Guy’s Newsletter: ruminating on ruminants

Last week’s newsletter questioning the sustainability of eating meat has stimulated a lively and thoughtful debate on our blog and Facebook page. Interestingly, our meat attitude survey suggests that for the general public, 27% have reduced meat consumption compared to a year ago, largely for health or financial reasons. Among our own customers the picture is markedly different, with 47% eating less meat due to animal welfare or environmental issues, suggesting you are more thoughtful and altruistic; but then I always knew that.

Climate change is not the only measure of the impact of the meat we eat; I for one put pressure on land and consequent deforestation, land grabs and loss of wildlife almost as high. The mass of contradicting data is driving me nuts, but here’s our best estimate for now in terms of kg CO₂ produced per kg of meat: beef (20); lamb (15); butter (12); hard cheese (9); pork (5); chicken (5); eggs (4.5); soft cheese (2); cows’ milk (1.2). However these figures are broad averages from many studies; a true figure for the meat on your plate will depend on production systems and exactly what’s being measured. Yet to me this order is counter intuitive; how can a sheep or cow at pasture be so bad? The answer is because the bacteria in their rumen that enable them to digest fibrous food also generate methane and N₂O; both massively more potent greenhouse gases than CO₂. Yet it could be argued that under some circumstances ruminants can reduce pressure on land by grazing low grade pasture unsuitable for crops or less damaging pigs or chickens. Sadly most dairy and to some extent beef animals get much of their protein from grain and soya; it’s cheaper that way and economics, not ecology, welfare or nutrition shapes our food systems.

Confused? I hope to be more authoritative as our research progresses; it seems the only clear thing is that we should eat less meat and ensure that ruminants eat mostly grass, as ours do. Pigs would do well if they ate mostly waste, as they once did, but that is for another newsletter. In the meantime, there is a lot more detail and data references on our website to guide the assiduously inquisitive.

Guy Watson

Find out more at www.riverford.co.uk/how-much-meat.

Pancake day Riverford style

With Pancake Day fast approaching we thought we’d offer a little inspiration for how to do Shrove Tuesday the Riverford way. Although the classic lemon and sugar combo takes a lot of beating, we think our veg-packed savoury pancakes are pretty good contenders.

The key to a good pancake is to use an oil suitable for frying at high temperatures, and without a strong flavour, such as sunflower or groundnut oil. Plain flour can be substituted for buckwheat, which goes particularly well with savoury fillings; in France, crêpes are usually made with buckwheat. It’s also gluten-free.

The possibilities for savoury fillings are as broad as your imagination, but here are a few of our favourites. They are, of course, are all about the veg!

souffled broccoli & stilton pancakes

prep & cook 50 mins, serves 2

Souffled-Broccoli-&-Stilton-Pancakes

110g buckwheat flour
100g purple sprouting broccoli (or calabrese)
50g watercress
3 eggs
500ml milk
50g butter
1 tsp dijon or coarse grain mustard
75g stilton

Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. Scoop 2 good tsp of the buckwheat flour into a small bowl or mug and keep to one side. Wash the purple sprouting broccoli and watercress. Next, make the pancake batter; start by putting the remaining flour and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Crack in 1 of the eggs. Add a good splash of milk and whisk together to form a thick, smooth paste. Gradually whisk in more milk, until you’ve used half of the milk, whisking as you go. Whisk in 2 tbsp cold water.

Preheat your oven to 200˚C/180˚C/gas 5. Melt ½ the butter with 1 tbsp oil in a small pan. Remove from the heat once the butter has melted. Use kitchen paper dipped in a little of the butter and oil to grease a non-stick pancake pan (or 20-21cm frying pan). Ladle in enough batter to just cover the pan, rolling it around to spread it out. Cook on a medium-high heat for 1 ½ mins, until small bubbles start appearing. Carefully turn with a fish slice or spatula. Cook for another min, until golden underneath. Remove to a plate, cover with greaseproof paper or foil, and repeat until you have 4 good pancakes. Grease a baking dish with a tiny bit of the remaining butter, just about ⅕.

