Herbs in general are pretty underrated aren’t they and wild herbs seem to get an even wider berth afforded to them. This doesn’t make any sense at all does it? Today’s average supermarket punter is quite happy to buy cut salads in a bag, with a shelf life of a couple of days, rather than a lettuce head that last 4 times as long. We buy, in vast quantities, carrots, ready peeled and chopped into little batons for us – all of this at a vastly higher price than err, a carrot!
Why? We suffer don’t we from “busy life syndrome”. We are sooo busy that we often waste 20 minutes a day trying to convince and impress others about just how very busy we are. Don’t bother, just do 20 minutes extra work and your to do list will be a bit shorter at the end of the day.
But, when in comes to picking something out of our own gardens, for free! Well, that is challenging. So much of what we see in our garden is not only edible and free, it’s also delicious! You would think that we would feeding our kids shovel loads of Common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) if only the presence of hog in the name alone….
Like so many forage species, the rule is pick them young and so look out for Hogweed in the late spring and summer. Pick the emerging leaves (still folded) at the base of the plant. The leaf and flower buds are usable too, just pick them and open the bud case and take out the contents. The magic happens when you fry it in butter until just a little crispy and then season with lots of salt and pepper. Even the seeds can be dried and used in sauces and chutney’s very much like you would use coriander seeds.
We rave about new season Asparagus and yet here is something, like Samphire, that is even better with a very similar taste.
The one other plant that you’ll need to know about if looking for Common hogweed for food is it’s relative – the Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum). In flower it’ll be taller than you are with flower heads as big as serving platters. It’s poisonous and an irritant particularly if you get the latex from a broken stem on your skin. None of which stopped the good old Victorians from introducing it to our sceptred isles as a decorative garden border plant. If you have it in your garden you will know that already by the queues of “Garden Police” at your front door shouting “that plant is illegal” at you.
As always in forage, if you are not 100% sure of what you have then heed the advice of comedian Sarah Millican advice and feed it to your least favourite bairn first! Only joking.
Meet Debs and Stuart. Together they are realising their personal dream on a small patch of land at Huntley. Endless couples parade in line on seemingly equally endless property shows where the single most common motivation is to move to the county and keep some chickens. Most of these aspirations doubtless fail. But having spent a few short hours with this couple – it’s obvious that this partnership won’t be among the casualties.
Crofting is an old tradition perhaps best associated with the Highland and Islands of Scotland. Essentially a couple or a family work on small parcels of land both to supplement their meagre rations and to produce cash crops for sale in the local area, or at least they did before all the rich landowners and landed gentry threw them off the land to make way for sheep.
Here in the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley life must have been fairly similar for some. The echoes of small parcels can still be seen in the way that modest houses in the Forest & Valley sometimes also come with a little bit of ground. So, meet these modern-day crofters. Holding down day jobs and working on the land, their land.
Plump Hill Farm couple Debs and Stuart are though taking crofting to a whole new level. Faced with endless ambition but a limited budget from their day jobs they didn’t buy a farm. They bought farmland. Land going for sale in agricultural lots as an old farm was broken up and its sprawling buildings repurposed for the 21st century. They’ve just bought another parcel adjacent to their existing lot and so its seems that the well-rehearsed business plan is right on track.
We spent a great morning walking the patch with Debs and Richard Kaye head chef at the award winning Kilcot Inn. Richard was Deb and Stuarts first customer and has been with them since. We chatted to Debs while Richard checked out the loins and conformation of the ever-growing young pedigree pure bred Old Spots. Debs had to feed her cade lamb (hand reared after being rejected by mum) which was eagerly awaiting its breakfast. “We’d put a jacket on her because of the cold and she (mum) rejected it”, “always learning – we won’t do that again”. And there is so much to learn. Sensibly, they invested in themselves and bolstered their passion and enthusiasm with some top-quality training at the hands of Tim Stephens the Farm Manager and trainer at Humble by Nature. A real success story for Tim and Humble by Nature as they gave Debs and Stuart the spring board and confidence to pursue their dream.
