Venison recipes

It’s venison season, and on health, welfare and sustainability grounds it can’t be beat. About as natural and unadulterated as meat gets, its breeding and life cycle has hardly changed in the last thousand years resulting in a tender, healthy meat that’s lower in fat than skinned chicken breast, higher in iron than any other red meat, low in cholesterol and brimming with Omega-3s.

All our venison comes from small organic herds reared on Westcountry family farms in Looe and Exmoor. They graze a natural diet of clover-rich grass and wild flowers, roaming the land in natural rutting groups. The meat has a deep colour and rich flavour which is less gamey than wild venison and therefore more versatile.

So well suited to autumn eating, our venison has a short season (only available throughout the next month or so) and works well with the earthy seasonal flavours of the root veg and greens in your veg box.

Venison Cottage Pie

Venison Cottage Pie

Traditional winter comfort food, this version of cottage pie works beautifully with venison. There’s no need to be too exact about quantities; this is a good way of using up odds and ends from your veg box. The nutty strength of celeriac in this mash pairs well with venison, but you could use other root veg with the potato – parsnip, swede or carrots. Serve with buttery Savoy cabbage or kale.

See the full venison cottage pie recipe here.

Venison Toad in the Hole

Venison Toad in the Hole

Before everyone settled on pork sausages, toad in the hole used to be made with any meat that was to hand – it works beautifully with the richer taste of venison sausages. Eat with rich, sticky onion gravy, roasted carrots and seasonal greens.

See the full Venison toad in the hole recipe here.

Venison Chilli with Chocolate

Venison Chilli with Chocolate

This chilli might seem a little heavy on the beans, but that’s the way we like it. Chocolate gives it extra richness and the extra spices make the whole dish a lot more balanced and interesting. If you have an army to feed, you can double the quantities by using more venison or adding in other diced or minced meat – the diced will give a bit of added texture.

See the full venison chilli with chocolate recipe here.

Venison, Kale & Mushroom Stroganoff

Venison, Kale & Mushroom Stroganoff

This is a twist on a classic stroganoff, swapping beef for quick cook venison stir-fry strips and adding some kale for extra greens. Chestnut or portobello mushrooms make a great addition too.

See the full venison, kale & mushroom stroganoff recipe here.

Venison & Root Veg with Boulangere

Venison & Root Veg with Boulangere

A boulangère is like a gratin or a dauphinoise, where slices of potato are layered and baked in stock rather than cream. This provides excellent flavour without the extra calories, and a comforting accompaniment to venison cutlets.

See the full venison & root veg with boulangere recipe here.

Public and small farmers join forces for Good Food March

Photo – The Gaia Foundation/Twitter

Hundreds of people took the streets of London yesterday (14 October) to call for a better food and farming system in the UK and give small farmers a voice in the new Agriculture Bill.

The Good Food March began at Parliament Square in Westminster and proceeded through the city to Southbank. It was organised by leading food campaign groups and unions, including The Landworkers’ Alliance, The Soil Association and The Gaia Foundation, and had an emphasis on inclusivity in the future of food, stating that “anyone who grows, distributes, prepares, or eats food has a stake in the food system.”

“As the UK prepares to leave the EU and the Agriculture Bill is being finalised we need to ensure farmers are able to produce nutritious, ecological and healthy food and that everybody has access to it,” the group said.

Despite the poor weather, a colourful procession followed a tractor through the streets, with marchers holding slogans such as ‘Resistance is Fertile’ and ‘Hoes before GMOs’.

The march was addressed by Jyoti Fernandez of The Landworkers’ Alliance, who also spoke at a launch event for We Feed the World photography exhibition on the future of food systems after Brexit. She said: “We’re pulling out of the EU and the Common Agricultural Policy, what happens now will affect agriculture for at least the next 50 years. We need to let them know that the public does know and it does care about the future of food.”

Taking place just ahead of World Food Day on 16 October, the march was part of a 10-day series of events to celebrate small farmers across the world and discuss possibilities around the future of food and farming in the UK once it leaves the EU.

The We Feed the World photography exhibition is currently on show at the Oxo Tower in London, featuring 50 small farming communities from around the world, with simultaneous exhibitions taking place globally making it the largest global photography initiative ever attempted.

