Friday, 14 November 2008
Charles - tall, blue eyed and charming - has been farming chickens for a decade and his birds - both free range and organic are reared for flavour. We've been cooking Sutton Hoo chickens on a regular basis over the last few months and there's no doubt they are our favourite for flavour, texture and succulence.
With the sun on our backs we walked and talked. The chicken story at Sutton Hoo goes something like this: once every two weeks 2,000 - 3,000 day old chicks arrive from a specialist chicken breeder in Lincolnshire. The breed is a hybrid of a brown feathered mother and a larger white feathered father and is known as the 'Suffolk White' around here. It's a slow-growing bird which consumes 1.5 - 2x the amount of food compared with an intensively reared chicken during its life. At any one time there are around 15,00o chickens at Sutton Hoo.
The young chicks are fed with 'crumb' a protein-rich mix of wheat and soya while the older birds eat pellets of the same ingredients in different proportions. The birds are housed in modest sized warm, dry houses with plenty of space (a little like caravans) with fresh straw bedding laid out every day. The houses are portable and moved periodically onto fresh grass.
The result is a premium quality free range bird which enjoys a better quality of life than would be necessary to qualify for the label 'free range'. Slaughtering is done as humanely as possible.
So what about the difference between organic, free range, freedom food and so on? At Sutton Hoo there is a field for organic birds (Charles sells about 1/3 organic to 2/3 free range). It was interesting to get behind the scenes of chicken production to understand these labels more quickly. The only real difference between Sutton Hoo Free Range and Sutton Hoo Organic is diet: the chicks which arrive can become either but are fed either a regular feed or an organic one. What we learned is that if you are not sure of the provenance of a chicken (say you are buying from a supermarket or eating in a restaurant) then is is certainly true that the label 'organic' tells you that the bird has had good welfare. However, Sutton Hoo 'free range' enjoy exactly the same quality of life as their 'organic' neighbours.
While it might further complicate things to add a new label we left the farm feeling that these 'free range plus' birds are a great choice and justifiably can command a higher price than a bog-standard free range bird.
We'll be back at Sutton Hoo in 2009 with some Food Safari events where you will be able to learn what we did, catch, pluck, cook and eat. Watch this space.
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Congratulations to Phil and the team. We're celebrating at Food Safari 'HQ' right now with a bottle or two of their delightful Porter. Yes the nights are dark but so's the Porter.
Don't forget that you can sample these and other Grain beers at our Barley to Beer event on Sunday 23 October at the Grain Brewery. Tickets are £40 from firstname.lastname@example.org but this is more than a brewery tour - we'll be tracing the whole journey of several beers from the grain to the bottle or cask and then matching beer with food in some surprising combinations over a rustic lunch.
Friday, 24 October 2008
Join us for a winter walk, demonstration of some seasonal cooking and of course a winter feast. This is a truly wonderful location.
For booking enquiries call me on 01728 621380
Monday, 20 October 2008
The question up for debate today was: 'Should Britain feed itself? Can Britain feed itself?' Based on the evidence of the Fife Diet where 600 people in Scotland have been experimenting with eating only locally produced or landed food the answer is no longer the 'you must be crazy' which the supermarket lobby might have us believe. It's an inspirational story which you can catch here
What do you think? Is this just a middle class fad or an example of a more sustainable approach to food that could scale beyond Fife? What are the true economics of local food?
Friday, 3 October 2008
main website. Meanwhile if you fancy a few beers to whet your appetite Food Safari recommends the Blonde Ash, a wheat beer for people who don't usually like wheat beers - light, crisp, deep flavour of the grain and pretty perfect for early Autumn drinking.
Monday, 29 September 2008
With the kids safely in the care of my Mum we’re off to Peakhill to set up for this afternoon’s walk. Again it’s a gorgeous September day. Just as we’re approaching the farm we get a call from Karen to say that she and Rob are safely back from Italy so the prospect of having to lead the walk ourselves thankfully disappears. Karen appears clutching the local paper - the EADT (East Anglian Daily Times) with a full article on Food Safari and photo of the White family which makes everyone feel positive and excited.
Everyone at Peakhill is fantastic today from Dane and Autumn picking the green leaves to Chris on the Barbie, Jan on just about every front, Bea on car parking and registration duties and of course the Whites. Rob does an excellent talk and holds everyone entranced.
