Church Farm Ardeley

A Free Range Experience


Leave a comment

Chicken and Jerusalem Artichoke Pie

Now, when one thinks of delicious roasted veg, the Jerusalem artichoke is not necessarily what one would automatically come up with. These knobbly, lumpy, funny looking things are not exactly appetising in appearance, look like they would be a nightmare to peel, and all in all can leave one feeling a little uninspired when you see them dried up and dishevelled at the bottom of the cupboard.

These were my sentiments until I was introduced again to Mr Jerusalem this week. Our grower Rik, came in with a crate of freshly dug, dusky pink and pearly peach, misshaped lovelies on Thursday morning, and I must say I was very impressed. I never thought that the words “they look lovely!” would pass through my lips whilst looking at a root vegetable, but they did, and with much gusto.

These plants belong to the sunflower family, and its only the succulent tubers that are eaten. Other fun names include sunchoke and my favourite, earth apple. They are native to North America, and were brought over toEuropeby a French Explorer who described them as ‘tasting like artichokes’. This may well be the reason for the name, despite the Jerusalem artichoke being a sunflower! As far as nutrition is concerned, these roots are very rich in a carbohydrate called inulin. This substance encourages the natural bacteria in the gut, and so promotes digestive health, with the added humorous and anti social effects associated with intestinal movements! Maybe this is why not everybody likes them…

So, what to do with these delights! Soup and roasted are the most common ways to cook these roots, but look what I found: chicken and Jerusalem artichoke pie!! This is my adaptation from a recipe on the bbc food website.

Ingredients:

  • Butter for frying
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 white onion
  • Two handfuls of button mushrooms
  • 500gJerusalemartichokes, peeled and chopped into chunks
  • 2 springs of thyme
  • 150ml white wine
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • 700g boneless chicken thighs
  • Plain flour to thicken
  • Ready made puff pastry
  • Egg wash

Method:

Melt the butter with a little oil to stoop it burning (I use a big knob of butter, but its up to you really). Gently fry the onion and the garlic until soft. Add the mushrooms and artichokes, fry for another minute and then add the wine. Cook until the wine is well reduced. Sprinkle over a little flour (about 2 tablespoons) and add the stock slowly, stirring to make a sauce. Add the chicken and thyme, season with salt and pepper, cover, and leave to cook for around 10 minutes. Give it a stir, then transfer to a large casserole pot.

Roll out the pastry quite thinly, and lay the sheet over the pie filling, trimming off the edges so that it fits. Stick a hole in the top to let the steam out. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees, eggwash the pastry and pop in the oven for about 15 minutes. When the pastry is golden brown, reduce the heat to 190 degrees and cook for a further 25 minutes until cooked through and piping hot.


Leave a comment

Sauteed Komatsuna with Basil

Ok, so I was going to do parsnips this week as it is the first time this year that we have been able to include them in the boxes. This is a huge excitement for me, I love parsnips, and organic ones just smell and taste so much better!

But, after chatting to some of our lovely customers about the stranger items present in the box, I realised that I had overlooked something.

Please welcome to the stage: Komatusna greens! These beautiful waxy green leaves have been in the boxes for a while now, but for some reason it never occurred to me to cook them. In winter months, I tend to avoid stir fries and cook more filling, fatty comfort foods, but this week I am in need of a vitamin fix. And these greens are just so attractive, with their deep colour and lovely paddle shape. They look like some sort of exotic, vegetable based fan, you know, the ones they used in the olden days to cool down emperors and such like in the heat of the day.

I digress. So, for us lay folk, komatsuna is a leafy form of a wild turnip. We grow quite a lot of it on the farm because it is just so hardy, nothing can kill this plant apart from the harshest of weathers. So, despite our freak weather systems this year, our komatsuna crop has done wonderfully!

I found this recipe on a lady’s blog called chubby bunny recipes. It’s a lovely website, go and check it out. This involves sautéing komatsuna with basil, something that would never have occurred to me and so I was really keen to try. I served the sautéed greens with a simply tomato and red onion salad, and a hunk of freshly baked bread, for a light and healthy lunch.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot thinly sliced
  • 50g pine nuts
  • 200g komatsuna leaves
  • 2 cups whole basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan over a high heat, and put to one side. Fry the garlic and shallot in the olive oil and a little bit of butter, until softened. Slice the komatsuna leaves and add to the pan, with a splash of water to help them cook down and become tender. Stir in the basil leaves until they have just wilted. Serve straight away.

You can also use komatsuna in salads, as a braised veg, or in pickling! When you receive your greens, pop them in the fridge and use as soon as possible to retain maximum freshness.


