Posted by: hencorner | July 24, 2015

Explore or Ignore?

The Urban Food Awards are open – If you’ve ever tasted our honey, and think it’s heavenly, please do nominate us!

Our address is Hen Corner, Brentford and email is Life@HenCorner.com

If God did not intend for us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?’*
*John Cleese

Graig Farm ChickenThat quote is a little provocative, I know, but understanding and appreciation the connection between the meat on our plates and the animals in the fields is just one part of the maze of food ethics that we try to tiptoe through here at Hen Corner. To be honest, it was asking the first difficult questions about the food that we were eating that kick-started our journey towards urban self-sufficiency and whilst we will never be able to grow all of our own food from our end of terrace back garden there is a whole list of food that we don’t buy any more as we are producing it ourselves.

For those of you who have been on our courses, or visited with a school group, you will have heard our story that began with me feeding my eldest son his first spoons of mushy food when he was a baby. What was in it? Where did the carrots grow? What chemicals were in it? What about the cheese? What is even in cheese? These questions were the first in a complex myriad that uncovered many issues that included organic v’s pesticides, fair trade for international goods, the plight of the British dairy farmers, air freighted beans, plastic clad fruit, animal welfare, intensive farming and the risks facing honey bees that are transported up and down the states of America to pollinate their almond groves… many of these issues I have written about before.

But for each of these challenges that are interwoven into our daily food choices we need to make decisions to either explore the consequences or bury our heads in the sand and ignore them.

Graig Farm selectionOur decision was that we would try to source our food as ethically as possible and to offset the cost, and help us in the appreciation of all the hard work that our farmers do, try to grow as much of our own as possible. Whilst we’ve been learning new skills, we love to pass them on to others so if you would like to try your hand to producing your own food, come on our Day at Hen Corner course on 4th September.

The list of food that we produce ourselves includes eggs, cider, fruit, vegetables, honey, jam and preserves, and while we haven’t really got the space for large animals that would put meat on the table, we did have a share in a pig once, but fortunately she was kept in a friend’s garden…

Graig Farm Pork FilletSo when Graig Farm Organics contacted us asking us to review their lovely produce we were delighted! From browsing their produce online, through easy ordering and reliable delivery we choose a selection of meat that arrived chilled and fish that arrived frozen (even though it was the hottest day of the decade) and enjoyed every mouthful.

Our first meal was the pork fillet tenderloin, which we griddled whole and served with new potatoes in herb oil and fennel & chilli salad.

Next it was steak night – lamb for me and the boys and salmon for our pescatarian daughter (jolly proud of her food ethics!).

The weekend found us slow roasting a whole chicken, see above, and we are still to look forward to the beef joint and smoked salmon.

The box cost just over £50 and contained 20 generous servings of organic meat and fish. It was a lovely treat and is well worth trying for yourself – it’s good to find someone you can trust to bring you the best food for you and your family.

A day at HencornerComing up at the Corner…

We have so much coming up throughout the summer that we’ve produced our own Summer School Timetable!

11 different classes that each help us grow in our skills and understanding of Urban Food Production. If you can’t decide which session to book into, choose your first class and I’ll give you 20% of all other Summer School bookings, just let me know via our contact form.

Don’t forget our Day at Hen Corner course on Friday 4th September where you can try your hand at bread making, chicken keeping and bee keeping – key steps towards producing your own food, with home-made organic refreshments and lunch.

Other News:

  • The Urban Food Awards are open – If you’ve ever tasted our honey, and think it’s heavenly, please do nominate us! Our address is Hen Corner, Brentford and email is Life@HenCorner.com
  • We are proud again this year to be working with The Challenge National Citizen Service, it was a wonderful experience being a Dragon and deciding how much money we should invest into their campaigns
  • We have run 3 courses in how to make Scones and Jam recently and I’m all strawberried out! Fortunately the jam keeps for years and will be a lovely taste of summer in the dark days of winter

Jobs for this week:

  • Make some fruity buns to pack up for a camping trip
  • Put the final vegetable plants in the raised beds so that they can stretch their roots
  • Keep an eye on the chickens’ drinking water as they get through a lot in this warm weather

Have a good week yourself…Hen logo good

Join us on the Journey!

Posted by: hencorner | July 8, 2015

Here comes the sun…

Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.’*
*Henry James

Blutop vanThis week I was delighted to join an enthusiastic group for an ice cream master class led by Richard Makin, Founder & Director of Blu Top Ice Cream held at the London Kitchen Project.

The recent warm weather made the timing perfect and Richard lead us through the science of ice cream, a practical lesson that we each participated in, followed by questions & answers over a tasting session.

