Tag Archives: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

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: Riverford comes to London

After a few years of dithering, I finally got my pub in London. It was simple in the end; I married a publican. Geetie Singh opened the Duke of Cambridge in Islington in 1998. Raised in a commune and appalled by the food she served as a waitress, Geetie was determined to put her scrupulous ethics into practice; the Duke was, and remains, the only organic pub in the UK and the Queen even gave Geetie an MBE in recognition of her efforts.

Last week a charming and highly complimentary Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, members of the food glitterati and sundry friends and customers of both businesses came to the opening of Riverford at the Duke of Cambridge. The pub was a forest of cardoons, cabbages, radicchio and leeks; the food was fantastic but the vegetable cocktails stole the night. My favourite, ‘Farm Fury’, was a take on a Whisky Sour cum Old Fashioned where radicchio extract replaced the bitters; an inspirational elixir providing inebriation and purification at once.

Many restaurants and pubs make vague and mostly spurious claims about their sourcing; I was recently assured by a waiter that all their chickens were wild, produced within London and exclusively slow plucked. Wow; do they think diners are really so gullible? At the Duke everything is 100% organic or wild and until last week, the only imported fruit or vegetable on the menu was a lemon. Geetie and I argue about this still and we will compromise a little, but at least 90% of what we serve will still be UK grown. The beer is fantastic, and Benoit our genius in the kitchen is no madder than most chefs. In addition to exceptional food, wine and beer, there will be a produce market every Saturday (perhaps soon to be accompanied by brunch), supper clubs and cookery classes from the New Year. Find out more here.

Benoit has had cardoon fritters on the menu every day but he isn’t going to use them all before winter closes in. They are more tender and less bitter than I have managed to grow before, and make a fantastic simple gratin. I cannot bear to see them wasted, so the last 500 or so can be added to your box at £4 each, complete with my gratin recipe, on a first come-first-served-basis.

Guy Watson