Church Farm Ardeley

A Free Range Experience


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Rik’s note

The picture below shows a selection of vegetables which are collectively known as summer squash. One of these will be very familiar; the courgette or zucchino has been a widely used summer and autumn vegetable in this country for many years.

The marrow, which has a still longer heritage of use in Britain, is really the same species as the courgette, but is stripey with a more rotund form, and is traditionally allowed to grow to a large size with a harder skin. The others, however, seem to lead to a little confusion and provoke extraordinary cries of “weird!”, or “hippy food!”. At the bottom of the picture are a few types of “patty pan” or scallop squash.

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These are really variants of the same plant as the courgette and marrow and differ only in their shapes and colours. Another kind is the crookneck which, as the name suggests, has a curved “crook” at the point where the fruit attaches to the plant. They can all be used in the same way as courgettes, but the different shapes and colours can provide more variety and interest. Summer squashes are all harvested when young, small and tender, before the rind has hardened. This distinguishes them from the winter squashes, which are allowed to fully develop and ripen before harvest.

This year we have grown three types of courgette to offer more variety of colour and pattern. We have a pale skinned “Genovese” type, the dark green “Nero di Milano”, “Goldrush”, a gorgeous yellow skinned variety, and lastly “Tiger Cross”, with its distinctive light and dark longitudinal stripes. This is usually grown as a marrow but can be picked young as a courgette, when I think it’s much nicer to eat anyway. Of course, some of the Tiger Cross will be allowed to mature into marrows. Try the small patty pans steamed or roasted whole, sliced in a lasagne, or stuffed and baked with a filling of your choice. Just a funny shaped courgette, they’re not so weird after all.


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Hawk Tales

My friend and colleague Lizzy (she works in the café and shop, really lovely girl, always up for a natter), shared a brilliant story with me the other day as we were driving alongBlind Laneback to the Farm.

Now, being fairly obsessed with all things nature orientated, I have spent a lot of time scouring the skies and the ground for wee beasties, feathered friends and all manner of plant life (yes, I am often mocked for getting excited over what are essentially, weeds, but hey we all need something to keep us out of trouble).

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) adult male perched on post. UK.

When it comes to British birds of prey, I get particularly enthusiastic. Few images are more breathtaking than watching a golden eagle soar over the highlands. Here in Hertfordshire, we have red kites and buzzards, both of which have exactly the same effect for me. Watching them soar is like being transported to another world….

Anyway, back to reality here on terra firma. Lizzy has seen something which I have never seen in all my years of birding escapades. She got to see a sparrow hawk! And not just a fleeting glimpse as it springs out from the trees, talons extended, and makes off with a squawking blue tit in a puff of feathers, oh no. This sparrow hawk actually flew along the car she was in with our other dear friend Becs, and travelled with the car! Do you have any idea how long I have sat in hides, binoculars trained on the feeder, waiting for the chance to see one of these devils?! The two girls actually got a good enough look to have time to argue about what it was before the bird flew off!

Sometimes life is unfair. And yes I need to get out more.

These resident birds of prey are quite small, adapted as they are for eating, you guessed it, sparrows and other small passerines (a passerine is essentially any bird that perches, so pretty much all the birds in your garden). The males have beautiful plumage, a kind of grey blue with brown bars all down his white chest. They are doing well in this country, with around 40,000 breeding pairs, and sadly as a result, some ‘environmentalists’ try to blame healthy sparrow hawk numbers for the decline in song bird populations. Believe me, if you compare the number of kills between a sparrow hawk and your average domestic moggy, you will soon see what is causing the problem for song bird populations! (and its not the sparrow hawk).

I shall keep a close eye out whilst driving around the countryside, and hopefully will get a chance to see this agile beautiful little bird myself. Wish me luck!


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Trout and Beetroot Salad

What a thunder storm is cooking up today! Unfortunately, it remains sticky and muggy; not the best weather for cooking a warming meal in which is what our horticulture team are looking forward to tonight.

Perhaps they would prefer this offering. Church farm beetroot is being picked and tasting delightful, and is far more versatile than many consumers give it credit for. Boiled, pickled, roasted, fried, you can do pretty much anything with this vegetable, and it always adds a bright burst of colour to the plate.

I often cook beetroot with lamb as part of a roasted veg side dish, but today, I am going to share with you readers a little secret. Beetroot in a salad. And not just any salad. This salad has gorgeous things such as smoked trout, horseradish, and watercress. This is my adaptation of a Jamie Oliver recipe, and its one of my secret tricks at dinner parties. Quick, nutritious, and really tasty.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag watercress
  • 4 small Church Farm beetroot
  • 1 packet cooked smoked trout
  • Small pot of natural yogurt
  • Horseradish cream
  • Balsamic vinegar

I haven’t been specific with the amounts here, as it very much depends on your taste buds for vinegar and horseradish, as well as how many you are serving.

Simply dress your watercress in a little olive oil and lemon juice. Mix together the natural yogurt and a couple of spoonfuls of horseradish cream; you want the yogurt to have a good kick but its really up to you how much you put it. Break up your trout into large flakes, add to the yogurt mix and give it a good stir so the flakes are all well covered.

Meanwhile, boil your beets for about 20 – 30 minutes until a knife slips in easily. Drain, and allow to cool until you can handle them. Peel off the skin, and slice thinly. Dress them in a little balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

Lay your dressed beets onto the watercress, and add your trout mix. Add a final flourish of olive oil and serve with flat breads. Enjoy!


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Hedgerow Bounty

Thursday’s warm afternoon brought a welcome treat; helping our resident Jam Maker Sue Ganderton pick blackberries for her latest home made Church Farm preserve.

