Five steps to an ethical Christmas

Christmas is that time of year when it’s tempting to throw all ethical intentions to the wind in place of decadent decorations, thoughtful gifts for loved ones and any kind of food that takes your fancy. And rightly so. But having an ethical Christmas doesn’t have to mean missing out on all the fun, and making a few swaps here and there is easier than it might sound…

1. Consider your choice of wrapping paper.
Anything laminated or metallic cannot currently be recycled, and as for glitter, which is a micro plastic and seeps into the environment almost undetected, that should be an automatic no-go. Try making your own wrapping with brown paper and using a festive stamp to create your own pattern, or failing that, choose the non-metallic paper options. And while we’re on the topic of presents, swap your plastic-coated metallic ribbons for recycled fabric ones where possible.

2. Use dried oranges for Christmas decorations
Christmas is the time of plastic proliferation. In a year that has seen Blue Planet II send the issue of plastic pollution skyrocketing up the agenda, now is the time to consider a fabulously fruity Christmas tree decoration instead of yet another plastic bauble. Cut slices of orange and lay them in your oven on its lowest temperature. Bake until dried (anything from two to four hours depending on your oven) and then hang on the tree using red or green wool. Mix it up by drying pink grapefruit or lemons, or if you like your decorations a little spicier, try hanging dried red chillies. For the interior decorations, collect and hang fir cones and other green foliage, bonus points if you find some with berries.

3. Make your own Christmas wreath
There’s nothing more festive than winding beautiful, dark green holly and ivy into a traditional wreath, while sipping mulled wine and listening to old-school Christmas tunes. Invite a friend round for a catch up and a wreath-making session and enjoy the run-up to Christmas as it should be, minus the hectic shopping and preparation. Bend an old wire coat hanger into a circular shape, winding long strands of ivy around the loop until you have a thick base, then weave in the shorter and spikier holly sprigs. Add more foliage until you are happy with the shape, perhaps adding a little hanging Santa or red ribbon through the middle as a finishing touch.

4. Use up your leftovers
It’s the time of year many of us will eat to excess, but try as we might, there is always far too much left over. Before turning to the compost, try using some of these leftover recipes and embrace a bit of cooking to switch up the Christmas TV routine. On a more serious note, Christmas isn’t a time of plenty for everyone and it’s worth remembering as we tuck into yet another feast that many across the country are going to bed hungry. You can volunteer at community food networks such as FoodCycle and help cook and host meals made from donated food, or there are initiatives like the reverse advent calendar, which involves adding one item to a hamper throughout December and donating it all to a local food bank.

5. Support your local businesses
Busy high streets, bad weather and traffic can mean it’s all too tempting to use certain online delivery giants for your shopping. But Christmas is a vital time of year for independent shops, which face an uphill battle competing with online shopping for the rest of the year. Make this year the year you log off and explore your local town or city with its independent shops or markets. It’s also a way to reduce your carbon footprint – instead of ordering five different deliveries in five different vans with their respective diesel emissions, take yourself to the town centre and do it all in one trip.

Happy ethical Christmas!

Guy’s news: Towards the world Scott wants to live in

It’s wild, grim and muddy out there, bringing growth to a standstill which will last six weeks. With so little vegetable stimulus, my thoughts fell to Brexit for this newsletter, but you are spared; it was so depressing I have junked it. Like many, I feel powerless, tired, and disappointed in our politicians on both sides. Better to concentrate on the positive changes that can be made without them.

In November, five months after becoming employee owned, we elected our first 21-strong co-owner council. Unconventionally, everyone at Riverford, apart from the directors, was a candidate; there is truth in the adage that those who seek power are the least suitable for holding it. We have still ended up with women and national minorities (roughly one-third of our staff are Eastern European) underrepresented, as is so often the case, but otherwise the group feels balanced; they already refer to themselves as a family.

Ultimately the council appoints the trustees, who appoint the board – but in reality, all three bodies in our tripartite governance structure are accountable to each other, and responsible for running a successful business in accordance with our founding principles. It sounds complicated, cumbersome and potentially threatening to conventional management positions; but concentrating power in the hands of one body is dangerous, and wastes the value of the conventionally powerless. We are all realising that harnessing a broad perspective will help us to make better decisions and implement them more effectively.

