Category Archives: Ethics

Local meat producers and Waterloo Cottage Farm

British Saddleback

Before the Shire Book of the Month, currently Pigs, changes, I want to tell you about a local meat producer called Waterloo Cottage Farm and the important role that small producers have in selling good meat from happy animals.

Meat is expensive and so it should be.  To produce good meat takes time, through slow fattening on the right kind of food, fresh air and exercise for the animals, slaughter in the least stressful way possible followed by a decent period of hanging before it finally arrives in your kitchen.

With this in mind, I visited local producer Waterloo Cottage Farm in Great Oxenden, Northamptonshire and was given a tour of the farm by owner, Kirsty Clarke.  We met in the light, cool shop, where a mouth-watering array of meat and produce was displayed.  After a brief chat about what I wanted to see, I was taken out through the back door to the business end of the enterprise.

Glorious Pig

I was confronted by lots of open pens, with several different types of pigs enjoying the sunshine.  I was wearing a long skirt and strappy sandals, so I tucked my skirt into my knickers and prepared to meet the pigs and what a gorgeous crew they were.  I have a big soft spot for pigs at the best of times, but being able to climb into the pens and actually scratch them and talk to them was a treat indeed.

Happy Pig

Saddleback Piglets

And Kirsty did indeed talk to her pigs and her care and enthusiasm for the creatures came across loud and clear.  The farm has a herd of British Saddlebacks which are allowed to mature fully in the fields and woods which surround Waterloo Farm, as well as Petrans and Ginger Durocs.  I became extremely soppy when she introduced me to the piglets who were running and rolling with their mother in the straw.

The Clarkes also have lamb and hogget, chickens, ducks and geese and they select beef and veal from local farms who also use traditional breeds.  All the animals have something in common.  They are all reared using traditional, sustainable farming methods which work with nature, not against it.  The animals are free to lead full, natural lives on healthy soil and fed on natural, local feed and the pigs are slow grown until they are 9-10 months which is a significantly longer life than an intensively bred animal. The barley comes from the farmer next door and the slaughterhouse is only nine miles away, the animals being accompanied there in a quiet and unstressed way which is better for the animal and better for the resulting meat.

Looking at the meat in the shop is a very different experience to browsing the chiller aisles in the supermarket.  The meat is darker in colour and more wholesome-looking than perhaps we’re used to and the bacon and sausages sit in great piles, pleading with you to take them home.  The bacon and hams are cured on the premises and their master butcher produces fresh piles of traditional and artisan varieties of sausages every day.

I bought some bacon and something I haven’t eaten for over thirty years – veal.  I have deliberately avoided veal because of the unspeakable practice of veal crating, but with the sure knowledge that the animal that provided this had been happy, healthy and natural, I took a chop home and had it for my supper.

My veal in the shop

I can honestly say that I’ve never tasted meat like it; it was tender, sweet and juicy and so flavourful I could have wept.  I also had some of their dry cured bacon for my breakfast the following morning and, apart from the taste, the most obvious difference was visual.  No white scum stickily coating the bottom of your frying pan here, and two rashers and a couple of fried eggs was distinctly more filling that the abominable mid-range stuff you buy at the supermarket.

Local producers do an incredible job of farming.  Not only do they help to preserve the rare breeds but they also help to preserve the very land on which they’re reared because of the sustainable ways in which they farm.  The meat hasn’t travelled huge distances and is therefore beneficial to the environment in a wider sense.  They are also firm protagonists of old skills such as proper butchery and artisan methods of preparation and, because of the renewed interest in this kind of food, many farms  are taking on apprentices.  Waterloo Cottage Farm also runs meat craft courses to encourage you to get the best out of their meat.

We must support these local producers in their endeavours by shopping with them whenever we can.  I have said it before and I will keep saying it until you do as you’re told; eat less, eat better.  Learn how to use to meat to get the best out of it and, I am convinced that properly reared, slow grown meat actually fills you up more so you don’t need as much of it.  Eat less, eat better.  It’s better for all of us.

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Filed under Animals, Ethics, Food, Livestock, Nutrition & Sensible Eating, Regional, Slider

Veal

My veal in the shop

Tonight, I had something I haven’t had for over twenty five years.
I had the biggest, meatiest rosè veal chop that was so delicious I nearly wept.

