A farmer for a day might be pushing it, but I was ,well almost. The joys of twitter have allowed me to make some of the fabulous virtual relationships I have encountered into “real” life.
My farmer’s life became a reality after I had met a wonderful lady under the guise of Twitter with the name of @rachelcuppatime who is a farmer’s daughter, passionate about all farmers lives, livelihoods, produce and mostly community.
She asked me a question would I like a day out meeting farmers and their produce?
Er duh, YES I jumped at it. I really couldn’t believe the opportunity. So we planned dates and in May I drove over to Ormskirk and met Rachel in her farmhouse kitchen, she is fabulously organized and as we worked though her agenda for the day her farmer dad popped in and was great taking to him about the commercialism and difficulties of the finances, implications of today’s supermarkets purchasing power a really empowering conversation. With a Belly full of warm tea and great conversation we headed out, changing into my wellies and raincoat as the rain decided to come down.
As we drove towards our first farm Rachel highlighted the rich history of the Ormskirk farming community and some really great facts…The land was taken over by the government during the 1st and 2nd world wars, aircraft hangars built and the land tarmac for the planes. It took many years after the wars to repatriate the land and restore it to its full yield and capacity. Plenty of places around the area where you can still see the history.
Our first stop was all about carrots…..now one of my decisions was for the day was to make this a quarterly linked in with the seasons adventure, wrote a recipes of each farm and its key produce.Across the UK the seasonal timings of produce is different so for example , carrots gore earlier in the south and as the month progresses the final stop for carrots are up in Scotland – makes sense with the temperament weather but it’s just not a consideration. The main focus is buy British, buy local as much as is possible and Know your local farms it can transform the cycle but it is a movement of many that is required to restore the greengrocer ethics and support to the farmer.
So to the first Farm stop and this was Marshalls Farm and greeted by a delightful Charles who’s carrot knowledge is second to none and as with all the farmers I visited all had generational family links to each Farm, a real living and breathing family hand me down business.
Now a few facts about carrots … (Courtesy of www.britishcarrots.co.uk, yes they have their own website!)
We Brits eat our way through £290 million or 700,000 tonnes worth of carrots every year – that’s approximately 100 carrots per person.
Each year 22 billion seeds are planted in Britain, producing around 100 carrots per year for every member of the population.
The total area in Britain planted with carrots each year is 9000 ha – double the size of Holland’s carrot production area. That’s 2000 times bigger than the roof area of the new Wembley Stadium or the equivalent of 18,000 football pitches.
Scientists have estimated that by the year 2015 carrots will be the new fuel of the future with 6000 carrots needed per mile.
The World’s Longest Carrot was grown by Joe Atheron from Mansfield Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire in 2007. The carrot was measured in at 5.84 metres, over 19 foot long.
The World’s Heaviest Carrot was grown by Peter Glazebrook from Newark, Nottinghamshire in 2014 and weighed 20 pounds (9.07 kg).
If you laid all the carrots grown in this country in one year end to end they would reach 2.3 million kilometres – that’s two and a half return trips to the moon.
The ancient Greeks called the carrot “Philtron” which is derived from the word philein “to love”. They used it as a love medicine to make men more ardent and women more yielding.
According to Asian tradition whereby foods are classified as yin, yang or neutral, carrots are regarded as a yang food, known for their tendency to warm the body, tighten muscles and speed up movement
Just one medium carrot or a handful of baby carrots counts as one serving of your daily veggies- powerful little vegetable
Marshalls Farm process, grow and move carrots. Now if you like me had never considered how your carrots get to your local greengrocer as much as I should have done, this really fascinated me. Now the first thing that Rachel did warn me about ( her family grew and processed carrots for years) is the sweet smell of carrots . As we entered the yard you get overcome with the fresh earthy, sweet smell of carrots and I have to say this is not what I experience when I into a supermarket.
Now the other noticeable thing is the amount of mechanical machinery, Marshalls DO NOT use any Chemicals when they wash carrots and the carrot washing process is quite long!
There are 8 processes
- Dirty carrot loaded from trailers normally 20 tones at a time!
- Star Cleaned – this is a star-shaped brush that takes the first layer of direct off
- Pre wash – pushed through a water bath ( twice)
- Polisher this removes all the remaining dirt if any
- Grading – this can measure the carrots up to a mm specification
- Sorting – the machine is set for whatever the customer spec is and they are sorted by hand and machine
- Optical Grading – again ensuring the products is the correct specification
- Crated/ Bagged accordingly
Gradings- are set around some basics
- Pony carrots are any that do not reach any spec but are perfect a roots maybe misshapen etc but nothing wiring with them at all, historically they would have been sold but with the ridiculous specifications are now classed as sub standard
- Waste carrots any with damage, dent, and do not fit any specification
- Large as its says
- Small as its says
- On top of all this each supermarket can specify by the mm which can be accommodated to as a necessity
I think one of the things I found incomprehensible is when. Did we decide a carrot had to be perfectly carrot shaped to be acceptable to cook with ? This is one of the complexities of farming modern-day, the specifications from the large purchasers dictates what our expectation is, e need to move to buying fresh, local and even misshapen there are very few recipes that require a whole carrot as part of its aesthetic requirements.
RECIPE – Curried Carrot Soup with carrot vermicelli and leek tops
How to make this fast and quick soup.
