Marmalade 2019

Labelled home-made marmalade jars

Winter’s Seville oranges season is over so this is for next winter’s marmalade (by which time the world will no longer be possessed by divide-and-rule politics and the UK has reversed extreme poverty described by the UN Special Rapporteur). 

This ratio of oranges to sugar works well. Not too sweet. Excellent jelly-like consistency. A keeper.

3lbs Seville oranges 
3lbs 12oz sugar
4pts water
1 pt water for pectin
2 lemons for pectin

My trusted slightly-edited marmalade recipe, which I owe to the late Katie Stewart, the Times cookery writer, is below. Beg or borrow a preserving pan.* Otherwise, use a pan that is deep enough for the marmalade to boil safely and wide enough to give a large surface of evaporation.

Top Katie Tips

  • Place a saucer or two in freezer or fridge to encourage hot marmalade to cool quickly when testing it has set
  • Put sugar (already weighed) in a pan in low oven to warm which will speed up boiling time
  • Clean jars thoroughly with hot water and dry them in oven.

Five stages of making marmalade

Stage 1 Clean oranges and simmer to soften

  • Scrub Seville oranges and remove stalks (organic oranges are worth it because better farming creates more taste and health)
  • Use your largest pan or two smaller ones with lids 
  • Fill with 4 pints of water and simmer oranges for about an hour until peel is soft (orangey aroma will fill room)
  • Drain cooked oranges and reserve cooking water – a precious liquid that becomes marmalade. 

So far, this process can be done earlier, or the day before.

Stage 2 Extracting pith and pips for pectin

Pectin, extracted from the insides of the fruit, is the setting agent.

  • Cut cooked-and-cooled oranges in half.
  • Scoop-out their insides – the pitch-and-the pips – with a spoon 
  • Add pith-and-pips to a large-enough pan with the additional 1 pint of water and 2 lemons cut in half.
  • Simmer for ten minutes then drain and reserve.

This pectin-rich liquid will be used in Stage 4.

Stage 3 Slicing peel
Flatten softened peel, and cut up peel of oranges (and the 2 lemons) with a small sharp knife as thinly/thickly as you like.

Stage 4 Rolling boiling 
Take the warmed sugar from the oven. It should be in a preserving pan or largest pans (see above*)

Add the precious orange water (Stage 1), drained pectin-juice (Stage 2), and cut-up peel (Stage 3) in with sugar into preserving pan.

Start boiling.

It takes about 20-30 minutes to get the whole pan boiling and it is after that, you must watch like a hawk for the (ta-da) rolling boil.

Overboiling at this stage can stop the marmalade setting. So timing the rolling boil is important. After 15 minutes of a rolling boil, take the pan off the heat.

A rolling boil is when the marmalade is not just bubbling but is a fast-boiling glucky furious whirl. 

Marmalade looking jewel-like in the light

Test for a set
Drop a spot of hot jam on one of those icy-cold plates
Let droplet cool, tilting plate to encourage cooling, then push droplet gently with your finger. You are looking for tell-tale wrinkles and jelly-like character. (The opposite to the lead in a romantic movie).

If the droplet is runny, boil again for a few minutes then test again. And so on until the test droplets are unequivocally set.

Stage 5 Marmalade in jars
Let jam cool in pan until not-too-hot yet not too-set for pouring.
Next, is the sticky bit so spread newspaper over kitchen surfaces, and use a ladle or a jug to pour the warm marmalade carefully into clean jars.

Recipes often say use waxed discs to keep out condensation and mould but, cutting-corners-cook that I am, I have not done so for years, with no adverse effects. 

Wipe jars from stickiness and proudly label.

1916 Women’s Farm and Garden Union

1916 newspaper cutting on origins of Women's Land Army
A cutting on the precursor to the Women’s Land Army

The yellowed newspaper cutting flutters down as we are packing up old books.

As if it has a message for me – its headline: Women for the farm.

At the top, in a pencilled scrawl, The Timesand the date: 24.5.16 

The cutting concerns the annual meeting of the Women’s Farm and Garden Union at Chelsea Hospital, London, midway through the First World War (1914 – 1918). 

According to the cutting, the Women’s Farm and Garden Union has a membership of about 500, the majority being women working their own land.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, FD Acland MP, attends. 

