Green tomato… beer?

A special new brew has recently been added to our shelves: Barnaby’s green tomato saison, made just for Riverford using our own surplus organic green tomatoes. How did this unusual – and very tasty – tipple come about?

Barnaby’s Brewhouse is a small organic craft brewery based at the Riverford Dairy’s Hole Farm in South Devon. It benefits from natural spring water that rises on the farm; the water has a very low mineral content and is therefore perfect for brewing organic craft lagers.

Barnaby’s Brewhouse has close ties with Riverford, having brewed special batches of ‘foraged beer’ for our award-winning Devon farm restaurant The Riverford Field Kitchen. Their crisp, refreshing pilsner lager and distinctively tinged Red Helles lager are both available in our online shop and have gone down a treat with customers.

After a grey and gloomy summer last year, we ended up with a glut of green tomatoes that just wouldn’t ripen. While visiting Barnaby and the team, we jokingly asked if they could use any green tomatoes in a brew?

Much to our surprise, the brewers rose to the challenge and came up with a recipe for a green tomato saison – almost certainly the first of its kind in the UK.

‘Saison’ is a Belgian farmhouse style of beer, so called because it was brewed at the end of the farming season when temperatures were ideal for fermentation. It had to be strong enough to last through the summer – when farmers were back working on the land – and so typically has an alcohol content between 5 and 8% ABV.

Traditionally, Saison beers have often been made with spices and botanicals; a range of fruit varieties still exist on the market including apricot, strawberry, raspberry and cherry. It is a very distinctive rustic beer, light yet earthy and spicy in flavour. Saison also typically has a high level of carbonation and is sometimes sold in champagne-like bottles.

Using green tomatoes in Barnaby’s saison gives it freshness and a hint of sourness. Because of the amount of fruit that is used, it also has a slightly wine-like quality. This means it pairs exceptionally well with a range of foods.

According to Garrett Oliver, author of The Brewmaster’s Table, it ‘… seems to go with almost everything. The combination of dynamic bitterness, scouring carbonation, bright aromatics, spicy flavours, pepper notes, dark earthy underpinnings and racy acidity gives these beers a hook to hang their hat on for a wide range of dishes.’

We’ve found it to be delicious with peppered steaks, Thai dishes, spicy sausages, creamy goats milk cheese – the list goes on and on. Give it a try and let us know what dishes you pair it with!

Barnaby’s green tomato saison is now available online – save 5% when you buy a case of 12.

5 vegan recipes for March

Not only does March (hopefully!) mean a little welcome sunshine and the start of longer days, on the farm it also means the arrival of wild garlic, foraged from the woodland around our Devon farm, and purple sprouting broccoli (PSB), which has been long awaited this year; we usually start picking it in late January but the weather decided otherwise for us this season.

As we approach the Hungry Gap, we’re grateful for the root veg harvested and stored through the winter, and continue to make the most of beautiful vibrant beetroot and our sweet, iconic carrots.

Here are our 5 vegan recipe picks for the month.

Wheatberries & Purple Sprouting Broccoli with Crispy Garlic & Chilli

A hearty and healthy dish combining toothsome wheatberries, PSB and crispy fried onions. Wheatberries are the entire wheat kernel except for the hull. They take a while to cook but have a good nutty texture, lending real substance to a dish.

Read the full wheatberries and purple sprouting broccoli with crispy garlic and chilli recipe.

Red Pepper Paella with Wild Garlic & Almonds

Want to sound authentic and well-travelled? Learn to pronounce paella properly. Essentially the trick is to stifle the ll sound in the back of the throat and replace it with a y sound instead. pie-eh-ya. This recipe makes the most of wild garlic during its short season, and is topped with toasted flaked almonds for an added crunch.

Read the full red pepper paella with wild garlic, almonds & an olive & orange salad recipe.

Indian Masala Roast Carrots with Coconut Red Lentils & Flatbreads

The sweet earthy qualities of the humble carrot make it an ideal vehicle for a whole world of spices. Set against this simple dahl-like bowl of lentils they are best roasted with a little bite left to them.