Melt the rest of the butter in a pan, add the reserved flour and cook gently, stirring, for 2 mins. Lower the heat right down and gradually whisk in the ⅔ of the remaining milk. Increase the heat slightly and stir until the sauce has thickened. Add the mustard, crumble in the stilton and season to taste. Leave to cool for 3 mins. Meanwhile, boil the broccoli in the pan of water for 3 mins. Drain.

Divide the remaining 2 eggs into yolks and whites. Stir the egg yolks and drained broccoli into the sauce. In a separate bowl (wash and use the pancake batter bowl), whisk the 2 egg whites until they form soft, but firm peaks. Fold a large spoonful of the egg white into the broccoli mixture, not worrying too much about the air bubbles, then very carefully fold in the rest, keeping as much air in the mix as you can. Put the pancakes in a baking dish and spoon some of the veg mixture down the middle of each pancake. Fold the over on both sides to make an open ended parcel. Bake for approx 20 mins, depending on your oven, until the top of the pancake has crisped up and the middle expanded and puffed up.

Pick any very larger stalks off the watercress. Serve with the pancakes, when cooked.

chilli bean & veg pancakes

prep & cook 45 mins, serves 2

Chilli-Bean-&-Veg-Pancakes

1 onion
oil for frying eg sunflower or light olive
1 courgette
1 red pepper
1 carrot
2 garlic cloves
100g buckwheat flour
1 egg
500ml milk
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp dried thyme
1 dried chilli – add to taste
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tin of plum tomatoes
1 tin of red kidney beans
50g salad leaves
25g butter
yogurt, to serve

Peel and finely dice the onion. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a good-sized, heavy-based saucepan. Add the onion and fry on a low heat, stirring now and then, for 10 mins, until soft and translucent without colouring. Meanwhile, cut trim the top of the courgette and cut into small dice (approx 1cm, keep them small so they cook in time). Cut the pepper in ½, deseed and cut into similar sized dice. Wash, peel and finely dice the carrot. Peel and finely chop, grate or crush 2 garlic cloves. After 10 mins, add the courgette, pepper and carrot to the onion. Gently fry for 5 mins, stirring now and then.

While the veg cooks, make the pancake batter: put the 100g of flour and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Crack in the egg. Add a good splash of milk and whisk together to form a thick, smooth paste. Gradually whisk in more milk, until you’ve used ½ of the carton, whisking as you go. Whisk in 3 tbsp cold water.

Next, add the garlic, cumin, coriander and dried thyme to the veg. Chop the dried chilli in ½ and crumble in ½. Fry for 2 mins. Add the tomato purée and cook for 1 min. Add the tin of tomatoes. Season and stir well. Simmer for 20 mins, until the veg is tender. Taste halfway through and add more chilli if you like. As soon as you add the tinned tomatoes, drain the kidney beans into a colander. Rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. Add ½ the beans to the tomato and veg as soon as you’ve done this (keep the rest in a tub in the fridge. Use in lunchbox salads or other meals within 2 days).

Next, make the pancakes: melt the butter with 1 tbsp oil in a small pan. Remove from the heat once the butter has melted. Put your oven on low: 140˚C/120˚C/gas mark 2. Use kitchen paper dipped in a little of the butter and oil to grease a non-stick pancake pan (or 20-21cm frying pan). Ladle in enough batter to just cover the pan, rolling it around to spread it out. Cook on a medium-high heat for 1 ½ mins, until small bubbles start appearing. Carefully turn with a fish slice or spatula. Cook for another minute, until golden underneath. Remove to a plate, cover with greaseproof paper or foil, and repeat until you have 4 good pancakes. Cover the plate with foil and in the oven to keep the pancakes warm. Once the veg in the chilli bean sauce is tender, check the seasoning, then fill the pancakes. Serve with a dollop of yogurt and salad leaves.

leek & mushroom buckwheat pancakes, with watercress salad

prep & cook 35 mins, serves 2

Leek-&-Mushroom-Buckwheat-Pancakes-with-Watercress-Salad

1 large leek
50g butter, ½ for pancakes, ½ for filling
200g mushrooms
110g buckwheat flour
50g watercress
1 egg
500ml milk, ½ for pancakes, ½ for filling
1 teaspoon dried thyme
75g grated grated cheddar cheese
oil for frying eg sunflower or light olive
1 teaspoon dijon mustard

Wash the leek, cut in half lengthways and finely shred it. Heat ½ the butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the leeks and fry on a very low heat for 10 mins, stirring now and then, until soft but not coloured. If they start to catch, add a splash of water and turn the heat down.

