Sunday Telegraph "The leaves were exceptionally good".
Anneka Rice on Radio 2 - "Almost too beautiful to eat"

Friday, 7 December 2012

Edible Christmas Wreath

I made this edible Christmas wreath for lovely Mandy who works for me. Mandy has a bit of a sprout fetish and starts eating them obsessively from the moment they hit the shops in November so this was her idea of heaven. Fortunately we work in quite a large field!

If you'd like to make one you will need the following:

1 x 12 inch wire wreath ring
1 roll of florist binding wire
approx 50 florist stub wires
(all the above available online)

a few good handfuls of straw or hay
(but damp scrunched up newspaper would do!)
a large bag of chillies
approximately 4 kilos of sprouts
a bow

Start by peeling the outer layers from the sprouts and then loop them onto the stub wires approximately 4 at a time so they look like mini kebabs.

Wrap a good layer of straw or hay around your wire wreath base and secure by wrapping  around and around with the florist's wire. Secure the florist wire to the metal base at the start and finish to stop it coming undone.
Then start to wrap your stub wires around the wreath base so that the sprouts form a solid mass at the front of the wreath and twist the two ends of the wire at the back to secure in place.

Continue all the way around the wreath until it is completely covered. You might need to include the odd wire with just two on here and there to ensure an even coverage as the outside of the ring is obviously wider than the inside but they are quite malleable. Using the smaller sprouts on the inside of the wreath and the larger ones on the outside also helps with this.

At this point pick up the wreath with the sprouts facing you and turn it slowly around clockwise to see which way is up. There will definitely be a point at which it looks right. Feel free to gently squish and squeeze it to get the shape correct. This is very important. When you are happy with which way is the top then turn it over and attach a hanging wire by looping a triple strand of wire across from one side of the metal wreath frame to the other about 1/3rd down. Keep it slightly slack just like with a picture wire so that when it is hung the wire doesn't show across the central hole.

Next pair up chillies and hook them  either individually or in pairs through the end of a stub wire. Poke the other end of the wire down between the gaps between the sprouts so that it goes all the way through the wreath to the reverse side and then just fold over.

Attach a ready made bow either at the top or bottom of the wreath (as takes your fancy), or make a nice bow from some wired florist ribbon. Attach the bow to a hooked stub wire, just like with the chillies and poke through the base before folding around the back to secure.

Hang on a hook and enjoy!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

       Cornflower and Berry Pavlova.

First gather your cornflowers. We grow pink and black ones as well as the traditional blue. Ensure that they are dry and free from insects and then crystallise them using gum arabic and caster sugar.

This is incredibly easy and means they'll last for months. For details on how to crystallise flowers look at our website (

Rustle up a meringue base by beating 4 egg whites until stiff in a squeaky clean bowl. Gradually add 225 grms of caster sugar a spoon full at a time. Then add 1/2 teaspoon of white wine vinegar and 1 teaspoon of cornflower (no idea why but that is what my mother always does and it works!) and give a final quick whisk.

Spread onto baking parchment and put in the oven at 120C (lower if a fan oven)  or gas mark 1/2. Cook for 1 1/2 hours in the oven and then switch off the oven leaving the meringue base in the oven until it is completely cold (overnight is best).
Easy & beautiful. Cornflower and Berry Pavlova
Add the seeds of 1/2 a vanilla pod and the zest of a lemon to a large carton of double cream and whisk until firm (you can use 1/2 cream and 1/2 mascarpone if you prefer).

Mound the cream on top of the cold meringue and add your chosen selection of berries and decorate with the crystallised cornflowers.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Thank yous..........

In this busy day and age people are not as brilliant at saying thank you as they once were (and let's face it - there is really no need to say thank you for something that you have purchased) but flowers, even edible ones, seen to be an exception. This week I have had 5 emails from people appreciating the time and effort put into meeting their specific requirements and helping them get the best out of their edible flowers. More to the point a couple have included pictures which is just wonderful. Each week, I pick and pack up flowers and salads to be sent off to events all over the country (and sometimes abroad), to people I have built up relationships with, as we discuss colours, flavours, uses etc. The flowers then wing their way off by courier and I am left wondering how they looked and if all went as the customer or bride would have wanted.

