Staying in the Fells//Bowland Food Hall 6

Gerald and I ‘get away from it all’ at Bowland Fell Park

When we first embarked on our retirement Gerald and I were a bit at a loss as to what to do.

Most people have a plan heading out of their retirement.

Folks who don’t own their own businesses spend the last few years of their working life daydreaming about how they’ll jet set around the world, or go fishing on the Amalfi coast, or learn how to play an instrument. Gerald and I believed wholeheartedly that we’d be content to spend the next 20 or so years together simply relaxing in each other’s company. After all, we’d spent a lifetime working together; surely it wouldn’t be difficult to simply put our feet up and relax?

It only took a few days for us to realise that sitting on our bottoms watching television all day really wasn’t for us. Before we knew it we were pottering around the Farm Food Shop, making little adjustments here and there. It wasn’t long until our kids realised that our retirements weren’t going that well and soon we’d been caught red-handed rearranging the fruit displays.

It’s thanks to our kids that we were given the idea of starting this site. 

They told us that if we still wanted to work then we should work, but that we couldn’t work at home anymore. They set us the task of exploring the UK and finding the very best places to eat locally sourced food. They called it ‘research’ but we know they were just trying to get rid of us.

Our latest adventure took us to the Forest of Bowland where we would stay in a lovely lodge and eat our fill at one of the best pubs in the country…

The first stop in our little mission up North was at Bowland Fell. This sited caravan park (which also runs a sideline as a semi-retirement village) is situated pretty much right on the edge of the forest, making it a great starting point for anyone who’s looking to get lost in the woods for a weekend. We assumed that this was going to cost us a fortune, but luckily it turned out that you can hire a holiday home in the Forest of Bowland for as little as £200 for three nights!

Once we’d settled in it was off to a place that Gerald had been dreaming about for weeks.

We first saw the Inn at Whitewell featured in the comedy series ‘The Trip’. Although I can’t say I wholeheartedly agreed with the disagreeable nature of the two lead characters, the food featured in the show looked uniformly excellent and regularly had us both salivating despite ourselves. There weren’t any Abba singalongs on our trip over, but we enjoyed the scenic ride nonetheless and before we knew it we were parking outside the Inn.

Calling the Inn at Whitewell a ‘pub’ would certainly be doing it a disservice. The plush fittings and well-kempt staff were clear signs that both Gerald and I probably should have worn smarter shoes. The welcome was warm nonetheless and we soon found ourselves sitting down to a sumptuous meal featuring hits such as a mouth-watering plate of Venison Carpaccio, a ludicrously blushing Rack of Lamb and a generous English Cheese Board.

Although the ride back to the lodge was mercifully short, I must admit that I fell asleep on a couple of occasions – that’s the effect that good food has on me!

Management Meeting//Slow-Roast Pork Rolls 5

We catch up with the kids over a family-classic.

There’s something so wholesome about having the whole family round for a roast dinner…

Although both our kids have got roles within the Farm Shop Food business (which is based just a few miles from our home) we still don’t get to see them that often. Kate (34) and Jack (31) have come full circle in terms of their relationship with our business here.

Gerald and I first started growing vegetables when we were struggling for cash as young parents. Pulling up carrots, potatoes and broccoli was a cheap way of feeding the troops whilst getting good nutrients in them at the same time. They were never fussy eaters as young ones, happily wolfing down whatever we set in front of them – whether it was a hearty stew or a rather anaemic looking soup.

After the Farm Shop Food business started to really get going (and the kids were a little older) we were able to get them working in the shop. I imagine that those early days of sitting at the checkout in our quiet Farm Shop were rather dull for them. They were the only young people working there and they were impossible to cheer up when they were half-way through a day’s work on the Saturday. We paid them minimum wage and I think they resented us slightly for nudging them into giving their precious weekends.

Still, by the time they had left for university they’d both taken on more substantial supervisory roles in the store and had built up a solid slate of skills that they could hopefully take with them into later working life. Every summer they’d both return to work in the shop and with each passing year I could see them enjoying their work a little more. Kate was the first to graduate, she spent a few months travelling before cropping up on our doorstep, asking if she could have a job. Two years later it was Jack who repeated a similar trick, but this time a little sun burnt from his time in Thailand.

They both took on managerial roles and have since then risen to take over complete control of the company. It really is a weight off our minds knowing that our kids have got the company in hand and it’s also wonderful to have them both so close to home. We try and keep our noses out of the business now that we’re both retired, but it’s always nice to check up on how they’re doing and there’s no better meal to bond over than a lovely bit of slow-roast pork.

Get Together Roast Pork Rolls

Serves a family of 4 with some leftovers

What You Need:

2kg loin of pork

2 onions, peeled

Plain flour

Good can of cider

300ml of veggie stock

8 soft bread rolls

To Serve:

Butter

Apple sauce

Stuffing

Method:

Crack your oven on as high as possible, then prep your pork.