Meanwhile, put your oven on a low heat 140˚C/120˚C/gas mark 2. Remove 2 good tsp of the buckwheat flour to a small bowl or mug and keep to one side. Next make the pancake batter: put the 100g of flour and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Crack in the egg. Add a good splash of milk and whisk together to form a thick, smooth paste. Gradually whisk in more milk, until you’ve used ½ of the carton, whisking as you go. Whisk in 2 tbsp cold water.
Once the leeks have cooked for 10 mins, add the mushrooms and dried thyme. Cook for 3 mins, stirring now and then. Add the reserved 2 tsp of flour. Stir for 2 mins. Gradually stir in the rest of the milk carton. Add the cheese and gently heat until the mixture has thickened slightly. Remove from the heat.

Melt the rest of the butter with 1 tbsp oil in a small pan. Remove from the heat once the butter has melted. Use kitchen paper dipped in a little of the butter and oil to grease a non-stick pancake pan (or 20-21cm frying pan). Ladle in enough batter to just cover the pan, rolling it around to spread it out. Cook on a medium-high heat for 1 ½ mins, until small bubbles start appearing. Carefully turn with a fish slice or spatula. Cook for another minute, until golden underneath. Remove to a plate, cover with greaseproof paper or foil, and repeat until you have 4 good pancakes. Keep warm in the oven. Gently reheat the leek & mushroom mixture. Stir in the Dijon mustard and season to taste. Fill the pancakes with the mixture and serve with the watercress.

Find organic lemons, sugar, or milk for your pancakes, or choose from our organic veg for a savoury twist.

Guy’s Newsletter: ruminating on protein

“Dad, how can you call yourself an environmentalist, and still sell meat?”. First one daughter, then the other, then even my previously carnivorous sons joined in. Their epiphany was brought on by the documentary Cowspiracy; it is smug, irritating and outrageously one-sided in its selection of evidence and ends with an unjustified and ill-considered swipe at Greenpeace. However, despite my irritation, I would agree (uncomfortably for someone selling meat) that no thinking person can reasonably claim to be an environmentalist, or even a humanist, while continuing to eat more than very small amounts of animal protein; most forms of animal agriculture are simply wrecking our planet.

Climate change-wise the arguments are complex, involving ruminant methane emissions, deforestation for grazing and soya production, methane and nitrous oxide emitting manure heaps and soil, intensive versus extensive farming methods and more. As our planet is so diverse in soils, topography, ecology, diet and agricultural methods, it’s unwise to be dogmatic anyway. However, after weeks scouring scientific papers, we have reached the following initial conclusions:

  • Livestock agriculture contributes 10-12% of manmade climate change; arguably as much as every car, plane, truck and ship on the planet.
  • Livestock agriculture is grossly inefficient and requires 5-10 times more land to feed ourselves than a vegan diet; there just isn’t enough land to go round. OK it’s not that simple; there may well be a credible argument for animals grazing permanent pastures on land unsuited for growing crops for humans, to produce high quality, high welfare meat and dairy, as with most organic farming, but we will have to eat much less of it.

Alongside this are all the health, animal welfare, pollution and antibiotic resistance arguments against eating meat; hard to quantify, but very real. There will be exceptions, but the general conclusion is inescapable; for the good of us and our planet, we must collectively eat much less animal protein. Over the coming weeks we’ll be exploring the issue and suggesting ways to nudge any committed carnivores away from some of their meat. I hope you’ll feel compelled to join us.

Guy Watson

Visit www.riverford.co.uk/how-much-meat to join the debate, take our ‘drop a day’ pledge, browse meat-minimising recipes and do our survey.

Guy’s Newsletter: hasty veg & a bitter imposition

We are finally enjoying some very welcome cold, dry and bright weather. It will take another week before our most free-draining land dries enough to allow any soil preparation for planting though; spring still feels a long way off. Most winter crops are running four to six weeks ahead of schedule due to the mild winter so far, while our other fields look worryingly bare; it will be three or four months before the spring crops are ready. We still have plenty of roots, kale and leeks, but there will be gaps left by the hasty cauliflowers and cabbages, so we will have to juggle our box contents planning a little.

