Nov 09 2015

Dartmouth Food Festival 2015

At the end of a gloriously sunny October it’s time for Dartmouth Food Festival once more but this year, as the crowds flock to the town, there is a completely new festival experience in store; Japan arrives!

In the past I have joined in the Festival fun in lots of small ways; volunteering at the Information tent, skivvying for celebrity chefs in Kitchen Theatres, running errands for stall holders. Once I was even interviewed by the famous Matthew Forte about the merits of our Whiteface Dartmoor lamb! But this year is very different; I simply go to watch and learn. Six months ago our son, Tom, and his business partner, Noriko Kawamura, came over from Japan to help with lambing, huge fun for us and a steep learning curve for them! None of us had thoughts of the Food Festival. But you can never tell where a chance meeting and a cup of coffee may lead! Nolly is a talented and experienced cook so I thought it would be fun to introduce her to my friends, Holly and David Jones, owners of the terrific Manna from Devon Cookery School in Kingswear, South Devon. David was Food Festival Chairman for many years and it is David and Holly who are responsible for the amazing success and growth of the festival. Coffee enjoyed, contact made, lambing skills accomplished, Tom and Nolly flew back to Toyota. Emails were exchanged; ideas and photos flew across the world, plans evolved. Tom contacted us and said he and Nolly would be over for the Festival. He mailed again, he’d be bringing a farmer friend as well; then again, there would be several colleagues from the Smiles Tokyo Restaurant chain. Another e mail, the Katsuobushi man and his daughter would be coming too, oh, and a photographer and his girlfriend; Japan was on its way. The festival began on Friday and the first sushi workshop had already sold out weeks before, Saturday’s too. Nolly taught everyone to make Temari Sushi: small spoonful’s of sushi rice are squeezed and shaped into a ball and decorated with all sorts of toppings. In Japan Temari sushi is made for the Girls Festival in March as a special supper treat. In the past dampened cloth was used to shape the balls but cling film is quicker and less messy. The rice balls are traditionally topped with raw fish but this time Nolly used smoked salmon, sweet corn, prawns, mange tout, nori or thinly fried Japanese omelette. There are no end of possibilities. The Cookery Theatre on Saturday proved to be a huge crowd pleaser too. Taizo Inaba, the Katsuobushi man held centre stage as Tom translated the story of bonito sentence by sentence! Taizo runs a wholesale company in Harumi, the Katsuobushi district of Tokyo near the famous Tsukiji fish market. He is one of the top traders in Japan and reputed to have a specialist eye for the fish; he can tell just by looking at a hard piece of dried, cured katsuobushi or bonito how the fish died and whether it suffered in trawler nets. He can tell when it was caught and how and whether or not it has been frozen. Fish that suffer in the trawler nets don’t taste good just as animals stressed at the abattoir release adrenalin which adversely affects the quality of the meat. Ninety nine percent of tuna is caught in trawler nets but Taizo will only buy line caught fish.

For thirty five years he has bought from the family of Makoto Miyashita who prepare the katsuobushi. First the fish is filleted, boiled and boned, then dried over a wood fire. Next the outer burnt layer is removed and the fish is reshaped. It is dried for three months coated, rather like cheese, in a layer of mould to prevent bacteria. The whole process takes six months. The finished dried bonito looks more like a piece of wood than a fish! A grater rather like a wood plane is used to grate the hardened blocks of fish into delicious flakes which can be used as a garnish on many dishes. But more importantly it is the essential ingredient in the famous Japanese stock, Dashi, the building block of Japanese cooking which forms the base of so many recipes including the ubiquitous miso soup.

Dashi has been popular since the Edo period in Japan (1603-1868) when top quality konbu seaweed from Osaka and dried bonito from Tokyo first became available right across the country. The market stall run by the Smiles team looked wonderful too. They did a roaring trade each day but Sunday was amazing. People flocked to buy the ingredients they had learnt about in the workshops and demonstration on the previous days and everything sold out!

Sunday evening was time for a party at home to celebrate all the hard work that had led to the huge success of the weekend and the wonderful warm and enthusiastic welcome Japan had been given at the Festival! We all sat down around a huge table eating a fusion of English, French and Italian food! I cooked Orvieto chicken followed by Tarte au Pomme and finished with all sorts of European cheese. Tom’s head spun as he translated for the exhausted Japanese! All in all it was a tremendous weekend!

Have a look at the slide show!

slide show from Paul Vincent on Vimeo.

Temari Sushi

2 cups of sushi rice

1/3 cup rice vinegar

2tbsp sugar

2tsp sea salt

2tbsp lemon juice (optional)

Toppings of your choice:

e.g. Smoked salmon, Raw fish, Sweetcorn, Omelette, Nori (dried seaweed)

Rinse the rice thoroughly in a sieve under running water. Put the rice into a heavy saucepan, cover with water, put a tight fitting lid on the pan and bring to the boil. Turn down immediately and simmer gently until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and allow the rice to stand for at least 5 minutes. Meanwhile dissolve the sugar and salt in the vinegar over a gentle heat. Put the freshly boiled rice into a bowl. In Japan this is always a wooden bowl. Gently stir the vinegar mixture into the rice with a wooden spatula being careful not to crush the rice grains. Fan the rice with a Japanese rice fan or a piece of cardboard! Put a piece of cling film in the palm of your hand and place your sushi topping in the centre. Now place a golf-ball size amount of rice on top and squeeze gently into a ball. Remove the cling film and there is your Temari Sushi ball. Serve with a tiny dab of wasabi (remember it’s very strong!) and a dash of soy sauce. Delicious! Soy Sauce: Soy sauce is made from the fermented paste of boiled soya beans mixed with grain, either barley or wheat, and salt. It originated in China in the 2nd century BC and was brought to Japan by Buddhist monks in C7th.

