With my organic radar firmly in place, I’ve known about Riverford for a very long time: my mother gets a weekly vegetable box, the vans drive past our door on a regular basis and our sadly missed local organic shop, which closed last year, stocked much of its veg. As a Soil Association (SA) member of many years, I have heard on-going reports and I am pleased that all the vegetables grown in the UK that find their way into the weekly boxes are SA certified. As well as their veg box operation, they have a handful of farm shops around the area and a restaurant with an excellent reputation – the Riverford Field Kitchen at Wash Farm, near Buckfastleigh, Devon.
Where is the chocolate I hear you say? Well read on and hopefully, you won’t be disappointed.
Guy Watson was the enterprising farmer who founded the business on the family farm back in 1987. From three acres and 20 local customers, things have literally mushroomed. It is now a multi-million pound business delivering over 40,000 boxes a week with a network of growers throughout the UK and beyond. Last year Guy won Farmer of the Year at the BBC Food and Farming Awards, no mean achievement.
When I was invited to attend a tour of the farm followed by lunch at the Field Kitchen, I was delighted. CT, with his obsession for novel crops, got to come along too. We have been to the Field Kitchen once before, a few years ago, to hear a talk by Graham Harvey. It has lived on in my memory as one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.
We were very happy to find ourselves in the company of a select band of local bloggers. I’ve linked to their write ups so you can get a different take on the visit and see some better pictures!
- Natalie of the HungryHinny, a fellow member of the Cornwall Clandestine Cake Club and We Should Cocoa contributor.
- Grazing Kate who has organised a couple of South West blogger meet-ups which I managed to attend.
- Marcus of Country Woodsmoke, a blogger who is passionate about smoking food and who I’d met online but not in actuality.
- Frugal Queen (accompanied by her husband), a blogger I’d very strangely not come across before – strange because she too lives in Liskeard.
The farm tour commenced with the packing shed which was impressively large and well organised. After seeing pallets of boxes packed full of juicy looking veg ready for delivery and crates of tomatoes and avocados, my mouth was well and truly watering. Next up, the field trip; bravely, we ventured outside into the cold and blustery wind. The fields are scattered over an extensive acreage, so we all hopped into a rather muddy and battered works van for a whistle stop tour of the winter crops. Fields of broad beans, leeks, kale, and my favourite purple sprouting broccoli were duly inspected. Guy had plenty to tell us and it was all very interesting. He talked with knowledge and passion about his crops and the challenges of growing them organically. We found out the fields are fertilised by the farm’s own dairy cows managed by Guy’s brother. Grass and clover leys are also used to maintain fertility.
We had a quick walk up to the woods to see the wild garlic which was starting to come through and warned not to confuse it with cuckoo pint (Arum maculatum). In its early stages it looks similar to the garlic. but it is not only very unpleasant to taste but also poisonous. The last stop was the polytunnels, where Guy handed out sharp knives and encouraged us to gather our own greens. We all got to pick some of the delicious salad leaves that I always start craving at this time of year. The views were picturesque and quintessentially Devon. The farm is located in the South Hams which is particularly pretty with lots of interlocking hills, woods, hedges and varying shades of green.
Chilled to the bone, but not in the least downhearted, we were rather glad to get into the warmth of the restaurant and see what delights awaited us. And delights there were aplenty. The Field Kitchen has an informal and sociable feel with long wooden benches for sharing with whoever else happens to be about. Bowls of food are passed around and diners help themselves to as much or as little of whichever ones appeal. If an intimate candelit dinner is what you are after, look elsewhere. Personally, I really like this way of dining. There were many nice touches including jam jars of local flowers and slices of blood orange in the water jugs.
The food was as good as I remembered it, all very fresh and completely delicious. We started with bread made on the premises and a blue cheese, celery and apple salad with hazelnuts and radish sprouts. This was followed by a veritable banquet. I had the vegetarian option of course: griddled aubergine and ricotta cheese on a bed of butternut squash, lentils and spinach. I’m a bit funny about aubergines, but these were melt in the mouth delicious. The accompanying vegetables were so well prepared and varied, that I would have been very happy with just those: beetroots and carrots, celeriac, potato and mushroom gratin with rosemary, purple sprouting broccoli and cauliflower with mustard, spring greens and curly kale with wild garlic (ramsons). CT was more than content to tuck into the duck which he found both tender and flavoursome. He took little persuasion to take seconds and even thirds. I enjoyed everything I ate, but I think my favourite dish of all was the spring greens and curly kale with ramsons; the potatoes came a very close second.
