Tag Archives: organic

Lamb is to Easter what turkey is to Christmas but why?

Despite being a relatively recent import from the Americas, at least Christmas turkey marks the culmination of a natural ‘season fitting’ yearly cycle. Paschal, Passover, ‘lamb of god’ significance is something of an anachronism and doesn’t really fit in with farming reality. However there’s nothing wrong with a bit of pagan ritual to remind us of our past – especially when it tastes so good.

Most flocks of ewes naturally lamb in late winter/spring and take four months plus to grow, meaning that eating new season lamb at Easter definitely doesn’t fit into any rationally conceived farming calendar – even less so this year with Easter in March. However, like sheep, farmers are an adaptable breed and if you want to eat lamb at the time they would normally be born, then lamb you shall have – albeit outside of the natural lambing cycle.

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Officially, a lamb becomes a sheep when it grows four teeth (after about a year). With culinary trends happily favouring slightly older, more flavoursome lamb (approx. 9 months – 1 year old), many of our farmers are able to lamb later, in mid-summer, for the Easter market. This means a lamb which is a little older, but season fitting. Carefully managed, separating slow-growing triplets from faster-growing singleton and twin lambs, means many of these older lambs are at their prime now.

Our Easter lambs are all Devonian, born and bred from Peter Howlett at Moorhuish Farm, Brixham, David Camp near Totnes and Nigel Eggins on the River Tamar. All are three of our top farmers that we have worked with ever since we started offering meatboxes at Riverford. The Camps are an old Devon farming family with fathers, uncles and cousins all over the place – their lambs grow just over the hill from Riverford in Totnes, and on a big strip of National Trust land overlooking Hope Cove on the coast.

Born in late spring/summer last year and raised traditionally, our lamb may be a little older than the 4-month old slightly forced, mainly indoor reared, ‘sucked lamb’ available. This makes for a happier, healthier lamb that is older but much, much tastier.  Chefs love their milky, sucked lambs as a vehicle for their sauces but, for a roast, older is definitely better.

Here are a few ideas for your Easter lamb:

The classic roast lamb with rosemary and garlic: Takes a lot of beating but for flavour and easy cooking, slow roasted shoulder is equally good – particularly when the lamb can share the oven with a dish of potato dauphinoise or gratin while you relax or build up an appetite.  If there is just the two of you, or you really want to push the boat, out try a rack or two. For guaranteed foodie brownie points rack of lamb can’t be beaten – half an hour in the oven, sliced into cutlets and artfully arranged and we’re all queuing up for Masterchef.

Given the seasonal scarcity of fresh greens, a flageolet bean cassoulet with a few carrots mixed in is the ideal Easter accompaniment for roast lamb. Again it can be done in advance so Easter lunch can be as easy as you want to make it.  Just leave room for a chocolate egg or two.

Thanks for reading.

Ben Watson

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Penny’s gardening blog: jobs for January & how to promote biodiversity

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At this time of year every thing is pretty dormant in the garden, so it’s a great time to really have a look at the bones of your garden and work on making it a good environment for wildlife, hence promoting biodiversity. This is really important if you are going to garden organically.

I have always bought the Guardian on Saturdays and for years enjoyed Christopher Lloyd’s articles on gardening. I was sad when he died and still miss reading his writings.  Alys Fowler has replaced him and I love her enthusiasm and promotion of permaculture and wildlife. Below I will give you some links to a couple of relevant articles written by her.

part one: how to promote biodiversity in your garden

build a small pondto encourage frogs and toads. This can be as simple as having a bucket or bath. Look at Alys Fowlers article on wildlife ponds for more information. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/dec/14/alys-fowler-wildlife-ponds

encourage birds – create a bird table or hang fat balls full of seeds and nuts to lure birds into your garden. informationhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/alys-fowler-s-gardening-column+environment/wildlife

wild areas – create some wild areas in your garden.  A few of logs left to rot, for instance, will encourage all sorts of insects, small mammals and amphibians.

plant climbers along walls and borders of garden which will provide ideal nesting habitats.