For various reasons, I visited the Waterloo Cottage Farm Shop in Great Oxendon, Leicestershire and, having thoroughly inspected their delightful premises, I caught sight of several cuts of delicious looking meat in the display counter.  ‘What’s that?’ I asked and was told that it was rosè veal.

My veal chop

The reason it has been so long since I ate veal is that I found the practice of crating calves for veal repugnant and never ate it again.  The animals sourced for Waterloo Cottage Farm’s veal live outside with their mothers, eating a natural diet of grass, silage, cereals and roots and live a happy, healthy life until they are taken for slaughter.

My cooked veal chop

I cooked the chop, which was on the bone, in a frying pan with a tiny bit of oil and black pepper on a medium heat and ate it with new potatoes and peas.  The meat was so tender that my knife simply drifted through it and it was sweet and succulent to taste.  I like meat very rare, so it was slightly pink in the middle, which made it even juicier.  It was a heck of a chop and was actually slightly too much for me, but I couldn’t bear to leave a scrap of meat on my plate – perfect size for a chap though.

The downside was the cost; although it was undoubtedly a big chop, it cost £4.00, so would have to be a treat.  But what a treat.

I’ve said this before and I will keep saying it over and over again.  Good food costs money.  Decently reared, properly fed, happy animals produce meat of a quality that has been forgotten.  Good meat costs more but I reckon you don’t need as much to fill you up.

Eat less, eat better.  Learn about meat and how to make the most of it; ask your butcher about different cuts.  Find out who your local producers are and support them.  Use farm shops.  This is how the price of really good meat will come down a bit and you will be stimulating local economies and encouraging the high welfare and sustainable husbandry of old breeds.  As an additional pleasure, many of these small farms encourage their customers to visit the animals which is a crucial part of learning to respect the food on our plates.

Try a bit of rosè veal and give yourself a treat.

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Filed under Environment, Ethics, Food, Slider

The Great British Disgrace

I have just watched a television programme that made me feel genuinely panicky.  I could actually feel my heart racing at certain points when the visual evidence combined with statistics shocked me to the marrow.

This programme was called ‘The Great British Waste Menu’ on BBC1 at 8.30pm.  Four of the country’s top chef’s were challenged to produce a three course meal for 60 people out of unwanted, wasted food from any part of the food chain to highlight the amount of edible produce which is thrown away every day.  If ever there was a programme made for The Wartime Housewife, this was it. 

I’m going to startle you with some statistics.  I must add that none of these figures are researched by me, they are all courtesy of the programme.

  • One fifth of all food in the UK is thrown away
  • 3,500 potatoes are wasted every minute either in raw or cooked form
  • One million cattle are slaughtered in Britain every year and yet huge quantities are thown away or sold for dog meat because people only want the expensive cuts
  • £1.4 billion worth of food is wasted at some point in the supply chain by supermarkets every year
  • According to the charity ‘Fareshare’, four million people go hungry in the UK every day
  • On one farm alone, 30,000 heads of lettuce were ploughed back into the field on ONE DAY because they didn’t meet the supermarket specification

One fifth of all food in the UK is thrown away. How can that fail to sicken any right minded person? The chefs not only visited farms, wholesalers and supermarkets, they also knocked on the doors of homes in South London and asked  if there were any things that people were about to throw out.  Many of the people they asked didn’t even know what was in their fridges and had let stuff go off because they had forgotten it was there, or refused to eat perfectly edible food because it was past its sell-by date.  

Sell-by dates are there for the convenience of the supermarkets, for their stock rotation and their pathological fear of falling foul of the health and safety fascists.  Sell-by dates, like so much recent political legislation, have successfully robbed individuals of their common sense and their ability to make reasonable, instinctive judgements about what they put in their gobs.

I used to work for one of the (more ethical) leading supermarkets and I asked the manager why such huge amounts of food were going into the waste bins every day.  They are past their sell-by dates he told me and not fit for human consumption.  “I’d eat it” I said, hopefully, but it was made very clear that if I so much as glanced sideways at a wholemeal seeded batch I would be sacked on the spot.  I asked why the food could not be given to the homeless shelter.  I was told that would be illegal.  Wasting a skip-load of food every day should be illegal.

We, as consumers, are the biggest problem as far as the supermarkets are concerned.  The public has become obsessed with visual perfection and alleged convenient uniformity at the expense of flavour.  Egg farms throw thousands of eggs away every day because they are too small.  Apparently, the British housewife cannot work out how to use a small egg and panics if confronted with a hefty courgette. 

