Guy’s news: The proof is in the Rt Honourable’s pudding

It is hard to understand the inhumanity or moral blindness that made 19th century slavery acceptable, but it makes the courage and mental fortitude of those who spoke out all the more admirable. Future generations will surely place our abuse of the environment they will inherit top of their own list of retrospective shame. The generous might cite our inability to find the mechanisms to act collectively in the face of pervasive global capitalism; the angry might say we were just too selfish and busy feeding our appetites to
consider those who share our planet now and in years to come.

After an inexplicable two-year delay, our government published its 25 Year Environment Plan last week. I read most of its 150 pages expecting, perhaps even trying, to be cynical, but I reckon it covers most of what it should and reaches most of the right conclusions. It is surprisingly broad thinking in appreciating the hard-to-measure contributions of the environment (eg. to mental health and community) and includes as many firm commitments and as few crowd pleasers as one could hope. Of course, the challenge will be financing all that tree planting, actually getting the packaging industry to rationalise its use of plastic, and standing up to lobbying from wealthy landowners and the agro-chemical industry. The plan falls down in that it includes little meaningful commitment to reducing pesticide use and no mention of the environmental contributions of organic farming (though it advocates much of what we do). And will we support our farmers with their higher standards when faced with US trade negotiations? I do worry about the ability of liberal, market-orientated democracy to turn these aspirations into long-term legislation, rather than short-term vote-winning publicity stunts. However, it feels like an honest appreciation of the magnitude and importance of the problems we face, and is a significant step towards addressing them.

Closer to home, you can add a free sunflower birdfeeder (grown on our French farm) to your order this week. As the Defra report says, farming is about more than just feeding ourselves; I enjoy growing them, a few more birds may make it through winter, and watching their colourful acrobatics may even contribute to our mental health.

Guy Singh-Watson

 

Feed the Birds with a Free Riverford Sunflower


If you’ve been part of Riverford for a while, you might have had one of our organic sunflower birdfeeders before. They’re back, and we’d like you to enjoy one as a little gift from us. There isn’t enough for everyone, so it’s first come, first served. Don’t miss out – add yours now!

Guy first grew glowing yellow fields of sunflowers on his French farm in the Vendée in 2015, hoping to make his own organic sunflower oil. While watching the local wildlife thrive off the crop, he had an idea. Instead of making oil, he would dry the flowerheads and offer them to British birds.

The sunflowers went down a treat – and not just with birds. People sent us snaps of everything from wild birds to chickens, pet hamsters, and the odd cheeky squirrel munching their way through this organic snack. Keepers at the Monkey Sanctuary in Looe even said they made a great enrichment activity for the monkeys! It was so wonderful to see creatures great and small feasting on a natural organic treat, Guy has grown them again every year since.

To get your sunflower, simply visit this page and add one to your order, free of charge.

Thinking of joining in with the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch from Saturday 27th – Monday 29th January? A Riverford sunflower is just the thing to lure out a few more feathered friends.

We would love to see photos of any birds and beasts enjoying the flower. Please share at facebook.com/riverford and twitter.com/riverford using #riverfordsunflower.

For inspiration, have a look at some of our favourite pictures from last year below…

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5 quick, midweek Riverford dinners

Stuck in a recipe rut and want to try something new? Live life on the veg with these quick, veg-packed recipes that can be on the table in around 30 minutes. Ideal to mix up your midweek meals!

Broccoli & Sweet Potato Curry with Cashews & Quinoa


This is a light, aromatic vegan curry. The sweet potatoes could easily be replaced with squash or pumpkin if you choose to make it again. Celeriac or parsnip would work well, too. Quinoa is a great source of protein and dietary fibre and stands in well for rice with a curry. It has a different texture, with a light bite and pop to it, but it soaks up all the liquid from the curry well. See recipe.

Chicken, Spinach & Chickpea Tagine with Harissa & Preserved Lemon


Harissa is a spicy blend of chilli, herbs and garlic. We’ve advised using half to start, tasting and adding more towards the end, depending on your preference for heat. We’re using baby spinach here, which can be wilted down in the pan in handfuls. If you make it again with larger leaved spinach, it’s best to blanch, refresh and chop it first. See recipe.

Leek, Mascarpone & Lemon Gnocchi with Walnut & Parsley Pesto


Gnocchi is quick, versatile and up there in the list of top comfort foods. Here gnocchi balls are served in a leek and watercress sauce with creamy mascarpone, then finished with a simple walnut pesto. See recipe.