And Richard is just the kind of customer that Debs and Stuart are looking for. Outlets for their whole animal produce who care as much as they do about the quality of the meat they are producing. Ideally customers who will take straight from the farm together with all the provenance and good animal welfare you can shake a stick at. Word is spreading too. Only that day Debs had to, sadly, decline the M5 services request for supply because they simply couldn’t produce the quantity required. That’s not a missed opportunity though for Debs. She clearly has her focus on growing the business to a sustainable size and then consolidating at that capacity.
Animal welfare comes first here at Plump Hill Farm. Yes, the animals are being bred for food but that is no reason why they shouldn’t have a great life and great care while they are part of the farm.
Richard Kaye shares this ethos for all of his ingredients for his lovely country restaurant. “A great dish starts with great raw materials,” he said. “I’ve spent years sourcing local suppliers who rear animals with excellent animal welfare. Happy animals taste better. Slaughtered properly and in as a calm way as possible is really important to the final quality and important to me.” “It is also imperative that we support local business – keeping the money in the area can really help the economic situation for everybody. I have the flexibility to take animals from Debs whenever they are available- and she doesn’t charge me a delivery charge!”
We have exercised the viewpoint that Britain has largely lost the connection with where it’s food comes from numerous times in these pages. Why is it important? If you are a meat eater, it’s just a fact that those animals will have to be slaughtered to meet your demand. If you lose sight of this fact and insulate yourself behind the unsustainable polystyrene punnets and red lighting of the supermarkets, you, yes – you personally contribute to what happens next. If no one cares how our food is reared you, yes you, open the door to poor animal welfare. In the shadows, people will exploit the fact that you don’t care and they will stop caring too – in the pursuit of profit. Pretty soon you’ll be buying two chickens for a fiver without a second thought for how they can be sold so cheaply.
And right there you have the transition on this escape to the country life. This is where half-hearted dreams falter, when the dream turns into the daily reality of hard work, dedication and sometimes disappointments when you bear the immense responsibility of keeping animals. The caravan in the polytunnel tells it all. It became home for a few weeks during lambing. This couple new to farming and always learning were “absolutely worn out” physically and emotionally during the process and to have somewhere to crash on site was a life saver.
The flock of fine woolly Shropshire’s all looked pretty happy and healthy grazing in the early morning Gloucestershire sunshine. And amongst the animals and covered in muck, Debs looked very happy too.
Food Festivals are great fun and, quite rightly, big and very good news. Especially in this fabulous area in which we live, stuffed full as it is with great produce, makers and eateries. So don’t miss The Monmouthshire Food Festival on 20th to 21st May 2017 at Caldicot Castle. Monmouthshire has some outstanding producers and makers (many of which have featured in this magazine) and so The Monmouthshire Food Festival is definitely an unmissable food event. There’s a full programme of demonstrations, talks, tastings and lots of food and drink to try and buy.
The Chef’s Theatre always features many of the finest chefs from across Monmouthshire. They will showcase the finest food the county has to offer in dishes that show both flair and imagination, a positive treat for the taste buds. The Look and Learn Theatre features master classes, tutored tastings and demonstrations on a wide range of food and drinks. Meet the people who really know about the food on offer, the producers.
Bring the kids too. The Children’s Quarter will have lots of activities for our young foodies to enjoy with one or two surprises! Browse the Producers Market which will have stalls with many different products to try and buy. Come and taste beer brewed just a mile from the festival or take home locally made preserves made from foraged fruit.
This year the supported charity Guides Dogs for the Blind. Staff and dogs from the charity will be on hand offering visitors a chance to get up close to a guide dog or puppy and find out more about their vital work – and of course help out with a small donation. So don’t miss this event. A food event packed with great tasting food, top tips and help with “how to” sessions it’s going to be fab! All set in the glorious surroundings of Caldicot Castle and grounds.
How about a family picnic in the glorious Caldicot Castle Country Park with delicious food and drink from the food festival? So why not take an empty picnic basket with you and buy your picnic at the show, find yourself a great spot in the castel grounds and dine like Lords and Ladies?
Foraging sounds like excellent fun doesn’t it – alone in the countryside finding all your own food for free. What could be better? Having just come back from celebrating mushroom season Italian style for a continuing food documentary photo project we can say – we are fans! But it’s also a bit scary isn’t it. Alone in the woods for a start! What if you get attacked by a boar or an amorous stag like the Daily Mail are always banging on about.
