The Brewery Tap Oak Tree Special Dinner 24th November 2014

Happy memories from last Thursdays’ Oak Tree Special Dinner at The Brewery Tap !

Never have Oak Tree ingredients tasted so good!  It was, in all honesty, the best meal I have ever eaten, and I worked away from home, living in hotels and eating out, in France, for years!

Many, many thanks to Mike Keen and his team of fellow chefs for an enormously enjoyable evening!

The best nettle soup I have ever tasted!

To begin: the best nettle soup I have ever tasted!

Amazing air dried ham to start...

Amazing air dried ham to follow …

ham

I have actually dreamed about this stuff since!

Very happy dinners!

Very happy dinners!

Chicken tacos made from retired egg laying "boiling fowl"

Chicken tacos made from (retired egg-laying) “boiling fowl” – really tasty

brisket

Delicious Brisket!

Some dishes don’t feature here as we were too busy enjoying the meal….

 

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To finish, the only dish of the evening that caused some debate - green tomato ice cream and green tomato chutney - opinions were divided, bu I _loved_ it!

To finish, the only dish of the evening that caused some debate – green tomato ice cream and green tomato chutney – opinions were divided, but I _loved_ it!

happydinerstoo

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Incredible. A draft menu from ingredients overnight!

Incredible. I only told Mike Keen of The Brewery Tap yesterday exactly what the veg we’d supply and he has already come up with a draft menu!!! Truly, the man is a food improvisation genius….

Delivering veg to Brewery Tap

Delivering (just some of the) veg to Brewery Tap

Drum roll please for the draft menu for this evening’s Brewery Tap Special Oak Tree Dinner (click the link at the bottom for details of how to find out if they still have any spaces left….)

Nettle shots, nettle parmesan crisp

Airdried ham, thyme scented speck, brushetta

Shredded chicken tacos, sour cream greens

Slow cooked Christmas brisket, cheddar spud dumplings

Cheeseburger slider, chips

Sirloin steak, béarnaise sauce

* * *

Mulled cider, toffee apple slices

Apple tarte tatin, custard

Green tomato ice cream, green tomato marmalade

… with mulled cider included!

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If you haven’t booked your place you could try seeing if they could squeeze you in – we’ll all be sat round communal tables and celebrating another happy year of ecological, community farming together – members and non-members welcome! See you later 🙂

 

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Kale crisps, by Brian

Kale crisps

Ingredient:

  • A bunch of kale
  • Olive oil or Sesame oil or a mixture of both.
  • Sea salt
  • Toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 C/ gas 4.
  2. Line baking tray with baking parchment.
  3. With a a knife or scissors carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and cut or tear into bite size pieces.
  4. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner or kitchen cloth. Place kale into poly bag add some oil and salt and shake well to coat kale.
  5. Place on baking tray and bake until crisp but not burnt. 10 -15 minutes ….
  6. Before serving spread toasted sesame seeds (optional).

Enjoy your crisps!

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A visit to Landews Meadow Farm in Kent

It is always good to visit other farms to learn, as my hero Joel Salatin puts it, you can always learn something from a visit to another farm. Last week Richard and I visited the lovely Nigel and Wendy Griffith at their farm in Kent, Landews Meadow Farm.

Nigel and Wendy Griffith of Landews Meadow Farm.

Nigel and Wendy Griffith of Landews Meadow Farm.

One of our main motivations for visiting was to learn about their work with the methods of Dr Elaine Ingham to make and use compost to improve soil biology. You can read about what we learned about this here on our sister site dedicated to our discoveries about Elaine Ingham’s methods, Green Mantle.

But there is far more to Landews Meadows Farm than the compost heaps, so it would be remiss of me not to share something else of what we learned! This is just a few edited highlights that are particularly relevant to The Oak Tree, do visit their comprehensive web page to find out more

The Landews Meadow Farm pigs enjoy a woodland home, with just a single electric fence wire to keep them in!

The Landews Meadow Farm pigs enjoy a woodland home, with just a single electric fence wire to keep them in!

