How to Cook Spaghetti Squash

As the squash season starts we thought it is a good time to look at some of the more unusual squash and how to cook them.  After all you may have one in your box this week!!

spag squashSpaghetti squash has string-like fibres within its flesh which, when fluffed up with a fork, look fairly similar to spaghetti.  Hence why this squash flesh has earned a reputation as a pasta replacement.

Searching for ways to cook this squash reveal a range from making holes in it and boiling it in a small amount of water, baking it whole, steaming it and cutting it before roasting it.  There is only one way that I think brings out the beautiful slightly nutty flavour and that is cutting it in half (lengthways, is my preference) and taking out the seeds leaving a bowl into which a small amount of oil can be added.

Take care when you cut the squash. Using a sharp knife, cut off both ends so that your knife has some softer flesh to start the lengthways incision.  Turn the squash onto the most stable of the ends and carefully cut through the length of the squash.

Use any oil – olive, coconut or any of your choice –  and spread it over all the visible flesh with a brush, before seasoning it with freshly ground salt (I use Pink Himalayan salt) and black pepper.  Then place it flesh side down on a tray and roasting it in a pre-heated oven at 200˚c/400˚f or gas mark 6.

To make it easier to clean the tray place a sheet of parchment/baking paper on the tray first.

Squash come in all sizes and our biodynamic ones tend to be a bit larger at over 1kg.  At this size they are likely to take approximately 40/50 minutes to cook, so that the flesh is softened and the outside is caramelised.  I suggest checking the flesh with a fork from about 30 minutes into cooking.

When it is done, turn it over and to serve fork the flesh, either taking the flesh out to another plate or eating it whilst still in its skin.

As mentioned earlier this squash fibre is a great substitute for pasta so you can use it as the spagspaghetti squashhetti upon which you place bolognaise or similar.  It will probably come as no surprise to hear that it works well with typical Italian ingredients such as tomatoes, pepper, mushrooms and cheese – especially parmesan or vegan substitutes.

 

Roasted red peppers with cooked onions or shallots and spices such as turmeric or herbs such as oregano are a favourite of mine, sometimes with cheese or a vegan alternative using ground cashew nuts.

Have you a favourite way of cooking and eating this fabulous squash?  If so, do let us know – perhaps by a post of Facebook, or a comment here on our Blog page.

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Bug Life

Cavenham Heath is a wonderful nature reserve right next door to our farm shop in Tuddenham, Suffolk. We like to keep up-to-date with the bird sightings on the heath by keeping our sightings board relevant and updated weekly, and we’re very excited about the Stone Curlews that have just arrived up there for the summer.

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Right now though, we’re thinking about insects, which we have lots of down south too! After hearing that we’re at risk of losing huge numbers of our insect population, we’ve started to look at the ones around us.  Graeme Lyons visited the Suffolk heath at the end of last month and gave us all of his records for his visit. We’ve picked out a few of the most interesting species that are also common down here for you below:

Minotaur Beetle

Minotaur Beetle

GRAEME LYONS

This is my personal favourite. The Minotaur Beetle is a large dung beetle with three large horns on its head. It buries the dung of mammals (particularly sheep up on the heath) in finger-sized holes for its larvae to feed on. They grow to around 2cm long and are easily identified because of the horns.

 

Birch Catkin Bug

Birch Catkin Bug

GRAEME LYONS

This rust-coloured bug is common on or around birch trees. It mainly feeds on the seeds of the birch, and you may sometimes find them clustered together on a single birch leaf. With all the silver birch on the reserve, you’re bound to find one if you keep your eyes peeled! Watch out though, they have stink glands to ward off predators which have led them to also be called ‘Stink bugs’.

 

Garlic Snail

This little guy can be found under logs and is about the size of your little fingernail. Give it a sniff – it smells like garlic! It has a yellow-brown shell which is translucent.

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Ero aphana

GRAEME LYONS

Ero aphana is a nationally scarce spider found on heathland. It’s one of four species within the Mimetidae genus which are also called pirate spiders. This is because, unusually,  they predate the webs of other spiders – not for their food, but for the spiders themselves. These spiders grow to around 3mm long.