Here is soy sauce being made by the traditional manufacturer, Yamoroku on the island of Shodoshima in the Inland Sea of southern Japan.


A 6 inch/15cm length of dried Konbu seaweed

A handful of dried bonito shavings ( katsuobushi)

Place the konbu in a saucepan with 2 cups (500ml) cold water. Bring almost to the boil, remove the seaweed and throw in the dried bonito shavings; simmer for 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it stand for a further 8 minutes. Strain, allow to cool and store in the fridge. Use within a couple of days.

Miso Soup

Heat 300ml of dashi in a medium sized saucepan and bring slowly to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. Whisk in 2 ½ tbsp. good quality Miso.

Miso is made from fermented soya beans. In Japan there are many different sorts of miso but here in the UK we must make do with what we can get. Avoid fancy flavourings and go for the most basic, if possible pure soya bean. Miso soup can have any number of things added to it; tofu, tiny mushrooms, potato matchsticks, dried wakame (seaweed). The possibilities are endless; experiment and enjoy this delicious traditional Japanese soup!

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Oct 08 2015

Bryher-Isles of Scilly

September on Bryher from Paul Vincent on Vimeo.

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Aug 31 2015

Plums Plums Plums!

As torrential rain washes away the last remnants of summer so the remains of this years’ bumper crop of plums moulder and fall to the ground. But not before we have managed to gather bucket loads. It has been a wonderful year for all fruit in the garden despite the weather and the plums have been no exception. The orchard overflowed with the unique Dit’sum plum, boughs weighed down to the ground by the prolific harvest. Soaked grandchildren staggered into the kitchen with load after load as I looked on bewildered wondering what I could find to do with such a bounteous crop.

Years go by with no plums: a cold spring destroys the blossom, early rain rots the unripe fruit, silver leaf disease rampages through the orchard attacking tree after tree. Then once in a while we are overwhelmed by pounds and pounds of beautiful reddish purple fruit.

The plum as we know it today, prunus Rosaceae domestica, has been growing across Europe and Asia, Syria and Iraq, since before Roman times. Plum stones have been found in the ancient tombs of Damascus and in the 3.400 year old tomb of Kha, Egytian architect of Thebes. Pliny talks of “ingens turba prunorum”; great crowds of plums in Roman orchards. The mischievous Roman satirist and poet, Marcus Valerious Martialis (38-104 AD), wrote of plums as “frigida sunt, laxant, multum prosunt tibi pruna”; “Plums are cold, relaxing to the stomach and very good for you!” We all remember those school prunes and custard!

In the middle Ages we hear of the dark damask plums of Tours and Brignoles in France, for-runners of the famous Agen prune, and the bittersweet prunus salicina from Japan introduced to the United States in the late nineteenth century, a small fruit, delicious raw and used in sweet sour pickles as well as Sumomo Shu, a plum liqueur. In his 1949 book “Plums of England” H.V. Taylor cites 26 varieties which, according to John Rogers, a London Nurseryman, formerly of the Royal gardens, are the most “esteemed varieties grown in the gardens in 1834”. Among those listed are the greengage, common damson, and the red and white Magnum Bonham. The varieties of plum are legion.

Then there is, of course, our famous Victoria plum similar in appearance to the Dit’sum Ploughman though not as delicious and definitely not regarded with delight by Jane Grigson who describes it as “the apotheosis of a long reign in a flood of bland boring plums. Poor Victoria. She began life in 1840, a stray seedling found in Sussex and introduced by a nurseryman in Brixton……Victoria’s are for plums and custard, that crowning moment of the school, hospital, prison and boarding house midday meal” She continues that Mr Bird invented his custard powder around the same time “a Pooteresque menage a trois” of plum, nurseryman and custard inventor! I cannot agree that Victorias are quite that bad but there is no doubt our own Dit’sum plum has a superior flavour!

But what is the origin of this very local Dit’sum Ploughman plum growing only in Dittisham on the banks of the river Dart in South Devon? As I dug deeper into numerous books and the internet the answer became more and more obscure. Village myth or rumour has it that a German ship was wrecked off the coast near the mouth of the river carrying a cargo of trees or, maybe, prunes. Washed up on the village quay, barrels of prunes or maybe trees were collected by the villagers. This may be why the plums are also said to be related to the German “fluegal” plum. Interestingly the trees are raised from suckers and not grafted or budded which may be why they became unique to the valley. There is no doubt that the village plum crop was once prolific and the plums were sold in Brixham, Paignton and Torquay taken from the village by donkey cart and ferry across the river.