The Landews Meadow Farm hens enjoy high tech barley that has bee sprouted to increase protein and nutrient content in the low energy, high tech unit made in China - impressive!

The Landews Meadow Farm hens enjoy barley that has been sprouted to increase protein and nutrient content in this low energy, high tech unit made in China – impressive!

The Landews Meadow Farm meat chicken processing unit - a small but perfectly formed container divided into two sections for plucking and gutting.

The Landews Meadow Farm meat chicken processing unit – a small but perfectly formed container divided into two sections for plucking and gutting.

The Landews Meadow Farm cattle are mob grazed to improve the soil, moved regularly onto fairly small areas to mimic the movement of a natural herd of ruminants.

The Landews Meadow Farm cattle are mob grazed to improve the soil, moved regularly onto fairly small areas to mimic the movement of a natural herd of ruminants.

Happy, healthy chickens that follow a few days after the cows a la Polyface Farm

Happy, healthy chickens that follow a few days after the cows a la Polyface Farm

This trough from Kiwitech looks intriguing! Could it work for our pigs? Carrying their water at The Oak Tree is a chore...

This trough from Kiwitech looks intriguing! Could it work for our pigs? Carrying their water at The Oak Tree is a chore…

Once again, Joanne has tractor envy.

Once again, Joanne has tractor envy.

A huge thank you to Nigel and Wendy for welcoming us to their beautiful, innovative and productive farm!

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Great to welcome Ben back to the farm (for a day)

It was a real pleasure to welcome Ben, who worked on the farm last year, and who now runs Frith Farm, back on the farm for a day last week! He has made amazing progress with his own farm and we learned a lot talking about his salad growing and community events at Frith Farm in Hull.

We thought we’d share a few photos, including of Ben helping with making compost extract.

The old team reunited

The old team reunited

Ben joined in the work of the day

Ben joined in the work of the day

Ben helping with making compost extract

Ben helping with making compost extract

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Joanne’s easy slow cooked Stir Fry Mix

The Oak Tree Stir fry mix varies through the season. Of course, quick stir frying is a great way to cook the farm stir fry mixes, but this method of cooking works really well for the bags that contain lots of thick stemmed larger leaves such as kale and winter greens. It is incredibly simple and you can just leave it cooking slowly while you go and do something else, until the greens are then tender and delicious.

Chop the mix up, in particular chop the thicker stems into small pieces. You can add a chopped onion or leek if you like.

Chop the thicker stems quite small.

Chop the thicker stems quite small.

Melt some butter in a saucepan and cook the stems first, adding a little salt. After a few minutes add the rest of the chopped stir fry mix and stir round a bit.

Leave to cook on a very slow heat until tender, stirring from time to time.

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Chard and leek soup

I am always looking for new recipes for the leafy vegetables. I loved this soup, tasty and quick to make“, Nadia

Ingredients (for 4):

      • Roughly 7 or 8 chard leaves.
      • 1 leek
      • 1 potato
      • 1 onion
      • 1 garlic clove
      • Pepper
      • Vegetable stoc (optional)
      • 4 spoons of heavy cream when serving (optional)
      • A bit of oil. I used coconut.

Method:

    1. Wash and cut all vegetables in medium/small pieces.
    2. Heat the oil, cook the onion for a few minutes.
    3. Add garlic and cook for one minute.
    4. Add all vegetables and mix well.
    5. Cover with water. If using stock, add stock. If NOT using stock, add salt.
    6. Cook the soup. If using pressure cooker, it takes 5 minutes in a pressure cooker, longer in a normal pan.
    7. Mix in blender or hand blender.
    8. Serve with pepper and cream (optional)

Bon appétit!

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The evolution of The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm: three panoramic photos

Digging through my old photos, I found a couple of panoramic photos taken from the farm entrance in years gone by. I asked Richard very nicely if he would take an up-to-date one, and during a break in the weather yesterday he did so (thanks Richard!)