 

Dock Bug

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GRAEME LYONS

This is the most common and the largest member of the Squashbug family. It’s called the Dock Bug because it mostly feeds on the seeds and leaves of docks and sorrels. Like other bugs within their genus they have specially adapted mouth parts that they use to pierce plants to extract juices.

We’ve got lots of other insects to talk about, but in the meantime do let us know if you find any of these – or any other interesting ones!

The 4 R’s

At Greener Greens we, like many people, avidly practice the three R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle – to cut down waste, conserve natural resources, landfill space and energy.  But something I saw today prompts an additional R – resourcefulness.


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I was at the Dorking recycling centre (aka “the dump”) which sadly the local council has voted to close, although closure has now been delayed until the end of September.  As I put a black bin into the landfill/burn container one of the recycling team split it open to reveal its contents.  “Why are you doing that?” I said. And this is what I was told…

On recognising the folly of the planned closure, the team thought they would prove the value of their service by opening each black bin deposited, reclaiming (yet another R!) items that can be recycled and keeping a tally of the amount their actions earned the council. Within the first fortnight they had reclaimed 2 tons of clothing for which the council receives 50p per kg and many tons of other items.  To date the team has gained the council thousands of pounds.  And so impressed is the council with their trial that it has allocated funds to help their efforts.

I saw 3 bags opened today and each contained bottles, paper and other recyclable items.  Sadly one third of the contents of one bag was recyclable, demonstrating that we still have a way to go.  But this wonderful team at Dorking is busily generating the statistics that enable a better message to be presented to us all.  And they have given a new dimension to “protesting”!

We shall be campaigning to keep this recycling centre open and the team in jobs. And to do that, we will be following the progress of this trial.

Now’s the Time!

As you may know, we’re a business that prioritise our planet over profit. Our leafy vegetables are all packaged in biodegradable compostable bags, and the rest of our veg goes naked without any packaging. All of our fresh produce is from small-scale and independent farms which means that we can guarantee that all of it has 100% traceability, contains no pesticides or chemicals and does not negatively impact on our environment.

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At a time when we’re at risk of losing our insects and we have only sixty years of topsoil left due to intensive farming, it’s more important than ever to make responsible choices when buying our food.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be presenting a series of blogs around the subject of insects and what makes them so great!

In the meantime though, choosing how we eat is a simple but powerful form of direct action.  You can guarantee that when you buy from Greener Greens, you are making a little difference to people, plants and planet.

At this time of year

Last week I sent you an excited note to say we were able to source some caulis from one of our growers. The reason for my excitement was that I had been horrified at the price of caulis from Europe.

The good news is that we continue to source a small amount of caulis from the same grower, but behind any price hike there is (usually) a story. We know that weather has been poor in Europe for some months – so what is the full story?

The two Southern European countries of Spain and Italy provide much of the produce that is exported to the UK.  Spain itself accounts for over 20% of the EU organic production and is in the top 3 of the EU’s producers.  Both countries have experienced wet weather late last year (Italy had particular bad storms) and cold weather this year, with some much warmer days in between resulting in fluctuating temperatures.

Generally the growing is in unheated greenhouses or outside, so both types of growing are affected and many of the more sensitive plants such as courgettes hate fluctuating temperatures – as many of you growers will know, as cold spells in our Summers are certainly not uncommon!

Whilst the situation is poor this year it is not as bad as the beginning of last year when, as many of you will remember, broccoli and other vegetables and salads (remember Iceberg lettuces in the media?) were absent from the supermarket shelves.  What is evident though is that the climate is changing in these areas and extreme weather is becoming the norm.  The extreme and more elongated Winters give way rapidly to more extreme and lengthy Summers, thus Spring and Autumn are disappearing.

The outcome is quite stark with Spanish growers losing over 50% of the vegetable crops in recent weeks.  In Italy, Swiss chard, broccoli and leafy salad crops have been almost wiped out. Italian cauliflower is at its peak production at present but delivery bottlenecks are slowing the flow of this product to markets. Even if you buy a cauli from Italy, at its higher than normal price, it could be much smaller than normal.  The sizing for export trade to EU countries are not being met due to the cold weather.

