The Ginger and Spice Festival, which celebrates Market Drayton's rich heritage of spicy and exotic cuisine, would normally have seen crowds enjoying a pop-up spice exchange and live comedy, demonstrations and talks.
As with most live events, it was called off earlier this year in light of Covid-19 and social distancing rules. Festival director Julia Roberts began racking her brains so she could put on a virtual show and she was helped by a big cast of collaborators.
In all the virtual festival included eight fringe events available online as well as three fun competitions. An online food market proved so popular it was extended for an extra week.
Over the festival’s five main days festival participants enjoyed events such as a virtual food theatre with executive chef Chris Burt; chef Shaun Kenworthy; Rebekah Jones of My Little Persian Kitchen; John Pimlott of Park Hill Farm; comedian-cum-chef George Egg; Neil Harrison of Nelson’s Gin Distillery and School; and chef and educator Cris Cohen, of Feasted.
Events also included the virtual spice market, sponsored by Dentons and with a percentage of sales being donated to the Market Drayton Foodbank; Feast for your Eyes online cookery demo with George Egg in celebration of National Eye Health Week and sponsored by Style Optique; a heritage spice trail contest sponsored by Harrier Health and safety event specialists which celebrated local and independent businesses; competitions for the best gingerbread house and best-decorated biscuit, sponsored by James Du Pavey; Gingerbread Tales talks with local gingerbread bakers; Museum Memories talk with Ian Picton-Robinson; a best ginger cat and dog contest and more.
Celebrating and championing culinary heritage
Julia Roberts said: "We were very pleased with the response we received for this year’s virtual festival. Although it felt very different to our traditional staging of the festival, we were still able to celebrate and champion the local culinary heritage of the town as well as introduce new artisan producers to our festival community.
"We were delighted with our online heritage trail, sponsored by Harrier, which included an interactive map of Market Drayton linking individual organisations and businesses in the town centre to the participants via videos, audio outputs or their digital platforms.
"We were extremely grateful to our sponsors and partners who joined us and offered prizes toward the hampers to be given out to the contest winners. We made sure that all prizes were sourced from high street businesses in Market Drayton. All festival materials are available online for a further six months for our members."
Sheila Whittaker was among those who enjoyed taking part. "Having been to the last three years' Ginger and Spice Festivals, it’s been wonderful meeting all the artisans over the years. The virtual festival was a hit in our house!
"Over the weekend we enjoyed making tikka masala curry and sampling an array of goodies, both local and further afield."
Market Drayton resident Cynthia Burrows loved taking part. She said: "I am so impressed each year to still keep finding out interesting facts about my home town by taking part in the Ginger and Spice Trail quiz.
"So much hard work and thought goes into this trail and I really enjoy tracking down the answers. This year the videos that have been produced by cooks and suppliers has kept the interest of the festival alive.
"Hopefully 2021 will allow us to enjoy the festival in person. Well done to Julia and her team.’’
Grigg Smith from Uttoxter said: "I really enjoyed taking part in this year’s virtual Ginger and Spice Festival and particularly entering the gingerbread house contest. I look forward to the festival going from strength to strength."
Festival regular Tracey Edwards of the Fields Kitchen hosted her own cake bake fundraising event for the Macmillan Coffee Morning at the shop.
She said: "We were absolutely delighted to support Macmillan Cancer Support especially in these challenging times for so many charities. Sue and I were more than happy to bake cakes for such a worthy cause."
Sam Dave at Style Optique said: ''We enjoyed taking part and sponsoring a fringe event in this year's virtual festival.
"We were delighted to collaborate with festival regular, comedian chef George Egg, on this event, as well as being on the virtual heritage trail again this year.''
Learn more about the festival and see what is still available at gingerandspicefest.co.uk/.