Guy’s Newsletter: satellite-guided tractors & graceful curves

In one of our north-west facing fields, sunset shadows occasionally reveal the haphazard ridge and furrow lines left from when I made a mess of ploughing it as a teenager. Laying out straight, parallel ‘lands’ (sections) for ploughing and cultivating a field have been a mark of a horseman’s and then a tractor driver’s skill for centuries; since the results are plain for all to see, they are also the source of great pride and occasional shame. Teaching a novice to drive straight, especially at 500 metres/hour (the speed of a lettuce planter) is not easy; the more nervous they are the worse it gets, resulting in ever more reactive wiggles which must be followed, and are usually amplified, on subsequent passes. The secret is a relaxed but unerring fixation on a distant tree or landmark.

Why does it matter? It’s not just pride; a bad tractor driver can waste 10% of the field and add substantially to costs. I always reckoned I was pretty good at it but I’m easily surpassed by our drivers Alex, Dave and Marius. Now that particular skill may soon be redundant as we buy tractors fitted with GPS and software to control their movement to within 20-150mm. I can’t help lamenting another skill becoming obsolete but, freed of the need to steer, a driver can devote more attention to ensuring the machine on the back operates perfectly.

An additional advantage to such accuracy is that all the soil compaction is kept in the same track lines, so crops can be planted on land that has never been driven over; the equivalent of farm scale raised beds. More excitingly, and though it will take a lot of planning, GPS brings the possibility of moving away from monocultures without going back to hand labour. Mixing different crops allows us to mimic nature to an extent, thus reducing pest pressure. Wouldn’t it be great if we could use mechanisation and technology to facilitate flexibility and complexity in farming, rather than everything agricultural just getting bigger, simpler and dumber? We might even occasionally programme our tractors to make graceful parallel curves to hug and complement our hills.

Guy Watson

Guy’s Newsletter: “when we whistle, you jump”

So Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has gone into battle again, this time with his War on Waste programme on BBC One. Supermarket produce specifications, trading practices and spin come off badly, with the focus on Morrisons’ demand for perfect parsnips. Hugh managed to find a rarity; a supermarket supplying farmer who was willing to speak out. In this case as in most, it led to extinction of the family business. My trading with supermarkets came to an end shortly after one of their buyers told me, “Look sonny, when we whistle, you jump”. I left the office, picked up a sledge hammer and set about destroying the packhouse I had started building. Another time I was told my little gem lettuces would be on offer and I would be paid 6p per lettuce instead of 15p, the minimum we could live with. Most growers get so ground down by this standard treatment that they suck it up until they go bust, or get bought out in the never-ending consolidation of supply; supermarkets just don’t want to trade with small family businesses.

In my experience, the abuse that spews from a dissatisfied supermarket buyer makes Cruella de Ville seem like the Dalai Lama. No-one should treat another human being like that, yet frustratingly their petulant demands don’t even reflect customer preferences. As Hugh points out and our customers tell us, most people don’t expect vegetables to look like they were made in a factory. Yet natural variation must be driven out when you supply a supermarket, which can only be done at vast human and environmental cost, with staggering, unjustifiable waste.

Nothing makes me happier than leaving a field with just stumps standing after harvest, knowing we’ve sold every last cauliflower, lettuce or leek that is edible. We can only do that by having much more forgiving cosmetic specifications. At times I know we test your tolerance with gluts of broad beans or artichokes, but our assumption is that you’re with us to feel connected with the people who grow your food, and that flavour and a sane food chain are what count. The whole system only works if we have the courage to risk irritating you now and then. If seven going on eleven billion of us are to share this planet, no-one can have exactly what they want all the time, not even a supermarket buyer.