The pace is frustrating to my impetuous nature but, by feeling our way along slowly, we are growing up together. The thoughtfulness, understanding and magnanimity repeatedly shown by those unfamiliar with power reassures me that we are on the right path; that we can unlock the huge potential of our collective intelligence. In the words of Scott, a quietly spoken, newly elected council representative, “We are creating a microcosm of the world I have always wanted to live in.” At which point I became tearful and had to leave.

Struggling for a Christmas present? We have published a choice selection of Guy’s newsletters, charting his ruminations on food, farming and business over 25 years, illustrated by Guardian cartoonists Berger & Wyse. Yours for £9.99 at riverford.co.uk/book.

How to cook a turkey

A whole golden, succulent roast organic turkey: the classic Christmas centrepiece. Our birds are the much-celebrated Bronze breed: a slow-growing traditional turkey that gives rich, juicy meat with an intense natural flavour. We include the giblets, so you can top off your roast with the absolute best proper gravy.

Here are some simple tips from our cooks here at the farm for cooking the perfect roast and making a sumptuous organic gravy too.

Firstly, the basics:
– Remove and freeze the giblets as soon as the turkey arrives (defrost in time to make your gravy).
– Allow the turkey as much air as possible, preferably by untying it to let air into the cavity.
– Take the turkey out of the fridge 30 mins before cooking.
– Untie the bird before roasting, or it will increase the cooking time.
– If the turkey has been frozen, defrost thoroughly in the fridge or a cold place before cooking.
– Don’t use the cavity space for stuffing – it slows down cooking, absorbs fat and will mess up the gravy. Instead use the neck cavity.
– Remove cooked leftovers from the carcass and put them in the fridge as soon as possible. Eat within two days. If you cook with leftover turkey, make sure it is piping hot.
– Make sure you save all your turkey bones to make stock with, if you are planning more than one Christmas feast it will make the perfect addition to future gravies.

To cook the perfect turkey, try this simple method our Riverford cooks have tried and tested:

Prep 15 mins, cook 45 mins per kg & 30 mins resting time
In addition to the turkey you will also need
400g stuffing (try our sausage meat stuffing recipe)
1 lemon, quartered
1 large onion, peeled & quartered
a generous sprig of herbs (bay, thyme, rosemary, sage, etc.)
50g melted butter

1. Weigh the turkey and work out the cooking time
Here’s an easy way to work out the cooking time without trying to balance a turkey on your kitchen scales! Each bird will already have its total weight on the label, so remove the giblets, weigh them separately and deduct their weight from the total. Add the weight of your stuffing (if using) to get the right cooking time. You will need to cook your turkey for 45 mins per kg.

2. Prepare the turkey
Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas 5. Remove the giblets if you didn’t remove them on arrival (keep them for your gravy). Lift the flap of skin at the neck end and pack in your stuffing, then pull the skin back and secure under the bird, using wooden cocktail sticks if necessary. Season the main cavity, then push in the quartered lemon, onion and herbs. Transfer to a large roasting tin, breast-side up, and brush the breast and legs with the melted butter before seasoning. Cover the whole bird loosely with foil to protect the skin from over-browning, and transfer to the oven for the calculated time.

3. Cooking, testing and resting
Every hour baste with its juices. 30 mins before the end of the cooking time, remove the foil to allow the skin to brown up. At the end of the cooking time, check the meat is thoroughly cooked by inserting a carving fork into the thickest area of both breast and thighs. If the juices run pink, return to the oven for a further 15 mins and test again. Repeat until the juices run clear.

Once cooked, remove it from the roasting tray (you will need this tray for making your gravy in so don’t wash it!) and put it on another tray or plate. Cover the turkey with foil again and leave to rest for 30 mins. This will make it more succulent and easier to carve… and don’t worry, your turkey will stay hot for an hour after leaving the oven.

4. Make organic turkey gravy
To make perfect gravy you need to make sure you capture all the flavour the roasted bird has left behind. Using the tray you roasted the turkey in, skim most of the fat out – although leaving a little won’t hurt.