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Blackberries were the name of the game, and picking these little onyx jewels really is one of life’s simple pleasures. Although there was a gauntlet of stinging nettles to be run, my tub was full (mostly), my belly was full (definitely), and I was able to work on my tan and enjoy good company all at the same time (blackberry picking is kind of like the farm girls version of a chat over a latte, gives you a chance to catch up on the gossip but doesn’t require Jimmy Choos or a pencil skirt and matching suit jacket).

You can get a really good crop from the brambles that run along Vicarage field at the moment, and the fruits are ripening readily, providing a glut of sugary goodness for birds, insects, and humans alike. As well as the wild berries on the hedgerow, we also cultivate blackberries in our soft fruits patch on Church Farm. Rik the grower propagates around 3 different types of blackberries, and these are much larger and less round in shape than the wild variety. Very soon they will be available in our fruit boxes for our lucky box customers!

The fruits of mine and Sue’s labour will be stewed and bubbled into delicious blackberry jam. Sue has been working on the farm for around 3 months now as an intern, and has produced all sorts of jams and chutneys which are sold in our Farm Store (and they are all more than rather good, I can assure you, the strawberry jam is my favourite). Come to the store or café and sample some of Sue’s produce, she is also a dab hand at making cakes!


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Rik’s note

Cucumbers are now spilling out of polytunnel 2 at the rate of fifty a day. These are about the only vegetable I don’t like to eat; there is something about their flavour, aroma and texture that I’ve always found unappetising. Yet they are beautiful plants and a joy to grow and harvest, so I suppose I should be thankful that somebody likes them.

Cucumbers are plants of the cucurbit family, related to pumpkins, squashes, courgettes, marrows and melons. They originated in India more than 3000 years ago, but nowadays they are among the most widely cultivated vegetable crops on Earth, fourth only behind tomatoes, cabbages and onions. Their habit is one of a creeping vine with grasping tendrils. Provided with vertical strings as they are in our polytunnel, they will happily climb upwards to present their fruits as green cylindrical pendulums, otherwise they would become an unmanageable sprawl where many of the fruits would go unnoticed and become overgrown. We are growing several varieties this year as usual. Some are “mini” types about 15 -20 cm (6 – 8 inches) in length, whereas others are the longer kind familiar to supermarket shoppers, where they often come shrink-wrapped in plastic (ugh!).

We also have some old fashioned types with a prickly skin. This is quite normal, the prickles are easily removed by scrubbing or rubbing, and many connoisseurs insist these types have a superior flavour. Finally we have the most unusual “Crystal Lemon”. With its round shape and deep yellow colour, it’s something a bit different for the salad drawer in your fridge. It’s said to have a sweetish flavour all its own and children love them. Also in polytunnel 2 we are growing the cucumber’s sweet little sister, melon, about which more later…


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Cucumber Soup

Welcome to the new recipe corner showcasing the lovely produce that we deliver to our dear vegetable box customers! Here you will find all sorts of culinary delights to wow your friends with, showcasing a different vegetable from our veg boxes each week.

As a keen cook, I enjoy concocting recipes and playing around with flavour combinations, and the Church Farm Box Scheme options offer all sorts of opportunities for developing recipes and trying out new ideas. Our horticulture team are doing a sterling job at the moment, and there is so much fresh produce available, my pots and pans are going into overdrive.

It has been so so hot this week, I have had little desire to eat anything heavy or sit in a hot kitchen for any period of time stirring and chopping. On the back of Rik’s ‘Note From the Grower’ on cucumbers, and the fact that we have a glut of cucumbers on the farm at the moment (they are growing like mad), I thought it would be fun to do something other than chop them up to add to salad.

Chilled soup sounded like the perfect solution, and after running around a farm all day, this bowl of refreshment was a real treat. This is an adaptation of Vivianne Farre’s recipe on her E magazine Food & Style.

Ingredients:

  • 1kg cucumbers
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 onion
  • Half a red chilli
  • Handful of mint leaves
  • A cup of water or vegetable stock
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • 170ml natural yoghurt

Method:
Blitz the cucumbers, garlic, onion, chilli, and mint in a food processor until chopped up fine. Add the yogurt, lemon juice, and a little of the water. Keep blitzing until you have a nice smooth texture, adding water if necessary to thin it out. Season with salt and pepper to taste (you might not need to do this if you have used stock).


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Early last week, we took over the stewardship of a small troop of beautiful black Aberdeen Angus cross calves.

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In’t they cute!

As part of the expanding livestock programme both here at Church Farm, and at our sister site Aldenham Country Park, Tim Waygoodand his colleagues plan to introduce 2 new cattle breeds for beef production. As well as the Aberdeen Angus, Hereford calves will also be brought in and reared. This builds on the current rare breed beef herds of Red Poll cattle here at Church Farm and the Long Horn Cattle at Aldenham Country Park, offering customers an even greater breadth of choice and variety of flavour for their steaks and Sunday roasts.

The Aberdeen Angus breed was developed from the black cattle of North East Scotland in the early part of the 19th century, and is now considered to be one of the best beef breeds in the world. The meat is naturally highly marbled, and it is this threading fat running through the meat which gives Aberdeen Angus beef its reputation for being so tender.

Grass fed Angus cattle are also far superior in flavour, and on Church Farm this is exactly the sort of diet that are new charges will get to experience. Church Farm pasture is rich in a wide variety of plants including clovers, chicory and many different grass types, offering a mix of vitamins and minerals that make for healthier happier cattle and a fuller, deeper flavoured cut of beef.

At only a week old, our 7 little girls will be on milk for a while yet before they get to frolic in the big fields, but right now you can come and visit them whenever you want! We are open 7 days a week between 09:00am and 17:00pm; come and see our girls growing up and take part in Church Farm’s new and exciting venture.

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