Tag Archives: organic

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Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn;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)]

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.

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

Good food needs land

I love working with the Biodynamic Land Trust. Then the dream thing happened and I went to Brussels for a few days for work. I am grateful to the Access to Land EU conference organisers for supporting my travel.

[Brexit rant: It took two hours by train from Kings Cross, London to Brussels – of course, am in Europe. I apologise for Brexit. In a loo in Brussels, graffiti proclaimed “I voted Remain” to which several had added, “me too” including me (always have felt tip for such occasions).]

Back to the conference: it was held during June heatwave in the peaceful and collegiate setting of the Franciscan centre, Notre Dame Chant d’Oiseau.


We held some of the workshop sessions outside under the comforting shade of a beautiful tree.


If you care about real food, you have to care about the land. 

But land is not valued as a place to grow food. Land is seen as an investment – a place to lock in-money. The EU subsidy system distorts the market further, favouring rich landowners over small ecological farmers delivering healthy local food, and protection of soil and wildlife. (The EU is not perfect. Obvs. It needs reform.).

Brexit is a messy, expensive pain but it is also an opportunity to reshape UK farming, and many organisations are seizing the day.

26 June 2017: Brexit negotiations began, and 80 food and farming organisations released their food policy plan for agriculture, A People’s Food Policy.


The Biodynamic Land Trust was one of the 80 organisations supporting the People’s Food Policy.

The Biodynamic Land Trust’s current community share offer is for Huxhams Cross Farm in Dartington, south Devon (near Totnes). Below, is a picture of the farm’s magical wooded area where local children come to learn about land and farming, and be outdoors in nature. They love it.


I invite you to look at the Huxhams Cross Farm community share offer and hope you will be inspired to support this grassroots investment in community-owned farms for our sustainable future.

Growing farms in the UK

Wicker basket with freshly picked produce on the ground

The day after my mother’s funeral (glitter and gold in her honour), I got my dream job, as marketing and communications manager for the Biodynamic Land Trust, a charitable community benefit society.

The Biodynamic Land Trust grows farms. Founded in 2011, it secures biodynamic and organic farmland for community-ownership, 300 acres so far.

I am excited to be with an organisation working at the grassroots. The grassroots is where it’s at.

How does a community get to own a farm? Through buying community shares.

With interest at an all-time low, many investors are thinking ‘outside the bank’. By investing  in (withdrawable) community shares in an ethical enterprise, money can do good. 

Three freshly-laid eggs in a child's hand at Huxhams Cross Farm

Take Huxhams Cross Farm in Devon. Secured by the Biodynamic Land Trust in 2015, it is achieving great things thanks to community investment. The farm is in conversion to biodynamic agriculture. Its previously-bare fields are regaining fertility through green manures and soil-nurturing biodynamic preparations. 

The fledgling farm has planted 900 orchard trees, two acres of soft fruit, and 3,500 agro-forestry trees. It has a hundred chickens and two Shetland heifers.

Run by food-growing and wellbeing experts, the Apricot Centre, it has also raised a new barn, developed access to parking and organises a weekly box delivery with fellow local farmers, offering vegetables, fruit, eggs, and spring water from Dartmoor.

Signpost at Huxhams Cross Farm

The farm needs electricity and to harvest water, and to build a training and wellbeing centre. The centre will enable cooking, on-farm processing, and on-farm therapy for children (being on a farm is incredibly de-stressing for kids and increases the therapeutic offering). 

Are you inspired to help Huxhams Cross Farm? Invest now in Huxhams Cross Farm community share offer.

Children helping with harvest at Huxhams Cross Farm

POST SCRIPT

I made marmalade on Sunday.

Preserving pan with warm marmalade

I was about to compost the pith and pips when Michael said: whoa, and now its citrusy-ness fibre goes in every smoothie.  By the way, if you can get organic Seville oranges, do. More orangey.

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For several years I have kept my mother, Fay Winkler, in marmalade.

She was my marmalade’s biggest fan.

Her testimony is below.

 

#Soil 

img_1073-1This pic of healthy soil was taken on Holt Farm, Yeo Valley’s organic farm in Somerset.

Its 240-herd  of black and white British Friesian provides 1% of the organic milk used for Yeo Valley’s organic yoghurt. (The rest of the milk comes from organic milk cooperative, OMSCo which Yeo Valley farm owners, Mary Mead and her late husband Roger, helped form when they started making organic yogurt in the early 1990s).  

