Kidneys and Powdered Egg, Anyone?

By Roz Hartley

Up in my mum’s attic last weekend (don’t ask!) I came across an old trunk full of photos, postcards and papers which we hadn’t seen before. Hoping for some good old “Cash in the Attic” discoveries, we brought it into the light and started sifting through the mottled, yellowed papers to see if we were millionaires.

A right old trip down memory lane later, but no Turin Shroud, I left clutching a delicate old handwritten book of my grandmother’s recipes which my sister was ready to throw in the bin. I, being rather more sentimental and a sucker for nice handwriting, snaffled it out of the dump pile and brought it home.

​I can remember my Granny well despite being only about five when she died. She was stocky and sturdy with tight, greying curls and always a pearl necklace. She had a twinkle in her eye, a kitchen full of melamine and a strange insistence on toilet paper that looked like tracing paper.

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I made myself a big, frothy coffee and settled in a sunny spot to commune with the past… two hundred and twenty-five pages of beautiful, black-ink-penned handwriting. I flicked through, looking for something I fancied cooking;
Kidneys? Not really…. Casserole of fish?.. Could do with a better name!…
Tapioca and apples, boiled fruit cake, veal cake..…erm…. Kiss me quick pudding? Maybe. 

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​Every now and then, as I turned a page, not only would I get a strong whiff of aging paper but a little scribbled note would fall out. It was these little blasts from the past which excited me the most. One was a shopping list on the back of a newspaper article from 1949, advertising Pond’s double cleansing cream for “complexions as pretty as almond blossom” and one was a succinct recipe on the front of an envelope, postmarked 1945, to a long-forgotten Mrs Briggs requiring:

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1 level tablespoon of dried egg
2 ozs of butter
4 ozs margarine
Half a teacupful of warm milk

I’m not sure what this little nugget would have created but dried, powdered egg featured quite regularly in my Granny’s recipes and, not having heard of it before, I fell down a Google-shaped rabbit hole of wartime recipes.

​Rationing during and after World War 2 meant everyone with a ration book was allowed one real egg a week but you could have a tin of dried eggs every two months (one tin was equal to 12 fresh eggs). (I also learned that if you decided to keep your own chickens, you were no longer allowed your fresh egg ration but you could exchange it for chicken food!)

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​Imagine that!? One egg a week! And that was only if they were available. Shoppers, like my Granny, would have signed up with a specific baker, greengrocer and butcher in their local town and would queue up once a week to pick up their rations. Often, they would get to the front of the queue to find that the last egg or loaf or pack of butter had just been given out and there was nothing they could do about it.

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Fresh eggs at The Flower Farm 

​I made chocolate brownies last week and the recipe required six eggs. I thought nothing of popping to my local farm shop and buying half a dozen eggs and using them all in one cake. I didn’t have to queue, no one asked me for my ration book, I wasn’t offered a substitute of powdered egg in a tin and neither did I hear the air raid siren go off on my way home.

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Fully stocked shelves at Cobbs Farm Shop

​We may be up against high inflation, global warming and doctors’ strikes but our farm shops are full of fabulous fresh food, eggs are plentiful and Spring is just round the corner. Let’s count our chickens and celebrate the good life. Omelette, anyone?


Roz@fabulousfarmshops.co.uk


New Year, New Me!

By Roz Hartley

I’ve got a dirty secret.

​I live a simple life in a small cottage in Dorset. I love my garden. I love my cricket. I love my children (not necessarily in that order but, yes, in that order today!) but there is a room in my house which makes most of my friends twitch. The most compulsive of them can’t resist taking a peek into it when they come round. Some of them visibly shudder as they shut the door again and quickly change the subject. Others have offered to come round and help me with it. I pretend it doesn’t bother me but somewhere, deep down, I feel ashamed.

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​We’re not talking Fifty Shades of Grey secret room. It’s just my utility room/ crafting room/ general dumping ground. People are coming over for dinner – I open the door and throw the debris in. Online delivery arrives – shove the packaging in there. Stuff waiting for the charity shop – pop a bag in the utility room. The detritus of life has a terrible knack of building up until you can hardly open the door. I dread the question, 

​as I know they are in there somewhere, muddy and manky, under layers of other lost, forgotten paraphernalia. I joke with my daughter that;

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Well, not anymore. It’s finally time. New year, new me and all that.

​Some are getting down the gym, some are training for marathons. Some poor fools have given up alcohol and others are learning to dance. I am sorting out my utility room and erasing my dirty secret. It’s the only thing that I can do, for free, that will enhance my life and make me feel like a shiny new me.

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Did you try something new? Did it last longer than the second week of January?

​I looked back at my resolutions for last year and the declaration I publicly made in 2023’s January newsletter was to eat more seasonally and buy more locally. I like to think that the promise I made to myself has now become part of my everyday, a shift in habits which I hope is being echoed around the country as shoppers realise that they have the power to choose where they spend their pounds. Meals created from fresh, seasonal, local produce benefit our bodies, our planet and our communities. That’s a big outcome for a little new year’s resolution!

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​And how’s my clear up going? Well, I can now open the door so check in next year and I might be able to see the floor.


Roz@fabulousfarmshops.co.uk


This is not just VEG…
This is FARM SHOP VEG

By Roz Hartley

You know it and I know it… eating fresh vegetables, straight from the soil, grown in your own back garden or from the farm down the road, makes your taste buds explode with an extraordinary depth of flavour that can very rarely (I’d like to say never) be matched by a plastic-wrapped, supermarket offering that has been flown or trucked across the globe.
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​​I’ve just pulled a home-grown leek from my own teeny, little veggie patch and the fabulous, oniony perfume is still on my fingers as I type this article.

​Yes, there’s a significant amount of mud trapped in its glistening crevices which I’ll need to spend a few minutes washing out, but the payoff is well worth it for the intense flavour that it will give to my soup.

​Leeks are in season right now and are such hard-working little vegetables.

Apart from the complex taste that they bring to a stew, a soup, a pasta sauce, a casserole – they also come with a huge list of health benefits.

​Who knew that they contain flavonoids which protect our blood vessels and polyphenols which protect against cancer?

Thank the Romans, who introduced them to the UK, and believed that eating them could soothe the throat and improve the voice… I feel a song coming on!

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The glory of the leek is celebrated nowhere more than in the farm shops spread throughout England. Walk into any one of them today and I guarantee that the display of leeks will have your mouth watering. Lush dark green leaves fading to the beautiful pale green and white bulbs are waiting for customers, freshly picked from the farm.
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Picture from Field of Dreams Farm Shop in Suffolk
Eating local, seasonal food should be our battle cry.

Yes, it reduces food miles, reduces packaging, helps the planet but, more than anything, it tastes AMAZING and does your body good. Reaching out to the general public with this heartfelt message must drive more people into the farm shop. 
​Everywhere we are seeing our members promoting the glorious, fresh, seasonal vegetables in their shops, photographing humble, wonky, earthy potatoes and honest, papery-skinned onions.
 
