About Slow Cook

The big idea behind this blog arrived on 14 December 2011, after Ruth, the local Riverford organic veg box supplier happened to inform me that I'd had 256 boxes delivered since I first became a customer. I hadn't been counting but that adds up to nearly five year's worth of eating organic fruit and vegetables week in and week out. That's a big commitment and got me thinking about the difference a weekly veg box has made to cooking at home as well as shopping for food. Since then I have become a more adventurous cook, enjoy eating more and weigh less than I did five years ago. There's always fresh food in my kitchen even though I shop less. Supermarket trips are down to one a month (if I’m lucky) to stock up on cupboard foods, frozen fish and the odd packet of frozen peas (handy first aid standby). I'm spending less on food than I did five years ago. Oh the paradox of the humble veg box! But now the children are all grown up and cooking in their own kitchens so can I keep a veg box going for one? (Of course there will be friends to feed and grown up children raiding the fridge now and then.) So that's the challenge to myself over the next year!

Ready Steady Cook

This week’s veg box: potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, leeks, curly kale.

It’s the day before my next veg box delivery and I’m staring at 1kg Valor potatoes, 5 carrots, 3 leeks and a couple of sprouting onions from the week before and wondering what’s for supper. I’ve also brought to the table a large red chilli (not organic from Tesco) and a couple of pork and apple sausages from the Riverford organic meat consignment  I ordered in for Easter weekend. I feel the need for meat and some heat.

Outside the temperature’s dropped and rain is spitting (bring it on otherwise the water shortage here in Hampshire will get worse, and my newly sown broad beans from Jim will not grow big and strong). The rest of the bed is reserved for the veg plants due tomorrow in a box to grow from Riverford.

A quick recap on what happened to all the other veg rations this week:

A big bag of bushy curly kale turned into a Grecian Greens Pie wrapped in filo pastry, otherwise known as Spanakopitta which provided supper for two and enough leftovers for two lunches. Turns out curly kale is a really good stand-in for spinach in this recipe.

The one legged veg, i.e. cauliflower, broccoli and mushrooms gave themselves up to a stir fry lunch then went on to provide two cold lunches after getting mixed up with quinoa and excited by a little bit of chilli jam on the side.

That’s eight meals provided for out of a possible fourteen over the week including dinner tonight: grilled sausages and potatoes with red chillies and saute leeks. The unclaimed carrots and onion will roll over into next week’s vegetable lottery.

I’ll cook all 1 kg of the Valour potatoes and they will valiantly re-appear in Chocolate Potato Cake because Easter is coming (more on that later) and in Smoked Salmon Quiche with potato pastry because my mum is coming. All the potato recipes have been inspired by the Potato book. Somehow every vegetable finds it’s place in the end including the veg peelings that wind up in the compost bin (food for the garden).

Red Hot Potatoes Take: 1 red chilli, finely chopped (de-seeded), 1 small onion sliced, a pinch of cumin seeds, 2 tbsp olive oil, 3 medium sized potatoes, peeled and quartered, 1 rasher of bacon cut into bits (optional), coriander leaf (pinched a leaf of the Vietnamese coriander growing in the kitchen) and seasoning. Serves 2

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water. Heat oil and cook chilli and cumin seeds for a minute or so, add bacon bits. Add sliced onions and cook until softened. Stir until bacon crisp then add cooked potatoes. Toss together with other ingredients until potatoes start to brown. Remove from heat and add chopped fresh coriander. I used the first leaf from my Vietnamese Coriander growing in the shelter of my kitchen until it’s warm enough to grow outdoors. Wow, this dish punches above it’s weight in flavour, that and the melt in the mouth texture of the Valor potato, I’ll definitely be making this again. Meanwhile there is a second helping in the pan!

