Even in the height of a British summer, we have spells where you need something to counterbalance a humid drizzly spell. Especially on our coastal side of the Downs where we are cloaked in grey sea frets, we can take a quick drive over the hills to bask in warm sunshine. Although that sometimes works vice versa, so not really complaining about our micro-climate.
But a given is that soups and ragouts may be out of place in hotter climates, there’s a place for a one pot supper at any time of year whether you’re serving it with pasta, rice or salad. A jar of a redcurrant or blackcurrant compote is a handy alternative to imported pomegranate molasses to gently stir into a sauce for instant depth.
1kg Tibbs Farm redcurrants
4 tablespoons Brighton and Hove honey
4 tablespoons water
In a large stainless steel or copper pan, combine all the ingredients. Warm together over a slow heat for 5-10 minutes until the redcurrants start to pop. Cook gently for a further 5 mins, then pour carefully into a large mason jar.
Cool, then fridge and this will keep for up to a week. Alternatively, divide and freeze into manageable portions.
Use in sauces and stews or mix into porridge or yoghurt. This is not a very sweet version – just the main tartness has had its edges softened. The fruitiness still shines through so if you are using in sweet dishes, then you may want to add a little more honey when you swirl through your yoghurt…
Sussex Beef Ragout with Redcurrants
40g Southdowns butter
900g Sussex braising steak, diced into 2.5cm pieces
Melt butter in a large oven proof pan. Add the beef and sear over a high heat, until well browned. Remove the beef and set aside, then add bacon, and cook until crisp.
Add onions and reduce the heat to gently caramelise for around 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 2 minutes.
Add the beef back to the pan and adding the red peppers and currants. Sprinkle over the flour and season with spices. Mix well and pour over the stock or ale and bay leaves. Add enough water to cover the ingredients and cover.
Bake slowly in the preheated oven for 3 hours or until meat is really tender.
Just prior to serving, remove the bay leaves, add chopped parsley and more seasoning if desired.
Citrus is easily our favourite family flavour, so the thought of going for a whole month without any lemons or oranges, is not our ideal culinary situation. Adding lemon zest and a dash of juice to most one-pot dish reduces the need to add extra salt; Or just a squeeze of lemon over fish or veggies gives a magical lift.
So, for #eatsussex, we have taken the bull by the horns and grown our own. An organic pursha fruit mini-tree which was grown by the wonderful Emily at Plants4presents. I was heading towards the lemon tree, but she diverted us to these little green/yellow fruits which now find their way into most of our dishes. They are delicate skinned and a cross between a clementine/lemon. Maybe because they’re fresh from the tree, the smell is pretty heady and sweet…small but powerful fruit. Because they are so dainty, there’s no need to peel as the pith hasn’t become dry and bitter….just slice and chuck the whole thing in.
Our olive oil, of course is Mestó grown by Cate and Vasilis at their own farm in Crete and driven back to Brighton by them after pressing. So, we are including these in our #eatsussex as the provenance is sustainably sourced, organically grown and local. And the olive oil is bloody good….
Our green beans (or bobby beans as they’re inexplicably known) are grown biodynamically by Toos at Laines. Freshly picked beans are more nutritious and the freshness of the flavours are pronounced.
There’s an abundance of summer fruit right now, but the season is so short that it’s hard to manage. If you freeze the fruit now and as fresh as possible, then you’ll have a rich supply of nutritious berries for winter porridge, tarts – and savoury dishes.
Our blackcurrants from Tibbs Farm are handpicked and fresh as you like. Again, this year we are lucky with the weather – seem to remember last year, the rain spoiled so much of the crop.
How to store
Blackcurrants and redcurrants are both prone to mould so don’t wash before storing in the fridge. Ensure they are dry and loosely pack into a shallow bowl. Cover and they should store for around 5 days to a week.
How to freeze
Wash the currants carefully, pat try and create a single layer on a baking sheet. Freeze quickly then transfer to a freezer bag and store.