Guy’s news: Redressing the balance

Despite the recent kind weather, it has been a hard year for growers – and possibly an even harder one for purveyors of veg boxes. Come snow, rain or shine, we must fill those boxes and get them delivered for a fixed price. After losing four delivery days to snow late last winter, we were already financially stretched; a wet spring then delayed planting, forcing us to rely on additional imports made expensive by a weak pound. This was closely followed by a sweltering three-month drought that led to widespread crop failures. Some sun and heat-loving crops have exceeded expectations, but to nothing like the degree that the failures fell short of them.

You are probably getting the gist of this; we are putting our prices up next month by somewhere between 1.5% and 5% (or 20p-£1) – less for the smaller boxes, more for the larger. We are not alone; under pressure from a weak pound, rising employment costs, scarcity of labour, and weather anomalies, fruit and veg prices across the UK are rising at this rate and more. It is tempting to hang on and hope that the pound will rise against the euro before the UK’s critical Hungry Gap (the late-winter time when fields are bare, before spring crops arrive); that we can claw back summer losses through our winter crops, or that we can press more out of our staff and growers by delaying pay rises and squeezing prices. But none of these options would provide a sustainable and ethically acceptable future.

We completed the elections for our first staff council last week with a 95% turnout. As an employee-owned company, we have some hard decisions to make to balance the needs of staff, suppliers, customers and the environment, while striving to make the right choices on ethical issues like packaging. We hope this modest rise will feel fair to customers, staff and growers alike.

Pumpkin Day is on the way – book your tickets now!
Pull on your wellies and join us on our farms in Hampshire (20th October), Cambridgeshire and Devon (27th October) for our annual family-friendly pumpkin celebration. To find out more and book your tickets now, head to riverford.co.uk/pumpkinday.

ITV donates £2m to ground-breaking veg campaign

Broadcaster ITV has donated £2 million to a campaign to promote consumption of vegetables in the form of primetime TV advertising space.

The adverts, part of the Veg Power campaign run by think tank The Food Foundation, will be created free of charge by creative agency Adam and Eve, who produced last year’s John Lewis Christmas ad ‘Moz the Monster’.

Announced yesterday at the Vegetable Summit event in London, the new ads will create “bold, engaging and creative content that will aim for real behaviour change and get everyone inspired to change their attitudes to veg.” They will reach two thirds of households with children, ITV said.

Production charges will be covered by a group of supermarkets, who each pledged to spend £50,000, including Iceland, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Lidl, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s.

The new funding and alliance of supermarkets is a huge coup for Veg Power, which is backed by food writer and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and was set up to tackle the rise in diet-related illness across the UK by encouraging everyone to eat more veg. It has received crowdfunded support from various other partners, including from Riverford Organic, which donated ten £50 veg box vouchers.

Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “It’s fantastic news that ITV and Veg Power are teaming up to deliver this exciting campaign. The world of veg is full of vibrant colours and exciting and diverse tastes and textures, and we want everyone – especially children – to love them more and eat them more. If they do it will make a huge difference to the health of the nation and the lives of our kids.”

ITV chief executive, Carolyn McCall, said: “We know that the power of TV can be used to shape culture and this new advertising campaign will really amplify the message that we all need to eat more veg by broadcasting to millions of viewers during ITV’s biggest programmes.”

Veg Power is a campaign created by The Food Foundation, and its Peas Please programme, and aims to boost the consumption of vegetables across multiple areas of society, including through advertising, education, accessibility in low-income areas, convenience formats, policy and partnerships with food manufacturers.

‘Unprecedented’ changes needed to tackle climate change

Shifting diets away from intensively-farmed animal products is one of the “rapid and far-reaching” transitions that must happen if global warming is to be kept within 1.5 degrees, a major new climate change report has warned.

Published today (8 October) by the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the report said that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees is possible, but will require “unprecedented changes” in energy, land and ecosystems, urban infrastructure and industry. Currently, the world is on track to see temperatures rise by between 3 and 4 degrees.

As well as a shift in diets, the report also recommended a move to low or zero-emission power, such as renewable energy, electrifying transport, and developing green infrastructure, such as green roofs. Emissions from the livestock industry are one of the top contributors to global emissions, accounting for 14.5 per cent of the global total, primarily from the beef and dairy sectors.

Among the specific changes in land use and food production that would help limit emissions, the report highlighted sustainable diets and reduced food waste, soil sequestration, reduced deforestation and responsible sourcing.

The report was commissioned after the landmark Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, which included a pledge to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C.”