The combination of the flaming potatoes and the sweetness of the apple and pork sausages and the no nonsense leeks makes this a very hearty meal. Just what I need to warm me up on this cool, damp April evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time Lapse

Apple TreeApple Tree Feb 13After many years of benign neglect with intermittent years of savage pruning by people who claimed to know what they were doing, I decided it was high time to give the apple tree in my garden some proper care. But first I needed to identify the variety of apple tree.

Jim Arbury King of ApplesI tracked down fruit specialist, Jim Arbury during the Wisley, RHS Garden annual Apple Fair. Within ten paces of his stall, he’d already named the apple I was holding: King of the Pippins he pronounced. Impressive! I’d taken along photos of the tree which confirmed everything he said about it’s growing habit.

He also told me what I needed to do about some serious pruning but not all at once, it was going to take time.

Apple Tree FruitI love the apples from this tree, as Jim said they are good for eating and cooking. The yield can be prolific on many long thin, upward growing spurs but apparently this is not ideal. Fewer spurs and lower ones at that would mean I get fruit I can reach and even better fruit in time.

 

Pruning Apple TreeI found the right man for the pruning job at the Blackmoor Estate where they’ve been growing fruit trees for almost a century. Peter Barwick is the current Orchard Manager and thankfully freelances his skills out and about when he has the time. With just secateurs, loppers and a saw he finished the job in a couple of hours. Plus I get to keep the wood and clippings for the wood burner I haven’t got yet. With a bit more restorative pruning the following year, it should be in better shape for fruiting.

 

                   I haven’t written a blog post for over a year. I like to think of that time lapse as four seasons gone by which is a reminder of just how long it took nature to produce the contents of my pot of homemade, home grown apple & beetroot chutney, and about as long it took me to write this blog post. But in the case of the chutney, by the date on the label, that was back in 2012, so accounting for maturity that’s eight seasons gone by, or is that false accounting?

 

 

The Hungry Gap

Between the end of winter veg and the arrival of summer veg there are a few weeks without much English seasonal food around. Filling the gap this week in my veg box: Spanish asparagus, tomatoes and calabrese.

AND, a big bonus of three organic fruits and half a dozen eggs from Riverford to make up for the damage in transit last week to my box of veg to grow. Appreciated!

No question of what to eat first . . . it has to be the asparagus. I always approach asparagus with a great anticipation of pleasure.

As I don’t have a steamer I placed the asparagus in shallow boiling water, then simmered for a couple of minutes after cutting about an inch off the end stalks. Serve with a knob of butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

My first taste of asparagus was April 1979 whilst on a business trip to Vienna with my then, Austrian boss. He told me, ‘there’s no better time, or place on earth, to eat your first asparagus than here during Spargel Saison’. I can’t remember anything about that trip other than celebrating this fact and consequently, eating asparagus at all the restaurants we dined at and going through the wine list to find the perfect accompaniment.

That kind of initiation with a native and an expense account, spoils one for everywhere else one is likely to encounter asparagus.

As for the Spanish variety, I’d give it a low 5 and expect this season’s English to come up to a 7 or 8 when it arrives. That’s about as good as it gets here. I know because every year I’m left with a certain kind of longing afterwards, for something better.

Top Tip. Unsalted butter is usually cheaper than salted varieties so worth keeping a supply just for cooking.


Mission Impossible

I’m on a mission this week to find out how much it would cost to buy the equivalent organic contents of this week’s veg box in my local shops. This is more out of curiosity and because I think I should.

Weighed all the veg and made a list: Carrots 420g/Savoy cabbage 440g/Sweet potato 500g/Leeks 520g/Mushrooms 100g/Tomatoes 400g/Beetroot 580g.

I started with a short walk to the Co-op and then drove a mile and a bit to the award winning Farm Shop, then two miles to Tesco and finally Waitrose, eight miles away.

The cost of the Riverford mini veg box is £10.35 including delivery, items are not priced individually so the comparison can only be by total veg box contents.