Millions of vegetables are thrown away for having tiny blemishes on their skins, potatoes wasted because they have sprouted slightly.  Supermarkets demand that courgettes are between 17-21cm long or they will reject them.  They also reject small strawberries (apparently the shoppers don’t want them) and those which cannot be sold at farmers markets are thrown away.

The chefs had an incredible haul of food salvaged for their menu.  One baker was going to throw away a foot long topside of beef, fishermen handed over boxes of young sole, called ‘slip sole’, because British housewives can’t be bothered to cook them,  Ideally, of course, we should be developing more sophisticated methods of fishing so that these young fish wouldn’t be caught in the first place.  But how difficult is it to cook a fish on the bone (more tasty anyway) and eat it?  Markets throw away binfuls of fruit and vegetables because they’ve fallen on the floor, gone a tiny bit soft or they simply can’t be bothered to take it home.

We have let this happen.  We have become so lazy and senseless that we are treating the precious resource of food, that takes so much effort to produce, that nourishes our bodies, and of which there is plenty to go round, like so much garbage. 

A TV programme last year showed a family of five who spent £400 a week on food and threw away a third of it.  Part of this was because they weren’t great cooks and partly it was because they allowed their children to be fussy and dictate what they would or wouldn’t eat.  They were effectively running a canteen and some days cooked four separate dishes at one meal.  Utter, profligate madness.

I produce very little food waste – vegetable peelings, the very odd bit of cold meat that I have completely forgotten to cook in time.  I scrape the mould off cheddar and bread (within reason), and any vegetables that get a little elderly are roasted or turned into soup.  I don’t do massive shops, and I admit to using the supermarket more than I should because of time constraints.  When there was a farm shop up the road, I rarely went to the supermarket except for cleaning stuff and dry goods.  

However there is a farm shop on the other side of Harborough and I am going to go to it.  In fact, time permitting, I am going to start scavenging.  I am a terrific scavenger for everything else, so I’m going to start scavenging for food.  I’ll let the excitement of this programme die down a bit, and then I shall set to.  And I pledge here and now, that every time I successfully scavenge stuff, I will tell you what I’ve cooked with it.  Maybe a new side bar or feature box is called for.  I will consult an expert.

If ‘Great British Waste Menu’ is repeated on iPlayer, please, please watch it and make your families and friends watch it.  And more importantly, look very hard at your fridges and larders and make a firm commitment to wasting less and save yourself some money.  Plan your meals and your shopping, never go out without a list, investigate cheaper cuts of meat and ask your butcher for them.    ‘Waste not, want not’ is as about as good a cliché as you will ever hear.  We are entering a period of much needed austerity.  Be prepared.

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Filed under Community and shopping, Ethics, Food, Tips, Skips and Scavenging

A recipe for Shepherd’s or Cottage Pie

There are few people in the world who don’t like a nice Cottage or Shepherds’ Pie.  Except vegetarians of course, but even they can eat Quorn if they get the urge.  Incidentally, I apologise if this is stating the obvious, but a Shepherds’ Pie is made from minced lamb and Cottage Pie is made from minced beef.

The mantra of the Wartime Housewife is always “Eat less but eat better”.  Cheap mince is a horrid thing – full of gristle and fat with a nasty texture and I will always argue that it is better to eat a small amount of decent meat than to stuff yourself with water injected, intensively reared rubbish. There is also an argument that properly fed, slow produced meat fills you up more anyway, so you need less.

One can make a Cottage Pie go much further by loading it up with vegetables that can blend in quite discreetly, such as tinned chopped tomatoes, peas, carrots, chopped green beans, sweetcorn, chopped peppers, sliced mushrooms or even baked beans if you want a one-pot meal.  There fore, it can be made using storecupboard ingredients.  Hurrah!