Leave a comment

Tricksy Wiley Foes

What could I be talking about? No, its not Oscar the dog on the hunt for table scraps in the Garden Room of our lovely Café. Nor is it one of the livestock team pinching yet another tea bag from the interns.

I am talking about foxes. Tricksy, wiley, foxes. Recently, around 80 of our laying chickens were, literally, massacred (there simply isn’t a better word for it) by a single nasty red coated beasty. Now, I am not one to criticise the instincts of a predatory animal. One it would be hypocritical (just ask my boyfriend) and two, a fox has got to eat, and a chicken makes a tasty meal.

Unfortunately, fox behaviour does lean towards the unnecessarily blood thirsty at time. 79 of these chickens were simply killed. Only one was taken. The rest, left behind as a macabre gift for our livestock team to discover in the morning.

This behaviour, described as ‘surplus killing’, only happens in un natural situations such as hen houses. Foxes naturally kill more than they can eat in one sitting if possible, so that they can bury the rest for later. If the prey cannot escape however, this ‘surplus killing’ takes place. Basically its just the hunting instinct gone into overdrive, the fox taking advantage of having so much prey available. This is not the fox killing for pleasure, just a fox being a fox, so please don’t think that one of our top mammalian predator is a blood crazed lunatic.

They are actually quite shy animals in the countryside. Young foxes will often be more eager to approach humans because they are naturally more curious, just like any young pup. Foxes are solitary by nature, but are becoming more personable in urban areas as many friendly households like to feed their neighbourhood fox. This is a good thing, whilst foxes are not endangered in this country, they are nonetheless a very beautiful and charming wildlife member. Few people remember their first encounter with a fox without a smile on their face. Mine personally was pretty dramatic; this fox was huge! It was like walking upon a scarlet German shepherd! And his eyes; huge yellow orbs that just stared at you, calm as day, no fear what so ever. He was a gorgeous animal, and I haven’t seen another fox as impressive.

Hopefully the Church Farm fox won’t decide to go into the chicken coup again; as a farm, we have to protect our livestock which doesn’t have a happy ending for the fox. Still, with around 300,000 foxes in rural Britain today, I am sure that if its not the same fox, another will soon show up.


Leave a comment

Rik’s note

Coming soon to Church Farm boxes and in the store: Dried Borlotti Beans!!

Borlotti beans, also known as cranberry beans, are off-white beans with red markings. When you can find them fresh they come in large beige and red pods with colors that resemble the dried beans. In the shell the borlotti’s bright colored pods make a festive table accent. The shell is inedible, but the borlotti beans inside are a culinary treat. Nutty in flavour with a creamy texture, borlotti are popular in Italian and Portuguese cusine. In fact, many of the borlotti sold inItalyare cranberry beans imported from the U.S.
berlottis
Dried Borlotti beans are more readily available than fresh and have a much longer shelf life. Fresh borlotti beans should be used within a week or so, but the dried variety will keep as long as other types of dried beans. Dried borlotti can be soaked overnight and then simmered under water or stock with vegetables and/or meat. When cooked the beans will lose some of their bright markings and turn a light brown color. Their meaty, chestnut flavour make borlotti a wonderful main dish and a perfect side dish. Not particularly sweet, the beans can be tossed with olive oil and your choice of spices. The next time you’re feeling adventurous, but not wanting to take too big a risk, try borlotti beans! Borlotti make an excellent cold bean salad; soak for at least 8 hours and cook them as you would any other dried bean (boil hard for ten minutes, then simmer for approx. 30 – 45 minutes), and then toss them with olive oil and a little Italian salad dressing, or lemon and herbs.

For more recipes:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/search?keywords=borlotti beans


Leave a comment

Celeriac Remoulade

It’s that time of year again ladies and gents. Early Autumn and celeriac! The ugliest, knobbliest, vegetable of them all. But don’t let the appearance put you off, these are without a doubt one of the tastiest roots around. It comes from the celery family (which makes sense as another name for this veg is celery root) and if you smell it, the scent is very similar to that of its green crunchy cousin. In flavour, celeriac tastes quite mild and nutty, and it’s also quite sweet. As a result, for a lighter alternative to potato mash, celeriac is an excellent choice. Just add gallons of cream, butter, salt and pepper, and you’re away!

When you don’t douse your celeriac in butter and cream, its very good for you, containing important nutrients such as potassium, vitamin C and iron. When you receive your celeriac in your veg box, make sure you keep it cool and in the dark. Being a root vegetable, these are the conditions it prefers. If you are keeping it in the fridge, it will last for around 1-2 weeks.

So, long lasting, nutritious, what else about this wondrous lump of ugly. Well celeriac is really very versatile. You can roast it, boil and mash it as I have mentioned, slice it thinly and add to salads, turn it into soup. It really is a marvellous veg. This is a recipe for celeriac remoulade, a classic winter salad that is very popular inFrancebut not so easy to get hold of here. I love it, but then I love anything crunchy covered in cream.

