Tag Archives: chilli

guy’s newsletter: smut & wacky veg from the vendée


I am on our farm in France, where we are picking the best crop of sweetcorn I have ever grown; 30,000 cobs to the hectare which are so plump and sweet you can eat them raw. Walking through the crop, my spirits rose to giddy heights until I reached the field next door, where 70% of the cobs are grotesquely deformed with galls of the soil-borne fungal pathogen, smut.

guy corn smut landscape

Guy with sweetcorn affected by ‘corn smut’ or huitlacoche as it is known in Mexico (where they consider it a delicacy).

With the majority of crops from this farm designed to plug the spring ‘hungry gap’ back home, our busiest time here is past and we have sown green manures to replenish the soil, ready for next year. The fertility building mixture of clover, oats and phacelia has germinated well but ironically so has a flush of exceedingly healthy summer purslane; a succulent weed I have previously cultivated as a salad crop in the UK, with mixed success. Meanwhile we will start hand picking our beautiful red-flecked borlotti beans next week. Harvested immature in the pods as ‘demi-sec’, they require much less cooking and retain more flavour than a dried bean and can be used in stews, but are best appreciated in a salad. Don’t be put off if the pods look tatty, the beans are beautiful inside, as many an Italian will tell you.

Since buying the farm here I have developed a passion for growing, eating, bottling and drying chillies; like our sweetcorn they love the dry heat of a Vendéen summer. We have grown different varieties for tapas, stuffing, drying and pickling which include padrons, pablanos, Joe’s long, jalapenos, plus a few devastatingly hot scotch bonnets and habaneros for the deranged chilli nuts among you. Most will be available (along with instructions for preserving) to add to your order over the next two months. We are also busy picking tomatillos for you to make salsa verde, and starting on the cape gooseberries. A few of you might think this sounds all too esoteric and are wondering where the potatoes and carrots are; just count yourself lucky there is no smutty corn in your box.

corn smut close up

In Mexico it is considered a delicacy and they charge more for it. Maybe we need to develop a recipe for smut galls with summer purslane.

Guy Watson

One last commie rant

Thanks to all of you who have offered support following our appearance on Countryfile in my bid to become the BBC’s Farmer of the Year. If you are sufficiently interested, there was also a more in depth interview on Radio 4 (www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01n98v3).

And another thanks to the hundreds of you who responded to last week’s newsletter about my plans for Riverford becoming stakeholder owned. Behavioural science provides a wealth of evidence that greed is a very poor way of getting the best from people; for a compelling 10 minute overview, see Dan Pink at www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc. The world would be a better place if more people found the confidence to encourage our desires for collective purpose, personal autonomy and the innate need to learn and do things better. It’s a big challenge, but I would love to find a system of management and ownership that harnesses these motivations. The hundreds of comments on Facebook and by email give me renewed determination that Riverford must always be owned by those who shape its future: customers, staff and suppliers. I have been working on this for six years and still have a way to go. In the meantime, with your support, we are so lucky to be able to farm and run the business in accordance with our values. Most of the profits that we make are re-invested and those that do leave the business go mostly as a staff profit share.

Enough ideological ranting; what about the vegetables? We have just finished harvesting in France. The new tunnels are half up and we start planting again in January. Despite a grim summer the chillies have cropped very well; so well that we are drying quite a few and I am hoping some of you will have a go at making chilli strings for home drying. They are available now; £3.75 will buy you a half kilo bag of chillies (about 30 chillies) and instructions. All you need is a large-eyed needle and strong thread, eg. buttonhole. They will keep for months, providing a ready supply for your cooking. They look so bright and cheerful I like to decorate my Christmas tree with them.

Guy Watson