His presence is “an outward and visible sign” of the Board of Agriculture’s approval and gratitude for the Women’s Farm and Garden Union work.

A historic moment…

…As I discover from the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading University because, the following year, the Women’s Farm and Garden Union is taken over by the Board of Agriculture, and becomes the first Women’s Land Army.

The Women’s Land Army has been rediscovered in recent years. 

Usually, attention is focused on its activities during the Second World War [pic above].

My newspaper cutting points to its role during the First World War.

Acland, a Liberal MP influential in setting up the Forestry Commission, according to his Wikipedia entry, adapts a poem from Macaulay (the British historian and politician, Macaulay?) to describe the farm work of women and men too young or old to serve working the land in the absence of men at war.

The newspaper editor subtitles the piece “an admonition in verse.” Yet Acland is not criticising the women but praising them.

The newspaper quotes the politician’s ditty:

“The harvests of East Anglia
   This year old maids must reap
This year young boys of Cumberland
     Must dip the struggling sheep.
And in the farms of Lunedale
   This year the milk must form
From the white hands of strapping girls
  Whose sires are gone from home.”

Mrs Roland Wilkins also addresses the Women’s Farm and Garden Union:  the work of women, old men and boys are replacing that of some 300,000 men taken from the land for military service.

Mrs Roland Wilkins makes an acerbic (as I read it) comment on how women’s war effort may be better served on the land than “putting sugar in cups of teas  for Tommies.” 

Indeed.

Fast forward to 2018. According to the Food and Agriculture United Nations (FAO), women feed the world.  They produce more than half of all the food grown globally.

In rural areas – home to the majority of the world’s hungry – they grow most of the crops for domestic consumption and are primarily responsible for preparing, storing and processing food. They also handle livestock, gather food, fodder and fuelwood and manage the domestic water supply. In addition, they provide most of the labour for post-harvest activities. Yet women’s work often goes unrecognized, and they lack the leverage necessary to gain access to resources, training and finance. 

A point also made at the photographic exhibition, We Feed The World [image below]. 

Women farmers from Todjedi, Benin. Photo for WFTW by Fabrice Monteiro

Women farmers from Todjedi, Benin. Image: Fabrice Monteiro

A big shout-out to women farmers of the past, the future and everywhere on the planet.

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The Deserted Village – a land grab poem

Apricot Centre at Huxhams Cross Farm, Dartington, Devon

The enclosure of common land across the centuries, or the privatisation of British land, is where many modern problems began. Subsistence farmers, the peasant class, were wrenched from their land by rich men’s control and might.

“A time there was, ere England’s griefs began,

When every rood of ground maintained its man;

For him light labour spread her wholesome store,

Just gave what life required, but gave no more:”

What a great description of sustainability. Thank you, Oliver Goldsmith (1728 –1774), Irish novelist (The Vicar of Wakefield), poet, and playwright (She Stoops to Conquer).

The struggle to retain our natural rights – grow food and be in nature – continues. Last weekend, I was at the launch of the Apricot Centre at Huxhams Cross Farm in Dartington, Devon (images).

Thanks to the Apricot Centre CIC, the Biodynamic Land Trust and its many supporters, the land at Huxhams Cross Farm has been reclaimed and put into community ownership.

In his poem, The Deserted Village (1770), Oliver Goldsmith

“… laments the decline of rural life and the depopulation of the countryside as a result of land enclosure,” writes Diane Maybank in her introduction to She Stoops to Conquer.

Buying fresh biodynamic produce at Huxhams Cross Farm

This poem is as relevant as ever. I have edited it for passages which shouted to me through the ages. The complete poem is here.

The Deserted Village

by Oliver Goldsmith

Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,

Where health and plenty cheered the labouring swain,

…How often have I loitered o’er thy green,

Where humble happiness endeared each scene!

How often have I paused on every charm,

The sheltered cot, the cultivated farm,

The never-failing brook, the busy mill,

The decent church that topt the neighbouring hill,

The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade,

For talking age and whispering lovers made!

How often have I blest the coming day,

When toil remitting lent its turn to play,

And all the village train, from labour free,

Led up their sports beneath the spreading tree,

…These were thy charms, sweet village; sports like these,

With sweet succession, taught even toil to please;

These round thy bowers their cheerful influence shed,

These were thy charms—But all these charms are fled.