Part two: January jobs in the garden

clear fallen leaves and debris from areas where bulbs are coming up.

cut back last year’s growth on perennials, leaving any with seed heads still intact for birds and insects. Some people cut everything to the ground in the autumn and like everything neat, tidy and manicured. Personally I like to leave the dead growth up for as long as possible. A lot of seed heads are really pretty and are also a perfect habitat and provide shelter for insects during the winter. Some growth looks awful and rots down into a nasty slimy pile like hemerocallis (day lilies) and agapanthus for example. This can go!

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dig out perennial weeds such as dock, couch grass, brambles, buttercups and the like.

thin out dead and diseased wood from established trees and shrubs.

prune wisteria by cutting back shoots to 2nd or 3rd buds.

in the veg garden

Don’t be discouraged if you had a terrible year trying to grow vegetables last year. It was awful for everyone, amateurs and professionals alike. We cannot give up, we need to soldier on and adapt to the situation. Who knows what the weather will do this year, but I am ever hopeful for a better season ahead.

plan your rotation for the year – the allium and brassica family are the ones to rotate. Alliums include onions, shallots and leeks and brassicas include cabbage, kale, cauliflowers, rocket and mustards. You should rotate these crops by giving a three year break before planting in the same area. This helps to reduce problems with onion rot in the allium family and club root in the brassica family.

weed beds ready for onions and shallots – choose an area that is well drained and preferably was manured last autumn. Onion sets are now available to buy and can be planted from now on although some people like to wait for a month or so.

sow broad beans for an early crop.

prune apple and pear trees.

order seeds or plants – look at what we are offering in our veg, flower and herb boxes to grow this year.  These kits are a fabulous way to get into gardening and grow your own veg, flowers and herbs. They come with plants, seedlings, seeds, full instructions and plenty of advice on how to grow your own produce.

If you have any further questions or want advice on gardening feel free to comment or email help@www.riverford.co.uk/blog and I’ll be happy to help.

Penny

Stir up sunday (and soak it up saturday) – Christmas cake recipe

I’ve been asked to write about ‘stir up Sunday’, the traditional day when you’re supposed to make your Christmas pudding, gathering the family round to stir it and make a wish. Stir up Sunday is on the last Sunday before Advent; this year it’s the 25th November.

I took on the mantel of making the family pudding a few years ago, taking over from my beloved Nanna. But as we want you to buy our ready-made Christmas puddings (granted, they are good), I’m not allowed to tell you the recipe for that, although I may get rebellious and start a secret pudding club!

Instead, here’s a Christmas cake recipe, which we don’t sell. This is an adaptation of my mum’s cake, which is always really moist. She has even been known to make it in a festive panic the day before Christmas Eve, adding a glug more brandy, and it still tastes good! If you are making this a week or so after Stir Up Sunday, just feed the cake every 4-5 days instead of every week.

Make it, wish on it, and a star or two for extra luck. Feed it, love it, and we’ll tell you how to make your own marzipan, icing and decorations in a couple of week’s time.

You do need to start soaking the fruit for pudding or cake the day before, so the process really starts with soak it up Saturday – I’ve shared this recipe in two parts; part one – preparation and baking, part two – making your own marzipan (it’s really very easy!) and icing the cake.

Suitable stirring tunes: Elgar, or Bob Marley. He’d probably rather you used rum. And that would be fine.

Kirsty’s Christmas cake

You will need a 20cm/8 inch round cake tin or an 18cm/7 inch square tin; the cake will cook to about 6-7cm deep, so check your tin is deep enough to hold it, sometimes the average Victoria sponge tin isn’t deep enough.