 
Picture from Hayhead Farm Shop                                              Picture from Flint & Oak Farm Shop 
 
One farm shop, Sandy Lane Farm in Oxfordshire, even posted an informative reel on “how to wash your veg”. Consumers used to buying a ready washed, ready-trimmed, insipid, packaged leek from the supermarket may well feel overwhelmed when faced with the fully-clothed variety from the farm so what excellent marketing!

We’ve also seen farm shops offering seasonal recipes to their customers, “how to get the best from your veg” suggestions, what’s freshest this month, number of food miles per vegetable.. lots of innovative ways to  share the love.

Although it might be nice, one does not need a Marks and Spencer’s marketing team or budget to get the message across … 
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this is not just a leek, this is a farm shop leek!

​Keep spreading the word, keep growing those veg and keep stocking the shelves! The seasonal eaters out there thank you and we at Fabulous Farm Shops salute you (with a leek, of course!).
 

Have an interesting story you would like us to share? Contact our editor…

Roz@fabulousfarmshops.co.uk


Are you FEELING it yet?

a note from THE editor, Roz Hartley

Christmassy, I mean? I think it gets harder and harder each year to get into the spirit. The tinkle of bells introduces Mariah Carey’s festive belter and all I seem to think about is how much money she must make from that blasted tune, her private cash cow! Cynical, I know.

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​The magic that is Christmas as a child seems to be an elusive ideal the older you get. Last year, I pulled my own name out of the sack for our work “Secret Santa” and rather than admitting to it and putting it back in to choose another one, I kept it, bought myself something I actually wanted, wrapped it and looked forward to opening it with a genuine smile. Very sensible, I thought, but not really capturing the Spirit of Christmas!

​Even John Lewis seems to have lost their way this year. Nothing says Christmas quite like a Venus Fly Trap!

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​I thought my daughter was losing the festive joy yesterday when she announced that she no longer wants a stocking on Christmas Day. (She is fifteen, after all, but I just assumed this tradition would survive for as long as she is my daughter). She followed it up with “I don’t really need anything LITTLE” which made me chuckle and remind myself not to jump to conclusions. She still wants presents, just not silly little stocking fillers!

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Well, she’s going to get one, perhaps more for me than for her.

​I will fill it with useful things – the ubiquitous socks, new pens, a phone charger and mascara – everything a teenage girl consumes on a daily basis – and some yummy little sweet treats from my local farm shop – hot chocolate, yoghurt coated raisins and her favourite little biscuits which we save for special occasions. And she will get in to bed with me on Christmas morning and I will “ooh” and “aaah” in mock surprise at all the things she opens in front of me…because that is our tradition and that will make me feel it! Christmassy, I mean.

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Even if it’s only for the actual day itself, the Spirit of Christmas will come, and you’ll find me tapping my foot and raising a glass to Mariah and the great song she created all those years ago.


Roz@fabulousfarmshops.co.uk


Comfort Food, Anyone?

a note from THE editor, Roz Hartley

Oh my gosh, it was chilly this morning. When the alarm went off at a stupid number that started with a six and I opened one eye to total darkness, the thought of throwing off the covers and actually getting up was more unappealing than usual. Sure enough, peeking through the curtains, I saw there was a frost on the barn roof in the field opposite me and fat, fluffed up birds sitting on the wires strung between the telegraph poles, keeping their feet warm.

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​When the season irrefutably changes from summer to autumn and the woolly socks come out, not only do I start to consider lighting the wood burner and adding another layer to my duvet but my need for heavy-weight comfort food becomes a slight obsession. I find myself leafing through cookery books salivating over unctuous stews and boiling broths, gooey chocolate cakes and creamy mashed potato. Let’s face it, food is the most primitive form of comfort.

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​I caught the tail-end of a Nigella Lawson cooking show this week which I sucked up like a thirsty man in the desert! She wafted about in her incredibly beautiful kitchen whilst making a brie, fig and prosciutto sandwich. The photography was as close to inappropriate as you can get on a cooking programme with slurpy, dripping fingers poking little bits of melted cheese into the corners of her lipsticked-mouth but the sheer quality of the ingredients was what got me.  

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​The ripened fig was nestled in a fruit bowl of similarly delicious looking fruit, no plastic wrap and no supermarket stickers. The prosciutto that Nigella lifted from her immaculate fridge was wrapped in brown, waxy paper from the delicatessen down the road and looked ostensibly incredible and the brie was perfect, oozing and creamy, just like it would be from the cheese counter at my farm shop, not solid and cold from the chiller cabinet in the supermarket.

​She popped them all in between slices of floury sourdough and proceeded to fry the whole lot in a chunk of yellow butter the size of a small country and my mouth dribbled with unfettered desire. I checked no-one heard the small moan that escaped from my lips.

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As George Bernard Shaw famously wrote; “There is no sincerer love than the love of food” and in that moment I loved that sandwich more than my children and wished, not for the first time, that Nigella was my neighbour who kept knocking on my door to taste test her food.

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​The look of food is just as important as the taste, perhaps even more so, as it hints at the joy to come, the pleasure we associate with eating and elevates the experience from a simple need to fuel our bodies into the intense joy of devouring a good dish.  As Gianfranco Perri (founder of Just Gourmet Foods) wrote in Speciality Food Magazine this month;

“it is .. important for independents to build a multi-sensory experience for the customer.  Food shopping shouldn’t be a sterile process, and we can be positively inspired through all our senses. Good food retailing is an art and one to be indulged with visual impact, smell, taste and through the positive emotions that a customer will hopefully leave your shop with.”

​That’s it…right there. I want to walk into my local farm shop, grab a basket and fill it with food that wouldn’t look out of place in Nigella’s kitchen. Comfort food is going to keep us warm this week (and hopefully delay the central heating going on for a little bit longer!). After all, I’d much rather spend my money on figs and cheese than gas.

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Have an interesting story you would like us to share? Contact our editor…

Roz@fabulousfarmshops.co.uk


BOGOFs can BOG OFF!

a note from the editor, Roz Hartley

For the past few years, I have driven past this sign on my way to work and watched as the price of horse manure has steadily dropped. It used to read £1 a bag and the pile of large plastic bags, full to bursting with horse poop, would entice passers-by to fill up their car boots with steaming manure to sprinkle on their roses or veggie beds. Obviously, the pile wasn’t going down as quickly as the seller required, so soon afterwards, the price dropped to 50p a bag.

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​Driving by last week, I noticed that the sign had once again been updated. The price of horse dung has hit an all-time low in this neck of the woods as it is now FREE to anyone who can be bothered to lift a bag and pop it in their car. Free!! It seems whilst prices rise in pretty much every other market, from grain to petrol, from rents to cheese, there exists one place where you can grab a bargain – pony poo!

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​I’m sure a few people were excited by the freebies at the side of the road. The word “FREE” can make a person do all sorts of out of character things. I feel my fingers twitch when I see a “BUY ONE GET ONE FREE” (or the delightfully named BOGOF offers) in my local supermarket. Who else comes home clutching two bags of doughnuts when really all they went in for was a box of matches? It’s false economy really. No one needs two bags of doughnuts …. It could be argued that no one really needs ONE. The word FREE makes us lose our rationale and gather up stuff that we ordinarily wouldn’t look twice at.

