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Radmore Farm Shop take a food inspired trip down memory lane

By Vicky Rogers

Radmore Farm Shop, 8-10 Victoria Ave, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Radmore Farm Shop, 8-10 Victoria Ave, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

The late persistent cold weather does play havoc on the farm, and will certainly delay all of this year's crops.

The chickens are muddy from paddling around in the puddles, and the new chicks need a lot of attention to make sure they stay warm. Ben is spending an extra hour a day making sure the water supply holds up during the really frosty mornings, and everyone I know in the farming community has a different set of problems that this weather presents.

Everyone is fed up of it and desperate for spring. So it’s hard to admit that I kind of like it.

I will explain.

The long winter and late spring puts in mind my grandparents’ generation – the first generation of my family to farm at Radmore. They bought the farm in 1937 and my grandfather along with his brothers and sisters all lived here. When I was young, two of his sisters, my great aunts, taught me all about the seasons and preparing for them. The very basis of their lives and routine revolved around preparing yourself for winter, and making sure you could provide for yourself if it was a hard or a long winter.

Back then every farmhouse had a big dairy/larder as part of the house. And it was often the biggest room, and most important. Set down a few steps, and at the back of the house so it’s cooler, with no windows.

My great aunts still lived in a very simple way, unaffected by the world changing around them. When I was small, it was the late 1980s and early 90s, and my great aunts, born shortly after the turn of the century, would have been in their 80s and 90s. They had electricity in their house, but they kept its use to a minimum, going to bed when it got dark instead of turning lights on, doing puzzles and crosswords for entertainment, and only cooking once in a day.

Walking down the steps into their dairy was like taking a step back in time. It was cold and dark. It was filled with jars and bottles from floor to ceiling, full of everything they had made, collected, preserved and pickled over summer and autumn. They had wooden cupboards with wire mesh doors that were used for keeping cheese, wrapped in paper. The perfect conditions for keeping cheese too – they didn’t have the problem of opening a plastic packet and then the cheese going mouldy like we do.

They also had a big ceramic pot with a wooden lid that laid on it. The pot housed their fresh bread, and the wooden lid became a cutting board. Sitting on top of it was the knife for cutting the bread and a proper butter dish, because who would ever dream of putting butter in a fridge? There were chains and hooks in the ceiling for hanging hams and bacons, and a big table in the middle for preparing anything. I loved it. Even though it was dark and cold.

The dedication and forethought and respect for the seasons that went into getting that room full was overwhelming to me as a child. And I often think of it as an adult because they had it right, didn’t they? They grew their own food. They cooked and prepared it. They didn’t use plastic and were mindful of what resources they used. They collected wood that had fallen around the farm all year to keep their fire burning, and boiled water on the fire to save the electric kettle. They respected the environment and lived within their means. And they certainly didn’t panic about getting to the supermarket on a snow day.

So being thrown a curve ball of a late spring reminds me of days gone by, and what they did to keep themselves warm and well fed back then. It also reminds me to make sure I keep their message going down to my boys, who will never meet those two amazing ladies, only through the anecdotes I pass on.

With them in mind, today’s recipe is beef short ribs. A cheaper cut because that’s what they would have lived on, but with oh-so-much flavour.


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