Sweet smiling village, loveliest of the lawn,

Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn;

Amidst thy bowers the tyrant’s hand is seen,

And desolation saddens all thy green:

One only master grasps the whole domain,

And half a tillage stints thy smiling plain;

No more thy glassy brook reflects the day,

But, choked with sedges, works its weedy way;

Along thy glades, a solitary guest,

The hollow-sounding bittern guards its nest;

Amidst thy desert walks the lapwing flies,

And tires their echoes with unvaried cries.

Sunk are thy bowers, in shapeless ruin all,

And the long grass o’ertops the mouldering wall;

And, trembling, shrinking from the spoiler’s hand,

Far, far away, thy children leave the land.

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,

Where wealth accumulates, and men decay:

Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;

A breath can make them, as a breath has made;

But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,

When once destroyed, can never be supplied.

A time there was, ere England’s griefs began,

When every rood of ground maintained its man;

For him light labour spread her wholesome store,

Just gave what life required, but gave no more:

His best companions, innocence and health;

And his best riches, ignorance of wealth.

But times are altered; trade’s unfeeling train

Usurp the land and dispossess the swain;

Along the lawn, where scattered hamlets rose,

Unwieldy wealth and cumbrous pomp repose;

And every want to opulence allied,

And every pang that folly pays to pride.

Those gentle hours that plenty bade to bloom,

Those calm desires that asked but little room,

Those healthful sports that graced the peaceful scene,

Lived in each look, and brightened all the green;

These, far departing seek a kinder shore,

And rural mirth and manners are no more.

Sweet Auburn! parent of the blissful hour,

Thy glades forlorn confess the tyrant’s power.

Here as I take my solitary rounds,

Amidst thy tangling walks, and ruined grounds,

And, many a year elapsed, return to view

Where once the cottage stood, the hawthorn grew,

Remembrance wakes with all her busy train,

Swells at my breast, and turns the past to pain.

…Sweet was the sound, when oft at evening’s close,

Up yonder hill the village murmur rose;

There, as I passed with careless steps and slow,

The mingling notes came soften’d from below;

The swain responsive as the milk-maid sung,

The sober herd that lowed to meet their young,

The noisy geese that gabbled o’er the pool,

The playful children just let loose from school,

The watchdog’s voice that bayed the whispering wind,

And the loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind,

These all in sweet confusion sought the shade,

And filled each pause the nightingale had made.

But now the sounds of population fail,

No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale,

No busy steps the grass-grown foot-way tread,

For all the bloomy flush of life is fled.

All but yon widowed, solitary thing

That feebly bends beside the plashy spring;

She, wretched matron, forced in age, for bread,

To strip the brook with mantling cresses spread,

To pick her wintry faggot from the thorn,

To seek her nightly shed, and weep till morn;

She only left of all the harmless train,

The sad historian of the pensive plain.

…Near yonder thorn, that lifts its head on high,

Where once the sign-post caught the passing eye,

Low lies that house where nut-brown draughts inspired,

Where grey-beard mirth and smiling toil retired,

Where village statesmen talked with looks profound,

And news much older than their ale went round.

Imagination fondly stoops to trace

The parlour splendours of that festive place;

The white-washed wall, the nicely sanded floor,

The varnished clock that clicked behind the door;

The chest contrived a double debt to pay,

A bed by night, a chest of drawers by day;

The pictures placed for ornament and use,

The twelve good rules, the royal game of goose;

The hearth, except when winter chill’d the day,

With aspen boughs, and flowers, and fennel gay;

While broken tea-cups, wisely kept for shew,

Ranged o’er the chimney, glistened in a row.

Vain transitory splendours! Could not all

Reprieve the tottering mansion from its fall!

Obscure it sinks, nor shall it more impart

An hour’s importance to the poor man’s heart;

Thither no more the peasant shall repair

To sweet oblivion of his daily care;

No more the farmer’s news, the barber’s tale,

No more the woodman’s ballad shall prevail;

…Yes! let the rich deride, the proud disdain,

These simple blessings of the lowly train;

To me more dear, congenial to my heart,

One native charm, than all the gloss of art;

Spontaneous joys, where Nature has its play,

The soul adopts, and owns their first-born sway;

Lightly they frolic o’er the vacant mind,

Unenvied, unmolested, unconfined.

