Rhubarb grower Robert Tomlinson of B Tomlinson and son, took over from his dad about 20 years ago, and started to build the business up, right in the heart of Yorkshire’s rhubarb triangle.
They’ve been growing rhubarb and other vegetables on the farm in Pudsey for about 140 years, which started with Robert’s great grandad Robert, his grandad Bernard, his Dad David, before Robert took over.
The business is all about quality and looking after the land, doing things in the traditional way to keep it alive.
Rhubarb is grown almost the same way it was when Rob’s great grandfather started, and the family are strong believers that they are there to look after the land until the next person takes over, after all the land has been there much longer than we they have and will be there much longer if its looked after.
Robert grows his crop in a rotation and now puts clover and phacelia as a cover crop to put nutrients back into the soil.
From York to New York!
Most of the rhubarb produced goes to catering companies, some to restaurants and Michelin star chefs throughout the country – it even goes to Paris, Berlin, Zurich, Copenhagen, and unbelievably New York (USA).
Robert still finds it amazing that his crop travels all the way from the tiny place of Pudsey in Yorkshire across the pond.
Many years ago, through the wars, the 50’s and 60’s, the business had 12 forcing sheds producing 70-80 tons of rhubarb each year, then in the 80’s it went out of fashion and became uneconomical to grow due to the time and labour requirements.
Most of the 200 growers in Yorkshire gave in and the sheds fell into disrepair, as did most of theirs.
Robert’s Dad cut down to 1 shed but never gave up, just to keep the tradition going. In the 2000’s it started to become more popular again and it was down to the chefs on tv that had really promoted it over the last few years to keep the demand alive.
So Robert started to build production back up, and he now have 5 forcing sheds. He also grew cabbages and cauliflowers and other brassicas, but the last couple of years has seen a decline in staff, so unfortunately they’ve cut the brassicas right back as there is only him and his wife as the labour, so they’re concentrating on the rhubarb growing.
These days Robert grows varieties, which he would class as new varieties as they’ve only had them 50 years compared to the old varieties which they’ve been growing for over 140 years.
These are called Stockbridge Harbinger and Stockbridge Arrow, these are red in colour and better flavour than the ancient ones which are pale pink, which are more difficult as they are less vigorous and produce less rhubarb but the quality is what is required over quantity!
Looking into the crystal ball, Robert thinks the future is looking ok with the rhubarb business, as long as it doesn’t go out of fashion again.
There are so few growers now that there is never enough to go around, especially as the forced rhubarb growing technique is very difficult to modernise.
Robert comments that it’s almost impossible really as staff will always be a major factor as it’s a labour intensive crop. Robert’s children are interested and do help out, but there are only 10 growers left and he is one of the youngest.
Robert foresees in another few years there will be even less growers so he is trying to build his business to future proof and maintain the tradition.
Let’s come into the kitchen
When I asked Robert what he likes to do with rhubarb he answered ‘I still love a rhubarb crumble with loads of custard but it’s used in starters mains and desserts these days, even juices and sodas’
So in homage to the rhubarb growers of the Yorkshire triangle, let’s raise a glass of rhubarb gin.
Here is my recipe, which you can also find in the new e-cookery book No Fuss Meals for Busy Parents
You will need:
3-4 stalks of rhubarb
500g caster sugar
1 litre bottle of cheap plain gin
(Nothing fancy as you’ll be changing the flavour. I use Aldi’s own brand)
Mix the sugar and rhubarb together and leave overnight in a sealed jar to allow the sugar to draw out the juice.
The next day add the gin and seal in an air tight vessel.
Shake daily to ensure the sugar dissolves.
After 4 weeks, your rhubarb gin should be ready.
Strain through a muslin cloth and enjoy your drink with some tonic water)
For more information on Robert’s rhubarb, you can follow Rob on Twitter or Instagram @RhubarbRob
Northamptonshire based podcaster, food blogger, Farmers Wife and Mother, Milly Fyfe is launching an e-cookery book to help people who enjoy cooking but are time poor, create family friendly meals from scratch, with backing from HRH The Princess Royal.
It comes at a time where people are feeling the pinch, purse strings are tight, and people are looking for cost effective ways of preparing meals with batch cooking, slow cooking and low energy cooking.
There is a real emphasis on seasonality and highlighting local food producers, ensuring low food miles, provenance and sustainability, whilst making the meals accessible, easy to make and the whole family can enjoy.
Commenting on the e-book launch, author and entrepreneur Milly Fyfe commented ‘I want to help people eat well for less and enjoy cooking a meal from scratch. I’ve often found some cookery books and TV programmes too complex with ingredients that are expensive or not accessible to the average person. As a busy parent myself, I want to feed my family well, but am often time poor. I’ve put together these recipes from my own repertoire as well as from farmers and foodies that I have interviewed using British ingredients.
