British Charcoal party with Tregothnan

On a lovely sunny Thursday morning I was invited by Jonathan Jones from Tregothnan to come with other food writers and local producers to see how Tregothnan make their super British charcoal. As we are heading towards BBQ season it seemed a perfect opportunity to go and see how this vital ingredient of the British summer is made.

The charcoal is made in Mereworth, Kent which is great news for me as it is a mere hop skip and jump down the road. Here they coppice around 50 acres of woodland a year and use some of that to create their charcoal with the rest being sold off as logs or into the timber trade for furniture.The wood in the charcoal is all hardwood (mainly a mixture of oak, chestnut and birch) and has absolutely no chemicals or additives, giving a clean BBQ experience. Once felled it is seasoned (left to dry out naturally) for about 18 months depending on the wood variety and is then packed into one of two huge retorts. They are sealed and then heated to push out the moisture in the wood, leaving you with high quality charcoal. Once it is cooled it is graded and packed with nothing going to waste. These guys have a use for every last part of the tree and show great respect and care for their surroundings and the product they make.

To give us a demonstration of just how good the charcoal was we were treated to a lovely lunch cooked by the Charcoal Champion Chef – Mark Parr from the London Log Company using beef from Phillip Warren, which I must admit was possibly the best beef I have ever eaten from a grill. He explained to us that almost all of the charcoal which is used in the UK is imported from South America and is normally left quite hard so that it travels the long distance well without breaking into chunks too small to use. This means that you have to burn it for much longer before it is ready to cook on and inevitably need to use some sort of chemical firelighter to get it going. The benefit therefore of UK made charcoal is that they can create a slightly more brittle product but one that then doesn’t need anything more than a match to get it going, giving a purer flavour and no danger of putting firelighter chemicals into the food.

We were introduced to the Head Collier, Jamie Sutton who explained that the wood used was coppiced from the surrounding woodland. This is essence is planting maiden trees, leaving them for up to 10 years and then felling them in a certain way to leave a stump from which multiple new trunks can grow. The new trunks are left for anything up to 20 years (depending on the variety of wood) and then felled to allow the process to start again. This gives really good yield for the ground space used and also creates great habitats to support the local wildlife.

Although it is unlikely that we could ever be completely self sufficient for our charcoal needs, British made charcoal should be something which everyone tries to look out for. You can find the Tregothnan bags available online here or you may find it in your local supermarket if you search hard but check that it really has been produced here and doesn’t just carry the union flag! There are lots of people up and down the country doing this so if you can’t get hold of Tregothnan please try to find your own local charcoal producer. It can make all the difference in the flavour of your BBQ and what’s more you will be supporting local industry as well as protecting habitats for local wildlife.

-Emily

British manufacturing worst in the world – says report

osborneGeorge Osborne certainly has a lot to answer for – UK manufacturing has shrunk twice as fast as other other developed nations since 2000, with more than 100,000 jobs lost.

In a wake of a further budget, a report by the respected think-tank, the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) exposed the steep decline of UK manufacturing by announcing that Britain’s manufacturing base is one of the worst performing of the world’s developed countries.

Output in our once world leading Steel and chemical industries have stagnated during the economic recovery and have seen at least 100,000 jobs disappear in recent years.

The stagnation of ‘foundation industries’ like basic metals, chemicals, wood and pharmaceuticals also threatens the success of the governments plans for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, with many of those sectors are concentrated in the North, Midlands and Wales.

Some 90% of domestic demand for chemicals and metals come from imports – some of them subsidised by the British taxpayer, up from 40% in the 1990s.

The report suggests that an increase in these core manufacturing sectors of just 1% in UK production would add an extra £2.3 billion to gross output and create 19,000 jobs. So it is clear that there needs to be renewed calls for government action to stop the dumping of steel and other metals on British and European markets by China and Russia.

The report goes on to suggest a number of, seemingly sensible, options to help recovery; The provision of reduced energy costs for steel-makers and other firms, a regional growth fund underspend should be used to boost struggling industries such as aerospace, automobile and pharmaceutical manufacturing and a new ‘right to buy’ for employees to take over firms that are about to close or be sold off.

The later, to my mind, is perhaps the most interesting of these.

You can read the full report here.

 

Review: Farmers Choice v Ocado

We were contacted recently by Farmers Choice, a company founded in 1984 bringing British free range produce from dirt to doorstep, to review some of their boxes of farm fresh goods. They started as an online butcher and have developed their ranges to include fish, groceries and all sorts else. Being no strangers to veg boxes, it has been no secret that we have managed to save about 20% on our food bills by using such schemes – So we were keen to see if Farmers Choice offered us similar savings.