But the long pomp, the midnight masquerade,

With all the freaks of wanton wealth arrayed,

In these, ere triflers half their wish obtain,

The toiling pleasure sickens into pain;

And, even while fashion’s brightest arts decoy,

The heart distrusting asks, if this be joy.

Ye friends to truth, ye statesmen who survey

The rich man’s joys increase, the poor’s decay,

‘Tis yours to judge, how wide the limits stand

Between a splendid and a happy land.

Proud swells the tide with loads of freighted ore,

And shouting Folly hails them from her shore;

Hoards even beyond the miser’s wish abound,

And rich men flock from all the world around.

Yet count our gains. This wealth is but a name

That leaves our useful products still the same.

Not so the loss. The man of wealth and pride

Takes up a space that many poor supplied;

Space for his lake, his park’s extended bounds,

Space for his horses, equipage, and hounds:

The robe that wraps his limbs in silken sloth,

Has robbed the neighbouring fields of half their growth;

His seat, where solitary sports are seen,

Indignant spurns the cottage from the green:

Around the world each needful product flies,

For all the luxuries the world supplies.

While thus the land adorned for pleasure, all

In barren splendour feebly waits the fall.

…Thus fares the land, by luxury betrayed:

In nature’s simplest charms at first arrayed;

But verging to decline, its splendours rise,

Its vistas strike, its palaces surprize;

While, scourged by famine from the smiling land,

The mournful peasant leads his humble band;

And while he sinks, without one arm to save,

The country blooms—a garden, and a grave.

Where then, ah where, shall poverty reside,

To ‘scape the pressure of contiguous pride?

If to some common’s fenceless limits strayed,

He drives his flock to pick the scanty blade,

Those fenceless fields the sons of wealth divide,

And ev’n the bare-worn common is denied.

If to the city sped—What waits him there?

To see profusion that he must not share;

…Ah, turn thine eyes

Where the poor houseless shivering female lies.

She once, perhaps, in village plenty blest,

Has wept at tales of innocence distrest;

Her modest looks the cottage might adorn

Sweet as the primrose peeps beneath the thorn:

Now lost to all; her friends, her virtue fled,

Near her betrayer’s door she lays her head,

And, pinch’d with cold, and shrinking from the shower,

With heavy heart deplores that luckless hour

When idly first, ambitious of the town,

She left her wheel and robes of country brown.

Do thine, sweet Auburn, thine, the loveliest train,

Do thy fair tribes participate her pain?

…O luxury! thou curst by Heaven’s decree,

How ill exchanged are things like these for thee!

How do thy potions, with insidious joy,

Diffuse their pleasures only to destroy!

Kingdoms, by thee, to sickly greatness grown,

Boast of a florid vigour not their own;

At every draught more large and large they grow,

A bloated mass of rank unwieldy woe;

Till sapped their strength, and every part unsound,

Down, down they sink, and spread a ruin round.

Even now the devastation is begun,

And half the business of destruction done;

Even now, methinks, as pondering here I stand,

I see the rural virtues leave the land:

Down where yon anchoring vessel spreads the sail,

That idly waiting flaps with every gale,

Downward they move, a melancholy band,

Pass from the shore, and darken all the strand.

Contented toil, and hospitable care,

And kind connubial tenderness, are there;

And piety with wishes placed above,

And steady loyalty, and faithful love.

And thou, sweet Poetry, thou loveliest maid,

Still first to fly where sensual joys invade;

Unfit in these degenerate times of shame,

To catch the heart, or strike for honest fame;

Dear charming nymph, neglected and decried,

My shame in crowds, my solitary pride;

Thou source of all my bliss, and all my woe,

That found’st me poor at first, and keep’st me so;

Thou guide by which the nobler arts excell,

Thou nurse of every virtue, fare thee well!

