A Trip to the Farm Shop - PICTURES UPDATED!

Most of us are lucky enough to live near a farm shop or farmers markets. These little places are potentially the future of shopping as we know it, so we had better get used to getting all of our fresh produce from them.
And why not? Seasonal, locally grown vegetables, organically produced dairy products, apple juice made from the fruit of apple trees that grow just up the road from you. Furthermore, if you buy organically produced goods from your local farm shop, you will, on average, save up to 25% than buying the same goods from your local supermarkets so-called ‘organic’ range.
Of course, there are always those who find that the supermarket is more convenient, closer by, and has everything else you need to get all under one roof. This is undeniably true. However, just a once a month visit to your local farm shop will provide you with the best tasting vegetables and meat you can find in the area.
You do have to exercise a little caution when you go organic food shopping. Not everything is as it seems. I know, almost unequivocally, that lemons are not a native fruit of the UK so when I see them displayed, all bright and yellow in their little straw baskets, that they are not from around these parts. However, I can’t blame farm shops for needing a little bit of filler and you can often find organic chocolates, ice creams and alcoholic beverages too.
My local shop, Spencer's Farm Shop, located in Wickham St Pauls, is a great example of a long-running, locally supported industry. Established over 30 years ago as a small Pick-Your-Own fruit business, they have expanded several times, most recently opening a thriving coffee shop which serves light lunches made, of course, from locally produced food.
We had the unexpected pleasure of eating there on Saturday, when my Mum treat us to lunch, taking pity on us for having very little money at the moment.
I had the homemade Asparagus and Blue Cheese Quiche which was as flavourful as the one my Mum has made for years. Normally I find other quiches to be a little flabby, too creamy and a bit insipid but this was a delightful treat. Paul had the Steak Sandwich which, having endured many over-cooked steaks, dripping with grease and embedded between two dry pieces of bread, I thought was a daring risk. However, the still slightly pink meat was tender and gristle free. Paul’s only complaint was the lack of cheese – he’s forgetting that us Brits don’t serve Philly Cheese Steaks yet.
My philanthropic Mum unfortunately had a slightly disappointing meal with a "seemingly impossible to get wrong" Ploughmans Lunch. The local ham was scant, fatty and sinewy, the butter for the bread was skimpy and I think some cheese wouldn’t have gone amiss.
However, we sat outside on the veranda in the middle of the glorious Essex countryside, smelling nothing but fresh air and the fragrant scent of strawberries waiting patiently to be picked and the slight disappointment over the food melted away.
In the shop we bought a locally farmed organic chicken (£6.40 compared to Waitrose £8.90), a large punnet of freshly picked Strawberries (£1.80 compared to £2.99 Co-Op), and some freshly pressed Apple Juice for the locally grown Red Pippins (£2.90 but incomparable). I also stocked up on Fresh Cream and salad vegetables which I utilised on Sunday with (if I say so myself) stunning results.
Sunday morning we awoke, slightly groggy from the night before. We had spent most of Saturday evening taste-testing burgers for our Ballyhoo and I had returned home with a mini-migraine, caused, I think, by sitting out in the sun too long. We also awoke to find that the cable on our laptop had finally decided to retire itself from commission, and wasn't hanging around to wait for it's gold watch. Hence, no post yesterday.
Paul had the barbecue leftovers (which was mostly just some Bratwurst he had cooked in beer - he is from Wisconsin after all) and I had tea and biscuits. Later on, we bought some eggs from our local organic egg supplier (we were girlie swots this weekend!) and then I got home to some well-earned cooking.
Firstly, I used some more of the puff pastry that I made for the Daring Bakers challenge to make a celebratory dish for Meeta's Birthday Monthly Mingle! It has been a year since her first mingle (and it is was her own birthday weekend too!) so congratulations Meeta!
I have been eking my puff pastry out as though it were gold-dust. I just cannot bear for it to run out but I likewise cannot bear the idea of making another batch. It's just too soon!
I made a Greek inspired pastry or, I suppose you could call it a pasty, a sort of Bourekia if you will, stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, feta cheese, truffle paste and spring onions. I am not listing the recipe here because I didn't log the ingredients (naughty me), but the method, very roughly is this:
In a small saucepan, sweat down a couple of finely chopped spring onions in a little butter, add some sliced white mushrooms and a good grinding of black pepper. Meanwhile, cook the spinach until it collapes, drain and chop well. Add this to the softened and reduced onion/mushroom mixture and boil quickly, stirring all the time, to ensure that any excess water has evaporated.
Leave to cool for a couple of minutes then stir in a couple of teaspoons of Truffle Paste and crumble over some feta cheese. Stir well and taste for seasoning.
Roll out the puff pastry until it is incredibly thin. Cut into rounds, place on a lightly oiled baking tray. Place a small teaspoonful of mixture in on one half of each round and fold into crescent shapes, gently manipulating the elasticy pastry to completely seal the filling in. Brush with some beaten egg and milk and bake at 180c for about 10-15 minutes.
Serve hot or cold.
I enjoy working with puff pastry so much more than shortcrust. It always does what it's supposed to. You can pull it about and it never complains and it doesn't need moistening for sealing. Paul says it's his favourite pastry.
So, this was our lunchtime snack whilst I mulled over lunch. I knew that Paul had a tuna steak in the fridge, leftover from some Tuna Burgers he has made. I also knew that if I didn't cook it, Paul would forget to freeze it for later consumption and it would just go bad. A devilish plot entered my head: Salade Nicoise.
Salade Nicoise is a classic French salad, 0riginating from Nice. It comprises of several unwavering ingredients that make it the Nicoise: Black Olives, Green Beans, Tuna, Hard Boiled Eggs. Other additions to this substantial salad could be broad beans, sliced potatoes, anchovies, artichoke hearts etc. The more you add though, the less like the classic Nicoise it becomes.
But...I had no olives (or at least, what I did have were green and had floaty mould growing on them) or green beans. Ok. So, I'll make a Nicoise inspired salad.
And that is what I did. Of course I had to use the potatoes, delicious Jersey Royals, boiled until they are still firm but no longer crunchy, vine tomatoes, Cos Lettuce, Yellow Pepper, Red Onion, Seared Tuna, Boiled Eggs, whole anchovies and a Dijon Mustard Dressing that complemented everything perfectly.
We ate the salad straight from the bowl, two forks, watching the Story of Threes Company and it felt like we had a little bit of the Mediteranean in our basement living room.
As you can see, the recipe is fairly interchangeable and just because you are missing one element, doesn't make this dish a disaster.
SALADE NICOISE - serves 2 greedy people
1 Tuna Steak, griddled and flaked. Or, alternatively, a tin of good quality Tuna (like Ortiz or Brindisia)
Half a Head of Cos Lettuce, ripped up into pieces
4 Vine Tomatoes, cut into quarters
Half a Red Onion, peeled and thinly sliced into crescents
Half a Pepper, thinly sliced
4 Anchovies (or to taste)
250g Boiled Salad Potatoes, still warm, cut into halves
2 Hard Boiled Eggs (but try and keep the yolk a little bit soft if possible), peeled and quartered
Handful of Black Olives
Some cooked Green Beans
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard (or mustard of your choice)
8 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Clove Garlic, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper
2 Tablespoons White Wine or Tarragon Vinegar
Assuming that you have prepared all of the ingredients as directed above, make the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, garlic and vinegar, then add the olive oil in a slow trickle until it has all amalgamated. Taste and season. Leave to one side whilst you prepare the salad.
In a large salad bowl, place the ripped up lettuce in the bottom, then add all the other ingredients, except for the hard-boiled egg quarters and the anchovies. Add some dressing and gently toss together.
Decorate with the egg and anchovies, drizzle over some more dressing and serve.

