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Guy’s newsletter: french flings & devon dalliances

The boxes are still looking fresh, varied and full; not a bad achievement in the depths of the hungry gap, and largely down to a good harvest on our farm in the French Vendée. After a parched and sunny six weeks, April ended with a 100mm deluge making me very glad of the money invested in drainage here last autumn. We have lost some squash (wrenched out by the wind) and spinach (dying in a bog) and I fear for sweetcorn and sunflower seeds germinating in waterlogged seedbeds, but with luck the water will subside before the drowning soil becomes anaerobic and toxic to our crops.

Despite gales, mud, striking dockers and four French bank holidays in May (all staunchly observed with Gallic militancy), the veg boxes must be filled and harvest must go on. With 35 largely novice recruits picking lettuce, chard, turnips, garlic and cabbage to fill a truck a day we are stretched to breaking point. Thankfully the first lettuce will be harvested in Devon this week, allowing us to catch up on weeding before the sweetcorn and peppers disappear under fat hen, red shank and nightshade. By mid-June, as harvest in the UK gets in full swing, our French farm will be cast off like a jilted lover until next April when the hungry gap leaves holes to be filled in your boxes once more.

Back in Devon we are running a four day, hands on, growing, harvesting and cooking course in partnership with neighbouring Schumacher College this June. Teaching will be by their chefs and growers and ours in their kitchens, gardens and our fields. Geetie (my ethical pioneer wife and founder of our pub, the Duke of Cambridge) and I will also be contributing. The college might be a step or two beyond us on the spectrum towards the cosmos (pre-breakfast meditation is optional) but we have had our hands in the soil for 30 years so you can be assured the course will be well rooted on planet earth and there should be some healthy debate as well. Visit www.schumachercollege.org.uk for more details.

If you would rather cook in your own kitchen with a little celebrity help then for the next two weeks Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has created some guest recipe boxes with us, and very good they are too; visit www.riverford.co.uk/recipeboxes to order.

Guy Watson

Guy’s newsletter: unruly cabbages; the last stand

I hope you are enjoying the spring greens that have started to appear in the veg boxes. They may look a little pale and unruly, with the occasional weatherbeaten leaf, but please don’t let them linger in the back of your fridge; they are a delight simply cooked for two mins in plenty of salted, vigorously boiling water. A small knob of butter might help, but I’d implore you to do nothing more.

You may notice that the individual spring green plants vary from 50-200g; this is partly from fighting off weeds and pests, but also a result of genetic variation as they are among the few remaining open pollinated crops which are not grown from ‘F1’ hybrid seeds. For thousands of years, farmers have saved seeds from the best of their crops, thus exerting a selective pressure which led to incremental genetic improvement. In the 1930s, American maize researchers found that if you created two intensively inbred, and therefore relatively uniform strains, and then crossed them, the first (‘F1’) generation could combine the best of both strains while maintaining uniformity and adding hybrid vigour. Hybrid plant breeding helped boost yields and reduce production costs through the late 20th century, and has contributed to the low food prices we have today.

When I started growing vegetables in the ‘80s, my crops were perhaps 20% hybrids; now it’s 90% plus. Mostly it’s a change for the best as we have benefited from better disease resistance, more vigour and increased yield. On the downside I suspect that we have lost some flavour in a few crops. Bigger issues are that hybrids often need near-perfect growing conditions to thrive (hence our open-pollinated spring greens still win out in the tough depths of winter) and most significantly, hybrids do not breed true; this means that farmers cannot harvest their own seed but must buy new seed in every year. Over the last 20 years the GM companies Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont have bought up seed companies so they now control almost half the global seed trade; I would argue that this monopoly is a bigger issue than GM. Everything around food starts with the seed, so do we really want its future controlled by companies that have risen on the backs of manufacturing PCBs, Agent Orange, bovine growth hormone and glyphosate tolerant GM crops? Long live the unruly greens I say.

Guy Watson

Tasty turkey leftover recipes from Riverford

We’ve selected our favourite Christmas leftover recipes to help you make the most of any turkey or ham you might still have left on Boxing Day.

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Bubble & squeak with hollandaise: see recipe here

A great Boxing day brunch dish. Leave out the hollandaise if you like, or if you’re not confident cooking poached eggs, you can fry them instead.

 Turkey risotto: see recipe here

A tasty favourite with a turkey twist. Makes a great recipe for using up the remains of a roast dinner, or substitute leftover goose or turkey after Christmas.

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Turkey quesadillas: see recipe here

Feel like it’s time for a Mexican twist? Try our turkey quesadilla recipe to add a little spice to the festive season.

Turkey vermicelli soup: see recipe here

This hearty, warming soup uses up the scraps left over from a roast.