Read the full indian masala roast carrots with coconut red lentils & flatbreads recipe.

Roasted Beetroot, Carrot, Lentil & Cumin Seed Salad

This colourful, hearty salad has sweet notes from the roasted carrots and beetroot, and a mild, earthy flavour from green lentils. We’ve finished it with a simple zesty dressing made from lemon and olive oil. Try other root veg in place of carrots and beetroot; parsnips or celeriac would work especially well.

Read the full roasted beetroot, carrot, lentil and cumin seed salad recipe.

Jerk Chickpeas & Roasted Peppers with Callaloo

Jerk spice is a Jamaican style spice mix traditionally used to flavour meat, but it also works for vegetarians with pulses and beans. We’ve swapped the blow-your-socks-off Scotch bonnet chillies for some paprika. This makes the flavour more aromatic rather than too hot to handle, as there’s also chillies in the callaloo spinach and coconut sauce. Callaloo is a Caribbean dish which uses an amaranth leaf native to the area, but spinach or chard work well as an alternative.

Read the full jerk chickpeas & roasted peppers with callaloo (spinach & coconut sauce) recipe.

Guy’s news: Waiting for the plough

A pair of pigeons is edging closer on the branch outside my room. She is tolerating his wooing… from a distance. This is no weather to be starting a brood – or planting vegetables. Like the pigeons, we are in limbo, waiting for the sun to make its appearance; they could be building their nest, and we should be ploughing in readiness, but nothing is happening.

Ploughed ground usually dries faster, provided the furrows stand up and allow air into the soil; should we have taken our meagre chances and ploughed last month? Plough too soon, and the furrows will slump in heavy rain, reducing to an airless pudding which is slower than ever to dry and can go sour. The ideal is to plough far enough ahead to allow soil fungi and bacteria to start breaking down the residues of previous crops, compost and manures into soluble nutrients, but not so early that those nutrients are leached by the rain before crops can use them. Achieving such perfect timing is not so easy when grabbing whatever opportunities the weather provides.

Ploughing is a well proven, but deeply flawed, pragmatic compromise; by inverting the soil and leaving it bare, soil life is damaged and the danger of soil loss is multiplied many times. Against this, the new crop is given a weedfree start and the aeration can provide a short-term fix for soil compaction, therefore aiding root growth. The truth is, we don’t know how to grow many crops without ploughing – especially without the aid of chemical herbicides. This year, working with other members of our co-op and a research initiative called Innovative Farmers, we are experimenting with only cultivating narrow strips to plant into. The idea is to give the crop enough competitive advantage without ploughing the whole field. Like most innovation, it will almost certainly fail first time, but I hope it will provide experience to build on and be the first step towards a less compromised, more sustainable growing system. It seemed like a great and worthy idea in the calm of January; I suspect I may be cursing my enthusiasm in the heat of June.

Guy Singh-Watson

New Easter cheeses; handmade and full of flavour

We’ve spent years scouring the country for the best handmade organic cheeses and are pretty confident we offer some of the best tasting cheeses around from a range of small scale producers.

We’ve introduced two rather special cheeses for Easter. One from High Weald Dairy in West Sussex, and one from Bath Soft Cheese.

We’ve worked with High Weald Dairy for six years now. The family run dairy supply us with organic halloumi and sheep’s cheeses, and we’re excited to now introduce their St Giles cow’s cheese. It’s an English equivalent to the continental style Saint Paulin or Port Salut style of cheese found in France. It’s a semi-soft creamy cheese, with a rich, buttery texture, a creamy mild flavour and a gorgeous edible orange rind.

The cheese gets its name from the Norman village church in Horsted Keynes where High Weald Dairy is based. It takes eight hours to make, but ten weeks to mature, and uses almost 9 litres of whole organic milk to make 1 kilo of cheese. After grading, the orange coating (made from organic carrots!) is applied, and the cheese is ready to go. It’s previously won Best English and Best British Cheese at the World Cheese Awards.

