Category Archives: Uncategorised

Make your own decorations: Christmas star

A lovely way to brighten up your home or Christmas tree, or to give as a gift to a friend, – we’ve been busy making these lovely Christmas decorations from a few twigs and some string, here’s how we did it:

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Step 1: Make the most of a countryside walk gathering up dry twigs and sticks from your garden, nearby park or winter stroll in the park.

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Step 2: When you’ve got a collection of twigs, you will need the following to your Christmas star:

  • twigs
  • strong scissors or secateurs
  • garden or brown string, or pink ribbon

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Step 3: Cut the twigs into 6 equal lengths (about 6-10cm long will make it easier to tie the ends together).

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Step 4: Take 2 twigs and cross two ends into a triangle shape. Place the string under the cross and tie a knot.

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Step 5: Take a third twig and cross it to make a triangle with 3 equal sides. Repeat with the remaining three twigs.

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Step 6: Place one triangle over the other to make a star shape.

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Step 7: Take a piece of string and tie the two stars together at the join (see picture above). Repeat at the join opposite.

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Step 8: Take a piece of string or festive ribbon and make into a tag to hang from your Christmas tree.

River Cottage day out: From field to fork

We pulled our wellies on and headed down to Park Farm near Axminster, home to River Cottage HQ in Devon, to spend the day getting a taste of how the folks at River Cottage are inspiring people to explore the journey of our food from field to fork.

We joined guests on the River Cottage Experience course, created to connect people to home-grown, home-cooked food and inspire people to get the best out of seasonal and ethical produce by cooking from scratch.

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How to bake your daily bread: just use the basic ingredients
The day started with an introduction to bread, setting the scene with a reminder that a true loaf should only contain 5 basic ingredients: yeast, water, salt, flour and sugar. We couldn’t agree more.

Head Chef, Gelf, got the class mixing and kneading dough for a simple white loaf which we left to prove whilst heading out around the farm to see the livestock and crops based on the farm.

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From field to fork: fruit, veg and livestock
Set in 65 acres of rolling Devon hills, the pebbly soil and steep gradient of the land surrounding Park Farm lends itself best to livestock and grazing. The flatter parts of the terrain is put to good use: unheated polytunnels and allotment areas dedicated to cultivating fruit and veg, and carefully managed traditional hay meadows designed to provide feed for livestock and act as a biodiversity haven for bugs, bees and butterflies.

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Fruit & veg
Hugh’s famous kitchen garden was brimming with autumnal seasonal veg – cavolo nero, curly kale, runner beans, broccoli and more. Destined for the River Cottage kitchen, roots, brassicas, legumes and salad crops grow up set against the backdrop of the famous River Cottage farmhouse. The crop types are rotated around four quadrants of the garden each year to minimise crop-specific pests and diseases and nutrients.

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Livestock
The team at River Cottage rear their own livestock – cattle, sheep, poultry and pigs. All are cared for to the highest possible organic welfare standards and kept within a stone’s throw of the kitchen – the food chain doesn’t get much shorter than this.

Sheepy facts
Busy grazing on clover-rich organic pasture, Farmer Dan introduced the group to River Cottage’s flock of Poll Dorset sheep. A thrifty breed, the Poll Dorset has a long breeding season and can live on tougher pastures. Here Dan explained the definition behind the different types of lamb meat you can buy:

new season lamb – lamb born in the current breeding season
old season lamb – lamb born in the previous breeding season, but still under a year old
hogget (or two tooth) – over a year old
mutton – a sheep who has lambed and is over 2 years old

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Back to the kitchen ….
Staying true to the season, we started prep on an autumnal game casserole pie that we would be tucking into together later on that day. An earthy mix of meat including hare (net caught), wood pigeon, duck, grouse and beef reared on the farm and hung for 6 weeks, the flavours rising in the River Cottage kitchen had everyone sneaking an extra mouthful to ‘check the flavour’ just one more time (!). We left the casserole to reduce while we headed outside to make our own pizza for lunch in River Cottage’s outdoor wood-fired oven and soak up the breath-taking Devon views.