Guy Watson

Guy’s Newsletter: farming, not buying

In 1999, after 12 years as an organic grower in the UK, I was starting to get the knack of it; my soils and crops were improving, sales were up and I had founded a local growers’ co-op. None of that prevented me being repeatedly told, “organic is all very well for the rich, but will never feed the world”. It has always struck me that industrialised, chemical agriculture wasn’t doing that well either, but I wanted to see for myself. Sub-Saharan Africa, where food couldn’t be described as a lifestyle choice, seemed a good place to start.

After a month in Kenya, visiting both subsistence farmers and large scale veg growers, I crossed the border into Uganda with a heavy heart; I had yet to see anything likely to inspire imitation, organic or not. My guide Timothy Njakasi and I spent a week visiting growers, many trained by him through the charity Send a Cow. There was plenty of bush burning and bad farming, but my spirits rose as I saw more integrated agriculture involving water conservation, composting and the use of trees and perennial crops in multi-canopy systems.

Established by a group of Devon farmers, Send a Cow teaches sustainable farming techniques across Africa using local skills and materials. I have been hugely impressed by their patient, ground-up approach, relying on demonstration and peer farmers to change lives permanently. According to the UN, small scale farms produce up to 80% of food in non-industrialised countries, and the agro-ecological techniques they generally employ have been shown to double yields in 3-5 years. This is far from the picture of futureless ‘peasant farming’ painted by the agri-chemical industry’s clever marketing. Yet as there is little opportunity to profit from such self-sufficient agriculture by selling chemicals or machinery, no-one with marketing money talks about it. Simply put, it’s hard to get support for farming that doesn’t involve buying stuff.

I have supported Send a Cow ever since that visit, and our staff and customers raise £25,000 every year to support their work. Until the end of December every £1 donated to Send a Cow will be matched by our government. For something that could change a family’s life forever, that has to be good value. Visit for details.

Guy Watson

How to cook kale

There is a lot of buzz and fuss about kale in the media, but not everyone knows how to tackle it in the kitchen. We hope this guide will help you enjoy it for what it is – a versatile, champion British veg that is full of flavour.

These are the three varieties of kale you are most likely to find in your veg box, each with rather different eating properties. We will also occasionally send out thousand head or ‘hungry gap’ kale in spring. If you happen to get this, you can use it much like the red Russian variety.


CAVOLO NERO (BLACK KALE) (October–January) is the prince of kales: a slowgrowing, dark green plant with elegant, elongated leaves. This is the least hardy of the kales and often we harvest it before Christmas. It’s especially good for soups and stews and is generally interchangeable with Savoy cabbage.


CURLY KALE (September–March) is the most ubiquitous kale, the easiest to grow and the least interesting in the kitchen, though it adds a good robust texture and slightly peppery flavour to cooking.


RED RUSSIAN (October–April) has fine-fronded leaves tinged with purple. This is the sweetest and most delicate variety of kale and is best lightly steamed or braised.

Kale is best kept bagged in the fridge. Use red Russian within 2–4 days and curly and cavolo nero within a week. It can be frozen, either as it comes or blanched. Curly kale or cavolo nero can also be dried in the oven to make ‘crisps’ if you wish to keep it for longer.

Preparation depends on the type and age of the kale. Generally red Russian needs very little attention; both leaves and stalks should be tender enough to cook together. For other varieties, as a rule of thumb, if a stem or rib snaps cleanly, include it in your cooking with the leaves. With older, more fibrous specimens, strip the leaves off and discard the stalks or slice finely and cook them for longer. This is almost always required with curly kale and cavolo nero, though you may find a cluster of young tender leaves at the core that doesn’t need to be de-ribbed.


To strip the leaves, pinch the base of the stalk at the point where the leaf starts with your thumb and forefinger and then drag towards the tip. The leaf should shear away in a satisfying rip. Leave the leaves whole or slice finely. To slice, pile a few on top of each other, roll them tightly into a cigar, then cut across the roll.

Dirt tends to lurk inside curly kale. The easiest way to get rid of this is to prepare it as above, then swish it in a big bowl or sinkful of cold water. Leave to rest for a few minutes and the dirt will sink to the bottom. Lift out and drain in a colander, then either spin dry in a salad spinner or pat dry with a tea towel.

