Anna Shepard

Why rural shows are the summer’s best foodie events

Thursday 15 July, 2010 at 11.31am

There’s no need to arrive in a tractor: these days, foodies flock to sample the finest farmers’ produce at agricultural shows

It’s lunchtime at the Royal Norfolk Show and I’m tucking into a fancy dish of ham hock and chicken terrine with courgette piccalilli and seasonal salad leaves, all for £3, made by the local chef and cookery school founder David Adlard. Earlier in the day, he was up on stage showing an audience how to make tian of Cromer crab with avocado dressing, followed by tarte tatin.

Apart from a few girls in jodhpurs, the scene is more MasterChef than Jilly Cooper, and hardly lives up to the bumpkin stereotype of the rural show. Like barbecues, cricket and soggy picnics, they are a traditional feature of the British summer, dating from the agricultural revolution when they were a way of showing off new farming techniques and to exhibit rural inventiveness and produce at its very best, from livestock to the latest farming equipment.

Until recently, the purpose of food at a show was to sustain weary visitors as they waited for the vintage tractor-pulling event, say, at the Mosterton Summer Show in Dorset, or medieval jousting at the Kent County Show. You’d be able to grab a sausage sandwich, a pork pie or an ice cream, but that was about it.

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Why you should sign up to One Pot Pledge

Tuesday 15 June, 2010 at 12.30pm

Want to grow something, but not sure how? Sick of paying for overpriced anaemic vegetables in the supermarket? Wondering what to do with a neglected garden, roof terrace or sunny windowsill? Then sign up to the One Pot Pledge. It’s my favourite campaign of 2010 – check it out, it really is so simple, sensible and easy to follow. The idea is that 30,000 people who have never grown anything will sprout something in a pot or garden. So far, the campaign has already recruited 10,000 people – including Jamie Oliver (see above), Raymond Blanc, Alys Fowler and Arthur Potts Dawson – so add your voice, choose what you’d like to grow (and eat) and sign up here. If you’ve always liked the idea of growing food, but are not quite sure where to begin, it’s the perfect starting point.

Best of all, there’s a website which directs you to simple instructions explaining how exactly you go about growing  a courgette or a row of rocket. It includes watering tips, container tips – everything a novice gardener needs to know. What amazes me is how hard it is to come by this sort of clear advice for people who are not well-versed in terms like mulch and pinching out. Too many gardening books assume some level of gardening knowledge. When I started growing rocket, beans and tomato plants, I looked in vain for a glossary that would explain the basic terms. The nearest thing was Paul Waddington’s lovely book 21st Century Smallholder that laid out practical advice on how to grow fruit and veg.  Now, five years on, I’m still an amateur and I often struggle to keep my small London garden from turning into a wilderness , especially now my toddler son insists on ‘helping’ me. But with the One Pot Pledge, there’s no excuse for not bothering – this is something everyone can do.

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Cornish Yurt Holidays

Wednesday 9 June, 2010 at 7.30pm

The rooms
Launched in 2001, Cornish Yurt Holidays was one of the first companies in the UK to offer accommodation in luxury yurts, enabling you to hold onto your creature comforts while still camping in secluded nature. Nine years on, yurts may have mushroomed across the UK, but Tim and Naomi Hutton, are still leading the field with their cluster of Mongolian inspired yurts, based outside Bodmin, in North Cornwall. As well as beautifully designed and hand-made (by Tim) from local wood, the yurts are erected in a remote spot.

Along with my mum and my 18 month old son, I was put up in Ash Field Yurt, perched at the top of a huge field with idyllic views over the Cornish countryside. Outside, there was a picnic bench for outdoor meals, a compost loo neatly tucked behind the yurt, and a bathroom and outside sink a minute’s walk away, complete with a brilliantly designed wood-burning stove that heats a tank of water for the bath – the result being that you have to light the fire an hour or so before you want to bathe and then sit outside admiring the view while the tank heats up.

Inside, there were Mongolian embroideries setting the scene, a large double bed, a futon serving as another double and lots of space for a child’s cot. There was also a gas hob, a well equipped mini-kitchen and a wood-burning stove to keep us warm. The best things were the little touches – tea-light lanterns, gorgeous soft cotton sheets and a vase of flowers in the compost loo. My son loved the circular space inside the yurt, enabling him to feel constantly at the heart of everything.

To read the rest of this review, visit Green Traveller

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PCOS: how excess facial hair can blight lives

Tuesday 8 June, 2010 at 3.30pm

Read full article in The Times

When Premila Shaw hit puberty, she noticed thick, black hair growing on her face. Not just on her upper lip and eyebrows, but on her cheeks and forehead. “The only place I didn’t have hair was my nose,” says the mum of two from Essex, now 38. When a doctor diagnosed a hormone imbalance, her mother made her promise not to tell anyone. “She thought I’d never find a husband if I talked about it,” says Shaw, who is now happily married.

