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“Plot to Plate Cookery Workshop” with Jo Ingleby

Here Jo Ingleby from The Vegetarian Cookery School recounts her wonderful productive vegetable filled teaching day at The Community Farm near Chew Magna.

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The Community Farm and organic farm which is located in the stunning setting of the Chew Lakes, between Bristol and Bath. The farm grows organic vegetables on 22 acres of land. They run a vegetable box delivery service and wholesale business, but aim to grow vegetables and fruit in the most sustainable way they can and link a diverse membership to where their food is produced.

The Farm’s members have a say in how the farm operates and have invested in the future of a farm that is contributing to the resilience of our food security, the local economy, and to the development of a self-sustaining, low-carbon food and farming system.

“At the farm we are interested in providing activities, courses, volunteer days and holding special events for our members. Interest has been expressed in care farming, faith in food, and business team building days. We believe in increasing knowledge of growing, giving hands-on experience and the chance to acquire new skills offered to people from all walks of life. In this way we can reconnect people to where their food comes from and give them a greater understanding of what it takes to produce it.”

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I was thrilled to be invited to run a “Plot to Plate” workshop where our guests would be able to pick fresh produce straight from the fields and cook them within minutes in the farms beautiful yurt which is the home of their community education sessions. The yurt has a solar panel to produce enough electricity for a light but not for a blender, and a simple gas hob. Outside is a cob oven which was built very recently during a workshop-what better way to christen it than to cook a feast!?

To start the day we set out into the farms’ 22 acres of fields to gather the produce for the day. The Farm’s Community Engagement Worker Claire Rosling was our guide for the day and her experience and knowledge of the farm was invaluable and offered us lots of tips for growing at home.

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In season and ready for picking were loads of climbing French beans, broad beans, new potatoes, spring onions, basil and cucumber by their hundreds growing up strings in the poly tunnel. We also gathered handfuls of oregano and marjoram, mint, parsley, sage and thyme and edible flowers including nasturtiums and marigolds. In the furthest field we were not only treated to fresh heritage carrots and beetroot but also the best view for miles over the Chew Valley lakes.

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With produce as fresh and perfect as this, and all organically grown, the vegetables barely needed cooking, and on one of the hottest days of the year we were glad of this! Our aim was to make simple dishes which really allowed the produce to shine.

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We made an Italian bread dough and used some to make seriously herby Foccacia breads and some to make lots of puffy flatbreads which were cooked in the recently built cob oven-they cooked in just a few minutes and tasted amazing. To go with the breads we made a fresh Broad Bean Bissara-a North African dish with uses lots of freshly ground cumin, lemon and olive oil with the delicious broad beans-the beans were so fresh and tender they barely needed to be cooked, let alone double podded! We also made fresh Pesto with handfuls of fresh basil and lots of toasted pinenuts and hazelnuts-all made by hand in pestle and mortars.

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After our delicious lunch we proceeded to prepare the rest of the vegetables with a knife skills session-we chopped carrots, French beans, spring onions and garlic for the rest of the day and lots and lots of fresh herbs. The group mastered the art of using razor sharp 8 inch chef’s knives practicing safe slicing, dicing and fine chopping.

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The afternoon’s cookery consisted of making several dishes which made the most of the abundant vegetables, herbs and salad leaves-we made the most delicious Garden Salad with fresh lettuce topped with edible flowers, purple basil Salsa Verde (or perhaps I should call it Salsa Porpora?) and ribbons of the incredibly sweet heritage carrots and fennel and beetroots roasted in the embers of the cob oven. To go with this we made a large Tagine with Moroccan spices and copious amounts of fennel and new potatoes, spring onions, carrots and more beans. The French beans and the rest of the broad beans were combined with a huge quantity of fresh herbs to make a beautiful saffron Cous Cous which we all agreed would be a meal in itself.

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The day at the farm was one of the best cooking experiences I have had (and I’ve had a few!) just the simplicity of picking and eating straight away using no electricity and just a hob was exciting and inspiring-and to do all of this with a group of interested and passionate cooks with the most stunning location in the area was a real treat and one I am looking forward to repeating soon! We are planning to hold another Autumnal Plot to Plate workshop in October and will be demonstrating at the Community Farm’s Harvest Festival on Saturday 14th September.

For more information about future events or to find out more about the farm please visit their website and read their blog about the day or contact us at The Vegetarian Cookery School for more details.

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