Top row (from left)

Tinned sardines, lemon, lemon zest, black pepper

Runner beans, fresh goats cheese, garlic, olive oil

Courgettes, tomato, basil & lemon dressing

Chard, red onion, feta, chilli flakes

Middle row (from left)

Tomato, red onion, fennel, fennel pollen

Purple sprouting, anchovies, capers

Mushrooms, patty pan squash, chilli, lemon, olive oil

Sweet potato, hummus, olives, cumin

Bottom row (from left)

Courgettes, garlic, mint, lemon, olive oil

Chard, red peppers and  red onion

Beetroot, runny goats cheese and walnuts

Cheddar cheese, onion and  mustard

Someone said to me today that when you grow things and cook them, you learn about the unconditional giving of the soil. You sow some seeds in some soil say, then water them, watch them grow a little and when they are strong enough, big enough, you put them out into rougher soil, water them and watch them grow again. And when they are big enough, you can pick them or dig them up and cook them.

There are bits in between of course: weeding, protecting them against pests and against cold and heat perhaps. But basically, that’s what growing is about.

I’m not saying it’s easy. At Coleshill Organics, between the spring and summer equinoxes (this year that’s from March 20th to September 23rd), it’s a 50-hour week for Matt the grower and his helpers. Just harvesting for the organic veg box scheme, the on-site shop and the weekly Stroud farmers’ market takes two days.

And then there’s preparing the soil for the next crop …  We are talking here about sowing green manures.

Don’t go to sleep, ask the question: “What’s green manure?”

OK, what’s green manure then?

It’s a mix of seeds, typically made up of a selection of two or more species from red clover, vetch, mustard, chicory, trefoil, field beans, pea, rye, buckwheat and other quite fasting growing plants that you sow between crops. Green manures add nutrients to the soil, improve its structure, (some) fix nitrogen, suppress weeds, prevent wash-out of nutrients, attract pollinators (to the flowers) and look pretty.

Oh. That’s very interesting…

Because even the unconditionally giving soil needs nourishing, re-vitalising. Though, of course, 87% of conventionally grown produce doesn’t bother with green manure. Chemical fertilisers are easier and more efficient. Plus your glyphosate (aka RoundUp), of course. That keeps the weeds down. And the bees and butterflies … but who cares about them?

Don’t start, please.

Just saying. If I were soil I’d rather have red clover, vetch, mustard, chicory, trefoil, field beans, pea, rye and buckwheat than your …

Ok, yes, I agree.

… white pellets of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium and …

Absolutely. Indeed. So you’ve made your point. Where’s this leading?

Well, about three weeks ago, wherever you looked here at Coleshill the grass paths had become brown and parched, and the soil had great cracks in it and everything looked dead. Yet now, after just a few days of rain, the green has come back. Imagine that…

Newly germinated green manure

Cotswold Seeds Organic Green Manure

Cotswold Seeds’ excellent rye/vetch green manure

What’s that got to do with green manure?!

I’m not talking about green manure now, just thought I would mention it. Isn’t nature amazing? Anyway, it’s almost autumn and I’m now back at work. I wanted to say something about Brexit, too – you know, how you couldn’t make it up, etc., but let’s leave that for now.

Here’s the point. I have just spent five weeks living in a shepherds’ hut writing, and I have also been watching the garden and cooking things from it. I have learnt a little more about the soil and how things grow. And here I am, back at Square Food Foundation, thinking about the term ahead and all the different groups we will be teaching during any given week and how we might bring some of this soil connection thing into our classes. The ‘How To Be A Chef’ programme starts next week, for instance. And there’s a BTEC qualification in Home Cooking for children with dyslexia. And we will begin a whole new project with St Mungos. And, of course, there’s Back in The Kitchen, the Monday morning class for adults over 55, in which the chopping and stirring are well seasoned with ironic banter. And suddenly that small piece of land (7 acres. YES: just 7 acres) and what happens on it every hour of every day and night seems a million miles away.

Disconnection?

Yes. Well done. I want to know how we can reconnect our learners with the soil through cooking. Whether babies, young, teenage, middle, old, dyslexic, street workers, homeless, Downs Syndrome, unemployed, team building groups, people from Clifton –

What?

People from Clifton, yes. The ones who come to a class on bread or Indian Cooking or fish.

Ok.

Yes, so to all those groups and – what we make together, whether it’s pasta or stew or cake. And why it matters. You know, for the soul and stuff as well. The whole person. Community. The next generation. It’s a global thing. Making the connections, talking about it. Grow, cook, eat, live better. We talk about it all the time, but I’m not sure we are really doing it. I wonder if Nigel Farage has a veg box?

I thought we agreed you wouldn’t have a go at people?

Or what about Bashar al Assad? Do you reckon he cooks at all? I bet he likes a good fry-up …

No comment.

Anyway, I’m also thinking of Coleshill’s organic veg box customers and what they might do with the aubergines, for instance. Personally, I would do a spiced aubergine salad. Because it needs tomatoes and they might have some of those in the box, too. Or you could just do a fresh tomato sauce for pasta. Garlic, basil, olive oil. That’s it. The thing about cooking is that it has to be exciting and fun and delicious. Even if it’s just something on toast. Otherwise we might as well just eat energy bars.

Ok, well. I notice you haven’t included any recipes for the Things On Toast.

What? Can’t you just imagine by looking at the pictures? It can’t be that difficult…

Organic veg box extras

Yes, but some people might want a…

Oh God, I think I need a little lie down.

Me, too.

Next week I’ll be talking about hierarchies of change.

No, thank you.

Spiced Aubergine Salad

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 aubergines, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 onions, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp toasted & ground cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 x 350g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbs raisins
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • About 10 fresh mint leaves roughly chopped
  • ¼ tub yoghurt

METHOD

Fry the onions until they are soft and just beginning to colour.  Add the garlic and spices and cook for a few minutes.  Add the tinned tomatoes, currants and balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper.  Simmer gently for an hour. Keep warm.

Meanwhile to prepare the aubergines: in a large bowl toss the diced aubergine together the with a teaspoon of salt, leave to sweat for 30 minutes and pat dry (they will have produced liquid)

To cook the aubergines: put the diced aubergine back in a bowl, add a teaspoon of black pepper and 3 tablespoons olive oil and toss well.

Then….

Either fry them off in batches in a hot frying pan with a scant drizzle of oil until just brown but not mushy and leave to cool….

Or preheat the oven to 170c, spread the aubergines evenly on a baking tray and bake for 25 minutes or until just brown and soft.

Combine the cooked aubergines with the tomato mixture, bring to a simmer for a minute, remove from the heat and transfer to a serving dish and leave to cool.

Serve at room temperature with yoghurt and freshly chopped mint.

This mixture will keep up to a week in the fridge.

Barny Haughton is a chef, restaurateur, cookery school teacher and Eco Food pioneer. He has run three award-winning restaurants in Bristol over the last 25 years (Rocinantes, Quartier Vert and Bordeaux Quay).

Barny is best known for his work at Square Food Foundation, Bristol’s Cookery School & Community Kitchen, where he is Director and Head Teacher, teaching people from all walks of life to cook good food.

Barny Haughton