​I am trying to be a better shopper. I am trying to not get sidetracked. Just because horse poop is free, doesn’t mean I automatically put some in my car boot and so neither should I pick up bags of doughnuts.

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​Freebies in supermarkets are just the tip of the destructive pricing model iceberg that lures consumers into expecting to pay less and less for the food. The reality behind the BOGOF is that producers are not being paid fairly for their hard work, their own profits are being squeezed into non-existence and food production in the UK is shrinking as a result. 

“Farmers cannot keep feeding us if they are denied commitment and security and are not making a fair, reasonable profit”

says the eloquent Guy Singh-Watson of Riverford.

​Everything should be pointing the conscientious shopper to the farm shop where the supply chain is short and the pricing fair. We’ll keep shouting about you and fuelling the revolution! Shoppers… turn your back on those BOGOFs and get down to your local farm shop. A bag of free horse manure to the first ten customers through the door.

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Have an interesting story you would like us to share? Contact our editor…

Roz@fabulousfarmshops.co.uk


On the Cusp of Autumn

By Roz Hartley

I have just spent a wonderful weekend on Exmoor where the wild ponies nibbled amongst swathes of bright purple heather and the enormous skies changed from blue to white to a startling shade of black from minute to minute. There was a definite chill in the air and the hedgerows, laden with ripening blackberries, reminded me that the summer is drawing to a close.

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My runner beans have pretty much done all their running and the tomatoes are ready, juicy and red. My corn on the cob are swollen, tips papery, and my chillis are feisty. I don’t have much in the ground now except some skinny leeks which will hopefully beef up over the coming months and be a lovely surprise when I’m racking my brains for a winter lunch.

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​For me, this time of year is always bittersweet with the school holidays coming to an end and the September routine set to begin again – the freedom of the summer being replaced by the Monday to Friday regime. For the farm shops, I’m sure the summer will have been a busy one and now the crescendo to December begins. Ordering and planning for the festive season must make the march of time accelerate.

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​I hope, in amongst the routine, you give yourself the chance to stop for a minute, look up at the sky, pick a blackberry from the hedgerow and remind yourself what a great job you’re doing! Or go one step further and take a whole day off. 

I can highly recommend Exmoor! ​

Maya Angelou

And, as I reminded my colleague today, ​it will all be there when you get back!


Have an interesting story you would like us to share? Contact our editor…

Roz@fabulousfarmshops.co.uk


Digging Deep

A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR, ROZ HARTLEY
  

I’ve watched my fair share of tennis this month. ​

Wimbledon sneaks up on me every year and I marvel at how July has come around again so quickly. The fortnight brings little pots of strawberries and cream, line judges in natty white trousers, Tim Henman in the commentary box slightly aggravated by John McEnroe and an endless stream of incredible tennis matches which suck you in and chew you up.

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​I turn the TV off at the end of the day exhausted by the sheer brilliance of the underdog – those seemingly tireless players who may be two sets down but somehow find the energy, bravery and downright bloody-mindedness to dig deep, shout at the sky, screw up their fists and fight back.  

​I am in awe of their resilience, their tenacity and their inventiveness as they hammer down an ace or pirouette towards the drop shot, find a new impossible angle and begin again, a point by agonising point, climb back to victory.

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​Not dissimilar, I feel, to the hundreds of pioneering independent farm shop owners and artisan producers that we celebrate here at Fabulous Farm Shops.

​Let’s face it, life has been tough over the last few years. The unprecedented madness of the pandemic was followed by crazy energy price hikes and a cost-of-living crisis, all to a backdrop of cut-price supermarkets and endless BOGOFs… and yet, here you are, digging deep.  

​We, at Fabulous Farm Shops HQ, are constantly amazed by the energy of this community and thrilled by the re-invention employed to combat the retail climate. Expanding your farm shop with a café showcasing all that is fresh and local is your ACE. Offering a refill service or a vegetable delivery scheme is your DROPSHOT. Showcasing your local ice cream producer in a cabinet instore or a coffee van or fishmonger on your courtyard is your BACKHAND SLICE. 

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​We sit in the front row applauding and whooping your efforts and hope with all our hearts that the clouds clear, the sun comes out and you can throw your sweat bands into the crowd and lift the trophy.


Have an interesting story you would like us to share? Contact our editor…

Roz@fabulousfarmshops.co.uk


Old Dog, New Tricks.

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​I know they say you can’t but it’s not true. I’m learning new things all the time and I’m (err) a lady of a certain age.

I bought a paddleboard last year (went to Lidl’s for a tin of pineapple and came home with one, as you do) and can zig zag my way down a river now with the best of them. I’ve watched Strictly Come Dancing wistfully for years now and finally took the plunge this year, signed up for classes and now my rumba is as cringingly awful to watch as anyone else’s (but deeply satisfying to perform!) and when I used to make the cricket teas for my dad’s team back in the 80s, I never thought to actually pick up a bat and ask if I could play, but now I’m down the nets every Tuesday and I’m getting better, really I am. See – old dog, new tricks!

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​I’m a huge believer in “give it a try” and can be heard shouting it frequently at my children when I put a new dish in front of them and it’s greeted with a curled lip and a wrinkled nose. They both hate mushrooms and avocado, but I refuse to be beaten. I leave them both off the menu for a good twelve months and then sneak them in, in a new guise, a re-invented fanfare of deliciousness to see if their tastes have changed, their palates broadened.

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​Talking of broad, I used to feel that way about broad beans. My dad would plant a couple of packets every autumn and his excitement was almost palpable around this time of year when the first small pods were ready to pick. I would wander down the garden path and stare at the long rows of rather beautiful plants with their silvery-green lush foliage and striking black and white flower and wonder how such a pretty thing could produce such a vile bean. My heart would sink at just how many there were. It was going to be a bumper harvest.

​Sure enough, that Sunday, the kitchen would take on a rather farty aroma as the bright green little kidneys were boiled in their skins, turned an unattractive grey and were liberally scooped onto our plates. Dad would clap his hands in glee. I would vow never to eat another broad bean as soon as I was old enough to choose for myself.

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​And, for a long time, I kept my promise to my younger self. Until about five years ago when I went to an early summer party. We were out in the garden, a Pimm’s in hand, painted toes on show, enjoying the thrill of the first truly warm evening and the hostess was passing round platters of delicious things. I scooped a generous dollop of a bright green dip onto my oval of sourdough and popped it into my mouth…and, OMG , the world stopped turning. Well, not quite, but my eyes opened a little wider, the birds sang a little louder and I started following the hostess like a lovesick puppy.

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​“What IS that?” I swooned. 

​“Broad beans” came the repulsive answer. Don’t be ridiculous!

​But yes – that’s what it was. New broad beans, boiled BRIEFLY in salted water, cooled and PEELED. Yep – those guffy skins are taken off and discarded – and then the beautiful new little nuggets of goodness are whizzed up with a little bit of mint, garlic and olive oil. Well, well, well….