Special equipment only is a special Julienne peeler you can but them cheaply for a couple of pounds ( or if you have the more expensive spiraliser),
- 3-4 large carrots per person or 1lb-1.5 lbs of carrots (whatever shape!)
- 1 tsp of each of these freshly ground spices: Cumin, Coriander seeds, garam masala,mustard seeds, note: curry powder is also a adequate substitute
- 3-4 tbsps of ghee ( or vegetable oil )
- Onion x 1 roughly chopped
- 1 x leek roughly chopped
- 1 x tin of coconut milk
- 1-1.5l vegetable or chicken stock ( the vegetable stock works well with the curry flavours
- leek tops ( the green bits leave them from the roughly chopped)
- 1 carrot peeled into Julienne slices
How To Make:
- Put your ghee or oil into a deep pan, put in all your spices and allow to cook off until you get the great spice smells. Watch it you dont want it burning
- Put in your chopped onion and leek ( leave the green tops for decoration later), stir into the cooked spices and then add all the carrots
- Pour in the stock and coconut milk low to cook until the carrots are super soft – up to an hour. Low simmer is fine.
- Pour in batches into a blender and blitz until smooth
- Cook the Julienne of carrots in oil shallow fry is fine, and toss finely dice the leek tops , serve on top of a your soup .
Now after Marshalls Moss Hall Farm , we drove to our next farming dynasty and this was the Neal family who had been farming in this area for over 70+ years.The Neals have had some bad luck with commercial contracts hitting them financially but this family stay loyalty to their roots (pun not intended), and continue as hard-working ethos as ever focusing on lettuce and leeks growing.
I can only say how much pride this family have in their production and produce, it really does put a lot of us to shame how hard they work, for a nominal price per product. I also got the opportunity to drive the tractor across the fields, and loved it. Put my foot down and boy those Tractors can speed along nicely with one of the comfiest seats I have ever experienced . The technology of the 21st century has been invested into all the farms we visited and Neal’s Derby farm was no exception. The tractor has a computer on board that allows them to adjust the width of the cutting, field width so they max out the produce shrinkage and gain as much yield per field as possible. The technology isn’t loved by some of the older farmer fraternity’s but its a real necessity in todays demands for maximum production.
Now one thing I was taught was about bolted or shot leeks?! Now if you like me had never heard of this its the central part of the leek that has grown and is a core, in the first 2 weeks this is delicious peppery, intense onion flavour and raw its delicious. I had the opportunity to take some bolted leek home and careted the recipe. But its got so many uses think braised with fennel, chilli and garlic with lemon honey or braised in a stock till tender and then sautéed in butter with pepper. It really has got so many connotations im going to keep using it and making new recipes. This one is so delicious and quick use of the bolted leeks.
Recipe – Bolted Leek (and Radish) Hummus
Hummus is a great all round recipe and you can make as much of this as you like or as i did a huge batch and we munched our way through it for a week!
Equipment– no special equipment, basic and a blender
- 1 tin of organic chickpeas in water ( always get the ones in water)
- Tahini paste – if you go to a health store you can buy smaller quantities of this per tin you need 4 large tablespoons
- 3-4 cloves of garlic finely diced or minced garlic 3 tbsps (find this in the world food sections or any asian supermarket
- 3-4 bolted leeks (per 1 tin of chickpeas) roughly chopped ( leaving one for decoration)
- 2-3 radish and one extra for decoration
- 1 x shallot or small red onion
- Good quality oil about 500 ml
- 4-5 tbsps water
- ghee, butter or oil about 2-3 tbsps
How to make:
- Put all the ingredients excluding the oil and water into the blender ( leaving one leek and 1 radish for later)
- Blitz until smooth or coarse whichever you like it, I like it smooth with the bolted leek
- With the blender on low-speed add the oil and water and blend until fully mixed through
- Store in a dish
- Make the topping by cooking off the onion, leek, and radish until soft and put on top of the hummus
The final visit of the day was to Ascroft Farm owned by the Ascroft Family, well-known if you shop at Booths supermarkets as they display photographs of their producers, and they look at you approvingly as you peruse their wares!
Ascroft crops of choice are potatoes, beetroot and cauliflowers. We saw the storage facilities of the potatoes and beetroot as it wasnt cauliflower season going back for that one!
Now we learnt some new things about beetroot and storage of them
If you see mounds in the fields after a beetroot harvest , the best way to manage the quantities and freshness for longer is to stockpile the beetroot in the soil itself. This is a very traditional way of making sure maximum yield is gained from each crop and the quality remains.
Now I haven’t written a recipe for this one as the farm have created their own salad dish which will be able to purchase soon enough. We taste tested it and its fabulous a clean fresh and zingy salad addition or just on its own, delicious . Look our for this when you are shopping.
Our day ended after Ascroft visits and talk of us doing a pop-up in the greenhouses using the local crops, still in talks about this one! So watch this space.
The day was an absolute success, a delightful foray into a community that is so dedicated to its cause and produce. I learnt so much, met amazing people and am going back for each season – try to stop me! The overwheming thing is the knowledge, the effort, the graft and the overall dedication these farming families put into making the best produce and getting it to our tables.
Really brings it home the impact of the global supermarkets and the positive impact we can make by shopping local, getting to know our farmers and really eating GREAT produce and the biggest bonus its cheaper and fresher why wouldnt you?