Perhaps we should have gone for old ladies’ knickers.

When we set up the deli we were burning with all sorts of ideas about food. Many locals thought we were crazy to attempt to create good food, from good ingredients, in what was an old junk shop.

As Tim was doing the premises up locals gave us plenty of suggestions of what the shop should become. Some wanted a launderette. One old lady wanted a knicker shop, specifically for her and her friends, to save getting on the bus to Hounslow to buy big pants. It was an idea we dismissed.

We started off wanting to make everything organic, but as we were trying to keep it local, and were on the edge of London, we struggled to find the right suppliers. In the end we settled on the idea that everything in the deli had to be there for a reason.

Our old leaflet: We love small producers - organic - freerange

Call us picky. Or piggy.

Juggling free range, organic and local

Juggling free range, organic and local

We also started to get very interested in cheese. We became cheese spotters, cheese anoraks. We spent a morning in Bath tasting cheese – by lunchtime we’d tasted over 50 cheeses. We were cream-crackered.

We became cheese anoraks

We became cheese anoraks.

Our weekly cheese bill was massive. And cheese is surprisingly hard work to keep tip top – it needs a lot of babysitting. Running a deli unit to keep it creates humongous electricity bills.  The crunch time for cheese came when we noticed some people from one of the big 4 supermarkets came in to our second deli in Twickenham.

Would you like a plasma TV to go with your olives?

Would you like a plasma TV to go with your olives?

They had the name of their supermarket, which was just round the corner, on their clipboard. They had coffee, and took notes. A week later all the unusual cheeses we stocked, ones we’d never seen before in that particular supermarket were in stock. Plus all the chutneys, biscuits etc from our small suppliers. And of course, the supermarket buys by the pallet. So, we were very ‘knowingly undersold.’

We gave up cheese. Goodbye to the Stinking Bishop, Colston Bassett, Finn, Little Wallop. Au revoir, Epoisses. Arrivederci, Asiago.

The funny thing was, people would come in a year later, and say something like, “Oh, you don’t stock Comte anymore? But I always get my Comte here. I came in last December and you had it.” We’d probably make more money selling old ladies’ under-crackers.

So, things moved on. Tim started focussing on food to eat in, and dinner parties, which – truth be told – was what he always really wanted to do. We still had fabulous coffee, and classics like our gorgeous beetroot cake. We sold the Twickenham deli, as Tim couldn’t be in two places at once – I guess we should have worked that one out earlier. Duh.

Out of the blue, somebody wanted to buy the deli, the original one, at the end of our street.

Tim was tired, wrung out. We’d had four years of fighting against the recession, spats with the council about pavement licences that were 10 times the cost of those in neighbouring Richmond. There’d been issues with a trade waste company that put their prices up by 30% every 3 months – and picked up and charged for phantom bin bags.

So, the deli was sold. And now we’re here, out in the Chilterns. And there’s a new project on the way.

Looking back on our ‘manifesto’ as a chum called it – it’s clear we still care about the same things.

give_us_back_our_daily_bread

Give us back our daily bread


Our old Syon leaflet about bread

Give us back our daily bread

Now, we can achieve organic AND local. We can be closer to the animals that are behind it all. Tim can achieve the kinds of things he was trying to do when he was voted a ‘Local Food Hero’ on TV with Arthur Potts Dawson and Gary Rhodes. We can grow our own. Organically.

A rare breed sheep looking right back at you

Who’re ewe looking at?

New born rare breed piglets

One day old

A brace of pheasants

A brace of pheasants

A lop eared pig and...er... a ginger one.

A lop eared pig and…er… a ginger one.


It’s funny, filming the show took us to Devon, where we spent a lot of time searching out good produce.

But moving here, to Buckinghamshire, which is ‘going home’ for me, we’ve found there are lots of great suppliers of real food.