What if I just end up eating overgrown lawn instead of an exotic wild herb? Even worse, what if that supposed French woodland delicacy of a dew-covered mushroom you’ve just picked turns out to be from the genus instantpainfuldeatharia? Just where do beginners to foraging actually start?
Amidst this glorious landscape of ours full of free, nutritious and healthy food as we are, it makes sense to get a little help before you start. Well you are in luck! The Parish Grasslands Project will be running a foraging day entitled a Taste of the Hudnalls. Described as a day of hunting for, and appreciating, the wild food available from the Hudnalls area.
Expert guide, Raoul van den Broucke, will be on hand to lead a small group through the lanes and fields of the Hudnalls on the afternoon of Saturday 29th October picking out tasty treats along the way. Raoul, once dubbed by The Guardian, “the Carluccio of the Wye Valley”, has a long standing expertise in wild food and will be imparting his knowledge to the hardy group during the day. Later the same evening at the St Briavels Assembly Rooms Raoul will be joining the fabulous Yvette Farrell of Harts Barn Cookery School http://www.hartsbarncookeryschool.co.uk/ in a “cook what you brung” style masterclass of using wild food in the kitchen. There is also a competition for the best wild food recipe –don’t miss that! Visit the Grasslands website for details http://www.parishgrasslandsproject.org.uk/news.html#hudnalls2016. We’ll be there to cover the whole story but don’t let that put you off coming along and do say hello. It’ll be a fabulous day – tell them we sent you…
Raoul is a familiar face at the Tudor Farmhouse Hotel where is has been wild food expert in residence for several years as well as the tutor on Tudor Farmhouse Hotel’s extremely popular residential and group foraging courses. Under the expert tutelage of Raoul, Tudor’s courses having been running for about 5 years now and are always such popular events for the hotel that extra dates have been added for this Autumn and there are some new spring dates for 2017 soon to be announced. With either the day group courses or luxurious forage, eat and stay packages on offer to choose from, they are not to be missed. See their website for details http://www.tudorfarmhousehotel.co.uk/foraging-trips/
Lots of fun being invited to the very first Apple County Cider wassail ceremony at the cider orchards at Newcastle in Monmouthshire at the weekend. For this inaugural event, there was a modest but very enthusiastic crowd too on a cold, but stunningly beautiful, Monmouthshire day. Just a short walk from the roadside car parking and we were into the orchard proper. Stark and bare at this time of year the orchard was mid-winter prune but the mistletoe was on full power with bright white gelatinous berries glinting in the afternoon sun.
Wassailing is a one of those fabulous pagan ceremonies that date back thousands of years. The name Wassail is thought to originate either from the old Norse Scandinavian language “Ves heil” or the old English “Was hal” in either case a hearty toast to good health. Mix in a little bit of medieval German drinking tradition and, well anyway you get the picture…Fabulous English pagan tradition that Christianity (like so many of our other traditional ceremonies) put up with, adopted and adapted.
Wassailing is a ceremony to wake up the trees from their long winter snooze and to give them life and vigour just as spring is about to spring (very early as it happens this year). Actually, the history of it is far more complicated than that it would seem with any number of geographical variations. Wassail, is more accurately, the name for hot mulled cider drink which accompanies the festivities and Ben & Steph Culpin had a large pot of their cider on the burner with their secret mulling recipe on a gentle simmer. The smell of the mulled cider on the breeze was just fantastic.
No pagan tradition seems complete without a tipple or indeed music, singing and generally being pretty hopeful that, you, having a good time and paying respect to nature will pay off with a bumper harvest. You start to see the attraction of paganism….? On accordion the magnificently bearded Morris Wintle played some lovely traditional music and with him (as Life of Riley folk band partner), Penny Plowden, in her own very first act of, master of ceremony of the wassail, led the singing and read the traditional wassail texts. Dressed in her black school teachers gown and blazer with top hat decorated with ribbon and of course, the traditional black face (no-one seems sure why, but probably just a notional “disguise”).
And so, what could be nicer than a couple of hours outdoors in a fabulous orchard, drinking mulled cider, respecting tradition and having some exercise with a processional walk around the orchard behind the band. We wished everyone “good health” and drank a tipple to, hopefully, a great harvest and another great year for this young but fast becoming famous Welsh craft cider maker.