Richard’s confidence, experience, knowledge & enthusiasm really made for a night to remember. For those who have been following our blog for a while, you’ll know that I love exploring favourite foods, stripping them back to the raw ingredients and learning how to make them myself. In recent years we’ve started making our own bread, cheese, sausages and macarons and now, this summer, it’s time for ice cream!

Science of ice creamCome on, we all love a bit of ice cream, and once you’ve understood the science and appreciate the values of the classic base ingredients, the cheaper brands and ‘iced desserts’ that are often on offer are just not worth a second glance and, for me, as a chicken keeper, any delicious recipe that uses a good amount of egg yolks is perfect as we are partial to a pavlova and mad about macarons – both recipes requiring just the egg whites.

For the ‘Classic French Vanilla’, which was the base recipe that we made in pairs, we needed milk, cream, sugar, skimmed milk powder, egg yolks and a little bit of cornflour to stabilise the mixture.

Ice Cream IngredientsA good quality vanilla extract provided the flavour and this perfect base mixture provides a foundation for so many other ice cream inventions.

Why vanilla? Because it tastes so gorgeous.

Extract v’s bean/seeds?  As long as it’s made from good real vanilla – just pack it in!

We had to treat these ingredients with care and nurture them through eight steps of mixing & warming, heating, tempering. thickening & pasteurising, homogenising & cooling, chilling & ageing, churning and hardening.

Making Ice CreamWhilst our batches were churning and freezing in the machines, we used some groovy ‘Sage by Heston Blumenthal Smart Scoop Ice Cream Makers’, Richard brought out some sumptuous samples.

We were spoilt with flavours such as Bourbon (made with boozy cocktail ingredients), Banana (that tasted like cake), Toast and Jam (the perfect breakfast) and Builders Tea (does what it says on the tin)…

Each spoonful melted in the mouth to a delicious rich creamy custard that mesmerises your taste buds, took your mind to a happy place and made you smile.

Tasting Ice CreamWe were able to dip our spoons into a large silver bowl holding scoops of ice cream straight from the freezer, however, Blutop Ice Cream is usually served sandwiched between two home baked cookies – another of Richard’s passions.

If you are in London over the summer, do look out for the classic blue van and buy yourself a few moments of memories as every flavour and combination will conjure up reminders of happy days and reasons to be cheerful…

Fortunately, Richard gave us some great notes which shall be studied carefully and I’ve just ordered some salt flakes to make the Salted Caramel version and expect that a Lemon Curd Ripple shall be tried in the next few weeks…

A day at HencornerComing up at the Corner…

We have so much coming up throughout the summer that we’ve produced our own Summer School Timetable!

10 different classes that each help us grow in our skills and understanding of Urban Food Production. If you can’t decide which session to book into, choose your first class and I’ll give you 20% of all other Summer School bookings, just let me know via our contact form.

Some of the classes are here at Hen Corner and some are at the London Kitchen Project.

Alternatively, if you are interested in a private event for you and your friends, or a team meeting for your work colleagues. Do contact us for more information.

Other News:

Jobs for this week:

  • Make even more lovely strawberry jam
  • Get ready for a bespoke course – a group of friends coming to learn together
  • Maybe buy some new chickens, 19 can’t be enough, can it?

Have a good week yourself…Hen logo good

Join us on the Journey!

