Itâ€™s surely a decade and a half since we came over to the UK to visit organic growers, beautiful gardens, farm shops, Farmers Markets, farmhouse cheese makers…. Last time there was a tremendous air of optimism, demand for organic produce was growing, prices were more or less viable but now, 15 years later, in the wake of Brexit, there is quite a different mood tethering between despair and resignation.
There seems to be huge confusion amongst farmers about what on earth to grow or produce to actually manage to ‘earn a crust’
Helen Browning of Eastbook Farm in Wiltshire is the biggest organic pig farmer in the UK with 200 sows and their happy piglets chasing each other gleefully around the fields on her beautiful farm near Bishopstone close to Swindon.
Most of the pork goes into her range of juicy organic sausages and hotdogs and is also served on the menu at The Royal Oak, the pub she and her partner Tim Finney bought partly to revitalize the local village. This really resonated with me because for three days weâ€™d been wending our way through beautiful Cotswold villages, all hollyhocks and roses with honey coloured granite houses and Farrow and Ball colours but often not a shop, pub or even a post office in sight.
Here in Ireland the decision to cap the size of retail outlets and not to allow large supermarkets to be built in green field sites, has, I wouldnâ€™t quite say saved but at least protected the livelihood of many of our smaller shop keepers and kept many of our villages alive.
In Southrop, I stayed at Thyme, a beautiful country house with an excellent cooking school near the tiny village of Lechade. www.thyme.co.uk. It too has a pub with excellent food, even plates of hand cut pasta negra. Not all pubs in the UK have good food but many have and occasionally a comfy, couple of reasonably priced rooms.
We also loved The Plough in Kingham where Emily Watkins’s food draws people from far and wide to yet another beautiful village with no shop. For breakfast, as well as homemade jams, marmalades and a generous fry of local bacon, handmade sausages, home grown tomatoes and good eggs, they serve sweet little drop scones. www.thekinghamplough.co.uk
In the UK baked beans are a favourite part of a breakfast fry. At Thyme they made their own with fat Judion beans cooked in tomato sauce served with a thick slice of their own hand cut ham and a fried egg. Another tasty brunch dish. I also enjoyed little dill crumpets with smoked salmon, crÃ¨me fraiche and dill sprigs, a light and delicious start to the day.
Another cool idea for an ice cream combination, raspberry and beetroot, came from the ice cream booth at the super cool Jolly Nice Farm Shop not far from Stroud. Here two young chaps bought a disused gas station and built a covered Farm shop underneath the canopy selling fresh herbs, organic meat, spanking vegetables, fruit, local cheeses and a whole range of carefully chosen deli products as well as craft beers and natural wines. There was a takeout cafÃ© with fresh edgy food to eat at picnic tables in the meadow behind the shop or in one of two super cool yurts with stoves in case it got chilly. What a super idea. Another of my favourites was the Roth Bar and Grill at Hauser & Wirth in Bruton for both art, sculpture and food lovers. This is definitely a place to add to your â€˜must do’ list check out. http://www.hauserwirthsomerset.com/
Among many good things, I particularly remember a lemon curd muffin that I enjoyed with a superb cup of coffee. Thereâ€™s a Martin Creed exhibition on there at present as well as several spectacular sculptures by Subodh Gupta.
This is Somerset, deep in Cheddar country, iconic cheese makers like Montgomery and Keen’s are close by.
If you are in the area check out Westcombe Cheddar where I saw the world’s first Cheddar cheese turning robot in action, see timanddarina on Instagram.
You will also be close to the village Alhampton so vegetable, fruit and herb growers or wannabe growers may want to check whether Charles Dowding of â€˜No Digâ€™ Gardening fame is giving a course. www.charlesdowding.com
Date for your Diary
Don’t miss the fun at the fourth annual Ballymaloe Garden Festival which takes place on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 of September 2016 on the grounds of Ballymaloe House. The weekend will bloom with talks, walks, workshops, demonstrations, food and fun designed to stimulate and excite rookie and veteran gardeners alike. All events are included in the â‚¬8 admission, children under 16 go free. www.gardenfestival.ballymaloe.ie.
The attributes of raw milk become increasingly evident as a growing body of research indicates the enhanced health benefits.
