Serving up Christmas dinner
PUBLISHED: 07:00 15 December 2014
Andrea Cowan looks at the seasonal fayre offered by Somerset's farm shops.
The increasing interest in local food, freshness, traceability, provenance and preference for low food miles is great news for farm shops; they tick all these boxes, and more.
In Somerset we are spoilt for choice when it comes to buying quality, home grown or home reared produce.
And when better to try out a farm shop than for the Christmas meal – the elements of which are all seasonal and should be easily sourced straight from a farm.
A classic Christmas dinner is the high point of the festive celebrations. It is a time to gather family or friends together and, ideally, enjoy the best of British produce.
There is a comfort and warmth in the familiarity of the meal: essentially the same as other times of the year, but with family twists and variations which will have been handed down through the generations.
It will almost always include a roast bird; traditionally a goose.
Turkey is a relative newcomer to the festive table, but once it was introduced, statistics show that we quickly took it to our hearts: 76 per cent of families around the UK (source: YouGov)) will serve up roast turkey this Christmas as the centre piece for the table.
So, armed with a check list of the basic components of a Christmas dinner (a roast bird, sausages, ham, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, parsnips, stuffing, Christmas pudding, mince pies, cream and brandy butter – and so forth) I ventured out to source the whole meal from farm shops around the county.
I am delighted to report back that not only is it possible, but it is a pleasurable, joyful experience that beats the scrum at the supermarket any day.
Farm shops have similar practical advantages to a supermarket such as, in many cases, ample parking space and the convenience of everything under one roof.
There is a level of customer service, experience, good old fashioned care and wealth of product knowledge from the staff, which can’t be beaten in my opinion.
Max Cotton, from Baltonsborough Farm Shop, says: “We have to be realistic. What we try to do is to encourage people to come here ON THE WAY to the supermarket – and get what they can from us first.”
There is a belief that it is going to be much more expensive shopping in a farm shop but Max disagrees
“Many of our customers find their food bill are actually falling.”
So, if you have yet to visit your local farm shop, why not give it a go this Christmas?
With all the above going for it, I couldn’t think of a more perfect time to try it out!
Rumwell Farm Shop
Wellington Road, Rumwell, Nr Taunton
The farm, covering 550 acres, is located at Hillcommon and Bradford on Tone, near Taunton. It is a real family affair, run by Anne and David Mitchell, and their two sons James and Jack.
How did the farm shop come about?
The farm shop has been running in some guise or another for 17 years: “It began with farm gate sales of our free range eggs and potatoes,” says Anne. As the demand grew, so did the range of goods on offer and the farm shop began to take shape. Four significant transformations over the years have resulted in the spacious, friendly, lively place it is today and, never resting on their laurels, plans were recently unveiled for the building of a café for early 2015.
What is Rumwell’s speciality?
This really is a one-stop shop, selling everything from gifts and plants to honey from their own bees. The shelves are full to the brim with products that are home reared or home grown on the farm, or made on the premises. These are supplemented by products which have been carefully sourced as locally as possible.
There is a butchery counter, overseen by the experienced butcher, Ray Gardiner, and a fresh fish counter.
“Sometimes we have hand dived king scallops and River Fowey mussels,” says Anne. “We source our fish daily from Brixham so it depends what they have on offer.”
There are three kitchens on site where they make all their own jams, chutneys, pies and pasties, ready meals, cooked meats, cakes and puddings.
Rumwell Hampers are now available, packed full of luxury food and drink straight from their kitchens, or from their trusted local suppliers – a great ‘taste of Somerset’ gift this Christmas.
What about our Christmas list?
If you are planning a starter for your Christmas dinner, Rumwell has the perfect option. Fabulous smoked salmon or trout from the Somerset smokery, Brown and Forrest is a light, but indulgent way to set the mood for your meal. Special mention should be made of the home-reared free range pork, which comes into its own at Christmas. It is cured and cooked to produce their delicious ham, whilst they have award- winning chipolatas and sausages, and home cured bacon. The pork is also used to make a luxury stuffing.
Other specialities are the Christmas pudding, made by hand in the jam kitchen, and hand decorated luxury traditional Christmas cakes. And, of course, delicious mince pies: these comprise of homemade brandy mincemeat encased in a crumbly all butter orange and almond pastry.
To sample these delights and other Christmas delicacies, with a glass of mulled wine in hand, Rumwell Farm Shop is having a Candlelight Evening on 11 December, from 5–8pm.
Kimbers Farm Shop
Linley Farm, Charlton Musgrove, Wincanton
The Kimber family has been farming at Charlton Musgrove for 300 years. Since taking over in 1973, Paul and Ruth Kimber have built up a mixed stock farm with animal welfare a top priority. Ruth and her daughter, Naomi, work in the farm shop; Paul, Tom (son) and Danj (son-in-law) rear the animals and milk the cows; and there are four other daughters and partners, and aunts and uncles who help at farmers markets or in the shop at busy times, such as Christmas.