Teriyaki Tofu Bowl with Shiitake, Crispy Kale & Shredded Sprouts


This is a big mixed bowl of contrasting textures. Sticky dark mushrooms, crisp roasted tofu with a soft melting centre, crunchy seaweed-like kale and a fresh sweet/sharp salad of raw sprouts, all tethered by a comforting base of unctuous rice. With good organisation, all 5 elements should mesh nicely in their preparation. See recipe.

Smoked Mackerel, Celeriac & Watercress Salad


Rich smoked mackerel with clean, crunchy celeriac and apple, peppy watercress and fresh herbs. If you don’t have watercress, use peppery winter salad leaves instead. You could also add in wedges of cooked beetroot, toasted walnuts or slices or waxy salad potato. See recipe.

Juicing, blending and blitzing – what’s the difference?

Fresh juices and smoothies are often spoken of in the same breath. Superficially they are very similar; both colourful cocktails, good veg box user-uppers, and tasty shortcuts towards your 5-a-day. But from a culinary perspective, they’re wholly different beasts.

Even within the world of smoothies, there are vital distinctions: the drinks that can be created in standard blenders are entirely different to the blitzes produced by highly powered drink machines.

If you’re looking to eat more veg in 2018, fresh organic drinks are a good place to start. Here’s our handy guide to the virtues of each method, to help you get the most from every glass.

Juicing

When you think of juice, you might think of fruit first and foremost. You can stick to all-fruit blends if you have a very sweet tooth, but many vegetables also produce tasty juices – and their complex flavours will allow you to create far more satisfying mixes.

From beetroot to broccoli, most veg can be juiced; all it takes is the right complementary flavours to make them sing. Earthy roots or bitter greens will reveal their charms when combined with sweet fruit, a squeeze of sharp citrus, and perhaps some aromatic fresh herbs or spices.

Juicers extract flavoursome, vitamin and mineral-rich liquid, and leave the pulp of your fruit and veg behind. Losing the fibrous stuff means that you don’t need extra liquid or other additions– fresh produce is the only ingredient. There’s also not too much prep; you only need to remove strongly flavoured peels like citrus, and any bits that are tough enough to challenge your juicer (such as pineapple or melon skins and large fruit stones).

However, losing the bulk also means that fresh juice won’t fill you up – unlike blends and blitzes. If you just want a zingy drink to enjoy alongside food for an extra shot of goodness, fresh juice is the thing.

Blends

Standard kitchen blenders can handle soft fruits and tender raw veg such as spinach, but nothing with a high density of dry matter such as uncooked roots or apples. If you put a raw beetroot into a standard blender, you aren’t going to end up with a thick, smooth drink – you’ll just have shards of beetroot floating in watery stuff. You need to either stick to soft fruit and veg, or be prepared to cook certain items before blending them.

Because you’re going to be consuming the whole fruit or veg, there’s different prep involved: peel and chop any bits you don’t want to drink! To keep it at the right consistency with all that fibrous bulk, you’ll also need to add a liquid medium. Coconut water, fruit juice, dairy or nut milks – this can be whatever you fancy.

Blends may require different thinking to juices, but the effort pays off with some nutritional perks. Consuming the whole fruit or veg rather than just extracting the juice means that you’re getting all of its goodness, and keeping all the fibre makes the drinks quite filling.

Blends also produce a higher yield; you could potentially get several glasses from the same amount of fruit and veg it takes to produce one glass of juice.

The final virtue of a blend is that they’re made in standard blenders which can serve many functions in your kitchen. If you want to create a rich, nourishing drink without buying any extra bits of kit, blends are a good way to go.

Blitz

The highest horsepower option. The mighty blitzing machines that are made specifically to produce drinks can handle just about whatever you chuck at them, including uncooked roots, tough stems, and extras such as nuts, seeds and oats. All you need to do is provide enough liquid to blitz them into.

That flexibility to use up a wide variety of raw fruit and veg is the one vital difference between blitzes and blends. Otherwise, their virtues are very similar: to make a blitz, you’ll need to consider liquids and other additions – but, you’ll enjoy a higher yield, the goodness of the whole fruit, and something more like a meal.

Why organic?
Whether you’re blending, blitzing, or juicing, it’s always best to use organic produce. With organic, you don’t need to worry about pesticides or wax on the skin, but can process the whole fruit or veg – getting all the goodness and flavour without adding any chemical nasties to your drink.

Want to create your own fresh organic drinks? Our organic juicing box is packed with sweet, succulent fruit and veg. Or, for more inspiration, try our organic juicing bags, each containing a tasty recipe and everything you need to make it.