Another brassica affected is broccoli.  Supply shortages are being experienced which manifest sometimes as supply gaps.  This has increased the price of broccoli but not to the extent of caulis and lettuce.

We have noticed an increase in the price of aubergines which went up by 60% in one week!! And we predict that courgette prices will be volatile in the next few months.

So what is happening to UK organic growing?  The first observation is that within the UK as a whole organic growing has reduced, which is against the overall EU trend.  We are not alone in this as Poland (which in recent years had a booming organic growing sector) and 2 other EU countries have done the same.  But that means 24 other EU countries have increased production (by the way this statistic covers arable and livestock too).  Generally we are seeing fairly static growing but an increase in demand from buyers (retail and commercial) which suggests to us that there is a trend towards buying from UK/local producers.  Perhaps this is driven by the sterling/EU exchange rate, but there is likely to be a “buy local/British” element within.

We have noticed that the produce availability period is reducing, as fields are stripped of their maturing produce more quickly by the demand.  Equally, in times of extreme weather (and the “once bitten, twice shy” hard-learned philosphy of the grower) we suspect the growers are making sure that they get a return for their hard efforts whilst they can.  There is a possible socio economic implication to this trend.  The discounting of the value of food coupled with changing climates has accentuated the commercial aptitude of the growing community.  It is true, that I rarely see laid back growers these days.  But I, and I am sure our customers, value their skills immensely.

We are undertaking comittments to our growers so that our needs are built into their growing plans.  We believe it is the only way of ensuring that our customers can access the produce that they desire. I use the word desire intentionally, because over the years my body has screamed at me to eat certain foods, and now I listen.  And the benefits are obvious.  I wrote once, in an old GG newsletter, about my 4 hour visit to Orchard Farm where our eggs come from.  The educative story about the hens, their cockerels and their daily attitude towards getting their bodies in “tip top” condition was so mind opening that I realised we instinctively have the pointers from our body. It is that any many wonderful episodes with our growers and our wonderful customers, whatever their situation, that motivate us.

 

 

 

 

Recipe: Turnip Dauphinoise

Our Veg of the Week at the Wilde & Greene Farm Shop last week was the Golden Turnip. To celebrate this tiny (but triumphant) vegetable I made turnip dauphinoise, just to see whether it was possible. It was, and it was great. I’ve put together the recipe for you so that we can all share the power of the turnip.

It’s a great side dish to meat and goes very well with leafy veg such as kale, spinach or brussell tops.

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Ingredients:

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

5-6 medium turnips (golden or regular) peeled and thinly sliced

227ml (one pot) organic double cream

100ml milk

100g parmesan cheese, grated

 

Method:

Pre heat oven to 180° or gas mark 4.

Slowly heat the cream and milk in a medium pan until it starts to thicken. Add the garlic and turnips to the pan and allow to cook slowly for 10-15 minutes when the turnips have slightly softened.

Once they have started to soften, pour the mixture into a deep tray, ensuring that the mix is not too spread along the bottom of the tin (there must be a good thickness to it to make sure that it cooks before burning). Add the parmesan cheese to the top of the mixture (I also added cherry tomatoes whole which was lovely) and put in the oven for 30-40 minutes. Once the top has browned and the turnips are fully cooked, serve.

 

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The Secret Life of Farmland

Last week, a report called The State of the World’s Birds was published by BirdLife International which comprises bird population data taken worldwide over the last five years. The results of this report are heartbreaking, but not entirely surprising. The report states that at least 40% of bird species worldwide are in decline and that one in eight species of birds is threatened with extinction. In total, 74% of 1,469 globally threatened birds are affected directly by the expansion and intensification of farming and agriculture.