Here’s the results of my comparisons around the veg counters:

1 Organic vegetables are few and far between in my locale. Only two out of the seven organic veg listed in my box were available in Waitrose and a different two were available in Tesco. The Co-op and the Farm Shop had none of my veg as organic options.

2 The Co-op, no organic, no beetroot and no sweet potato. Cost of five veg £5.32

3 Farm Shop stocked everything but no organic. Cost of seven veg £8.69

4 Tesco, only two organic (carrots and mushrooms) no beetroot.  Cost of six veg £4.20

5 Waitrose, only two organic items (leeks and mushrooms) no beetroot. Cost of six veg £6.47

More curiosity: price comparison for leeks, Savoy cabbage, carrots and tomatoes per Kg:

6 Leeks:  Co-op £3.78 /  Farm Shop £2.99 / Tesco £2.00 / Waitrose Organic £4.99 / Waitrose Organic on-line £4.99

7 Savoy Cabbage each: Co-op £1.04 / Farm Shop £99p / Tesco 76p / Waitrose 80p

8 Carrots: Co-op £1.75 / Farm Shop £99p / Tesco £1.25 organic / Waitrose £1.26 / Waitrose organic on-line £1.78

9 Tomatoes: Co-op £2.59 / Farm Shop £4.99 / Tesco 1.99 / Waitrose £2.00

Too much information? For sure a wide range of price differences on four everyday items. Co-op prices are higher than I would have expected.

Buying all this week’s veg (non organic) at the Farm Shop would have cost £8.69 excluding delivery. Makes the Riverford mini veg box look good value for money.

My veg box organic contents could have been bought on line from Waitrose and would have cost £11.08 (substituting white cabbage for Savoy cabbage) excluding delivery. Works out more expensive than Riverford.

So does £10.35 for my organic box seem like good value? Compared to Waitrose on line and the local Farm shop, it does. But it also depends on how you approach food buying and meal planning week by week as well as how much you want to spend on vegetables, organic or otherwise. It works for me because I’ve changed my eating habits to fit around the contents of my weekly veg box and then I budget for other food to make up a varied healthy diet. I also like reading about what’s going on down at the farm where my food comes from, finding recipes in my box fresh from the field kitchen and enjoy reading Guy Watson’s rants every Wednesday morning.

Footnote: Should Riverford be telling their customers the price per Kg for each vegetable in the box? Should customers be asking? I imagine it’s not easy balancing complex farm supply and demand rules and getting the contents of the boxes right week after week, season by season. I like the idea of someone else figuring out what goes in my box and trying to balance the books on a fixed budget every week. Maybe I could work out the cost of each veg with a bit of nifty maths work by checking the prices listed on the Riverford website and comparing to what’s in the box. Does it matter?

Virtual Foraging

Yesterday a friend likened my shopping habit on line for stuff to eat as virtual foraging. I like the sound of that. My foraging on line this week bagged me an impressive collection of cosmopolitan herbs from Norfolk Herbs to grow at home, including a pungent spicy Vietnamese Coriander, and several Mint varieties: Moroccan, Apple, Lime and Orange. What a lovely selection for making tea or sloshing around in a jug of Pimms. The herbs arrived by post as little plugs, each packed in its own plastic cocooned micro climate ready for planting on into pots. The packaging will come in handy for growing other seeds. Tick the box on recycling and tick another box for local sourcing (from Norfolk to my garden) versus shop bought produce air freighted from wherever. Add several ticks for self righteous smugness. Let’s hope everything in the garden grows then I might have the right to be smug simply for the joy of growing my own food!

The beauty of these little herbs, all eighteen in total is the sheer variety that I wouldn’t have found foraging around in local shops or garden centres.

Looking forward to the warmer days ahead and genuinely excited for the time when I can plant out and get my herb garden started. (Never done this before.) Meanwhile the kitchen floor serves as the indoor nursery where the Vietnamese Coriander is galloping ahead. Unlike the the flat leaf Coriander I am used to buying from a supermarket, the Vietnamese is a perennial and should survive the winter if I bring it indoors and treat it like a house plant. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Watch this space.