Anything that affects fertility is a taboo subject for many Asian families, but for Shaw, the most distressing problem was facial hair, which she treated with electrolysis every week. Ten years later, she had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) diagnosed — a condition that disrupts the hormones and causes multiple cysts to grow in the ovaries. Read full article here

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Eco-logical fashion

Wednesday 2 June, 2010 at 2.30pm

First published in the New Statesman

This morning, I took a stroll down my local high street. It was business as usual in Marks & Spencers with the latest summer collections being wheeled out. Next door, in Primark, bikinis and strappy sandals drew a crowd. But the mood was sombre compared to the celebratory consumer glee of previous years. You get the feeling no one is being duped anymore into believing that buying clothes will make them happy. While shopping is still part of life, it seems it’s just not as fun as it used to be. (The dress above, by the way, is £58 from leading ethical retailer People Tree)


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Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates

Thursday 27 May, 2010 at 4.31pm

May I heartily recommend this book to anyone who has children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews or godchildren…or anything else that leads to requiring a good bedtime story. It’s everything that a children’s book should be and more. Yes, I admit, the author is one of my best friends, but my 19 month old doesn’t know that – or at least he can’t make the link between the person and the name on the cover of his favourite book. The best thing is that it is a pleasure for an adult to read so when my son demands to me to start over again from the first page, I do it with relish rather than the usual guilty boredom that comes with reading bedtime stories over and over again. Other favourites include The Gruffalo (obviously), Mr Gumpy and the rather sinister but strangely compelling Into The Forest. Oh and to vote for Dog Loves Books as the Independent Booksellers Book of the Year, go here

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How bad are bananas?

Monday 10 May, 2010 at 1.31pm

For all you carbon geeks out there, this is absolutely the book for you. It tells you the carbon footprint of everything – from a pint of ale in a pub (compared to an overpackaged supermarket bottle of lager) to a newspaper (taking in the differences between broadsheet, tabloid and weekly digest, of course). And I know you are out there, you hordes of green geeks. You used to bombard me when I wrote the Eco Worrier column for The Times, asking me obscure questions about carbon footprinting and demanding intricate scientific knowledge that I didn’t have. In the future, I will simply direct you to this book.

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How to make the perfect cream tea

Thursday 6 May, 2010 at 1.31pm

Read on The Times website

Cream first or jam? Plain scone or currants? Raspberry jam or strawberry? There are hundreds of ways to assemble a cream tea, but no clear rules on what works best. Not that it doesn’t matter. Don’t imagine that a cream tea is just a frivolous summer treat to enjoy in the garden. It is a serious thing, one that has recently prompted sparks to fly between Cornwall and Devon as both counties claim ownership. Each says the cream tea is its own speciality. Meanwhile, dairy farmers, bakers, tea growers and jam-makers across the country have their own ideas about how it should be put together. Some things are clear: time should be set aside for this mid-afternoon feast and only the finest ingredients should be used. Almost everything else is up for debate.

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Alys Fowler: wise words

Tuesday 13 April, 2010 at 10.30am

When I interviewed the lovely Alys Fowler for the Greenhouse Blog – see interview here she said a couple of things that have stayed with me.  The gorgeous gardener (I particularly like her hair), who currently has her own BBC2 show The Edible Garden, told me that she believed it should be possible to walk to happiness. By that she meant that the things that make us happy should be close to us – our community, our gardens and homes, our family and friends. She also said she wished more people made things, whether that’s a thank you card, a compost bin or a knitted jumper. How right she is! Homemade things have more significance for much longer. She’s a girl after my own heart. So, my (belated) resolution for this year is to follow her advice and make as much as I possibly can. I’ll let you know how I get on.

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British sheep’s cheese – healthy and delicious

Thursday 1 April, 2010 at 11.30am

Read this on The Times website

When Simon Stott leads his 400 Friesland ewes into the milking parlour at his farm at Beacon Fell, Lancashire, he makes sure Classic FM is playing on the radio to keep them calm and relaxed. “I’ve tried without music and it seems to reduce the quantity of milk they produce,” says Stott. “Unlike cows, if your milk yield drops with sheep, it doesn’t come back, so we work hard to keep them happy.”

Milking sheep seems an odd concept. It may be commonplace in Mediterranean countries where many cheeses are made from sheep’s milk — there’s feta cheese in Greece; ricotta and pecorino in Italy; manchego in Spain; and Roquefort in France — but seeing British ewes lined up in a parlour is an unusual sight. In fact, there are at least 15,000 sheep being milked in the UK, according to the British Sheep Dairying Association, and at least 70 British sheep’s cheeses. What’s more, around the world there are more sheep being milked than cows. Read the rest of this entry

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