This news coincides almost exactly with my finishing a book called The Running Hare: A Secret Life of Farmland by John Lewis-Stempel. In this book, the author describes (in words that are made of magic) the journey of a single field and the change in its  little ecosystem over a year as it is returned from an intensively farmed kale field to an organically nurtured wheat field.   Reading this book bought me to tears. Not just because of the joy I felt reading about how quickly this field welcomed back nature, but because of the reality that 93% of our farmland in the UK is intensively farmed using toxic chemicals and with no consideration for the wildlife that has lived on this land for generations. Since 2007 alone the Countryside Survey found that the species richness of the British field has declined by 8%. The landscapes of our farmland have gone from being sanctuaries for birds, mammals and wildflowers to stagnant, barren, quiet places that are so full of pesticides that they don’t really benefit us, and definitely do not benefit the wildlife that has been the pride of our country for generations. (The nineteen species of birds on the farmland bird index have decreased in number by 69% since 1970 due to drastic changes in farming practices – and the introduction of pesticides.)

Lewis-Stempel describes in his book watching a female pheasant leading her chicks through his wheat field into a neighbouring one which is intensively farmed using pesticides. She tries to lead her babies in to the wheat but – as it is grown so densely – she cannot.  Birds like pheasants and quails (a bird that is so rare now that it’s not even mentioned on the defra list) need the space between the stalks of corn for camouflage, food and nesting. If our intensively farmed cereal land is a hostile environment for these ground-living species of birds, then where can they go? No wonder they’re under threat.

Traditional farming methods that go back centuries allow for nature to thrive. Even now, non-intensive farming can enhance rather than harm the surrounding wildlife. I recently went on a walk in Sandwich with the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory Trust, where the introduction of asparagus fields has actually created a new nesting ground for the Lapwing (the channels and ridges that are required for growing asparagus make a perfect cover.) By returning to our roots – in particular farming in smaller quantities and with no pesticides – who’s to say that we can’t reintroduce the harmony between the nature and our farmers? If the farmers didn’t have to utilise every inch of their fields in order to make the land financially viable, they may be able to see their land once again as a part of nature as opposed to a financial asset. In order for this to happen though, supermarkets will need to start buying the crops at a reasonable price.  This is where the consumer comes in.  It may be difficult to visualise the impact of your buying choices, especially when in the clinical, hardened environment of your local supermarket, but the way that we as a community and a nation (the ones with the purchasing power) decide to buy our produce is now a key factor in changing the environment around us for the better.

To borrow the words of John Lewis-Stempel;  ‘Every time one buys the lie of cheap food a flower or a bird dies.’ This perfectly summarises our mission at Greener Greens – we’d love for people to care about where their food comes from. As Lewis-Stempel slightly changed the landscape with his one field, our little business has an ambitious – but important – mission. We want to raise the bar when it comes to the food that people buy and eat. We strive to provide fresh, organically grown produce at a price that everyone can afford because it’s better for their own health, the economy and the environment.  If you would like to read more about our growers and hear their stories, you can do so here.

If you can, pick up a copy of ‘The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland’. It’s a beautiful, funny and exciting read – a history of the field and the farmer.  It’s full of facts and stories about the wildlife that we are still lucky enough to have. For me, it’s been a bit of a wake up call to the condition of our farmland as well as one of my new favourite books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Information on UK Vegetables & Growers