So my epiphany came after 30 years and my self-inflicted broad bean exile came to an end. And my cries of “give it a try” have become even more evangelical. Do it today!
​Take something you’ve always hated (and I’m talking about a fruit or a vegetable, not James Blunt – although you never know what a remix featuring Eminem might do) and mix it up. Re-interpret the little blighter and you too might just find heaven in a bean.

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A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR, ROZ HARTLEY  

Have an interesting story you would like us to share? Contact our editor…

Roz@fabulousfarmshops.co.uk


But First, Coffee

​A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR, ROZ HARTLEY  

A friend of mine popped over the other day for a catch up and I flicked the kettle switch down as I heard her footsteps coming up the path. I had two of my favourite mugs on a little tray and a couple of pastries and my milk frother at the ready. The anticipation of my first coffee of the morning and a chat with my friend had me buzzing before the caffeine even hit my blood.

Then she uttered the chilling words….
“No thanks. I’ve given up coffee. I’ll just have water….”
Well, that burst my frothy bubble. Where’s the joy in that? Could we even still be friends?

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​Don’t get me wrong. I love a nice cold, glass of water…after a game of cricket or a long bout of gardening or housework or when I’ve just done my teeth and can’t shake the minty fresh tongue thing but at 11 o’clock, when you have already done what feels like half a day’s work – is there anything better than coffee???

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pic from Fields Farm Shop & Café, Suffolk

Most of the world agrees with me. Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world (after oil) with over 2 billion cups consumed every day and 98 million of those in the UK (according to the British Coffee Association. )

​Coffee shops have been multiplying on our high streets exponentially for at least 20 years and we are seeing more and more of our fabulous farm shops introducing coffee machines, expanding their footprint with coffee shops and cafés, and selling beautiful, roasted beans alongside their fresh milk stations.

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The green barn farm shop’s new café, Essex

We know that we drink coffee to help us wake up, to motivate us to get on with the day, to keep our eyes open when the snooze creeps up on us but the social side of drinking coffee is the real pull for me. Meeting for coffee, hands clasped around a big mug, those glorious aromas wafting around you whilst you chat and re-connect make this drink a bigger part of our lives than anyone could ever have guessed when it was introduced into England in the 17th Century.  

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Coffee:
​A warm, delicious alternative to hating everybody every morning forever

Coffee has filtered (sorry!) through our lives and created a fragrant backdrop to business meetings, first dates, break-ups, favourite sit-coms, friendships, reunions and farewells. As American romance writer J. Lynn writes:

“the key to the start of any good relationship is to remember how the other person likes their coffee”.

​Nowadays some 700 million people are estimated to rely on coffee in one form or another for their employment, you can get a master’s degree in coffee at a university in Italy, attend various barista training courses, enjoy coffee tasting experiences, have quotations about coffee framed on your wall at home and buy “coffee lovers” gift sets for Christmas … you can even spread the old grounds on your garden and use it to improve your roses or burn it on your log burner.

​Not bad for a little bean!

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pic from Hooga Coffee, Somerset

Have an interesting story you would like us to share? Contact our editor…

Roz@fabulousfarmshops.co.uk


Variety is the Spice of Life

By Roz Hartley

I was sat in my garden on a glorious late April afternoon, cradling a cup of coffee (my third, if I’m honest) and seeking inspiration for this very blog post. It’s the time of year when everything feels fresh and new, poised to unfurl (but I wrote about that LAST April!) and full of energy (except my brain!).

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​Waiting for a flash of inspiration, a bee came into view as it landed on a dandelion at my feet. It got stuck into the golden layers and looked positively joyous as it emerged coated in sunshiny dust. Absent-mindedly, I followed its journey and saw it land on my wallflower, poke about for a few seconds and then on to my rosemary bush where it lingered for longer and delved into the small, lilac/blue flowers, open and welcoming in the sunshine.

​Where next? It hovered around my coconut macaroon for a while (did I fail to mention the coffee accompaniment?!) before settling on my tulips and finally buzzing off where I could no longer follow…to the neighbouring garden. Good luck, I whispered, you won’t find much there!

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​How fabulous, I thought, to have such a choice for your coffee break, to flit from yellow to purple to blue to white, to taste a bit of sweetness, a bit of savoury, a bit of herby perfume and spend your day digging into a smorgasbord of different flavours and colours…. KER POW…inspiration!

​Isn’t that just how I feel when I shop in my local farm shop? 

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During the week, squeezing a food shop into the window of opportunity between work and school run, I will nip into the supermarket. Uninspiring but necessary, I will be on autopilot picking up what we need in the cupboard, but, at the weekend, when time is my friend, I will venture to my farm shop and browse the shelves and I become that bee.  

Ooh olives in chilli and garlic? yes please…I’ll try a bit of that.

Hand-stretched focaccia with sea-salt and rosemary? Well, I don’t mind if I do, thank you very much.

Grass-fed steak, dry aged on the bone? Why ever not? 

Handmade, gooey chocolate brownies? It would be rude not to.

​I flit from one delicious offering to the next, metaphorically dunking my stripes in their pollen and revelling in their goodness! The farm shop, with its plethora of choice, is the kama sutra of the food shop.

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​A very wise man (William Cowper 1731 – 1800) once said that “Variety’s the very spice of life” and, had I met him, I’d have shaken him by the hand (and possibly asked him if he’d been watching a bee in his garden when he came up with that one). We all need choice in our lives to keep them exciting – man cannot live by turnip alone.

​The supermarket can keep us alive but it’s the farm shop that can nourish our soul.


Have an interesting story you would like us to share? Contact our editor…

Roz@fabulousfarmshops.co.uk


Forbidden Fruit

A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR, ROZ HARTLEY  

My daughter came home from school, kicked off her shoes and announced that she was going to cut out refined sugar for a month… hmmm, interesting! 

​I felt this was an excellent ambition and definitely one to be embraced. I decided I should hop on this particular band wagon (far better than getting a tattoo, shaving your head or having a bucket of ice dumped on your head). 

​“I’ll do it with you”, I chimed enthusiastically, and put the chocolate bar back in the cupboard.

my usual cravings…

​I had noticed that my need for sweetness had been reaching unprecedented levels. I would finish eating a meal and immediately crave chocolate. I was almost unable to walk past a bakery without popping in for a sugar-encrusted something and I wondered if I could reset my taste buds. Self-control is not something I’m known for, so I was interested to see how this would pan out.

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It was unfortunate that this gauntlet had been thrown down on the Monday before Shrove Tuesday. Our pancake day was different to usual. My son (who had no intention of joining us on our sugar deprivation journey) enjoyed liberal application of treacle to his pancake, topped with extra sugar and the merest hint of lemon juice…just for balance. In fact, over the coming month, his sugar intake probably doubled as he took joy in unwrapping chocolate bars under our noses and licking ice creams in our paths.

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​Our pancakes received their toppings of fruit and plain yoghurt in silence. No oohs and aahs or slapping of lips and no pleading for seconds. The month stretched ahead of us.

