Tag Archives: salad

Guy’s Newsletter: hasty veg & a bitter imposition

We are finally enjoying some very welcome cold, dry and bright weather. It will take another week before our most free-draining land dries enough to allow any soil preparation for planting though; spring still feels a long way off. Most winter crops are running four to six weeks ahead of schedule due to the mild winter so far, while our other fields look worryingly bare; it will be three or four months before the spring crops are ready. We still have plenty of roots, kale and leeks, but there will be gaps left by the hasty cauliflowers and cabbages, so we will have to juggle our box contents planning a little.

In contrast to this, over on our farm in France a break in the weather allowed us to plant the first batavia lettuce this week, as the sandy soils there are more forgiving. The first cos lettuce will go into the ground tomorrow; the seed bed was prepared and covered back in October, avoiding the need for any cultivation now when it is difficult to get machinery on the wet land. We plant by hand this early in the year, but still need a tractor to bend hoops and lay the low-level polytunnels that will protect and advance the crop, allowing us to start cutting in late March. Overall our farm in the Vendée has come a long way to filling the UK’s Hungry Gap, but it looks as if that gap might be wider than usual this year. Thankfully, after five years on our own, an organic neighbour will be growing spinach for your boxes in late April and May.

Most of the crop planning for the coming season is done, and seeds and plants ordered with just a few details to refine; I would be grateful if some of you could pass comment on the pale green, solid-ish, bitter and crunchy heads of pain de sucre (salad chicory) that have been in some boxes over the last month. I love growing and eating them and they provide some winter variety without the need to go 1000 miles south, but is this a bitter imposition or do you like them too? There is a very, very brief questionnaire at www.riverford.co.uk/paindesucre; I am just as keen to hear from the haters as the lovers.

Guy Watson

Guy’s Newsletter: bitter leaves & talking veg

As light levels drop, our last lettuces (planted in early August) are losing the lust for life; with that departing vitality goes flavour, and almost certainly nutritional value. For salad lovers it is time to move on to more robust leaves like mizuna, land cress, claytonia and mustards from our polytunnels and, for those with a bitter palate, the cold-tolerant dandelion relatives from our fields in Devon and the Vendée. This might include radicchio, pain de sucre (solid conical heads of smooth, pale leaves), curly endive and even a few dandelion leaves; I have even been foraging chicory (believed to help in controlling parasites in dairy herds) ahead of the cows from my brother’s pastures.

I love the whole family and will be feasting on bitter salads until the last finally succumb to winter, normally in January. Reluctantly I have to acknowledge that not everyone shares my enthusiasm, which has been curbed by our crop planner Luke who loves all things sweet. His influence means their appearance in the boxes will be rare and we will always offer bitter-free boxes each week for those with sweeter palates to retreat to. I hope however you will at least take consolation from the benefits to the kidneys, liver and bladder attributed to these leaves. You will find they get sweeter as the weather gets colder; the fainthearted can also dilute their flavour with milder leaves or offset it with a sweet dressing. You will find they keep remarkably well in your fridge, allowing you to eat them over a week or two, or even a month for radicchio and pain de sucre. They are also good cooked; typically by braising or in a risotto. See overleaf for more recipe ideas.

I’m pleased to say that my enthusiasm for bitter leaves is shared by the vegetarian cook and food writer Anna Jones; I met her at our pub in London recently and we could have talked veg for hours. I’m very glad that she will be a guest chef on our recipe boxes for the next four weeks; she’s almost as much of a veg nerd as I am.

Guy Watson

guy’s newsletter: steam sterilisation – an ethical dilemma

I am reluctantly concluding in France, as we have done in Devon, that it would be wiser to get our neighbours to grow the crops we are less competent at. There are local organic farmers so skilled in growing baby leaf salad that they can charge a little over half our production costs, but we face an ethical dilemma. In order to control weeds to facilitate mechanical harvesting, their standard practice is to steam-sterilise the top 6cm of soil once a year; better than the now banned methyl bromide once used by conventional growers for the same purpose, but many would argue that, since caring for the soil is an integral part of organic farming, to indiscriminately kill the good micro-organisms as well as the pathogenic is an anathema. Yet what I find far more worrying is the 5000l/hectare of oil burned in the process, meaning that each kilo of salad produced has involved the burning of an astounding 1l of oil. This happens to be about the same amount as it takes to fly produce from Kenya.