The plum was registered at Brogdale, home of the National Fruit Collection in 1949. They were kind enough to send me the limited information they have on record:
“Thank you for your enquiry on the Ditsum plum (listed as Dittisham Ploughman in the National Fruit Collection). There are currently 325 varieties of plum in our Collection, of which we maintain two trees of each. The majority of the information we keep on file for the different varieties relates to tree and fruit characteristics which helps for comparing and identifying varieties. For example, the notes on the Dittisham Ploughman fruit include: Season: early to mid-August Size: medium to large Shape: oval-oblong, slightly unequal sides, slightly flattened on suture; slightly tapering to base, slightly flattened at base, standing; slightly tapering to apex, slightly flattened at apex, not standing. Stalk: medium to medium long, 11-16mm Av.15mm; medium to slender, hairy, fairly conspicuous; inserted in a medium to deep cavity Flavour: sub acid; moderately sweet; little rich”

There is no doubt that, whatever their mysterious origin, they are beautiful plums. They have an excellent flavour straight from the tree and great setting quality for jams, jellies and puddings.

Delicious recipes abound. I will be trying Josceline Dimbleby’s Plums in Red Wine Syrup; sounds so simple and delicious. Simply stone the plums then make syrup of sugar, red wine and the juice of an orange and a lemon. Pour the thick syrup over the plums and leave to stand for a few hours. Serve with cream. And I love the sound of Nigel Slater’s Plum Crisp, a sort of cinnamon plum crumble but with“rubble” of breadcrumbs and butter to make the crispy topping. Some of my frozen plums will certainly be transformed into this on cold winter days to come.


I have already made some of this year’s glut into an East European soft plum jam similar to fruit cheese called “Povidle”. The recipe is remarkably similar to the plum jam recipe made with Orlean or Magnum-Bonham plums in my 1880 edition of Mrs Beeton.

Stone and chop 2kg of purple plums. Layer the plums in a preserving pan with1kg of sugar.

Cover with a cloth and leave for a few hours until the juices start to run. Then bring the mixture gently to the boil, stirring until the sugar is melted. Simmer for 1 to 2 hours stirring occasionally until thick and dark.

Ladle into hot sterilised jars and seal in the usual way. The jam can be eaten immediately but improves with keeping.

Plum Jelly

Stone and chop the plums. Put in a preserving pan and add a little water not quite covering the fruit. Bring to the boil, then simmer till the fruit is cooked and breaking up. Tip the fruit puree into a jelly bag and allow it to strain overnight. I use a piece of muslin on an up-turned stool! Do not be tempted to speed up the process by pressing the fruit; this will result in cloudy jelly!

Tip the red juice into a measuring jug and allow 500ml of fruit to 500g of sugar (i.e. equal amounts) Now return both to the pan and boil to setting point. A good way to test for setting is to spoon a tiny bit of the jelly onto a saucer and put it in the ice box of the fridge for a few minutes till chilled. If when you touch it, it wrinkles across the top, your jelly is ready to put into hot sterilised pots.

Plum Chutney: The Constance Spry Cookery Book 1964

2lbs plums                          1tsp salt      1/2lb apples
2 cloves crushed garlic     1lb seedless raisins chillies, fresh or dried
2 chopped onions              ½ oz. allspice         1&1/2 pts vinegar
½ oz. ginger                       1&1/2 lb brown sugar

Stone and chop plums. Chop raisins. Cook plums, apples, raisins, onion, garlic, chillies, allspice, and salt in 1 pint of the vinegar until soft. Pour the remaining vinegar over the sugar and put in a warm place to dissolve. When the fruit is cooked add the sugar and vinegar and continue cooking in an uncovered pan until thick and dark. Put into hot sterilised jars and cover. Although you can eat the chutney right away it does improve with keeping.

Bottled plums

Prick the plums all over with a cocktail stick and pack into Kilner jars. Half cover with a spirit of your choice. Elisabeth David suggests cherry brandy and a vanilla “bean” (sic) for “an extraordinary haunting scent”. This year I decided to go east European again and try vodka. Top up and cover the plums with strong sugar syrup made with equal quantities of sugar and water. Seal the jars and put away in a dark cupboard for a couple of months.

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Jul 22 2015

High Summer and Favourite Cookbooks

The lambs are nearly as big as the ewes now. Big sturdy boys and girls graze beside their mothers, occasionally toppling them, as they push for the last drops of milk. Soon we will bring them all down from the hill into the yard to be sprayed for fly strike, the curse of these warm, wet summer days. The lambs will go up to Phil to be shorn. Then, once separated, everyone will be moved to pastures new.The ewes will Baa for a little while then settle to a quiet life in the orchard restoring their strength after raising their young. The youngsters will learn the independent life.

Big Fred will stay with us for one more year. He has produced some very promising ram lambs with really good conformation, fine future tupps, we hope. They will mature through the winter and go to next year’s Annual Whiteface Show and Sale in Exeter. Young Gilbert, born last year, has also turned into a sturdy chap and will go to this year’s sale. He is too closely related to last year’s yearlings; his sisters and cousins.

They will join the breeding stock in the autumn replacing the old cull ewes too old to lamb again. Thus the flock and the bloodline are replenished and the cycle continues.

Larry, the old pet Wether, is still with us, a useful summer companion to the rams. At present he is with Fred and Gilbert and the donkeys. They have a surprise new companion, Claude, Paul calls him, a lost racing pigeon who potters around happily amongst them all; a funny little group!

As soft rain and warm days turn the garden into a wonderful patchwork of colour and chaos I struggle to keep up with everything.

Harvest has begun. This year the fruit cage has yielded its best. The strawberries are finished, eaten hand to mouth. Huge bowls of raspberries have made their way to the deep freeze and I’m overwhelmed with red, white and black currants and huge gooseberries both red and green. Jams and jellies are in the larder and still more fruit must be picked.