Ben’s wine blog: win a trip to Italy & cracking Christmas wines

Ben takes us through his top picks of wines that are just right for getting the Christmas celebrations started, plus buy a bottle of festive Pizzini fizz or our Christmas mixed wine case and you could win a trip to the Barone Pizzini vineyard near Verona in Italy to see how it’s made! (see below on how to enter)

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It’s been a year since I was handed the poisoned chalice that is the Riverford corkscrew and I’d like to think that we’ve made good progress – better wines at better prices as you’ll see from the Christmas list. New wines for Autumn and Christmas, available from November, include two very different Sauvignon Blancs. Domaine de Petit Roubié from Picpoul in the Languedoc is medium bodied with typical grass and floral notes. The other, Bodegas Menade from Rueda in northern Spain is elegant, aromatic and fragrant with notes of herbs and citrus peel.

Refreshing whites

Our Christmas special white is a classy Sancerre from the Loire. Domaine Vincent Gaudry’s Le Tournebride ticks all the boxes that have made good Sancerre one of the world’s great white wines; crisp, flinty minerality with classic citrus grapefruit and lemon flavours. Class in a glass. Another highlight is Davenport Vineyards Horsmonden dry white form East Sussex. A winner in the Soil Association 2014 Organic Food Awards, it’s a joy to have a real, quality, English organic wine on the list. Chardonnay is still the most noble of white grapes and by far the best with food. Gilles Louvet ‘O’ Chardonnay is a no nonsense, great value example. Similar to Chablis in weight and character but the Languedoc sun opens it up and makes it far more accessible. Definitely a crowd pleaser, it’s the perfect white wine to pair with rich food on the Christmas table. See our range here.

Rounded reds

From the same stable we have ‘O’ Pinot Noir. Winemakers try so hard to stamp their mark on Pinot Noir that often their egos and the grapes’ idiosyncrasies make for a love/hate relationship that can only end in tears. Gilles Louvet Pinot Noir is no such thing. Well made and great value, it’s perfect with the turkey. If you’re more into your Bordeaux, hopefully, Chateau Coursou will float your boat. A traditional blend of Cabernets Sauvignon, Franc and Merlot, it was head and shoulders above the other clarets we tried. See our range here.

Top of the pops on the red front is Montirius, Vacqueyras ‘Le Clos’. From one of Jancis Robinson’s favourite Rhone producers it’s Syrah predominant, full bodied, big and beefy. As close to a Chateauneuf du Pape as we could find, this is definitely one for the goose and Stilton.

Warming winter tipples

Last year Pedro Ximénez sherry was touted as being the perfect match for Christmas pudding – not surprising really given that the grapes are dried to an almost raisin-like intensity. We haven’t been able to find any organic sherry but we have come up with a similarly unctuous ‘sticky’ made up the road near Cordoba. Peidra Luenga Pedro Ximémez is a classic deep mahogany colour with intense aromas and a palate of dried fruits, raisins and figs, with notes of chocolate and coffee. Smooth and velvety on the palate, with great length and balance – it’s close to being the most moreish drink I’ve ever had. There’s an equally good Fino made, as is the PX, using the traditional solera ageing system of passing from barrel to barrel leaving a small residue to help age the next batch. See our range here.

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Festive fizz

Lastly, and definitely my favourite, is Barone Pizzini’s Animante Franciacorta. Franciacorta must be one of Italy’s best kept secrets, a tiny appellation north east of Milan, specialising in sparkling wines using the same grapes and method as Champagne. In a recent FT article on the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championship, Jancis Robinson put two Franciacorta fizzes in her top eight (five of the other six were Champagnes). The Animante wasn’t one those but it won gold at the prestigious Sommelier Wine Awards and at £19.99, it bridges the gap nicely between Prosecco and Champagne. It’s got everything Champagne has, including that luxurious, creamy mouthfeel, apart from the name, and it’s half the price. See it here.

Win a trip to Barone Pizzini vineyard in Italy!

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Win an Italian trip for two when you buy a bottle of Pizzini fizz or a Christmas mixed wine case. To enter, simply buy a bottle of Barone Pizzini’s Animante Franciacorta (1 bottle or a case od 6), or our Christmas mixed wine case.

Get into the festive spirit with a bottle of our Barone Pizzini animante fizz, or our Christmas mixed wine case, and we’ll enter you into a free prize draw to win a 2 night stay at the Barone Pizzini organic vineyard near Verona in Northern Italy. Franciacorta, near Lake Iseo, is the perfect place for making Italy’s best fizz. Franciacorta is the name of the area, the production method (traditional, bottle fermentation) and also the name of the wine. Barone Pizzini has recently celebrated 140 years since the company was founded. It is one of the oldest wineries in Franciacorta established in 1870. It was also the first winery in Franciacorta to adopt organic viticulture methods.