Bake off! Rough puff pastry
In a scene similar to a Bake Off, it was back to the kitchen to make up a block of rough puff pastry, carefully creating layers of butter and flour which we used to top off our casseroles.

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Profiteroles & thought-provoking pigs
Simpler than some might think, we cracked straight on to whipping up a batch of profiteroles which were popped into the oven, then it was time to learn about butchery and home-curing bacon techniques using a pig reared by the River Cottage team at Park Farm.

How often do you see pigs in a field?
Did you know that we rear as many pigs in the UK as sheep? How many pigs have you seen in a field in the countryside? Next time you pick up a cheap packet of sausages in a supermarket, spare a thought for the pigs. You see plenty of sheep grazing in the fresh air, but the majority of our pigs spend their lives reared indoors in enormous barns, fed only feed and pumped with antibiotics to meet low prices demanded by consumers. You can choose to support high-welfare farms and happier pigs who have had the chance to snuffle around for tasty morsels in the outdoors.

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From field to fork: time to enjoy the fruits of our labour
After a great day on the River Cottage Experience course seeing how food gets from the farm to our plate, the end of the day marked a time to sit down with a glass of wine, discuss what was learnt and enjoy the fruits of our labour … with a dash of River Cottage sparkle added to the food by their team of chefs.

All in all, everyone enjoyed what was a fulfilling, fact-laden day – taking home a feeling of being better connected with where our food comes from and a bag full of bread, profiteroles and casserole!

If you’d like to join the River Cottage team for a day on the farm cooking, eating and drinking (or think it’d make a great Christmas present), you can see the full range of courses here.

Great Godminster! How they make their mouth-watering cheese

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We visited Godminster to find out more about what goes into making their award-winning brie and cheddar for our Riverford boxes.

Richard Hollingbery, owner of Godminster Farm in Bruton, Somerset, has a simple mantra – nature repays those who treat her kindly. They are one of a dwindling number of dairy farms that are also cheesemakers, and we think this direct connection makes their cheeses all the better.

Farm manager Pete Cheek and Richard have crossed their 230 head herd of British Friesians with Swedish Red, Norwegian Red and Hereford breeds, to produce animals that are well-suited to the largely pasture based organic system of dairy farming. This also means that male calves can be brought on as beef animals. Wildlife is encouraged all over the farm with wide field margins and carefully managed ponds and hedgerows, while homeopathy is used as part of the herd management.

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On the cheesemaking side of the business, Richard has perfected the recipe for Godminster cheddar over the last 10 years, creating an unusually creamy cheese. Brothers Steve and Malcolm Dyer, along with Ashley Reynold, are Godminster’s treasured brie.

They work closely with Pete, the farm manager, so that they can tweak their cheese making process as the cows’ diet changes through the year; a wet summer for example will produce different milk to a hot one. All of this impacts how the cheese is made, as everything from temperature to pH and fat levels can influence how it turns out, and it takes an expert eye to know how to manage it. The brie is made in small batches and the curds cut by hand, with the team using a traditional liquid brine along with herbs, garlic and black pepper to infuse different flavours into the cheese. The result is a fantastic, authentic brie range that is full of character. Definitely one of our favourites!

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Separating curds & whey, ready to pack into cheese mould.

The cheese is made a stone’s throw from where the cows roam, grazing on organic grass and clover.  Their milk is pasteurised before having rennet added to it and kept at 23C for a day and a night. When ready, the curd is cut by hand using a ‘harp,’ tipped into plastic moulds and flattened by hand.

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Packing curd into mould by hand

The whey is drained away.

The brie goes into a brining room for 24 hours, then a ripening room for 5 days – this is where the bloom (or what we’d call the skin) starts to form.

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The team at Godminster make 80 cheeses at a time, which are cut and turned before being hand-wrapped and ready for our boxes.

 

The alternative Easter egg – how to decorate them naturally with vegetables!

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Easter does not have to be all about the chocolate; vegetables have plenty of fun to offer too! A great way to get all the family involved, roll up your sleeves and work together to use any leftover veg to make pretty, naturally dyed Easter eggs.

