Christmas just isn’t the same without a drink to wash down that nut roast with, and what could be better than a glass of vegan wine made from local hedgerow and garden products?
I was delighted to discover an awesome producer at a recent event. VQ Country Wines are based in the Forest of Dean and make a rainbow selection of delicious alcohol that’s both vegan and gluten free.
Here’s what they say about their wines:
We use traditional British wine making techniques, adding no artificial colours or tastes, letting nature do all the work for us. Some would say lazy, others ingenious, we prefer to go by the latter.
We produce small batches at a time allowing for greater quality control and we regularly taste test our batches throughout their fermentation to make sure they are consistent in flavours and appearance. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!
We believe in old school, fair and local ethics and that’s why each component in our production, from bottles to corks and labels to shrink wraps, has been researched thoroughly and chosen because of a number of morally right reasons, not just because of price.
Fruit wines do not fall into red, white or rose classifications because the colour comes from the fruit rather than the skin of grapes. This leaves you with a kaleidoscope of colours and flavours to choose from, and caters for a range of tastes from sweet and light to dark and full-bodied.
Don’t go without your Christmas tipple this year, get a bottle or three of these natural, delicious and vegan wines to add some sparkle to the festivities.
One of the things about running a market stall is that a lot of conversations go on around you, and you can’t help overhearing them.
Although my stall is entirely vegan, one of my neighbours sells venison. The venison comes from legitimately culled deer by a licensed stalker. Deer culling is a regrettable part of countryside management, and I don’t like it any more than the thought of any animal being killed. I’m more tolerant of it, however, because the deer in question get to live their entire lives without interferance from man, and their death is instantaneous.
The conversation I overheard was from one of my neighbour’s customers, who rushed up to him, delighted to see that he had fillet steak on his stall. The instant she realised the steak was venison, however, she became upset, ‘Oh no, I couldn’t,’ she said. ‘Because of what it is, I just couldn’t.’
What a pity she can’t apply that mentality to the piece of beef she thought she was about to purchase – or indeed to any meat?
It got me wondering. Why is a cow’s life less valuable than a deer’s? Is it because a deer is prettier? Cuter? Somehow more helpless or vulnerable than a cow?
Beef cattle spend their entire lives in an artificial environment. Conscientious farmers will make sure that life is as good as they can make it, but it’s still a long way from the life they would live if left wild. They are grown like a crop, and when ready, they are harvested.
Deer have choices cattle do not. They can go where they want (with the attendant risks from traffic, fences and the hunt, of course). They can choose their mates, raise their offspring themselves, and eat freely from their environment.
In contrast, cattle are enslaved from birth, told where and when to eat, made pregnant or forced to give sperm according to a business agenda, and, in the case of females, milked dry twice a day. They are gentle, intelligent and conscious creatures who get scared, care about and worry over their young, and enjoy spring grass and sunshine in the exact same way as deer.
Yet some people still think eating beef is okay, but eating deer is not.
Eating meat, and its byproducts, involves the taking of a life, whatever its source. If you want to eat meat, then surely your choices should be based on the animal’s welfare during its life, not about how cute it is?
From ancient times, humans have had a hunger for gems like garnets, rubies, emeralds and diamonds.
There’s another type of jewel our ancestors hungered for, which has been sought for far longer than gemstones. Millenia before we settled the land, back when ‘wealth’ was not measured by possessions or the abstact and arbitrary concept we call money, people sought another kind of treasure. In many ways, this particular ‘gem’ was just as rare as the mineral ones we value so highly today.
The hedgerow’s seasonal bounty could be gathered only when it appeared on the bush, during a very short window of opportunity. The rich prizes were highly sought when in season and people would go into the forests to fill bags and baskets for the tribe to enjoy. Without refrigeration, though, they could only be eaten when they were available in the wild.
When you see fruits such as blackberries and elderberries ripening on their branches, it’s easy to understand why humans have come to consider dark, glittering gemstones so attractive. It’s in our nature to desire them, because evolution has programmed it into us. They represent wealth and security.
Even today many folk make use of this seasonal treasure. At the modest expense of a Sunday afternoon, the whole family can explore the river or countryside lanes and gather more blackberries than they can reasonably eat. Fortunately, unlike our ancestors, we have freezers. We also have some delicious recipes, developed over centuries, to preserve the fruit and keep us going until they are next in season.