  • Peel and shred a medium sized celeriac, so that they are about as thick as a matchstick.
  • Toss them in the juice of half a lemon
  • Mix together 4 tablespoons of good quality mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of smooth Dijon mustard, and 2 tablespoons of crème fraiche
  • Add a small handful of chopped parsley to the mix, and stir well
  • Season with salt and pepper, and fold into the celeriac matchsticks.
  • Serve with nice thick slices of Church Farm rare breed ham


Leave a comment

Is it a duckling? Is it a piglet? No! It’s a hedgehog!

Hedgehogs, or indeed, hedgepigs (no this isn’t a real word, just an overly cutesy and daft alternative to the correct title of this particular mammal) are amongst the favourites of British wildlife moments.

I mean there is nothing to not like really is there. They are cute, they aren’t fluffy, but they roll into a ball if something that they don’t like apporaches (trust me, sometimes I wish I could roll into a ball when something that I don’t like approaches!), they can wiggle their nose with the best of them, and they are walking spine cushions. Seriously, its all the amazement of nature in one round, spikey, outrageously ridiculous package.

Now, I hadn’t yet seen a hedgehog since my arrival, but I had been assured that they were about, nosing around the caravans in caravan land and making a racket so terrible that one was led to have circumspect thoughts as to what behaviour was being witnessed. My friend Liz who manages the facebook page and website, shared a couple of disturbing stories with me that I have chosen to block from my mind, but needless to say, I was pretty confident that we had entire hedgepig families on the farm.

Coupled with Rik the grower complaining about the amount of hedgehog scat all over his plants, I became fairly confident of a seeing these notorious insectivores. And indeed the time had come! Sitting outside my trailer on a cold and clear autumn night last week, I was startled by a terrible scraping sound just the other side of the fence. Now, there isn’t that much distance between myself and the fence, and after a pint of cider, one’s imagination can go into overdrive a little (full moon, spooky farm, boyfriend dressed all in black and throwing shadows everywhere with just his voice emanating from the gloom, see where I’m coming from?)

So, whilst I’m desperately trying to get my beloved to stop laughing at me as I creep ninja style towards the scraping (curiosity always gets the better of me) to discover the cause, however scary it may be, I was relieved, indeed happy, to see the familiar sillohette of a roly poly hedgepig. Said hedgepig was busy pulling his or her body under the wire fence into Home field, where he or she trotted merrily through the grass, snuffling away, getting on with hedgepig business.

Having hedgehogs is a great thing for the farm. First, they eat slugs! As an organic farm, we rely on natural predators to deal with these horrible slimy leaf munchers, so we need all the hedgehogs we can get. Secondly, the numbers of British hedgehogs have dropped by 25% in 10 years! This is a travesty! Please visit http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/ to see how you can help our hedgehogs, because they are delightful animals and is so sad that like so many other native creatures, they are going into decline. Wildlife friendly farms such as Church Farm have a huge role to play in creating suitable habitats for British Wildlife, so if you don’t fancy having hedgehogs in your garden, you can come and enjoy a Church Farm breakfast or buy some Church Farm sausages, supporting your neighbouring hedgehogs instead!


Leave a comment

Rik’s note

Making a welcome return to our salad mixes this week are claytonia (winter purslane) and corn salad, or lamb’s lettuce. However, there is a very pleasing aspect to their appearance from the gardener’s point of view. The plants yielding those succulent and healthy leaves were not planted directly by ourselves.

They have occurred in polytunnel 2, amongst the cucumber plants. Here we grew claytonia and corn salad during last winter, and late in the season the plants flowered and set seed. Those seeds have lain dormant in the soil throughout the spring and summer period, during which time we cleared those winter salads, manured and rotavated the beds, planted the cucumbers, watched them grow until they were ready to harvest. Now the cucumbers are about finished, soon to be cleared to make way for winter crops, and the seeds of winter purslane and lamb’s lettuce have come out of dormancy, germinated and grown in thick, luscious swathes of green.

I must confess they look healthier than their parent plants did, and are producing loads of quality leaves for our salads. This is the beauty of self-seeding plants; The progeny of the plants that you originally set can come back to give you the sweetest of pleasant surprises. No doubt natural selection is in operation here and the fittest plants have made healthy seed and returned fitter plants for the new winter season. Had we adopted a more ruthless approach to weeding, this happy accident would not have occurred.

Soon the cucumber plants will be cleared and we will prepare the beds for planting of winter salads. But we will be sure to work carefully around these wondrous gifts of nature, and keep them alongside this year’s cultivated plants.