Different methods work best for each variety and cooking times will varykale-recipe-2 according to how robust the leaves are so check what’s best for the type you’re using.

blanch and squeeze
Blanching kale before adding it to other dishes is a good way of fixing its colour and ensuring it isn’t overcooked. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, drop in the kale in small batches and cook for 30 seconds for red Russian, 1–2 minutes for curly and 2–3 minutes for cavolo nero. Remove the blanched kale with a slotted spoon and plunge it straight into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking and lock in the colour. When cooled, squeeze well to get rid of the water (it’s easiest to use your hands), then chop and add where it’s needed.

slow braise
This method works best with the more robust leaves of cavolo nero. Cook your kale, partially covered, over a low heat with a little water or stock for about 30 minutes. Add a dash more liquid as necessary to stop it catching. It will retain kale-recipe-3some bite and the colour should be dark. Let the liquid boil away for the last minutes of cooking so that the edges become very lightly crisped. You can also add flavours or seasonings at the beginning or end of the cooking – see ‘works well with…’ below.

fast cook
Steaming and boiling times depend on the robustness of the leaves and how tender or crisp you would like them: red Russian needs 1–2 minutes; curly and cavolo nero 4–8 minutes. Err on the side of undercooking, as overcooking destroys kale’s texture. Alternatively, wilt your kale leaves as follows: Strip out the stalks and rinse the leaves. Melt some butter in a frying pan and fry a couple of cloves of finely chopped garlic on a low heat for 1–2 minutes, until starting to colour. Add the kale and cook over a high heat until starting to wilt, about 1–5 minutes, depending on variety. Use tongs to toss the kale around and ensure an even cooking. When wilted, season with salt, pepper, maybe some chilli flakes and lemon juice.

works well with…

  • acid – lemon juice and vinegarkale-recipe
  • chilli
  • dairy – cream, plus strong, hard cheese
  • eggs
  • garlic
  • mustard
  • nutmeg
  • nuts – chestnuts and hazelnuts
  • pork – particularly bacon, chorizo and sausage meat
  • raisins, currants and dried apricots

Keen to get started? Try these recipes:
kale, chorizo & potato hash
sausage, kale & bean stew
stuffed squash with kale, red cabbage & beetroot salad
kale, spelt & chorizo broth
baked potatoes with cheesy kale filling

Guy’s Newsletter: more recipes & less mud

Our veg box scheme was founded on my blinkered assumption that most of our customers were like me, and grew up in a farm kitchen with a stock pot on the Rayburn, where mud was a way of life and dead animals hung in the larder. Over the years it has dawned on me that I was being a bit narrow-minded; even clean living urbanites with small kitchens like to eat veg and it is our job to help them, ideally without them losing the connection with where their food came from or those who grew it.

Long-standing customers will have noticed that there is now less mud in their boxes; one of our more obsessive recipients once weighed the earth over a few months and reported that we delivered an average of 112g of soil per week, and that he would rather we didn’t. Well we don’t any more, and even go as far as to wash the roots when excessive amounts of field hang on. We also trim the vegetables a bit more on the basis that fewer people make stock, and the organic matter is more of an asset in our fields than in your bins.

When I delivered the first boxes in the early ‘90s it quickly became apparent that many customers need a little help with more whacky veg, but also inspiration for the more familiar. The Riverford quarterly, then monthly, then weekly newsletter was born with recipes cribbed from Jane and Sophie Grigson, Elizabeth David and my mother, adapted and tested on my growing family and photocopied late at night. I even did the illustrations. Our first recipe book, The Riverford Farm Cook Book, followed in 2008 and was written with Jane Baxter, our first chef at the Field Kitchen. She is as opinionated about food as I am about farming; it won lots of awards and I am still very proud of it. Our second book, Everyday & Sunday, had some good recipes but too much cream and too many esoteric ingredients, so did little to make life easier for less experienced cooks. After many revisions and delays we now have two new books called Riverford Companions, designed to redress that balance: Spring & Summer Veg and Autumn & Winter Veg are very practical, focusing on quick and easy home cooking with a minimum of ingredients, implements and stages. If you have found yourself asking, “What is it? What can I make with it?” then they should provide the answer. Visit the website for more details.