We were joined for lunch by Guy and two members of his PR team, Holly and Katie. As befits the setting, lively conversations and laughter erupted from our table. It turned out that Holly and Katie were both cake enthusiasts and seemed to be quite keen on chocolate too. There were lots of oohs and ahs over pudding. Head Chef Rob Andrew and the restaurant team had put on a large selection, all laid out on the counter for our delectation; we agonised over our choice – we were only allowed one. As well as sticky toffee pudding with or without custard (perfect weather for it), lemon mascarpone cheesecake, apple pear and fig tart and orange marmalade steamed pudding were on offer. There were also two chocolate choices: poached pear and chocolate pavlova or chocolate orange and almond torte. Oh my, what a dilemma. As I can never resist meringue, I plumped for the pavlova, but with a few backward glances of regret for what might have been. Katie, my guardian angel, saw my predicament and somehow charmed an additional slice out of the chef, so I got to have my cake and eat it – twice! It was worth it.
A two course meal at £22.50 is not cheap, but it is excellent food and you are unlikely to go hungry. The ten of us at our table were unable to finish the dishes from the main course and could only just squeeze dessert in. All of the food is organic and the dining experience is lively and interesting.
A few days later, we were sent a Riverford Veg Box to try. The choice of veg boxes is quite remarkable in terms of variety and size; ours was the small one. It didn’t seem that small to me and was packed with a good variety of fresh organic vegetables. We used to subscribe to a veg box scheme back along, before we had a plot to grow our own and although we were happy enough with it, we did get a little bored of the endless swedes in the winter months. No such problem here. We had a large crunchy lettuce, a bag of potatoes, carrots, a swede, calabrese, a cauliflower, tomatoes on the vine and a box of chestnut mushrooms. A couple of recipes and some farm news was also included, giving a personal touch to each delivery. The packaging used was minimal and the only non recyclable material was the plastic bag the lettuce came in. This is a massive reduction on the number of bags used to buy the equivalent produce in a supermarket. This box costs £12.99, which like the Field Kitchen is not cheap, but given the freshness of the produce, its organic status and its delivery to your front door, it is, I think, good value. Fruit boxes and meat boxes are also available and individual quantities can be purchased on line along with an astonishing array of dairy, store cupboard ingredients, drinks and baked goods – all organic of course.
Look out for a Riverford giveaway coming soon.
Now what could be more delightful than to receive a tin full of homemade biscuits on Mother’s Day? Well, perhaps receiving the biscuits in this particular tin. The appearance and wording made me laugh as soon as I saw it: FOOD in case of emergency, take a break. Strongly reminiscent of those fire alarm fixtures, hunger can be quite a serious matter in itself. This tin is perfect for accompanying us down to the plot, where all breaks are very well earned indeed, especially at this time of the year when there is a lot of hard graft to be done. With its red and black warning colouration, it will be hard to loose in the undergrowth and when an emergency occurs and blood sugar levels plummet, it will be easy to find. It is also just about the right size to carry a couple of sandwiches and maybe some cake to accompany us on moorland and coastal walks, once again emergencies have been known to happen in these situations. Relying on a mobile phone will do no good. Weighing in at 256g, it’s nice and light and measuring 20 x 8 x 15.5 cm, it has plenty of capacity.
I was sent a Take a Break Emergency Food Tin to try out by Mustard who sell all sorts of fun but useful items online. I immediately filled it with these chocolate Garibaldi biscuits and we trooped off down the plot. That was one emergency averted – phew!
Now I’m not quite sure why, but when I found out the “special ingredient” for this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge hosted by The KitchenMaid, was fame, Garibaldi was the very first name that sprang to mind. Giuseppe Garibaldi played a prominent role in the Unification of Italy in 1870, but as far as I remember from my school history lessons, he was THE figure, not just one of them. I suspect he particularly stuck in my mind because of the famous biscuits named after him. His story seemed rather a romantic one to my somewhat naive mind; with his famous volunteer army dressed in Red Shirts for want of real uniforms, storming across Italy in a bid for independence and deposing despots as they went. He was much admired by Victor Hugo, Georges Sand and Alexandre Dumas, all heroes of mine at the time. He did indeed achieve a lot in his lifetime and led an interesting life – you can read more about him here.
|Garibaldi on Caprera c1860|
For those unaware of Garibaldi biscuits, they are rectangular, flat, pastry like bakes, heavily studded with currants in recognition of the limited rations the Red Shirts carried with them. Squashed flies, as we used to call them, were a firm favourite when I was young, principally because it was one of the few shop bought biscuits my mother would allow; it must have had something to do with all those currants. I have no idea if they are still made, I haven’t had one in years. In fact I might just have to go down to the shops right now and find out.