Our second addition is Wyfe of Bath, from the Bath Soft Cheese company. The Padfield family have milked at Park Farm in Kelston for four generations and made cheese using traditional methods for almost 30 years.

Wyfe of Bath is a semi-hard cheese, echoing the types of cheese farmers’ wives would make with the soured milk. It is creamy and nutty and harks back to Old England, hence the Chaucer reference. They handmake it using the traditional method of placing the curd in cloth-lined baskets, which gives the final product a wonderful basket shape.

Try our special Easter additions for a show-stopping cheeseboard to finish your bank holiday feast.

Add St Giles to your order
Add Wyfe of Bath to your order

Guy’s news: Grey bananas & early lettuce

As the last vestiges of snow retreat into north-facing hedges, we are counting the cost brought by the tail of winter that arrived at the beginning of spring. Despite valiant efforts from our drivers, we had five lorries loaded with 30,000 items of produce stuck in the snow, plus many Riverford vans that had to abandon their rounds. Over the last few days we sorted through the returned orders, re-using hardy, unharmed veg like carrots and potatoes in this week’s boxes, and did our best to find homes for what was too ripe through local schools and charities. Bananas were the biggest casualty; they got too cold and turned an unappetising grey.

On the land, the thaw combined with heavy rain and has left our soils sodden, re-opening springs that have been dry all winter. The target dates for planting the first cabbage, lettuce, peas, broad beans and potatoes have passed, and the backlog of plants is building up in the greenhouses and hardening-off yards. With no sign of settled weather ahead, the chances of planting this month seem remote. It is frustrating not to be able to make a start, but the soil is still cold; experience has so often seen later plantings quickly catch up and often overtake those planted weeks earlier in poor conditions. We must be patient; at least it allows time to complete our winter tree planting and maintenance, though mercifully our polytunnels, which are not designed to support heavy snow accumulations, survived largely unscathed. We often lament the steepness of our land which challenges mechanisation and so adds labour cost, but it does have the virtue of draining rapidly and drying quickly; something we are glad of this year.

Meanwhile, 250 miles further south we have been planting crops in the sandy, well drained land on our French farm for two months already. We had nights of -6°C last week but, with the help of crop covers and low-level tunnels, the first lettuce will be ready for your boxes in just two weeks, thanks to the superior light quality and milder conditions. It has not been an easy year, but the growing experience of our team there has helped us to make the best of it by grabbing what weather windows we get.

Guy Singh-Watson

Meet Patrick, the new Riverford Field Kitchen head chef

We recently found ourselves with a big role to fill in our farm restaurant, The Riverford Field Kitchen, as we said goodbye to head chef, James Dodd, who returned to his home town of Liverpool.

It can be a challenge to find chefs who are as obsessed with vegetables as we are, and even more so when the predecessor was such a veg nerd that they had a whole arm tattooed in dedication to the green stuff, but we’re delighted to have found one, in the form of Patrick Hanna, whose Riverford journey first began in 2008.

“When I moved from Belfast to London, I took a job washing dishes in this weird pub turned restaurant in Islington, serving organic food.  The pub was called the Duke of Cambridge.  This led to a short stint at the Riverford Field Kitchen. I had no idea what an amazing journey of fascination with food and farming this would get going.  Ten years on, I’m back and excited to be cooking these big, heart warming dishes again.”

After that initial year, Patrick’s food journey went worldwide with stints cooking on a farm in Spain, at a biodynamic vineyard in Australia and on fishing boats. This experience of cooking at source ultimately circled back to where it all began, here on our south Devon farm.

As well as the nostalgic feeling The Field Kitchen and Devon give Patrick, another love for the restaurant stems from the unique connection the food served has with the surrounding fields. Coming up with a daily changing menu dependent on what is being harvested at the time is a daunting task for many, but Patrick welcomes it and is excited by the challenge.