 

Sweets For My Sweet

It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m in the mood for a bit of sweetness making and believe it or not, it starts with a vegetable.

I used to think there were only two kinds of fudge. The rubbery chewy soft toffee kind, found in pick ‘n’ mix selections and the hit and miss homemade kind. But today I discovered a third kind with a mystery ingredient and a guarantee to be, all hit and no miss so long as I follow the instructions.

I’m a big fan of Harry Eastwood’s way of putting vegetables into the heart of a cake but surely not parsnip into fudge? But then what could possibly go wrong surrounded by such fail safe ingredients as a tin of condensed milk, a fresh vanilla pod, ethically traded of course, a mountain of sugar, a finger of butter and time on my hands? Besides what’s Valentine’s day without a little mystery and intrigue?

At first it all looks so simple but this is a fastidious recipe for Vanilla Parsnip Fudge. You can’t be slapdash. To get the right result you have to stick with it all the way, checking the time for the right amount of stirring and in the right order.  Even checking for the right kind of noises is important so you know you’re treating it just right. I did as I was told with lots of gentle but persistent stirring and kindly thoughts to keep it on the move. Too much heat too soon and the whole thing could crystallise prematurely or burn badly. When it’s all stirred up (about forty long minutes plus three extra bonus minutes) it has to be left to rest for an hour. So even then you can’t be sure how it’s all going to turn out.

Two hours later and this fudge is truly-madly-deeply-lovely with just a hint of something earthly that you can’t quite put your finger on. Love’s labours have turned golden goo into pure gold. Imagine fresh snow and that little bit of crisp resistance you feel as you cup your hands to make a snowball. Well that pretty much describes what happened in my mouth as I crunched into the first piece. The sugar hit dissolved and released a sublime vanillary buttery creaminess teasing my taste buds into a delirious frenzy.  And the parsnip has found it’s true soul bound together with sugar, milk and vanilla and I am bound, dangerously wanting more. I must get a grip.  All this sweetness is not good for one; it has to be shared or worse given away. For a nanosecond I did wonder if my Sweet Heart truly deserved this ‘gift from the gods’; of course he’s worth a box of fudge on Valentine’s Day but who other than Moi is more deserving after all the devotion that went into making it?

Take: 200g peeled and cubed parsnip, 450g caster sugar, 30g unsalted butter, 335g condensed milk, half tspn salt, 1 vanilla pod, split lengthways and seeds scraped out.

1. Use 22cm shallow, square baking tin, cover base with baking parchment. Grease lightly.

2. Cover the parsnips with water in a medium sized saucepan. Boil until cooked soft. Discard water and whizz into a fine puree so there are no lumps.

3. Put all ingredients into a small non-stick pan over a low heat and stir with a wooden spoon until sugar and condensed milk are well combined, so there are no gritty grains of sugar at the bottom or sides of the pan. This could take up to 15 minutes and it’s no good trying to rush it. This stage is crucial to the success of the recipe and must be given the time it needs. Behaving aggressively with the mixture and forcing it into a premature boil will crystallise it. This is a pretty word for very ugly bad-tempered, tantrum fudge. (Harry’s words not mine.)

4. Once all the sugar grains have dissolved turn up the heat a fraction (and I really mean the minutest amount) and get ready to stir gently for the next 25 minutes, exactly. Set the timer. (See what I mean about being fastidious.)

5. Make sure you move the wooden spoon continually over the whole base as well as into the corners in a patient, thorough motion. You can expect to hear a slight sizzle which is where the sugar mixture has marginally overheated; it is perfectly healthy. If, on the other hand you a hear a big hiss (the likes of which you might expect from tugging hard on the tail of a cat), it’s definitely time to turn down the heat and be ashamed of your hastiness.