My version is based on the recipe from British Baking by Peyton and Byrne. Instead of currants, I of course used chocolate, but not just any old chocolate: fairtrade hazelnut chocolate. I usually use fairtrade chocolate as a matter of course, but I thought I’d mention it as it is Fairtrade Fortnight at the moment – I’m sure Garibaldi would have approved. I used my usual mix of half wholemeal and half white, but threw in a tbsp of mesquite powder which I thought would emulate the malty notes that shop bought biscuits often have.
This is how I made:
Chocolate Garibaldi Biscuits
- Chopped 100g bar of Fairtrade hazelnut chocolate so as to get it as small as I could.
- Weighed out 280g flour (half wholemeal, half white including 1 tbsp mesquite powder) and put into food processor.
- Added 1 scant teaspoon of baking powder and a pinch of pink Himalayan rock salt.
- Cubed 110g unsalted butter and threw that in.
- Added 75g cardamom (caster) sugar.
- Whizzed in the processor until the mixture resembled breadcrumbs.
- Added about 8 tbsp of milk (recipe stated 1 or 2) bit by bit until the mixture started to clump.
- Bought into a ball with my hands and shaped into a cube.
- Floured worktop and rolled out to about 5mm thickness.
- Trimmed the edges to make a square, then cut in half.
- Sprinkled most of the chocolate over one half (leave a little for the trimmings).
- Topped with the other half and squished the edges together to seal.
- Rolled out to about 3mm, then cut into rectangles of varying sizes.
- Pricked each one a few times with a fork and placed on a lined baking tray.
- Brushed with egg white and baked for 15 minutes at 180C until golden.
I was pleased to discover that my biscuits tasted like my memories of the real Garibaldis, even though mine were heavily studded with hazelnut chocolate rather than currants. In fact, they were quite delicious and I will most definitely be making them again. They were perhaps a little thicker than the originals, but were crisp with the right texture and eminently suitable for dunking. They were sweet enough, but not overly so with the hazelnut chocolate making a good substitute for the currants. Where better to store them than in a fun new tin I was sent recently – if you keep your eye on things, you might see it featuring in a giveaway here shortly.
NB – I did go to the shops and I did find Garibaldi biscuits and I had to buy a packet too. I was annoyed to find that palm oil was used rather than butter, but other than that the ingredients weren’t too bad with currants at 39% being the top one. They weren’t too sweet either and although mine tasted far superior (though I say it myself), they are still not a bad little biscuit.
Although I can often be seen running down the road with a piece of toast in my hand first thing in the morning, I have had a bit of a love affair with breakfast smoothies recently. Packed full of healthy and delicious ingredients, they can be a great way to start the day. If I’m at home on my own, I sometimes have one as an easy lunch option. Normally I use milk, but when given the opportunity to try some unsweetened Almond Breeze recently, I thought I’d take the chance to reacquaint myself with almond milk.
Made from Californian almonds, Almond Breeze is dairy free and soya free. It is very low in calories with only 14 per 100 ml, making it ideal for those on the 5:2 fasting diet. 100 ml also provides 15% of the recommended daily allowance for Calcium.
Foodies 100 set a challenge to come up with an “easy to make but incredibly scrumptious breakfast smoothie”. Well, I had this one sorted without even having to think about it. I’ve honed my matcha smoothie to the point of perfection and for optimum nutrition, it was just a matter of swapping the dairy milk for Almond Breeze.
This is how I made:
Matcha and Banana Superfood Breakfast Smoothie
- Soaked 2 tbsp of porridge oats and 2 tsp of chia seeds in a litre of unsweetened almond milk (Almond Breeze) for 15 minutes so that the oats and chia would swell and thicken the smoothie.
- Added two chopped fairtrade bananas, 1 tsp matcha powder and 2 tsp honey (I usually use Cornish honey, but I had been sent some Beech Forest Honeydew from the New Zealand Honey Co, so thought I’d use that to give an extra boost with its 10+ pre-biotic factor).
- Whizzed this in a liquidiser for a couple of minutes until smooth and frothy.
- Poured into 2 large glasses and topped with shavings from a bar of 100% chocolate.
Pure breakfast bliss and so simple. It was thick and frothy, just as I’d expected. The matcha green tea gave a pleasant green colour and infused the smoothie with its distinctive taste and high density of antioxidants. The chia seeds gave a lovely speckled look and added additional powerful nutrients. The chocolate on the top gave a real burst of intense cocoa with every sip and without the addition of sugar is super healthy too. For a vegan alternative, the honey could easily be replaced by date syrup or agave nectar or left out all together.
Disclaimer – I was sent two litres of almond milk to try. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.