Fern Verrow, for those who don’t know (and I didn’t) is a biodynamic farm in the Black Mountains, in Herefordshire, run by Jane Scotter and Harry Astley. They farm and grow produce all year round, helped by two people for part of the year, and sell some of it in London, on Saturdays, here. Their book came to my attention via a somewhat circuitous route. First, I saw an Observer round-up of autumn recipes, which included one of its recipes then, a few days later, re-acquainting myself with the main Islington library, I noticed that they had a really well-stocked cookery section. And there was a brand-new copy of this book which, as far as I can tell, no one else had ever borrowed.
I hope, by writing this blog, that I can encourage you either to borrow this from your own local library or buy a copy because it is one of the most useful and beautiful books I have had the pleasure to use and, though not explicitly vegetarian, is exceptionally inspiring if you are.
The book talks about how they work the farm and cook throughout the seasons and it is therefore a really useful companion for each part of the year: baked squash with celery and herb cream is perfect now, stir-fried leeks with lime juice will brighten up a root vegetable in the depths of January and I’d be happy with borlotti bean, chorizo and tomato stew any dark day.
What’s more, it is photographed by Tessa Traeger, who also worked on Sally Clarke: 30 Ingredients, which is another book that, in its utility and beauty would have made William Morris sigh with joy. Her pictures, whether of cabbages (my favourites, pages 14-15), the Herefordshire countryside or a bowl of soup somehow really capture the intricate detail of food without losing sight of how much pleasure can be found in simple dishes.
I also love how much focus there is on seasonal vegetables, without that being some kind of dull, or fad-driven manifesto. You won’t find any kale crisps or chia seeds here. And, though not completely vegetarian (there are about 20 fish and meat recipes) I can’t imagine anyone who is being disappointed by the glorious choice. Whatever you eat, this is a book that will treat you with new ideas and inspiring flavours.
This curry is a great example. Chard is easy to find, and cheap but not often used in much more than side dishes, gratins or fritters. But, here it is turned into a bright, fresh curry, which is not overloaded with complicated shopping or steps and is fast to make. If you can’t find ruby chard, I found the more usual green worked just as well too and though the original recipe called for Red Florence onions, I have used both shallots or red onions with success.
My pristine copy is due back at the library in a week; I plan to buy it (or at least put it on my Christmas list) after that so I can enjoy dirtying the pages every month of the year.
Ruby chard, tomato and lime curry (adapted from here)
Makes enough for two (it also reheats brilliantly, if you make extra)
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
fresh tomatoes, 200g
garlic cloves, 2
red chilli, 1
garam masala, 1 tbsp
thick natural yogurt, 2 dsp
rice, to serve
ruby chard (or green, if that’s all you can get), 500g
large shallots, 2 (or a large red onion)
fresh ginger, a small piece (the size of a walnut)
fresh coriander, large handful
sesame oil, 2 tbsp
1. Wash and trim the chard if necessary. If it is very stalky, you can remove the stalks. Roll up the leaves into a cylinder and cut across the cylinder to make strips. Set aside.
2. Prep the rest of the ingredients: quarter the tomatoes, peel and quarter the shallots, peel and slice the garlic, chop and deseed the chilli, peel and chop the ginger, roughly chop the coriander and zest and juice the lime (keep the zest for something else, or use it as a garnish too).
3. Put the oil into a large heavy-based, lidded pan over a high heat. Add the tomatoes and shallots and stir-fry, keeping everything moving, until their edges are a bit burned but they are not cooked through.
4. Bit by bit, add the chard to the pan (it is unlikely all to fit at once), adding more as each lot wilts. Add the garlic, chilli, ginger, garam masala and a good pinch of salt and stir in well. Cook for a minute or two, stirring all the time so that the chard neither burns nor gets too mushy. Add a little more sesame oil if necessary.
5. Pour in 250ml of water, cover, lower the heat and leave to simmer for about 20 minutes until the chard is tender. If you’re serving steamed rice with this, now’s the time to put it on.
6. Finally, stir in the yogurt, coriander and lime juice (I tend to add a little of the zest too, though it’s not in the recipe) and serve immediately.