Feasting, demos and kids’ cookery at the annual Family Food Fair – The Donkey Sanctuary Sidmouth
Updated: Jun 7
Ok, I think I’m going to burst at the seams. I think it was the grand finale of the golddust-sprayed hazelnut hot chocolate and an indulgent whip around the cake tasters (best bakewell tart ever) in the Kitchen restaurant that did it. But then again it could’ve been the pizza, and fish finger goujons (hand-made by my two children in the Kids Zone) or the extensive trialling of every cheese in the deli tent, I’m not sure. Or possibly the pheasant and ham pie I shared with Andy when we arrived.
Anyway, we’ve just returned from what turned out to be a REALLY great day out at the Donkey Sanctuary’s annual Family Food Fair, despite the fact it rained pretty much the whole time we were there – no matter as the majority of the fair was under marquee cover in the fields alongside the main site, and the outdoor offerings were navigable in our wellies.
Entry to the fair itself is free for the under 12s (though I’d highly recommend paying the £5 fee to gain entrance to the kids zone, which includes lunch) and only £2.50 each for adults – the programme offers a huge amount of bang for your buck, whatever your age. Seriously, I was impressed, this has got to be one of the best value days out we’ve had. We spent nearly four hours there, which for us is almost a record...!
On arrival we checked in at the Kids Zone – the £5 entry per child allows you to sign up to one of the several interactive cooking demonstrations specially designed for children. Darcy (aged 6) signed up to the Making Meatballs and Spaghetti demonstration which was half an hour of really well guided hands-on cookery, with careful supervision from the teachers and students of the Kings School Ottery St Mary.
Of course, Darcy thought it was brilliant that she was being taught to chop an onion with a proper, serious knife, by a cool teenager in chef’s whites, and got fully involved in prepping the herbs and stirring the sauce while some of the other kids got their hands gooey in the mince. The cookery workshops were pitched at just the right level to engage some of the older children and ‘tweenagers’ while also involving kids as young as age two with the basic food prep (and the eating at the end!)
Next up, we headed back to the Kids Zone which offered free face painting to those who’d taken part in a cookery workshop (small fee applied to those who hadn’t) – marvellously they had three face painters on the go at the same time so we didn’t have to wait around at all. One standard tiger and one pink princess tiger later, the kids gravitated straight towards the Decorate A Biscuit area and after ladling about a pint of icing onto their donkey biscuit had great fun decorating with the choice of various sprinkles.
We didn’t necessarily do the kids zone in the standard order (but let’s face it, kids don’t always want to do things in order), so we ate our donkey biscuits in the Colouring Zone where each of them (actually, all three of my kids if you include my husband Andy) had a go at the design a donkey sanctuary Christmas card colouring competition. Drawing has never really been Andy’s strength.
While they were busy crafting, I snuck off to watch the cookery demonstration by Jim Fisher from Exeter Cookery School on making a chocolate fondant with a gooey melt in the middle centre, on the main demo stage. I also caught a bit of the Hand to Mouth Bakery session on sourdough bread and I liked that the demos focused on things that the laymen (non-chef types) could realistically hope to replicate at home. The programme of demos continued throughout the day so you could dip in and out as you pleased.
We needed a bit of fresh air by this point so it was the perfect opportunity to explore outside. We were glad of our wellies as it was quite muddy but still manageable throughout for those with a buggy in tow. A carrier for babies would be a good idea if you have one as some of the marquee areas were quite busy - but young families are well catered for, there was even a baby changing unit in an accessible portaloo saving you the trek across to the main sanctuary facilities.
I was wondering why the Hillside Farm deli tent was so crowded but they’d smartly put out a record amount of cheese tasters so I took Livvie in for an extremely thorough tasting session (I lost count after we’d sampled about 12 interesting varieties of cheese, including THE most spicy cheese I have ever tasted which embarrassingly made my eyes water and I looked like I was crying.)
Back in the kids area we joined the lunchtime rush for the kids pizza making, guided by staff from The Pick & Mix Programme who were heroically keeping up with demand, and we also had a go at the fish goujons as well, not that the girls had room to eat it by this point so Andy and I polished those off in the spacious seating marquee next door.
We’d promised Darcy a quick whip around the gift shop in the Donkey Sanctuary visitor centre itself to spend her pocket money – unbelievably she chose to buy a slab of orange chocolate – and we were happy to oblige in trying the gift shop’s nod to the food fair with their taster selection of chilli dips, crackers, biscuits and a shot of cider!
And just as we thought it was time to leave, I saw a sign out the of the corner of my eye on the edge of the gorgeous on-site restaurant ‘The Kitchen’ that said words to the effect of FREE CAKE. Now, I’ve been trying to lead a less gluttonous lifestyle over the last year but when I’m invited to try free cake for the benefit of the donkeys (loosely?) and the blog, I try free cake. The Kitchen is a really beautiful restaurant offering a great brunch and lunch menu daily (see my full write up here), but today to celebrate the annual Food Fair had a selection of their cakes, speciality hot chocolates, and a thai green curry available to sample.
The girls thought this was the best finale to a day out ever, and enjoyed a mini hot chocolate covered in squirty cream and edible gold spraypaint with their slab of shop-bought chocolate and a nibble of millionaire shortbread. How they haven’t been sick, I do not know, but let’s just say we’ve all eaten very well today and won’t be needing much dinner.
To summarise, the Family Food fair, held in October annually, is a great family day out with things to appeal to small tots all the way up to teens (- teens would find the kids zone too junior but cookery fans would enjoy the more involved timetable of cookery workshops.) Adults (and foodie teens) will enjoy the varied timetable of demonstrations and all of the tasters - go with an empty stomach as you’ll fill up on your way round. There was no need to buy lunch for us as we maxed out on the kids’ zone lunch creations, though there was a good selection of street food vendors (and a bar!) to choose from for those who have room.
Although much of the fair’s offerings are included in the entry price and kids zone entry fee, take some cash in case you want to buy anything from the range of food and produce stalls (think pies, pastries, cakes, cheeses, donuts, ice cream and deli goods), and you might want a few quid to spend on the epic-looking prize raffle or amusing human fruit machine game.
Your visit can be completed with a wander around the Donkey Sanctuary itself, with its scenic walks, visitor barns, a giant maze and a playground (all completely free to enter) – see my write up for further info – though we’d visited a couple of weeks beforehand so headed home to loaf on the sofa and allow our stomachs to get over the morning’s indulgences!
Keep an eye on the Donkey Sanctuary Sidmouth’s Facebook page (or website) for future events – they run a great programme of regular events throughout the year including a summer fair, the family food fair (an annual event) and the Christmas fair as well as lots of themed trails around the site particularly around school holidays.
Thanks for having us, Donkey Sanctuary – we’ll be back again soon!