Farewell, and O where’er thy voice be tried,

On Torno’s cliffs, or Pambamarca’s side,

Whether were equinoctial fervours glow,

Or winter wraps the polar world in snow,

Still let thy voice, prevailing over time,

Redress the rigours of the inclement clime;

Aid slighted truth with thy persuasive strain,

Teach erring man to spurn the rage of gain;

Teach him, that states of native strength possest,

Tho’ very poor, may still be very blest;

That trade’s proud empire hastes to swift decay,

As ocean sweeps the labour’d mole away;

While self-dependent power can time defy,

As rocks resist the billows and the sky.

 

[Source: Poets of the English Language (Viking Press, 1950)]

Are city start-ups a help or hindrance to local food?

I am pleased to share with you my latest article, re-published with kind permission from Sustainable Food Trust, the global voice for sustainable food and health. I added images. 

Are city start-ups a help or hindrance to local food?

In the last few decades, there has been a quiet revolution in food as more farmers have increasingly sold their produce direct to the public. By circumventing the supermarket system, farmers are strengthening local food systems, rebuilding connections between people and the source of their food.

This direct sales home delivery model has long been the domain of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement. However, thanks mainly to online technology, this revolution is ratcheting up a notch with the arrival of a raft of new companies backed by city finance.

HelloFresh, founded in 2011 and now active in seven countries, was valued at around £2 billion in 2015; Gousto, founded in 2012 and backed by Unilever, recently drew an additional £28.5 million from backers; and Farmdrop, founded in 2012, attracted £7 million from investors in 2017 including Skype co-founder, Niklas Zennström.

The question that arises, is whether these new models enhance or weaken sustainable local food systems? On one hand, the idea of encouraging people to cook – from ‘scratch’ using recipe boxes for a fantastic array of meals, with exact ingredients and directions provided – is to be celebrated. On the other hand, could this very choice seduce the public away from supporting their local farmer?

Small-scale farmers are the foundation of a sustainable food system. Organic, biodynamic and other sustainable agriculture systems regenerate soil, support wildlife and produce a variety of fresh local food which increases local and national food security. Selling direct enables farmers to keep their small-scale values – and their profits. By buying directly from a farmer, a food citizen is supporting economic and environmental sustainability.

Entwined organic carrots with a label saying: I carrot leave without you!

Pioneered by small-scale organic farmers in the 1980s, the CSA model of direct sales and home delivery by-passes the supermarket system and its pulverising demand for industrial uniformity. The humble veg box has been crucial in establishing a direct connection between shopper and farmer – as well as reducing plastic waste and fuel miles.

The CSA reinforces this bond. Members support the farmer come rain or shine (literally) by paying up front for their share of the harvest. It is not a one-way relationship. A CSA member gets fresh local produce, knows exactly where their food comes from, and has opportunities to volunteer or socialise at the farm.

Adapt to survive

Wheelbarrow in foreground, members of the Community Farm working on the land, background

The idea that well-endowed home delivery companies could threaten CSAs is nothing new, according to Maresa Bossano of CSA UK Network.

“Small organic veg box schemes in the UK went through the same thing quite a few years ago when [box schemes] from Abel and Cole and Riverford first came on the scene, mainly because they offered customers more choice and better customer service; in many cases, smaller box schemes couldn’t compete and closed down. Others expanded and changed the way they operated by also providing imported fruit and giving customers the option to choose which produce, not just a set box, like some community-run schemes such as the Community Farm (pictured above).

Biodynamic farmer, Marina O’Connell, of Huxhams Cross Farm. Image: Biodynamic Land Trust

Marina O’Connell (pictured above) who grows and sells produce at 34-acre Huxhams Cross Farm, two miles down the road from big box company Riverford Organic Farmers, has also adapted their CSA offering.

“We offer a regular veg bag home delivery to customers in a 30-mile radius. We do top-up the fruit bag with produce, particularly citrus in the winter. We find that people choose to come to Huxhams Cross Farm because it is small, local, and our produce is really fresh. People come, look around the farm and meet the farmers. And, as a biodynamic farm, this makes a difference to those who want it.”

Marina O’Connell sees the so-called competition as positive: “I think all organic farms – big or small – are good. They all build the market for organic produce, and the more offers there are, the more people will take them up. I think that, as a whole, the large organisations have done a great service for the organic movement.”