The new project will be up and running by the spring, we hope. It’s a bit quirky, a bit handmade, and on a shoestring. But we’re used to that. It will be working with those little producers who really care. And we won’t be competing with supermarkets. Or purveyors of senior lingerie.

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A post Mayan End of Days supper

Well, it didn’t happen did it? Although the way people were descending on the local supermarkets it looked as if many people were stocking up for the apocalypse. Or maybe just Christmas. We headed off to the local farm instead.

Freerange chicken crossing the road to Hazledene Farm

Why did the chicken..

We spent some time with the chickens there – they are so relaxing, the way they cluck about happily. They are given complete freedom to potter about, the gates to their enclosures are open doing the day; they wander up and down the long drive way, in and out of areas of pasture, and around the farm shop.

No one here but us chickens

No one here but us chickens

In the farm shop one of the chaps working there spotted our crestfallen looks when we saw the fresh eggs tray empty. (They do stock other free range eggs when theirs aren’t laying, but we wanted the rare breed ones.) He slipped out of the shop and returned a couple of minutes later with a plastic container of muddy, but fresh eggs. He was apologetic about the mud – there’d been a constant deluge recently, and the some of the chicken were looking like they’d been having fun in the mud.

Freerange chickens including Marsh Daisies and Ixworth

Freeranging

Tim crouching down with the chickens

Chicken whisperer

 Free range Rare breed chickens on Hazeldene

Rare breed chickens freeranging

Rare breed chickens

I had to chuckle at Tim’s recipe-making in the kitchen today. The plan was that he’d make one of my favourite dishes – a perfectly poached egg with Halloumi and Puy lentils. Perfect for the post apocalyptic supper.

But Tim went free-range himself – with the Halloumi, poached eggs, the lentils cooked with a hickory smoked chicken stock, a salsa of chargrilled tomato and and a truffle infused cream sauce. And pickled red cabbage made the day before.

The chicken stock was made earlier with a free range Label Anglaise chicken – the farm doesn’t sell their rare breeds to eat.

Chargrilling the tomatoes

Chargrilling the tomatoes

Peppers chargrilling on the hob

Chargrilling the peppers on the hob. Otherwise known as making a mess.

14dish

Halloumi, eggs and smoky puy lentils

You can see from the pic below the difference between a fresh free range farm bought egg, and the supermarket free range. The egg with the thicker, more gelatinous white is the fresh farm egg, the one with the thinner is a free range supermarket egg, about a week old, and the one that collapsed at the back of the picture was also a free range supermarket egg – it’s probably about 12 days old.

Eggs comparison - free range and supermarket bought.

The one on the left is the pasture fed freerange egg

A proper British pig

 

A British Lop Pig, with ears that protect the eyes when foraging

A native British Lop Pig. The ears cover the eyes to protect them when foraging.

A couple of weeks ago we moved out of London. Today was our first weekend of not shifting boxes about. So, when I asked Tim what he’d like to do today, on our first free weekend together in the country, he suggested we go and see some pigs. Very romantic, but hey, we’re in the country.

After a brief discussion about appropriate footwear (my scruffy ones let in water, but I don’t want to ruin my warm and dry ones with pig poo) we set off to see some young, rare pigs on a farm.

We had no idea that there are pigs that are so rare that they are almost endangered species. One of those breeds is the Lop Pig, previously known as the National Long White Lop Eared Pig. It’s one of the original, native British pigs.

It seems, much like the way the Milk Marketing Board buggered up British cheeses in the 70s, wiping out a huge selection of our traditional cheeses, the government waded into in the subject of pigs in 1955. British artisan cheeses have been recovering gradually since the 90s, to the point that we now have a fantastic selection of cheeses again. Sadly, some native pig breeds have been lost forever.

The Government’s Howitt Report recommended that in order to increase profitability and compete with imported bacon, farmers should concentrate on the Landrace – imported from Sweden, and the Large White and Welsh breeds.