You can colour ordinary hen’s eggs with vegetable dyes at home in your kitchen, as different veg produces different colours. They create more subtle tones than chemical colourants, but as they are harmless dyes, it means that you have the added fun of eating colourful boiled eggs afterwards on a picnic lunch. Especially popular with kids!

Here’s what you’ll need for each colour you want to create:

  • 1-2 teaspoons of white vinegar – this helps fix the dye to the egg shell.
  • Your chosen veg – see below for the colours each creates.
  • Eggs – try to use ones with the palest shells you can find, as they will show the colour more.

Natural dye sources:

  • Blue/lilac – red cabbage (boil the chopped cabbage in water for 30 mins first)
  • Pink – beetroot (boil the chopped beetroot in water for 30 mins first)
  • Green – spinach
  • Deep orange/terracotta – brown onion skins

There are many more colours you can create from natural materials; look online for more ideas. Just make sure that whatever you use is safe to eat first if you are planning to eat them, as egg shells are porous and will absorb the colourant.

Method:

  1. Gently wash your eggs, then place in a single layer in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Add a teaspoon or so of white vinegar along with your natural dye; the more dye material you use, the more intense the colour. Some veg will need boiling first (see dye list), in which case you add the eggs and the vinegar at the end of the boiling time. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Remove the eggs and put to one side to cool and dry; an egg box works well as a drying rack. If you want a darker colour, remove the eggs from the liquid, strain the dye through a coffee filter and cover the eggs with the natural dye once more. You can leave them overnight if you like, but either way make sure they go into the fridge if you are planning on eating them (and consume within 24 hours of boiling).
  3. Repeat the same process for any additional colours you want. You can give the eggs more of a glossy finish by rubbing them with vegetable oil, and using wax or crayons to draw shapes or patterns before dyeing them can make your eggs even prettier. You can also layer dyes to create different colours – much of the fun is in experimenting and seeing how the eggs turn out.

Note (optional): Bear in mind that what you use to dye the shell can sometimes flavour the egg itself a little, so you may prefer to ‘blow’ the eggs first to empty the raw egg out. This also means that you can keep your coloured eggs.

To do this: First wash the egg gently but thoroughly in warm water. Next, slowly make a small hole with a clean sewing needle at the pointed end of the shell, taking care not to crack the egg. Make a second hole at the opposite end, about double the size of the first. Use a knitting needle or similar to pierce the yolk of the egg via the larger hole, then, gently holding the egg between forefinger and thumb over a small bowl, blow through the smaller hole to get all the raw egg out and put aside for an omelette of spot of baking. Rinse the emptied shell thoroughly in cold water and use as above.

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Valentine’s veg special: To our secret admirers……

We’re declaring it Ode to Veg for Valentine’s Day – forget chocolates, cards and expensive meals, it’s all about veg!

Here’s a link to our favourite veggie love ditties which our talented fans and customers have penned for us this week…. THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to write a ditty, we’re delighted to let you know ….. the feeling is mutual!!

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preserving blog: time for a citrus fest

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For Anna Colquhoun, Riverford’s Preserving Guru, January and February mean one thing in her kitchen.  Citrus.

Kilos arrive from Riverford, all lugged in crates by local driver Richard who always smiles and never grumbles.  The Seville oranges, blood oranges, lemons and clementines are fantastic  – bright, ripe, full of juice and flavour and of course unwaxed.  

ImageThey are some of my favourite things to preserve, as their colours stay true in the jar – a citrus rainbow of red, orange and yellow – and the boiling vats perfume the whole house. 

In my classes coming up in Feb we will make marmalade, spiced pickled oranges, blood orange and port jelly, clementine jam and Moroccan preserved lemons. 

If you’d like to join me at the courses in London, the dates are: 

Sat 8th Feb (waiting list only)
Sun 9th Feb (waiting list only)
Sat 15th Feb (places available)
Sun 16th Feb (places available)

If you’d rather have a go in the comfort of your home, here are a few tips…

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Preserved lemons:

These are easy to make and something special to add to your pantry of ingredients.  They are distinctive of Moroccan cuisine and go brilliantly with roast or braised chicken and fish, in chickpea and couscous dishes, and in salad dressings and salsas.  Chicken, olive and preserved lemon tagine is a classic, but why not also try spiced squash with preserved lemon or shoulder of lamb with preserved lemon.  You can find my recipe here.