Posted by: hencorner | June 29, 2015

What you can do, by Winnie the Pooh

‘But if there aren’t lots of bees then there won’t be any honey.’ *
*Winnie the Pooh
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Honey bees have been in the news a lot recently and, unfortunately, not always for good reasons. Our beautiful little honey bees, often confused with wasps due to their petite frame, are often ignored when they are gently flitting from flower to flower foraging for nectar and pollen to take back to the hive. But when pollination of crops is low, remember the apple shortage of 2012, or when they swarm in a public place, be that on Top Shop in Central London or onto a pizza delivery bike, the blame rests on them for our little inconveniences. Personally, our apples did rather well in 2012, as I watched the bees risk the short flight from bee hive to blossom dodging the rain drops, we still managed to make 32 pints of cider and I’m sure that blossom helped us scoop First Prize for our London Honey!
As for swarms, I appreciate that to the uneducated, they can be rather scary. I clearly remember the first swarm that I witnessed from inside the conservatory during my first year of bee keeping. It was like something from an Indiana Jones movie… Once we understand that honey bees are often swarming due to their very good health and desire to reproduce, that they usually only sting to defend either brood or food, of which they have neither babies nor honey with them when they swarm, and that they are so focussed on finding a new home for their beloved queen that they have no interest in you at all, then we can feel a bit more confident in taking a deep breath and enjoying the moment to marvel at this amazing act of nature.
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‘But I don’t really like honey…’ I hear you cry, and if that opinion is founded on tasting cheap blended honey gathered from no particular place and packaged for the supermarkets, then I don’t blame you. As for the honey flavoured cough sweets, medicine and breakfast cereals – well I could happily live without those, however, our dependence on the honey bee is so much more than to ensure we can have the occasional spoon of brown gloop. Green peace tells us that 70 out of the top 100 human food crops, which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition, are pollinated by bees. 
Think of your favourite meal, mmm, lasagna, salad and a glass of wine. Sorry, try making lasagna without tomatoes & onion, the salad would be pretty bare, and as for the wine – that’s a no go as bees need to pollinate the grape flowers before they fruit. Maybe I’ll have a pear and almond tart with a cup of coffee? Nope, no pears, almonds or coffee. What if I gave you the shirt off my back? Unfortunately, if it’s made of cotton then we are relying on the bees to pollinate that crop as well, a longer list of examples can be found here.
So why do the bees suddenly need saving? What do they need saving from? Sadly, a lot of the problem is our greed as humans. Intensive farming, prioritising economics over environment, is causing many farmers to plant the most valuable crop on every inch of available land, this results in an abundant food supply for the bees during the 2-3 weeks that the crop is flowering but hardly anything else either side of that window. Organic farming encourages farmers to leave margins of hedgerow and wildflowers around their fields which helps maintain sources of food for our pollinators and wildlife throughout the year. Organic farming also restricts the use of chemicals and pesticides that could have unknown effects on our little bees. These are just a couple of reasons why our urban bees seem to be thriving better than their rural cousins as the parks, back gardens and allotments of our towns and cities often have a fabulous diversity of flowering plants available to bees throughout the year.
You may have heard of Colony Collapse Disorder, from the bee keepers that I know, this doesn’t seem to be a big problem here in the UK, but if we followed the practises of other nations that regularly stack hundreds of hives on the back of a huge truck to transport them across the nation for pollination favours, often on crops contaminated with pesticides, then we may discover disoriented, stressed bees that fail to thrive in their working conditions. Another challenge for our bees, caused by our greed, is if we fail to ensure that they have enough food stores left in the hive throughout winter, especially if we have harvested most of their stored honey for ourselves. Add negligent disease management to the list and the poor bees are really rather vulnerable.
So, as a mother, food lover and bee keeper, I was delighted to see this wonderful new campaign, commissioned by Friends of the Honey Bee, part of the British Bee Keeping Association, who aim to build a better future for Britain’s honey bees and other pollinators by planting more pollen-rich environments, encouraging others to plant for the honey bees and funding research into the varroa mite and honey bee health.
If you haven’t guessed, they have partnered with the world’s most famous honey lover, Winnie the Pooh, to encourage us all to do our bit to help save the honey bees.
The 10 top tips start with how to plant a window box that provides food for bees and ends with what to do if you see a swarm…
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 There’s always so much more to learn about bees and if you’d like to spend the day at Hen Corner discovering more about ours, we’d love you to join us on one of our courses, more info here. We always finish our time with a honey tasting and you can sample both urban and rural honey from around the country, including a taste from that winning jar saved from 2012!
Full day beekeepingComing up at the Corner…

It would be a pleasure to welcome you to one of our courses that we have running right throughout the year. The next couple of weeks brings Full Day Bee Keeping,  Urban Hens – Keeping Chickens in London and Scones and Jam.

As we enter the school summer holidays, we have a wide range of family courses all aimed at helping us understand more of where our food comes from.

Alternatively, if you are interested in a private event for you and your friends, or a team meeting for your work colleagues. Do contact us for more information.

Other News:

  • After 4 hours of hard work, I created a net cage and covered our almond tree which is usually robbed by cheeky squirrels. Our bees have pollinated each nut and growing our own reduces our dependence on the Californian nuts relying on truckloads of transported bees
  • We’ve put another row of supers on the bee hive – this is where they store the honey for us
  • Our kitchen has finally been finished!!!! This has been a long process, but we are very pleased with the end result.

Jobs for this week:

  • Check on the bees at Kew Gardens, each colony should have a new queen by now
  • Contact local schools to book in sessions for September
  • Prepare an order of home-grown food for a pop up restaurant that loves to serve local produce

Have a good week yourself…Hen logo good

Join us on the Journey!

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