‘No Fuss Meals for Busy Parents was first conceived during the height of the pandemic, where I would take photos of the produce I was growing in my garden, document what was happening on the farm and involving my two young children in the growing, cooking and eating of homegrown produce. Very quickly people became interested in what we were up too and I wanted to share a few easy, no fuss recipes to help provide inspiration at mealtimes. Now that everyone is worried about the cost of living, I want to empower people to recognise what they can make, what local farmers and food producers have available and in season, and ultimately help the local economy. ‘
Milly commented further ‘I cried when I received the letter from Princess Anne who wanted to endorse and foreword my book’. ‘All the hard work and determination is paying off and having Royal support is the icing on the cake’. ‘I hope the book helps to make a difference, raise some money for charity, get more people cooking and showcasing the field to fork supply chain in a fun and interactive way’. ‘Most of all is that I want more people to Buy British and champion those hero ingredients at mealtimes’.
Since finding out about my gluten intolerance, Becky Excell’s gluten-free cookbook has transformed my cooking repertoire.
As you probably already know from my food blog and podcast, I love to cook. But having the gluten intolerance has made me rediscover cooking some of the basics like bread and pastry. If you’ve ever tried shop-bought gluten-free bakery goods, the bread and pastry are particularly dry and cardboard-like.
During a recent cookery competition with one of my PR clients, I was challenged to make some delicious sausage rolls. In the previous 5 weeks, I’d not been able to sample any of the entries due to the glutenous pastry and filling. So in true Milly style with my ‘dare to be different’ motto, I set about preparing a gluten-free sausage roll for the Great British Bake Off style office competition.
And here is the final article:
Recipe as follows:
295g gluten free plain flour
1 tsp of Xanthan Gum
1 egg white
225g salted butter
130 ml ice cold water
1 egg for pastry brushing
6 x farmhouse sausages – remove the meat from the skins
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 tsp of dried sage
1 jar of cranberry sauce
1 pack of mozzarella cheese
Place the flour, xanthan gum and salt into a bowl and mix.
Chop up the cold salted butter into 1cm chunks and place in the flour mixture
Breakdown the butter into the flour mixture but avoid the temptation to rub the mixture into a breadcrumb like state. Basically smoosh the butter around with the flour.
Mix the egg white and ice cold water together.
Add 1/3 of the mixture and slowly bring the contents together. As the mixture combines, start to add a little at a time until the mixture forms a dough like ball. It shouldn’t be too dry or sticky.
Place the pastry onto a floured ball and roll until it is around 1cm thick. Fold the pastry like it’s and envelope back on itself and form a rectangle block.
Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare the filling.
Mix the sausage meat, salt, pepper and sage together and add to a pan on a medium heat. Allow the meat to brown slightly and remove from heat. Allow to cool.
Bring the pastry out of the fridge and roll out again until the pastry is 1cm thick. Fold back onto itself like an envelope again and form another rectangle. Wrap back up in cling film and put back in the fridge for 15 mins.
Repeat this step 1 or 2 more times which helps to strengthen the pastry.
Once completed these processed roll your pastry onto a sheet of baking paper into a rectangle and cut in half length ways.
Spoon some cranberry sauce along the centre of both pieces of pastry
Place your sausage meat mixture on the top of the cranberry sauce in the middle of the two pieces of pastry
On top of the sausage place tiny pieces of chopped up mozzarella
Brush some egg around the edges of the pastry and gentle roll the pastry to allow the mixture to seal inside the pastry. Press slightly.
Brush the whole of the sausage roll pastry with an egg wash then sprinkle with parmesan cheese and a covering of sesame seeds.
Finally score the sausage rolls at an angle to allow the sausage meat to cook through and steam to escape. Chop the sausage rolls into equally sized pieces.
Place the sausage rolls in the oven at 210c for around 30 minutes. I cook mine in an everhot (similar to an AGA and can take slightly longer than a fan oven.
Remove the sausage rolls from the oven when they are golden brown.
Eat warm or cold. Warm always tastes better in my books.
So will you give this recipe a go? It’s a bit more of a challenge but very buttery for gluten free pastry. It was a treat for me after several months without a decent sausage roll!!
The last of my tomatoes will not ripen in the polytunnel so I’ve decided to make use of them by preparing some green tomato chutney, perfect for having in sandwiches or cheese. What’s more is this is a gluten-free recipe as uses cider vinegar rather than malt barley vinegar.
You will need:
1 kg green tomatoes
1 onion sliced thinly
500g Light Brown Sugar
3 cups of apple cider vinegar
Chop an onion and fry on a medium heat on your oven hob.
Chop the tomatoes into quarters and place in the pan. Allow the tomatoes to break down stirring occasionally to prevent from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Add the raisins and light brown sugar to the pan and mix.
Add the cider vinegar to the pan and stir. Allow the whole mixture to combine and thicken which will take around 30 minutes or so.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool
Blend the mixture with a stick blender to ensure a smooth mixture. If you like it chunky then leave it as it is. We prefer it smooth in our house!
Once cooled, put chutney into sterilized jars and store in a cool, dry place. The mixture should keep for at least 6 weeks, probably longer if you are lucky!
Butternut squash is in season right now and I love to make some heart-warming soup, especially now the weather has turned a tad cooler.