As we have undertaken not to sell airfreighted produce on environmental grounds, should we sell salads produced using steam sterilisation, even if they carry the organic stamp? I am inclined to say no but it is a hard and commercially punitive decision when our competitors do. Of course humans did survive pre-the baby leaf salad bag, so perhaps we should only grow them when and where we can do a reasonable job without sterilisation, as we do in Devon. It is reassuring that the Soil Association standards go beyond those in Europe and do not allow steam sterilisation for weed control in the open field; an impressive bit of sanity. While we ponder all of this, we are experimenting with using mustard, grown as a green manure, as a weed suppressant.

Guy Watson

a chilli Christmas?
We’ve a huge crop of chillies this year and have just finished drying several tonnes of habanero, cayenne and scotch bonnet for you to hang from your tree (they look great). Come Twelfth Night follow our recipe to make chilli oil to enliven your cooking in the coming winter months, all for £3.80 for 20 chillies.

Crafty Halloween idea: Spooktacular Salad!

Crafty Halloween idea: Spooktacular Salad!

Treat hungry trick or treaters to something to tuck into with our creepy skeleton salad bits & dip!

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This spooktacular salad is simple to make and is a great healthy treat for hungry trick-or-treaters.  Kids can get hands-on  arranging the different bones to create their own creepy creature!

Send us a photo of your creepy creations on Twitter or Facebook using #healthyhalloween.  We’d love to see what you come up with!

Ingredients:

  • Pepper
  • Courgette
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots (we used purple carrots for an extra spooky effect!)
  • Hummus
  • Olives
  • Large plate or chopping board
  • Small bowl

Step 1: Cut up the different components ready to arrange on a plate or chopping board.

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Step 2: Start arranging your skeleton.  Find a bowl for the head, it’ll be filled with dip later, but it’s great to get an idea of scale for the skeleton’s bones.

Courgettes cut into disks make a great spine, and red peppers are perfect for ribs.

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Step 3: Add arms and legs using celery and carrots.  Cauliflower and broccoli are a great way of creating hands and feet.

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Step 4:  Fill your bowl with dip and position as the skeleton’s head.

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Step 5:  Use cabbage or lettuce leaves for the hair and sliced olives for the skeleton’s eyes.  An off-cut from the pepper is perfect as a smiley mouth.

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Step 6:  Chop up any spare veg and put in a side bowl for everyone to get stuck in!

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Tuck into your tasty skeleton! Have a great Halloween and don’t forget to send us a photo!

 

 

 

 

Salad days

After the coldest start to May I can remember, temperatures are finally on the rise. We lost a few early planted courgettes to the latest frost I have encountered in my growing career, but most crops have benefited and come through unscathed. Best of all there seems to be a remarkable lack of weed, so the farm is looking very tidy. Our crop covers work wonders in the cold bright weather; the big decision now is when to remove them. Ideally we are looking are looking for a warm, still and overcast day for a gentle exposure to the elements.

Salads, particularly lettuce, love sunshine. After three pretty awful salad summers it is gratifying to see perfectly even, weed-free rows of lettuce, rocket, mizuna, mustard, baby chard, spinach and beets stretching up the field; it almost makes me feel that we know what we are doing. Rocket is our ultimate challenge and still has a tendency to turn yellow if you look at it the wrong way. We have been cutting leaves for three weeks and the first little gem lettuce will be in the boxes this week.

It is hard to pitch it right in terms of salad in the boxes; for some (me included) the first hint of summer brings a move to salad with every meal, for others, one lettuce lasts a fortnight. From 7th June we are changing things a bit. Instead of the existing family salad mix there will be a four item salad bag at £5.45 (normally filled with a lettuce or salad leaves, tomatoes, cucumber and one other item), aimed at those wanting extra salad to accompany their veg or fruit box, and a salad box at £9.95 (typically lettuce, salad leaves, cucumber, tomatoes and three other items; perhaps new potatoes, celery, peppers or sugar snap peas) which can be ordered on its own without worrying about our minimum spend.

Guy Watson