Score the skin of your loin joint in thin strips, go about halfway through the fat for the best crackling.

Quarter your onions and place in your tray then plonk the pork on top.

Then get a good handful of sea salt and really rub it into the meat – place on a high shelf and roast for 25 mins.

Turn the heat down to 190 degrees and roast for another 2 hours.

Skewer the meat – if there are clear juices then you’re good to go.

Take it out to rest for half an hour before serving with bread rolls and any sauces/stuffing that you’d like.

Heading Down To Wales//Sosban & the Old Butchers 4

After a satisfying but admittedly exhausting trip to Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume, there were a few things back at the farm that Gerald and I had to take care of before we left on our next adventure.

We’d recently discovered a Japanese knotweed infestation on our lands and had been forced to take a more serious look at the lands that we own, including the Farm Shop Food itself.

Thankfully we were lucky enough to find some specialists to inspect the infestation and we were informed that the problem wasn’t quite as bad as others they had seen. Whilst Japanese knotweed doesn’t cause the environment any immediate damage, it’s invasive nature has made it a sworn enemy of the British government and land owners around the country. Left untreated, knotweed will grow unchecked and can significantly damage the value of our land.

With a team of professionals hired to begin the treatment process, Gerald and I felt assured enough to head off on another trip. We had little trouble booking a place to stay in North Wales at short notice, but the restaurant booking took a bit more forethought…

Gerald and I had been waiting over 6 months to get a seat at this particular restaurant.

Preparing only two dinner services a day to a 16-cover restaurant, Sosban & the Old Butchers received it’s first Michelin star last year, wowing critics with it’s novel approach to serving locally sourced fine-dining fare in a relaxed environment. This much in demand restaurant is only open three days a week, making it increasingly difficult to find a table any less than 6 months in advance.

After a quiet drive down through Wales we arrive in Menai Bridge with a good hour to spare. This charming little island town is only a short hop away from mainland Wales yet it somehow feels so much further. The nearly 200-year old suspension bridge that takes us from nearby Bangor over to the Isle of Anglesey is only 417 metres long but the short trip makes it feel like we’ve entered a foreign land.

Having lived on a land-locked farm for most of our lives, Gerald and I are often swept away by the romance of living near the sea. We wander up a path that takes us along the coastline of the island, the bridge is a dominating presence and at night the lights make it a truly dramatic sight to behold. Before we know it we’re running late for our sitting and have to pick up a light jog in order to make it to the restaurant in time.

After almost stumbling into the restaurant area we both feel like profusely apologising to both the staff and the waiting diners. The space is so small that it’s not too difficult to blurt out an apology and have everyone hear it. Sole front of house member Bethan warmly welcomes us and before we know it we’re whisked away into an exciting locally sourced tasting menu that, amongst other things, features an ‘umami log’, a celeriac risotto and a rather tasty cut of venison which Gerald falls in love with at first sight.

At just £65 per head (plus extra for wine) we can’t really believe the value and find ourselves booking another sitting in 6 months time.

Our drive back home the next day is peppered with reflective ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ when thinking about our meal, it’s safe to say that we’re eagerly awaiting our next visit to Menai Bridge!

Seeking Out Farm to Food Perfection 3

When we first started growing our own we never dreamt that we’d end up selling our veggies in our own shop…

But, a decade on, that’s just what is happening.

Many people tell us that we were ahead of the game when we set up our farm shop. We’re often told that we somehow predicted ‘the Farm-to-Table trend‘ that was soon to take over the UK scene. In fact, that really wasn’t the case. Both Gerald and I started growing vegetables in the garden so that we could alleviate our own mounting food bills and find a way of preparing food for the kids that was healthy and free of any chemicals.

Still – we’re both so pleased that the concept of Farm-to-Table eating is so fashionable right now.

Despite what many people might think, Farm-to-Table cookery is much more than just oddly shaped vegetables and anaemic looking meat. In the last few years a number of restaurants have started cropping up, touting the very best in locally sourced food; all of them trying to claim the prize for shortest distance from garden (or pen!) to plate.

It makes sense that the high-end restaurant scene has picked up on this new trend, really. Ethically sourced food is invariably more expensive than your average food stuff and both Gerald and I can attest that it tastes significantly better than than your average ingredient. Of course, there’s no point having lovely, local food if the chef doesn’t have a bleeding clue what he’s doing with it!

The very best Farm-to-Table restaurants make the most of their rural locations whilst also poaching the finest cooking talent from London. So, whilst the ingredients might not have travelled that far to get into your mouth, you can almost guarantee that the chefs themselves probably did.

On our mission to taste some of the best British produce, Gerald and I took a trip to a restaurant that sits right on the edge of the Lake District. L’Enclume is one of the most iconic restaurants offering a completely seasonal menu that constantly shifts throughout the year. Chef and owner Simon Rogan takes his veggies very seriously. In fact, he respects the plants that he grows in his 12-acre farm so much that he demands that each new chef entering his kitchen works the land for at least one month before setting foot in the kitchen.

