Cruising the Local Food Scene

Real food display

I’m in a van that’s absolutely stuffed with local produce, and two older women with cropped white hair swoop in, chattering with Kevin Cotter, who’s graciously agreed to take me on the Love Local Food’s mobile shop route. As they chat about the weather, about the high potential of rain ruining the washing they’ve left hanging outside, they cheerfully toss mushrooms and carrots into brown bags.

 “I’ve even brought in my bags from last week!” says one.

 “Teacher’s pet,” teases her friend.

 Clearly, the education programs Love Local Food have been leading are effective; Kevin’s one of the people in charge (he was a teacher for 17 years prior to working for the LLF Initiative), and he looks a bit embarrassed but pleased. He balances his time with the van with education, taking the mobile shop out twice a week.

 The women pay for their vegetables, both taking out heavily stamped Loyalty cards (one stamp for every 10p spent). “We even reuse the loyalty cards here,” Kevin comments with a smile.

 I ask Kevin about how local food initiatives can be adapted to different environments. He tells me about the Tamar Valley Growers, a group of farmers and producers in Cornwall that serve a more rural population. They were created a hundred years ago, and hold farmer’s markets along the valley. As online delivery services have become popular with mainstream supermarkets, the Tamar Valley Growers have come up with an online delivery service of their own. In this way, people who live more remotely or who can’t access the farmer’s markets for other reasons can remain involved with local producers and receive high quality groceries.  

know compostables
Similarly, the mobile food store provides widespread access to local food and a visual representative of Love Local Food’s education programs. It’s one one of three branches of the organization’s effort. Others include the Real Food Store, which is based in downtown Exeter, and Exeter Community Agriculture, a collective growing initiative. With these efforts, LLF hopes to create an ecologically, financially sustainable system that benefits both local food producers and the communities they feed.

As an organization, Love Local Food began 8 years ago with Royal Lottery Funds to work with the challenge of connecting local farmers and food producers to the people of Exeter. Part of Love Local Food’s educative mission is to inform people of the different food supply sources available to them and the more complex issues of cost/benefit that underlie those choices. Put simply: going to Tesco or Sainsbury’s is not necessarily a cheaper choice than getting food from a local source. For example: grabbing a carton of milk from the mobile shop is approximately 50p cheaper than running to the corner store. And even if you’re comparing the two, the produce from the mobile shop is more expensive than a basic grocery brand, but the quality of the mobile produce is more comparable to the organic ranges, and the mobile shop produce is local and thus still retains more of its nutrients than something that’s been shipped from Spain or Morocco.    

educational seaweed display Our next stop is the Real Food Store, where Kevin picks up more chicken and leaves me. It’s really a treasure trove: a group of schoolchildren are in the bakery, making their own pizzas, and the smell of fresh bread permeates the store. All manner of local goods are available in the store; a wall of tea, coffee, and hot chocolate faces a corner stocked with cider and real ales. Baskets of potatoes, a fridge full of cheese and the scones in the window compete for attention. I can't help but feel that I'm in Wonka's Chocolate Factory, but for food. The baker lifts up a loaf of bread, imploring the youngsters to, "just smell this."

Real Food Cafe

 Upstairs, there’s a café serving lunch (complete with vegan options) and I order a toasted teacake oozing with butter: it’s absolutely brilliant.  It's a really lovely atmosphere, and I'm upset with myself about not finding out about it sooner. All those hours I spent studying and quaffing tea in chains could have been spent so differently (or at least with more fresh cakes at hand). Please, don't make my mistake. Go down to the Real Food Store and Cafe and find out what the flavors of Devon really taste like and support the people who actually live there. 