Ways of using
Currants have a pleasingly soft tartness which is a shame to drown in sugar. Adding raw honey rounds off the sharp edges nicely so the absolute richness of the flavour can speak for itself. Redcurrants rarely feature in desserts and are generally relegated to jellies when they are paired with savoury foods.
A British summer is a peculiar beast. In early and late summer it can be blazingly hot during the day and plummet to toe chilling iciness by mid-evening…and of course, there is the ever present threat of rain in even the bluest sky. So, barbecues are planned and, one way or another, vast plates of sausages and chicken are cooked. Inevitably there is usually plenty left over and if a comforting dish is needed the following day to combat being cold/wet/hungover, then a salty salad of sausage or chicken with redcurrants will cover most bases.
Nigel Slater is the master of the simple but imaginative dish with kitchen cupboard ingredients which just hit the spot:
For the dressing ½ tsp English mustard 1 tsp honey 1 tsp cider vinegar Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 3 tbsp olive oil
Put the mustard, honey and vinegar for the dressing in a small jam jar with a good pinch of salt and pepper, and whisk until smooth. Add the oil, put on the lid and shake to emulsify.
Put the salad leaves in a large bowl and trickle over half the dressing. Toss, then arrange on a large serving plate. Cut the sausages in half lengthways, then cut into half moons and scatter over the salad leaves. Put the currants in a small bowl and give them a quick press or two with the end of a rolling pin or pestle, just to crush a few and create a bit of juice – you want most of them to stay whole. Combine with the remaining dressing, then scatter/spoon over the salad and serve with bread.
1 small head of red cabbage 250g blackcurrants 75g raw honey
Julienne the cabbage finely. Wrap in a clean tea towel and squeeze out excess moisture.
Mash the currants slightly to just burst and drizzle over the honey (to taste). Fold carefully into the cabbage and toss well. Cover and fridge to allow the flavours to absorb.
Perfect with rich cold meat such as game, venison or duck.
This is probably the most British of vegetables and the most reviled (apart from swedes)?? Probably because most people’s childhood experience of marrow was mushy, bland and watery, which is why modern parents have never served this to their kids and whole generations have grown up with urban legends of slop sliding around their plate.
Not appetising, eh?! But like most veg that was popular post-war, cooking vegetables often involved boiling or frying and little else. So, we’re not sure why marrow has never lived this down, as there are lots of good reasons to love it….it’s versatile, it grows easily, it’s cheap to buy and it can be used in a whole load of different recipes. So, we are hoping to change your mind about this gorgeously useful veg….
It’s not a keeper, for a start. Unlike other similar fruit (melon and courgette, if you’re interested), the high water content will soon make the flesh mushy, so use within 3 days.
Make sure the skin is dry and fridge the marrow as quickly as possible.
How to use
Firstly, the flesh will absorb flavour so makes a great base for dishes like this comforting Marrow and Tomato Masala. from Vertical Veg – I love this blog site as it has lots of practical advice for small space growing and also some brilliant recipes like this other tomato and marrow combination smothered in rosemary and cheese, in the form of Syke’s Marrow (or Psyche’s Marrow, as it was back in the day).
Stuffed marrow isn’t big news, but there are more exciting ways to do this without resorting to a 1970’s sitcom dinner. Something like marrow stuffed with lamb, pinenuts and tahini is rich but also fairly light for summer – and using the local saltmarsh lamb gives an even sweeter flavour.
If you are still not a fan, then you can always use marrow to lighten up a cake such as this beautiful marrow, almond and lemon cake. Marrow is a natural partner to light, acid flavour like citrus and tomato so there are lots of natural pairings.
And of course, you can chop and use marrow in any recipe which asks for courgettes so fabulous ratatouilles and stews. A friend of mine, Sue, also grates into minced beef to lighten meat dishes like bolognaise for summer evenings.
You won’t want to eat imported cherries after eating freshly picked local Sussex / Kent border fruit. Plump and sweet with the density and juiciness that you find when things haven’t been sitting in supermarket chillers for a week or more.
Not just sweet tasting, the deep red colour of the fruit is due to antioxidants known as anthocyanins, which may help lower cholesterol and triglycerides. It’s also been suggested that cherries can be helpful for sleep as they naturally contain melatonin which may help regulate the internal body clock.