We received two boxes from Farmers Choice, the Sunday Roast Chicken pack and the Weekly Essentials pack. The meat arrived mostly frozen in one box, with some extremely clever packaging to keep it perfectly fresh, consisting of dry ice packs and recyclable wadding. We had a whole chicken (with the giblets which the cat devoured!), chicken stir fry pieces, beef mince, 6 slices of thick cut bacon and some lovely thick cut ham (this was chilled not frozen). I have to admit that most of our meat usually comes from our local farm shop so we are not used to it being frozen however this was a minor thing. The quality of the meat as a whole was excellent and we were all especially impressed with the flavour of the whole chicken.

The fruit and veg was equally well packed with a great message on the inside lid…. Enjoy! Included in our fruit and veg box was; a packet of Isle of Wight tomatoes, a punnet of mixed salad leaves, leeks, parsnips, carrots, apples, cauliflower, swede, a large bag of potatoes and a chicken roasting kit from Potts. I have to say the produce was all really fresh and I was particularly impressed with the quality of the salad, which is notoriously hard to transport and keep from bruising.

While the majority of the produce was UK grown (we were very impressed with the Isle of Wight tomatoes in April) some of the produce was not, specifically the apples.  Our favourite inclusion was the chicken roasting kit from Potts which is something we would never have normally bought but would absolutely buy again. It gave us a succulent and great flavoured chicken, plus the gravy and sauce in the pack were also really delicious.

Farmers Choice and Ocado go head to head

In terms of cost, we looked on Ocado to create a comparable shop (see above). This was not a strictly direct comparison as some of the weights of meat were not available, however we found that we saved around £8.00. This is great when you know that the added bonus of Farmers Choice is that you are supporting local farmers and arguably better quality produce.

Ultimately, saving money on your shopping is possible by using veg box schemes like Farmers Choice if you shop in a particular way. If you tend to stay away from processed foods and try to pick the organic option then you are really going to save loads of money. However, if you favour ready meals and convenience foods then this is where the supermarkets come into their own.

I think it is safe to say that we were very impressed with Farmers Choice and the slick service they offer. They have a wide variety of products and a great ethos of supplying British free-range meat and produce.

If you would like to visit their website and try them out yourselves visit www.farmerschoice.co.uk!

– Emily

Britain set to be the only leading economy to not make steel.

03_03032715_6a8f8e_2776782aIn the Victorian era, Britain was responsible for 40% of the global supply of steel. It may soon produce nearly none at all.

Should Tata sell off its sites in Scunthorpe or Port Talbot, following the closure of their Redcar plant last year, Britain would become the only member of the G7 no longer making steel.

British steelmaking has been in decline for more than a century. By the start of World War I our industry was overshadowed by the USA and was quickly followed by Germany.  By the 1980’s we produced less than 10 million tons, slipping below France, Italy and Belgium.  China is currently by far the biggest producer making 1.67 billion tons of steel, equal to about half of the worlds supply.

But it does beg the question, in a country fueled majoritively by financial services, whether a major industrial economy needs to produce steel at all?

The two sides of the story

It seems that there are two opinions regarding Britain’s need to produce steel.

It is clear that, for the foreseeable future, steel production in the UK is unprofitable. If we engage in a bailout, as many are calling for, we a likely locking both capital and labour into unproductive work. It could be tantamount to giving up on Capitalism all together.

However, as the British automotive industry is currently churning out 1.6 million new vehicles each year. The government has plans to produce, in the short-term, a new high speed rail network, invest Billions in the Trident nuclear program and build a new power station at Hinckley. All of these projects will require hundreds of tons of steel.

Although I read an article in The Sun this morning and it appears that it may never have been on The Governments agenda to use British steel in these projects in any event. It transpires that many of the large scale steel contracts, since the Conservative government took power, have been going abroad anyway thus reversing a previous ‘buy British’ policy for defense projects. (see the image right for details)

It would seem that our own government is conspiring against us fpr years and is, at least partly, responsible for the current situation.

In the sort-term the closure of the furnaces will affect the people in the communities whose welfare relies on them but in the long-term, it will lessen the integrated capabilities of the UK to do anything. The knock on effect could ultimately decimate Britain’s core manufacturing base.

Ultimately is seems essential that such a primary infrastructure, like steel, is protected in order that it can underpin our already stretched manufacturing sector.

In my humble opinion the only option is re-nationalisation but this option looks to be off the cards for this Government.

 

A new venture for Mrs B

Have you ever wanted to cure and smoke your own meat and fish? Well, if so then why not let Mrs B show you how.

Things have been pretty quiet for Mrs Bradshaw lately (with only a new baby to contend with) so she is making the leap into the unknown to begin something new and rather exciting.  She has, over the years, became rather adept at turning what we have into something tasty. In particular she has become exeptionally good at smoking and curing meat and fish. In our efforts to buy British this gives us some variety when most of the available products of this nature back are still imported from Europe.  Following the conclusion of our year buying only British some of our eating habits changed but this desire to cure and smoke meat, fish and cheese (and all sorts else) endured.