“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said report co-chair, Hans-Otto Pörtner.

Another co-chair, Debra Roberts, told the BBC: “The report is very clear, this can be done, but it will require massive changes, socially and politically and accompanied by technological development.”

The report lists several major benefits of limiting warming to 1.5, rather than 2 degrees, including smaller losses in staple crops including maize, rice and wheat, and reduced risks to marine biodiversity. Coral reefs are predicted to completely disappear if temperatures rise by 2 degrees, compared to declining by 70-90 per cent at 1.5 degrees.

Sea levels will continue to rise under 1.5 degrees, but 10 million fewer people would be exposed to the risks of flooding than under 2 degrees, the report said.

The report also stressed that for any change to have an effect, it must be a ‘whole systems’ approach that links different sectors together with no trade off.

For example, turning land over to bioenergy crops to reduce reliance on fossil fuels can have a negative effect on food security by reducing the land available for food production, and cause biodiversity loss. On the other hand, reforestation helps absorb carbon dioxide, and can also provide food, work to purify water sources and protect ecosystems.

“The good news is that some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C are already underway around the world, but they would need to accelerate,” said report co-chair, Valerie Masson-Delmotte.

The IPCC is the leading world body for assessing the science related to climate change, its impacts and potential future risks, and possible response options. The report was compiled by 91 authors from 40 countries.

Autumn squash varieties

The colours and light on the farm are changing as are the crops. The farm is a hive of activity as we excitedly get ready to welcome visitors from far and wide to our annual Pumpkin Day: from Ed, who has once again grown giant pumpkins, to Penny, who has been working hard in the polytunnel and created a lush jungle dotted with colourful gourds.

We love squash – marvellously bright and beautifully varied veg that herald the start of autumn. Our squash are sown in small pots in late April for planting out in mid May, and ready to harvest just at the point of the year when evenings are chilly and thoughts turn to cooking warming, nourishing dishes.

They can be stuffed, mashed, used in hearty salads, stews or risottos. The easiest way to enjoy them is roasted, which brings out the lovely, caramel sweetness. Simply peel and cut into chunks or curved wedges, toss in a little oil to coat and season. You can also add fresh herb sprigs (e.g. rosemary, thyme or sage) or spices (e.g. cumin, fennel seeds, or a little grated nutmeg). Roast at 190°C/Gas 5 for 25-30 minutes, until tender. If the skin is thin you can eat the roasted skin too.

If you are a squash enthusiast or fancy trying something different, our Squash Box is back! A great value way of trying at least 3 different varieties it comes with a recipe card to help you identify and cook them. Here are some basic tips to help you identify and make the most of each variety:

Bonbon

True to its name, the bonbon squash is small and sweet. It has dense, deep orange flesh, with a rich, honeyed flavour that’s really enhanced by roasting it. Top in our taste tests of 20 different squash varieties, it’s a firm favourite here on the farm.

Delicata

This small striped squash has mild, fragrant flesh with a creamy texture. Fantastically easy to prepare: just bake and eat it skin and all, no need to peel. Use as you would a marrow – try cutting it into thick discs and stuffing the hole with fragrant rice or spiced lamb.

Spaghetti Squash

The most mysterious variety, and one we get most questions about! Cut it in half lengthways, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper. Place cut side up on a baking tray and roast for about 1 hour (depending on size) until completely tender. Let it cool a little then scrape across the squash with a fork to separate the flesh into long strands which can be treated like spaghetti and served with sauce, or served cold and dressed as a salad.

Kabocha

Also known as Japanese squash, it can have either green or orange skin. With a sweet, firm flesh, it can be roasted in wedges with the skin left on or simmered, steamed and mashed. Lovely in a fragrant broth or spiced tagine. Add in chunks to a slow braised stew for the final 30 minutes to bring a hearty sweetness to a dish.

Uchi Kuri (Red Onion) Squash

This bright orange onion shaped squash has a softer flesh that is versatile, but perhaps best used for mash and risottos. Its large seed cavity is also ideal for stuffing. Remove the seeds with a large spoon, fill the cavity with a tasty pulse or grain-based stuffing and bake until the squash is tender.

Harlequin

This beautiful small squash is a painterly mix of yellow, orange white and dark green splashes. Inside, the orangey-yellow flesh has good flavour which also lends itself to being stuffed and roasted. A word of caution – never try to roast a whole uncut squash in an oven, they are rumoured to explode!