How did the farm shop come about?
They began by selling at farmers markets, and at the farm gate. A farm building was converted into a shop in 2006 to accommodate the burgeoning demand for the home grown produce. It relocated to its current prominent, roadside position in early October this year, just opposite the farm.
The farm shop received a Gold Taste of the West Award earlier this year for its ethos, market knowledge and range of local products.
What is Kimbers Farm Shop’s speciality?
Kimbers is a real foodie paradise. It has built up a reputation for its meat, the majority of which is from the farm. There is Aberdeen Angus grass fed beef, welfare friendly rose veal using the dairy bull calves, and Gloucester Old Spot pork. With a small slaughterhouse just three miles away, low food miles and traceability are a given.
The family cures their own bacon and hams, and have an exciting charcuterie range including Parma ham, bresaola, smoked duck, carpaccio of beef, veal and venison, chorizo and salami.
They make corned beef, black pudding and salt brisket and also have a licence to sell their own unpasteurised full cream milk.
And for Christmas?
The Kimbers raise free range turkeys, dry plucked on the farm, so absolutely zero food miles are involved.
“Our turkeys are hung for up to 14 days, which increases succulence and flavour,” said Ruth. “Dry turkey will be a thing of the past with one of our birds on your Christmas table!” There are traditional white, bronze, Norfolk black and even a few British red turkeys available. Alternatively, there is a flock of free range geese currently residing in the newly- planted orchard, in readiness for the festive season.
Unusually, Kimbers Farm Shop also has veal forcemeat available. “This is an ideal alternative to sausagemeat for stuffing mixtures. It has a lower fat content so is a good accompaniment to the rich meal. We also have stuffing ready prepared: veal & tarragon or veal & apricot. Both are delicious.”
As an aside, for all those who have recently inherited or purchased an Aga and are daunted at the prospect of the Christmas dinner, Kimbers has an electric Aga in the farm shop, which is used for their onsite day to day cooking. As Aga ambassadors, they can offer advice and helpful hints about cooking the festive fayre in an Aga.
For customers keen to order in advance, Kimbers has an online Christmas order form available. The orders can then be collected from one of the farmers’ markets or from the farm shop.
Baltonsborough farm shop
Verland Green Farm, Martin Street, Baltonsborough
It was 14 years ago when Max Cotton and his wife, Maxine, moved to a farm in Baltonsborough village, near Glastonbury. After 20 years working as a political journalist at the BBC in Westminster, this was the complete lifestyle change Max was looking for.
He began producing organic turkeys and then two years ago set about creating a market garden with four acres of land dedicated to growing fruit and vegetables. A demand for his produce at farmers markets and local vegetable box schemes was the inspiration for the farm shop. But the emphasis would be on a ‘village’ farm shop, selling the fantastic food produced within the village and the surrounding area.
Having just celebrated its first anniversary, Baltonsborough Farm Shop sells home grown and locally-produced food, incorporating its own butchery.
What is Baltonsborough Farm Shop’s speciality?
“We’re here to market the produce of our village” explains Max. Baltonsborough is home to five dairy herds, half a dozen beef producers and sheep farmers; there are 11 different types of cheese produced (and another 20 within an extended five-mile radius), along with butter, milk and eggs. Local apples are turned into award-winning cider and apple juice, and there is a traditional pig producer close by. Food miles are next to nothing!
Fruit and vegetables are from his own market garden whilst artisan bread, pastries, cakes and chutneys are either made on the premises or within a few miles of the door.
“We bake pies every week, we make one ready meal a week which we call ‘Give Mum a Break on Fridays’, and we have become known for our homemade faggotts and scotch eggs.”
And for Christmas?
Most of the vegetables sold at the farm shop for Christmas are home grown. The free range bronze turkeys now come from a farm a mile away. They mature slowly, roaming freely on pasture land, and are fed on a diet based on locally-grown cereals – with no additives, drugs or growth promoters.
Throughout the autumn, Max makes wonderful cured hams specifically for sale at Christmas. “We also we sell thousands of our Balsbury chipolatas,” said Max, a seasonal variation of his famous award -winning Balsbury Banger.
“We also produce our own Christmas pate. It’s called Faux Gras and is made from local free range duck livers and Somerset cider brandy. It is perfect for festive canapés, or as a starter.”
And now for something completely different
In an attempt to shake up the traditional Christmas dinner, Max is also going to have jerk turkey available. “Our jerk chicken recipe is a best seller, so for anyone wanting to spice up the meal and perhaps give it a Caribbean flavour, this would work perfectly. I’d suggest serving it with rice and stuffed vegetables, such as squash and peppers.”