Freezing soft fruit can take a bit of patience. Chucking them onto the shelf in a plastic bag or box will produce a solid black mess you have to chip at when you decide you want to use them. Here’s a tried and trusted method for successfully freezing hedgerow fruit.
Wash the fruit thoroughly to get rid of dust and insects.
Allow to drain, then dry with a tea towel or kitchen paper.
Spread one layer over a baking tray, making sure it’s not over-crowded and the berries are not touching.
Place flat on a freezer shelf until the fruit is frozen. Repeat if you have sufficient berries.
Once frozen take out of the freezer and place the berries in a bag.
Return to the freezer
Using this method, you will have a supply of berries that are not all stuck together, which you can dip into whenever you want to use them. You can select the exact number you need (not a messy lump), and return the remainder to the freezer for next time.
When foraging for berries, though, remember to leave some for our furred and feathered friends. They don’t have supermarkets.
Wild cherries are in season, and you’ll find the cultivated varieties in heaps in farmer’s markets all over the country. With such a short season, now is the best time to make the most of your ‘bowl of cherries’.
There are many of reasons to consume them, not least because they are delicious eaten either as a fruit, juice or as a yummy addition to a recipe. They can help with diabetes, protect your skin from aging and alleviate gout.
Taunton has always been a market town. Its first farmer’s market was held over 1,000 years ago, giving rise to what became the county town of beautiful Somerset, despite competing with famous sites like Glastonbury Tor and the infamous Somerset Levels.
So you could say markets are Taunton’s life blood.
The historic livestock market closed in 2008 and the site has been waste ground since then. That site is earmarked for a new, modern shopping centre, so you could be forgiven for thinking that Taunton is no longer a market town.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Venture further into the centre of town, and chances are you’ll find a market. With a thriving Farmer’s Market taking place every Thursay in the High Street and general market on Friday and Saturday on the same site, you can safely say that Taunton is still a market town.
But it gets better.
Did you know Taunton has a castle? The original castle was built in anglo-saxon times and then became the site of a priory. Rebuilt in stone by the Normans, its buildings still survive as the home of the renowned Castle Hotel, and the town’s Museum.
The erstwhile courtyard, now called Castle Green, has recently been refurbished from a car park to a beautiful green, with a paved area now used for events and entertainment.
By far its most regular event is a wonderful market dedicated to Somerset’s artisan crafts and foods. From Lavender to unique woodcrafts, this is a proper market that doesn’t sell ‘tat’.
Blackdown Hills Market is held every Saturday, and you can find it by taking a stroll through the Castle’s Portcullis off North Street into the soothing atmosphere of Castle Green.
This is a venue worth making a regular visit, where you can enjoy tea and cupcakes or browse the wonderful stalls while local musicians entertain you.
From Nature will be there this Saturday (4th July) with a view to making it a regular spot. This week we have our new Tofu Jerky, reduced price healthbars and fruit leather, as well as hedgerow drinks. If I have time, I’ll be making fresh vegan pasta. It’s a first outing for our marquee, so if you want a giggle, you can watch us (try) to put it up.
Back in the days of WWII, when British people were faced with adapting or starving, they came up with ingenius ways to cope. From drinking coltsfoot instead of Ceylon tea to girls using gravy-browning and eyeliner on their legs to fake seamed stockings, our grandparents were nothing if not adaptable. Without knowing it, they became the first environmentally-friendly generation.
To eat healthily during rationing, many people turned their gardens into vegetable patches and kept chickens. Food waste was collected and used to feed pigs, and any surplus harvest was pickled, chutneyed or dried. Anything that could be re-used, such as bottles and jars, was. Even scraps of paper were kept, neatly folded, for some unspecified future use.
The resources to replicate their environmentally-friendly lifestyle haven’t evaporated. Things just got easier for us. With anything we want available online, with disposable packaging so freely used in manufacturing, and water, energy and fuel so ‘on tap’ that we don’t even think about it, it’s understandable that we take it all for granted. But it won’t be here forever. If we use all these resources at the rate we are, they will eventually fail. No news there.
When we think about the number of people, and industries, putting pressure on the planet it’s hard to imagine how one individual can change anything. And we can’t. Not one individual. But if a large number of individuals make small changes to their lives, and think about how they use everyday resources, then change can happen.
The point is, we are all, individually, responsible for the future of the planet, and there’s a lot of advice online about just how to do it.