In contrast to this, over on our farm in France a break in the weather allowed us to plant the first batavia lettuce this week, as the sandy soils there are more forgiving. The first cos lettuce will go into the ground tomorrow; the seed bed was prepared and covered back in October, avoiding the need for any cultivation now when it is difficult to get machinery on the wet land. We plant by hand this early in the year, but still need a tractor to bend hoops and lay the low-level polytunnels that will protect and advance the crop, allowing us to start cutting in late March. Overall our farm in the Vendée has come a long way to filling the UK’s Hungry Gap, but it looks as if that gap might be wider than usual this year. Thankfully, after five years on our own, an organic neighbour will be growing spinach for your boxes in late April and May.

Most of the crop planning for the coming season is done, and seeds and plants ordered with just a few details to refine; I would be grateful if some of you could pass comment on the pale green, solid-ish, bitter and crunchy heads of pain de sucre (salad chicory) that have been in some boxes over the last month. I love growing and eating them and they provide some winter variety without the need to go 1000 miles south, but is this a bitter imposition or do you like them too? There is a very, very brief questionnaire at www.riverford.co.uk/paindesucre; I am just as keen to hear from the haters as the lovers.

Guy Watson

A question about pain de sucre

pain de sucre

Pain de sucre; how much do you like it?

Pain de sucre, also known as sugar loaf chicory, looks like a pale, solid conical cos lettuce, but is actually part of the radicchio family. It has a milder, sweeter flavour and lots of crunch. I am a fan, both as a grower and a cook.

Thanks for taking the time to get this far; only one question to answer.

Thanks for your help
Guy Watson

A visit from The Happy Pear

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The Happy Pear twins, David and Stephen Flynn, are Irish chefs who run a natural food shop, wholefood café and restaurant and sprout farm and do health education talks to, as they put it, “inspire a healthier, happier world”. When they approached us keen to collaborate on our recipe boxes, a quick look at their cook book (a bestseller in Ireland) showed that their love of flavourful, veg-packed, down-to-earth cooking was a brilliant match with our own approach to food at Riverford. Back in November the pair visited us on the farm in Devon, and were as full of energy and warm enthusiasm in person as they are in the cookery videos on their YouTube channel. They had a tour of the farm with Riverford founder Guy Watson, where they harvested leeks and tasted their way through the salad leaves in our polytunnels, before we headed to our development kitchen for a bit of cooking and a photoshoot. They were a delight to have along, and we’re really interested to see how their recipes go down!

IMG_4714A little more background on the boys: After studying business degrees at university, David and Stephen travelled the world tasting as many local dishes and unusual ingredients along the way. When they returned to Ireland, over a decade ago, their aim was to start a food revolution by making fruit and veg sexy, to get involved with their community and drag as many people along for the ride as they possibly could. Today, The Happy Pear is a family and community all about making natural and healthy food mainstream and producing really great tasting products that make it easier for people to be healthier and happier.

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They’ve also created a strong online community and a loyal following across their Social Media platforms and channels. Each week they release videos on The Happy Pear YouTube Channel and they’re also part of Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube family – the largest foodie community in Europe. David and Stephen live in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, Ireland with their families and they really ‘walk their talk’ by eating a wholefood and plant-based diet, practicing yoga, swimming in the sea, keeping bees and smiling every day.

You can order a Happy Pear recipe box, which includes everything you need to make three colourful, flavour-packed dishes for two, here.

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Guy’s Newsletter: poo, pandas & cystitis

Never mind the conservational emphasis placed on pandas and orangutans; we and they are all mere ephemeral surface dwellers whose biological significance is in providing a home for the bugs in our guts. The global biomass of bacteria is, after all, larger and more diverse than all plants and animals put together; we would never have emerged from the swamp without them and will be extinct in a blink if we ever manage to kill them all. Across the world, when the poo falls, that’s when the real action starts. Each gram of soil contains about 40 million bacteria of between 2000 and 1 million species, but no-one really knows what goes on down there. My point: incredible biological processes are happening under our feet and we’re almost completely ignorant of them. As with most forms of ignorance, the result tends at best to be fear and neglect of the potential benefits, and at worst often wanton destruction of the unknown (in this case, through modern farming’s chemicals and soil compaction), until someone figures out how to make money out of enlightenment.