Veggie and fruit update.. with a little bit more!.. For periods of time it appears that Summer is with us…although as I write this the temperature is a bit chilly, the wind is fairly strong and I am in early Spring attire! At the farms the crops are starting to grow and as we have noted before plants like to stick to their timetable and do attempt to “catch up” growing quicker than usual and perhaps whooshing through some stages of their development. Generally UK crops are 3 weeks behind their “normal” schedule, which takes some catching up. This week we are experiencing a reduction in the range of UK vegetables, which is a bit disappointing given that last week we were blessed with an wonderful range of fabulous produce. We expect the range and volume of UK produce to increase significantly in 3 to 4 weeks, bring a corresponding decrease in price….and we need that as the cost of UK produce is very high at present.
Asparagus is still with us but not for long. Courgettes are starting to come through (and we have more of the small courgettes with flowers from one of our growers, who likes to keep the plants free from the ground level courgettes; hence this delight on offer to us!) Broad beans should be with us in a couple of weeks and a good crop is expected.
In the absence of a wide range of UK produce we look to Europe for their earlier developing produce. That plan isn’t working too well as celery, broccoli (calabrese), cabbages and peppers are all in short supply at the moment and as UK demand for imports grows…so does the price charged. Sadly the quality isn’t quite as good as we would expect either – no doubt a function of the limited supply (we saw the same with UK potatoes earlier this year which resulted in our decision to stop supplying the maincrops). So why the limited supply from Europe? A combination of extremes of weather in some regions of Spain, an anticipation from exporters to the UK that our demand would be falling now as our own crops come on stream and lastly a strengthening of the German market for imports. The organic market in Germany isn’t a common media subject in the UK, so let’s rectify that immediately! Whilst demand for organic food is increasing cultivation by German farmers is reducing. Despite government and EU encouragement for organic growing, some states have withdrawn the funding which augmented this encouragement and farmers are switching to other farming methods which require less labour (which is relatively expensive in Germany). To digress a little further the reduction in organic farmland runs counter to EU generally where increases of 50% have been experienced over the past few years. France saw an increase of 50% and Poland 500%! Austria has the highest percentage of farmland certified as organic in Europe with the Czech Republic in 2nd place. Outside the EU increases in organic farming are seen in many countries including Australia, Peru, Brazil, China and India.
Finally, back closer to home – on the fruit front peaches, nectarines and melons are arriving from Europe but apples and citrus are in short supply. We’ll switch to South Africa for citrus…maybe supply problems here too..and await the UK apple season which is expected to be…GOOD!! Always end on a positive note, my Mum says. And we did!!

 

March Against Monsanto…7th June Newsletter

greenergreens march for monsanto

We have some UK new potatoes … A fortnight ago I mentioned that UK maincrop potatoes (in store from last year) are either non-existent or off such poor quality that we will not purchase them. The maincrop potato plants in our growers’ fields at present are developing better than the earlies which is likely to result in the maincrop producing tubers (“spuds” to you and me) before the earlies…which is a little counter-intuitive to say the least, and certainly not usual. In any event potato crops are expected to be significantly less that “normal” (when will we no longer be able to use that word credibly)!
New potatoes were starting to come through from Spain but I feared that we would be waiting a while for UK potatoes of any description. Imagine my delight when I learnt early last week that we would be offered some new pots from Cornwall (growers from the South West have fared much better than those in the South East and particularly East Anglia). But the greatest surprise was when I received a call from one of our growers in Wisbech “Would you like any new potatoes. I have a limited amount, some small and some large”! Remember that earlies or new potatoes are lifted (dug up) for eating and not storing so supply is limited and the price is higher than maincrops. There is always a much higher demand for the small potatoes therefore they command a higher price.

After the Monsanto march… 
We received reports back from several clients who attended the March Against Monsanto demonstration in London late last month. It appears to have been an exhilarating event albeit a bit disorganised. However worldwide demonstrations occurred in 400 cities in 52 countries apparently involving 2 million people.There has been much comment about the lack of coverage of the marches with neither CNN or BBC providing any coverage at all – online or via other media. On the face of it this would appear to be unusual, or even strange…but let’s not fall into the conspiracy theory trap! I must confess that I found all of the media reporting on the march extremely boring – all being extracts from the press release presumably by the organisers.But then last week Reuters and others ran the story that Monsanto is halting its efforts to lobby European governments to allow the cultivation of its genetically modified plants and seeds, news that emanated from an interview between a spokesperson of Monsanto Germany and a German newspaper, Taz. “We have come to understand that, at the moment, it doesn’t have broad acceptance,” said the spokesperson. “It’s counterproductive to fight against windmills.” Wonderful news you might say! The protesters have made their mark! But a further report written by a scientist who has been at the heart of GMO analysis put quite a different slant on this. On studying actual statements made on the Monsanto German & St Louis, US websites their messages are contradictory. What he does conclude, however, that the interview was a PR tactic by Monsanto, the executives of which have been unnerved by the march which was organised primarily via Facebook … a novel and not easily controllable element…the likes of which Monsanto (and other corporates) have not learnt to master.