Guy’s news: Anger, hope & Oprah

Every January, two sides of agriculture gather in Oxford; the 82-year-old, mostly male and suit-clad ‘conventional’ Oxford Farming Conference, and the nine-year-old challenger, the Oxford Real Farming Conference, with no suits, fewer landowners, and a broader spread of age, gender and ethnicity. The former is sponsored by banks, chemical manufacturers and accountants and is bashful about anything not justified by profit, while the latter is sponsored by charities, a not-for-profit bank, individuals and, this year, Riverford. It also challenges the dominance of capital over labour, specialisation over diversity, and champions labourers and the landless. The former, with its defence of the privilege of the most privileged, makes me ashamed of my profession. The latter fills me with hope and inspiration that a more equitable way of farming is within grasp; that, to echo Oprah Winfrey, “a new day is on the horizon”.

Despite driving a Land Rover and liking tweed, I have never identified with my more landed farming peers. Too often they are united by a sense of entitlement without acknowledgement of their (often inherited) privilege or the taxpayer’s money that perpetuates it, or the responsibilities that should come with those advantages. I thought I had mellowed in my middle years but the baying
bigotry of this sector of farming makes my blood boil at times. Secretary of State for Defra Michael Gove addressed both conferences and, to my surprise, stated unequivocally that the current £2.5bn payments that are essentially government subsidies for owning land are “unjust” and will stop by 2024. Perhaps more importantly the sold-out ‘real’ conference had twice as many delegates and a long waiting list, with doers outnumbering talkers. There were impassioned, deeply practical talks on everything from soil structure to weeding by laser-armed robot swarms. Inevitably a lot of time was devoted to Brexit, but the prevailing feeling was that this is the chance for a food and farming policy that represents the many over the few, the wildlife we share our countryside with, and future generations. Mercifully my anger seemed to be an anomaly drowned in a sea of hope.

Guy Singh-Watson

January sale: 0% off!

Riverford’s quiet revolution

You won’t be seeing a sale at Riverford this January – or at any other time. It might seem like we’re being mean, but the opposite is true: saying ‘no’ to discount marketing is fairest for everyone, including you!

Offers are everywhere. Banks offer you £150 to open an account, broadband companies have rock-bottom introductory tariffs, veg box suppliers give your fourth box free, supermarkets offer £20 off your first delivery… but where does all that money come from? Answer: someone else is made to pay for it, through inflated prices for existing customers, squeezing suppliers, or paying staff less.

It’s the model which almost all subscription businesses work to. If you can be bothered to be a ‘savvy shopper’ and spend your life forever switching suppliers you can do pretty well out of it, but as the service providers know full well, most of us are just too busy; or maybe we find a world where trust equates to ‘sucker’ so dispiriting that we would rather just ignore it and get duped.

For a while, we were part of the problem. We dipped our toes into the world of discount marketing, being persuaded that it was the only way to compete. But in 2014, Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson could bear it no longer, and proposed that we abandon this path of abusing the trust of our most loyal customers. It turned out that most of the staff agreed, so we stopped offering discounts, stopped paying dubious companies to knock on doors, stopped using voucher sites, and significantly cut back on leafleting and advertising. Instead we concentrate on growing good veg, looking after our existing customers, and have taken all sales back in-house through our own staff who know our veg and our values.

The response from the majority of our customers has been very positive. It turns out that most people, most of the time, are happy to pay a fair price; what it costs to make something in a competent and efficient manner with due respect for people and the environment, plus a modest profit. This is the basis upon which Riverford was founded 30 years ago. The results wouldn’t satisfy a venture capitalist investor, but we are happy to declare that we don’t offer anything to a new customer that we don’t offer to existing ones. That may sound tame, but in an industry racing to the bottom, it’s a quiet revolution.

Watch our video to find out why our approach is fairer to farmers as well as customers:

5 vegan recipes for January

We are firm believers that you don’t need meat to make a magical meal. Whether you want to ramp up the veg in your diet, are giving Veganuary a go, or just want to experiment with new, inspiring and veg-centric meals, these recipes are for you. We hope you’ll enjoy living life on the veg with these colourful, nourishing and bursting-with-flavour dishes.

Thai Celeriac Salad with Noodles & Crispy Tofu


This is dish is inspired by the famous Thai green papaya salad, a dish of crisp shredded veg dressed with a sharp, fragrant and punchy dressing. The noodles and tofu help draw it into a well-rounded meal. As long as they are well drained and retain a slight bite, noodles are a great addition to a salad. This dish is about texture and freshness. The tofu should be crisp on the outside but soft in the centre. See full recipe.

Squash & Tomato Dosa with Green Coconut Relish


The trick to achieving a thin dosa pancake is to tip the pan in a swift, steady roll as soon as the batter hits it. You should be able to guide and swirl the batter into an even layer. The recipe will make more batter than you need so you can have a few experimental runs. We find the first attempt always ends up as a sacrifice to the god of pancakes. See full recipe.