Place the tray over a medium hob and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of plain flour into the meat juices. If you like your gravy on the thick side, you can add more flour. Cook for a minute or so and tip in a small glass of white wine. Let it bubble away until it has reduced by half, using a wooden spoon to scrape and loosen all the interesting, sticky, roasting debris from the pan.

Add about 500ml of good poultry stock along with any resting juices from the turkey. Let it simmer away until thickened, then adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. To create gravy just the way you like it, tweak the flavour with a little mustard, or a dash of red wine vinegar to add more piquancy. A little soy, Worcestershire sauce or even miso paste can add more depth if you feel it is lacking. Some people like to sweeten a Christmas gravy with a dab of redcurrant jelly or a tangle of slow-cooked onions. When it tastes just right, enjoy it with your festive feast!

End ‘violence’ against soil to protect future of food

Treating soil less violently and moving away from a ‘one-solution-fits-all’ approach to agriculture could help ensure food production can continue for future generations.

That was the message from Riverford founder and organic farmer, Guy Singh-Watson, who has released a video rant to mark World Soil Day 2018 and encourage people to care about the health of the soil.

“We’ve got 7.5 billion people on this planet, and we’re going to have 11 billion before too long. We are going to have to cultivate the soil. But we have to look after it better than we have done so it’s there for future generations as well,” he said.

Farming is inherently damaging to the soil, through ploughing that disrupts the structure and ecosystems within the soil, as well as adding artificial chemicals that kill biodiversity and beneficial bacteria.

“We turn it over, we put the bugs that like to be on the top on the bottom, we expose the stuff that’s on the bottom to the sunshine,” said Singh-Watson. “We drive over it with 10-tonne tractors and squeeze the life out of it. The way we treat the soil is a violent act.”

Moving to a more ecological way of farming, with more diversity and mixed farming systems, adding organic matter such as compost to the soil, and using perennial crops that don’t require re-cultivating every year, will all help soils recover, he added.

“We’ve got to get away from a one-solution-fits-all approach to agriculture,” he said. “We’ve got to get a lot smarter and not just plough because we can, or apply pesticides because we can, and take a more ecological approach to looking after our soils. We’ve got to look after these soils, or they’re not going to produce anything at all.”

World Soil Day is an annual awareness event coordinated by the global organisation Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and participated in by people and organisations all over the world through events, and on social media under the hashtag #worldsoilday and #stopsoilpollution.

Watch the full video on facebook.

Guy’s news: Holey pak choi

On his small two-acre farm in southern Uganda, Charles grows bananas, papaya, coffee, pineapples and a range of vegetables, as well as fodder for his two beloved cows. He worked at Riverford as part of his training in sustainable agriculture – and during my return visit to his farm, he described how he made his own insecticide treatment with homegrown tobacco, ash and soap. Despite being plant-based and homemade, this treatment was regarded as a last resort and a failure of his management on the rare occasions he used it. His success in
food production relied on guarding the ecological stability of his holding. I have never met a farmer in the ‘developed’ world who combined Charles’s practical knowledge of plants, animals, composting, pests and soil with such ecological (philosophical?) understanding of how they all interact. The subtlety and sophistication of his approach made UK farming look primitive and ignorant.

More biological treatments for plant diseases are becoming commercially available. We can now control the soil-borne disease Sclerotinia using Contans, a natural soil fungus; aphids by introducing parasitic wasps and ladybirds; caterpillars using the soil-dwelling bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis; and slugs using nematodes (roundworms) or iron phosphate. These welcome advances are far less damaging to the soil and the wider environment than their non-organic alternatives – but in my more philosophical moments, I remember Charles’s logic that they should be the last resort, not regularly relied upon to support an ecologically unstable system. We stopped spraying with soap 15 years ago when we understood that it killed the aphids’ predators as well as the aphids, and we have fewer aphid outbreaks today as a result. Human nature seems to make it very hard to resist using power – even before we understand its impact.

You may have had some holey, but otherwise perfect, pak choi in your boxes recently. The holes are caused by hungry sawfly larvae. We could have treated them with Spinosad (an extract from a soil bacteria), but were reluctant because it would kill all insects, including bees. Waiting for balance rather than charging in at the first sign of trouble sometimes requires a tolerance of imperfection more common in Uganda than the UK – but hopefully you will understand.

