From the Farm to the Festive Fork
PUBLISHED: 09:33 24 November 2016 | UPDATED: 09:59 25 November 2016
The seasonal hunt for "Slow Food"
It is the season when food shopping isn’t just another chore. Christmas: those few days of the year when we like to spoil ourselves with something that extra bit special, and will hunt down that food with the “X factor”… It’s when we might finally make good that promise to ourselves to buy direct from farm shops and farmers’ markets, to only buy organic, to organise a local veg box, and to track down those stall holders we remember from the country fair in the summer.
We are so lucky to live in Cheshire: it is a county defined in many ways by its farming landscape, the dairy industry in particular. Dairy farmers and milk prices have been in the headlines for most of 2016: some will sadly have had to sell up; others will have worked hard to find new markets, get planning for diversifying their farmbuildings or take the plunge and set up B&B or holiday enterprises where you can really get up close to exactly how your breakfast milk arrives at your door.
Farmers probably work up to Christmas by planning at least a couple of years in advance. It’s not just the growing of crops and feeding of livestock: there’s the preparation of the ground, the cropping and rotation plans; the storage for livestock, for feed and for the end products; there is the organisation of manpower for harvesting and selling. All this seasonal produce can’t be rushed! A turkey takes up to 20 weeks to mature, geese between 8-16 weeks, and pigs take anywhere from 3-6 months depending on their breed before they will be good for the table; a potato crop takes up to 3 months, and carrots the same – if not even a month longer; the ubiquitous sprout easily needs 3 months; a dairy cow will have to be about 2 years old to give good milk yields and a Cheshire cheese takes 2 months to be ready.
And so our Christmas tables could be a shrine to the ultimate Cheshire “slow food” experience: turkey from one of the 25 or so local turkey farms; ham, bacon and sausages bought from a rare-breed pig farmer at one of the 30 plus farmer’s markets in the county; your veg from any number of farm shops, markets or local box schemes; your pudding could be accompanied by spectacular ice cream from Cheshire’s world-famous ice-cream farms; and, if you aren’t defeated by then, you can round off with a piece of signature Cheshire cheese. Probably the only part of the meal that could not be produced on our own doorstep would be wine. Who knows what the future brings?
The certainty about farming - even whilst in uncertain political and economic times – is that good land needs careful farming and that good products can’t be rushed! And all the while, in all weathers, the farmer is out checking, nurturing, harvesting – to make sure their products get to us in perfect time and in perfect condition – and that they have every chance to grow their business as well as their crops and their livestock.
During the past few years of economic ups and downs, the agricultural industry has had a pretty hard time of it. Many farmers have spent precious time, money and boundless energy into other enterprises so that, for example, you can have not just the food on your table, but your Christmas tree, your holly, ivy and mistletoe, your festive wreaths, piles of weathered logs – and maybe even the bread and butter for your Boxing Day leftovers’ sandwich!
Of course, whilst we are enjoying every mouthful on Christmas Day and then putting our feet up to wait out the feeling of over-indulgence, the farmers will still be outside, whatever the weather, tending, checking, feeding, sowing - starting all over again.
We hope they’ll be kept warm with a glow of pride in what they’ve achieved, in a job well done… and that they’ve had a Christmas dinner as spectacular as ours!
A very Merry Christmas to them, and to you all.
Strutt & Parker, 37 Lower Bridge Street, Chester CH1 1RS 01244 354880