The band and the crowd moved on to The Bell at Skenfrith where to the musical score provided by the Life of Reilly in Ceilidh music and dancing mode the pagan well-wishers dined on confit belly pork, mash and cider jus or roasted sweet potato, apple, chestnut and blue cheese pie followed by apple crumble or apple tarte tatin.
Well it’s that time of year again and all thoughts are slowly turning toward the festivities (and a much needed break for some). It’s time to plan your parties and your menus and over indulge, just for a while, until you throw yourself headlong into your New Year resolutions for half a day or so. That’s right, let’s face it those few extra pounds from the Christmas feast are never going to go away!
Some of our favourite suppliers have great offers for the holiday period. Particularly at this time of year when we treat ourselves and spoil ourselves a little there’s no better time to BUY LOCAL and BUY QUALITY. Even those of us on a tight budget are thinking of a blow out so why not spend some (or all of that) money locally. It’ll help the local economy, it’ll help our great local producers and most of all the products and service is GREAT.
Let’s start with that great “British” tradition of turkey. There are lots of great alternatives but this is the time of year when we all go mad for the big bird! Home for Christmas is not something that is guaranteed. But when I’m home there is nothing I like more than my own traditional ritual. I’m a sucker for a turkey lunch at Christmas. I love preparing it, cooking it, and eating it….for days. I love the cold cuts for Boxing Day brunch, love the thinly sliced breast meat for turkey sandwiches, love the turkey curry and the finale Christmas lunch soup!!
The prelude is calling in at Taurus Crafts Christmas Market (first two weekends in December) to choose a tree, which always gets me in the mood. Although there is always lots of lovely food and drink to enjoy, it’s normally choosing the tree and the singers Taurus find that really kick-starts those Christmassy feelings.
The actual ritual starts mid-morning on Christmas Eve with a visit to Brian Baker at Close Turf Farm (on the back road from St Briavels to Lydney 01594 530277 to order). Here I pick up the big bird ready for the following day. Brian raises his turkeys at the farm from hatchlings until they are ready for market and like all of the produce from Close Turf – absolutely top quality.
I love the feeling of pulling into the farmyard and chatting to the whole Baker family who by Christmas Eve have already been working like mad! But they are still cheerful and ready for that one last push. All their birds are plump and have that desperately fresh aroma. Fresh and complete with their pluck, the big bird comes home to begin preparations.
Nothing fancy on the big day either, just traditionally and liberally covered with butter and good streaky bacon, with two halves of orange and some bay leaves inside and sitting on a bed of stock vegetables. Traditional veg too of course, roasted potatoes, carrots and parsnip and of course the famous Brussel sprout. I love them and cook them the way Yvette Farrell at Harts Barn Cookery School suggests (leave out the lardons if you need to). Then it’s in the oven during Bucks Fizz at the stables Christmas morning get together before home for lunch!!
Our family table is often a mix of poultry lovers, poultry hater’s and vegetarians. Which sounds complicated – but it’s not. All the veg is prepped and cooked to suit everyone (with the exception of 2-way Brussel sprouts) and the main components are cooked individually and to order. Simples!
As well as being editor, chief photographer and head washer-upper at WyeDean Deli Confidential I also, amongst other things, shoot travel pictures for an agency with offices around the world. Of course a significant part of capturing the spirit of any place is the local quality food and drink and the people that go with that. Markets particularly, so long neglected in England, seem to attract me like a moth to a bedroom light. So, having spent most of September in three regions (equivalent of UK counties) of Italy, I am feeling particularly spoilt! I know, it’s tough isn’t it – please don’t, sympathy isn’t good for my self-esteem…..
Call it the vino rosso, the sunshine or the total immersion in the language of love, but a very funny feeling struck me during that trip on more than one occasion – How similar to the countryside of Tuscany, Italy is the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley. OK, I know that the similarities do have some limitations but before you write me off as a hopeless romantic or a raging drunkard, let me try and convince you.
