Thursday 18th August would have been a normal busy day of harvesting and distilling at Summerdown Farms, had it not been the long-awaited day that had been selected by the BBC to come and film Countryfile. It had taken nearly two years from when we first contacted the programme researchers to tell them about the incredible Summerdown story.
We’d met three of the team the week before, when they came for a recce, checking out the best locations and meeting the key players here at Summerdown who would appear on camera. After this Eve the Producer had been working hard to craft the material that she wanted to film into the right sequence with a script guide for presenter Anita Rani (also of Strictly Come Dancing fame).
So back to last Thursday, our rendezvous was at 08.30 hours. Sir Michael was taking his dogs for an early morning walk and joined us to meet Emma and Eve, who’d been joined by Steph the cameraman and Ian the soundman. We headed off down to the Distillery to find Ian the Farm Manager, and start the filming off in the laboratory. Here Ian showed Anita the technical equipment and explained how for the quality and properties of the oil. Anita was able to smell the difference between a freshly distilled sample and one that has mellowed in storage for two years. Like wine, peppermint oil mellows and improves with age.
Next, it was onto the warehouse where Anita helped packer Cathy to make up the latest orders of body, bath and home products, chocolates and teas to be sent off to our stockists or direct to those customers who’ve ordered from our own website shop. Even though it was 10.00 o’clock in the morning it was too hard to resist sampling our award-winning peppermint creams. It didn’t take long for a box to vanish into thin air. The morning’s filming at the distillery was done, and it was high time to head out to one of the mint fields to see how it is harvested, as this film is to be screened as part of a seasonal Countryfile feature that focuses on the harvesting all kinds of crops. So Ian demonstrated to Anita how through years of experience he is now able to tell when the Black Mitcham peppermint plants have the right oil balance and are ready to harvest. At this point, the mint is then mown by tractor and is left to wilt on the ground. This will be for 24 to 48 hours depending on the weather. It is then picked up by another machine that loads it straight into the container behind, that will also act as a huge cooker later on.
Derek is the top tractor driver at Summerdown, and he jumped at the chance to teach Anita how to operate the machine for herself. Derek is also pretty keen on his dancing, so they had a lot to chat about in the cab. Anita proved to be a natural behind the wheel and jumped down with a huge grin on her face. After her impressive debut performance, there were 2 more neatly cut rows of mint on the ground. Next, she turned her hand to picking up mint that had been cut the day before using a John Deere Forager. She did this perfectly too, and Derek and Ian were so impressed that they offered her a job!
It was at this stage in the proceedings that Sir Michael came down on his quad bike to see how everything was going. Anita interviewed him on camera to find out more about the passion and inspiration behind the Summerdown Mint story and discovered that he still has the driving force to realise his vision when many people would be happy to put their feet up during retirement.
At Summerdown Farms a wide range of crops are grown, and these include Camomile and Lavender from which Ian also distills high-quality oils. So Eve the producer was keen to film Anita in a field of Camomile flowers, that were just ready to cut for tea or oil production. The tea is made into Summerdown’s own Spearmint & Camomile or supplied to other tea companies. What could be better than relaxing in a bath, infused with Summerdown bath soak, the bathroom lit with an aromatic lemon grass and mint candle and sipping a cleansing relaxing cup of tea? This was the last section to film before we broke for a well-earned lunch back at the Marketing Suite, which had kindly been laid on by Judith from the Estate Office.
Jan Kern, who oversees the body, bath and home collection had invited her nine-year-old Granddaughter along as a Summer holiday treat. She had a great time sitting next to Anita during lunch and chatting about her time on Strictly. After lunch, Sir Michael presented Anita with a hamper full of every item in the Summerdown natural collection for body, bath and home, plus some award-winning peppermint tea. She was over the moon, as she is a great fan of natural beauty products that contain high quantities of essential oils and natural ingredients. We’ll be keeping a watchful eye on @itsanitarani to see whether she tweets about us as she tries them all at home.
Refreshed and revitalised, it was back out to the distillery to see the mint that Anita had cut being cooked up and distilled into our very own pure peppermint oil. Ian had been busy firing up the heat and explained how the equipment and distillation process worked, and Anita ran her fingers through the freshly produce stream of oil to inhale the magic that was growing in the fields a day before.
The closing sequence of the film features an amazing VW bus that has been converted into a mobile cocktail bar. Ollie the owner had been challenged by Sir Michael to make a range of cocktails using our peppermint oil and the fruits that have been identified as complimentary flavour pairings by an analyst in the United States. He whipped up a Raspberry Gin Cooler, a Peach Martini, a Blueberry Daiquiri and of course a Classic Mojito using fresh Black Mitcham mint picked straight from the field.
Anita was behind the bar working her magic with the shaker and earned the first taste of each drink which seemed to go down well after a hard day of presenting. Sir Michael soon joined them to try an alcohol-free mocktail and Farm Manager Ian was keen to sample the real thing. Everyone raised a glass to a fun day of filming, and we were all very relieved that the BBC weather forecast of mixed weather with some rain had not turned out to be true after all.
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Plus to celebrate the BBC broadcast this weekend we’re offering viewers the chance to SAVE 30% on body, bath & home products by entering the coupon code Countryfile30 when you view your basket in the shop.