Ham in the hamper
Harvest time can also mean picnic time on the farm and Vicky Rogers, of Radmore Farm Shop, has some delicious suggestions for the basket.
As we delve into the summer holidays, the harvest is also just starting. The arable part of our farm is run by my dad, and we grow mainly wheat and oats, and sometimes barley and oilseed rape or an odd few acres of potatoes.
My two boys adore harvest time and jump at the chance to have a sit on grandad’s combine, as did I when I was a child – and still do truth be told.
I hear myself echoing the words my parents used to speak to me and telling my children that, traditionally, the purpose of a school summer holiday was so that all the children could help with gathering in the harvest. Of course, now that it’s all done mechanically, there isn’t much that two small children can do to help, but there is loads of exploring to do, walks to go on and blackberries to pick towards the end of the summer. And then there is the picnicking.
I love how quintessentially British it is to pack up your picnic basket and your chequered picnic blanket, and head out to find some lovely scenery, avoiding the showers and the wasps simultaneously.
I love any event that makes food sociable and an occasion to enjoy with others, but coupled with the outdoors and the scenery, it’s the icing on the cake.
What goes in the basket has evolved a bit over the years, but the key ingredients have remained strong. There may be a pot of hummus now that didn’t used to be there, the variety of cheese available has grown, the bread might be a sour dough instead of the sliced white that was there in days gone by, and there maybe an array of charcuterie to nibble at too. But the main ingredients vary little. There’s always a flask of tea in our picnic, always some proper homemade ham, always a homemade cake and a punnet of strawberries or cherries.
A lot of the artisan foods and drinks that we make really well in this country are perfect sunny weather accompaniments too. For chutneys and pickles, our favourites are Fen End Country Kitchen and Bracken Hill Fine Foods. English cheeses continue to develop and improve all the time, we really are spoilt these days, but the most astonishing development comes with goats’ and ewes’ milk cheeses.
Some 10 years ago I was only aware of one type of goats’ cheese, the soft and quite pungent tasting kind, but thanks to small producers like Nene View Dairy, there is a whole array of different goats’ cheese to try, and love. And with Bevistan Dairy making waves with their ewes’ milk cheese – soft, creamy and very easy to eat – I think the sheep milk cheese scene will be expanding quickly too.
For dips and sauces, we are totally spoilt for choice with what is coming out from the artisan independent companies. Purely Pesto makes a brilliant range of hummus and Tiggs makes some cracking sauces and marinades. For liquid refreshment, Fentimans botanically-brewed soft drinks just scream picnic, and I can’t talk picnics without mentioning strawberries from Sunclose Farm in Milton. And the best thing about the modern picnic, using BeeBee beeswax wraps to pack everything in means no plastic rubbish to put back in the basket.
So, I hope I’ve inspired you to get out by the river with your basket. In our case, it’s most often eaten sitting in a row of straw in a harvest field, and has to protected from the dust every time the combine passes, and eaten in shifts so that the machines never stop rolling.