I realise that some of my recipes aren’t so ‘no fuss’ anymore so I’m looking at either putting a time / effort rating on the recipes as this one certainly isn’t a throw in the pan and hope for the best type meal. Or maybe add some cheats and time saving hacks to be had to make it no-fuss.
So bear with me while I found some middle ground!
1 Butternut squash (time saving hack – you can get ready chopped frozen butternut squash in some supermarkets)
Pinch of sea salt
Sprinkle of chilli flakes
Chicken stock 100ml
Chorizo (time saving hack – I often use frozen mini pieces of chorizo found in the frozen section of the supermarket)
Double cream 100ml
Chop and peel 1 butternut squash into small pieces
Spread onto a baking tray and sprinkle some sea salt, rapeseed oil and chilli flakes
Roast in the oven for 30 minutes until crispy
Place roasted squash and all the crispy burnt bits into a pan.
Add some chopped garlic and chorizo
Pour in chicken stock and allow mixture to bubble.
Add in the cream and stir.
Allow all ingredients to combine and then allow to cool slightly
Get a stick blender and use to make the mixture into a soup like consistency.
Garnish with some pumpkin seeds and enjoy with bread or crackers
Alternatively place in a sealed container to enjoy in the coming days or freeze
Today (20th September 2022) mark’s the start of Love British Food Fortnight. A celebration of all those who make up the food and farming industry. To champion work-class food production, low food miles, supporting local food businesses within your own community and the importance of buying British. And so I had to write a piece for the meet the producer section showcasing an impressive potato and fresh produce business.
Recently I had the pleasure of visiting Duncan Worth and some of his 700 strong team at AH Worth in Lincolnshire. Duncan’s family business stretches across two operating sites at Holbeach and Fosdyke, where they process and pack potatoes, as well as fresh produce including sweetcorn, spinach, kale, leeks.
Duncan is the 4th generation of the Worth family farming and running the business. Today he oversees the management of 7500 acres of grade 1 silt in Lincolnshire, where 20,000 tons of potatoes are grown, with a further 80,000 tons brought in from neighbouring farms. Crops including wheat, sugar beet, vining peas, leeks and kale are also grown in between the 1 in 8 year potato crop rotation.
AH Worth has a wide variety of customers ranging from retailers such as Tesco and Aldi, to convenience brands like HelloFresh, who work closely with the business to ensure the produce grown is of the correct quality, value, consistency, and taste.
The packhouses also process freshly prepared potato dishes, sliced, diced with oils and butters for variety and ease of preparation for the consumer.
The core values of the business are recognised to everyone as The Spirit of AH Worth, broken down into six key areas; Sustainability, Participation, Integrity, Relationships, Innovation and Teamwork.
One of the biggest challenge for AH Worth is staff retention, with 70% of the workforce speaking English as their secondary language. Due to the location, Brexit and Covid-19, this has put incredible strain on the business. Investing in automation has helped with some processes and involving all staff in awareness campaigns, fun events and providing wage packets above minimum wage / cost of living has maintained operations.
AH Worth has been involved with the local community by joining in with the national campaign Open Farm Sunday and Tractors into Schools, helping to immerse young people in how food is grown, prepared and reaches the supermarket shelf or plate.
Sustainability, innovation and working in cohesion with the environment are vital components considered as part of the farming and processing business. An onsite AD plant generates 90% of the electric used for example and rainwater is harvested to be used for washing the crops.
One of the things that Duncan and I both agreed on was the enjoyment of eating potatoes without peeling their skin. It’s so time consuming and in effect you are removing the part of the crop that hold the most nutrients within. So if you have a couple of take home messages from this blog, is don’t bother peeling your spuds!! And where possible buy British!
Now tell me, what is your favourite thing to do with a potato? Personally, I love to make my own chips by literally chopping up into small wedges, sprinkling with some sea salt and adding a glug of rapeseed oil.
Place on a baking tray and cook for 35-40 minutes at 200c. Take out half way through and give a turn to ensure both sides become crispy and they don’t stick to the tray.
As it’s Love Lamb Week I thought I’d share a tasty lamb kofta curry recipe with you. It’s inspired by the BBC Good Food Magazine cover story this month but I’ve put my own twist on it, making it gluten free and using up a glut of tomatoes I have in my greenhouse.
So you’ll need:
500g British Lamb mince
Spice blend of: 2tsp garam masala, 1 tsp of cumin, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp of ground coriander, 1 tsp of chilli powder
1 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
200ml coconut milk or cream ( I used thick cream)
1 tbsp of tomato puree
1 tbsp of chilli sauce
400g chopped tomatoes or a can of ready prepared
300ml of beef stock
Serve with Basmati rice and poppadoms
Mix the mince with half of the spice mix and some fried chopped onion.
Form into firm small balls
Fry the balls on a hob until they have cooked through and gone brown
Remove balls from the pan and make the sauce
Add chopped up garlic, chopped tomatoes, spice blend, chilli sauce, stock and coconut milk.
Allow to reduce down into a thick sauce
Return the mince balls back to the pot and cook for 15 minutes
Serve with Basmati rice and poppadoms
For more mealtime suggestions, follow on Instagram or Facebook.
Let me know how you get on with this one!