Guy Singh-Watson

Ben’s wine blog: Christmas in a bottle

Guy’s brother Ben is quite the sommelier, and is always willing to help guide us in our organic wine purchasing; here are his Christmas wine recommendations:

The great thing about wine is that it just keeps on giving – long after the bottle is empty. As in life, moving on is always a wrench – but in the wine world styles evolve, and 20 years ago no one would have imagined making some of the wines we’ve found for this winter and Christmas.

For example, I’d never been a big fan of cabernet sauvignon, but suddenly I’ve started finding that every new wine has a significant chunk of cabernet sauvignon in it. Our two Christmas specials, Paul Mas’ Mas des Tannes reserve and Capezzano’s Barco Reale di Carmignano from Tuscany don’t have much in common other than colour and cabernet.

Domaines Paul Mas is no bit part player (600 hectares) and has estates all over the Languedoc, but the top-end wines tend to be made on the farm. Mas des Tannes, Montagna, is one of them; situated in the hills between the Etang de Thau and Pézenas. Mas des Tannes reserve rouge is 55 per cent cabernet with a balance of grenache and mourvèdre, aged for six months in oak before blending and bottling. It’s a big wine with typical cabernet nose of dark fruit and spice – made with us Brits in mind because it’s perfect with roast beef. The white is even better. If my red grape of 2018 has been cabernet, its white counterpart has to be grenache blanc. It’s a grape that’s worth getting to know because it’s equally good as a sherry-style aperitif, with nuts and nibbles, fish (particularly smoked salmon) and white poultry such as turkey breast. White grenache also shines in our new Navardia rioja blanco. Here, paired with sauvignon blanc, it provides the depth, body and creamy mouthfeel without losing the sauvignon’s natural crisp acidity.

As we’ve slipped onto the whites, our other new listing is Signos de Origen ‘La Vinilla’ chardonnay/viognier/marsanne/roussanne, from Emiliana Organico in Casablanca Valley, Chile. For pure chardonnay lovers, we have Domaine Begude, Terroir 11300 but if you’re after something a little funkier the Signos might just do it. The chardonnay/viognier blend is a proven winner and when you start pairing with food it gets even more interesting: smoked salmon – no problem, chicken and turkey breast – even better, slow roast pork – a revelation, but cheese, maybe not stilton but something a bit smelly like comté, aged gruyère and gouda, Godminster or Manchego, is heaven.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a bottle or two of fizz and this year, we’ve kept it simple with a full spumante, extra dry, prosecco. We’re all so used to drinking prosecco by itself that we forget how food friendly it is – particularly, if you’re feeling a little decadent, with dessert and after. There’s always something deliciously debauched about opening up the fizz after a meal – as long as I don’t fall asleep before it’s finished.

We also have two new ‘party wines’. Both come from Dominio de Punctum, home of our best-selling Finca Fabian wines and bear the same ‘very well made and good value’ hallmarks. Doblez Garnacha is about as drinkable as a red wine can get. Bags of summer fruit and minimal tannins make it a vinous equivalent of a session beer – but don’t forget it’s still 13.5 per cent. Punctum’s sauvignon blanc is crafted from night-harvested biodynamic grapes and has all the classic flavours of passion fruit, litchi and grapefruit with underlying green citrus notes. It’s not really a food wine, hence its inclusion in the party section, but it’s delicious nevertheless.

Ben Watson

Shop our Christmas wines here

 

Organic Christmas cheeses from Riverford

We’ve scoured the country for the absolute best handcrafted organic cheeses, sampling everything from classic Somerset cheddars to quirky sheep’s cheese with wild seaweed from the Outer Hebrides. Trialling, testing, tasting… it’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it.

The result is a Christmas cheese range that we’re really proud of. Here are a few of our favourites, and some tips for enjoying them – although really, you can’t go wrong with buttery oatcakes and a good glass of red!

Caws Cenarth, Caerffilli

The Adams family know all there is to know about cheese: they’ve been making it at Glyneithinog Farm, Cardigan for seven generations, and are the oldest established producer of traditional Welsh farmhouse Caerffili. The Adams at the helm today, Carwyn, still uses the same recipe his great-grandmother used more than 80 years ago. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – this fantastically fresh-tasting, light and lemony cheese won Champion Cheese at the Royal Welsh Show for 7 years in a row.