One of his fondest food memories is picking apart an artichoke as a child and dipping it in vinaigrette, not really knowing what to do, but enjoying the tactile experience and its resemblance to its organic form. He believes in the power of simplicity and quality ingredients, and hates food that is unrecognisable from its natural form, specifically referencing cubed carrots.

It seems like a return to Riverford was meant to be for Patrick, especially as someone who shares a unique love of artichokes and cardoons with founder Guy Singh-Watson. Either that or our big, colourful sharing platters of organic veg and infamous sticky toffee pud are too good to stay away from!

Not snow much waste….

It’s a new week and today there’s little resemblance to the winter wonderlands our organic farms became last week, just the odd muddy, slushy white spots dotted around the fields, and a welcome temperature of 7°C. Our south Devon farm was affected the most, when a combination of the ‘Beast from the East’ and Storm Emma left us with over 20cm of snow.

This meant we couldn’t make it to a lot of customers on Friday, and we’ve had a few warranted questions about what will happen to the veg that we were unable to deliver.

The good news is, because we hate food waste at any time of year, we have a good system in place to make sure every last carrot, apple or spud is put to good use by someone or in some way.

Luckily, the total amount of produce unable to be used in boxes has only ended up being about 6%, and we will filter this veg through our usual grade-out system, which includes:

Charity donations
Every week, local charities, including FoodCycle, collect grade-out veg for use in children’s centres, soup kitchens, community centres and refuges.

Our staff canteen and restaurants
A large percentage of our grade-out is used in our staff canteen, farm restaurant, The Riverford Field Kitchen, and at our London pub, The Duke of Cambridge in Islington.

Free veg for staff
Riverford staff eat very well! Not only do we enjoy gorgeous, organic, subsidised meals in the canteen, but we also enjoy grade out fruit and veg. There’s always a flurry of activity when there are strawberries or avocados to be had in the grade-out room!

The Riverford Dairy herd
Cows love our veg too, especially broccoli. With the Riverford Dairy just a stone’s throw away, the cows are very happy to eat the veg that really isn’t good enough for human mouths. We have to be careful mind; beetroot makes their milk pink, and onions and garlic taint the taste.

Guy’s dad.
John Watson is the ultimate food waste hero. A half rotten Crown Prince squash in grade-out? He’ll take it on!

Guy’s news: Risk, consistent blandness & pineapples

Two weeks in Sri Lanka feasting morning, noon and night on the best food I have ever eaten has left me craving coconut, jackfruit, lime and curry leaf, but not their pineapples. Fresh aromatic leaves, fruit, vegetables and spices with minimal meat, a little dried fish and a marked absence of processed ingredients, prepared in the simplest of kitchens with honesty and confidence was available on every street, village and market.

Within hours of returning home I was on the farm in search of greenery to detox from my airline food; there was not much to be had on account of the cold and I found myself embroiled in a debate about pineapples instead. Grown in Togo, ours were better than any I had eaten on holiday but tragically the sweetest and most juicy were being rejected. One in four had small areas of internal browning as they reached their peak of sweetness and, after a rash of complaints, we were playing safe; hopefully most will go to food charities or be eaten by staff rather than by the cows. The tragedy of such waste is compounded by memories of visiting the growers and witnessing the human effort that went into nurturing the fruit; most have been grown using only mattocks and carried a kilometre or more from small remote fields to the nearest road, in the first stage of their long and tortuous journey to your door. Added frustration comes from knowing that those growers would view a such light browning as little more than a sign of ripeness.

If we accept that “the customer is always right” and assess satisfaction by measuring complaints we will, paradoxically, manage ourselves into a situation where we sell consistent but mildly disappointing fruit while accepting ludicrous waste; just like most supermarkets. We must be brave enough to accept occasional complaints and I would ask you, our customers, not to give up on us at the first over-ripe piece of fruit. We must both trust, forgive and take a little risk, in order to avoid a life of predictable blandness.