We have around 25 adults for the walk (as well as a quite a few babies and children) which is a perfect group for Rob to talk eloquently and passionately about his one goal: to keep this 175 acre farm alive and in business for at least another generation.
After a really healthy couple of hours around the fields and lanes everyone is pretty hungry and the feast is a lovely occasion – the farm yard is a picture of bucolic heaven and the sun is still shining. There is a wealth of produce in prime nick.
At around 6.30 (although if feels more like 9) we pack up the car and head home. It’s been a lot of fun, pretty hard work and everything that we could have wanted for Food Safari number one.
There was a real sense of excitement and anticipation at Snape Maltings when we arrived – gorgeous late September weather certainly helped as around 3,000 visitors were expected to take part in what has been described as Britain’s most influential food festival.
A good number of food celebrities could be seen at the festival adding to the buzz: Matthew Fort of the Guardian, chefs including Mark Hix, Tom Aitken and Fergus Henderson as well as Tom Parker-Bowles and Sheila Dillon of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme.
Tim Rowan-Robinson (no relation but a charming guy who manages to find time to run a string of very successful local business interests as well as the festival), co-director of the festival described the festival as definitely ‘bigger than last year’.
Most of the better known local producers from Adnams and Aspalls through Maple Farm flour and veg, Jules and Sharpies’s hot relishes and Jimmy’s Farm pork were well represented. Tim’s personal highlights included “some outstanding and very reasonably priced beef from Somerton (Aberdeen Angus/Simmental cross hung for 29 days), River House smoked Salmon from Dominic Kilburn and a superb chorizo from Emmett’s of Peasenhall who are already well placed on the UK food map”.
However, the festival doesn’t and perhaps cannot showcase every local producer and there’s certainly more to Suffolk food and drink than could be found within the marquee – a disappointing range of local beers to try and buy although the delicious new East Green from Adnams (Britain’s first zero carbon beer) was on draft in the stylish Adnams outdoor bar. With real ale reported to be the only beer segment growing the UK it would be nice to see a beer marquee or zone at next year’s festival to show that natural beer isn’t all beards, bumbags and Camra worthiness.
Festival reports from producers were good although perhaps the hot weather had put off some visitor from buying as much perishable food as anticipated (tip: if any enterprising cool-bag vendors wants a neat sales opportunity in 2009 check out this festival – you could probably sell a shed load!).
The Food Safari team (in other words the Robinson family) were out in force handing out postcards for Sunday’s walk.
A very sad note at the festival was the tragic death this week of Max Dougal, head chef at Ruth Watson’s Crown and Castle Hotel in Orford. Watson herself understandably pulled out of a planned workshop. The Suffolk food scene lost a key figure this week.
Friday, 26 September 2008
After a last minute hitch with printing we have our marketing material for the festival. Many thanks to the brilliant guys at Leiston Press for a swift turnaround today. We love the postcards!
The farm was looking gorgeous this afternoon and there will be some great produce to buy too! Hope to see you on Sunday at 2.30!
To the Brudenell Hotel in Aldeburgh on a sensational September day to hear lunchtime talks from John Gummer MP (Suffolk Coastal) and former environment secretary and Professor Jules Pretty of the University of Essex on Suffolk's role in feeding a future world of changing climate. It was a very civilised occasion with about sixty people gathered in the bright restaurant of the Brudenell restaurant and we had a great lunch.
MC for the day was local mover and shaker William Kendall: farmer and serial entrepreneur - Covent Garden Soup and Green & Blacks are just two of the businesses he has transformed. He farms at Maple Farm, Kelsale.
I've uploaded some video of highlights from the talks . One of the most interesting thoughts came from Jules Pretty: as human beings we need stories to help us identify with food and stop it becoming a commodity where price is all that matters. He spoke eloquently about the effects of convergence and how important it is that we develop a divergent food culture. Part of this is helping consumers make a stronger association between the food we eat and where it comes from. The Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival and Food Safari are both part of an effort to bring out the unique stories behind the producers who supply us with the food we eat.