The Mobile Food Shop can be found by the Exeter University Forum from 12:30-1:30 on Tuesdays. The Real Food Store is open Monday--Friday from 9-6, and Saturday from 9-5. The Real Food Cafe is open from 9:30-4:30 from Monday--Saturday. To find out more about Love Local Food's initiatives, visit

Celebrate A Glorious Devon Spring: Make Pie


 Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies with Mascarpone  (adapted from the Smitten Kitchen)


470 grams (3 ¾ cups) all-purpose flour

zest of one orange or lemon (optional, but you’re really going to want to use the zest. It elevates the pie to godliness)

1 ½  tbsp granulated sugar

1 ½  tsp salt

340 grams (1 ½ cups) butter, cut into small cubes and chilled

1 cup of buttermilk

In a small bowl, rub zest into sugar and allow to rest for a minute. Mix together flour, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add cold butter to flour and with a pastry blender or your hands, rub the butter into the flour until mixture is crumb-like. If using your hands, place the mixture into the fridge and allow to cool again before proceeding. 

Make a hollow in the flour mixture and pour in ¾ cup of the buttermilk. With a strong rubber spatula or spoon, mix until the dough is roughly coherent. Turn over onto a floured surface and knead lightly until it forms a ball. If it is too dry, gradually add more buttermilk.

Cut the dough in two pieces, wrapping each in plastic and flattening them slightly. Place them in the fridge and chill for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days. If you’re planning ahead even further, put the dough balls into a bag and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost in the fridge. 

Strawberry and Rhubarb Filling

250 grams rhubarb (trimmed and cut into ½ inch pieces) and 250 grams strawberries (hulled and cut in half if large) for a total 500 grams of fruit (I used 200 g of rhubarb and 300 g of strawberries, so don’t sweat it if you have a bit more of one or the other)

50 grams of sugar (I used this amount and found that it could be tarter, so feel free to take this down to 40 or even 30 grams)

¼ tsp ground cardamom, or 4 pods, crushed (again, optional, but it really highlights the brightness of the fruit and don’t you want to take these pies to Flavourtown™?)

Meanwhile, place all the filling ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cover and leave it alone for 15 minutes, and then uncover and simmer for another 20 minutes. This will take longer if you have more strawberries, since they’re much juicier than the rhubarb. Make sure to stir the mixture occasionally! Otherwise it will burn and be impossible to get off of your pot. 

When the mixture is thick enough that you can wipe the spatula along the saucepan and see the bottom without the sauce immediately filling in, it’s all set! Put it into a shallow container and chill until assembly.

Mascarpone Filling

4 oz of room temperature mascarpone or cream cheese

zest of one lemon

1 tsp lemon juice

50 grams granulated sugar

First of all, breathe. Wash your hands, have a cuppa, and listen to your favorite podcast. Then, put all the filling ingredients into a small container, mix until smooth, and find a place in the fridge to keep it.

If you’re preparing ahead, this is a good place to call it quits for the day. Wash the dishes and get on with the rest of your life. If you simply must have pie today or fall dead from craving-related causes, carry on to the next step.

Finishing Touches

1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp of water

granulated or demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stretch your arms. Crack your knuckles. Clean off your counter and dust generously with flour. Unwrap one of the dough parcels and place on the counter. Using a rolling pin, roll lightly until it is about inch thick. Cut into 3-inch squares.


If your dough has gotten warm, give it a time out in the fridge so that it doesn’t become a nightmare to work with. While you’re in the fridge, get out both filling mixtures.

Gather up your squares, clean off the counter, and get out baking pans lined with parchment paper. Place the squares two by two. For each pair, cut a vent in one and egg wash the other. Place a teaspoon each of the mascarpone and strawberry filling on the egg washed square.

Pick up a vented square and gingerly line up an edge to the edge of an egg washed square. Using a fork, press the edges together until they’re sealed. Repeat for the other edges, and for all the other squares.

Egg wash the top of the pies and sprinkle the sugar on top. Place in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes. The tops should be golden. Allow to cool before serving. Please. The fruit filling gets very hot. Congrats! You have pie!


Text and photos copyright by Andrea Lindquist, 2016