Dessert was Balsamic Strawberries with Fromage Blanc, one of the most heavenly ways to serve whipped cream I have ever encountered and it is all thanks to the wonderful Nigel Slater.
Gently mixing the local cream with natural yogurt, whipped egg white and some icing (confectioners) sugar produces a euphoric, cloud-like texture in your mouth that, when combined with slightly tart strawberries is pure ecstacy. Paul went so far as to call it 'beautiful' - a word he very rarely uses.
This is the perfect dessert for a warm summers meal: one bowl with the soused strawberries, the other with the billowy cream and all your guests will float home happy.
700g Strawberries, halved or sliced, depending on size
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Caster Sugar
Fromage Blanc:
150ml Double Cream
100ml Natural Yogurt
1 Egg White
Icing (Confectioners) Sugar to Taste
Place the sliced strawberries into your serving bowl, sprinkle with the sugar and balsamic vinegar. Turn them over in the thick, dark syrup until all the strawberries are glistening, then leave to steep for at least 10 minutes. Longer won't hurt.
To make the cream, whisk the double cream in a large bowl until it peaks softly, then fold in the yogurt.
Whisk the egg white in a separate bowl until that softly peaks, then fold into the creamy/yogurty mix. Sprinkle over some icing sugar and stir gently, tasting and adding more sugar as you need it. Gently pour into your serving bowl and chill for at least an hour.
To serve, spoon some of the ambrosial cream into bowls, then stain them with the maroon strawberries and syrup.
You will never want to serve strawberries any other way!