Despite our best efforts to destroy our soils, we might be saved from a self induced post antibiotic world where TB, cystitis and gonorrhoea are untreatable by one of those millions of unidentified soil bacteria. Like the panda, no-one has worked out how to breed them in full public view; the standard agar dish doesn’t work for 99% of soil bacteria. However if grown in a kind of bacterial hotel submerged in the soil, one such bacteria, Teixobactin, produces a new type of antibiotic which, if it proves as effective and free of side effects as it seems to be in mice, could save us from some forms antibiotic resistance.

Alternatively you could follow a 9th century medical text and take equal quantities of ox gall, wine vinegar and garlic, pound it and stew at room temperature for nine days before straining; according to two women on Radio 4, the liquid kills 99.999% of Staphylococcus aureus, though they did counsel against trying it at home. Perhaps we had better hope for our soil to saves us from the brink…if we can save the soil first.

Guy Watson

Guy’s Newsletter: average – the new good?

In much of the UK we are blessed with a moist, temperate climate and good soils, making farming relatively easy compared to the more extreme climates of the world. Farming evolves with decades of experimentation and observation, based on assumptions about the weather and its implications for crops, varieties, soil types and topographies. Some scientists have suggested that higher average temperatures and atmospheric CO2 levels (a key limit to plant growth) could benefit farmers in temperate climates. This may be true under average conditions, but experience suggests that extremes may be more critical in determining the fate of a particular crop, and ultimately our food security. And all climatologists seem to agree that we should expect more extremes.

In Devon, November brought temperatures 3˚C above average, half the average sunshine and about 50% extra rain. December saw temperatures a staggering 4˚C up, with sunshine about 30% down. Warm, dull wet weather is what we expect in a Devon winter but this is extreme; plants need the sun, if not to grow, to maintain themselves and to give the strength to fight off pathogens. Until recently most crops held up well, including cabbages, kale and swede and a fair crop of slightly weather-beaten leeks. Harvesting is slower in the mud, especially with the extra trimming of damaged leaves, but generally morale in the teams has held up well. Into the New Year the inevitable problems started to surface: fungal disease in the spring greens outside and salad greens in our tunnels, head rot hitting early purple sprouting broccoli and aphids and an (as yet) unidentified stem rot in tunnel-grown lettuce. All problems that would disappear with some bright, cold, or even average, weather.

What better way to while away a grim January day than making Seville orange marmalade? According to Paddington Bear, every family needs a marmalade day. If you can’t be bothered with our marmalade kits, just try this year’s excellent blood oranges. Both are at their best over the next few weeks.

Guy Watson

Guy’s Newsletter: miffing vets & demonising foes

Happy New Year. With the festivities over, we hope you return to routine life well fed, well rested and full of good intentions to eat more vegetables. Meat and five veg is so last century; we are on a mission to make it ten or even 20; good for our health, and good for the planet. We reckon that ‘meat as a celebration or seasoning’ is a good approach – one we’ve been peddling for a good long time and that seems increasingly on trend. I really do believe in the joy of veg, so I am resolved to do a bit more encouraging and celebrating and a bit less lecturing and preaching. Resolution number one.

Over the break I caught up on my mail, including a number of messages from vets irritated by my December newsletter titled ‘Dying for Cheap Meat’, where I focused on how over-prescription of antibiotics in agriculture contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. On reflection I regret the unjustified swipe at vets in general; many are actively fighting over-prescription and I shouldn’t have tarred all of them with the brush prompted by the irresponsible minority. If you’re a vet, but not one of those vets, I am sorry. It wasn’t my first such blunder and I hope I’ve learned my lesson. Resolution number two.

One particularly thoughtful vet reminded me of a wise aunt, who, after hearing me on the radio bad-mouthing Monsanto, advised me not to “Demonise my foe”. Overstating an argument by selectively gathering only the evidence that suits your position and then getting angry and indignant can make for a good read, but too often alienates potential allies and undermines your point; you are liable to win the battle but lose the war. This is what puts me off most blogs and social media. So I go into the New Year resolved to be more considered in my missives and to help turn our collective hopes of positive change into reality – a better approach than wielding the crude tool of angry jabs – even when I’m especially incensed about an issue. The challenge is to manage it without being boring, but I will do my best. Resolution number three.