Caws Cenarth, Perl Las Blue

Perl Las, or ‘Blue Pearl’, is the result of a happy accident, when a handful of Cenarth’s mature Caerffili cheeses became naturally blue. Intrigued by the result, Carwyn set out to recapture the flavour, and this unique cheese was born. It’s unlike any other blue cheese: strong but delicate, and roundly creamy, with lovely lingering blue overtones.

Give it a go in our parsnip, apple & chickpea salad with walnuts and blue cheese: the perfect balance of sweet, earthy, salty and sharp.

Caws Cenarth, Golden Cenarth

Winner of the title ‘Supreme Champion’ at the British Cheese Award 2014, Golden Cenarth is one tasty cheese. Semi-soft, with a smooth, creamy texture, this pungent, full-flavoured cheese is washed in cider for a gorgeous amber-hued rind and a distinctive nutty note.

Slather onto Pimhill’s finest oatcakes, or bake until gooey and golden with crusty bread for dipping… heavenly.

Caws Cenarth brie

Not just offering weird and wonderful Welsh creations, Caws Cenarth are also a knockout on the classics. This traditional, creamy French-style brie has a lovely gooey centre and well-rounded mushroomy flavour and aroma that intensifies with age. For the ultimate indulgence, deep fry and serve with cranberry sauce and a crisp green salad.

Cropwell Bishop Stilton

Cropwell Bishop Creamery has been owned and run by the Skailes family in the beautiful Vale of Belvoir, near Nottingham, for three generations. They are a real institution in the British cheese industry; something that was brought home to cousins Ben and Robin Skailes in 2016, when they were crowned overall champion at the British Cheese Awards and realised the trophy had been donated by their own grandfather 70 years previously!

Their outstanding Stilton has no competition for us: the cheese is ripened and left to age to produce a smooth, mellow flavour that contrasts beautifully with the tanginess of the blue veins. For a hearty seasonal treat, try it in our recipes for sprouts, red onion and blue cheese gratin or squash, kale and stilton pies.

British cheese boxes
Can’t choose from all these artisanal organic cheeses? Then let us choose for you! Available in small (five cheeses) or large (seven cheeses), our British cheese boxes are carefully curated to give you the perfect balance of flavours, textures and tastes. An organic cheeseboard, sorted in one fell swoop – or a lovely gift for a foodie friend.

You can browse our full selection of Christmas cheeses and cheese boxes online now.

News from the farm

November’s grower profile:
Ian & Alison Samuel write…

This month we heard from Ian and Alison, founder members of the South Devon Organic Producers co-operative, who supply us with organic beef and a range of seasonal veg. Guy will be back with his normal newsletter next week.

On the farm at the moment, we have several thousand red cabbages in store that were picked a couple of weeks ago and will be trimmed back ready for the Christmas orders to ensure they don’t get too large. We usually do half and half to make sure we have the spread of availability, so the rest of the cabbages are still in the field ready to pick at the ideal size. At the moment we’re just finishing off picking the leeks, and it’s a good crop despite the difficulties of this summer.

The gang in the field today are all local students. We try to employ locally but you do have to be flexible as some of them only want to do a month, for example. Veg work is hard, so often it’s the outdoorsy people who stick it out; this year we’ve had a few surfers who have done well! We also have a gleaning team who come in from Totnes who will take the oversize cabbages or kale for their soup kitchens, so there isn’t much waste.

We’re not typical farmers as neither of us actually came from an agriculture background – we bought the farm in 1997 and soon after went along to a meeting when Guy was looking for new growers for Riverford. So much of agriculture today is about producing a commodity, so it’s nice to produce good quality vegetables and beef that people actually want. As producers, we like that customers can connect the end product back to us, compared to when you go into a supermarket and most of the food is faceless. Organic is also a way of doing things simply without relying on big multinational conglomerates to supply chemicals. It feels you’re in control of your own destiny.

We’re also very interested in the environment, and since taking on the farm we’ve planted a few copses and kept our hedges high. Last year we recorded 12 out of the 18 species of British bats, and we’ve had university students doing surveys on birds and small mammals. You think how much diversity is on this small farm, and then think you could fit the whole thing inside one field somewhere like Cambridgeshire. It makes us proud to be doing what we do.