The food certainly doesn’t come cheap here.

Both Gerald and I choose to drink (as we’ve made such a long trip we’re both eager for a good glass of wine with our dinner). The total cost for the tasting menu, with ‘classic’ wine pairing, comes to £450 and we both begin to understand the attractive aspect of running a restaurant in conjunction with your farm. The food itself is certainly fancier that we’re used to eating, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying it – the wine is also well worth the £80/pp (!) price tag.

Leaving L’Enclume, we both share a look and a shrug. Whilst it might have been fun to set up our own restaurant, we’re satisfied for now with just eating at other people’s tables!

Knotweed Invasion//Beef Stew 2

At the start of the week we received the call that no landowners want to hear…

Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant that found its way over to the UK during the Victorian era from Japan (funnily enough!).

When it was first introduced to the UK the gardeners and horticulturalists of Britain were completely enamoured with this wonder plant. Not only did it grow fast but the budding gardeners of the time also discovered that it had the ability to push back other plants, making it useful for keeping unwanted plants off the railway lines that were getting constantly built up and down the country at the time.

Unfortunately, the Victorians had underestimated how industrious Japanese knotweed could be. They’d not accounted for the plant’s ability to grow up to 20cm a day and they (falsely) believed that because the English climate was too cold for it to flower that the plant would not spread any further: they were wrong.

Over the last 100 years or so Japanese knotweed has spread out from it’s various origin points throughout the country and found it’s way into the back gardens, fields and homes of thousands around the country. The plant has the capacity to grow through walls and even uproot small structures such as sheds, this is why it’s now being treated as an ‘invasive non-native plant‘ by the government. Fail to dispose of your knotweed in the correct fashion and you could face a serious fine.

When we got a call from one of our lads that he’d spotted several Japanese knotweed plants breaking through a neighbouring land border, we knew we had to sort the problem out right away. We enlisted the help of Knotweed Help to assess our situation and get us a quote on removing the plants. Whilst our visitors were having a poke around, Gerald and I made ourselves busy in the kitchen cooking up a heart beef stew to keep the men outside warm.

The right beef stew takes more than a good joint of beef, this recipe is one that we’ve had in the family for years. Unlike some of our other ‘untouchable’ family recipes we always try and add a little something extra into this to make it a bit special:

Our Traditional Beef Stew

Serves 5 hungry farmers and 1 knotweed specialist

What You Need:

Vegetable oil

1kg best braising beef,

Plain flour

2 onions, roughly chopped

Couple of glasses of red wine

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped

2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped in 1cm cubes

5 bay leaves

2 tbsp Harissa paste

Method:

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees.

Dust your beef in couple of tablespoons of flour and then fry in a heated pan with a dash of oil.

Once your beef is sealed toss in your vegetable along with the garlic, bay and harissa.

Cook this out for a few minutes before adding the puree, Worcestershire sauce, wine and stock.

Bring this all to the boil and let it cook for 10 minutes before seasoning, then stick it in the oven for 3-4 hours.

Give it a stir occasionally and make sure you’ve got some lovely fresh bread to soak it up with when it’s ready.

Welcome – An Introduction

After operating ‘off the grid’ for nearly 17 years we’ve finally got a website!

As farmers and all-round country folk we’ve never really had that much time for the internet…

It sounds like a bit of a broad stereotype, but Gerald and I have always found the internet a little confusing. Our kids had railed at us for years to get it installed, but the cost of getting a line sent out to our little farm seemed so astronomical at the time that we had to bat away their complaints until they were old enough to go to university in a big town, where they could get all the internet that they wanted.

It took us until 2010 to get an internet connection of our own and another four years for us to really figure out what do with it!

As with all new technologies we were lucky to have our kids to show us how to get the most of it. Even with their guiding hands it took us another 4 years to get our very first website online and ready to go. We’re a local business, selling locally sourced produced to local people so this website will never be about selling you any products. Instead, this site will be dedicated to everything that we love about food and what you can do with it.

Now that Gerald and I have been able to pass the management of Farm Food Shop over to our kids it’s given us more time to explore the rest of the country, as well as all the fantastic foods that we have on offer here. We’ve taken it upon ourselves this year try out as many new food experiences as possible – that means more days out to food festivals, road trips to great restaurants and a whole lot of cooking at home.

After spending a lifetime working together we’ve finally got the chance to taste some of the great food that we’ve been selling to our customers for so long!

Over the next year we’ll be posting our favourite recipes – you’ll be able to try out everything from some of the oldest family recipes to some of our latest innovations. We’ll be keeping you up to date on the best restaurants that we’ve been visiting throughout the week and we’ll also be giving you updates on any changes that have been taking place on the farm.

It’s going to be a big year for the team here at Farm Shop Food – we hope you can make the time to keep up with us!