As well as these useful tips, simple things like re-using packaging can help. I use fruit punets as planting trays for my herbs. Microwaveable take-away containers can be washed, kept and used over and over. Re-using things is the best solution for packaging, recycling is the next. The landfil bin is the last resort for any of your waste.
Re-use carrier bags, or better still, purchase dedicated bags for your shopping.
Re-use foil trays as baking or freezer trays.
Put your grass clippings in a corner of the garden, so it can rot down to form mulch to feed your flower/veggie patch.
Plant insect-friendly herbs and flowers.
Don’t buy more food than you can use.
Buy local grown.
Get a dehydrator and dry any surplus fruit or veg to keep for later.
Eat more fruit and veg. It takes less energy to grow vegetables than to grow an animal for food.
With these changes, you reduce your carbon footprint, and every little step will eventually turn into a long, fruitful journey.
The use of Elderflower in beverages has seen a resurgence in recent years thanks to the growing number of ‘foodies’ out there, but its use in traditional medicine goes back thousands of years.
Elder can be found in all parts of the UK and Europe, and its flowers drench the surroundings in heavenly scent from the middle to end of May (possibly later in more northern areas). If left to develop, those flowers turn into tiny black berries in the autumn, and are a popular wine ingredient.
The only part of the elder which is safe to eat are its flowers. The stems, branches and leaves contain a substance similar to cyanide, and thus are toxic. Even the berries are unsafe in their raw form, and must be cooked before consumption, to get rid of this harmful chemical.
In manufacturing, elderflower extracts are often used in perfumes. Elderflower water is used in eye and skin lotions. But that’s not all these beauties are good for.
The laborious task of stripping the star-like flowers from their heads is worth every second, since, not only are the flowers fragrant, they are delicious. From tea, tincture and cordial to deep-fried, battered delicacies, elderflowers make awesome eating. What makes it even better is that elderflowers contain many beneficial substances and properties.
Elderflower can be used as a gargle and mouthwash for coughs, colds, laryngitis, flu, and shortness of breath. It is used on the skin for joint pain (rheumatism), and pain and swelling (inflammation).
There’s evidence that elderflower might work like insulin to lower blood sugar.
– contains phytochemicals that help prevent free radical damage
– contains Vitamin A, B1, B2, B3 Complex, Vitamin C
– is anti-inflamatory, antiviral, anti-cancer
– is an effective diuretic, laxative and insect-repellant
– helps asthma
– is effective against allergies and sinusitis
– is a detoxification aid (increases sweat to eliminate metabolic waste)
– treats fungal infections, rheumatism, toothaches and urinary tract disorders
– as a skin tonic or ointment can fade skin freckles and blemishes
– is calming and refreshing
– fights colds and flu
– as an infusion can be used as an eyewash for conjunctivitis and eye infections, or as a mouthwash to relieve sore throats and tonsilitis
– is not recommended for pregnant, breastfeeding women, or someone undergoing surgery.
When collecting Elderflowers, do so during a dry day, and not first thing in the morning when they may have dew on them. Pick young flowerheads – those which are in bloom, but which may still have a few unopened buds on them. Warm, dry elderflowers have the best fragrance and flavour.
When foraging, never take from private land without permission from the owner. Take only 10% of the flowers from any one bush.
Be absolutely confident that you correctly identify the plants you are taking. There are some plants whose flowers look very similar to elder, but which are poisonous. Elderflower is a tree/bush, and the flowers never appear on a stem coming straight from the ground. Elder branches have paired leaves coming from a central stem. The leaves are elongated with a slightly-pointed tip.
From Nature’s health bars and leathers are popular with buyers, but at around £1.00 each, I have to sell a lot of them to make the business thrive.
That being the case, I’m always looking for new things I can create to promote nature and animal-free cooking, which will also offer something awesome for my customers. I also have to bear in mind that, being on a farmer’s market, I don’t want to put pressure on other traders by duplicating what they sell and setting up unecessary competition.
This week, I’m thinking fresh Tofu. Freshly-made tofu created from whole soya beans. Shop bought tofu simply can’t compare. I’m aiming to start with firm tofu, as that stays fresh for longer, and can freeze should my customers want to do that. It also gives me the option to make something I love – tofu jerky. Yup. Smoky and chewy strips of tofu to add to dishes or eat on its own.
Research into the world of Tofu making has brought home the fact that a large proportion of the world’s soya beans are now genetically modified. The constant need humans have to ‘improve’ on nature to make a bigger buck is astonishing. Why screw with perfection? Nature has spent billions of years making the best products it can and, within a couple of decades, humans have managed to render all that time and effort pointless. I say humans. In reality, it’s the massive corporations who, like all bullies, want to be the biggest boy in the playground.