​Usually when something is forbidden, you crave it more. Tell me I can’t make a noise and I immediately have a desperate urge to shout. Tell me I mustn’t scratch and the itch becomes ferocious. Tell me not to touch the fruit of that particular tree and I am back in the Garden of Eden reaching for that apple.

​But that was ok … apples were allowed.

​And it was fruit that saved me. Knowing that chocolate was a no-no made me look to alternatives. My fruit bowl became my friend. I looked forward to my banana at breakfast and an apple as an afternoon snack. Grapes were suddenly my not-so-guilty pleasure. I stopped opening the snack cupboard when I got a bit bored and opened the fridge instead. Even a cherry tomato was seen disappearing into my mouth when I felt I needed “a little something”.

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​My taste buds have definitely been reset but so have my habits. With the ease of the snack cupboard banished from my day, looking for alternatives has proven to be rather wonderful. It takes two minutes longer to peel and chop a carrot than it does to open a bag of doughnuts and the colour and the crunch is beautifully rewarding (it IS…try it!).  

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​I am six weeks on and I’m still going strong.  This week sees rhubarb on the shelves and soon we will see our farm shops stocking pears, early raspberries and strawberries and I’m positively excited about all my fruity options. 

​And my daughter? How did she get on?
​She was elbow-deep in the snack cupboard after two days!


Have an interesting story you would like us to share? Contact our editor…

Roz@fabulousfarmshops.co.uk


Telling The Truth About Tomatoes (or the lack of…)

A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR, ROZ HARTLEY
  

I have a new habit. Muttering.

Largely directed at the News on the radio as it reports stories from the world that seem to me completely absurd.

This week it was all about rewriting Roald Dahl to make his books more “suitable”? Mutter, mutter “Has the world gone mad?” “Leave the BFG alone” 

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​I had a full on (one-sided) debate with the newsreader about leaving the written word alone. Why should we airbrush the past? Why should we tamper with the original?

​I then went online and caught a glimpse of a 64 year old Madonna, with a face like a stretched and shiny aubergine, upset about the world’s reaction to her new look. I felt a flicker of deja-vu as I muttered the exact same words. Why should we airbrush the past? Why should we tamper with the original?

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Madonna and her entourage

​Mad-onna is creating her own truth as much as re-assembling her own face just as the “sensitivity readers” are re-writing Dahl’s gloriously repugnant characters but an airbrushing of the truth seems be prevalent all around us.

​Another story in the News which was next in my firing line, and apologies for the pre-amble if actually all that interests you are tomatoes, British supermarkets are now rationing tomatoes – and possibly cucumbers and peppers. The vegetable aisles are full of nothing but empty shelves…

​And, apparently, it’s all due to poor weather in Europe…erm. Nothing like telling half the story.

Empty vegetable shelves in my
local supermarket.

Supermarket
half-truths?

Hmm global warming and terrible cucumber growing weather in Europe… but it all begins to smell a bit fishy when social media is full of pictures of shelves in Europe positively groaning under the weight of fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers – all the things that aren’t making it to UK supermarkets because of the “weather”.

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A European supermarket’s loaded shelves 

​Un-airbrushed accounts tell the full story. Of course, there was Brexit and we know about the lack of lorry drivers but there’s also a lack of foresight and a total disinclination to champion British suppliers. At the end of last year, as energy prices reached unprecedented highs, supermarket chains decided not to pay British growers the correct price for producing home-grown salads which needed heated greenhouses. Instead, they opted for importing cheaper produce from abroad. Cooler temperatures in Europe, distribution issues and a disruption to that supply chain mean empty supermarket shelves.

​I do wish the media would report the full story. I do wish my grandchildren will be allowed to read the glorious, unpolished language of Roald Dahl and that Augustus Gloop will remain as fat as he ever was (and that Madonna’s stretched and shiny aubergine-cheeks will be allowed to age and wrinkle like my own).

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Stokeley Farm Shop – so much better than a supermarket!

​But most of all, I do wish that consumers will once again realise, as they did during the pandemic, that popping to their local farm shop, where the vegetable shelves are full of locally grown, seasonal produce, is the way forward. 

​Un-airbrushed pictures of glorious farm shop veg have been all over social media this week with hashtags as unapologetic as #noemptyshelveshere. If only the mainstream media would get on board too and every time they sent a reporter to the supermarket to show empty shelves, they would also visit a farm shop full to bursting, and interview “satisfied Sue” with a basket stuffed with produce rather than “disgruntled Di” moaning about her wasted trip to Tesco.

The Paddock Farm Shop
​shows off its cucumbers
Windy Arbour Farm Shop exhibiting
no shortage of tomatoes!

​In the meantime, you wonderful farm shops, let’s do what we can. Keep sharing those photos, keep shouting about your veg, keep doing what you do. And I’ll keep muttering at the radio…. 


Have an interesting story you would like us to share? Contact our editor…

Roz@fabulousfarmshops.co.uk


Thank goodness that’s behind us!

A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR, ROZ HARTLEY  

January often gets a real bashing. Money is tight after Christmas and there are a whole 31 days to get through until payday. It’s cold and grey or wet and murky and, gosh, those long dark evenings…don’t they seem interminable? Your best friend is doing “dry January” (why, oh why, would you do that to yourself?) which means there’s one less person with whom to drown your January blues, and worst of all, in my case, cricket season is a hell of a long way off!  No wonder January is now the proud owner of its very own depressing day accolade, Blue Monday – apparently THE MOST depressing day of the year (the third Monday of the month).

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According to Wikipedia, the man who put together an elaborate equation to work out the most depressing day of the year (surely there are better ways to spend your time? Cricket, anyone?) said that it was “never his intention to make the day sound negative“, but rather “to inspire people to take action and make bold life decisions”

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Winter vegetable at Jolly Nice Farm Shop, Gloucestershire

Well, January and its 31 days are now behind us and we can use February to make our bold life decisions. The days are definitely growing longer and hopefully the soil will begin to warm up and allow me to get a fork into it without too much effort. The farm shops are full of fabulous locally grown produce with apples and pears in the fruit baskets and cabbage, beetroots, leeks, parsnips and kale taking their turn to shine as the fantastic seasonal options for dinner.

“Oi Oi Savoy”
a beautiful savoy cabbage on sale
at the Railway Farm Shop, Suffolk

​Customers will be emerging from their January slump, ready to spend on some Valentine’s day home-reared steak and British grown flowers and all those dry Januaryers will be itching to try their local cider, gin or other favourite tipple which they have dreamed of for 31 days. 

We, at Fabulous Farm Shops, have come up with our own equation and calculated that the second Friday in February will be the best day of trading in Farm Shops across the land so far for 2023. We’re calling it #freakingfabulousfarmshopfriday and we hope it gives #bluemonday a run for its money.