Ingredients

400g currants
200g raisins
200g sultanas
100g pitted dates, roughly chopped
100g glacé cherries, roughly chopped (try to get the darker, naturally coloured cherries rather than the plastic looking light red ones if you can)
100g mixed candied peel
4 tbsp brandy, plus extra for drizzling
250g unsalted butter, diced, softened at room temp, plus a little extra for greasing
250g light brown soft sugar
4 large eggs
250g plain flour
a good couple of pinches of salt
1 tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
75g flaked or blanched whole almonds, roughly chopped
zest 1 lemon
zest 1 orange
1 tbsp black treacle or molasses

The day before you bake:

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Put the dried fruit, cherries and mixed peel in a large bowl. Pour over the brandy and stir together. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to soak overnight.

The next day:-

Preheat the oven to 140c (if you are using a fan oven, reduce the temperature to 120c or it will cook too quickly and burn).

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Prepare your cake tin: line the outside of the tin with 3 layers of greaseproof paper tied with string to protect it.

Use a piece of kitchen paper to grease the inside of the tin with a little butter.
Cut a round piece of greaseproof paper to line the base of the tin, then a long strip to line the side – use a little greasing of butter to stick a couple of strips together if you need to.
Cut a round double layer of paper, enough to cover the top of the cake.
Cut a small hole in the middle of it to let the steam escape.

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In a large bowl, whisk the butter and sugar until pale, light and fluffy (use an electric hand whisk if you have one, it’s easier).
Lightly beat the eggs in a small jug or bowl. Gradually add them to the creamed butter and sugar. Don’t worry if it looks a bit curdled.

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Add the flour, salt, spices, nuts, zests and treacle. Stir to combine, then add the brandy-soaked fruit, together with any liquid in the bowl and stir together. Try not to over-mix it.

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Transfer the mixture to the tin. Level it off and cover with the double piece of greaseproof paper.

Bake on a low oven shelf for about 4 hours (140c in a standard oven or 120c if fan), depending on your oven – start testing it after 3½ hours, then at intervals, by inserting a skewer or cocktail stick into the middle of the cake – it should come out clean.

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Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 30 mins.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Wrap the base and sides of the cake in foil and place in an airtight container. Prick the top of the cake several times with a skewer or cocktail stick. Drizzle over a little brandy, about 1 tbsp. Seal the container.

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Unwrap and feed the cake once a week for 3 weeks with a drizzle of brandy; about 1 tbsp each time. It’s then ready to decorate.

I’ll be sharing my recipe for making your own marzipan (much simpler than you’d think) in the second week of December when the cake will be ready for covering.

Kirsty

A visit from uganda

Charles Mulwana, a farmer from Uganda, is staying with us at our Riverford Farm in Devon for the next two months. In 2005, aided by charity Send a Cow, Charles received his first cow, Helen. Send a Cow helped him learn about sustainable organic agriculture, looking after livestock and how to grow a variety of crops to feed himself and his family.

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Charles has come to the farm at Riverford to learn how we grow organic crops on a larger scale. He is passionate about passing on the knowledge he has gained, particularly on the importance of organic farming and having a balanced diet. To do this Charles is hoping to raise enough money to build a community centre in his village in the  Nakifuma Mukono district of Uganda, to educate young people in his area on agriculture and running a business. He has become a Peer farmer trainer for Send A Cow, helping to train other farmers, and has passed on a gift of a calf to other farmers in his community from his first cow.

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This is Charles’ second visit to Riverford. During this stay he will be spending time with our picking and farm management team learning how we plan and produce our seasonal veg. So far our farm team have kept him busy learning a variety of larger-scale farming techniques. It’s also been very hands on and Charles has been helping us with our everyday farm work – from picking and bunching spring onions to go in our Riverford boxes, to harvesting our lettuces and spinach. A useful agricultural tip he said has learned while working in the fields here is how we harvest our spinach. When harvesting spinach in Uganda they traditionally leave part of the plant remaining, in order for it to grow back. Here Charles has found that if you cut off all the leaves, the plant will grow back quicker (within 2-3 weeks). Charles is also interested in the different varieties of fruit and veg that he doesn’t currently grow at home. In particular, he is hoping to grow more varieties of tomato on his return to Uganda, including beef and cherry tomatoes, which he feels will be popular. He’s also keen to grow cherries and green peppers.

