I spent yesterday on a farm in Wiltshire standing in a borrowed, beaten Barbour jacket and wishing my biker boots were a bit less fashion and a little bit more waterproof.
I was asked to visit Helen Browning’s organic farm, Eastbrook, near Swindon, by Organic UK Food as part of their campaign to help people understand what buying organic means for animals and the countryside.
For many – especially in cash-conscious times - organic food has become a luxury. The preserve of the middle classes, championed by Prince Charles and only for those who aren't feeling the squeeze. Over the Channel, incidentally, it is not so exclusive, but then in most of Europe, access to good food isn’t the class issue it is here.
Personally, I think I had lost the connection between the food on the shop shelf with how it got there, but after meeting committed and passionate farmers, such as Helen yesterday, I will be reviewing my shopping habits. Particularly when it comes to meat.
Apart from the wide open spaces, the chance to glimpse a pair of harriers nesting on a neighbouring farm and filling my lungs with clean, sweet, damp air, the day’s biggest thrill was the livestock. There were glossy black Fresian cows and huge, hairy Saddleback pigs (and a boar whose manhood was really quite astonishing) and two-day old piglets. They were all so friendly and happy, pootling up to us curiously, instead of retreating in disdain. There was room to roam, good food (the farmer told a story about a friend's pigs, who were fed vats of leftover bean soup from a well-known organic box service) and they were treated with tenderness. And their happiness reminded me why I should (but, to be honest, haven't always) buy organic meat. All the animals on the farm had a great life, even if it was a short one.
Lunch was at Helen’s Michelin-recommended pub, The Royal Oak, in Bishopstone. It is the shop window for the farm’s produce - and the pork certainly gave restaurants like Covent Garden's Opera Tavern and Soho's Pitt Cue Co a run for their money. We ate bacon chops braised in cider, organic hot dogs with puy lentils, breaded pork cheeks with beetroot, cornichon, capers and garlic and an amazing - if surprising - toad in the hole using speedy sausages. So my tip of the week is not a recipe, but a sausage. Made from 96% pork from the farm (gluten-free) these bangers only take FOUR minutes to grill. Yes, FOUR minutes. That puts them right up there with other Lifesavers like macaroni and 90 second noodles as great things to have in the fridge, when children’s lunch or tea takes you by surprise.
They are ready so quickly as they come part cooked (this is something to do with helping preserve their fridge life, without using chemicals) but don’t let that put you off. They were delicious, spicy, firm and great in a toad in the hole. I will be stocking up. Available in Sainsbury's, Tesco and Ocado.