So these thank yous are very much appreciated, particularly given how difficult the growing conditions are this year and I though I would therefore share them with you.

This wonderful cake was made by The White Box Cake Co.

This was Sasha's first time crystalising real flowers and we talked it through on the phone and via email. Brilliantly talented.

Liz from Cornwall then emailed me to say that she had used her specifically chosen edible flowers for a floral dinner party and had won 'Come Dine with Me' on the back of it. I had no idea that this was what they were being used for. 'To be show on Channel 4 in 4 weeks time'. (Unfortunately Channel 4 did not let her take any pictures!)

Here Jade used two two boxes of fresh mixed seasonal edible flowers to decorate these stunning looking cakes for a reception in London. They look so vibrant and full of the promise of summer.

Then Joyce popped around and I got an email from Annie in London both saying thank you so much for their floral salads which they incorporated in their Jubilee celebrations.

The Dulford Street Party comprised a day of celebrations for all ages with hog roast and fireworks.

Annie's was a lunch party and she was particularly pleased as she could see the whole pageant from her London window.

So THANK YOU for the thank yous. When I am standing in a muddy field with water running down the back of my neck it makes the world of difference!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Jubilee Salads

We are now gearing up for the Jubilee with special salads for next weekend and thank goodness the hot weather has bought on the edible flowers just in time!

As well as providing 'Jubilee' salads for the local street party we are also sending salads decorated with red, white and blue edible flowers out mail order.

We have blue borage, anchusa & pansies; red nasturtiums & dianthus; and white snapdragons, borage, chervil and radish flowers...

In addition we will have special Jubilee salads bags on sale at Dart Farm next weekend.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Rejoice in the return of the redheads!

Red oakleaf lettuce and red frills mustard

The middle of March heralds the return of the red heads to the salad palette and it is great to see them back. Over the winter the low light levels result in the red lettuce leaves fading to muted brown and even the red frills mustard settles to a gentle maroon.

There are little excuses of colour here and there with the ruby chard,  the red stemmed radish and similar red stemmed dandelions but even they are shadows of their summer selves and they are really just a tease.

Red and green compliment each other to perfection in a salad
But with the Spring Equinox on the horizon and
the competition between daylight and darkness
finally tipping in our favour,  the colours start
flooding back into the leaves and they literally
zing with vibrancy.

I like to reassure myself that my three years at art college were not a complete waste of time in the fact that I know my way around a colour wheel. Green and red appearing on opposite sides of the wheel makes them visually complimentary - a fact that old mother natures works repeatedly to her advantage. 

Treviso chicory
The real Rhiannas of the  red headed salad world are the chicories and in particular Treviso and Radicchio. It doesn't really matter if you love or loathe the bitter taste of these chicories, there is something about their vivid appearance in a bowl of salad which harmonises the whole and makes the salad look fresher and more alive.

This Treviso has overwintered in our polytunnels beautifully and the radicchio outside are regrowing stubby little babies around their crowns. I am going to relish these over the next few weeks because the warm weather will inevitably make them bolt and we will then have a hiatus until they appear back in our salad bowls in late summer. (Radicchio and other chicories react to the lengthening summer days and will bolt if they are sown more than a couple of weeks before the summer solstice. After that time they will happily grow and fatten to give us luscious luminosity in our salads all the way through to winter).

Monday, 20 February 2012

Sowing Marmite.........

Once you move away from limp iceberg and start offering customers fresh and flavoursome leaves in their salad bags you  open up a whole can of worms (Well - not literally. Well - hopefully not at all).

The first reaction from customers is to comment on how long the leaves stay fresh in the fridge. One customer came rushing up to me and said that she had had her bag in the fridge for 9 days and it was good as new. Whilst I smiled externally, internally I was mulling over why, if she liked it so much, it hadn't occurred to her to eat it!