We have limited stocks, so if you fancy some festive fizz and the chance of a trip to Italy, add a bottle to your order now!

T&Cs

1. Holiday includes: 2 return flights from UK to Italy, UK departure location to suit winner, but only subject to approval by Vintage Roots (promoter).  Accommodation of a 2 night stay in a minimum 3* hotel near Barone Pizzini Vineyard, near Lake Iseo, with dinner and breakfast. ½ day tour of Barone Pizzini organic vineyard and an Italian lunch, leaving free time afterwards at your leisure.

2. Not included in prize: transport to & from airport in UK, transport from airport in Italy to accommodation. Barone Pizzini representative will collect and return you from your hotel on the day of the tour.

3. Over 18s only.

4. Entrants have to buy any bottle (single or multiple) of Barone pizzini franciacorta animante or a Riverford Christmas mixed wine case to be entered into the draw. Products have to be delivered by 31st December 2014.

5. Only one entry per person, multiple bottles do not mean multiple entries.

6. Holiday has to be taken between 1/1//15 – 1/4/15 (excluding half term dates and bank holidays). Provider reserves the right to offer flight and travel in Italy details and refuse travel on very expensive dates.

7. Competition provider is Vintage Roots and Barone Pizzini.

8. Winners will be contacted within 14 working days of closing date. If winners do not confirm prize with 7 days of notification, promoter reserves the right to pick an alternative winner.

9. Riverford is not responsible for lost, late, incomplete or damaged competition entries or data lost due to circumstances beyond their control.

10.Prizes are non-transferable and cannot be exchanged. The winner may not use the prize in conjunction with any other offer, promotion or prize draw.

11. Riverford and its partners reserve the right to substitute stated prize with a similar item should prize offered become unavailable.

12. Judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

13. Promoter is Riverford Organic Farms Ltd and Vintage Roots

14.A list of winners and their areas will be available upon written request from 2nd January 2015.

Make your own decorations: Christmas star

A lovely way to brighten up your home or Christmas tree, or to give as a gift to a friend, – we’ve been busy making these lovely Christmas decorations from a few twigs and some string, here’s how we did it:

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Step 1: Make the most of a countryside walk gathering up dry twigs and sticks from your garden, nearby park or winter stroll in the park.

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Step 2: When you’ve got a collection of twigs, you will need the following to your Christmas star:

  • twigs
  • strong scissors or secateurs
  • garden or brown string, or pink ribbon

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Step 3: Cut the twigs into 6 equal lengths (about 6-10cm long will make it easier to tie the ends together).

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Step 4: Take 2 twigs and cross two ends into a triangle shape. Place the string under the cross and tie a knot.

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Step 5: Take a third twig and cross it to make a triangle with 3 equal sides. Repeat with the remaining three twigs.

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Step 6: Place one triangle over the other to make a star shape.

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Step 7: Take a piece of string and tie the two stars together at the join (see picture above). Repeat at the join opposite.

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Step 8: Take a piece of string or festive ribbon and make into a tag to hang from your Christmas tree.

Crafty Halloween idea: Spooktacular Salad!

Crafty Halloween idea: Spooktacular Salad!

Treat hungry trick or treaters to something to tuck into with our creepy skeleton salad bits & dip!

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This spooktacular salad is simple to make and is a great healthy treat for hungry trick-or-treaters.  Kids can get hands-on  arranging the different bones to create their own creepy creature!

Send us a photo of your creepy creations on Twitter or Facebook using #healthyhalloween.  We’d love to see what you come up with!

Ingredients:

  • Pepper
  • Courgette
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots (we used purple carrots for an extra spooky effect!)
  • Hummus
  • Olives
  • Large plate or chopping board
  • Small bowl

Step 1: Cut up the different components ready to arrange on a plate or chopping board.

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Step 2: Start arranging your skeleton.  Find a bowl for the head, it’ll be filled with dip later, but it’s great to get an idea of scale for the skeleton’s bones.

Courgettes cut into disks make a great spine, and red peppers are perfect for ribs.

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Step 3: Add arms and legs using celery and carrots.  Cauliflower and broccoli are a great way of creating hands and feet.

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Step 4:  Fill your bowl with dip and position as the skeleton’s head.

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Step 5:  Use cabbage or lettuce leaves for the hair and sliced olives for the skeleton’s eyes.  An off-cut from the pepper is perfect as a smiley mouth.

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Step 6:  Chop up any spare veg and put in a side bowl for everyone to get stuck in!

