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! www.tecake.co.uk .

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 www.rainingsideways.com 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.

Breakfast

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.

Playtime

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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Oct 13 2014

Widdicombe Fair 2014

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Sep 06 2014

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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Sep 06 2014

Sam and the Tomatoes

Golden sunlight casts long shadows on the grass, spider’s webs carpet the fields in the morning mist, skeins of calling geese fill the sky: it’s autumn again. Harvest is all around us. Combines roll across the golden fields, the hedgerows are weighed down with fruit: blackberries, sloes, wild plums. As the apple trees begin to throw their bounty to the ground I struggle to keep up with the abundance in the veg garden. Everywhere nature is sending out early signals urging us to prepare for winter. Our lives on the farm are so wedded to the seasons, spring lambing, summer growth, autumn harvest, the austerity of winter. I try to imagine the urban oblivion to the changing landscape, the uniformity of street and pavement across the year, the ready food, always the same, always available regardless of season in the supermarket: a security that is not for me.

The house martins have already left. Flying practice started early this year. At the end of August juniors were already lining up on the telegraph wires for flying tuition from their swooping elders. Sam raced across the top fields pursuing them as they skimmed the long grass for insects, he’s much to slow for them and they continue to feed oblivious to his game. He joined us at the end of June, a rangy skinny chap, another boy from Labrador Rescue.

For six weeks, after the demise of dear old Welly, Porter mooched around looking miserable, us too. Finally I picked up the phone and two days later an eleven month old Sam, his new name, was with us. Porter was thrilled and we were soon exhausted! I began to wonder why my friends do work outs in the gym; no need for me with Sammy by my side. In the first week he was blissed out by falling in the pond not once but twice. I’m sure the second time was deliberate as he swam happily amongst the water lilies.

Next he rolled down the bank into the stream, somersaulted and, turning “turbo-dog”, raced up and down splashing in utter delight. Labradors adore water, it’s true. He thought the chickens were worth a chase, got stuck in the undergrowth in the quarry, was given a very severe ticking off by the cats, showed a little too much interest in the sheep and made a friend of a donkey who generally doesn’t care for dogs at all.

Sammy is a very different boy to Mr P with a very different story. Both dogs came from social housing backgrounds, lots of kids and a struggling single mum. That’s where the similarity ends. Mr P had been kept in a cage neglected and starved; Sam was allowed to run wild with no boundaries at all, until his owner’s partner, irritated by him, hit him regularly: all this on his rescue notes. A very different approach was needed to help him settle down and feel safe with us. Beneath the delinquent teenager is a sweet gentle dog, wonderful with children. Our grandchildren’s long summer holiday with us was invaluable. He played with them, socialised with their dogs, learnt that cats and chickens are best ignored and Guinea pigs are simply boring. The transformation had begun. But we soon realised it was us who needed more training if he was to become a really happy dog. So it was off to Cumbria for Paul for doggy boot camp! Not really, it all turned out wonderfully for them both: two nights in a lovely dog friendly pub and expert training by a wonderful professional in the dramatically beautiful Lake District. Oh, it’s so simple when you know how!! Everyday Sammy has his doggy Tutorial and the transformation is a joy to watch as he settles into his new life, loved and safe at last.

Maybe it’s to do with his past life or maybe it’s just because he’s a Labrador, Sam is an expert harvester. First it was the Dit’sum plums, then blackberries, figs, apples. And now he’s discovered the tomatoes; not an ideal arrangement for either of us! I have a glut this year despite the sodden winter and return of the tomato blight. Every year a dear friend sources wonderful heritage seeds for me. I grow enough for both of us and when she returns from a warm winter the other side of the world we share the seedlings.

This year I grew Yellow Brandywine, Black Cherry, and the amazing giants, Cherokee, as well as modern Pomodoro Red Cherry and funny pointed Follia F1. Last year saw success with Striped Cavern, Ivory Egg, Copia and Japanese Black Trifele. Of course I’ve grown good old gardeners Delight and Moneymaker too but the heritage ones are such fun and more of a challenge. The flavour is often better too. For years solanum   lycopersicum were considered poisonous in this country. Gerard dismisses them out of hand in his Herbal of 1597: “Poma Amoris, Apples of Love. …In Spaine and those hot Regions they vse to eat the Apples prepared and boiled with pepper, salt, and oile: but they yeeld very little nourishment to the bodie, and the same nought and corrupt. Likewise they doe eat the Apples with oile, vineger and pepper mixed together for sauce to their meate, euen as we in these cold Countries doe Mustard.”. They were already being eaten in Italy and Spain by then, brought back from the Andes by the Spanish Conquistadors. Tomato comes from “tomatl” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. The Italians called it Pomma di Mori, Apple of the Moors. The first reference to the cooking of tomatoes in Italy can be found in Vincenzo Corrado’s 1765 Cuoco Galante, The Gallant Cook. In his wonderful book, Complete Italian Food, Antonio Carluccio states that Italians now consume an astonishing 50kg per head per year mostly in the form of sauce and purees on their pasta! In France it was named Pomme d’Amour and in time embraced as warmly as in Spain and Italy. In contrast we cautious Brits only began to let the Love Apple creep into our diet around 1820 still clinging to the dire warnings of Gerard two hundred years earlier and despite the best efforts of the Quaker merchant, Peter Collinson who reported in 1742 that the Apples of Love “are very much in Italy to putt when ripe into their Brooths & Soops giving it a pretty Tart Taste. A Lady Just come from Leghorn says she thinks it gives an Agreeable tartness and Relish to them & she likes it Much”. Tomatoes were considered as “chill to the stomach”, the cause of maladies such as gout and a dangerous aphrodisiac. How times have changed!

So What to do with all this deliciousness? I will be halving the small red tomatoes and putting them in a cool oven overnight to semi dry them. Then I will bottle them in olive oil with a sprig of basil and store them in the fridge for winter treats: a tiny salad with grated Parmesan, a quick pasta topping or a filling for a baked potato.

One of my favourite recipes takes me back to a tiny village in the hills in Provence many years ago when Madam cooked just one set meal in her tiny restaurant in the Village Square: no choice and the food served in big dishes straight to the table. I can’t remember the rest of the meal only the exquisite beans and tomatoes! Blanche French beans, drain carefully and return to the pan with olive oil.  Add a clove of crushed garlic and fresh chopped tomatoes. Simmer gently for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper and serve with more really good olive oil. That’s it, truly wonderful if the beans are tender, the tomatoes full of flavour and the olive oil thick and green.

The big boys such as Cherokee will be a meal in themselves. I will scoop out their middles, make a stuffing, top them with breadcrumbs and cheese and bake them in the oven. Others will be made into sauce with shallots, herbs and  garlic, then frozen ready to go into winter ragouts and pasta sauces. Some I will simply whizz in the blender and freeze. And, of course, the green tomatoes will join apples, sugar, shallots, chili, and vinegar to become thick unctuous chutney. None will be wasted so long as I keep Sam out of the greenhouse!

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