The second reaction is the look. Every single one of our salads arrives at its destination on the day that it is picked  - even if that day starts before 5 and finishes at 10! The leaves are hand picked, in small batches, and brought in quickly to be washed. Our salads are a riot of colour and most are finished with edible flowers. I like to think that the three years that I spent at art college weren't a complete waste of time and I am really lucky that the people that work with me pay the same attention to detail to ensuring that the salads look beautiful. So many people eat with their eyes and comment on how lovely the salad bags look.

However, the overwhelming reaction from people is because of the flavours. I strongly believe that this is partly due to the fact that we are certified organic and therefore the product is as natural as it gets. I also think that allowing leaves to develop at their own pace, rather than being forced, allows the flavours to mature. Growing in season also affects this tremendously.

That being said however, the over riding reason for the flavour hit is the amount of different leaves that we pack into our salads.  Throughout the year we grow:  11 varieties of lettuce; 5 of chicory; 5 of spinach & beets; 3 of cress; 3 of rocket; 6 of mustard; 2 of peas; 13 of herbs and about 6 non classifiable bits and pieces that just should be in there. There are also wild pickings which make their way into the bags and the list increases each year.

Picking, washing, bagging and distributing these leaves by hand and quickly means that often the salads are eaten on the same day and the people become quite obsessional about the aromatic and fresh flavours. More and more frequently I send boxes of mixed leaves overnight to London and further afield.

Coriander - the marmite of the salad world?
This reaction can go two ways of course. It is not usual for  people to come up to me at the Farmers' Market, with a small plastic bags containing a particular leaf which they would like identified as they either love it (and want to grow it) or hate it. Chefs phone wanting 300 pieces of 'that  little pink or white leaf' for a garnish for a particular dish.

Pet loves and hates include those leaves with a strong aniseed flavour such as chervil, fennel or dill; another reaction comes from the really hot mustards - one chef (who shall remain nameless) asked me to increase the percentage of  spicy leaves to accompany a steak dish and he then phoned me at 10 at night laughing to suggest that we needed to tame it down a bit as a man had gone purple eating Giant Red Mustard in his restaurant.   Lambs Lettuce can evoke a strong response more because of the texture than the flavour.

However the most hotly debated of the salad ingredients is Coriander - it is definitely the marmite of the salad world. People genuinely either love it or hate it. I love it and can't see that it has a particuarly strong or offensive flavour but quite a few customers order Herb Salad 'but hold the coriander'. It is also one that we are quite often asked to leave out of a wedding mix.

We are lucky in that we are still (and intend to remain) a small and personal company which hand picks everything to order. My large black order book specifies what goes in each mix so that customers can choose exactly what they would like but who would have thought that the humble salad could evoke such strong reactions?

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Watercress - does it realise that this is January?

Stunning January watercress

The watercress in the polytunnel is putting on April growth in January as a reaction to this incredibly mild winter and this is a really welcome addition to the early salads. 

At this time of year our salads usually comprise 30% lettuce, 20% lambs lettuce and a mixture of spicy mustards balanced by milder baby leaf spinach, winter purslane and mizuna.

This year is completely different. The winter hardy lettuces are struggling with the warm damp  weather. The polytunnel doors have barely been shut to keep the air flowing but the lettuces have struggled with mildew and rotting off despite not watering. Likewise, outside the lambs lettuce is suffering with mildew and slug damage and the effort in cutting smaller and smaller leaves make it hardly worth the effort.

We have never bothered to grow watercress through our stream because of the concern with liver fluke and we are also excessively cautious not to manure any of the beds that we are going to use for watercress production. Beyond that we have found that watercress grows fantastically well if just planted in a raised vegetable bed and kept well watered. It grows particularly successfully in early spring and late autumn and is incredibly prolific. If growing early outside it works effectively with a clear sheet of plastic over the top to protect from the frost and this seems more effective than fleece because it also retains the moisture which watercress loves.