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Tuck into your tasty skeleton! Have a great Halloween and don’t forget to send us a photo!

 

 

 

 

River Cottage day out: From field to fork

We pulled our wellies on and headed down to Park Farm near Axminster, home to River Cottage HQ in Devon, to spend the day getting a taste of how the folks at River Cottage are inspiring people to explore the journey of our food from field to fork.

We joined guests on the River Cottage Experience course, created to connect people to home-grown, home-cooked food and inspire people to get the best out of seasonal and ethical produce by cooking from scratch.

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How to bake your daily bread: just use the basic ingredients
The day started with an introduction to bread, setting the scene with a reminder that a true loaf should only contain 5 basic ingredients: yeast, water, salt, flour and sugar. We couldn’t agree more.

Head Chef, Gelf, got the class mixing and kneading dough for a simple white loaf which we left to prove whilst heading out around the farm to see the livestock and crops based on the farm.

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From field to fork: fruit, veg and livestock
Set in 65 acres of rolling Devon hills, the pebbly soil and steep gradient of the land surrounding Park Farm lends itself best to livestock and grazing. The flatter parts of the terrain is put to good use: unheated polytunnels and allotment areas dedicated to cultivating fruit and veg, and carefully managed traditional hay meadows designed to provide feed for livestock and act as a biodiversity haven for bugs, bees and butterflies.

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Fruit & veg
Hugh’s famous kitchen garden was brimming with autumnal seasonal veg – cavolo nero, curly kale, runner beans, broccoli and more. Destined for the River Cottage kitchen, roots, brassicas, legumes and salad crops grow up set against the backdrop of the famous River Cottage farmhouse. The crop types are rotated around four quadrants of the garden each year to minimise crop-specific pests and diseases and nutrients.

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Livestock
The team at River Cottage rear their own livestock – cattle, sheep, poultry and pigs. All are cared for to the highest possible organic welfare standards and kept within a stone’s throw of the kitchen – the food chain doesn’t get much shorter than this.

Sheepy facts
Busy grazing on clover-rich organic pasture, Farmer Dan introduced the group to River Cottage’s flock of Poll Dorset sheep. A thrifty breed, the Poll Dorset has a long breeding season and can live on tougher pastures. Here Dan explained the definition behind the different types of lamb meat you can buy:

new season lamb – lamb born in the current breeding season
old season lamb – lamb born in the previous breeding season, but still under a year old
hogget (or two tooth) – over a year old
mutton – a sheep who has lambed and is over 2 years old

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Back to the kitchen ….
Staying true to the season, we started prep on an autumnal game casserole pie that we would be tucking into together later on that day. An earthy mix of meat including hare (net caught), wood pigeon, duck, grouse and beef reared on the farm and hung for 6 weeks, the flavours rising in the River Cottage kitchen had everyone sneaking an extra mouthful to ‘check the flavour’ just one more time (!). We left the casserole to reduce while we headed outside to make our own pizza for lunch in River Cottage’s outdoor wood-fired oven and soak up the breath-taking Devon views.

Bake off! Rough puff pastry
In a scene similar to a Bake Off, it was back to the kitchen to make up a block of rough puff pastry, carefully creating layers of butter and flour which we used to top off our casseroles.

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Profiteroles & thought-provoking pigs
Simpler than some might think, we cracked straight on to whipping up a batch of profiteroles which were popped into the oven, then it was time to learn about butchery and home-curing bacon techniques using a pig reared by the River Cottage team at Park Farm.

How often do you see pigs in a field?
Did you know that we rear as many pigs in the UK as sheep? How many pigs have you seen in a field in the countryside? Next time you pick up a cheap packet of sausages in a supermarket, spare a thought for the pigs. You see plenty of sheep grazing in the fresh air, but the majority of our pigs spend their lives reared indoors in enormous barns, fed only feed and pumped with antibiotics to meet low prices demanded by consumers. You can choose to support high-welfare farms and happier pigs who have had the chance to snuffle around for tasty morsels in the outdoors.

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From field to fork: time to enjoy the fruits of our labour
After a great day on the River Cottage Experience course seeing how food gets from the farm to our plate, the end of the day marked a time to sit down with a glass of wine, discuss what was learnt and enjoy the fruits of our labour … with a dash of River Cottage sparkle added to the food by their team of chefs.

All in all, everyone enjoyed what was a fulfilling, fact-laden day – taking home a feeling of being better connected with where our food comes from and a bag full of bread, profiteroles and casserole!

If you’d like to join the River Cottage team for a day on the farm cooking, eating and drinking (or think it’d make a great Christmas present), you can see the full range of courses here.