The hills around Bagni di Lucca and Seravezza are heavily wooded with broad leaved trees, most of which, Beech, Oak, Ash, Chestnut, would be easily recognisable to any DeanWye inhabitant, Although steeper that anything here, the mountains are home to and have a long history in, quarrying – marble in their case. The people are either typically conservative country people of those who have moved into the area because they too want to become “typical country people”. There is a real sense of community and local pride in the small towns and tiny villages. The countryside around the villages is teeming with natures larder. Then there’s the weather….sorry, it’s all too easy to get carried away with these comparisons. Apart from the last example, the parallel to the DeanWye is, in my estimation, very difficult to deny.
But, somehow they are very different. Firstly, September is the busiest time of year in the Italian wild mushroom season. Wild mushrooms are very important to Italians. No not the farmed ones; the wild ones. Chefs and restaurant owners all have their own mushroom men – fungaioli. Men who venture into the woods, on dark damp dusks and dawns to secret spots and locations whispered to them by their fathers father. They tend to be students of the natural world and lifelong woodsmen. Mushroom season is a prelude to Chestnut season which gets equal billing with the Italian countryside residents and, well, I think you get the picture. Much, much more on fungi later. Here, I’m not to sure many normal people even think about seasonal wild foods with any passion at all – why is that?
This natural food of the forest, like all other wild foods, is noble food in the Italian psyche. It’s tied up in the peasant and wartime partisan lifestyle ethos of eking a living from the land in the absence of anything else. But that ethos isn’t something that is obvious or even expressed. It is the taste and the earthy, nutty smell of the product which confers the nobility. On one lazy Sunday lunch sitting outside in the shade, I ordered Tagliatelle al Tartufo (black truffles) and I could smell my lunch as soon as it passed the kitchen door – heaven! It’s the sense of occasion that stems from the seasonality, passing of the seasons and the transition of one part of the year to another. It’s in the occasion that everyone can be involved in and enjoy. It’s in the added luxuriousness it brings to the already very simple, tasty and fabulous Italian food. And of course, this being Italy – it’s time for a festival on the subject where locals and visitors alike have the day off, drink a little wine and and eat very well indeed!
Forget the UK as a whole. Ask yourself why don’t we in the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley prize this wild local crop as highly? Why don’t we value the fabulous venison, boar and game? Why don’t we all go mad for the hedgerow berry bonanza? And why don’t we go wild foraging for wild salads and herbs? All of it is right there! It’s what makes our area so special and yet we lack the passion for it. Perhaps it’s because we have lost connection with the land itself, the growing of and the variety of food, unaffected by chemicals, drugs and fertilizers. Then ask yourself this; if we have in fact lost that wondrous adventure of first finding our food, or some part of a meal, before we eat it in favour of what we like to call convenience – is that convenient trade-off to our quality of life really worth it?
We stayed in Bagni di Lucca as a guest of Tuscan Rooms a remarkably beautiful four storey town house and former soda syphon factory in a previous life. The fully restored accommodation, complete with a real lift (extremely rare in Italian villages), vertiginous garden terrace and original four flights of marble staircase is ideally situated to explore the region. Right beside the river and in the heart of the lower town and distance walking to a great bar, a pasticceria and several restaurants, guests can rent a room, a floor or the whole shebang. Paul and Colette, the owners, will even pick you up from the airport by arrangement. If you would like to see some of the images from that trip visit my Travel gallery on Facebook
If you regularly slip on obvious wet patches in the office lobby, don’t secure your ladders properly, don’t wear your seat belt or are constantly scolding your hands under the tap marked hot – this warning health is for YOU!
Some mushrooms are edible, delicious and good for you. Some are not. Some, no one knows if they are edible or not. Some need specific cooking preparation before eating and some can only be eaten in small quantities or the toxins build up in your body. IF, you have no idea which type of mushroom you have picked – don’t eat it. IF the jury is still out on which type of mushroom you have picked – don’t eat it. IF, you nevertheless go ahead and eat it anyway – please leave some of the raw ingredient in a convenient and obvious place for the para-medics to find or, as one eccentric mycologist did, write the scientific name in full on your hand in biro in the last remaining seconds before becoming comatose.