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At home in Uganda, Charles grows a range of crops to feed his family, with a little extra to sell. These include onions, spinach, kale and sweetcorn which are prepared daily by his wife Barbara for their four children. Sadly his first cow passed away, however his new calf (also called Helen) produces approximately 12 litres of milk each day and he grows bananas and coffee which he sells.

It’s been great to welcome Charles to the farm to spend time with the team at Riverford.

If you have any questions for Charles on farming in Uganda and the UK, please send us a message at help@www.riverford.co.uk/blog and we’ll be happy to answer your questions.

Zest for life – citrus fruit is at its best

organic orangesThe Spanish citrus season kicked off in November and runs right through until May. You’ll notice the flavour of the fruit changing as the weeks go by, as different varieties come and go. Right now is the peak time for these bright, zesty beauties. Most of our oranges, lemons, clementines and satsumas come from a small group of farmers working in the hills behind Almeria in Spain. The group is headed up by Ginés Garcia, who is fiercely proud of his farm and the biodiversity it supports. He’s even inspired other farmers in the area to join up and convert to organic.

Now is also the time to grab blood oranges while they’re around – the flavour is wonderful but the season is short. Ours are grown in the foothills of Mount Etna in Sicily and the depth of their colour depends on light, temperature and variety. Try them in Jane’s vibrant lemon and orange tart, or squeezed into some chilled Prosecco for a seasonal cocktail.

make your own marmalade

Last January Guy took a trip to Ave Maria Farm near Seville, where 75 year old Amadora and her two daughters have been growing Seville oranges organically since 1986. Guy reckons you can’t get much more organic than their beautiful orchards and is convinced that the resulting bitter-flavoured fruit makes the very best marmalade he has tasted. Sevilles are at their best between mid-January and mid-February, so dig out some jars and muslin sharpish.
Try our marmalade kit £4.49. It contains 1.5kg of Amadora’s Seville oranges, two lemons and Jane’s marmalade recipe. You’ll need your own sugar and jars.

your box scheme needs you

Each year the Soil Association run the Natural and Organic Awards to recognise some of the best businesses in the organic market.

We are happy to say that we’ve been shortlisted for the award this year. Please vote for Riverford at http://www.soilassociation.org/Takeaction/Buyorganic/Retailerawards.aspx. Voting closes Monday 22nd March.

Thanks

growing in France

Just back from France having finally completed the purchase of 80 cows, three tractors a large lake and 250 acres sandy in the Vendee; the plan being to grow veg and extend our seasons just four hours drive from and a ferry from us rather than going to Spain for it.

After fourteen months of buearocracy the Department has decided that we are fit to farm and the deal is done. Actually the local farming community has been very supportive and encouraging and Didier, the selling farmer, has acquired a new lease of life and decided to stay on as a partner.

We are already 14 months into the conversion so the first fields will be organic and ready for cropping next spring. We have already started some crop trials of lettuce, spinach and beans. Despite a cold winter the much higher light levels are plain to see in the vigorous growth. The only obvious problems are the wild boar – showing an unhelpful interest in the broad beans – and a plague of giant rats the size of a badger.

battle in the skies

We all know that air travel is the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions, so should the Soil Association try and discourage bringing organic vegetables to the uk by air? Or even refuse to grant anything air freighted organic status? If so, what about the African farmers just starting to make a living selling the organic green beans flown in to the UK?

At Riverford we have never air freighted anything, but we know it’s a complex issue and there’s an interesting consultation document on the Soil Association website

As Anna Bradley, Chair of the Soil Association Standards Board says: “as awareness of climate change has grown, concerns have been raised about the damage caused to the environment by air freight.

However, when reducing our impact on the world’s climate, we must carefully consider the social and economic benefits of air freight for international development and growth of the organic market as a whole.”