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Preserved lemons are ‘lactofermented’, like some of the world’s other best foods – sourdough bread, yoghurt, chocolate and kimchi, to name a few.  Friendly bacteria enjoy the salty conditions, multiply, squeeze out any unwanted micro-organisms and produce lactic acid and carbon dioxide.  The former gives the lemons their distinctive texture, flavour and aroma, and the latter displaces the air in the jar.  The clever clip-top preserving jars let excess gas escape, so they don’t explode.  The bacteria like pure fine salt, that is to say not contaminated with those mysterious ‘anti-caking agents’.  Find it in wholefood and heathfood shops, or buy one of those expensive flaky sea salts and grind it in a mortar or processor. 

Fermentation takes around a month at warm room temperature.  Make sure the lemons stay submerged in the salty juice.  You might notice the jar fizz or sputter – good signs it’s working.  After fermentation keep the jar somewhere cool and dark and try to wait another month or more as they improve with age.  In Morocco I met a women who proudly showed me her syrupy seven-year old specimens.  (Not that I’m recommending that here.)  Fish out a lemon with a clean utensil, give it a rinse, cut away the flesh as it will be too salty and dice the translucent rind. 

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Marmalade

Pick up a Riverford Kit, some jars and granulated sugar and you’re away.  Bitter oranges are inedible raw, but deliciously bittersweet when transformed into marmalade.  They originated in China and later became popular in the Arabian empire, through which they spread around the Middle East and Mediterranean, as far as Spain, which remains a main production area.   

There are different methods for making marmalade, but all have several things in common.  First, the rind is boiled before it’s cooked with sugar, since the quantity of sugar involved will stop it softening.  So make sure the rind is tender enough to easily penetrate with the tines of a fork before proceeding.  Second, the all-important pectin is in mostly found in the pith and pips, so these are retained and used to impart their setting power, although strained out so as not to cloud the jelly.  Third, all the sugar must be gently dissolved before you boil, since stray grains on the side of the pan can cause a whole jar to crystalise.  Nothing wrong with crunchy jam, but perhaps not what you were after.  For a darker, richer ‘Oxford style’ marmalade, stir in a couple of tablespoons of black treacle.

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You need a big pan so the marmalade has space to boil furiously to reach setting point, which happens at around 104C.  Jam thermometers are not perfectly accurate, so better to use the cold saucer test – see my preserving guidelines for details.  Watch as the steam dies down and the bubbles seem slower and less watery – signs you should be testing.  It could take as little as 15 minutes or as much as 50.  When ready give it a few minutes so the rind disperses before pouring into jars, or they will be top-heavy with rind.  If there is scum, gently fold it in, skim it off with a spoon or dissolve it by stirring in a knob of butter.  For those so inclined, now is the time to add a dash of whisky.

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Of course, there’s no need to limit your marmalade to your breakfast toast.  It’s great in bread and butter pudding, on steamed puddings and cakes, as a glaze for meats (ham, chicken, duck), in ice cream, and even in cocktails (marmalade whisky sour, anyone?).

Look out for our next preserving kit for clementine jam, which is probably my new favourite citrus preserve as it’s so ridiculously easy to make and retains so much of the raw clementines’ bright colour and flavour.  I promise you’ll love it.  

Whether you’re an experienced or novice preserver, please let me know how it goes, ask me any questions and share your own tips by commenting on this blog below, writing on our Facebook page or sending a tweet to @Riverford with the hashtag #cooksquestion. 