Fungaioli, skilled Italian mushroom hunters, gather mushrooms because they happen to know all about the habitat, natural and social history of a species from a collective experience of people like themselves. They tend not to be transient fungi hunters in it for the money between recorded episodes of “The Only Way is Essex”.
Fungaioli are also very savvy Fungus Sales Executives. They often deliver their treasure trove of truffley goodness in an attractive open topped wooden fruit box when the restaurant is open and full of customers just to ramp up the anticipation of the food obsessed Italians. Restaurant owners love this as it’s more likely that customers will return to THEIR restaurant for their autumnal fungus fix having seen the overflowing mushroom box come through the front door! Porcino (piglets in Italian) are the favourites amongst Italian chefs and restaurant customers alike. We know them by the common name of Cep but in fact, they are from a group more properly referred to as Boletus. With around 36 different Boletus in the British fungus list alone, most of which are edible, you start to see the sheer variety available and we haven’t even started on the Ink caps or the newly emerging Parasols!
In the current Tesco magazine a passionate and no doubt very nice Managing Director of somewhere or other, reports delivering 5 tons of three varieties (one of them native to Asia) to Tesco of mushrooms a week – three varieties! In the Dean Wye we have another giant flavour of the wild mushroom world – Chanterelle – a soft egg yellow funnel shaped mushroom with an exquisite taste. In spring Morels with their honeycomb heads, grow under our apple tree! Another spring fruiting mushroom is Chicken of the Woods, delicious when young and fresh. The Germans and the Dutch love them! Parasols, mentioned earlier, are delicious and gloriously paper-white when cut, if picked very early. The text books will tell you that, although not poisonous, they can be very bitter once opened.
With a gay spirit of adventure I decided to test that assertion of bitterness and sliced one of the open caps (they are so large – small kids use them as parasols hence the name) before frying them in a little butter, I added parsley and a little black pepper just before serving and tried them. They looked fabulous but the text books are accurate and I pulled a muscle in my contorting face trying to get them out of my mouth as soon as possible.
Even if you can identify a specimen, the common names don’t always instil confidence. Take for example, Trombette dei Morti (Trumpets of the dead). This mushroom apes the shape of a black trumpet but its Halloweenesque name actually arose because it grows around the 2nd November, All Souls’ Day. It’s other common name of Truffles of the Poor hints at its widespread use once dried and powdered as a food additive because of its intense aroma.
If you are interested in learning more about mushrooms we can recommend the book Mushrooms by Roger Phillips. It has very helpful with, sometimes life-sized, images of each mushroom together with a useful information panel and notes on edibility.
As an update to our blog of 18th August about the, then upcoming, Food and Beer Pairing event hosted by Harts Barn Cookery School and Hillside Brewery we caught up with Paul Williamson and Yvette Farrell to see how it all went.
Paul; the evening was a great success, with lovely feedback from our 40 visitors. The atmosphere was great too, very lively with great food and beer, with a fun interactive pub quiz based on beer throughout the evening. Derek Orford, Master Brewer & Beer Sommelier, kept everyone entertained and informed with his wisdom and deep knowledge discussing the beer and food pairing. The food of course, (menu and food created by the talented Yvette Farrell) was a complete hit! Check out the menu in our previous blog post Food & Drink Pairing
Unashamed plug time
Paul says; Hillside is an exciting brewery running green sustainable brewing methods with a wide range of beer & craft ales. It’s a family owned and run company, based in the Forest of Dean on a stunning 40 acre farm. We opened in May 2014 and have since received over 16 awards. We offer Brewery tours & tasting, team building days including additional fun activities, cookery classes and more! We also have an onsite shop selling our beers, merchandise, and local produce such as wine and chutneys and even beer ice cream! We are the perfect location for the perfect day out! We pride ourselves in producing high quality ales in small batches of the finest ingredients using traditional methods which have been developed and mastered over a lifetime. We want to change people’s perception of beer and what can be achieved. We are dedicated to sustainable brewing and we want to share our passion for great beer with you. Yvette;Harts Barn Cookery School launched in 2011 and have gone from strength to strength. We believe in the ‘socialisation’ of food, bringing people together whether they are learning a new skill in the kitchen to sitting down and enjoying the fruits of their labours. Most of all though, we believe in the food, the freshness, the quality, the flavours, the localism and above all, great ingredients cooked simply to produce the finest plate from the Forest & Wye.
