Church Farm Ardeley

A Free Range Experience


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Humour in Wing-ed Form

Well, summer is at an end again it seems; I’m still not entirely sure that it started, but the constant rain and the fact that I NEED to have the heating on in the evenings is a definite hint that whatever it was, it is definitely over.

Now, this weeks sighting is not strictly true wildlife, but there are so many running around at the moment, and they are a quintessential part of the British countryside. And they make me laugh.

Pheasants! Or to be specific, the common or ring necked pheasant. Never was there a more daft nor tasty introduced wing-ed thing to this country. Actually the jury is out on the tasty part, but you can’t beat pheasant curry. Trust me, I work on a farm.

Pheasants are a game bird, and they have all been released in readiness for the shooting season which begins on October 1st. Here in Ardeley, shooting is quite a popular hobby, with many a gentleman (or a lady) frequenting the jolly waggoner’s after a fine day with the guns (I have no idea if any one that shoots says that, but it sounds good doesn’t it?). These birds were introduced way back in Roman times, and have settled down very well despite the stark differences between soggy England and their native home on the Asian grasslands. As a relatively plump bird they are relatively useless fliers, preferring to run from danger, normally in a straight line, looking over their shoulder at the approaching car, and performing no evasive manoeuvres to get out of the way.

But, despite the comical value, the cock birds are very beautiful when fully grown. If they survive their first year, pheasants are very capable and well adapted to British farmland, feeding on invertebrates and roosting in the hedgerows and woodland patches that lie adjacent to farmer’s fields. On the farm, we seem to have a special kind of pheasant. Normally they look like this.

pheasant

Ours look like this.

melanistic-pheasant

Isn’t he handsome! These are melanistic mutants; not quite as scary as it sounds. Basically, any dark pigment in thier plumage is over developed, and this gets passed on through the genes to the pheasants offspring. Which I guess is why there are so many of these particular pheasants on the farm; chicks don’t tend to stray too far from where they were hatched. They are quite tame as well, and if you sit quietly at dusk, the male whose territory is in vicarage field will come pretty close to you, chiriping away and looking at you as if he is deciding whether or not you are any good to eat. Hopefully, he will survive another shooting season and go on to father more deep glossy blue green chicks.


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Rik’s note

Well into autumn now but there’s still lots of sowing and growing that can be done at this time. I decided to grow next year’s onion crop from autumn sown seed rather than spring planted sets, (planting sets is cheating really isn’t it? The job’s been half done by someone else!), and these have been sown in August.

The seedlings are already well under way. It takes a bit of extra tender loving care, but excellent results can be achieved by growing onions this way. Also it’s a lot cheaper, and a wider range of cultivars are available as seed. Alternatively seeds can be sown in heat early in the cropping year, (January – February), to give the new seedlings time to attain a creditable size before harvest.

Broad beans can be sown now also, perhaps delayed until early October. You can sow them directly into a well prepared bed, or raise them in 3 inch (9cm) pots for planting out later. Autumn sown broad beans often fare better than their spring sown counterparts, though they will struggle in the extreme cold we’ve experienced in some recent winters. Be sure to select a cultivar suited to overwintering, such as Aquadulce or The Sutton Dwarf.

Peas also lend themselves to sowing in autumn, though again the correct types must be chosen. Any round seeded variety such as Meteor or Feltham First are good choices. Wrinkle-seeded types are generally good only for spring and summer sowings. Both peas and beans must be protected from birds and rodents, both of which can cause havoc with the newly sown seeds or young plants. Spring cabbages which we have sown in August can be transplanted to their cropping positions now, though we will harden them off outside for a while first. These should provide loose spring greens from April next year, and hearted cabbages later on.

If you’re dead keen, an early crop of cauliflower such as “Snowball” can be sown in the first half of October and overwintered to harvest in June next year.

Part two of autumn growing next week.


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Alistair’s Rural Care Update

The last few weeks have been very busy for Rural Care, including being given the chance to try our hand at sheep herding. This was to help gather the flock so that they could be given important vaccinations. The co-farmers worked really well as a team and enjoyed the experience, showing that the co-farmers are very able when adapting to new jobs. Along with this we have been picking shallots and continuing to dig potatoes, all helping towards the harvest, very important work this time of year!
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We are also very pleased to welcome two new members of staff to the Rural Care team, who are joining in preparation for the new school and college year. Ron Ward previously supported one of our regular co-farmers, and liked the farm so much he applied for a full time job! We are also very lucky to welcome Ray Banks, who comes with great experience having previously worked as Deputy Head of The Valley School inStevenage. They have both been getting stuck in to work on the farm and we hope they really enjoy their time here.