Vegan Christmas dinner

Riverford recipes for a vegan festive feast

Brand new to our range this year is a vegan Christmas dinner box, full of everything you need for a home cooked, organic festive feast, including:

a seasonal veg box, a nut roast centrepiece, cranberry sauce, mince pies, Christmas pudding, Tideford gravy and clementines; all 100% vegan and organic.

The Nut Roast, which has been fondly developed by our Riverford cooks, has the ancient grain amaranth, walnuts and cashew tumbled through rooty veg to create a filling and crunchy centre piece.

Our own recipe vegan mince pies are filled to the brim with apple, plump vine fruits, festive spices, candied peel, flaked almonds, and a slosh of brandy. Palm oil free, they are made with organic coconut oil which makes our vegan pastry decadently short and rich. They are then baked to perfection in a woodfired oven and are just wonky enough to look homemade!

With everything you need delivered to your door, and the centrepiece and gravy already to go, all that’s left to do is bring our organic vegetables to life. We don’t believe in boring boiled veg, so here are our recipe suggestions for an unforgettable vegan Christmas dinner.

Roast Potatoes with Lemon, Rosemary and Thyme

Crisp and caramelised from roasting, tart and tangy from the lemons, this variation on traditional roast potatoes makes a particularly good side.

See the full recipe for roast potatoes with lemon, rosemary and thyme.

Carrots in a Bag

We originally used this method in our farm restaurant, The Field Kitchen, for new potatoes in the summer, then found that it works brilliantly for carrots and Jerusalem artichokes too. It’s a nifty technique that seals in the flavour and lets the veg cook in its own moisture. You’ll need baking parchment and a stapler.

See the full recipe for carrots in a bag.

Stir-fried Sprouts with Cranberries and Pecans

This is a good, simple sprouts side with a bit of crunch and sweetness from festive nuts and berries. You could also make it with shredded cabbage or kale.

See the full recipe for stir-fried sprouts with cranberries and pecans.

Creamed Parsnips with Almonds


A simple, sweet and creamy parsnip recipe for those who fancy something a little different to roasted parsnips.
See the full recipe for creamed parsnips with almonds.

The vegan Christmas dinner box is now available to pre-order for £45.95.

 

 

Guy’s news: Too clever for organic?

I spent last week with my team in the French Vendée, attempting to learn from this year’s mistakes, plan crops for next year, and form some sort of plan to mitigate Brexit risk (29th March happens to be the date our first truck of lettuce will head north to Plymouth via Roscoff). After a wet and cold spring, we had a scorching five-month drought; the old gravel pit that fills with water every winter, which looked huge and unfathomable when I bought the farm, was down to the last few inches when the rain finally arrived last week. We have plans to build a new 50,000m3 reservoir, but €20,000 and four months later the authorities are still deliberating. It will be a miracle if we get enough dry weather to build it (followed by enough wet weather to fill it) before next season.

I am full of admiration for our French workers but, as in the UK, each year it is harder to find people who can ‘cut the mustard’ in the field. Like everywhere else, this is increasing the pressure to mechanise, specialise and simplify cropping to reduce hand work, and to look to Eastern Europe for staff more familiar with working on the land. I must restrain my restless urge to try new crops and new ways of growing them; we need to focus more on how to grow what we are best at, better and with less labour.

When I bought the farm, France’s fledgling organic market was about half the size of the UK’s. Ten years later it is four times the size, and growing at 18% per year. The trend is similar throughout Europe, and indeed most of the developed world, as the UK sinks from being a leader to a laggard. I would never claim that organic farming is the only or a complete solution to the challenges facing food and farming, but its benefits to the soil, wider environment, human health and animal welfare seem unquestioned elsewhere, while viewed with scepticism here. Perhaps it is that largely male, peculiarly British group who consider themselves independent thinkers, too clever to be taken in by the mysticism of it all; “What’s wrong with glyphosate in your bread, anyway?” Or perhaps, having been the first nation to industrialise and need to feed poorly paid urban populations, we are culturally more wedded to cheap food – and more estranged from its production.

Guy Singh-Watson