Guy Watson

Onion stringing? Ah oui oui!

At Riverford we love an after work get-together, especially when it involves a beer and food.


Head gardener, Penny, proposed an after work onion stringing class so, a group of us headed down to our new poly tunnel, which doubles as a staff allotment meeting room, and herb garden for the Riverford Field Kitchen. Penny explained she had been stringing onions for years, and wanted to teach us all.

onion4“Maybe I’m a just a hippy, but I love having food on display around my kitchen. We should be celebrating it, not hiding it away in the cupboards! I’ve hung a bunch up in my kitchen already and I think it looks fun,” she said.

The onion stringing was fairly simple. You start with a loop of string, hung above head height. You then string our first onion by threading the top through the loop, then wrapping it around the outside twice, before threading back through the middle. You then do another onion on top, and another…


Eventually you’ll up with a bunch, of a size of your choice. It was strangely therapeutic, and we were all nattering away whilst doing it. We each made a couple of bunches, one to take home and one extra to decorate the Field Kitchen with.

In true Riverford style, we heated up some French onion soup on a camp stove; a few cold beers was pretty well received too!

Keep an eye out for a how-to video on onion stringing coming soon.


Pumpkin Day 2015 – rain did not stop play!

Every year our legendary pumpkin day is a big event here at Riverford, and this year was no different. Despite a little rain, everyone was wellied-up and in true autumn spirit.

We welcomed over 6000 people across our four farms, along with our new London event which we held at Vauxhall City Farm.
The day saw visitors get involved in pumpkin carving, tractor rides, farm walks, worm digging and much more; alongside the activities was live music, including a fantastic ukulele band, and lots of tasty autumnal food.

“Every year I’m overwhelmed with how much people enjoy Pumpkin Day, there’s always such a buzz on the farm. Thank you to all who came and made this year as special as the last.” said Guy.

This year we opened our poly tunnel on our Devon farm, to show off the fantastic herbs and edible flowers we grow for the Riverford Field Kitchen Restaurant. We also introduced cookery demos, and onion stringing, which were both a huge success. As with every year, we saw some terrific pumpkins carved too!

Have a look through some pictures below:

A Foraged Festive Tipple – How to make Quince Ratafia

When Guy set up thforaged-fruite farm here in Devon he made a point of planting native fruit trees around the place, as much to boost biodiversity as for how they contribute to making it a beautiful place to work and visit. Every autumn the field margins, hedgerows and even the driveways have boughs heaving with sloes, crab apples, quince, hawthorn, elderberries, rowan and medlars, which staff and visitors are free to help themselves to should they be keen. This year we took it one step further decided a staff foraging and preserving event would be good fun.

To this end various members of our marketing, finance, IT, customer services and recipe box teams gathered after work one October evening, to learn from our Riverford recipe matriarch, Kirsty Hale.


After splitting into foraging teams and armed with bramble shears and gloves where necessary, we spread out across the farm; some down to the old rhubarb field margin, some up by the reservoir, some to the cardoon field and some to the medlar tree in the car park.

45 minutes of competitive picking (in some cases) later, we reconvened in our recipe development kitchen and under Kirsty’s instruction, set about preparing our quinces to make quince Ratafia; medlarsquince gin or vodka. As you can see from the pictures, it was organised chaos and brilliant fun, with a loud buzz and clatter of chat, peeling, grating and chopping. In case you are not familiar with it, quince is a beautifully perfumed fruit that brings light, almost floral notes to whatever it is blended with. It is the one fruit you really can’t eat raw; it’s just rock solid and unpalatable. However when baked or poached its texture is transformed to a dense, jelly-like finish, though our aim with this exercise was simply to swipe its beautiful notes to create a festive tipple.