Holt farm – where Yeo’s Mary and Roger Mead first started farming in  1961 – was fully converted to organic by 2009. 

John Wilson has been managing the farm for 22 years. The soil had been damaged by the use of non-organic farming methods: it flooded in winter and cracked in the summer.

The soil had too much magnesium, and not enough calcium. By correcting it with gypsum, it led to more open and crumbly soil. The process took two to three years.
Soil! I am mad for it. Some think it is worthless because it is under our feet.  But without it, we cannot eat.

We grow most of our food on this thin strip of soil perched on earth’s crust.

And, one of the biggest differences between organic and non-organic farming is the way the soil is fed.

Non-organic farming uses chemical fertiliser. This is like feeding a child vitamins out of a bottle. It may give the nutrients needed but it does not nourish. 
In contrast, organic farming uses a variety of biological ways to replenish and nourish the soil including nitrogen-fixing plants such as clover, rotted-down animal manure, and/or green compost.

This is like real food to soil.

O foolish world! Why do we go to the expense of producing factory-made fertiliser (which is also resource-intensive and produces tonnes of greenhouse gas) when you can replenish the soil far more effectively with natural fertilisers?

Healthy soil has more life in a teaspoon than there are people on the planet.

As the nature poet Helen MacDonald says about our poor grasp of the interconnectedness of everything: “The things that live in soil are too small to care about; climate change too large to imagine …”
Holt Farm now has more moles because there more earthworms in the thriving healthy soil for the moles to eat. You see…everything IS connected.

Happy Organic September!

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Raw green herby sauce and Organic September

bowl of cooked new potatoes with green vinaigrette dressing

This deliciously green sauce or vinaigrette is versatile in many ways. You can use a variety of fresh herbs or salad leaves such as baby spinach/rocket/chives/dill/ mint, and also combine them. Further versatility comes because the green sauce will zazz up many a dish.

Here it is (see pic) poured over new potatoes. Just cooked, the warm potatoes soak up the fresh, green zinginess.

My idea behind this sauce is to put the greens/herbs centre-stage. They do not merely flavour a vinaigrette but positively overwhelm it. By using the greens raw, you get freshness and taste, and as well as many nutrients as possible because they are not lost by cooking. The raw garlic cloves add further immunity-boosting power, and sparky taste.

I use my trusty blender wand to whizz it all up. About £20,  this is an excellent investment, takes up little room in the kitchen and is fab for smoothies. 

Raw green herby sauce or vinaigrette

Trusty hand blender in blender pot full of greens, with gartlic, lomon juice, balsamic and olive oil standing by

The amounts below are approximate. Natural yogurt is also superb whizzed into this dressing. Or add a spoonful or two of tahini. The greens will produce their own moisture as you whizz it all up, but if you want more liquid, add olive oil – not water , which will make it too watery. 

About 50g of fresh herbs/greens 

1/2 raw peeled cloves of garlic, roughly chopped (I use 3/4 cloves) 

Olive oil  3/4 tablespoons to start

Natural yogurt / 1-2 dessertspoons of tahini (optional) 

Balsamic/ lemon juice (half -1 lemon squeezed)

Add the leaves and roughly-chopped garlic to a measuring jug (something with tall sides that will contain the liquid while you whizz).  Add in a couple of glugs of olive oil, and start blending. Add natural yogurt or tahini if desired or more olive oil until sauce is creamy and pourable. Add vinegar or lemon juice, and salt to taste.

The sauce is a glorious green colour.

If possible, use organic, or unsprayed, ingredients.

Why organic?

Growing with nature increases a crop’s nutrient content, and thus its taste. Let your taste buds be the judge of this statement, but your brain may be interested to know that an international team led by Newcastle University found organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants (nutrients) than ones grown the chemical farming way.

There are two reasons for this. One is related to how the soil is fertilised, the second is how plant fights disease. 

1) Using factory-made chemical fertiliser draws more water into the plant. The crop may grow quickly but is also more sappy than crops grown with natural fertiliser. Food grown the natural way has more density. (Chemical fertiliser is banned in organic farming, which instead uses biological methods, such as composting and crop rotation, to create healthy soil).