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Rik’s note

New to the boxes, shop and salad mixes this week is komatsuna, a deliciously spicy oriental leaf also known as mustard spinach. It’s actually a variant of the wild turnip, but has a flavour similar to pak choi or Chinese cabbage.

Komatsuna

The young, small leaves are tender enough to make them an excellent salad ingredient, providing a stronger, slightly spicy alternative to the lettuce. As they mature, the leaves toughen slightly and darken in colour, and the flavour becomes stronger and hotter.

At this stage they become a superb alternative cooking green. Steamed quickly like spinach, stir fried, or boiled and added to soups and stews, this is a valuable and versatile leafy green vegetable, well suited to growing in our relatively cool temperate climate.

It grows best in the autumn or spring, as it dislikes the heat of midsummer. Not that it would have been too bothered by the summer we’ve just had. There is a red variety of komatsuna which does tolerate the warmer months, allowing it to be grown all year round if desired.

Komatsuna is tasty and nutritious, the leaves being good sources of vitamin C, A, B, E and K, and minerals such as iron, phosphorus, calcium and potassium. We try to provide something a bit different at Church Farm from time to time, as well as the conventional stuff. I do hope that the more unusual vegetables are welcome and appreciated.


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Green Bean and Shallot Stir Fry

I am so pleased that we have Church Farm shallots available for the boxes now. I am quite a new comer to this member of the onion family; I was always put off by their small size and peeling onions is really not one of my favourite things. In the past, I have just bashed them up to add to stews; some shallots have a really robust flavour and form great partnerships with red meats such as beef and venison.

Shallots are sometimes confused with onions, thought to be younger versions of the big bulbs so readily available in the supermarkets. Pink shallots tend to be milder in flavour and larger in size, and have amazing names such as ‘banana shallot’, whereas the round brown bulbs with their multitude of papery skin layers tend to be a lot smaller and stronger, with a greyer tinge to their skin. Don’t let this put you off though, grey food can taste delicious!

Our shallots look like mini onion sets in some cases; this is really part of the joy of organic farming. In all the portions I have prepared for boxes, I don’t think I had one shallot that looked the same. Some were big, some small, some wiggly in shape. All grown with love and care and not one damn chemical amongst the lot. Fantastic.

Recently, I have been using shallots in salad dressings, and this was very much what I wanted to try with our Church Farm shallots. Shallots are far more pleasant to eat raw than onions, and they can be sliced so thinly, maintaining a lovely crispness and adding a sweet depth of flavour to a dressing. One of the more famous ways to eat raw shallot is with a freshly shucked oyster kept on ice. I love these. Known as sauce mignonette, the variation that I am most familiar with is made with diced shallot, sherry vinegar, white vinegar, crushed pepper, and a little salt and sugar. Simply dump a spoonful onto your oyster, and knock the whole thing back. Delicious.

Sadly, I cannot afford oysters, so I decided to make a healthy Asian dish using my shallots. I really enjoy stir fries at the best of times, and this one has a lovely kick and is full of green things for texture and taste.

Ingredients

  • Bunch of green beans
  • Bunch of radishes sliced (or, use your black radish that you may have gotten in your box!)
  • Red chilli, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 garlic cloves thinly sliced
  • 3 -5 shallots thinly sliced (according to how big they are)
  • Good splash of rice wine
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Bunch of coriander

Method:

Heat some groundnut oil, and stir fry your beans and garlic over a high heat for 3 minutes. Add the radishes and chilli and cook for another minute. Mix the shallots with the rice wine in a bowl and season well with salt and pepper, add to the stir fry and stir for around a minute. Squeeze over the lime and add the coriander. Serve with noodles. You can add chicken or beef to this recipe if you like, or keep it veggie. It all works!

When you get your shallots, keep them dry and cool in the cupboard, and they will last for several weeks.


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Rik’s note

Some of the box customers will be receiving something that they might not recognise this week. These are winter radishes; the Oriental “mooli” or “daikon”, and the “Black Spanish Round”.