We love talking about veg, but it was good to do something a bit more social with each other for a change!

Next up was hedgerow jelly made using the crab apples and other fruits. If you fancy having a go, here are Kirsty’s recipes:

Quince gin or vodka (ratafia)
You will need:

  • Sterilised glass bottle/jar and lid (wide necked is easiest), left to cool
  • Quinces
  • Gin or vodka
  • Granulated sugar

Cut the quince into quarters and roughly pick out as many pips as you can. Coarsely grate (or use a processor) and transfer to your sterilised, cold bottle. You want to fill it approx. ⅓ full (exact ratios below). Add sugar, ground cinnamon and nutmeg or mace, top up with booze and seal.

Leave for at least 2 months, longer if you can (up to 1 years, even 18 months). Gently turn it now and then, about every week, so the sugar slowly dissolves.
Strain through muslin for the best finish and decant into cold sterilised bottles.

You can guesstimate the weight ratios, but here’s a roquince-ginugh guide:
2.5 litre jar = 4-5 quince, 500-600g sugar (to your own preference for sweetness), ¼ tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg (more if you like), peel from 1 lemon, approx. 1-1.2 litres booze

2 litre jar = 3-4 quince, 400-500g sugar, good pinch or two of cinnamon and nutmeg, peel from 1 lemon, 800ml-1 litre booze

1.5 litre jar = 3 quince, 350-400g sugar, pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, peel from ½ lemon, 600-750ml booze

1 litre jar = 1-2 quince, 200-250g sugar, pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, peel from ¼ lemon, 400-500ml booze

You can also make lovely booze with: Sloes (freeze overnight or prick with a pin before adding). A few drops of almond or vanilla essence is good with this, damsons or plums (prick several times), crab apples (use leftover pulp from making jelly), medlars, and many other fruits.
Use – on its own, or over ice. Or top up with tonic, lemonade or bitter lemon (sloes or damsons are very good with bitter lemon). Make cocktails or pour over ice-cream or desserts. Experiment and enjoy!



Crab apple or Hedgerow jelly

To make approx. 6-8 x 8oz jars, or approx. 4 x Riverford 12oz jars

  • 1kg crab apples + 1 kg other berries eg sloes, hips, hawthorn, elderberries, rowan, or use more crab apples, washed well
  • Granulated sugar – have about 1kg to hand, you may not need all of it
  • Clean, sterilised jars & lids – put jars on a baking tray in a cold oven, heat to 150C for a 15 mins (keep the jars hot in the oven for potting)
  • Cold saucers kept in the fridge (to test for a set)

Put the fruit in a large pan with 1.2 litres of water. Bring up to a low boil. Cook the fruit until very soft, approx. 15-20 mins or so.

Ladle the contents of the pan into a suspended muslin jelly bag. Leave to drip for several hours (or overnight). Don’t squeeze or press it or the jelly will turn cloudy.
Measure the juice. For every 600ml juice you need 450g sugar. Transfer the juice and sugar to a preserving pan (a very large heavy-based stainless steel saucepan is fine to use).

Heat the pan gently until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, boil for 10 mins.
Test for a set – put a dessertspoon’s worth on a cold saucer. Leave for 20-30 secs, then push it with your finger. It should ripple when the set is ready. If not set, repeat the boil and test at 10 minute intervals, until you get the ripple effect.

Skim off any scum from the surface. Pot the hot mixture into hot sterilised jars. Seal, turn upside down for 5 mins to sterilise the lids. Label when cool. The pots should keep for up to 1 year.

You can use the leftover drained mushy apples to make crab apple vodka or gin.


  • Add a little chilli to the apples/berries when steeping.
  • Pop a little star anise in with your finished jelly – the anise flavour is really good with pork and game.