Recently I was given a wonderful opportunity to return to my culinary roots. I received an invitation from Tom Jaine, he of The Good Food Guide, Carved Angel in Dartmouth and The Hole in the Wall in Bath. He asked me to take part in the formation of new website called 1000 Cookbooks. I simply had to pick my ten favourite cookbooks explaining my choice. What a pleasure, what could be more fun. Of course I have no idea if I or my chosen books will be included in the final selection, but I had such a good time making my choice. I have a large collection of cookery books and they all came off the shelves as I pondered for days exploring forgotten tomes and returning again and again to my old favourites. My battered and broken Elisabeth David, the wonderful Jane Grigson and so on.
Here is my introduction followed by my choice:
For the last thirty three years I have lived and worked on a small farm in South Devon where I have had the opportunity to indulge my love of cooking and good food. Over the years we have kept sheep and Dexter cattle, produced Christmas turkeys and free range chickens and eggs. We still breed Whiteface Dartmoor sheep and grow all our own fruit and vegetables. I know the provenance of almost all we eat.
I grew up in post war London and still remember my ration book. In the 1960’s I was sent to Constance Spry’s Winkfield Place Cordon Bleu Cookery School. I went reluctantly, I had other ideas. But thanks to Rosemary Hume my life- long passion for cooking started here. Next came Nick’s Diner in Fulham where I worked under the expert eye of Kem Bennet, late of George Perry Smith’s famous Hole in the Wall in Bath. My culinary journey had begun.
For the last ten years I have kept an on line diary of Food and Farming. In a fast moving world I have watched eating habits change, old skills disappear and new ones take their place.
My Choice:

French Provincial Cooking: Elizabeth David 1960 Penguin Books Ltd

My old, browned, broken paperback copy of French Provincial Cooking is, without doubt, my favourite cookbook of all; my introduction to a new world of cooking and eating. Elisabeth David books were a breath of fresh air after the austerity of rationing and the depressing food of the post war years. In the mid ‘60’s the teenage me cooked at Nick’s Diner in Fulham under the expert eye of Kem Bennet, late of George Perry Smith’s famous Hole in the Wall in Bath. When I wasn’t learning to cook I was reading Elisabeth David. How perfect an introduction to the world of food!
The Constance Spry Cookery Book: Constance Spry & Rosemary Hume 1956 (1964) J M Dent & Sons Ltd
I have to put Rosemary Hume second because it was she who taught a very reluctant teenage student at Winkfield Place that cooking was a pleasure, an adventure, fun and not a chore. I still find myself returning to the pages of this old friend.
Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book: Michael Joseph Ltd 1982
I find Jane Grigson’s knowledge and style captivating. I have learnt not only about cooking fruit from this book but also a huge amount of history in general. For this reason I love all her books; so much more than just recipe books, they are a pleasure simply to sit and read with a glass of wine!
The Cooking of South West France: Paula Wolfert Dorling Kindersley London 1987
In her introduction Paula Wolfert sums up for me why I love this practical , hands-on book and find myself returning to it time and time again: “The idea is that you too can possess the South-West not merely in words, but in that most tangible and sensuous necessity of people’s lives: the wonderful food they eat” : a truly delicious book!
Nose to Tail Eating: Fergus Henderson Bloomsbury Publishing 1999
A classic, of course! Anthony Bourdain’s Introduction sums it up. I particularly like the notion that “ it would be disingenuous to the animal not to make the most of it” For several years I kept pigs and, with Fergus Henderson’s help, I have been lucky enough to learn from this wonderful book how to use absolutely all the deliciousness from nose to tail of the pork we produced!
The Cook and the Gardener: Amanda Hesser Absolute Press 2004
This is a book as much about the growing of food as the cooking of it. It is about the French countryside, delicious straight forward food and Amanda Hesser’s amusing relationship with the gardener, Monsieur Milbert. She must travel a long journey to persuade him to trust his beloved produce to the hands of a young cook from a foreign land.
The River Cottage Meat Book: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: Hodder & Stoughton
A gift from a friend, this book has become a textbook for me. Living in South Devon on a small farm over the years we have been producing not only our own fruit and vegetables but also our own meat: turkeys, free range chickens, Whiteface Dartmoor lamb and rare breed pork. Here is a book that talks about the provenance of food, of the livestock, the food producers as well as a wealth of in depth cookery information and terrific recipes.
Japanese Farm Food: Nancy Singleton Hachisu Andrew McMeel Publishing
At last, a beautiful, informative exciting book about Japanese food in English! Nancy Singleton Hachisu left her native California twenty five years ago to travel to Japan to learn about the food. She never returned, instead she married a Japanese farmer, a man as passionate about food as herself. Here is the story of their life on a farm in northern Japan, a book about the wonder and demystification of Japanese food. Beautifully written and full of wonderful photographs this book has a special place in my heart: I have Japanese family and have been lucky enough to travel extensively in Japan and now, at last, Nancy Singleton Hachisu has made the food accessible to me as well!

Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook: Alice Waters Random House Inc NY 1982
A list of my favourite cookbooks would not be complete without Alice Waters. Her influence on good food from Berkeley, California right across the USA and her support for the Slow Food Movement across the world is legendary. I count myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to eat at Chez Panisse where they “try to interfere as little as possible with the transition of good and pure ingredients from their origins to the table…” a notion reflected so well in this book.
Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries: Fourth Estate 2012
All the books I have chosen live on my kitchen shelves and are well thumbed and oft used so I cannot imagine the list complete without Nigel Slater, one of my favourite food writers. I frequently find myself reaching for his Diaries, too tired to think after a particularly busy farming day. He never lets me down!
We’ll that is my choice; we shall see if I am selected. Meanwhile back to the donkeys to clean the stable and, of course, pick more fruit!

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Jun 24 2015

Summer at Last

Soft rain is falling, the perfect pick-me-up for a sun scorched garden. Flowers turn their heads upwards drinking in the refreshing draft. Petals glisten, trees drip, tiny spiders’ webs catch the rain drops on the grass shedding a strange haze across the lawn.

The first strawberries glisten in the fruit cage, sweet peas waft scent across the vegetable garden and roses are bursting into flower. Blue geraniums cascade beneath the huge Embothrium as its scarlet flowers fade at last.

Buddleia Alternafolia frames Bridget McCrum’s little bird as it sits on its high altar above the pond. Water lilies attract darting damsel flies. The garden glows.

Last weekend we opened once more for the National Garden Scheme. Dry, sunny weather brought the crowds; “Yellow Book people”, I call them, all gardeners, knowledgeable, interested and interesting. Some local and some on holiday from far flung places. The same questions over and over. “What is that wonderful scarlet tree? “Is that Astrantia in the border, what variety? “What sort of Buddleia is that?” “How long have you been here, is this a frost pocket”? “How much help do you have”?…………………..!

I love it all and suddenly I see the garden afresh after all the hard work. For months my eyes have only seen those things which still needed attention!
Teas were very popular again this year in our newly refurbished “Tea Hut”; more space at last and no leaking roof! Now that the wonderful Anchorstone Café has also taken over the Sharpham Café they had no time to bake me hundreds of scones this year, so cream teas were off. Instead they put me in touch with “Te Cake” a new little bakery in Harbertonford. Their cakes were delicious and flew off the shelf!
I wish them well, they deserve it! .

In just two afternoons we were able to send off nearly £1000 to the NGS Nursing Charities. All that hard work had really paid off once more.
By Sunday evening we were exhausted and collapsed with our dear friends from France, who had come to help. We restored ourselves with a large glass of French wine and a free range spatchcocked chicken I had prepared the day before accompanied by a big salad and Jersey Royal potatoes followed by fresh fruit and English cheeses. We all slept well!

Next day Michael and Evelyne left for home in Brittany and it was time for shearing. As the sun beat down it was a joy to see the great heavy fleeces fall from the ewes under Phil’s expert shears. The girls shook with relief as he finished, wriggling as they jumped to their feet, lighter and leaner. They raced from the yard onto the fresh new grass of Sunday Orchard, a big steep east facing field, each ewe calling and searching for her now sturdy lamb. The chaos after shearing always makes me smile as the lambs take a while to recognise their new slim-line mothers.

Clover carpets the track up to the top fields as I walk the dogs through the soft rain.

Long wet grass glistens their coats and brushes against my now soaking trousers. Wild roses and huge plates of Elderflower blossom scent the hedgerows. Honeysuckle stealthily clambers up amongst the prickly twigs and shiny leaves of hawthorn.

Tiny green sloes and crab apples hide deep in the bushes. Bracken threatens to engulf the top of the orchard and the grass is waist high. Now that the wild flowers have finally seeded, Gheorghe will start cutting through the huge swathes with the mighty mower called “The Doctor”, an awesome great machine capable of tackling such steep ground unsuitable for a tractor. Then the sheep will be allowed in to finish his job fertilising the ground for another year. The cycle continues.
Summer has arrived.

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May 31 2015

My Movie garden May from Paul Vincent on Vimeo.

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May 16 2015

The Garden April 2015

Bramble Torre Garden April 2015 from Paul Vincent on Vimeo.

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Mar 09 2015

Food for Thought

Restored, retrieved, recouped, Raining Sideways is back!

For some time has been inaccessible, vanished, gone, mysteriously replaced with the word “Forbidden” in large letters. Panic, had I really lost eleven years of work in one single blow? My imagination ran riot. I had just had lunch with a writer friend who, like me, had read a great deal in the Press lately about a generation of writing and photography in danger of simply disappearing as technology advances and old programmes can no longer be retrieved. Could that have suddenly, unaccountably happened to me?

“Get published” she said “get into print, a real book, a record of all you have written about the changing climate, landscape, food, farming, gardening. Get it down on paper.” I looked doubtful. She pressed details of her publisher into my hand. I mumbled thanks and felt anxious; all the old stuff, not good enough, no one will be interested. “But people read Raining Sideways all over the world” she pursued. “Yes” I said “They do, thank you, OK” trying to sound convincing even to myself. And the next day my whole website simply vanished.

I fired off e mails to my son in Japan: “Help!” Then today, as suddenly as it vanished, it’s back. I don’t know where it went, why it went or how it came back, but one thing is for sure, I’ve learnt how much I value it! Not only have I moved everything onto a remote hard drive but I am pondering Jill’s advice and encouragement very seriously now. Maybe she is right and there is a book in here somewhere.

Spring has arrived at last. It seemed to drag its heels a while with big frosts, hailstorms and howling winds but the birds are convinced. Shouting their tiny heads off morning, noon and night, they feverishly dart about preparing to build their nests.