Aromatic Beetroot Curry with Quinoa & Coconut


Healthy and sustaining, this jewel-coloured, mild curry is packed with aromatic spices, cooled with coconut, and served with protein-packed quinoa. If you want to prevent your hands from staining when you’re preparing the beetroot, wear a pair of rubber gloves, although it does wash off, we promise! See full recipe.

Winter Pilaf with Walnut Pesto & Baked Portobellos


A good pilaf is all about light but fragrant spicing and gently methodical cooking of the rice. As best you can, the aim is to try and get the grains of rice fluffy and well separated. Placing a tea towel under the lid helps to absorb condensation in the pan, which in turn helps the grains separate. See full recipe.

Cauliflower Caponata with Garlic & Herb Tortillas


Caponata is a dish traditionally made with aubergines, so using this name may offend any purists, but the other ingredients and general feel of the dish remain correct. It incorporates the Italian principle of agrodolce (literally sour and sweet), a flavour combination that is also prevalent in many other cuisines. The vinegar and briny tang of capers and olives are well balanced out by the sugar and plump sultanas. See full recipe.

Guy’s news: Stunted growth, spotty sprouts & Sevilles

It’s wild, wet and windy out there. The sun, when we see it, barely reaches the north-facing fields even at midday. If I were a bear, I would find a warm cave and take a nap. Nothing grows in the first two weeks of January, but the stunt doesn’t last long. By the end of the month, kales, leeks and cabbages will begin to grow again as the days start to draw out and the noon sun starts to climb. On our French farm, just 200 miles south, we’ll be planting lettuces before the end of the month. I can’t explain it, but even growers in areas like southern California, where their winter is similar to our summer, avoid sowing in early January. A druid might put it down the need for solar rebirth; a bear might take it as a chance for a nap.

I once got berated as a heartless bully by a number of you for being unforgiving about the repeated failures, and consequent lack of quality, of one of our cauliflower growers (Mr M for those who remember). I ate humble pie, apologised, and we went on buying his caulis, but it made no difference in the end; he continued to hope for the best rather than weed his crop, and went bust soon after. It might have been kinder to be harder sooner; it is a hard judgement to know when to stop working with a grower. Riverford is extraordinary within our industry for the long-term relationships we have with suppliers. It’s something I feel very proud of and hope survives me, but sometimes the farm or the farmer is wrong for the crop and no amount of ethics or support will change the inevitable outcome; it just prolongs the agony and undermines other growers. If you were one of the 20% of customers who had to trim small, spotty Brussels sprouts this year, I am sorry; it was the third year of poor sprouts from this grower, but we won’t give up on him quite yet.

On a lighter note, to mark two more successful long-term relationships, the first blood oranges from Sicily and Sevilles from Ave Maria Farm in Mairena del Alcor have arrived and are as excellent as in previous years. Now is the time to make marmalade. You can even cook alongside me on our YouTube channel if you need a little guidance.

Guy Singh-Watson

Make your own marmalade


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 Seville oranges 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!

Seville Orange Marmalade Recipe
Our own much-loved 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.

Watch Guy make it (and learn from his mistakes!) in this video:

Guy’s tips:
   Make sure the pan is big enough – if it’s 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 oranges
2 lemons
2.5 litres 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.   If you have a sugar thermometer, the setting point for marmalade is 105°C. To check the set without one, put 1 tsp on a cold saucer and push it with the back of a spoon. If it wrinkles, you have reached setting point. If it doesn’t, keep boiling and re-test every 5 mins. 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.

Marmalade making is even easier with a Riverford marmalade kit. Seville oranges, lemons, and our recipe included – just add your own sugar and jars.

Win a stack of organic treats & blender, worth over £500

Here at Riverford, we really know our veg. Founded by Guy Watson (the Soil Association’s Best Organic Farmer 2017), we’ve been farming organically in Devon for 30 years: carefully selecting varieties for flavour, and looking after the soil, wildlife, and water sources.

However, organic doesn’t just stop at food and drink. This January, we’re teaming up with our friends at Pai Skincare to bring you a whole host of ethical prizes. With our passion for organic food and Pai’s passion for organic skincare, it’s a match made in heaven.

Pai’s passion for organic skincare came from wanting to enable people to take control of their skin, instead of putting up with products that are full of irritants. For Pai (meaning ‘goodness’ in Maori), pure and transparent ingredients are essential; they are proud of the lengths they go to in letting people know exactly what’s in their products.

For your chance to win a month’s supply of Riverford juicing and veg boxes, as well as lots of organic Pai Skincare treats and a top-of-the-range Sage ‘The Boss’ blender, enter our competition now.