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Have an interesting story you would like us to share? Contact our editor…

Roz@fabulousfarmshops.co.uk


Make it a Touchy Feely Christmas

​November has literally evaporated before my eyes. How can it be December tomorrow? The march of time is relentless and as Christmas approaches once again, amidst the furore of a cost of living crisis and against the backdrop of a planet imploding, are we idiots to actually expect a happy Christmas?
​My children are making their lists but even they are aware that their wishes might not be granted this year. Perhaps their stockings won’t be bulging quite so much come December 25th but we will still be surrounded by family and happy to sit down together to celebrate the holidays. We will still be off work, eating good food and playing ridiculous games by the fire.
​And, let’s face it, as the years pass, it’s the EXPERIENCE of Christmas that really matters. If you stop for a minute and think about your BEST christmasses in the past, it’s the memories rather than the gifts that stop you in your tracks and make you smile.
​My best Christmas memory is not of a massive doll or a shiny bike but a very specific Christmas morning. I must have been about nine and my sister about eleven and on the cusp of questioning the appearance of this old man with a white beard and a passion for mince pies. We had been awake early, felt the delicious weight of a loaded stocking on our feet, run into our parents bedroom and had opened everything pretty quickly. I can’t remember what we got…but I can remember that Dad had got up to make a cuppa and had exclaimed loudly as he looked out of the window.
​Wondering what he’d seen, my sister and I both joined him at the glass to see what he was pointing at. On the low angled roof, just below our chimney, were two gift-wrapped boxes jauntily sitting on the roof tiles, exactly as if they had fallen out of a passing sleigh or dropped from a jolly man’s sack as he squeezed down the chimney.
​We were aghast, wide-eyed in wonder…ridiculously excited at this second course of presents which enabled us to reinforce the Father Christmas tale and gave us the assurance we needed to believe for at least another year. I have no recollection of what the boxes contained but only the joy I felt as we watched dad climb a long, shiny ladder up to the roof to retrieve the goodies.
​Even writing this now, I’m smiling. Smiling at the memory of that morning but also at the love of my dad who had obviously come up with the whole wonderful plan, got up even earlier than we had to put those presents up on that roof. THAT is what Christmas is…
​The experience of shopping for Christmas should be the same – not a hellish trip to a shopping centre with a list as long as your arm or a late night on the computer buying discounted goods from faceless companies. The “Christmas shop” should be a delight…a slow, evocative meander among shelves of tempting produce, succulent home-reared meat and local gifts which make you stop and smile as you stroke their packaging and imagine the face of a loved-one light up on opening it. 
​Here’s hoping the joy of shopping local and spending money with a friendly face on the other side of the counter tempts lots of people out this December… I will certainly be shopping this way, and if there’s a complementary glass of mulled wine on the way in, well, the children’s stockings might actually be fatter than ever by the time I’ve finished.

The Power is in Our Pocket

We are lucky to live in England, a free country, where we can all choose what to say, what to think and where and how to spend our money but it is good to remember that the very freedom we celebrate comes with great power and therefore great responsibility.  As the cost-of-living crisis deepens and begins to affect us all, every pound in our purse takes on a greater significance.
​It is easy to think that the priority is to save money and therefore a quick basket shop in the supermarket is the best option but perhaps that is a rather short-term view. To start with, does the food in that basket fill you with joy, make your taste buds flutter, get your juices flowing?
​Let your mind wander to a wicker basket full of provisions from your local farm shop, freshly picked strawberries which were sunning themselves on a bed of straw only this morning, a freshly-baked sausage roll straight from the oven made with love from fresh meat, without a plastic wrapper or a best-before date in sight, and perhaps a paper-bag full of slightly wonky courgettes, green and fresh with a small muddy smudge on them rather like a badge of honour proclaiming how local they are. Does this make you happier? Does this make you drool?
​Enjoying your food must count in my mind – in this age of fast-food and ready-meal, a truly tasty basket of food is worth its weight in gold. And if we are going to eat meat, then let’s make sure it is well-reared, British homegrown meat that’s had a happy life before it ends up on our plates.
​Apart from joy and a moist mouth, what else does buying from a farm shop do for us? It can send a message that we want to support the local economy. Do we want to give our hard-earned cash to a huge multi-national chain of supermarkets, or would we rather support the work of a local farmer, a local producer, and a local community? Putting money back into the community has all sorts of knock-on positives not the least being that it encourages our food to be produced in our country and not imported from across the sea.
​The recent shortages that all supermarkets have experienced makes it glaringly obvious that more needs to be done to encourage British farmers to grow food for the home market and we have the power to help that movement. The power is in our purse.
​What else? Helping the planet!
Now these are big, weighty issues being blazoned about.
​How can buying a bag of earthy spuds from the farm shop down the road help the planet? Well, that bag of spuds is likely to have been harvested from a field next door, down the road or just around the corner. They have been dug out of the ground recently and transported a few miles to the shop. They have not been flown in, trained in or trucked in from very far. They have not been washed, dried and packaged in plastic. They have come from the farm and will be on your fork by the next day. No wasted food miles. The shortest journey from the field to your tummy that is possible with the exception of growing your own and kneeling down and chewing on a spud straight out of your own veg plot!
​And by helping the planet, you are helping yourself – helping yourself to eat healthier. The freshness of the locally grown vegetable means the goodness is still present when you put it in the pan to steam or chop it into your salad. It hasn’t wilted, degraded and faded. The broccoli is still green, not yellow, and the raspberries are still the right shape and not slopping around in a pool of their own innards!
​And why are they so fresh and beautiful? Because they are in season! Hoorah! buying from the farm shop means you get back in touch with what fruit and vegetable are available at what time of year. Eating seasonally is better for you, costs less, helps reduce imports and makes you happy! You are back in tune with the seasons, back in tune with the planet. Let’s all do a little happy dance, support our local farm shop and celebrate the British farmer.
​Next time you open your purse, remember YOU HAVE THE POWER!

The Rise of Halloween

​Halloween wasn’t really a “thing” when I was little. Growing up in the 70s in rural England, we didn’t really know much about trick or treating or pumpkin carving. I seem to remember my mother muttering “American nonsense” under her breath around the end of October and we concentrated whole-heartedly on Bonfire Night and stuffing an old pair of tights with newspaper to make a rather floppy and lumpy Guy Fawkes. But that all changed when a fabulous and theatrical American family moved into the house next door.
​Our lives brightened overnight. To start with, they had four children around the same ages as me and my sister. That, in itself, was joyful enough. Suddenly we had enough people to play a meaningful game of tag, stuck in the mud, sardines and charades. We could put on plays that no one would ever watch but meant we could dress up and wear lipstick and feather boas.  A large hole in the hedge began to appear as they would crawl through to our garden, and we would crawl back to theirs just as often.
​And then it was October and activity next door became feverish. I remember popping over on the hallowed day itself, the 31st, and standing in awe at the porch door. Black paper bats and mini cauldrons swung from the ceiling, four eerie pumpkins glowed through jagged and heinous teeth and witches’ hats sat askew broomsticks in each corner and, beyond all of that, there was our neighbour, the wonderful American mom, dressed herself as a witch and holding the most beautiful basket, lined with red velvet, home to about 30 little cones of sweets. I felt bad for her though… no one had ever knocked on our door and said “trick or treat” in all the eight years that I had been alive. Our lane was too long and dark and our village was too English. I had a sneaky feeling that by the end of the night, we would be ripping open those glorious cones and eating the sweets ourselves …..and I was right.
​Things are rather different now. It can safely be said that the UK has embraced Halloween with about 60{650a267a6dfc0c56292df9f4411de9160c0ac02671db1e1ee03f984da437e88e} of households now actively encouraging trick or treaters.  With children of my own, we have entered into the spirit with freaky costumes, spooky face painting and little sweet-collecting cauldrons. And there is always a pumpkin or two, carved and grinning at my doorstep on the 31st October. My old neighbours would be proud.
​Pumpkin sales have exploded in the UK over the last decade with a predicted spend for 2022 of nearly £29 million! Farm shops have joined in the fun, and many are now offering PYO pumpkins where families are encouraged to take their kids and choose the perfect pumpkin and take a family snapshot amongst the glorious orange fruits. And why not? Let’s see if we can boost sales again this year. We’re still behind our American friends with $804 million expected to be spent on pumpkins for Halloween across the pond. That’s a heck of a lot of pumpkin. Soup anyone?