This led to the extinction of native pig breeds such as the Cumberland, Lincolnshire Curly Coated, Ulster White, Dorset Gold Tip and Yorkshire Blue.

A group of British Lop eared pigs in a stall

Tea time

Tea time

A lop eared piglet looking out the pigsty door for his mother pig

Mum..?

Piglets - lop eared pigs under a heat lamp

Is it hot in here, or is it me?

Chef Tim Zekki on the rare breed Hazeldene Farm

So these little piggies are rather special, as there are currently only around 200 Lop sows left in the country.

A chap in the farm shop gave us a bag of something that the pigs like – not entirely sure what they were – some sort of pig food pellet – the pigs were certainly keen to get hold of them. And I wouldn’t want to be amongst these pigs when they are hungry – they are enthusiastic eaters.

A dandy of a cockerel

A dandy of a Cockerel

Free range rare breed chickens

Free ranging chickens

The farm also keeps rare breeds of chickens, such as Marsh Daisy – apparently only a hundred of those left. The pure white Ixworth chickens are slightly less rare, with around 500 left. No wonder they were so upset a fox got one of their rare chickens recently. It’s so nice to see the chickens wandering around wherever they want, and funny to see how they sheltered in various places, under their houses, under a bench, under a raised drinking water can, when a sudden downpour of rain came.

Chef Tim Zekki and a traditional Hereford cow

This is the pork shoulder Tim cooked a few weeks back, after one of our visits to the farm. The crackling was cracking, and it was perfect.

A gorgeous shoulder of organic raised rare breed pork from a lop pig

Shoulder of pork. 

A trivet made from the bones of the lop pig raised by organic principles

A trivet made from the bones

free range pork with excellent crackling

In the oven

Cracking crackling from lop pig pork

Cracking crackling

Excellent crackling from lop pig

Postscript: I saw the other day that the lovely Philip Dundas of the pop up restaurant Pip’s Dish at the Garage in Islington did a shoulder of lop pork recently. Can’t wait to go and try Pip’s Dish. It’s here: http://www.pipsdish.co.uk/2012/07/stuffed-british-lop-shoulder

Hand churned butter

Tomorrow Tim will wake up next to an Olympic Shot Putter. Well,  someone who looks like one. Because today we made hand churned butter.

How to make butter

Tim of course did the technical bit. He opened a carton of double cream, and poured it into a meticulously clean jam jar, with a little bit of salt.

Then we both did the leg work. Or the armwork. We shook it for about 18 minutes. It’s really quite amazing how the butter starts to separate from the milk, as the cream warms up with the friction – and the amazing yellow colour that develops.

“I can’t believe it’s not butter.” Or rather, I can’t believe how easy it is to make butter. And cheap, too. Half a 600 ml carton of ordinary double cream has resulted in a slab of lovely home made butter. Later, in a supermarket (hiss boo) I saw Jersey double cream in bottles for 2 for £2. Apparently this butter freezes well, so that could be the next experiment.

Online there are are several recipes that involve mixing machines, sieving, muslin and massaging the last bits of milk out of the butter.

The fluid, not sure if that’s simply skimmed milk, or buttermilk, will turn the butter quickly if left in. This no hands, no machine, method feels more like the traditional churning method, and is what Tim remembers doing as a kid in Cyprus with his Gran. Whether it was just to amuse a young boy and keep him quiet for a bit, who knows?

To make the coriander butter, just chop up and handful and mix into the butter, then level off the top. The coriander will probably spoil quite quickly, even in the fridge, so it’s worth using up asap. It went down very nicely on a roast chicken.

What I loved about making butter is that it has he same miraculous quality as making soap – fascinating how a little heat, produced by the ingredient(s) itself and movement, create the result.

Double cream, shaken not stirred

A bit of shakery-pokery, and voila

Coriander mixed in

Of course, any other herb would be lovely too – coriander is one herb that divides people dramatically, apparently it’s genetic whether you love the stuff or run screaming at its mention.