariachi trio and bellydancers. And thousands of people. Sometimes it was quite difficult to get to the stands because there were so many people but, overall, the size of the site managed to absorb the vast amount of punters and it didn't really feel too overcrowded.
And there was food. Boy, was there food.... TLH and I aren't what you'd call 'chili heads' but we don't mind a bit of warmth in our food but the smells, THE SMELLS from these stalls were just the best! You could get any manner of curries from Singapore, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka; you could eat chorizo, South African biltong, Mexican burritos, Sardinian meats and cheeses, Lebanese food; you could drink Chili Beer and Tequila and finish off with Chili Chocolate or even Vanilla Chili Icecream! We decided to try some Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas. It was very yummy although possibly a fraction hotter than I would have liked it.
The rain held off and we managed to hook up with my brother and his companions. The baby lost her chili balloon and my nephew, Roo, nearly managed to kick me in the face (must try harder!) so all was well. They were heading off to look at stalls we'd already visited so we decided to head off on our own and look at the walled garden. As well as arts and crafts courses, West Dean also does horticultural stuff - it's a huge Victorian country house with loads of those fabulous white greenhouses and vegetable beds that I'd give my eye-teeth for. Well, the walled garden was absolutely stunning. The vegetables in the beds made me want to cry from sheer jealousy - I have never seen such huge onions or such large and beautiful cabbages in my life, and the flowers were exquisite.
We pottered around for a little while longer and I decided I wanted to buy a couple of chili plants - there were some stunning purple ones that change colour to yellow and then red (variety Masquerade) that I rather fancied, and an upright yellow variety called Medusa also appealed. We headed back to the car then at about 3pm and were 10 minutes down the road before the heavens opened!
I was very impressed by the fiesta - it all looked very well planned and organised, a 3-day event this year and I imagine it will remain so. I can recommend it for next year if you fancy a day out.
I've been a bit lazy with this post as I normally stick in the photos next to the relevant bit of text but, for some reason or another, I've decided just to put them all together at the end for this one - hope you don't mind!
The first of the stalls, just inside the entrance, in front of the main building at West Dean.
One of the stalls - this is a Mexican one - with bottles of hot sauces and various dried beans, etc.
More Mexican foodstuffs.
TLH was very amused by this sign on a stall selling hot bhajias and pakoras.
And we both found this hysterical - specialised wet wipes for, um, the next day...
Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas - yum!
Which we bought from the stall on the left
My brother, C, together with grandad S holding my youngest niece who REALLY wanted her chili balloon.
The wandering Mariachi band doing a bit of standing still and contemplating
The pergola walkway
Inside the walled garden - check out the monster onions!
And the perfect cabbages.
One of the two Pear Tunnels
A 'hot' flower border
Gorgeous Dahlias (check out the wonderful white Victorian greenhouses at the back - they were full of grapes and tomatoes and other exotica)
Lovely pale colours in contrast to the hot colours above.
Inside one of the buildings there was a chili identification table with labelled examples.
A display of the Masquerade chili plants - I bought one of these.
My fave pic of the day!