Guy’s Newsletter: whacky veg that works

A couple of years ago I asked for suggestions of less familiar vegetables you would like us to grow for your veg boxes. Among the more frequent suggestions were oca, purslane, turmeric, lemon grass, yukon, puntarelle, ratte potatoes, cardoons, some whacky tomatoes and cime di rapa. I’m a sucker for a challenge, so we have run growing and cooking trials on these vegetables and more. Inevitably most were flops; they didn’t grow, were too slow to harvest, they yellowed or wilted as soon as were picked or, if they grew, lacked culinary merit. I refuse to grow things on the basis of novelty alone; they have to taste good too.

Cime di rapa is looking promising and after a couple of false starts we think we might now have got the agronomy right (sowing date, spacing, soil, variety etc.); our first field-scale trial will be harvested this week. It is a staple winter green in southern Italy; sold in bunches in the markets, normally as it starts to flower. It is very succulent with a slightly lemony bitterness and is classically sautéed with garlic and chilli, and tossed through pasta or served as a side green. Meanwhile in our third year of trials we are still struggling with the Peruvian tuber oca (Oxalis tuberosa). It is closer to a yam than a potato, tastes pretty good, is said to be easy to grow in our climate but seems to miss home; despite having seen it growing happily halfway up a Welsh mountain we have twice failed to get an economic yield ourselves. Thinking it needs more heat and less rain we are now growing it in France with more success. Don’t hold your breath though; the yield will be tiny this year with just a few hundred kilos available on the extras list in November, but we are hoping to go large next year.

Cardoons have proved easy to grow and I am slowly winning our restaurant teams over to cooking them; they need just the right combination of growing expertise to minimise bitterness and toughness, paired with the right techniques in the kitchen. I love them but acknowledge they are too out there to risk putting in the boxes, but they will occasionally be on the extras list. We send the flowers as a freebie in the boxes now and then, and have started drying the flower stamens to grind into a vegetarian rennet substitute. We ate the first cardoon cheese last week; who knows, we may even get a herd of milking sheep.

Guy Watson

Experiments with Cardoon Rennet

Caseous Cardoons

The boss, Guy, has been growing a pic-1-a-harvestingvegetable called a cardoon on the farm for the last few years. It is a giant thistle from the same family as the artichoke; to prepare it the leaves are stripped back and the celery-like leaf ribs are braised and cooked. They are quite bitter but are much loved by the Italians and we have been making progress selling them in the boxes. The harvest is pretty much over by the end of June but we leave the plants to carry on into flower. They produce a stunning thistle head which we have used to decorate the restaurant or give out as free gifts in our veg boxes. I heard rumour a few years ago that cardoons could be used to make a vegetarian rennet for cheese making, but it had worked its way slowly down the to-do list. This year, heartened by a good crop, a good summer and a few rows of flowering plants, I have decided to give it a go.

The Benchmark
There is often a worry that culinary disaster see-saws opposite to experimentation in the kitchen; sometimes the fact that you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you should, especially with fringe methods. I could find plenty of reference to cardoon rennet cheeses in Italy and Portugal, but were these a tradition driven by thrift and circumstance rather than flavour? The setting enzyme from thistles are certainly rumoured to affect the texture; oddly the resulting cheeses seem to get runnier as they age and are often eaten by removing the top and scooping and dipping like a room temperature fondue. The taste too is said to be affected; a slight bitterness is transferred, which is characteristic of the thistle family as a whole. The one strict rule was that any cheese must be made from sheep or goat’s milk only, as the reaction with cow’s milk renders the whole thing unpalatably bitter. That rules out the milk from our dairy herd.Pic-2-Cardo-cheese

In the UK all paths led very swiftly to a lady called Mary Holbrook in Somerset. She produces a seasonal batch of washed rind goat’s cheese called Cardo.