So, we are going to make full use of these during our #eatsussex August. The recipes below aren’t making use of all local ingredients, but we will take the basis of these over the month – particularly the creamy cheese, cherry and thyme theme as these flavours are entirely as gorgeous for teatime as they are for entertaining.
How to store cherries
Store unwashed in a fridge and they will keep for up to a week. Don’t store in an airtight container – just cover with a muslin or piece of kitchen roll otherwise condensation will cause them to mould more quickly.
Wash just before serving as otherwise, the moisture will cause them to split.
How to prepare
If you have a cherry pip remover, then all well and good. If not, just twist off the stem and hold the cherry stem side down onto a chopping board (can release some juice). Just press down with the side of a chef’s knife blade and pop out the pip.
Cherry recipes – not just for puddings and pies
Cherries and cheese work as well as quince or apple. This Martha Stewart recipe calls for Robiola cheese but we would prefer to use a soft Sussex variety such as Sussex Slipcote, High Weald Ricotta or Little Sussex. All these are soft, gentle cheeses with just enough of a citrus tang to balance the sweetness of the cherries. And for olive oil, we’d use nothing but Cate and Vasilis’s Mesto from their own grove of trees in Crete.
Cherries are natural partners to herbs as their sweetness balances the fragrant spiciness of many more pungent herbs. So a compote of Cherry, Lemon Balm and Mint is a perfect sweet to savoury addition for eating with a roast, or adding to yoghurt or cream for an instant pudding. Instead of sugar, you could use Brighton and Hove Raw honey for a deeper flavour and texture.
Life as a farmer is a tough game. At the mercy of the elements, the economy, food trends and an uncertain Brexit on the horizon, there are compelling arguments for throwing in the towel and finding a regular job.
To set the record straight though – we are not farmers ourselves. The ‘we’ in Fin and Farm are Nick and Muir who set it up in 2009 and along with Jim, who joined shortly after, and we work with local farms throughout Sussex and West Kent. We bring fresh produce from growers and producers to commercial kitchens such as restaurants, pubs and hotels and home kitchens all along the South coast.
Why we do what we do . . .
The food chain from the farms to the shops is a delicate one, and our job is to work as a bridge to regularly bring fresh produce to urban areas, where it’s more difficult to access. The aim is to reduce the carbon footprint of local food and keep it accessible and affordable for our customers.
So, last year we lost two farms; one to retirement (the land has been converted to a glamping site) and one as income wasn’t sustainable. Naturally, this starts to ring alarm bells, as naturally, our regional farms are an essential feature of our local economy. Without them, access to good daily food and the collective carbon footprint would suffer not to mention our tourism, environment, maintenance of natural sites and local employment. We would sorely miss our diversity and quality of what is on our plate.
Of course, vegetables in the supermarket are relatively cheap because the growers and producers are often paid so poorly and tied into wasteful contracts which direct the bulk of the profit to the retailer. There is little security for the growers and they are left extremely vulnerable if they don’t yield good crops – hence and over-reliance on industrial growing techniques….that is if they are even based regionally – it’s often cheaper to source globally produce that we can easily grow locally.
But you know all of this. There are a ton of reasons to buy locally. But, in our experience, people are driven to the supermarkets not because they don’t care, but generally through lack of time and the demands of a busy life and making ends meet. It’s totally understandable; life can be rushed and stressful and we have a million things to think about.
Of course, it’s easy for us to recommend local produce when we spend so much time on the farms – but with our delivery service – or shopping at supermarkets such as HiSbe in Brighton or our home boxes, honestly, should be as easy as regular shopping habits.
So, what is #EatSussex August?
Even though we eat loads of local food ourselves, we thought we would go a step further and pledge to eat nothing but Sussex produce* throughout August. We want to show that it’s entirely possible to eat healthily, rustle up speedy meals and find interesting food locally and it definitely not be another drain on your already stretched time, imagination and budget. (* see Rules below).