ECONOMY COTTAGE PIE – serves 6

Utensils:
1 x large ovenproof and hob-proof dish
1 x medium saucepan
1 x vegetable peeler
1 x potato masher
1 x chopping board and vegetable knife

Ingredients:
1 large onion – chopped
a little oil for frying
1lb / 500g lean minced beef
¼  pint / 300ml good strong beef stock
1 tblspn mixed herbs
1 tspn paprika
1 dash Worcestershire Sauce or 1 tblspn Marmite/Bovril
1  tin chopped tomatoes
1 large carrot – thinly sliced or diced
4oz / 120g frozen peas
For the top
2 ½ lb / 1kg –ish potatoes for mashing – peeled and cut into smallish chunks
A knob of butter
A bit of grated cheese for the top if you fancy it

Method:
Pre-heat the oven to 180 / 350 / 4
Heat the oil in the large pan and fry the onion until soft and translucent
Add the mince and fry until browned
Add all the other ingredients (except the potatoes) and cook until the carrots are al dente
Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in the medium saucepan until soft enough to mash
Season to taste, add the butter and mash until soft and lump free
When the meat is cooked, pile the mash onto the top and rough it up with a fork
Sprinkle with the cheese if you wish
Bake in the oven for about half an hour or until the top is browning nicely
Serve with extra vegetables, baked beans or crispy salad

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Filed under Ethics, Food, Recipes, Storecupboard

Foxed by urban attitudes. Don’t feed the foxes.

Along with the rest of the country, I was heartbroken at the plight of the two little girls in East London who were attacked in their cot by a fox.  I sincerely hope that they will recover and that the wonders of modern surgery will be able to minimise the effects of their injuries.  I send my love to the family.

It does, however, bring the problem of foxes, usually considered to be a ‘countryside’ issue into a much broader focus.  I am going to nail my colours to the mast here and now so there is no confusion.  Despite living in a cottage owned by The Fernie Hunt  I am not in favour of fox hunting.  Not because of the elitism of the hunt, or because I have romantic notions about foxes, but because it is a very inefficient way of culling.  In fact, (and don’t tell them this will you) I suspect that the hunt actually strengthens the fox population because the hounds are far more likely to catch the old and the sick ones.  When they do catch one, it’s a horrible business, as horrible as the fate of lambs and poultry that are attacked and killed by foxes.

Foxes have to be controlled around humans and livestock in the same way that other vermin have to be controlled.  They have no natural predators in the UK and just because they’re beautiful, that doesn’t make them any less verminous.  If rats were fluffy with cute little ears, would we hesitate before feeding them poison which kills them over several days with internal bleeding?  If foxes carried rabies, as they do in other countries, would there be as many hunt saboteurs? 

I would suggest that, in the countryside, other than taking all reasonable precautions to protect livestock, the livestock farmers and particularly the gamekeepers, nearly all of whom own guns, should have training as marksmen.  This is a far more humane and efficient method of control.

Regarding the towns and cities, the first thing we should do is to ask ourselves what the foxes are doing there in the first place.  They are unlikely to have come in for the culture, but they are absolutely there for the fine dining.  The increasing amount of waste food lying about in the streets and piled up in bins is the fox equivalent of a safari supper.  I swear I saw one in Leicester wearing chinos and loafers, whilst snuffling daintily at a discarded vindaloo.

Another massive incentive for them is the utter idiots who deliberately leave food out for them.  The Aged Parent’s next door neighbour used to leave chicken carcasses, often with half the meat still attached, out on her lawn “for the lovely little foxes”.  Apart from the wickedness of wasting half a chicken, the local rat population must have thought the God of Takeaways had come to Earth in human form.

Wednesday’s Telegraph reported that a local wildlife expert had suggested that the fox who attacked the baby girls was probably a cub that was attracted by the smell of nappies and that, as soon as it realised that the nappies were attached to a human, it panicked and injured them. 

There is nothing that can be said or done to make this incident less frightening and tragic for the Koupparis family, but let us use this incident as a wake up call.  Foxes belong in the countryside in manageable numbers.  If we treat our urban environment with such contempt by leaving our filth and detritus scattered about the streets, then we are inviting trouble.  Rats are already increasing in frightening numbers, foxes will inevitably become emboldened by their familiarity with the towns. 

This country is in financial meltdown and very soon the new coalition government is going to start making economies and rightly so.  Let’s all start to take some personal responsibility and, at the very least, help to keep our towns and cities clean by disposing of our rubbish responsibly.  Better still, consume less in the first place or we’ll be playing ‘Where’s Wall-e?’ whether we like it or not.

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Filed under Ethics, Food, Politics, Re-use Recycle

Don’t Rook Now: A recipe for Rook Pie (but you can use pigeon)

A couple of days ago I was tossed a gauntlet by the immeasurable Mr Affer.  At the end of a charming article about the delights of Rookeries, he invited me to submit a recipe for cooking the rooks.