And the two handsome cock pheasants have returned, pottering down to the bird feeder causing dismay amongst all the smaller fellows. M. Poulet is strutting his stuff in the farmyard lauding it over his rather ancient harem, a scruffy bunch, finally beginning to grow new feathers, not before time. So I simply must believe that Spring is indeed sprung.


The grass is very slow to get going on the hills this year so the Ladies-in-Waiting have been coming in for breakfast and tea for a week or so now. Some are beginning to bag up so it will not be long before we have the first lamb.


Each year it fills me with excitement tinged, despite years of experience, with anxiety. Every year brings something new. This year our son is arriving from Japan to help with lambing: a steep learning curve for him and another pair of hands for us, wonderful

As snowdrops fade they are replaced by daffodils and crocus. Camellias appear everywhere blemished by the frequent frosts.

Primroses punctuate the lawn and tiny specs of blossom have appeared on the old damson tree, glistening like tiny snowflakes in the watery sun. Gheorhge has dug the vegetable garden for me, such luxury! The broad beans can be planted out at last, sweet peas too. Tomatoes are racing away and tiny seedlings miraculously push upwards in my new smart propagator. Soon it will be time to sow salad crops, runner beans, French beans, peas; a whole host of different vegetables.

I have been growing my own vegetables for years now, raising our own lamb and chicken and keeping hens for eggs. I had pigs too for a few years. I trained as a cook and turned into a farmer!

Although no foodie, I do have to admit to loving Professional Master Chef having cooked professionally myself years ago. Now though I am much more interested in straightforward real food. It does not have to be Organic but I do want it to be sourced, grown and produced cleanly, honestly with integrity and good husbandry, without unnecessary chemicals or “additives”.

Simple you may think, so what, but try a read of Joanna Blythman’s new book “Swallow This: Serving up the Food Industries Darkest Secrets” published this week by 4th Estate. Or read an extract in the Guardian Weekend on line. She tells of her visit to the annual trade show called Food Ingredients, “a three day gathering of the world’s most important ingredient suppliers, distributors and buyers…… representing a buying power of £2.97bn”.

She exposes the deception of food labelling, talks of a “potato protein isolate” which “provides volume, stability and mouthfeel” used to substitute those things we look for in cakes baked  traditionally like eggs, butter, cream. Or a modified starch which gives tomato sauce that pulpy visual appeal yet uses 25% less tomato paste. Or how about the “solution” which adds 21 days shelf life to fruit and veg. Think of the carton of lovely shiny ready prepared fruit salad that you had as a healthy snack the other day. Just how old was that glossy fruit? And so she goes on: a really important exposure of what our food really contains. From water injected poultry, powdered coagulated egg, egg replacers that have an 18 month shelf life and “mature” cheddar ready in some 72 hours. Tell that to Mary Quicke!  We pick up all this stuff every time we shop in the supermarket mostly unknowingly.

By now I’m on a roll! I read in the Telegraph about salad washed in 8 hour old water laced with chlorine then “packaged in a protective atmosphere”, a euphemism for gassed to extend shelf life. I for one am right back to the greengrocer or my own veg patch.

Then of course there’s bread. In 1961 the Chorleywood Process revolutionised bread manufacture. Eighty percent of bread is produced this way. It stays fresher longer as preservatives hold back the mould and loaves can be made from start to finish in three and a half hours. Bread is no longer made of flour, yeast and water. They have been replaced by enzymes or “processing aides” which do not have to be declared on the label. Flour treatment agents act as an oxidant helping to retain gas in dough making the loaf rise more. Bleach dioxide gas makes white flour whiter, were shall I stop. Could this be why so many people are having trouble digesting bread and fear they may have a wheat allergy? Funny too that all the many gluten free products are made by the same manufacturers. What do they use, I wonder, to replace gluten?

Real Bread from Manna from Devon

Read Andrew Whitley, founder of the Real Bread Campaign and author of Bread Matters or go to the Independent on line and read “The Shocking Truth about Bread”. Go to “Allotments and Gardens” also on line  for a comprehensive description of the Chorleywood Process.

Don’t take my word for it!


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Jan 15 2015

January Days

At last, day by day, sunset creeps on a little later into the afternoon. I go up to the yard in fading sunlight punctuated by blasts of icy rain, my feet crunching hail stones in the grass. I find chicken still pecking around outside, sheep still grazing in the fading light. Even donkeys stay in the field a little longer before trotting in shouting “teatime”. Mornings are improving too; the alarm goes and I peep out to see a tiny glimmer, a hint of daylight, just creeping through the curtains. Hurrah, I think, no more struggling to feed the animals in the dark. Maybe winter will not last for ever after all.

And yet as I walk through the frosty sleeping garden or wander down the road to the muddy creek taking in the bleak beauty of the winter landscape, the sunlight in the bare trees, crisp white fields, sharp reflections in the water, I realise how much these harsh winter months  lift my spirits in anticipation of the coming spring.

Snowdrops cascade down the orchard slopes. I spotted a white camellia bursting into flower today. Broad beans have germinated in the greenhouse and the sweet pea seedlings are racing ahead. Tomato seeds wait in the wings; very soon their time will come. I feel impatient, so much to do but all in good time! Hard frosts may sneak up and wreak havoc in the garden for many weeks to come.