I present to you three stages in the evolution of The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm, in photos…

The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm when we bought it in 2009: It had been farmed with chemicals for decades and the soil contained only 2% organic matter and no earthworms

The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm when we bought it in 2009, covered in wheat stubble: It had been farmed with chemicals for decades and the soil contained only 2% organic matter and no earthworms

The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm in 2013: The soil was better, and even contained some earthworms, but still had a long way to go.

The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm in 2013: The soil was better following the introduction of some livestock and compost applications, and even contained some earthworms, but still had a long way to go.

The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm in 2016: The soil texture is much improved, the crops are more plentiful, however the soil is still largely bacterial except for a few places where we have applied the methods of Dr Elaine Ingham of Soil Food Web - in those spots the improvement in crops has been extraordinary!

The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm in 2016: The soil texture is much improved thanks to our livestock and further compost applications, not to mention cover crops, and the crops are yet more plentiful. However the soil is still largely bacterial except for a few places where we have applied the methods of Dr Elaine Ingham of Soil Food Web – in those spots the improvement in our crops relative to elsewhere has been extraordinary!

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Visit to Chagfood CSA in Devon

(or “what Joanne did on her holidays…”)

I’m not very good at holidays. That’s to say I spend a lot of my time away thinking about, and planning the future of, The Oak Tree. Last week Richard and I headed to Dartmoor for a week’s holiday. It was lovely, very relaxing and the weather was kind.

Ed Hamer with his fine brassicas

The wonderful Ed Hamer with his fine brassicas. Sorry about the poor quality picture taken on my phone.

Despite being on holiday I couldn’t resist going to see Ed Hamer of Chagfood. Ed kindly showed me round and explained how Chagfood CSA works. As a busy small farmer myself, I insisted on paying Ed what I charge for a half day visit. If you ask to go and see him, please remember that he works very, very hard and doesn’t earn a lot… it is me saying this, not Ed himself, but I do think it is important that we all value our farmers’ time!

Chagfood CSA started about a year before The Oak Tree CSA, indeed I remember being impressed by this article in the Guardian about Ed while starting up the Oak Tree scheme, and I have always been struck by the similarities between Chagfood and The Oak Tree ever since.

What prompted me to want to visit was reading in the excellent Future Farmers II booklet how Chagfood takes on a trainee each year . We’ve wanted to take a trainee on for years, but I just couldn’t figure out how to offer a fair and comfortable experience. Chagfood gets about 30 applicants for it’s trainee scheme each year, and has had really good experiences.

Adorable caravan accommodation for trainees at Chagfood.

Adorable caravan accommodation for trainees at Chagfood.

But I learned a lot more about Chagfood than just their trainee scheme, and my visit has made me really think about our plans for the future here at The Oak Tree.  I’m afraid I was so taken by the equipment and crops that I failed to take any general overview photos – so to get a general idea I suggest you take a look at Ed’s Chagfood Instagram account.

I could write for hours about what I learned, but I’ll resist. Let’s start with the some of the key similarities, and differences, between Chagfood and The Oak Tree:

Similarities

  • Both farms’ veg shares contain only veg grown on the farm.
  • Both farms produces boxes for as much of the year as possible (Chagfood has a scheduled break in the hungry gap, which The Oak Tree doesn’t, but their climate is harsher).
  • The farms are run by not-for-profit social enterprise CICs (Community Interest Companies) with the growers among the Director.
  • Both farms aim to challenge assumptions about modern food production.
  • Neither farm uses any chemicals, but neither is certified organic – our members know how we farm.
  • Both farms have had significant problems with planning permission for much needed buildings.
  • Both farms have enjoyed financial support from the wonderful Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

Differences

  • The Oak Tree membership includes a “compulsory” work commitment on the farm. Chagfood doesn’t, but welcomes help on the farm.
  • The Oak Tree has pigs, chickens and beef cattle, Chagfood has working horses.
  • The Oak Tree is more “theraputic/community” orientated than Chagfood, Chagfood is more focused on veg production (but both farms address both).
  • Chagfood was created on land that had been organic pasture for many years, The Oak Tree on land that had been degraded by Industrial Agriculture for decades.
  • Chagfood doesn’t need to use its irrigation anything like as much as The Oak Tree (our climate is “drier than Jerusalem” according to Anglian Water).
  • The Oak Tree is an island in a wide sea of Industrial Agriculture (though our members are lovely and very supportive!), Chagfood is embedded in a wider supportive community of like minded “alternative” folk
  • The Oak Tree has only a two wheeled tractor, Chagfood has a 4 wheeled tractor.