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness*
(oh, and the field mushroom!)

​My dad was a keen and quite ruthless mycophile. As a small child, I would sometimes accompany him on his thrilling, early morning, field mushroom raids and there was an undeniable whiff of prohibition about them. I felt like I had stepped into Dahl’s “Danny, Champion of the World” and it was me and dad against the landed gentry! 
​We would set the alarm early and dress in wellies and old clothes and, with the early morning mist still hanging in the valley, we’d stride out (well, he’d stride, and I’d skip to keep up) across the dewy grass in search of those glorious white globes, clutching a little basket and keeping my voice to a whisper. 
​There were a couple of other ardent foragers in the village and dad was always thrilled if we could make it to the fields before any sighting of Mr H in his grey cloth cap or Mr S in his tweed jacket and I would feel jubilant on his behalf (and mine as I’d have dad all to myself).
​Bending low over my wellies, I would admire the mysterious, smooth protrusions which made him so excited. He taught me what to look for and how to pluck the mushroom from the bottom of its robust stalk, flip it over and inspect the beautiful, fleshy pink underside, sniff it to ensure it had a fresh, earthy perfume and then pop it in my basket. I didn’t seem to worry that most of them were growing out of cowpats, a few days old with a hefty crust on the top covering the wildlife below!

​Nowadays, I don’t go mushrooming myself (dad picked a dodgy one once and I witnessed his purple face, shortness of breath and urgent rush to hospital – he was fine after an hour or so but it was pretty frightening for a while there!).

​I prefer to buy a punnet from my local farm shop but as I clean them up, chop them and fry them in butter, I smile to myself as I remember our autumnal field forays and maybe I even whistle a little, just like dad.

*from Ode to Autumn by John Keats

What’s small and red… and tastes of summer?

I popped round to see a friend last week and her husband was unpacking a few goodies he’d just picked up at his local farm shop. He approached me with a big grin on his face and a small offering in his outstretched palm;
“You have to try this.”
​In his hand was a small but beautifully formed strawberry, glistening slightly under its cap of green leaves.
I did as I was told and bit into it and the taste of summer exploded on my tongue whisking me back to those long, sun-drenched days of my childhood when summer seemed to last forever and all I had to worry about was which tiny hole would I crawl into for the next game of neighbourhood hide and seek. If sunshine could be bottled, I’m sure it would taste of freshly picked strawberries.

​Me, my mum & big sis with our runner bean crop in the 70s! When summer seemed to last forever….

​Is there anything more evocative of a British summer than that taste? And I’m not talking about the all-year-round insipid supermarket strawberries, covered in plastic, tasting of literally NOTHING and flown in from goodness only knows.  I mean those little shiny ruby nuggets of freshness that have spent the day basking on a bed of straw in the sunshine until they were wrestled off the stalk by your own fair hands. Most made it into a punnet to be weighed but a few, less fortunate, disappeared elsewhere and the taste…oh the taste…exquisite! 

Photo from Evergreen Explorers on a trip to Bourne Valley PYO

​Did you ever visit a PYO strawberry farm when you were little? We had one at the end of our road and we would go a couple of times each season. It always seemed to be on a boiling hot day, and we would slap on the sun-cream and a big-brimmed hat and wander down there with our baskets. In my memories, the walk took forever as we stopped to throw sticky weed on each other’s backs or pull the long grass and tease our companions’ ears from behind. We’d arrive sweaty and itchy but the sight of the neat rows of strawberry plants stretching out ahead would revive us and the thought of the juicy fruits waiting to be picked, even more so.

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​Preparing the strawberry rows
​at Strawberry Fields PYO in Morley


​Bent down on our haunches, lifting the fronds and searching for the hidden red treasures was pure joy especially when you found a plant heavily laden where no one else had been before you and you could strip it and fill your container with a layer of fruit before moving, crab-like, onto the next one. In reality, I contributed meagrely to the family collection, adding one or two handfuls to my mother’s bountiful harvest but I don’t think she minded. She was just pleased that she was out in the fresh air, away from the kitchen chores and breathing in the summer vibes. 
​Loading the punnets onto the scales was always a dramatic moment and learning just how many pounds we had managed to gather. We would take them home, happy in the knowledge that pudding was a sure thing that day, and that jam-making would also be on the cards in the very near future.
​I’ve reminisced for too long and all because of that little strawberry. Imagine if you offered one to each customer that came through the door of the farm shop? Maybe you’d have to listen to them wax lyrical about their childhood for a few minutes, but I bet your strawberry sales would go through the roof!

Red, White & …..                                                                                Do you have that in Purple, Ma’am?

Last year, my sister gave me some tomato plants for my greenhouse as my seedlings had not enjoyed my watering apathy. Gratefully, I popped them in the ground and paid little attention to their labels. Late summer, when the fruits appeared, I could no longer ignore them, for nestled in the hairy fronds, rather than the glorious, juicy red I was expecting, were some deeply odd-looking tomatoes. 
Shiny and dark, with purply-black streaks across their bulbous heads, these were tomatoes, but not as I knew them. The label stated “Black Beauty” in my sister’s loopy script and in an odd way they were beautiful, just unexpectedly so!
Purple fruit and vegetables are chock full of goodness but often rather forgotten on our plates. Purple/red cabbage springs to mind at Christmas and the odd blueberry thrown on my pancake but my fridge certainly isn’t overflowing with purple.
​We are urged to “eat the rainbow” knowing that green vegetables are loaded with vitamin K and folates, orange and yellow fruits are usually full of vitamin C and red ones full of vitamin A but purple, when you read the facts, are extraordinary! The term “superfood” is applied to more purple fruit and vegetables than any other and now an increasing number of plants are being bioengineered to have this special hue.
​They help keep a healthy heart, lower blood pressure, aid brain health, enhance calmness, boost mood and strengthen the immune system…and they look beautiful. A display of beetroot, aubergines, purple sprouting broccoli, purple cauliflower, figs, grapes and blackberries cannot fail to stop you in your tracks. 
​They bring to mind a wonderful quote from Alice Walker’s book “The Color Purple”:
“I think it [upsets] God if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”
​And why am I so obsessed with purple this month? Well, it’s the official colour of the Platinum Jubilee and we at Fabulous Farm Shops have been decorating our Headquarters with purple fruit and vegetables.
The logo of the Jubilee, designed by 19-year-old Edward Roberts, features a continuous platinum line (representing Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year long reign) on a purple background which is a nod to the rich, velvet Coronation robes worn by the monarch after he/she is crowned. 
​It is a colour that has long been associated with royalty but is also a shade that is universally complimentary… so if you are dark, blond, red-headed, grey or bald – you can wear purple and if you are large, small, old or young, you should be getting it on your plate and in your mouth!
​Let’s raise a glass of blueberry juice and salute the Queen. We hope you had a very Happy Jubilee!