Joyce said...

Your farmer's market has a better selection than mine! Lucky girl.
Florida hasn't reached California options, yet!

Love the strawberry treatment and the Fromage Blanc is to die for(as the current vernacular decries!)

Susan said...

I'd just been thinking a few days ago about a balsamic sweet. The timing couldn't be better; our truly local berries should be out in next few weeks. Can't wait to try the berries. Thanks for the great suggestion!

Anh said...

I love the farmer's market and other market in general. We do have great ranges here in Melbourne. And the produces have been excellent.

The balsamic strawberries sound so lovely. I just gotta try it out! :)

wheresmymind said...

"Feeds 2 greedy people" that totally made me laugh this morning :)

Lydia said...

The salad sounds lovely (so, no olives, but you did have anchovies!), and balsamic strawberries have become one of my favorite desserts. The mixing of sweet strawberries with the tart of the vinegar is the perfect end to a meal, or a great topping on vanilla ice cream.

veron said...

I'm in a salad mood too... I've been rebelling against meat lately which is unheard of. Lucky you to have a great farmer's market...

Deborah said...

I wish that I could get locally grown food more often - the harvest season seems so short here - usually just late summer, early fall for farmer's markets. I do have one little bell pepper that is starting to grow in my garden, though, so maybe I will be able to harvest my own vegetables before too long!!!

pOm d'api said...

Very good recipe ! I love that

ros said...

I've never had strawberries with balsamic before. I'm afraid to try making them in case Goon likes them. He eats way too much dessert at the moment.

lululu said...

I love farm trip! What a day retreat and easy exploration for freshly grown produce and meat!

Chubbypanda said...

Loooong post, the best kind. =)

I honestly think places like Tesco are the future of grocery shopping, as sad as that thought may be. The working class will never have the money or luxury of time required to buy any but the cheapest food, often processed. While farms shops and farmers markets are a great alternative for people who really care about their food, they'll still remain mostly out of reach for anyone below the middle class.

Helen said...

Great read! I wish our farmer's markets were as nice. I have the same attitude towards serving sizes for dishes: if it says 4, it usually is good for us 2!!

Julia said...

I'm totally with you, we love going to our Farmer's market.

Kelly-Jane said...

My farmer's market isn't very big, but it seem to be getting better. What we do have though is a raspberry farm not so far away and they have a hut-come-porta-cabin thing that they sell berries from at the roadside. The hut appeared last week for the summer season :)

Your dishes both sound yummy, looking forward to pics!

Little Foodie said...

Love your positive thinking re: the shopping of our future. Are you now so sick of burgers you wont be eating any for the rest of the year?

tigerfish said...

If only I could get organic dairy products in my nearby farmer's market, I would re-visit the market more often. It only has vegetables and fruits. I used to go to farmer's market quite often but since I can't get most of the groceries/produce in one-stop, sometimes I would rather get all my stuff from the supermart.
I really think I should visit the farmer's market again.

novice baker said...

I have just discovered the farmer's market in my city, after living here for 2 years! and it's true that the fresh produces sold here are much cheaper than in supermarket.
Can't wait to see the pics of your balsamic strawberries with fromage blanc.

Aimée said...

It's almost strawberry picking time here in Quebec. I can't wait! I'll have to try your recipe for pairing them with fromage blanc. It's a very heath conscious choice!

Lucy said...

Beautiful recipes Freya.

The farm shop is much cheaper than the supermarket, yes, but much fresher, and that's the key.

Those little feta, mushroom and spinach pies are perfect for the leftover puff pastry I made over the weekend.

Christina said...

Wow, the fromage blanc sounds delicious--what a great way to "dress up" whipped cream. I'll have to give it a whirl with the cherries that are hitting my local markets now. Thanks for the great idea.

Anonymous said...

its june 5th so...burger ballyWHO?

Bharathy said...

Hi Frey and Paul..
You have a nice place here!!Great job!Keep it up..:)..will visit regularly..

Cynthia said...

I can see that those sort-of-Bourekia are going to fly off the platter at the Meeta's party.

The salad - I want some now!

And to finish the meal, what is not to love about the fresh strawberries and cream?!

I'm full now. Off for a little walk.

Seena said...

Hi Freya and Paul,
thanks for visiting my site..your site stays unique and lovely..liked the descriptions..will keep visiting..

Meeta said...

What an interesting post. I love reading about Farmer's Markets. I also love the spread. Looks divine!

valentinA said...

What a great idea to merge balsamic vinegar with strawberries! I've never thought about that!
It must have tasted so gooood!