I’ve managed to find a souce of soya beans which claims to be GMO free. I can only trust to trading standards to guarantee that the claim is true.
It will take a little while for me to get the equipment together, but come and visit my stall in Taunton’s High Street on Thursdays to check on my progress.
The British summer weather did us proud yesterday at the Taunton Sustainability and Food Fair show, hosted at Queen’s College in Taunton. After a threatening and gloomy start, the weather picked up and so did the pace. Everything was green, from the awesome BMW i8 (electric and super-cool) to the Taunton Farmer’s Market with its variety of locally-produced products. Not only all that, entry was free, so there was absolutely nothing to stop individuals and families coming along to see what was there: watch the goose-dog trials, roll around in Zorbs, make indian roses or check out the luxuriously- appointed Bell Tent (festival goers, I’m looking at you).
The Sustainability Show is a terrific project, pulling traders, producers and craftsfolk together to prove just how achievable sustainable living is. It’s not rocket science (although you might think so, looking at the fantastic solar energy products on display).
Particularly encouraging was the turnout. Not only was the venue well-attended, but the diversity of people who visited our stall alone just goes to prove that the environment, and sustainability in general, is on the agenda right across the demographic board.
People are concerned about nature, about the environment, and, as Julia Roberts points out, we need nature far more than Nature needs us.
We had a couple of new products on their first outing today – Elderflower tea and cordial. (Guess who’s been out foraging!) We had our hedgerow drinks out for the first time, too. Rosehip, Sloe and Elderflower. Delicious!
Considering we were selling a lot of our regular items at half price, we made a tidy sum over the day, and our fruit leather was getting quite a name for itself. As one lady commented – ‘People are talking about you’. Under other circumstances, I would get paranoid about that, but in this context it was extremely encouraging.
Sadly, my phone is ‘OUT OF ORDER’ so I couldn’t take any pics. A missed opportunity, as there were so many amazing things to do and see.
If you couldn’t make it to this year’s show, don’t worry. Given the popularity of the event yesterday, there will be another one along next year, and I urge you to get there for a terrific family day out.
Sleeping Beauty enjoyed her long nap undisturbed thanks to the thorn hedge surrounding her castle. While this fairy tale cast those thorns as the villain of the piece, farmers of olden and present days rely on them to keep their livestock from straying, and rustlers and predators away.
Many of the hedges we see today are made up of one of two thorny species: the hawthorn and the black thorn. While hawthorn is commonly recognised, the neglected black thorn is often overlooked by the casual observer.
Prunus spinosa – the black thorn, whose fruits are highly astringent, yet delicious if treated right – can be seen in flower between March and April. Flowering at the same time as the wild cherry, its frothy white blossoms are visible from the road in many a hedgerow. The blossoms precede the leaves, and are an early source of nectar for insects.
It’s in autumn, however, that the black thorn enjoys its moment of fame. A walk in the countryside at this time of year will yield bushes of dark berries which cling close to their stems. The thin-skinned fruits have a small, hard plum-like pit and yield dark, purple juice which stains clothes and fingers alike.
The fruits, called sloes, resemble blueberries at first glance, as they often have a greyish bloom coating their skins. The berries are inedible straight off the bush, as they are incredibly sour. They are more palatable after the first frosts, or after freezing.
Evidence of the early use of sloes by man is found in the famous case of a 5,300-year-old human mummy discovered in 1991 in the Otztal Alps along the Austrian-Italian border (nick-named Otzi): among the stomach contents were sloes. Source
Many people will have heard of ‘Sloe Gin’ and it is this use of sloes most people have heard of. Sloe gin is more a liqueur than an actual gin and is made by infusing neat gin with fresh sloe berries and sugar. But this is not its only use. Sloes can be made into wine or jam, added to fruit pies, or used as a dye. Juice from the skins has also been used as an ink. Sloes steeped in vinegar produce a delicious alternative to red-wine or sherry vinegar. They can be presevered to produce a pickle similar in taste to Japanese umeboshi.
Sloes are high in vitamin C and anti-oxidants. Sloe syrup can help with flu and help rheumatism. The berries can help with stomach cramp and to break up kidney stones. Do not eat the pits, as they break down in water to produce harmful hydrocyanic acid.