National organic box schemes

It could, certainly, be argued that big national schemes encourage sustainable food production. Abel & Cole, founded in 1987 and now owned by William Jackson Food Group, may be a middleman but it sources 95% of its fruit and veg direct from organic growers.

Riverford Organic Farmers, also founded in 1987, has similarly created outlets for organic produce. A family business growing 30% of its produce in Devon, it works with a farmer-owned cooperative of 16 small-to-medium organic farms. From June 2018, Riverford will operate as an employee-owned business, with its founder, Guy Watson retaining only 26% of it.

Organic farmer and campaigner, Guy is aware of the risk posed by Riverford’s wide offerings such as organic Spanish broad beans in spring. “We offer 70% of UK produce round the year but perhaps we should put more pressure on ourselves to offer a more edited content. I would love to sell only UK organic produce. But the mood is towards specifying what is in the box with a bespoke order.”

Millennial-driven

Technology is the driver in this current phase of online food offerings. It is, for instance, creating new ways of selling local food with initiatives such as the not-for-profit Open Food Network, an open source online food distribution system, and The Food Assembly, a cross between a buyer’s group and a farmers’ market.

At the driving wheel are tech-savvy millennials: “We’ve certainly seen all our fresh organic produce grow,” Adam Wakeley of Organic Farm Foods told the Smallholder. “One reason is down to an evolving consumer profile – millennials are now our biggest customer group, and they show a huge interest in food provenance and health. They understand that having food grown in an environmentally friendly way is a good thing. We believe their attitude is here to stay and will continue to drive growth in the future.”

Transparency and fair pay for farmers

Let’s hope the start-ups are listening to the millennials because HelloFresh has a disturbing lack of information on its website. “Our veggie box is bursting with tasty new ingredients and adventurous recipes that will make your taste buds sing.” This slogan makes no reference to provenance or seasonality and tells you nothing about where the produce comes from or how it is produced. Perhaps the real risk to sustainable food is the lack of transparency with marketing messages which may not live up to their promise?

In the online advert bidding wars, HelloFresh and Gousto are positioning themselves as alternatives to the established organic box schemes, Abel & Cole and Riverford. However, apart from featuring Yeo Valley Organic yogurt, I could see no other reference to organic produce on Gousto’s website.

I contacted Gousto, Hello Fresh and Farmdrop about their sourcing policies but only Farmdrop replied. Billed as the ‘ethical grocer’, with hubs in London, Bristol and Bath, there is a lot to like about Farmdrop: its search boxes for organic and pesticide-free; its mobile app (instead of a weekly subscription) which links farmers and customers; and its stated mission to “fix the broken food system”.

Farmdrop van and van driver with lettering: The food we are delivering came from a local farm this morning. Fresher food for you, a better deal for them."

Farmdrop also believes in a fair price to farmers. Its policy is to pay local suppliers “at least 70% of the final retail price. The exact amount will vary depending on the producer. Milk suppliers for example usually take a higher margin of around 75%,” says a spokesperson for Farmdrop. According to its website, farmers would be lucky to receive 50% from supermarkets.

A fair price could be the ballast for these city-financed companies, ensuring their financial growth is not at the expense of small-scale organic growers. “There is definitely interest in different ways of buying food, and we expect this trend to grow – online shopping, for example, could make up a quarter of all UK sales of organic products in the next five years,” says Soil Association, head of horticulture, Ben Raskin. “We welcome new models of delivery services – if they do things properly. There is potential for this to bolster the market, but the key is farmers and producers being paid a fair price.”

According to the Soil Association Organic Market Report 2018, alternative models of shopping for organic food are expanding: online shopping sales grew by 9.7% and home delivery (i.e. box schemes and recipe boxes) grew by 9.5%.

CSAs do not need to lose out, if cooperation can be encouraged: ”It would be good to see some of the platforms develop a section for CSAs, perhaps working with the CSA Network UK to help develop this,” says Ben.

CSAs build relationships

Community-supported Bennison Farm. Image: CSA Network UK

Although CSAs may not be able to compete on choice, they continue to flourish, with over 100 CSA farms listed on CSA Network UK and over 15 new ones in 2015-17.

“The new online marketplaces may take business away from some box schemes but,” says Maresa Bossano, “they generally appeal to busy working people who aren’t so confident with cooking. Whereas generally CSA members love cooking and experimenting with vegetables, and to be a member of a CSA, they have enough time to participate in some way.”