Sweet Lightning

Another very decorative squash, it may be small but is full of honey sweet, smooth flesh that roasts well. It also makes wonderful silky soups, or simply steam and mash with a small amount of cream or butter and pinch of nutmeg and season to taste.

Storage advice

Squash love to be in a warm dry place and can be stored for a long time like this. Enjoy their decorative charms by storing them on a kitchen shelf until you’re ready to eat them.

Squash seeds

Separate the seeds from the pulp and toss them with a little oil and salt or soy sauce. You can add flavours, such as spices, honey or dried herbs. Spread over a baking sheet and roast at 160°C/Gas 3 for 10-15 mins, until crisp and lightly golden. Once cool, the roasted seeds will keep in an airtight container for a week or so and make an excellent healthy snack, or to add crunch to salads.

Add a squash box to your order here.

Guy’s news: Devon Champion lost forever

Sally Tripp, the coastal farmer whose clifftop field is home (amongst her sheep) to my ancient converted bus most summers, invited me to try one of her swedes last weekend; “They aren’t organic but they eat well… though not as well as the Devon Champion we used to get from Tuckers”. Sally favours eating them with clotted cream and pepper. I will stick to butter.

Tuckers, our local agricultural merchant, stopped selling horticultural and agricultural seeds this year. For thirty years, Geoff Penton, the seeds manager, provided advice on varieties, sowing and harvest dates specific to our local soils and climate. Like so many things in life, we took it for granted until it was gone. This will be the last year we grow the flavoursome and floury Cosmos, my favourite roasting potato; with modest yields and a tendency for growth cracks when grown quickly it has been dropped by the breeders. Likewise Diana potatoes (good flavour but a tendency to bruise if machine harvested) and the carrot variety Junior, which helped Riverford to build a national reputation for the best tasting organic carrots, but is too brittle to handle mechanically.

Three companies now account for almost half of the global seed trade. They are not interested in local varieties with tiny specialist markets. Instead the same varieties are promoted globally; many GM, most hybrids, high yielding, increasingly sweet and uniform; ideal for the well-marshalled shelves of the globally uniform retailers. Like most highly bred specialists they give up at the smallest hardship, so it becomes the farmer’s job to maintain ideal conditions, often at high environmental cost. One might be reassured that many of our old varieties are preserved in an ice vault in Svalbard, but I take more heart from the emergence of a ragtag bunch of small scale maverick breeders and obsessive plant collectors (see Real Seeds in Wales and Incredible Vegetables in Devon) who observe, enthuse and swap seeds, building a dispersed depth and diversity of knowledge lost to Monsanto and, incidentally, maintaining a British tradition stretching through Kew Gardens and the Victorian plant collectors.

Guy Singh-Watson

Gove unveils new £15m fund for food waste

A new £15 million government fund will help tackle food waste and redistribute the equivalent of 250 million meals to those in need, environment minister Michael Gove has announced.

Speaking at this week’s Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Gove said the new scheme will specifically address waste from supermarkets and food manufacturers as the first part of a new ‘food strategy’.

“Every year, around 100,000 tonnes of readily available and perfectly edible food is never eaten. This has got to change,” he said. “In the coming months we will work closely with business, charities and volunteers to deliver a new scheme to tackle this problem.”

Leading food waste charity, FareShare, has welcomed the funding and said it will also help producers and farmers to offset costs linked to redistributing food.

FareShare chief executive Lindsay Boswell said: “Right now, it actually costs farmers, manufacturers and packers a lot less to dump or recycle fresh, in date food than to redistribute it to good causes – in part because of the cost of keeping the surplus food fit for human consumption.

“With the barriers to charitable food redistribution removed, businesses will no longer be penalised for doing the right thing with their food: using it to feed people.

“We see this fund as principally for food producers and not the supermarkets. The big supermarkets have already invested in charitable redistribution from their stores and this is about supporting their suppliers to do the same.”


In 2017, 205,000t of surplus food was wasted in the retail and food manufacturing sectors, according to the food waste charity Wrap, with around 100,000t of this estimated to be accessible, edible and available for redistribution. Currently, around 43,000t of surplus food is redistributed every year.

Further action to help cut food waste from all sources, including households, is being considered, Gove said.

Elsewhere in his speech, Gove said the Tories “will launch a new front in the war against waste” and “take steps to make recycling easier”, although offered no further detail.