Rooks have long been recognised as a free food source, particularly in the West Country and South Wales.  They are quite hard to acquire these days as most people, even in the countryside, are such hypocritical pansies when it comes to food.  Many people are more than happy to munch on a water injected, formerly tormented pig, but will baulk at a bit of low fat game that has had a happy life.  Bah.

The easiest way to get your hands on some young and tender rooks is to seek out a farmer or gamekeeper who is about to cull them and ask them to save you a few.  They will probably despatch them with a shotgun though, which means you have to watch out for lead shot.  A .22 rifle is a better option.  The only bit of a rook worth eating is the breast, so you don’t really want it full of shot.

The other, more dangerous, way is to climb a rookery.  I would not advise doing this yourself unless you are an experienced climber, but if you are, then make sure you take a small bag up with you.  The young rooks can be popped into the bag ready to be bopped swiftly on the head when you get down.

Sadly, this is not the right time of year to go a-rooking, as the young rooks, or ‘branchers’, are not ready until about the second week in May.  In Victorian times it was considered a perfectly suitable activity for young ladies and boys and they would gather on 12th May for a day’s gentle sport.

Therefore, as it is only mid April, I was unable to obtain any rook breasts.  The recipe below calls for half rook, half pigeon but I had to make do with all pigeon. It was so good I could weep.
I served it with parsnip puree and would have chosen to serve peas, but I had run out.

WILD THANG PIE – serves 6

Utensils:
1 x large saucepan
1 x 10” pie dish
1 x rolling pin
1 x pastry brush
1 x small dish for the egg
1 x bowl for the flour
1 x chopping board & sharp knife

Ingredients:
1 packet of shortcrust pastry (or 1lb/500g of your own recipe)
8 wood pigeon breasts (or 4 rook and 4 pigeon) – chopped into biggish chunks
2oz / 60g plain flour
3 tablespoons oil or dripping
1 medium onion – roughly chopped
1lb / 480g wild mushrooms – sliced into chunks
4floz / 125ml dry white wine
½ pint / 300ml good strong stock
1 x bouquet garni
1 egg – beaten

Method:
Pre-heat the oven to 190/375/5
Grease and flour the pie dish
Roll out the pastry and line the dish.  Roll out the remains ready for the lid
Put the flour into a bowl, seasoned with salt and pepper and coat the rook and pigeon in it
Heat the oil or dripping in a large sauce pan and briefly sauté the onion
Add the mushrooms and cook for 1 minute, keeping them moving
Add the meat and flour to the pan, cook briefly until just browning
Add the wine and stir it around quickly
Then gradually add the stock, stirring briskly all the time, until it starts to thicken.
Add the bouquet garni and remove from the heat
Brush the edge of the pastry with the beaten egg
Pour the meat mixture into the dish
Place the remaining pastry on top, crimp the edges to seal and make 3 slits in the lid
Brush the top with egg and place in the oven for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Caw!

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Filed under Community and shopping, Ethics, Food, Hedgerows, Outdoor Activities, Recipes, Regional, Seasonal

A recipe card which uses a packet cake-mix? Shame.

Imposters

As I was coming out of Sainsbury’s on Friday evening, I glanced at the rack of recipe cards by the door.  These cards always make me seethe, particularly the ‘Feed your Family for a Fiver’ ones for two reasons:-
a)  Unless you have a family of ten, there should be no difficulty in producing a main course for £5
b)  It never is only £5, because there are always extra ‘storecupboard’ ingredients which they have failed to cost in

However, today I saw an attractive card showing a picture of cupcakes and, as I was going to put a recipe for cupcakes on the blog sometime soon, I picked it up and brought it home.  Imagine my astonishment when the list of ingredients on the back included One pack of Sainsbury’s Fairy Cake Mix.  A recipe card instructing people to use a packet cake mix. By all means put a serving suggestion on the back of the cake mix box, but don’t pretend it’s a proper recipe.

I am not a food fascist.  I don’t make absolutely everything we eat from scratch because sometimes I’m worn out and short of time and it’s more important to eat on time than to produce a homespun extravaganza.  But a recipe card from a ‘big four’ supermarket that paid a leading celebrity chef a small fortune to promote their brand?  Shame on them.

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Filed under Community and shopping, Ethics, Food