 

 

riverford newsletter: a little winter colour

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Oranges bring a bright, zingy contrast to all the glorious roots and greens of winter, so the Spanish and Italian citrus seasons are well-timed. By importing via road and ferry, the carbon footprint of these crops is a fraction of their airfreighted equivalents. Oranges thrive in the extreme south of Europe but they need cool nights to develop their colour and sweetness, meaning they are a winter fruit. January brings two special arrivals:

blood oranges

Riverford’s blood oranges are grown by a co-operative of small-scale family farms located in and around the foothills of Mount Etna in Sicily. There is a lot of skill involved in growing blood oranges, as so many factors can affect the colouration of its vibrant crimson-streaked flesh. Soil pH and crop variety play a part, but the most important influence is low temperatures during the night. It takes years of experience for the farmers to know when the crop is ready, at which point it is hand harvested using a rolling platform, where the pickers put the fruit straight into baskets and then out to Riverford via their co-op packhouse. Blood oranges are of course wonderful enjoyed as they are, but their balance of sweetness and acidity make them a good addition to winter salads. And considering that blood oranges contain up to three times the amount of Vitamin C compared to most standard oranges, they are timely for fending off those winter colds!

 

Seville oranges

Teresa Amodora and her two daughters have been growing Seville oranges on Ave Maria Farm near Seville since 1986. You can’t get much more organic than their groves, and the fruit has the classic aromatic zest and tart flesh that are much sought after by marmalade makers. They will be available as a marmalade ‘kit’ along with unwaxed, organic lemons and our much-loved recipe throughout January and February (you’ll need your own sugar and jars). Once made, don’t limit its use to toast; we’ve a super Seville orange marmalade pudding recipe on our website, or alternatively use it for a cracking duck a l’orange.

 

Riverford Kids Summer Bake Off!

 

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Roll up your sleeves and get baking!

This summer holiday we’re hoping to encourage more children to don an apron and have a go at baking with our Riverford Kids Summer Bake Off. Each week on a Friday morning we’ll be sharing an easy-to-bake recipe for you to try in the kitchen.

We’re offering a different Riverford goodie bag as a prize each week, so if you’d like to enter, simply send us a picture of your tasty creations and we’ll enter you into our prize draw!

To take part:

Simply download our recipe card, cook up our weekly recipe and then send a photo of you and your baking efforts to us!

For more information visit our Riverford Kids Summer Bake Off page.

 

top jam tips – now is the time for making jam!

The sky has turned an unusual colour (blue), the thermometer is soaring to new heights and at last summer fruits are appearing in abundance after the long cold spring – this is the time to make jam!

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ask Anna
Anna Colquhoun, our preserving expert, shares her jam-making tips below and talks about why now is the time to start bubbling up a batch of jam while summer fruit is in abundance around us. If you have any questions just comment on our blog, our Riverford Facebook page or tweet!

The one problem with summer holidays abroad is that you miss out on eating and cooking with local summer produce. (Every year I nurture a row of tomato plants for months only to be away for the bulk of the crop.) Our summer season is short, so to make the most of it I recommend turning your hand to jamming now.

We’ve just held my summer preserving workshops in London. It was so satisfying producing row after row of beautiful filled jars, including strawberry & rhubarb jam, stunning bottled cherries and glowing lemon curd. Many hands indeed make light work. So I suggest getting together a group of friends for a jamming session, or coming to my next Riverford Autumn Preserving workshops in October!

The flavour and beauty of summer treats like cherries, strawberries, raspberries, currants, rhubarb, apricots and gooseberries can all be preserved for months to come with nothing much more than sugar, jars and a large pan. Read on for my top jamming tips…

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fruit
It should go without saying that you should use beautiful, good quality fruit. Wash carefully, cut out any rotten patches and chop into even pieces. I’m not a huge fan of gimmicky jams. (You know the sort, like Tesco’s Cosmo and Daiquiri ‘Mocktail’ preserves.) However, judicious use of vanilla pods, fresh bay leaves or sprays of lemon verbena can work a treat in with the fruit.

pectin
You need pectin for jam to set. Some fruits are naturally high in pectin, such as gooseberries and currants. Others, including strawberries, rhubarb and sweet cherries, have very little so you need to add it. Apricots and raspberries are somewhere in between so might need a little if you want a firmer set. It’s easiest simply to substitute some or all of the sugar in your recipe with ‘jam sugar’, which has pectin in it.

