With spring around the corner, Michael Dart takes pleasure in simple ingredients that are both comforting and great value...
We are approaching what our ancestors called the ‘hunger gap’, when the sturdy overwintered brassica vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage and brussels are coming to an end and new season broad beans begin.
They often relied on food that had been pickled or preserved. Although nowadays so much food is imported, consumers are not always aware of seasonal eating. We are spoilt in that we have everything at our finger tips. But we still yearn for nourishing soups and stews; which can give comfort while we wait for the new season of leaves and vegetables to come into growth.
As you are probably aware, I am passionate about local, homegrown produce. I believe that people who shop locally, and eat with the seasons, do so because they share our values, and care about how food is produced in this country, and about the people who make it.
Meat in particular is big news at the moment - you can’t turn on the TV without seeing alarmist programmes demonising beef production - but it isn’t as simple as people think, and you can’t chuck everyone into the same wheelbarrow.
Our traditional farming methods and century old rotational practices mean that our rich, red Devon soil is full of life and fertility and locks up and reduces carbon. Our beautiful herd of native, Ruby Red Devon Cattle are part of our rotation and in the summer months, graze on the banks of the River Clyst. They keep the soil fertile with their dung and encourage a new growth of grass which helps to lock and reduce carbon. During the winter months, we raise water levels of the same area that the cattle graze which helps to encourage bio-diversity and increase wildlife presence.
We believe in quality not quantity when it comes to eating meat. The enemy here is not cattle farming, but industrialisation and globalization who believe cheap is best. Breeds are developed to be bigger, grow quicker and produce leaner meat; to achieve this, the cattle are fed on soya and protein and kept in sheds. Then the meat is transported all round the world, on ships, lorries and planes.
Compare that with our Red Ruby cattle; all our beef is grown to natural maturity, hung in whole carcass form, dry-aged in the traditional way and butchered with great skill and care – all this results in the best taste and texture whilst using every part of the carcass, producing zero waste! Our butchers love to shout about the unusual cuts and they really are coming back into fashion; not only do they taste incredible, but they are great value. You can’t beat the richness of a slow cooked Ox Cheek or the incredible flavours retained in a brisket.
It’s the same with our vegetables. We may not shout about our prices but our customers are aware we are competitive. When we are able to plant, grow, harvest and deliver, the supply chain is reduced and there is less costs added to the product, plus reduced carbon footprint – it all makes sense really.
We are also not restricted to crazy grading rules and regulations the supermarkets are run by. You should have seen the Savoy’s that we were picking a month ago, they were huge. Our customers loved them, but most supermarkets would have rejected them.
It’s about the community too – by supporting local farmers and incredible artisan producers, we support the local economy and help create and sustain jobs and the landscape that we enjoy. We want to celebrate and maintain traditions and help grow these valuable skills.
Cheap food is an illusion: someone, somewhere always pays the price, and so does the planet. Think of the ‘hidden costs’ when you buy a cheap pack of ‘convenience food’ from the other side of the world…
And that’s before we even start on ‘fast food’ with its colossal social cost: families less likely to eat together, loss of cooking skills and obesity, the price of which ends up eventually at the door of the NHS.
For us, nothing says Spring like a delicious lamb roast accompanied by minted, seasonal veg and garlic butter new potatoes!
We are thrilled to announce that our expert florist, Anna Slade, was awarded a Silver medal at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.