6. The sort of sound you should expect to hear when making fudge include: a soft thud from the large bubbles bursting lethargically at the surface, and the distant hissing song of the lazy fudge on the bottom of the pan when your spoon turns it in its sleep. (I didn’t make this up.)

7. The contents in the pan will gradually get more suntanned and you will know that you have arrived at your destination (in the glass elevator) when you reach a blonde butterscotch colour after the time is up. (Must be some kind of sugar zenith.) The texture should be thick but not heavy.

8. Remove the fudge from the heat and beat it for 3 minutes exactly which will thicken the fudge and start to set it. If you find that it is becoming too heavy before the whole 3 minutes are up, stop beating. This means it’s ready. (Phew.)

9. Pour the fudge carefully into the tin. It will be setting very fast at this stage so it’s a good idea to have a palette knife to hand as well as the wooden spoon. Pat the surface of the fudge with a rubber spatula to smooth over the top. Set it aside for at least an hour to cool. Cut into 5cm squares and serve, or store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. (Trust me you won’t be able to keep it for 2 weeks unless you lock it up and throw away the key.)

 

 

Open Sesame

After testing, tasting and a fair bit of teasing of what was to come, a copy of Florencia Clifford’s gorgeous book Feeding Orchids to the Slugs: Tales from a Zen Kitchen is now in my kitchen. First thing I did when I opened the book was look up the index of recipes to see those I’d tested and check what else was listed there. Then I spotted gomasio: a tasty condiment based on sesame seeds and salt that I used to make back in the 80s when I first experimented with a macrobiotic diet. I had completely forgotten about this humble, tasty aid to digestion and why I liked it so much. More on that in a minute.

All the recipes appear in the book in their rightful place in the context of Flo’s story. That prompted me to sit down, start at the beginning and discover the recipes, mindfully and in the same order as they had been written so I waited until page 93 before I made a small batch of gomasio, from the chapter, surprisingly titled: Porridge. (I felt there’s something to be honoured here about a cook who passes on her recipes, as well as her insights and since I’ve already been involved with this book, pre-production I wanted to understand why this particular condiment had been included in the story.)

Take: 1/4 cup of raw, unhulled sesame seeds (Flo prefers brown or yellow, mine were very pale yellow), 1 tsp rock or sea salt. Place the seeds in a dry, small non stick fry pan and toast on a very low heat, stirring often until golden, or until they just start to pop. This took about ten minutes, slower is better. Flo says, twenty, to bring out the potency of the taste and make them easier to grind later; I think I have much to learn. Take them off the heat preferably before popping starts, otherwise they’ll be all over the kitchen floor and/or the flavour ruined.

Toast the salt in the same pan, again on the lowest setting for about ten minutes, until it shines (the salt not the pan). Mix the seeds and salt together in a mortar, and grind with the pestle.

Take care not to grind into a powder, as the grainy texture of the seeds is important for sprinkling. Flo says don’t make too much as the seeds tend to go rancid after awhile. Small batches will last a long time, as you only need a little. I store mine in a little mustard jar, and yes it goes rather well sprinkled on porridge. Actually it goes well sprinkled on n number of things including pasta, rice and home made hummus (skip the tahini). But today I’m adding gomasio to a bowl of chard from this week’s veg box.

As I rinsed the chard with fresh water I could smell it’s earthy, bitter greenness, not unlike spinach but richer, darker and stronger.

There’s a recipe suggestion in the Riverford Farm Cook Book to add raisins and garlic or pine nuts to chard that has been flash boiled (wilted) in a small amount of water in a wok.

Drain and revive in cold water, drain again and add to a small amount of hot oil back in the wok. The addition of a handful of raisins seems like a good idea to counteract the strong green taste but the masterstroke is the addition of a sprinkling of gomasio. So there it is, sweet, salty and bitter, a holy trinity of flavours to titillate the taste buds on a chilly winter’s day.