Outside the ground is hard as iron and snow is falling on snow. Our intrepid drivers will do their best but, in anticipation of logistical carnage, I apologise to those whose boxes arrived late or not at all.

Guy Singh-Watson

Live Life on the Veg with these 5 kale recipes

Mushrooms, Kale & Barley with Fresh Herbs & Baked Eggs

This is an easy, two-pan dish with plenty of umami (savoury) flavour from the mushrooms, particularly the dried mushroom liquor that acts like a little stock. We’ve used curly, but any kale will work here.

Read full mushrooms, kale & barley with fresh herbs & baked eggs recipe.

Guy’s Kale Hash

This kale, chorizo and potato hash is the ultimate weekend breakfast or hearty dinner on a cold day. Top with a poached egg to make a more complete meal. You can also use cabbage or sliced Brussels sprouts in place of kale here.

See full Guy’s kale hash recipe.

Celeriac, Kale & Mushroom Pie

This winter warmer gives the heartiest of meat stews a run for its money. Cooking the component parts may seem a bit fiddly but it ensures each ingredient retains its perfect flavour and texture. We’ve suggested some additions to the filling but go easy with them – the veg is more than enough to carry the show.

See full celeriac, kale & mushroom pie recipe.

Baked Potatoes with Cheesy Kale Filling

These vegetarian baked potatoes hit that magic spot somewhere between decadent and worthy. They make a great simple and inexpensive midweek dinner and can be easily adapted to your kitchen contents: use chard or spinach if you have this in your veg box instead of kale, or use a smoky cheese such as Gruyère in place of cheddar.

See full baked potatoes with cheesy kale filling recipe.

Kale, Spelt & Chorizo Big Soup

This ‘big soup’ is a chunky broth that’s almost a stew. It’s a great style of dish for using up the last odds and ends in your winter veg box. The basic requirements are onion and garlic, a grain, good stock and lots of veg, but you can liven it up with bacon or chorizo, by stirring in pesto or by sprinkling over gremolata. It also reheats well.

See full kale, spelt & chorizo big soup recipe.

Ed’s news: No such thing as too much salad

Guy is on holiday at the moment, returning next week. In his absence, here’s the latest news from green-fingered grower Ed Scott, who takes care of the polytunnels on our Devon farm. Tomatoes, cucumbers and more await in summer; for now, it’s all about leaves…

The salad leaves we grow in the winter are a bit of a godsend: we can maximise use of our polytunnels, which always look a little sad when empty, and keep our harvest teams busy in the colder months when there’s not a lot else going on. Another benefit is that oversupply is never an issue. A glut of courgettes in summer is a problem: there are only so many times we can put them in the
boxes before customers start crying foul. An excess of winter salad, however, is always welcome; most people are happy to see a bit of leafy greenery alongside the heavier winter staples of potatoes and swede. Every extra bag we can produce is also one less lettuce that has to be brought in from Europe, reducing food miles, carbon footprint and – not to be ignored – costs.

This year we hope to produce about 30,000kg of salad. We have 11 different types of leaf growing, and pick around 6 per week for our mixed salad bags. Most plants can picked 4-5 times before they get too bitter or start ‘bolting’ (abandoning leaf growth to produce flowers and seeds) and have to go.

Growing in an enclosed space, the plants have to be monitored closely for pests and diseases that will spread like wildfire. At present we have an issue with whitefly in the Claytonia (winter purslane). We’re planning to bring their population back down to a manageable level using a product made from dried chrysanthemum flowers, which works by blocking the spiracles (breathing holes)
of the insect. We never use artificial chemical-based pesticides, and wouldn’t spray the crops even with a natural product during summer, except under very exceptional circumstances. But at this time of year, when all the beneficial insects such as bees, ladybirds, lacewing and hoverfly larvae are dormant, we can rescue our crops with a clear conscience.

We’re planting some extra lettuces next week, but they won’t be ready for a while, so we may not have much to offer for the next few weeks. Bear with us, and normal service will be resumed as soon as they come through!

Ed Scott