You know though, even though we are really excited by the project, we still had to think carefully ourselves when we were planning. Like many, the thought of careful advance food planning isn’t something high on our agenda (‘fessing up here). we also have our work with our food businesses, a family (GCSE time – yikes), elderly relatives, a dog, our house which we are gutting, and that has to be occasionally cleaned, and somewhere fitting into all of that, a social life!
At home our daily food is usually not particularly complex, fairly quick one or two pots – although we do use loads of fresh ingredients. Healthy eating is high on our agenda so we rely heavily on pulses, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, and lots of bananas, peanut butter and coconut milk and cream.
We already eat probably 75% fresh local veg and fruit and our diet is pretty plant based, on the whole. We aren’t saints though and really enjoy our treats of chocolate, cheese and good wine or cracking open a chilled beer.
Nick eats meat although Muir is veggie, so there isn’t a whole load of meat in the house but Nick does treat himself on occasion to fresh Sussex sausages, chicken and the odd steak.
So, all in all fairly simple – and an exciting challenge. We will be learning to cook fabulous pasta at home with local flour and find fabulous substitutes to wean us away from bananas!
So, here are a few of the basic rules we’ve put together and we hope that you’ll enjoy the upcoming blogs/vlogs about progress and some more info on our growers and suppliers.
All meals to be made from Sussex produce
Can drink locally sourced (sustainably sourced, that is) coffee and blended tea from Edgcumbes near Ford and from MD Tea in Brighton.
Can use locally packed salt and black pepper
Can use locally sourced and sustainably imported spices from local suppliers
We will use locally pressed hemp oil for dressing (as it shouldn’t be heated)
Will use Mesto Olive Oil as Cate and Vasilis live in Brighton and they own the olive grove in Crete. All oil they transport themselves, so the carbon footprint is tiny. For health reasons, we would prefer not to cook with butter for a whole month! Although for taste, we have no objection at all!)
Please feel free to comment with advice, recipes and pointers to anything local that we may not have found on our travels. All advice welcome!
Since Hove Museum has closed it’s cafe doors, we have been on the lookout for a replacement proper Welsh Rarebit. A good Rarebit is not necessarily just posh cheese on toast. It’s a melting combination of whipped cheese, butter and flour with the lightly nutty aftertaste of a dash of beer and served with a crisp, spicy rocket salad. Sometimes served with an additional egg, but that’s just overkill in our book.
I’ll say traditionally a good Rarebit has been made with a salty, mature cheddar, but of course, the dish itself was (is!) a Welsh tradition appropriated by the rest of the UK and Cheshire or Caerphilly cheese is often used. Both Cheshire and Caerphilly cheeses have a slightly citrussy tangy taste, so for us, we prefer something a little more oozy and mildly buttery.
We are very lucky to have THE perfect Rarebit cheese from a local cheesemaker, Rob, from Bookham Harrison over in leafy Funtington, near Chichester meandering at the foot of the South Downs. Sussex Charmer is a punchy hard cheese which is the lovechild of Cheddar and Parmesan (and certified vegetarian) with the gutsiness of a good Parmesan and the creaminess of cheddar.
How to make a perfect Sussex Rarebit
Important note here…the bread is very important. A good thick slab of a wholemeal sourdough is delicious and robust enough to withstand a rich sauce without becoming soggy . But that said, if you prefer white, then just cut it from a good fresh loaf and don’t stint on the thickness of the slice.
Mix the mustard with the beer in the bottom of a small pan to make a paste, then add the butter and about 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce – you can always add more later if you like. Heat gently until the butter has melted.
Mix in the cheese and stir carefully until it has just melted but be careful not to let it boil or burn. Once you have a sauce, season if required, then allow to cool until just slightly warm, being careful the mixture doesn’t cool to be come solid.
Pre-heat the grill to medium-high, and toast the bread on one side and just lightly toast the other. Beat the yolks into the warm cheese until smooth, and then spoon on to the toast and cook until bubbling and golden.
Serve immediately with a spicy leaf salad and some tiny cherry tomatoes to balance the rich flavours.