Florencia writes about gomasio: ‘It originates from the macrobiotic tradition, the Japanese philosophy on whose principles I often draw in my cooking practice. Macrobiotics esteems seeds as a virtuous ingredient. When mixed with salt and toasted, the seeds acquire a natural healing quality. Sesame is believed to hold the key to a healthy digestion and helps reduce sodium levels (although it contains salt, the difference is in toasting it). It is rich in minerals and a good sauce of both protein and fibre.’

And of course I wouldn’t dream of telling why Florencia feeds orchids to the slugs because that would spoil the pleasure of reading the book and following her journey. A story of sensual experiences, insights and recipes, from a Buddhist retreat in an isolated farmhouse in mid-Wales to the hills of her childhood in Argentina, whilst becoming a Zen cook.

Here is a charming illustrated chapter page, to share from the book:

Retreat One: The Little Girl

Notice how the truth tends to manifest … Unexpectedly … In the small things we are often too drowsy to see … In constant whispers we are often too busy to hear …

Three recipes from Feeding Orchids to The Slugs:  Quinoa Salad ……. Mushrooms and Lovage Stew ……. Lentil Cottage Pie

What comes round, goes round …

When I first encountered kale in my organic veg box, I thought eating sea weed was a step too far. It looked exactly like the stuff that used to grow on the shingle above the shore line at Hill Head where I lived as a young teenager. Sea kale (crambe maritima … nice word) is edible and very good for you, as is the cultivated kale in my veg box. It’s odd how most of us discount free food as not worth anything; not worth the time spent harvesting or picking it, let alone taking the time to cook it.

Kale was one of the vegetables on the list of what to grow at home in the Dig for Victory Campaign during WWII, simply because it was easy to grow, outlasted a lot of other leafy vegetables as well as high in nutrients.

Well of course, I’ve paid for this kale so I’m going to have to do something with it and besides it’s been waiting at the bottom of the fridge in a plastic bag for over a week. And as if to prove a point it’s still as crisp and curly and fresh as the day it arrived.

The  recipe I’ve chosen comes from one of my old favourite cook books: Josceline Dimbleby’s Marvellous Meals with Mince. Some of the recipes are still quite novel (fish sausages and piglet pie) and on the whole don’t seem to have dated that much which is why a reprint thirty years after the first edition, in these times of austerity is still a good idea. And, after receiving a review copy of the 2012 edition from the publisher, I’m delighted to say that all the original recipes are still there, as is the odd whimsical quote: ‘One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is that we are doing and devote our attention to eating’ Pavarotti. Quite.

The presentation of recipes and photography feels contemporary and it’s more of a book now than a booklet but the format is perfect for sitting on the worktop without taking up precious work space. I’ll be experimenting with more of these recipes, however, my absolute favourite, is still Far Eastern Pie.

But I’m giving Spinach and Beef Layer Pie a go, with kale standing in for the green stuff. I’ve halved the recipe ingredients so these quantities would serve 3-4.

250g beef mince, 15g butter, 1 rounded tsp paprika, 1 tbsp plain flour, 300ml tomato juice, finely grated orange zest and juice, pinch of chilli powder, 2 large eggs, 40g blanched almonds.

Remove the stems from the kale, blanche in pan of boiled water, about 30 seconds, drain well. Melt butter in a large pan, add mince. Cook untill brown, use a spatula to break up the meat. Remove from heat and add paprika and flour. Gradually mix in tomato juice and return to heat to thicken, about 3 minutes.

Stir in orange zest and juice, chilli powder and seasoning.

Back in January I stocked up with a couple of bags of organic Seville oranges from Riverford, and put them in the freezer. I can’t tell you how it lifts my heart to get one of these frozen globes of sunshine out of the freezer and scrape the zest, whilst still frozen into a cook pot. It’s sharper and more zestier than a dessert orange.