2) Plants naturally produce valuable antioxidants to keep disease and pests at bay (which we in turn benefit from when we eat the plant). When plants are sprayed with pesticides, they produce fewer antioxidants because the chemical spray is doing the work for them. (Killing pests with pesticides is a crude way of protecting a plant because it involves lots of nasty chemicals and kills beneficial insects too, such as bees. The organic way is more creative, using a host of natural and biological methods to keep pests away.).

The way we farm affects the food we eat. You get more carrot for your carrot. In fact, the Newcastle team suggests that switching to organic fruit and vegetables may have the same benefits as adding one or two portions of the recommended “five a day”. Just switching a few of your fave items to organic will add nutritional joy to your life. 

So, why not organic your September?

 

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Hard boiled eggs in raw herby vinaigrette sauce

Thank you, my dear acting colleague, Nichola Taylor, from the Barded Ladies, for asking for the recipe.  

Coconut benefits banana bread

Banana bread

Funny to think that, as a child, I thought of coconuts as fairground shies, or Bounty chocolate bars. Yet coconuts are far more versatile than that. 

Coconuts produce coconut oil, coconut flesh, coconut milk, and coconut water, naturally and healthily.

Like hemp, coconut is nourishing, health-giving, and practical too. Think coir matting

Coconuts act as body moisturiser, teeth-cleaner, digestion-soother, rehydrater. And more. 

Coconut even sorts out head lice, according to Dr Mercola’s wondrous list of coconut’s varied uses.

If you love scientific facts and opinion with lots of swear words, check out Shannon’s Kitchen on coconut’s versatility and health reputation.

My coconut musing is prompted by a hamper full of coconut joy sent by Cocofina.

Cocofina coconut products

Cocofina have been cracking coconuts since 2005. The name says it all: Cocofina is made from fine young coconuts picked at their peak when its water is at its most plentiful.

To add to my joy, Cocofina is certified organic (by the Soil Association), which is shorthand for healthily-grown food, with no chemical fertilisers/pesticides to pollute soil, air, crops, wildlife and farm workers.

Cocofina’s big triumph is to produce delicious on-the-go nutrition energy bars. I sampled them with various energy-snack (and coconut) lovers, and their praise was unstinting.

And I love its coconut nectar – low-GI slow-release sweetness without that crazy thing that happens to my eyes (as if they are being squeezed) when I eat sugar.

(Pause to reflect on sugar – how it drove slavery, and now makes mental slaves of us all via obesity and the money markets).

To celebrate coconut happiness, I made banana cake, substituting sugar with coconut nectar, and coconut oil instead of butter.

Along with pre-soaked sultanas, this recipe produced a light, healthy cake, its bananariness lifted by nectar and complimented by coconut.

Banana bread

If you don’t have self-raising flour, add an extra egg. Keep the baking powder/bicarbonate of soda to a scant teaspoon – just enough to lighten the flour but not too much to impart its strange fizzy taste. Or even (boldly) omit and rely on beaten eggs instead.

2/3 large mashed ripe or over-ripe bananas (up to 500g/1lb)

125g (4oz) butter/coconut oil, softened

125g (4oz) caster sugar/4 Tablespoons coconut flower nectar or honey

2 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork until frothy with air

250g (8oz) self-raising flour (or ordinary flour with extra egg) I used gram flour made from chickpeas because wheat (argumentative fellow) does not agree with me.

1 scant tsp baking powder/bicarbonate of soda

Optional extras: sultanas soaked in water and drained, walnut pieces, cocoa nibs/lemon rind.

Oil 2lb loaf tin and line its base and sides with baking parchment/greaseproof paper.

Rub in the oil/butter/fat into the flour (+ lightening agent if used) until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sweetener and mashed bananas and lightly beaten eggs beating it well.

Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

Turn into the tin and bake for about 1 hour until a skewer comes out clean, covering if necessary so the top does not burn. 

This recipe is a great way to use up over-ripe bananas. 

Happy eating! 

Diana Henry’s salt beef

Salt beef is a perfect meat for taking to a feast because it can be be prepared in advance and travels well.

It is ideal for a stress-free Christmas – no sweating over a hot stove all day.

Tender and aromatic, it can be served hot or cold with vegetables or salads. Or, traditionally, as a sandwich with mustard and pickles.