As with a lot of things there is no comparison between shop bought watercress and homegrown for both crunch and flavour. Watercress flavour tends to deteriorate from the time that it is picked. Initially when it's first cut it can be up there with horseradish in heat but two or three days in the fridge will render it pretty bland.

On the downside watercress is a veritable magnet for flea beetle in the summer. Fleecing, enviromesh, nothing works. They will find a way in somehow. This last year we used this to our advantage by growing two or three watercress plants at the ends of a bed of wild rocket. The  sacrificial watercress was smothered with holes and beetle and we treated it  with diatomaceous earth. The wild rocket was completely untouched.

We let our early outside crop of watercress flower and seed before clearing the bed and planting summer lettuce and find that come mid autumn the residual watercress seed germinates and we get a crop that will last us through until the first hard frost (yet to happen this year).

Definitely worth growing. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Globe Artichoke - Unlikely January Star

The Globe Artichoke is an unusual star for January but during the last few days, as temperatures have dipped, the artichoke patch has been a flurry as a variety of garden birds have pulled the chokes apart to reach the tasty oil rich seeds.
Another bonus is that Globe Artichokes retain some three dimensional interest in a vegetable plot into winter, long after the bean poles have been put away, as well as being stunning architectural beauties when dusted with snow or frost.

We traditionally leave the old growth in the artichoke patch for the birds and clear it in late spring but this year I have also left two other beds to seed/stand over winter - one of Red Frills Mustard and one of Red Amaranth. As with the artichokes, both beds have been busy with birds pecking at the seeds with the Red Amaranth in particular being covered in finches and tits.
My reasons weren't completely altruistic however. Primarily I wanted to see how early in the year any dropped seeds would germinate and if they would provide me with an early crop before burning the over winter growth off. Of course I wasn't allowing for this mild winter and the red frills germinated in early December and has subsequently been mowed by slugs and the Red Amaranth has germinated this week and I suspect will fall foul of the frosts of the last few nights but we will see.

Back to the Globe Artichokes.... the new growth is already pushing lushly through the soil and making promises of a summer feast of roasted 'chokes on wood fired pizzas, or more traditionally served boiled whole with hollandaise sauce or salty tarragon butter.

Artichokes are the epitomy of a great natural 'slow' food requiring getting stuck in with hands; oily fingers; warm bread to mop  - the whole tactile joy of eating which seems too time consuming to be anything other than a luxury now. They are also brilliant for the liver, which is a bonus if they are washed down with a couple of glasses of chilled white wine!

Artichoke plants attract ladybirds in profusion,  drawn to aphids that tend to accumulate at the fleshy base of the 'chokes.We find that the ladybirds feed, breed and overwinter hidden in the remaining heads or in the hollow stems and the plants are therefore a really valuable addition to an organic plot.

In late summer the green sphere split open to reveal purple flowers which become so laden with nectar  and pollen that they literally vibrate with the buzzing of bees and other insects which in another fabulous bonus for an organic grower.

So, Globe Artichokes are in reality a year round star. They feed us, pollinating and predatory insects and overwintering birds as well as providing year round beauty and structure in the garden. A perfect plant.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Star of the week

Red Stemmed Radish 

Pods of leaf radish are full of
flavour if picked small.

Leaf radish flowers. Edible & beautiful

The star of week one is red stemmed leaf radish Sai Sai which is flowering unseasonably early in our Devon field.

The leaf radish is a fantastic plant. It germinates well and suffers little from pests and diseases if planted in cool seasons. The leaves have a vibrant red stem and taste of fresh radish rather than pungent mustard. The base forms a large inedible radish but the leaves keep coming all winter if regularly picked. I grow these in the polytunnel but the photo above is taken outside yesterday. The flowers when they come are white or pale pink and keep going for weeks on soft spicy edible stem. Then comes the pods which are fabulous. A wonderful crunch and radish flavour. The plants produce loads of seeds for the following year or will self seed if you let them. What more do you want?