Review : River Cottage

Posted by MNAngler On April - 6 - 2011

A few months ago, a friend of mine, who is originally from the UK and whom I regularly watch Doctor Who with (yes, I’m a geek), introduced me to a UK series called River Cottage. It stars Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (herein referred to as HFW for brevity) who was a chef by trade and decided to leave the comforts of the city for country life, or “smallholding” as the Brits call it. It started with “Escape to River Cottage” in 1999 and has since blossomed into an empire with HFW opening a restaurant where he serves only meat he has raised himself and vegetables he has grown.

His first three series were the best in the entire set of shows, in my opinion, because they showed him learning how to raise animals and grow his own food. He started out with a small plot of land (an acre and a half, I think) in the first year and expanded to a four acre plot in years two (“Return to River Cottage”) and three (“River Cottage Forever”).


What I found most interesting is how HFW never lost sight of the fact that his animals were there for one purpose: food. He called in vets to make sure his animals were healthy, brought in mates for cattle and sheep to rear further generations for future meat, but never named any of them. It was a little difficult for him to bring his first two pigs to slaughter, but he never blubbered over them.

Being a chef by trade, HFW made a ton of different dishes with his personal bounty. Much of it was foreign to me being from “the colonies,” but it all looked like traditional UK fare. Lots of butter and other rich ingredients. Some of it looked very appetizing. Others, not so much.

After completing those first three series, I watched “Beyond River Cottage”, which took him to the next level of a 40 acre farm and many more livestock, including geese and ducks. The series lost a bit of its appeal at this point (for me, at least) as it became less about smallholding, and more about building a business with his new found hobby.

I’ve also watched “The River Cottage Treatment” and “Hugh’s Chicken Run” where HFW embarks on a campaign to try to change people’s attitude about food. The first two episode’s of “The River Cottage Treatment” were well done, bringing in people that ate only pre-made frozen foods, or only ate “take away” and how he changed most of their attitudes. The third episode of the series wasn’t put together as well. “Hugh’s Chicken Run” was all about getting the residents of his nearby town to buy free range chickens instead of mass-produced inexpensive chickens. He began to go a little off the deep end in that effort building his own mass chicken farm. It was very interesting, though, how the chickens were grown and treated. I discovered later that his campaign did succeed in doubling the free range chicken consumption across the UK.

I’m currently in the middle of “River Cottage Spring” which is about all the produce available in the Spring, but also showed how a vegetarian of 15 years learned how to butcher a lamb and start to eat meat again. It made me want to learn how to butcher an animal. It was very interesting. Below is a picture of a butchered pig.

Here are the River Cottage series in as much chronological order as I can find them. I highly recommend the first three, but you wouldn’t be wasting your time with any of them:

  • “Escape to River Cottage” (1999)
  • “Return to River Cottage” (2000)
  • “River Cottage Forever” (2002)
  • “Beyond River Cottage” (2004)
  • “The View from River Cottage” (2005)
  • “The River Cottage Treatment” (2006)
  • “River Cottage: Gone Fishing!” (2007)
  • “River Cottage: Mushroom Magic” (2007)
  • “Hugh’s Chicken Run” (2008)
  • “River Cottage Spring” (2008)
  • “River Cottage Autumn” (2008)
  • “River Cottage: Summer’s Here” (2009)
  • “River Cottage: Winter’s on the Way” (2009)

HFW and his shows reminded me that our food does not appear magically in a grocery store. As I wrote in a recent post: animals died so that we may live. We live in a world where we are entirely disconnected from our food. We take for granted that we can go to a grocery store and buy steak, pork, and chicken and not think about the fact that the meat was once animals. Hunters try to point this out to anti-hunters without much success, but between HFW and my recently obtained blogging friends, I have a renewed appreciation of the food I eat and how it got to my table.

3 Responses to “Review : River Cottage”

  1. Austin L. says:

    Check out Gordon Ramsay’s “F Word”. Ramsay raised a different animal in his yard for the first few seasons before expanding to a small farm in the 5th, I believe. HFW was a consultant to him about the animals rearing and such and is present throughout the series. Gordon has kids, and all of the animals were named. When he took them to slaughter, it really did bother him to the point he said he could understand why people choose to be vegetarian.

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