It is called salt beef because it is preserved (pickled) in salt a week before cooking. The brine is washed off so the meat is not salty. The joint is pressed, refrigerated, packs down neatly and should ideally travel in a cool box.

Carving the (pink-coloured) salt beef

Carving the salt beef

An animal lost its life to feed us so the least I can do is make sure it was well-looked after while it was alive – so the meat had to be organic.

I bought tied and rolled organic brisket from Sheepdrove Organic Farm where the animals graze on herb-rich pastures, live in family herds and express their natural behaviour.

 

I bought two briskets totalling 4 kilos (9lbs) in weight, and cut one in half so it would fit in my pans. This fed ten people for three meals.

I have never preserved meat before and, I won’t lie, it was nerve-wracking: would the meat go mouldy and thus ruin Christmas festivities? In the end I trusted my sense of smell to assure me nothing was amiss.

Reader, I nailed it. My 91-year-old mum said it reminded her of salt beef from her childhood, and my sister praised its subtle flavours.

Salt beef is not exclusively Jewish but “it is the Jewish community that has kept up the tradition,” says cookery writer, Xanthe Clay.

There are two main stages to salt beef: preserving in brine, then simmering in fresh water and vegetables.

The challenges to preserving:

  • Time: the raw meat is soaked for seven days in a salty solution
  • Maths: working out the right salt/sugar solution for the weight of the meat
  • Receptacles: they have to be non-metallic and deep enough to take the joint covered with water
  • Ingenuity: You have to keep the joint under water. I used bottles of oil etc (see pic below) to weigh down the meat.
Meat in brine weighed down by bottles lying sideways

Preserving the meat in brine

Salt is an ancient way of preserving food. (I have been using it to make gut-friendly sauerkraut and plum kimchi.)

The salty water (in which the food is soaked) is called brine. Salt beef traditionally uses saltpetre, too, to preserves the meat’s red/pinkness (otherwise it would be grey) and also to kill the bacteria that causes botulism.

Luckily, my sis’s boyfriend, Paul of 80s Rock Pics, had some saltpetre – nowadays hard to find – but available online.

There are health issues with nitrates but as I hardly eat bacon and other cured meat, I figure a little bit of what you fancy does you good.

Once the meat is preserved for seven days, the salty brine is washed off the meat.

The meat is then simmered in fresh water, carrots and onions for several hours. This produces a flavoursome broth. Keep the broth to heat-up the meat (if you want to serve it hot), use it as a stock or serve as a soup – it has the most amazing taste.

Meat in colanders under kitchen tap

Washing off the salt/sugar brine solution

Brisket in broth

Brisket simmering in fresh water and vegetables

 

 

 

 

 

 

After being drained, press the meat again (we used large plates with smaller bowls on top weighed down with heavy books to provide an air-tight press).

Wrap the meat well, and refrigerate. I used parchment lined-foil from Lakeland and secured it with gaffer tape.

My oracles were Evelyn Rose’s The Complete International Jewish Cookbook, that my mother gave me decades ago. Reliable and practical, it is much-used and loved.

My other main text was a recipe from Diana Henry, another favourite cookery writer.

I now hand you over to Diana Henry for her salt beef recipe.

Here is the ratio of salt/sugar to meat for the brine solution (in the preserving stage) to save you any brain-numbing calculations.

Dear reader, please also note a comment posted 3 March 2018 below with ensuing discussion:  A 2.5 kg joint of brisket only needs about 6g of saltpetre, and not the unnecessarily high 55g quoted. If in doubt use about 6g of saltpetre to 2.5kg of beef.

Ratios for brine

For each kilo/lb of beef

110g (1¾oz) of sugar

140g (2 1/4 oz) of salt

22g (1/3 oz) of saltpetre (optional).

Diana Henry’s salt beef

For the brine
275g (9¾oz) soft light-brown sugar
350g (12oz) coarse sea salt
2 tsp black peppercorns
½ tbsp juniper berries
4 cloves
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
55g (2oz) saltpetre (optional).

For the beef
2.5kg (5lb 8oz) piece of beef brisket
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
1 leek, cut into large chunks
1 bouquet garni
½ head of garlic

Put all the ingredients for the brine into a very large saucepan, pour in 2.5 litres (4½ pints) of water and gradually bring to the boil, stirring to help the sugar and salt dissolve. Once it comes to the boil, let it bubble away for two minutes. Take off the heat and leave to cool completely.