Chef Craig from our restaurant the Riverford Field Kitchen stopped into Neal’s Yard Dairy in London while visiting our pub, The Duke of Cambridge, and managed to bring me back half a round of it to deepest, darkest Devon. It was, by any standard, a great cheese. Any concerns about taste and texture were soon put to rest and the faint bitterness balanced well with the briny pong from the rind. As a benchmark it is quite a thing to aim at, but at least I now know that it is worth the effort.

A Lunchtime Well-Spent
Toward the end of August, the flowers are almost all in bloom. The tightly armoured thistle heads have burst open into a splay of bright purple two-inch stamens. There is something a little punkish about them, like a field of gently nodding mohawks. Feelers have been put out to a few of our cheese suppliers and a sample has been promised to Gary Jungheim of the nearby Country Cheeses shop to have a play with.

I have made somepic-3-harvesting-flower-heads progress in trying to track down the elusive Mary Holbrook, too. I’ve decided to harvest about 300 flower heads, enough to get a decent yield but not so much that I affect the harvest of flower heads destined as a free gift in the veg boxes. To be honest an angry farm manager is the least of my worries; it seems that cardoon flowers are the place to be seen for the local bee population. Open, accessible and brazen in their flourishing, each flower contains at least one happily grazing bee. Deciding to spread the threat, I managed to cajole a handful of volunteers into giving up a lunchtime to weave in and out of the triffid-like plants and brave the bees. A blessedly sting-free 30 mins later and we have our harvest.

At Home with the Onions

pic-4-removing-the-stamensArmed with a sharp serrated knife I’ve set aside a few hours early on a Friday to scalp my cardoons. I’ve managed to recently get hold of Mary Holbrook and she kindly gave me all the help and encouragement I could have hoped for. She confirmed that it was indeed the bright purple stamen that I needed to collect and dry. They can then be crushed to a powder in a pestle and steeped in warm water to make a rennet.

Jason from our maintenance team let me pinch a few metres of fine mesh netting from our new poly tunnel and between us we rigged a simple hammock structure in the roof of our onion drying store. The stamen cut away pic-5-removing-the-stamenswith ease, but the bees refuse to abate, so as I created a cardoon pollen mother-lode I choose to adopt a stoical trance, amidst a growing swarm, as I work. The stamen are spread evenly in their mesh hammocks and left to dry in our onion store, where the hot air created by our store fridges is harnessed to hasten drying.

The Wait

I check the cardoon stamen after the weekend and am amazed to find that they feel pretty much dry already. I gently rake and turn them to make sure they are evenly spread and decide to leave them for at least two weeks just to be sure.
I use the intervening time to gather as much info as I can on how to use the stamen to the best effect, and also to muse as to what end this experiment may lead. I thought at the least it could be an interesting experiment but am wondering if it may lead to the possibility of producing a small run of sheep’s cheese each pic-6---drying-and-turning-the-stamenssummer when the cardoons flower. Guy has been getting some good media for his cardoons and the word is starting to spread.
As with his artichokes, he tends to grow them for the love rather than the money so I’m sure they’ll be a long term fixture on the farm. It would be a nice cycle to in effect harvest the same crop twice before ploughing the remains back into the field; botanical thrift.

Bag and tag
The stamen are bone dry and have an audible dry rustle to them. I try pressing some firmly between a sheet of soft paper and there is no liquid blotting at all. Once gathered and weighed it seems that I have just over 5kg of dried stamen. They have faded in colour but there is still a purple tinge to them, the scent is still strong and almost a little overpowering when gathered in one place. Our recipe box packing team kindly offer to try vac-packing them for me but they are so light and delicate that the machine keeps sucking them from the bag as the air is purged. We opt for a tightly hand-sealed bag instead. I drop some in to Country Cheeses in Totnes, save a few bags for myself and send the rest to our suppliers High weald farm and Wootton Dairy, who both supply us with wonderful sheep’s cheese in various forms. The die has been cast, now to see if we can roll a few sixes.



Bob Andrew,
Riverford Chef