As well as appealing to these different kinds of shoppers, the CSA subscription model also protects the farmer, as Danny Steele of Bennison Farm (pictured above. Image: Bennison Farm) in Thorrington near Colchester explains:

“We pack around 115 veg shares per week with produce harvested the same day. The difference for me, is that our members can only get a regular share of our harvest by subscribing; I think I feel less threatened by the big box schemes precisely because we are a CSA.”

If you like chai, Hot Earth is the real thing

A cup of Hot Earth chai ☕️ from above

If you like real chai, you have try Hot Earth chai.

Disclaimer: I am writing this blog post fuelled by Hot Earth chai but for no other gain.

Thorsten emailed me out of the blue with his offer of chai samples. He has been developing his own chai tea blends, serving them after giving yoga workshops. It has proved so popular, he has set up a Manchester-based business.Thorsten in Yoga pose

Thorsten (above) in an Elbow Balance yoga pose.

I first tasted chai at a festival years ago but have not found a good one since. Mainly insipid tea-bags or sickly syrups.

As soon as I opened the packet, I knew from the fresh aromas I was in for a treat.

Handmade in the UK from organic and fair trade ingredients, Hot Earth is the freshest, subtly-spiced chai I have tasted.

It stimulates, refreshes, stimulates and soothes.

Thorsten has perfected three different blends: Chai Onyx (classic chai with black tea) and two without caffeine, Chai Gold turmeric latte, and Chai Ruby with spiced red bush.

How do you make real chai?

Saucepan on hob with 4 teaspoons of Hot Chai per 1/2 cup of water and some chopped fresh ginger. Boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add full-fat milk (I also used almond milk). Boil again with the milk.

This is important as this is when the flavours of the volatile oils merge with the fat of the milk. And why full-fat milk works better than skimmed milk.

Strain, sweeten if you like (Hot Earth Chai is already lightly sweetened with coconut blossom sugar), and sip.

Hot Earth masala spiced reddish tea Chai Ruby

How did Thorsten manage to get chai to taste so wonderful? After first tasting it in Switzerland, he knew that tea and coffee would never satisfy again.

He travelled in India stopping at every place that sold chai. But, disappointingly, it was usually black tea with milk and lots of sugar.

“Sometimes there was a clove or a lonely cardamom pod swimming in the tea but nothing matched the awesomeness of my first experience. I began to wonder it I had imagined it.”

Eventually Thorsten found a place in Rajasthan which sold real chai.

“Every sip was a sip of bliss. It focussed all my senses into my taste buds – a few minutes of pure presence. I was hooked. I rented a place next to the restaurant, and had at least three cups of chai every day. The owner became a good friend and I learned how to make real chai.”

It turned out it was the owner’s mother who prepares the spice mixture by hand, and had done so weekly for 50 years.

“That’s how I do it now” says Thorsten, adding: “Only 45 years to go.”

After two weeks, Thorsten left with a bag of the mother’s spice mixture.

“Now I was able to cook my own chai, but not forever. Once the bag was empty, I would be in trouble.”

Over several months, Thorsten visited spice merchants to buy spices.

“Some were hard to find, especially without speaking Hindi. Every week I prepared a spice mixture and compared it to the one I got from my friend’s mum. I was getting close. But I still felt there was room for improvement.”

Once back in Switzerland, Thorsten found an organic spice supplier whose quality standards matched his. Then over the course of a weekend, Thorsten devoted himself to making chai.

“Equipped with weight scale and calculator, I adjusted my recipe over and over: increasing one spice and cooking a cup of chai to taste. Decreasing another spice, and trying again. Finally I achieved what I wanted. All the flavours merged to create a new one. Not one flavour stuck out or was hidden. They were rounded into one taste. I had made it: chai. The real stuff. My daily cup of meditation.”

When he moved to England, Thorsten was amazed how many places sold chai. “And guess what, they all sucked. Excuse my language, let’s say they were different.”

So he started sourcing spices again in the UK, shipping some in from Switzerland.

“I realised that everyone who drinks this liquid magic gets instantly addicted. I could not keep giving it away. So I decided to turn it into a business, and Hot Earth was born.”

