Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Potatoes & Onions

Our Potatoes have ended now because we don't have all the machinery required to do large scale Potato production. One or two people thus far have dug all the Potatoes by hand, which is not sustainable when doing the amount needed to feed people during the winter.

We have sourced local Organic Potatoes from Saxmundham in Suffolk which was the closest we could find them. Our long-term aim to grow everything that goes in our Veg share, but having a limited amount of start up money meant we had to eak it out efficiently. Buying expensive large scale Potato harvesting equipment would have been hugely expensive and consequently Bennison Farm took the decision that to buy in for the short term was the decision.

Also this week is the first of the Onions, which hail from Norfolk. We moved here in February of this year and by the time the land was prepared it was too late to plant Onion sets for this year.  This again is not a long term decision but one taken in order to provide the best alternative to our own grown veg for this winter.

The other alternative was to not supplement veg for the share and consequently have a smaller share. As the scheme is in it's very early days this could have had the affect of discouraging people from keeping up their Veg share. The farm discussed the options with the CSA steering group and it has been agreed to supplement for this winter. However if any one has any concerns, questions or suggestions please do get in touch with me at and mark it for the Steering group.

Monday, 22 October 2012

A few odds and ends!

 The Carrots are doing very well! The soil still needs alot of work however, it's sad to see how conventional farming can take so much out of such a vital medium. Over the coming season our focus will be on improving the health and fertility of our soil.
First attempt at a flashy commercial? no, but funny all the same :)

Viva Polytunnel

The Polytunnel is up! Hurrah.

It was a shared effort that took alot of work.

 Here is one of the first post holes dug on a shared work day. It was just after Danny's unexpected trip to hospital and we were feeling over whelmed with how much work there was to get done. The response from members was so welcome and heartening. It was one of those moments that remind you that this is your home.
 Members dig, dig digging in the Barley
 These first 3 photographs were taken by Frank, thanks Frank!
 The trenches! Once the post holes were dug and the concrete poured we needed to dig the trenches around the edge to earth in the polytunnel cover.
 The trenches also doubled as a good wind break, nest, tunnel and den.
 Danny and My Dad ( who is possibly channelling Mr Motivatorr in a towelling sweat band) after the finish putting up the hoops of the polytunnel. Claire B should also be in this photo as she did alot that day!
 Last job before skinning the tunnel, putting up the cross beam that would support the door. Mathew kindly volunteered to lend a hand. But we only had one ladder pictured here. But Mathew is a chap who thinks out of box..
 This is a true multi purpose vehicle. A bit tricky to find ones balance at first...
 But after a bit of practice the focus doubles nicely as a large golden stool.
 Shared work day! The task, covering the tunnel. It was beautiful weather and we had our best turn out yet.

 Up and over the top. I was ill that day but I was told there was a huge collective 'ahhhh' from all once the cover was over.
Finally a view inside the covered tunnel. Things have moved on since then as Danny has been rotovating away to his hearts content.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A starring role for cabbage

I first came across Ribollita at the Chappel beer festival on the wonderful vegetarian food stall run by Leon Lewis.  I was boracic as usual so went for the cheapest thing on the stall, despite the fact that a stew with bread and cabbage didn't sound particularly appetising.  As you might expect from an Italian recipe it was, of course, delicious.  It is a real Italian peasant dish, economical, nutritious and really tasty.

After enjoying this stew three years running at the same festival I eventually begged Leon for the recipe, which is adapted from the Greek stew in his book More Vegetarian Dinner Parties published by Free Range publishing, and I would recommend you get hold of a copy.  Inevitably the recipe below has been fiddled about with over the time I've been making it, so go back to Leon's version in the book for a faithful reproduction of the tasty beer sponge I first enjoyed several years ago.

Half eaten: I waded right in, forgetting I was supposed to take a picture to show you first. 
The amounts indicated below should feed three to four, although we demolished it between the two of us this evening.

About four tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
200ml white wine or vegetable stock
1 carrot, chopped into about 1cm chunks and lightly cooked (I usually nuke it in the microwave)
200g cabbage, cut into smallish strips
1 tin of tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
A slice or two of stale bread torn into pieces
A tin of cannelini beans
A bunch each of parsley and basil, roughly chopped
A slug of fresh orange juice (it should be bitter orange, but I can't lay my hands on them unless it's January and I've found decent unsweetened stuff is fine)
Pepper and salt

To serve: grated parmesan and a drizzle of tasty olive oil

  1. Start by frying the onion slowly in the olive oil until it's soft and translucent; this usually takes ten minutes or so; add the garlic for the last few minutes.  While this is cooking you might want to cook the carrot.
  2. Add in the cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, cannelini beans, the wine or stock, and the bread.
  3. Allow this to cook for a while then finally add the parsley, basil and the orange juice.
  4. Season well and serve in bowls - it's quite sloppy, offering the parmesan and olive oil for people to help themselves.
I first served this at a New Year's eve party and it disappeared gratifyingly quickly - albeit mostly before breakfast on New Year's day, accompanied by Bloody Marys!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Carrots and Chard: The Start of Autumn Cooking

Carrots and Chard: The start of autumn cooking.
The change in the weather has been echoed by the change in vegetables arriving in the veg share.  As a natural response to this my cooking here at home has changed, with refreshing salads being replaced with comforting soups; richer umami flavours taking the place of the fresh crisp tastes of summer.  Today’s lunch consisted of the leftovers of last night’s cheesy chard tart and carrot and coriander soup.  Both are straightforward to make and seemed well matched to the sunny but cooler early autumn day.
Carrot and coriander soup
A quick recipe inspired by one by James Tanner from Ready Steady Cook, tweaked and multiplied up to feed four.  It is better with home made vegetable stock but I usually use the powdered one made by Marigold, made up slightly weaker than recommended.

Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
5 large cloves of garlic, chopped finely or crushed
4 tsp coriander seeds
400g carrots, chopped
1 litre vegetable stock
60ml double cream
60ml plain yoghurt
A good handful fresh coriander, chopped roughly

  1. Start by toasting your coriander seeds in a dry frying pan.  I use a cast iron one for this job.  All you need to do is put the seeds into the dry pan and heat them until they start to turn a toasted colour, release their fragrance and to jump about in the pan.  Watch them like a hawk, they’ll burn in seconds.  Take them off, put them into a pestle and mortar and bash them like mad until they go reasonably powdery.  How much you do this depends on how large you mind the spices being in the final soup, bearing in mind they soften as they cook.  I don’t mind a few slightly larger lumps of shell so just grind them until I get bored with the job.
  2. Saute the onion and garlic for a few minutes until they turn soften, then add the coriander and cook a bit more until they start to smell gorgeous and lemony.  This is the reason I insist on using whole spices rather than powdered ones, despite the extra work.  The fragrance is just impossible to match with the powder, and you really can taste the difference in the finished soup.
  3. Add the carrots and the stock, bring to the boil and then turn the heat down a bit, allowing the soup to simmer for a while – about 15 minutes should do it.
  4. Take the soup off the heat, and add the cream.  Allow it to cool a bit, then blitz thoroughly until the soup is smooth and glossy.  I like a stick blender best for this job.  I tend to wait to season with salt and pepper until this stage so that I can control the seasoning by tasting as I go.
  5. Add the yoghurt and the chopped coriander leaf.
  6. Either serve immediately, or if you’re eating it later make sure when you heat the soup you don’t let it boil to avoid the risk of splitting.
Cheesy chard tart
Inspired by the recipe in Nigel Slater’s wonderful Tender, but tweaked to accommodate my laziness.  This tart serves six in theory, but the two of us demolished it in two sittings – perhaps partly because Richard ate a third of it in one go for supper.  It is actually best served cold, but is also nice warm with a crisp green salad dressed with spring onion, lemon juice and olive oil.

Chard, with its strong earthy taste, responds best to bold flavours so I like to choose recipes that use strong cheeses or bacon.  I admit to being a bit of a chard shirker so the gentler treatments that rely on the unctuousness of cream are not for me, but may be worth trying if you’re a big fan.  Medium sized leaves, about the size that have been appearing in the veg share, are milder than the larger ones, and if you grow your own the tiny ones are very nice in salads.

The recipe asks for Parmesan.  There are several vegetarian alternatives to this.  The one by Bookhams marketed as Not Just a Pasta Cheese, previously called Twineham Grange works well.  Nigel Slater suggests Pecorino or Spenwood as alternatives.  The latter is a real artisan cheese and is made with vegetarian rennet, but I haven’t tried it yet.

For the pastry
175g plain flour (I used half white, half wholemeal, which gives a nice texture)
75g butter at room temperature
A pinch of salt
Half a teaspoon mustard powder
40g grated mature cheddar
A small bunch of thyme, leaves removed from the stalks
A little chilled water to bind

For the tart
About 200g medium sized chard leaves – washed well
2 large shallots sliced finely
50g mature cheddar, grated
40g parmesan, grated
2 large eggs
300ml double cream

  1. Start by making the pastry.  Put the flour, mustard powder and salt into a bowl.  Rub in the butter until you get a breadcrumb-like consistency, then add the thyme leaves and the cheese and mix in thoroughly.  Add water gradually until the pastry comes together.  Last time I needed 3-4 tablespoons, but it depends on the flour and all sorts of other factors.  Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and allow it to chill for half an hour in the fridge.
  2. Roll out the pastry thinly on a floured surface.  Put it into a flan tin about 25cm diameter. (Against all advice I use a ceramic tart dish, which is supposed to make the pastry soggy but doesn’t seem to in my experience).  Chill again in the fridge for another 30 minutes.  I know this seems like overkill but the first chill is to allow the gluten to develop, so the pastry is nice and elastic when rolling out rather than breaking up horribly; and the second helps to stop the pastry shrinking when you cook it.  Don’t bother if you don’t want to, but don’t blame me if it doesn’t work properly.
  3. While the pastry is chilling steam the chard until it’s wilted down.  Allow it to cool a bit, then squeeze it out to get rid of as much water as you can.  If you don’t it will send the filling watery.  Chop the dried chard roughly then mix the shallots in and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 200oC/gas mark 6
  5. Blind bake the pastry case for about 15 minutes until crisp and golden using whichever method you prefer (line with foil or greaseproof and weigh down with baking beans or use Delia’s method of stabbing the case all over with a fork to prevent air getting trapped).  If you used foil or greaseproof remove it for the last five minutes to give the pastry a chance to go crisp on the base.
  6. Put in the chard/shallot mix, then scatter the mixed grated cheeses over the top.  Finally whisk together the cream and eggs and pour over the whole tart.
  7. Return to the oven for 20-25 minutes.  When it comes out try to cool for a while to give the filling a chance to set properly. 
If you serve it with salad this one works well.  Go for simplicity so one or two types of leaves, torn into bite sized chunks and washed thoroughly.  I use my salad spinner to dry the leaves out afterwards.  Deeply unfashionable but by far the neatest and most effective method I know of.  Finely chop a couple of spring onions and put into a jar with the juice of half a lemon, about three times the amount of extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper.  Put on the lid, shake like mad until emulsified then dress the salad lightly.