Guy Watson

Make your own marmalade

20150106_170946 (1)A calming January marmalade-making session is a good antidote to the mayhem of Christmas and New Year. Put the radio on, get peeling, slicing and simmering, and fill your house with the distinctive bittersweet aroma.

We buy our Seville oranges from Ave Maria Farm in Mairena del Alcor near Seville, which is run by Amadora and her two daughters. They produce wonderfully gnarly, knobbly, thick-skinned fruit with the incredible aroma and unusually high pectin content that make them so valued. There have been orange groves on their 60 hectare farm since 1867 and they were the first orange farm to be awarded organic status in Andalucia. Riverford founder Guy Watson visited them in 2011 and was hugely impressed by the crops and wildlife on the farm, not to mention the energy and orange-devotion of Amadora and her family!

IanWright-191215
Seville Orange Marmalade Recipe
We’ve won awards for our marmalade, which is made to this recipe. You could substitute in a few of our glorious blood oranges to get a rich, caramel-coloured preserve or use our incredibly perfumed bergamot lemons to really crank up the aromatics.

Guy’s tips:

  • Make sure the pan is big enough – if it is too full it will boil over and all that sugar will be a nightmare to clean off your cooker
  • When you are dissolving the sugar, don’t heat it too vigorously as it will catch on the bottom and you will end up with burnt marmalade – not tasty.
  • Don’t boil it too for long; if you go past the setting point you will end up with jars of concrete!
  • Skim off any scum before potting up to get a clearer set.
  • Let the marmalade stand for 15 mins before jarring – this will stop the fruit from settling at the bottom of the jar.

makes 6 jars, prep 30 mins, cook 3 hrs

1.5kg seville orangesVivien Lloyd marmalade AMS
2 lemons
2.5l cold water
approx 2kg granulated sugar
a large pan
muslin
string
sterilised jars
screw top lids or wax discs
cellophane covers
elastic bands

 

  1. With a sharp knife, peel the skin from the oranges and lemons, leaving as much white pith on the fruit as possible. Chop the peel into 3mm strips and put in a large pan.
  2. Line a large bowl with a piece of muslin, leaving plenty to overhang the sides of the bowl. Cut the oranges and lemons in half. With your hands, squeeze the juice from the fruit over the bowl, dropping the leftover squeezed fruit (pith, pips and flesh) into the muslin.
  3. Lift the muslin out of the bowl, gather the sides and squeeze any remaining juice into the bowl. Tie the muslin together with string to keep the fruit in and form a bag.
  4. Place the muslin bag in the saucepan with the peel. Add the squeezed fruit juice and 2.5 litres cold water to the pan.
  5. Heat until boiling, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours, until the peel is tender. Put a few saucers in the fridge to chill.
  6. Remove the muslin bag and squeeze all the sticky juice from the bag into the pan. (An easy way to do this is to put the bag in a colander and use a spoon to press it out).
  7. Measure the contents of the pan in a jug (include the shreds and liquid). Return to the pan and add 450g sugar for every 500ml liquid.
  8. Gently heat for 15 minutes, until the sugar crystals have dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly for 15 minutes.
  9. Test that the marmalade has reached setting point by putting a teaspoon of the liquid on a cold saucer and gently pushing with the back of the spoon. If the liquid starts to wrinkle, setting point has been reached. If no wrinkling happens, keep boiling and re-test every 10 minutes. Turn off the heat as soon as you reach setting point.
  10. Skim any scum from the surface. Leave the mixture to stand for 15 minutes. Stir gently, then carefully spoon into warmed sterilised jars (use a jam funnel if you have one). If using screw top lids, put the lids on while the marmalade is still hot and turn upside down for 5 minutes to sterilise the lids (or boil the lids for a few minutes and leave to dry before use). If using cellophane, put a wax disc on the marmalade while warm, then seal with cellophane and an elastic band.

Buy ingredients for making your own marmalade here.

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