I am grateful to Thorsten for his dedication to supplying real chai.

Try a free sample of Hot Earth chai and tell me if I lie.

Kill the cling-film with eco-wrap


Cling-film, how I shun you.

You are pervasive (enough bought every year in UK to circle the planet 30 times), unnecessary and costly to purse and planet.

A single-use plastic, chemically-treated with god-knows-what to be pliable, and – unless disposed-of in an ever-growing landfill – likely to end up in the belly of a sentient being with fatal consequences.

Enter our new hero: eco-wrap.

Made from cotton covered with beeswax or soy wax, eco-wrap performs all the same tricks as cling-film (air-tight and malleable) but grace.

Made from natural materials, it can be re-used, and cut-up and composted at the end of its life (a year or more).

With cotton designs (vintage and recycled, natch), prettiness adds to its charms.

Where can you get these darling things?

I first came across eco-wrap as a gift from Australia (bought in Apollo Bay to be precise), Eco-wrap Byron Bay.

How come I have never come across eco-wraps before, I exclaim?

Following which, I spotted eco-wraps (below) from Cotswold-based, Beeswax Wraps, in  local natural and organic food shop, Better Food Company right here in Bristol. Fancy! 

It turns out that Bristol also has an eco wrap business, Eco Bee Wrap, which uses Fair Trade material and trades on Etsy.  

Eco wrap zeitgeist!

Etsy has a great choice including vegan eco-wrap made from soy wax. 

You can make your own. Top tutorial from Newcastle-based, Phoenix Green Store, which also sells eco wraps, and videos galore on YouTube such as this one from Aannsha Jones.

Happy eco-wrapping!

Eco wrap hanging out

Eco wrap in my kitchen (must post a better pic!) Note: people do not use eco-wrap to wrap fresh meat or fish. Use a good old bowl and plate to cover instead.

Homemade limoncello

Peeled organic lemons assemble in front of last batch of homemade Limoncello

Or, more accurately, vodka plus loads of lemons.

Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur made by infusing a clear spirit (such as vodka) with lemon zest, then adding sugar.

I am partial to making DIY liqueurs.

So I was intrigued to read about home-made limoncello in Appetite Magazine, which I picked up in Newcastle (a fave city, not to mention home of middle daughter, Sarah – one of her projects is Girl Kind).

The recipe did not mention what to do with the lemons after removing their zest. I could not countenance wasting them! 

*So I blitzed the peeled lemons (pips and all, being more domestic slattern than goddess) with my trusty wand blender,  adding their strained lemony goodness to the concoction. The white fibrous pitch can be bitter so I removed as much as possible before whizzing (see pic above). 

Alternatively, squeeze the peeled lemons for lemon juice, adding to the potion at the point when you add the boiled sugar and water.

Use organic lemons if possible because organic lemons are juicier and, (the domestic slattern in me again), do not require washing/scrubbing before use in order to remove traces of chemicals. A recent report from Pesticide Action Network UK found 100% of soft citrus fruit had pesticide residues.

Ingredients1 litre of vodka

8 – 10 lemons

675g sugar

1 litre of water

Method
Peel lemons with a potato peeler, adding the zest (or thin peel) to a litre of vodka.

Leave for 10 days – 1 month in a dark place to infuse the vodka with a citrus flavour.

Strain and consider adding fresh new zest.

Add 675g of sugar to a litre of water in a pan and bring it to the boil, simmering for 15 minutes. Add the cooled sugary water to the infused vodka. 

For added lemony-ness, add the juice from the peeled lemons to the concoction.

*Or whizz the peeled lemons as I did for additional fresh tangy fruitiness.

Cool and bottle.

Here is a pic of my late mum, Fay, aged 93 at Carluccio’s. My mother died in January 2017 the same year as Carluccio’s founder, celebrity chef, Antonio Carluccio

Fay once told Antonio that his restaurants were not the same since he sold the brand. How did he respond, I asked? He shrugged, she said, non-commitally.

Fay would always finish a meal at an Italian restaurant with a limoncello (or two). The pic below was taken at Carluccio’s in 2016, livening up a hospital appointment at Chelsea & Westminster.

Fay Winkler at Carluccio’s 2016