Pierce the meat all over with a skewer. Put it in a large, sterilised plastic box or bucket (something non-reactive) and cover the meat with the brine; it must be totally immersed. The best thing I’ve found for weighing it down is two massive bottles of vodka. Put them in on top of the meat and it will stay below the level of the brine. Leave in a very cool place (a cellar or a room that is always freezing cold – most houses have one). Leave it for seven days.

Take the beef out of the brine and rinse it. Roll and tie the meat and put it in a pan with the vegetables, bouquet garni and garlic, adding enough cold water to cover. Bring the water to simmering point, then leave to poach gently – I mean gently – for two and a half to three hours. Cook until the meat is completely tender (check with a skewer).

Season’s greetings and a happy shiny new 2015!

Brisket being pressed

Cooked brisket being pressed by weighty tomes

#Nojunk bean chocolate cake

Happy grandchild with chocolate bean cake “I pledge to eat and feed my family only real ingredients I can recognise or spell.”

Last week, I signed the Organix #nojunk pledge because children need real food – not additives, fillers or artificial processes that produce profits for food manufacturers yet ill health for our children.

Is this right? NO!

Last week’s blog was about Organix, its pioneering ethos and why organic standards protect our children’s healthy by banning the nasties.

I promised a #nojunk cake and here it is.

Hand-written recipe for Bean Cake

The recipe is thanks to Olea’s mum. Olea and my granddaughter Tayda are schoolchums. After I had contributed a wheat-free raw date and lemon cake to my granddaughter’s 5th birthday party, Olea’s mum wrote out there-and-then a healthy wheat-free recipe (see pic) using…beans.

I am a big fan of beans thanks to The Bean Book by Rose Elliot, my cooking bible when my own children were little in the 1980s.

Healthy beans

Beans are seeds, a plant’s future offspring. They spill on the soil where they wait for the right conditions to germinate. Their food reserves support this process and is also good for us when we eat them. Packed with protein, vitamins and minerals, beans are nutritional powerhouses.

Big yet compact, their plentiful food stores are low-fat and high-energy. They quieten sugar-levels because of their high-fibre – the soluble sort that gently coats the gut and is slow-acting – and have high-levels of cancer-busting antioxidants. (Above from my intro on beans in Make More of Peas and Beans).

Olea’s mum’s #nojunk bean cake

Raw ingredients for bean cake, eggs, melted butter, beans and melted chocolate, ground almonds, pot of honey

The cast assembled (clockwise from top): eggs, pot of honey, melted chocolate over a drained tin of butter beans, ground almonds with baking powder and melted butter.

Blend up:

  • 1 tin of cooked beans (butter/kidney/black – unsalted, drained)
  • 4 eggs
  • 100 – 150g ground almonds
  • 6 tablespoons of coconut oil or (melted) butter
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda plus natural flavouring (spice, essence, ginger, vanilla etc)
  • 1/2 cup sweetener

Lightly grease baking tin. Bake 180° 30 – 40 mins-ish.  

I omitted the 1/2 tsp of baking powder, using instead an extra egg (5 eggs in total). I used organic eggs and butter for extra nutritional value (and guaranteed high animal welfare standards).  As sweetener, I used half a jar of honey for low-glycemic slow release sweetness (no one noticed honey taste at all).

For flavouring, I used a 150g bar of Green & Black’s organic dark chocolate, melted in a pan over another pan of boiling water, and blended into the cake mix. I also dribbled melted Green & Black’s chocolate on the cooled cake.

Cake mixture in fluted tin belonging to my grandma

I blended all the ingredients together with my trusty £20 hand-blender and poured the cake mixture into a fluted tin that once belonged to my grandmother. (When my mother gave me her cake tins recently, she said: “It feels like the royal abdication.”).

 

I served the cake with Biona organic sour cherries from a jar for the adults.
Slice of chocolate bean cake with unsweetcherries from a  jar
 

 

 

Everyone who tasted the cake pronounced it a success.

And no one guessed the mystery ingredient was healthy wholefood beans! Happy child sitting on low table eating healthy bean cakeTwo-year old enjoying my choco bean cake

 

 

 

 

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And….Join the #NoJunk Challenge!

Hey, I have just entered this blog post in the Organix #NoJunk Challenge Blog Hop…fingers crossed!