It can be difficult to find but the good news is Dan and Ann Aherne from Ballysimon utside Midleton now sell their beautiful organic raw cowâ€™s milk in glass bottles from their stall at both Midleton Farmers Market, Saturdays 9am-2pm and Mahon Point Farmers Market on Thursday from 10am-3pm â€“ get there early it sells out fast. Tel: 086 165 9258 firstname.lastname@example.org
Dill Pancakes with Smoked Salmon and CrÃ¨me Fraiche
Makes 12 pancakes
110g (4ozs/1 cup) self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
25g (1oz/1/8 cup) caster sugar
pinch of salt
110ml (4fl ozs/1/2 cup) milk
drop of sunflower oil, for greasing
2 tablespoons chopped dill
8 slices of smoked salmon
28cm (11in) frying pan
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the sugar and salt and stir to mix. Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg and whisk, gradually drawing in the flour from the edge. Add the milk gradually, whisking all the time, to form a smooth batter.
Lightly grease a frying pan and warm it over a moderate heat. Drop 3 tablespoons of the batter into the pan, keeping well apart so they donâ€™t stick together. Cook for about 2 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface and begin to burst and the drop scones are golden underneath, then flip them over and cook on the other side for a minute or until golden on this side as well.
Remove from the pan and serve warm on a hot plate with a ruffle of thin slices of smoked salmon, a dollop of crÃ¨me fraiche and a few sprigs of dill.
Roth Bar and Grill Lemon Curd Muffins
170 g (6 oz) unsalted butter
310 g (11 oz) castor sugar
4 organic eggs
600 g (1Â¼ lb) self raising flour
300 ml (Â½ pint) whole milk
a pinch of fine salt
Tangy delicious lemon curd can be made in a twinkling, smear it over a sponge or onto fresh bread, buttery scones or meringues. It is best eaten within a fortnight.
Makes 2 x 200ml (7fl oz/scant 1 cup) jars
2oz (50g/1/2 stick) butter
3 1/2oz (100g/scant 1/2 cup) caster sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk whisked (keep white aside for meringue)
Grease and line a 12 muffin tin with greaseproof paper cups
Preheat the oven to 175ËšC/325ËšF/gas mark 3.
First make the muffins. Cream the butter and sugar together. Add a beaten egg, one a time until well incorporated into the butter/sugar mix. Gently mix in the flour and salt. Then add the milk, mix well.
Bake for 25-28 minutes in a fan oven. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Next make the lemon curd. Melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the caster sugar, lemon zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the back it. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl or sterilized jar (it will thicken further as it cools.)
Cut a hole on the top of each cooled muffin. Use a piping bag to pipe the lemon curd into each muffin until oozing out of the top. Delicious with a cup of good coffee!
Emily Watkinâ€™s Dark Chocolate and Cherry Arctic Roll
Flourless Chocolate Sponge
5 egg yolks
85g caster sugar
10g cocoa powder
45g melted dark chocolate
3 egg whites
650g fresh cherry fruit puree
225g caster sugar
125ml double cream
For the flourless chocolate sponge
Pre heat the oven to 190C.
Line a large flat baking tray with baking parchment. Whisk the yolks and sugar to make a sabayon (pale and volumised). Sift the cocoa into the yolks and sugar. Add the chocolate. Whisk the egg whites until they form peaks. Take a large spoon of the whites and mix into the chocolate base. Fold the whisked egg whites into the other ingredients. Pour onto the baking tray and bake for 6 minutes. Leave to cool.
For the Cherry Ice cream
First pit the cherries, blitz, then pass through a sieve.
Bring the sugar and cream to a simmer and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Pour into the cherry puree. Churn in an ice cream maker or freeze in a bowl, stirring every half hour. (or you can freeze in ice cubes and then place in a food processor to blend into an ice cream).
To make the arctic roll
Place a roll of cling film on a chopping board. Carefully turn the chocolate sponge onto the cling film. Place the ice cream onto the cling film. Use the cling film to help roll the sponge and ice cream into a log. Tie the cling film at the ends. Place back in the freezer until needed.
Cut the log into individual portions and dust with a little cocoa powder. Serve with fresh cherries.
Beetroot and Raspberry Ice-Cream
225g (8oz) fresh raspberries
225g (8oz) cooked ruby beetroot
175g (6oz / 3/4 cup) sugar
150ml (5fl oz/generous 1/2 cup) water
1 teaspoon gelatine
600ml (1 pint/2 1/2 cups) whipped cream
fresh raspberries and fresh mint leaves
Puree and sieve the raspberries. Dissolve the sugar in the water and boil for 2 minutes, sponge the gelatine in 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) water and dissolve in a saucepan of simmering water. Puree the cooked beetroot with the syrup, allow to cool. Then add the raspberry purÃ©e, add a little to the gelatine and then mix the two together. Fold in whipped cream and freeze in a covered container.
Scoop out the ice-cream, serve on chilled plates. Decorate with fresh raspberries and mint leaves.