Jewel-like Rhubarb & Ebbulient Asparagus

A note from the Editor
What a glorious time of year!
“Unfurling” is the word that springs to mind every time I set foot outside of the front door. My garden is awash with buds which have decided that now is the right time to push themselves upwards, ready to burst open and display their beauty. 
Alliums are about to rip open their covers and form mighty balls of purple, my ferns are exquisitely poised to curl open in limey-green fronds …even my toes have unfurled from their winter boots and socks and have dared to exhibit themselves with freshly painted nails on a couple of occasions! (no photos of those, you’ll be relieved to hear!)
And in the farm shops, the offerings on the shelves are changing. More colour, more juicy rows of farm-fresh vegetables and a riotous rainbow of seasonal produce.
​Red, pink and green rhubarb stalks are glossy and vibrant, promising that shock of delicious tangy fruit flavour when cooked with sugar and topped with crumble (my favourite, can you tell?!).
from ” Farmersgirl Kitchen” click for more rhubarb recipes
Originally from China, rhubarb was first imported as a medicinal plant and prized as much as rubies, satins and pearls. The name comes from the Latin word “rhababarum” meaning “root of the barbarians”. Jewel-like in appearance, I can see why it was so desired and, if I don’t add quite enough sugar, the children tend to screech like barbarians when served their pudding.
​Another glorious seasonal addition is the bundles of asparagus spears which have worked hard to push themselves up through the soil. 
Asparagus grown and on sale at Groombridge Farm Shop in Kent
​The green shoots are true pioneers and harbingers of early summer. During a sunny day, you can almost hear them growing (sometimes up to 10cm in one day!) Cut them in the morning and they’ll be another one growing by the evening. No wonder the season is short – it must be exhausting to be asparagus. 
But perhaps because the season is so short, it highlights everything that is good about buying and enjoying seasonal veg and needs to be SHOUTED about – 
Get it now!
It’s only here for a few weeks!
Picked this morning!  
Give me an A…give me an S.. give me a P
​Let’s cheerlead for these short-lived stars of our farm shops. Display them with pride, shout about them on social media and get the shoppers ringing the date on their calendars each year… 

The Humble Egg….or your New Best Friend?

​I remember the excitement of Easter morning, not the going to Church bit or the long interminable lunch (although mint sauce helped!) but the joy of hunting for eggs. My sister and I were let loose in the garden with a little basket each and there they were, little flashes of bright tinfoil, nestled beside the primroses or perilously balanced on the birdbath. 
​The sheer joy of spotting another treat and seeing the little basket filling up as we raced about in the fresh air was intoxicating.  I wonder now whether it needed to be chocolate eggs. Would we have felt as much excitement had we been searching for chicken eggs? I almost think we would have done.
​Fast forward forty years and popping out in the morning to see if Mrs Chicken has laid me any eggs in the garden feels equally joyful. I have a basket in my hand, the sun is shining and nestled in the straw is a glorious brown, speckled egg, still slightly warm, smooth and beautiful…and so much better for me than the egg wrapped in tinfoil!
​The humble egg is one of nature’s most nutrient-dense foods. It’s packed full of protein, choline, omega-3s and antioxidants. Plus, 11 different vitamins and minerals, including iron, selenium, iodine, vitamins A, D, E, folate and B12 and the things you can do with it! Poached, boiled, fried, scrambled or mixed with butter and sugar or milk and flour, they are delicious. In bygone days, they were believed to neutralise a swallowed poison, to be soothing to diseased eyes, and to help dislodge fishbones in the throat!
​And eggs are so easy to come by. Every farm shop in the land has beautiful farm fresh eggs stacked on its shelves. Perhaps this Easter, these fresh eggs could be centre stage in the farm shop with the chocolate eggs as backing singers. Let’s draw attention to the humble egg..
Suggestions………
  1. Egg personality of the week nestled amongst the hen eggs… just add googly eyes?
  2. An egg hunt with a difference…. hen eggs hidden around the other veg in the shop?
  3. A “how do you eat yours” campaign? If it works for Cadbury, why not the farm shop?
  4. A display suggesting egg-based recipes with other ingredients easily accessible?
As a busy mum, I know that if you put a box of eggs in my face with a little recipe card of ways to cook it, it’s going in my basket! Here’s 50 ways to have eggs for breakfast to get you started. 
Happy Easter!

A note from the editor  –  January 2022

Keep doing what you’re doing

New Year, New You…. Veganuary…. Dry January…. Thank Goodness it’s nearly February and the reformists can leave us alone to carry on living the way we want to live!
​I gave up nothing new in January but continued to stuff as much cardboard and plastic into my recycling bin as I could, eat as many of my five a day as I could manage and not have too many gin-soaked evenings after a hard day of graft. I know I could do more to eat healthily and to reduce my impact on the planet, but I am doing the best that I can. The choices surrounding us are multi-faceted and nothing is a quick, simple fix.
​Marks & Spencer’s recent advert for a vegan ready- meal made the claim that skipping meat for one day has the same impact on your carbon footprint as not using your car for a week. Really? Where’s the proof… based on what sized car? diesel or electric? doing how many journeys a week? Compared to imported beef from where? Or a chicken from the local farm shop? Marketing propaganda can be a dangerous rabbit hole down which to fall!

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​​You don’t need to read Einstein to know that relativity is important. One article I encountered even had me questioning whether a tomato is an ethical choice… if that tomato is grown in Spain in an unheated greenhouse and then flown over here, is it more sustainable than a UK grown tomato that has blossomed and swelled in a heated greenhouse? STOP already and let me eat my salad!

​Farm shops can be proud to shout about their ethics and maintain their customers’ trust by highlighting where their food has come from whether that is organic meat from animals that are happy and healthy and grazing in the field next door to their shop, or a good old British leek pulled from the mud a few miles down the road.

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​​I still live by the old adage “a little of what you fancy does you good” so meat, veg, chocolate and gin will continue to be a part of my diet. The jargonists can call me a flexitarian or a vegi-vore or whatever new-fangled word it is next month but knowing where my meat comes from and eating seasonal fruit and veg is good enough for me… maybe with the odd imported avocado – on my birthday!