Upcoming Events for food and beer lovers.
Check out both websites for full events listings this autumn and winter.
Have a beer and warm your cockles by the fire – Hillside bonfire night on Friday 6th
November, Christmas Market 5th and 6th December and a Christmas carol service on Friday 18th December.
Harts Barn have published their Supper Club schedule with “Indian and the 80’s” on 30th October, “Asian Flavours” on 27th November, Traditional Christmas Supper – several dates and a homage to the apple at their Wassail on 15th January 2016.
Are you happy in your work? And by that we mean really, really happy? We know four people who are. We met them for the first time on a glorious Forest of Dean day on a small parcel of land rented to them by Matt Dunwell of Ragman’s Farm. These four young entrepreneurs Ben Hanslip, Danny Fisher, Natalie Baker and Jon Goodman have grasped the opportunity to fulfil a shared dream, to grow a delicious and nutritious range of herbs, salads, cut flowers, veggies and fruit. They have grasped the opportunity with all of the vigour that passionate and enthusiastic young people are capable of and they are happy! They are growing produce of the finest quality, in an organic and sustainable way in one of the most beautiful part of the south west – what’s not to like? Together they are called Ragman’s Lane Market Garden.
These young tenant market gardeners share the modest farmhouse on the plot, work (very hard) in the fields, eat from the plot and sell the very best of their produce locally to make a modest living. All still have to take work outside of the market garden at the moment, but they all hope that as sales improve they will be able, finally, to work that little patch of land full-time. It could all be a romantic documentary on a bygone rural idyll, but it’s not – it’s today. And this partnership of four young people with a dream is making it all come true for a new generation. Due in part to soaring land prices the average age of UK farmers is 59. The “Fab Four” are working hard to put a dent in that scary statistic.
The genesis of all of the tasty green shoots is a great story, of serendipity, recognising opportunities and seeing the possibilities, in its own right. Jon and Ben studied together at SOAS University – The School of African and Oriental Studies http://www.soas.ac.uk/. Further inspiration came from the four WOOF-ing together (the exchange system for worldwide opportunities on organic farms as well as volunteering on community market gardens).
Jon spent two years as a Soil Association Apprentice and Danny has some previous experience of handling working horses – the prospect of seeing a Suffolk Punch at work in Lydbrook is just a tantalising dream though, unfortunately. Jon met Freya Davies of Ragman’s Farm when he visited their Permaculture Open Day at the well-known and award winning juicing orchard. There he saw (buried in the wild greenery) several poly tunnels in a sea of rampant undergrowth. Freya had mentioned in passing that Ragman’s were on the look-out for any takers to bring the land back into production and here they all are!
So, on the thinnest of shoestring budgets, but with the whole hearted support of Matt Dunwell and full use of whatever was already on the land in terms of infrastructure and equipment – they began. The plot comes with the use of a two wheeled tractor to ease the burden which, wouldn’t look out of place in the finca’s of the Spanish countryside, but which is exceptionally efficient for small scale market gardens like these. There is also a very practical and also very beautiful irrigation pond to provide water for the crops and habitat for the wildlife. The resident mallards and geese help to keep the slug population suppressed whilst the cute black and white cat heads up the pest control department.
The value of this support to a brand new business such as this can’t be underestimated. To have had to invest in that equipment and infrastructure at start-up would have been a death toll to the very germ of the “fab four’s” dream. That support, from an existing successful business, acted as an incubator for the new complimentary adventure and we think is a message lots of local businesses should think a little bit more about.
Spade met ground in February last year with frantic work by all four to turn an overgrown corner of a larger landholding into something where they could start to plant and grow both their crops and their fledgling business. Jon told us, “The ethos is to provide some job security for ourselves; to do work on something that you believe; to be able to feed yourself and do it in a way that’s sustainable, organic and FUN!”
Walking around the market garden is an absolute pleasure. Although, if you ever do see the approach road to the farm, you’ll understand why visitors are dissuaded at the moment! The four tend their “cut and come again” salads to reduce waste and extend the life of the crop without reducing taste. Wild and cut flowers punctuate the market garden with vibrant colours and large Comfrey patches provide the raw material for organic, farm made, plant feeds. Natalie handles the flower department with an eye to supplying florists and designers with wild and cottage garden flowers to add an unusual twist to bouquets. This pollinator’s paradise place is just a-buzz with the sound of insects and birds – It’s how agriculture used to look in that respect.