Preheat oven, 200C, gas 6. Butter an ovenproof dish and add layers of kale and mince, starting with mince. Beat the eggs, add almonds and pour over the top. Bake for 25 minutes. This dish would go well with mashed potatoes or pasta. The kale makes a robust chewy layer, so removing the stalks before cooking is really important. Overall verdict: 8/10

 

 

 

Riverford Calling …

Forget Avon and Tupperware parties think Green and Wholesome. Think Lunch with friends on the house!

There have been many delicious and surprising happenings since starting out with my weekly organic veg box. 

The most recent one was, when Riverford Organic Farms came calling and invited me to host a lunch. They provided the food, (organic veg in boxes, delivered the day before) the cook and six recipes, all I had to do was gather up a dozen, or so friends. Well that wasn’t too difficult and better still, my friend, Sarah offered her lovely big kitchen, as the place where we would all gather to watch the action, chat and chop, if required.

Sancha, arrived sharply at 9.30 with her own knives, wrapped in something like a jewellery roll, naturally I was curious, a bag full of kitchen cupboard food items and a head full of interesting recipes planned for our menu of the day:

To start with Crushed Cumin Carrots Crostini as finger food followed by: Sweet Potato & Barley Salad, Smoky Sweetcorn Salad, Leek & Cabbage Gratin, Cauliflower & Feta Salad and Roasted Broccoli & Romanesque. Here’s two of the recipes that Sancha prepared:

To make the Carrot Crostini (or Bruschetta) start with slices of sour bread, place on a baking tray and sprinkle with a little oil and place in a medium oven until baked crispy. If in a hurry make toast. Take a large bunch of carrots, wash, trim and cut into batons, layout on a roasting tin, sprinkle with crushed cumin seeds (first, bash them about a bit with pestle and mortar) and a little olive oil and roast until caramelised for about 25 minutes at 180 C. Lightly toast a handful of pine nuts in a dry frying pan. Mash the roasted carrots roughly with a fork, add pine nuts, spread on bread. Top with fresh mint and a little fresh lemon juice. Very delicious and very unexpected, who would have thought of mashed carrots on toast? This would go down very well served with a crisp Italian white wine as an aperitivo … Ooh yes let’s have one of those and soon!

Sweet Potato & Barley Salad was an interesting combo of flavours, colours and textures and very wholesome too, what’s not to like?

Take: 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed, 1 tbs olive oil, 250g pearl barley, 200g cherry tomatoes, 1 head of broccoli, floretted and steamed, 1 small red onion, 1 tbs capers, handful of pitted black olives, 1 bunch of basil chopped.

Dressing: 5 tbs Balsamic vinegar, 6 tbs olive oil, 1 tbs Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.

Place sweet potato on baking tray, drizzle with oil. Bake at 180 C about 25 minutes until tender and slightly charred edges.

Rinse barley in cold water, boil for approx. 30 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Drain.

Make the dressing. Add to cooked barley, stir and leave to cool. Add remaining ingredients and serve. This is one of those dishes that can go on for days. Make a large batch, keeps well in the fridge for fast food lunches or meals on the run.

Smoky Sweetcorn Salad

Leek & Cabbage Gratin and Cauliflower & Feta Salad in the foreground.

Pudding (off menu) was an impromptu affair made with my home grown apples, a sprinkling of crumble, one I made earlier and served with a big jug of hot custard, out of a convenient carton … we tried not to have too many cooks in the kitchen!

If you’re interested in hosting a Riverford lunch and spreading the word about cooking and eating organic vegetables, even trying your own veg box (be part of the revolution), Riverford would love to hear from you. Contact Kirsty Hale, Riverford Cooks organiser at the farm on 01803 762019 or email kirstyhale@riverford.co.uk.

The Cinnamon Peeler’s wife

The Cinnamon Peeler’s Wife

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to you hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler’s wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
–your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers…

When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter’s wife, the lime burner’s daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner’s daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler’s wife. Smell me.

Michael Ondatjee