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To make a jam that will last on the shelf (unopened) rather than needing refrigeration, use approximately 1kg sugar for every 1kg of fruit. Regular, white granulated is best, or ‘jam sugar’ (see above). Don’t use caster; you might be tempted as you imagine it will dissolve faster, but it’s more likely to catch and burn at the bottom of the pan. The first step is to dissolve every last grain of sugar with minimal heat. You can even macerate the chopped fruit in the sugar in the fridge overnight to start the process. This works especially well for strawberries and helps preserve their shape in the finished jam.
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acid
For the pectin to work it needs acid. Most fruit is naturally acidic, but some need the juice of a couple of lemons to help the jam set properly, including strawberries, apricots, sweet cherries, raspberries and – rather surprisingly – rhubarb. Add it to your jam mixture in the pot.

heat
Once all the sugar is dissolved, crank up the heat, boil furiously but watch that it doesn’t boil over. This is why you need a big pan! I found my beautiful old copper preserving pan in my parents’ garage by chance (thanks Mum), which is fortunate since they now cost a fortune. It’s true that copper pans work a treat, but any large stainless steel pot will work fine.
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setting point
This is the magical moment when syrup becomes jam! Fruits seem to behave very differently, even from batch to batch or year to year, so don’t believe a recipe that tells you to boil for X minutes and then pot. You need to test. A thermometer will give you a good guide – you’re after around 104 degrees Centigrade – but they’re never totally accurate. So I prefer to watch how the syrup runs off a wooden spoon – first in a long watery stream, then in sticky globs that seem to want to hang on – and then perform the ‘saucer test.’

saucer test
Have some saucers chilling in the fridge or freezer. Pour on a teaspoon of syrup then let it sit undisturbed while it cools. This is your window into the future – a sneak preview of the consistency your jam will end up. Push your finger across the jam and watch for bunching up and wrinkling. If instead it still feels and looks like a syrup, turn on the heat again and boil for another few minutes before testing again.

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You have now made jam!

Let it sit for a few minutes so that the fruit settles. Fold in or skim off any unsightly scum and pour into hot, sterilised jars right up to the brim. Carefully screw on clean, new lids and turn the jars upside down for 10 minutes to sterilise the insides of the lids. Just remember to turn them over again before they set!

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You can find more guidance here, including instructions for sterilising jars in the oven.

Whether you’re an experienced or novice preserver, please let me know how it goes, ask me any questions and share your own tips by commenting on this blog below, writing on our Facebook page or sending a tweet to @Riverford with the hashtag #cooksquestion.

redemption at last

After two long winters, separated by the farming disaster that was last summer, followed by a late spring, it is hard to remember what abundance feels like. Many growers felt forsaken, with a mounting suspicion that they would never see a full and healthy crop again. To walk the farm this morning, bathed in sunshine, through one field after another of strong and healthy crops is blissful; I almost have to pinch myself to be sure it is not a dream. To once again be surrounded by a wealth of broad beans (first pickings are in the boxes this week), spinach, beetroot, potatoes, lettuce, onions and a multitude of baby leaf salad is truly joyous. In the polytunnels we have been picking cucumbers, basil, French beans, salad onions and are now starting the first tomatoes; all are looking fantastic. First pickings are often not the best but, to add to the joy, this year the flavour of most crops is wonderful.

My one sadness is walking the strawberry field; they taste great and it’s a good crop but this will be our last year of strawberries. After 25 years of experimentation and obstinate determination to grow them outside, we have conceded defeat. In our climate the only way to produce strawberries with any degree of reliability and economic viability is in polytunnels; others reached this conclusion years ago and 95% of the UK crop is now grown under cover.

Such stubbornness must run in the family. For 50 years my father made his money milking cows in a fairly conventional manner, and lost much of it keeping pigs unconventionally. His restless search for a system that respected their intelligence and natural instincts failed; we now buy our pigs from Helen Browning who, on better drained land with lower rainfall, has succeeded.

Perhaps we will put up our own strawberry polytunnels at some point but for now I cannot face the battle with planners, so our strawberries will be grown by Angus Davidson, a specialist organic producer in Hereford. I have not given up entirely, but after losing so much fruit to Botrytis in recent, damp years I’m happy to let someone else take on the strawberry struggle, for now at least.

Guy Watson