John Gummer spoke on a wide range of global issues, of their intersection with the local Suffolk food scene but on a more personal note about the opportunities for greater levels of micro food production in gardens and allotments, railing against the decision to grub up allotments in densely populated Ipswich to allow more room for housing. Surely the two can go hand in hand? A widely publicised case of east London allotments being lost to Olympic development is charted in Sam and Sam Clark’s most recent Moro East recipe book. Gummer cited the pride he now takes, and his father before him, in producing most of his own vegetables. Gummer also dismissed biodynamic production and organics as rubbish. What do you think?
Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Actually the birds are collecting small gravelly stones which they use to grind up food inside their gizzard (a very strong, tough muscle inside the bird) . Thanks to Rob at the Wild Meat Company for this fact!
"Having never tackled a game bird in my life I was slightly daunted by the idea of preparing one from scratch but under Paul's expert tuition the group quickly got stuck in. The process of preparing a wood pigeon, partridge or mallard duck (yes, we tackled all three) is pretty labour intensive compared with say a farmed chicken. I can understand now why prepared, butchered game isn't particularly cheap to buy although shot game is often a bargain.
The first stage was to remove the feathers from the birds, all of which had been shot locally. Unlike the straightforward plucking routine home cooks might be famiilar with, a professional operation like the Wild Meat Company needs to speed up the process as much as possible without compromising on quality.
First we removed most of the feathers with the help of a machine that gently pulls them away from the bird. Then after a dip in a bath of hot wax and a short cooling period we removed the rest of the feathers and fluff as easily as removing the shell from a hard-boiled egg - a strangely satisfying experience. The next stage was supposedly the gory bit - eviscerating the birds - but in practice with wild animals that have recently freshly killed there's nothing nasty - I found the experience perfectly pleasant. Paul demonstrated classic butchery techniques to remove the insides with the minimum fuss- slightly different for each type of game bird. The real insight for me was realising that the different birds have very different bone structures and anatomies which affects the way you approach them as a butcher.
Although none of us struggled with any aspect of the course, the trickiest part of the evening was definitely boning the birds, especially the duck which was slightly fiddly. However, it's essentially about confidence once you've been shown the ropes by an expert. Less than two hours from starting the course we were all able to stuff a boned duck (with some pretty sensational orange, thyme and sausage-meat stuffing) that wouldn't disgrace even the swankiest table.
And here's the proof. Not bad huh?"
Monday, 22 September 2008
The afternoon starts with a farm walk where Rob will be talking about growing organically on his family's farm. Rob is a passionate organic farmer and recently entrepreneur who also runs the award winning Peakhill farm shop in Saxmundham.
After the walk there will be an opportunity to indulge in some fine Peakill meat, veggie options and legendary Peakhill salads at the festival feast barbeque.
Tickets are £10 including walk and food (children under 16 free)- you can book by calling me (Polly Robinson) on 07966 475195 or 01728 621380 or just turn up at Peakhill Farm (directions here) on the day. We look forward to seeing you there!
We feel very excited (and privileged) to be able to use the festival as a launch pad for our new venture. This month the festival was described by Rose Prince, Telegraph food writer as "the most significant food festival in Britain". That's saying quite a lot as dozens on festivals have sprung up in recent years to meet the seemingly insatiable demand from foodies for food information, entertainment and insights into local producers.
We'd shared a passion for food since meeting at university and Tim was brought up on the Suffolk coast so we both loved this special part of East Anglia. Increasingly, like many people we knew, we were shopping more and more at farmers' markets to get our hands on fresh, local food but also because we really enjoyed meeting the producers who in nearly every case are so full of infectious enthusiasm for their produce, that it's hard to resist taking something home. But we both knew there was more to these food heroes than manning a stand on a Saturday or Sunday - incredibly hard work, unique stories, fascinating insights, often in beautiful landscapes. Wouldn't it be great to get behind the scenes and learn more about these producers and their food?
Inspired by the idea of connecting food lovers with local producers we started meeting producers in February 2008 and having received an enthusiastic response we decided to take the plunge: we sold the house, packed our two young children off to live in Suffolk and founded Food Safari.
Over the next few months we'll be running a number of Safaris (guided day tours of a number of producers on location) and Courses (in depth workshops) around Suffolk and we'll be blogging about it here. You can also visit our website to find out more.