The mooli resembles a large, smooth parsnip with a snow white colour of skin and flesh. The black Spanish has a dark skin, like scorched wood, but a pure white interior. Winter radishes differ from the more well known small red radishes used in salads, as they can grow to a large size without becoming woody, and can be cooked as well as used raw.

mooli

As a raw salad vegetable, grated or sliced thinly and mixed with leaves and other ingredients, they have a mild spicy kick to their flavour. The mooli is milder flavoured than the black Spanish. But they both can be stir-fried, casseroled, used in soups, or roasted like swedes or turnips. They lose their heat when cooked, but develop a marvellous, strong, pungent flavour in the process.

Radishes were among the earliest cultivated vegetables in human history, and large radishes such as these predated the more familiar small red radish. The earliest radishes of all had a black skin like the BSR; the white and red varieties being cultivated later. Our mooli aren’t quite as handsome as the ones in the picture; our soil is too heavy and stony to achieve that perfect length and shape, but the flavour and nutrition (packed with vitamin C) are the same.

Later in the year we’ll be able to present you with a third type of winter radish, the “China Rose”, which has a long tapering form and a gorgeous, scarlet red skin. Try these links for some recipe ideas.

http://www.jamieoliver.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=53471

http://www.cookitsimply.com/mooli.html


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Marvellous Mooli Paratha

Mooli. Not a vegetable that one is particularly familiar with. For starters it is white, and I’m not terribly convinced by any vegetable that is just white (its just not overly exciting looking is it?). Secondly, they do tend to look like they are going to spring into life and start walking around like something out of Walt Disney’s Fantasia; all those limb like nobbly appendages, it’s a little unnerving.

Mooli is a form of giant radish that is also known as a Daikon. These radishes are grown and used widely in cusines acrossAsia. They are used in pickles, stir frys, salads, and are a principle ingredient in turnip cake (wow, cake made from turnip, imagine the possibilities!) There are many different types that come in many different shapes and sizes; if you want to grow your own, the variety Long White Icicle (this veg just gets better and better) does very well here, coping well in conditions similar to that needed for normal red British radish. It has a mild peppery flavour, and is high in Vitamin C, and so is a really good addition to salads for that extra health kick.

When you receive your mooli, trim off the green sprouts from the top as this diverts moisture away from the radish itself and will dry it out. They will keep for up to 7 days in your fridge, but you can also freeze them. Simply blanch the mooli before freezing, where it will keep quite happily for a few months.

So, what to cook with our mooli? I have never used this vegetable before, so I scoured the internet for a little inspiration. I didn’t want to roast it, as that tends to be my automatic response with any veg that I have never eaten before that looks like it could be roasted. I soon discovered that mooli is used widely in Indian cooking, which made me a very happy cook. I love Indian food; it can take a while to prepare, but the results are always worth it.

Here is an amended recipe for a stuffing for parathas from http://www.indianfoodforever.com/punjabi/mooli-parantha.html. Parathas are Indian breads, they are really easy to make and I really recommend you give them a go. Simply take a cup of wheat flour, add a little salt and a tablespoon of oil, and add water as necessary to make a dough. You want a stiff rather than a sticky dough, just add enough water so that you can handle it and shape it into balls (the kids will have great fun with this bit).

For the stuffing you need:

  • 1 grated mooli
  • Cumin powder (1 teaspoon)
  • Mild chilli powder (to taste)
  • 1 finely chopped green chilli
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped coriander leaves
  • Garam masala powder (1 teaspoon)
  • Turmeric powder (1 teaspoon)

Method:

Peel and grate your mooli and squeeze out the water. Heat some oil in a pan, and fry off your green chilli. Add your mooli and the spices, and continue to fry. Finally add the coriander leaves, and keep frying until the mixture is dry (about 5 minutes in total)

Cool down the stuffing, and then roll into balls. Take a ball of your dough the same size as the stuffing balls, and roll out into a flat bread big enough to wrap around your stuffing ball. Place the stuffing ball in the centre of the bread, and fold over the stuffing so that it is encased in the dough. Roll the dough / stuffing combo out again into a flat bread. Fry the bread in a little oil until it has browned on both sides. Serve with raita or pickle.

Another neat idea that I found was raw mooli dipped in hummous. It was amazing! Definitely recommend!