You can buy Ragman’s Market Garden produce, all picked fresh on the day, via the Dean Forest Food Hub. Popular and informal Walford foodie pub, The Mill Race buys from the fab four and Hayley Coombs of the Mill Race told us “We are committed to using local quality produce and the majority of the ingredients we use come from within 30 miles of the Mill Race. Ragman’s Lane supply us with amazing vegetables and is less than 3 miles away – you can’t get more local than that!”
If you are a local chef who demands freshness and quality produce and you like local suppliers – this one is for you. Why not talk to the “Fab Four” or better still visit. If you do we’d love to cover the story and Ragman’s partnership with you.
Bristol-based cook Jo-Anne Lovemore of Green Tomato Kitchen creates abundant and delicious vegetarian buffet spreads for events and celebrations throughout the South-West and South Wales including the Wye Valley.
Curiosity about food and being interested in cooking has been with me for as long as I can remember. My mother enlisted my ‘help’ in the kitchen as soon as I could stand on tiptoes on a chair and wield a wooden spoon, and as children, my brother and I were allocated a corner of our garden veg patch each year to grow whatever flowers and edibles took our fancy. If I recall correctly, my pet rabbit was the primary beneficiary of the modest yield from my carrot crop, uprooted too early, thanks to my impatience.
During my teenage years, I (mis)spent many an hour glued to TV cookery shows, which at the time were enjoying a meteoric rise in popularity. I am sure this began as a diversionary tactic from schoolwork, but soon evolved into a genuine curiosity and a desire to experiment with newly discovered ingredients and culinary techniques. I would furiously scribble down recipes while Ainsley Harriott and co rattled through them at breakneck speed on the TV screen (this was before the days of the internet!)
Aside from a string of summer and weekend jobs working in kitchens while I was a student, my career path to date has taken me far away from the culinary world, although I continued to enjoy cooking for friends and experimenting with recipes. But it was only in my 30s when I began to question how I might get more fulfillment from my work and lifestyle that I decided to follow my heart into the kitchen. Since turning vegetarian at the age of 20 my interest and awareness has grown around what and how we choose to eat impacts our health.
Food is an integral part of any event – a tangible expression of care from host to guest. So with my recently launched catering business, Green Tomato Kitchen, my aim is to create delicious, original, varied and healthy menus that guests will remember for the right reasons. When designing menus, I work closely with my clients to really understand their needs and preferences. All of the food that I prepare is vegetarian, and I love to introduce people to the abundant variety of flavours and textures found within good vegetarian cooking.
Combining the freshest ingredients to create colourful salads, mouthwatering dips, hearty bakes, savoury pastries and quiches, and gluten-free goodies is my thing. I have a soft spot for baking cakes and desserts, and no buffet spread would be complete without a tempting sweet selection to round off the meal!
Working from my home kitchen in the heart of Bristol, I’ll happily cater for clients with special dietary needs, or produce menus that are fully vegan, or lower in fat or sugar, for example. The central location in the south-west makes me ideally situated for one of the main strands of my business, supplying office lunches and celebratory feasts to business and private clients in the city. However, I’m not tied to the urban environment, being equally happy to offer the same high service to businesses or house parties and celebrations in the Wye Valley.
At the moment I’m looking for a good, preferably organic, dairy supplier in the region and would be very happy to hear from any Wye Valley-based dairy farms producing delicious cheeses, butter, yoghurt and other dairy delights. Please do get in touch with any suggestions. To find out more about what Green Tomato Kitchen could offer you, visit www.greentomatokitchen.co.uk. I look forward to cooking for you!
We first met Jo-Anne at a business event in Bristol and we were immediately impressed with her passion for what she does. We asked her to tell us her story, particularly since she is always on the lookout for the very best vegetarian produce suppliers. So come on, if you think you can supply Green Tomato Kitchen, lets get a little bit of the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley into those sumptuous GTK buffets!! All pix M Lovemore.