I’d been wondering whether we should get a 4 wheeled tractor here at The Oak Tree, and my visit to Chagfood has swung it: their crops were impressive and, frankly, more plentiful than ours at The Oak Tree. Admittedly they are growing on a larger area and have more pairs of hands, however I believe that they do more with the time & land they use. Now, we do pretty well here at The Oak Tree, however I believe we could increase our veg crop yields significantly with a four wheeled tractor. I set up The Oak Tree market garden based on this excellent book:


and it has served us well, however we are still struggling to make ends meet, so, in short, we need to produce more to sell without increasing the amount of work (we can’t afford more wages without more income). How does that tie in with our low carbon philosophy? I’m not too worried.We estimate that we sequester between 10 and 100 times more carbon into the soil than we emit through our activities. We’ll use a little more diesel, but we’ll make more compost, etc, and thereby sequester more carbon into the soil.

We certainly do plan to take on a trainee or two in 2017. We need to sort out accommodation and other infrastructure in order to welcome them, which some Oak Tree members have already offered to help with!

A few key practical points which I  know will interest our members!

Their lovely composting toilet. Remember, there are composting loos in our proposed farm community building!

Their lovely composting toilet. Remember, there are composting loos in our proposed farm community building!

A lovely, organised tool wall. We don't have space now... but if we get our building...

A lovely, organised tool wall. We don’t have space now… but if we get our building…

The Chagfood Steerage Hoe (drool...) they had WEED FREE CARROTS with this. Repeat: weed free carrots!!!

The Chagfood Steerage Hoe 4 wheel tractor implement (drool…). They had weed free carrots with this. Repeat: WEED FREE CARROTS!!! (we spend A LOT of time weeding carrots!)

And last but not least, goats from the sister farm, Chagfarm.

And last but not least, goats on their sister farm, Chagfarm.

So, huge thanks to Ed at Chagfood, and here is to the success of the ever expanding Network of CSAs in the UK!

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Beetroot and winter radish soup, suggested by Nadia

Beetroot and winter radish soup

“I wanted to a recipe that made use of both beetroot and winter radish, so found this one, which inspired me. You will see that this recipe below is very different from the original though! It is really tasty. Even my son, who is not a bif soup lover, asked for seconds…
It is a “one pot” dish. I have used a pressure cooker so it only took 20 minutes to cook. It would take longer if using a regular pot.” –  Nadia

Ingredients:

      • Potatoes (roughly 300 grams)
      • One large winter radish (roughly 200 grams, can be adjusted to taste)
      • Beetroot (roughly 300 grams)
      • Three onions
      • Coconut oil (or butter/oil)
      • 1 L of water (can add vegetable stock, but I prefer without to taste the vegetables properly)
      • Two spoons of coconut cream (optional – can also use a dash of cream when serving).
      • Various herbs (whatever I had, all dry herbs: dill, oregano, thyme, etc.)
      • Salt, pepper

Method:

    1. Peel all vegetables. Cut the onions very finely. Cut the potatoes and winter radish in small chunks. Cut the beetroot very finely to enable it to cook faster.
    2. Heat the coconut oil (or other oil) and fry the onions.
    3. Add all vegetables, and fry for 2 minutes.
    4. Cover with water; add salt, pepper and herbs. If using coconut cream/butter then add at this stage.
    5. Close the pressure cooker and cook on high heat. When it whistles, reduce the heat and cook for 20 minutes.
    6. Wait for it to be cooled down and mix in a blender.
    7. Serve with a spoon of crème fraiche or as is!

Bon appétit!

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