It comes as this week Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson’s video rant on plastic packaging went viral on social media. In a rallying cry for concrete government action, Singh-Watson explained how efforts to recycle are hampered by fragmented kerbside collection processes across the country that discourage both home recycling efforts, and companies’ sustainable packaging policies.

The video has been shared almost 4,000 times on Facebook and Twitter, including by various high-profile food campaigners and academics. Leading food policy expert, Professor Tim Lang, tweeted: “Interested in plastics? Please watch this heartfelt, angry, informative, funny, demanding short video by Guy Singh-Watson. Says it all, really.”

Guy’s news: Pumpkins, plastic & pushing our luck

This week, I woke to find the lightest of ground frosts rolling off my southfacing pumpkin and squash field and settling in the sheltered valley meadow below. During the day, temperatures are still climbing to 20°C; this will help to harden the squashes’ skins, sweeten the flesh and seal the stalks. With good, well-cured skins, some varieties will keep to the spring – but even a light frost will soften the skins and prevent them from keeping. We are pushing our luck.

Some heavy rain last week, followed by a few days of dry weather, have made ideal conditions for potato harvesting. But if they are to store through to the first new season’s liftings in May, we must be patient and wait for the skins to set. Organic potato crops are normally brought to an abrupt, premature end by potato blight: a voracious pathogen that, under warm, humid conditions, can go from a few black specks to 90% leaf loss in a week. Without care the blight can also reach the tubers, resulting in a foul, putrescent smell unequalled in the plant kingdom. Our strategy is to remove the foliage when 30% of the leaf area is affected, by mowing or burning it off with a giant tractor-mounted gas grill; we then wait two weeks (three this year) for the potatoes’ skins to set before harvesting them into wooden boxes. For two or three weeks the store is ventilated with ambient air to dry the tubers and allow any harvest damage to heal. Until Christmas, most varieties can be stored at ambient temperature or cooled with just night air; after that we must use fridges to fool those drowsy spuds that spring is still a distant dream. Typically they are kept at 4°C until it is time to gently warm them prior to grading (cold spuds bruise easily). Valor, the most naturally dozy variety, will keep until June.

For the last nine months we have been agonising about what is the least bad packaging option, particularly when it comes to plastic. We have settled on 100% home-compostable punnets and bags by the end of 2020 – but it has been a hugely frustrating process. Try as we might, we cannot deliver a sensible policy while the government abdicates its responsibility by allowing countless different kerbside collection policies across the UK. Those with the time and inclination can hear my thoughts at facebook.com/riverford.

Guy Singh-Watson

Guy’s news: Can a vegetable sell itself?

In 1986, realising I was unemployable, I returned to the farm to start my own business – hopefully without the need to sell. Promoting myself as a consultant in New York had taught me that I was a bad and unhappy salesman. To this day I can talk with unremitting enthusiasm about growing and cooking vegetables, but as soon as I try to sell them, people run away. I blame it on my mother; she would have thought it vulgar to push yourself forward.

Like my mother, I would love to live in a world where a good product sold itself based on quality, value and the reputation of the person who made it. By reputation, I mean accumulated real experiences – as opposed to brand, which, too often, is distant from reality and a fiendishly clever manipulation of our vulnerabilities. Riverford is unquestionably a brand, and I would be lying to claim we present ourselves without some consideration. But for the most part I am happy with our compromise. Growing vegetables, however good, is not enough; to keep the show on the road someone needs to sell them, persuasively and persistently. We make the task even harder for ourselves by refusing to entice new customers with ‘tease and squeeze’ discounts, or to outsource the process to commission-driven third parties with highly questionable employment practices (as almost everyone else does, including most charities).

Diversity is a strength to be celebrated. Late one night at Abergavenny Food Festival last week, my wife Geetie and I found ourselves sharing a fire with some of our sales team. It must have been nearly midnight when I witnessed Adam signing up his tenth customer of the day by firelight. The transaction was made with an easy conversational charm infinitely beyond my awkward blunders, and to my surprise I felt not only admiration, but pride. We have learnt to sell our way: with humanity-affirming honesty which is both extraordinary and effective. Adam and the team are largely driven by a deep, sobering belief in Riverford which the rest of us must live up to back on the farm.

Despite our new skills, Adam’s best efforts and the advertising we are running this month, the best, most loyal customers will always be the ones that come by word of mouth from you, our customers – through old-fashioned reputation.

Guy Singh-Watson