The ewes on the top fields are beginning to look a little plump, a good omen for March lambing. Each afternoon dogs and I trudge up the hill. We creep past the tiny top barn and quickly close the gate to the little yard in time to fill the troughs with grain before the stampede. Sometimes they are already queuing, sometimes we must walk a little way calling “tea” and they appear over the brow as if by magic kicking their legs in the air and spinning their fat woolly bodies as they run.

Yesterday they beat me to it, cantered to the empty troughs and came back into the field staring at me reproachfully, as if to say “well, where’s tea then”. Laughing, I managed to tiptoe round behind them, slam the gate and fill the troughs without getting mobbed. Who said sheep were stupid!

The yearlings are growing well too. Last week it was time to dag and drench. “What exactly is dagging and drenching?” e mailed our son from Japan. He’s studying sheep husbandry with a view to coming over to help us lamb this spring. “Simple” I lied “just squirt worming medicine into their mouths and trim away all the dirty wool around their tails”, “Ah” he replied.

Sunday Orchard is a very big, very steep field, yearlings are very skittish, so we took our time to gently walk the teenagers down the slope. As they ran through the gate at the bottom I took off as fast as I could go to slam it shut it behind them. As I raced down the hill I remembered that sensation as a child of legs on automatic, whizzing one in front of the other as the hill becomes steeper and steeper. Laughing, out of breath and out of control, I so nearly catapulted into the yard after them, only just managing to stop by hurling myself onto the closing gate. But they were in! An hour later everyone was dagged and drenched and safely loaded into the trailer and off to pastures new.

Barney was particularly interested in all of this, indeed he is interested in all things farming now particularly if it means racing round fields, sniffing the hedgerows and finding something disgusting to eat. Well, he is a Labrador, though our neighbour pondered recently that maybe there is a tiny touch of basset in there somewhere. Barney was out of earshot at the time fortunately, checking out something worthwhile tasting in the hedge.

But there is no doubt he does have funny big front feet, rather short legs and ears like Dumbo; so who knows. One thing is for sure, he is without a doubt one of the sweetest, funniest dogs with a huge personality. After a dramatic start with us, an emergency operation and a long stay at the vet, he is a new slim line, healthy boy and a really good pal to Mr P. He has been with us now for nearly three months since his owner, our dear friend, became ill.

Sam is now with a new owner. After nearly five months we finally had to concede that things were not going well. As he matured he became more and more headstrong and difficult. Not only did he continue to chase sheep despite professional training, bark aggressively at the children, bully Mr P, but he suddenly turned on me as I sat quietly one afternoon drinking a cup of tea in the kitchen; no warning, no provocation.

His unpredictable behaviour continued to get worse becoming increasingly frightening. Eventually I rang the charity; they know us well. I asked their advice. They collected him the next day, we were devastated.  We had put our heart and soul, time and energy into giving him a new, safe, loving home. The experts at the charity said his behaviour was almost certainly down to the terrible cruelty that he had been subjected to before his rescue and  so much worse than we had been aware of; poor little dog. Last week I learned that he has been rehomed with a retired doctor who lives alone; no other people, no other animals and, most important, no children. I hope so much for a happy outcome, he deserves it, as does every dog.

Long dark indoor afternoons drive me to my huge collection of cookery books collected greedily over the years. My grandson gave me “The Greedy Italians Eat Italy” for Christmas; somehow so appropriate from a very hungry teenager and a wonderful book, positively filling the kitchen with the Mediterranean! I read cookery books like most normal people read novels, my mind racing with ideas for the next meal. Strange really because I have a very small appetite; if I ate what I read I’d be huge!

After gorging myself on pages of deliciousness I turned to the simple option for supper last night; What’s- in- the- Fridge Tortilla and it was one of the best!

I found three cooked new potatoes, six tiny tomatoes, a couple of rashers of streaky bacon, a wrinkly red pepper, a couple of shallots, a scrap of good cheddar, a Jerusalem artichoke and a small bag of last summer’s frozen spinach from the garden. The chickens have started laying again as the light increases, so eggs are plentiful once more.

I softened the chopped shallots in a little olive oil in my big old cast iron frying pan which goes safely into the oven. Then I added the bacon and the rest of the chopped vegetables stirring over a gentle heat till they just began to soften. I took the pan off the heat while I beat six eggs with a splash of water, a good pinch of salt and black pepper. Then, putting the pan back on the heat, I melted a nob of butter and poured in the eggs. I grated the cheese on the top and put the pan into a moderate oven until the eggs set and the cheese melted. It rose magically like a soufflé; we ate quickly with crusty bread and watercress.

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Nov 06 2014

October 2014 Putting the Record Straight………..

As autumn tumbles into winter clocks go back and the evenings are long and dark once more. But the weather is mild, the temperature strangely unseasonal and the garden still scattered with colour; the last roses, cosmos, salvias, a few astrantia and the tiny delicate blooms of a camellia sasanqua. It feels slightly ominous as if Nature is playing a trick and has a nasty surprise up her sleeve.

Since returning from a wet week in Portugal while the rest of Europe sunbathed, October has flown by in a haze of visitors; from South Carolina, Adelaide, Brittany and Japan, all friends and family enjoying this fabulous balmy English autumn. But now it’s time to knuckle down to reality and prepare for harsher things to come.

Harvest safely gathered in, fields are being ploughed once more. Across the valley in the distance I watch my neighbour’s tractors turn the soil in neat lines, rioting seagulls in pursuit, white specks against chocolate. Barns are being cleared, animals brought in, hay and oats stacked up for winter fodder.

