After the positive feedback I’ve received on this post from my other blog, The Fishbowl Manifesto, I thought it would be worth posting here too. I’ve created a new category for these posts under ‘Countryside’ where, similar to my Walled Kitchen Garden Photo-tour, I’ll be posting some views of the English countryside and towns. Many are from the Chilterns and Thames Valley areas where I live, and some will be from further afield. Enjoy!
16th Century cottage style living in Thame
The Englishman and I spent an afternoon in Thame, Oxfordshire, a lovely historic market town. Though many towns share that slogan, this place truly embodies it with a long walkable market street, plenty of independent businesses and historic buildings. The buildings date from the 13th century onwards, from Georgian inns to late Victorian townhouses. Even the more “modern” fire hall and local theatre have a certain character to them. A quintessentially English market town, I think!
Sign for Cornmarket Street, common to market towns such as Thame, where historically the corn exchange was located
Winter Solstice has just passed, Christmas is almost upon us, and I’ve finally pulled together a photo-tour of the walled kitchen gardens I’ve been visiting and photographing.
Living in the Chilterns, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, (and with a handy National Trust membership) I’ve had many opportunities to visit walled gardens and their beautiful surrounding countryside with Red Kites soaring above. While I worked at Plant & Harvest in the historic West Wycombe Walled Garden, my fascination for the lifestyle represented by walled kitchen gardens grew and I had hoped that one day that place would become an example of such. Though I have now moved on to pastures and ventures anew (more on this to come!), these images still provide inspiration.
Greys Court near Henley-on-Thames has a series of 19th century-built gardens enclosed by the original walls of the old manor. This place exemplifies that certain ‘secret garden’ feeling as you amble down the pathways, through doors, gates and vine-covered corridors, and in and out of its various enclosures. When you come upon the 120-year-old wysteria pergola with its amazingly gnarled and knotted branches, it is quite magical.
Walled Gardens at Greys Court
Hailed as the Great British answer to the olive oils of the Mediterranean, rapeseed oil is a nutritious and nutty flavoured oil that has become a local staple on my kitchen counter-top, and hopefully some of yours as well. Chiltern Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil is made by the fifth-generation family farm P.E. Mead & Sons near Tring.
P.E. Mead & Sons Farm near Tring
Though I missed my chance to see the beautiful yellow fields of oilseed rape, or Brassica napus, in bloom in the summer, I visited Simon Mead at his farm shop a few weeks ago to learn more. The pictures that I had seen on their website very much reminded me of the mustard fields in Alberta where I grew up. The seeds of oilseed rape are 46% oil and the output is a golden-hued oil that is as nutritious as it is delicious. With half the saturated fat content of olive oil and higher source of omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, it’s a healthy everyday oil with many culinary uses.
Seeds of Oilseed Rape (Brassica napus)
When I first moved to the UK, I didn’t realize there was such a thing as English wine – it just didn’t occur to me that grapes would grow in this climate. Similarly, the Englishman didn’t know that there was such a thing as Canadian wine, so I suppose we were even! Now that English Wine Week (and what feels like a warm summer) is upon us, I thought I’d share my experience of visiting our local winery and, well, the experience of quaffing some of its produce.
Our local winemaker: Chiltern Valley Winery
The drive to Hambleden is what makes me really appreciate my surroundings. A few miles from home or the shop and we’re in the Chilterns countryside; the word ‘SLOW’ etched on the road merely echoes the mood that we find ourselves in.
Slowing down in the Chilterns countryside
En route to Chiltern Winery
Passing some lovely cottages and proper country pubs, we head up a road through steep woodland and arrive at Old Luxters Barn. The converted 17th century barn buildings house the Chiltern Valley Winery where winemaker David Ealand produces a surprisingly wide and unique range of wines and liqueurs.
Following on from an underlying theme in my last post on local honey, I started to wonder if milk is another one of those foods that remains nameless and faceless. Do we just look for ‘skimmed’, ‘semi-skimmed’ or ‘whole’ when buying cartons of the white stuff, or is there more to know?
Well, of course! This is, after all, the New Greengrocer – for new ways to think about, buy and consume food. The recent withdrawal of plans to build a mega-dairy facility in Lincolnshire that would essentially be an industrialized factory farm for close to 4000 cows is welcome news (for the environment and for small-scale dairy farmers). Given that the plans provoked over 70,000 people to sign a petition to oppose the mega-farm and garnered lots of publicity, will more people start to seek out and support their local dairy farms?
In my case, the local dairy farm is Laceys’ Family Farm in Lane End and the white stuff here is actually a bit yellow.
Deliciously creamy Laceys' Farm Milk
I watched the episode of Great British Food Revival a few days ago that profiled British honey. Initially I was surprised that a product as ubiquitous as honey needs that kind of profile. I see local honey available in most farmers’ markets and farm shops – are that many people unknowingly buying imported honey in the supermarkets? Then again, I have to remember to remove my foodie/sustainability/greengrocery hat and try to imagine how the message is communicated to the masses.
Chef Ainsley Harriott puts the much-publicized issue of threatened bee populations into a more local context by showing people how they can seek out and use British honey – thus helping to revive local bee colonies and local beekeepers. Whether it’s checking the labels for origin, getting into urban beekeeping, or just learning about the production of honey and its varieties instead of assuming that it’s a nameless, faceless jar of sweetener – will it work? Well, I have to admit, it was certainly an engaging episode! And it inspired me to write a post on my local honey producer.
Local Honey from Parslow Apiaries