Chickens are tucked up in their winter quarters. Dead trees are cut down, logs stored for winter warmth. The greenhouse is full to the gunnels with tender plants in anticipation of that first deadly Devon frost that creeps up without warning. So as the garden prepares to hibernate, the farming cycle begins again.

Fred is in with the ewes once more clearly hard at work as evidenced by his bright green raddle. We have just a small flock of White Face Dartmoor’s now, plus a couple of Border Leicester X’s, some 30 mature ewes in with Fred. A fine looking bunch of last springs ewe lambs graze quietly, alone now, far up on the top field. Old Larry the Lamb is still with us too, of course, companion to a small, as yet unnamed ram lamb, who we hope will make the grade by next year.

Last night found us up on the Moor for the Annual Dartmoor White Face Sheep Breeders Association Dinner; a disparate group of some hundred and fifty people, farmers and smallholders, drawn together by their love of this gentle strong moorland breed. We’re all crazy about our sheep! Huge plates of food were consumed; toasts and speeches made, cups and rosettes presented and raffle tickets drawn. And Paul, my husband is the President. We ponder often how it came about that a Cornishman should be so honoured on Dartmoor!

As I said last time, life on a farm is wedded to the seasons, spring lambing, summer growth, autumn harvest, the austerity of winter.

I said too that I sometimes try to imagine the urban oblivion to the changing landscape. As I trudge through lashing rain and mud up to the top fields to count the sheep, how comforting the image of the uniformity of street and pavement across the year! No need to battle with the elements in order to make a living. How appealing the memory of that erstwhile indoor job becomes, that warmth within, as winter weather bites and rain trickles down my neck inside my coat and I realise I’ve forgotten my gloves again and my boots are leaking. Then I remember, too, the M25, the long commute, struggling on the Tube and I’m wet still but happy again!

But alas, one reader was not happy with my reference to the “bland urban landscape”: and instructed me to “take down this post and delete the sentence …. before some unknown reader writes a tart comment in response. People connect to the seasons in all sorts of ways wherever they are living and of course millions of people simply have no choice about where they can live…..”
I was saddened by this response, the first of its kind in ten years. But how lucky am I, never before a tart Tweet or a Facebook snipe! It was, of course not at all what I was referring to and I received no negative comments, quite the reverse, in fact.
But it is true that very few people are fortunate enough to have a choice of lifestyle whether rural or urban. Some farm because their forebears have done so for generations, some because they must, some because they can and some because they are lucky enough to make that choice.

Whichever way, farming is strangely addictive despite the constant rigours of the elements. Some people cannot imagine any other way of life. Many more would simply hate the farming lifestyle and choose to enjoy the countryside in a million other ways, while wishing well to those who do farm the land and provide their food. And many, many more simply have no choice at all and are just grateful to have a roof of any kind over their head somewhere, anywhere and a job to go to.

I smiled to myself as I leafed through Country Living magazine in our local surgery last week, so prettily idealised, so clean, such lovely hazy photography; a really pretty thing so delightfully divorced from real country life; even dare I say, an urban dream. As I flicked through the pages I remembered a recent BBC Country File; Adam Henson racing breathless across a huge field with fire fighters and all emergency services to rescue the driver from an exploding harvester and quench a burning crop; not at all the image the film makers had anticipated, but harsh reality, no romance here. Life in the country as it really is. Or maybe reality is mostly somewhere in between. As my son said ten years ago: “Why not write a blog about what you really do on the farm, Mum.”

Raining Sideways is simply that; my diary of food and rural life; it is not and never has been a political comment or statement of social justice. I leave that to those far better qualified than me.

Even though the weather is so mild I find the dark evenings start me thinking about warming winter comfort food: big soups with ham hock and lentils and lots of root vegetables, rich casseroles, pot-au-feu, Lancashire hotpot, steak & kidney pie, bangers and mash…….or Maiale al Latte
Slow cooked Pork Shoulder in Milk
No more pigs for the time being so the last pieces in the freezer are hugely treasured! I cooked a rolled shoulder for friends last week, so good, though I say it myself! There are, of course, many versions of this Italian classic. Here is my take on it.
Brown a boned and rolled piece of pork shoulder weighing about a kilo in a little hot oil in a heavy casserole. Make sure it is nicely coloured on all sides then remove from the pan and set aside.
Add more oil to the pot and gently soften a couple of chopped shallots, 3 or 4 sliced cloves of garlic, a handful of sage leaves, the zest of a lemon and a sprig of rosemary. You can add all sorts of other herbs and spices according to your preference. Then pour in 300ml of white wine and 300ml of full fat milk. Gently simmer for a minute or two, take off the heat and return the browned pork to the pot. Most recipes say simmer gently but I prefer to cover the casserole with a lid and place in a slow oven 170-180 c for about 2 ½ hours. Be sure to check it regularly and stir the liquid which will, of course, curdle. This is the classic essence of the dish. Add more milk if it begins to brown. When cooked the meat should be soft and succulent and fall apart. The cooking time will vary a little according to the quality of the pork. When you are satisfied it is ready let it rest for ten minutes before cutting or tearing the meat with two forks into pieces. Spoon over the remaining liquid and serve with mash or crusty bread and a crisp salad. This is not an elegant dish but, oh my, it’s so delicious!

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