BBF_ROUNDAL_webAs a teacher by day, Emily’s passion for passing on knowledge is almost in-built. So, she has decided to begin courses in Kent to teach other people how to take great quality local produce and transform it into cured, smoked and dried delights with little more than the contents of their kitchen, and one or two bits from the shed.  The courses will be a one day beginner sessions to start with as an introduction to the basics, with no more than 6 cooks at a time joining her to make sure that everyone can ask all the questions they want and that everyone gets a hands on experience.

Italian meat platter - prosciutto ham, bresaola, pancetta, salami and parmesan

For more details of what the course entails please do have a look at her new website, rather aptly named www.britishfamilyfood.co.uk

Competition Time!!!!

If you hurry there is still the chance to win your place completely free on the course taking place on 22nd April simply by signing up to the website mailing list at www.britishfamilyfood.co.uk/subscribe

It is a scary thing to start something new but she is a great cook and an even better teacher, so if you love good food and want to know more join her and I know you won’t be disappointed. Please share the message with friends and family and help her to keep promoting local ingredients and great traditional preserving methods.

James

A normal British family’s view on the EU Referendum – a clear guide to the winners and losers following Brexit.

On 23rd June 2016, Britain will vote on whether to leave the European Union. Debate abounds as to the advantages of staying in the EU or choosing to ‘Brexit’, with many focusing on the financial advantages/disadvantages of either option. Having weighed up the options here is our view of things.

The death to the City?

City_of_LondonTo turn a phrase – news of the death of London has been greatly exaggerated. Whatever the decision come June it is clear that there will be both winners and losers, and the City of London, at least in the short-term, is likely to suffer if a split from Europe is decided. The City of London can be perhaps be considered the financial center of the EU and a Brexit is sure to weaken its domination to some extent but it is such a strong financial centre that is it would soon bounce back. And unlike other areas of the UK economy, such as manufacturing, the City is strong enough to take the pain. Ultimately, London does too much business with Asia, the Americas, the Middle East, and the world in general, to lose out entirely to Paris or Frankfurt.

The truth is that effects of the anticipated, if modest, contraction of the City would still have a knock-on effect on the rest of the UK economy in the short-term but would likely offer opportunities to other areas of the UK.

London property bubble to burst

apartments_east_london_interiorcgiIf you own property in London, where house prices are vastly exaggerated over the rest of the country, you might expect to see a decline on your investment. Some analysts predict that your your city apartment might hemorrhage as much three quarters of it’s current value as the foreign investors move out.  Bad news for us some in the short-term but in an economy of wildly inflated, and frankly unsustainable, property prices it could offer a real lifeline for the younger generation. Sure the cash-cow property has been over the last 20 years would be put out for slaughter but it would enable Millennials working in London to buy houses at more reasonable prices and could make it a much more attractive commercial centre in the longer-term.

Pound Plunge

p14%20cash%20mf79The pound has fallen by 17% against the dollar over the past two years and would likely decline further if Britain were to leave the EU. The net result would likely mean a fall to around 1-to-1 against the U.S. dollar.

However, Britain runs a perpetual balance of payments deficit, so a lower pound would stimulate the British export industries. This is fantastic news for British manufacturing making us far more competitive than we have been in over 30 years.

Now being free to negotiate our own trade deals to the rest of the world we would certainly see a dramatic rise in production outside of financial services.

Scotland

scotlandThe Scottish independence referendum in 2014 was a vote in favour of staying in Britain, but only just. It is likely that, following a Brexit from Europe, there would be renewed insistence from Scotland to a further referendum to leave Britain with a view to them cementing alternative relations in Europe.

While this issue prompts further debate on the likelihood and effects of a split between Britain and Scotland, it does serve to complicate the current debate at hand.

Bye Bye Brussels Bureaucracy

EU_2359400bBeing in Europe costs us a around £55 million each and every day and this figure does not include huge amount in regulatory costs.

With those costs gone, taxes reduced, real estate costs slashed, and the exchange rate more competitive, Britain would be well-placed to compete with the Americas, the Far East, Middle East, and Africa – most of which are growing much faster than the EU.

Summary

Following Brexit there would obviously be short-term pain for all but if you take a longer-term view our future outside of the EU seems a lot brighter than in. In the long-term wealth would be spread more equally across all regions of the UK, rather than concentrated on Londoners and the very rich.

As we have said before, it is unlikely that big business would leave the UK in any meaningful way (despite what the papers currently say) and indeed, leaving the EU, might make us a better investment opportunity for other markets, like the USA.

In short, if you want to protect your short-term investment then staying in Europe seems like the option for you. If, however, you are prepared to take a longer-term, more altruistic view, then the 23rd June might be your opportunity to ‘get out of dodge’.

Whatever option you choose it is clear that it is a decision not to be taken lightly. As a nation we will never get this opportunity to shape the face of this country to such an extent again, so our advice is to go to the polls with a clear idea of what you are signing up for.

Have your say – British medals to be made in France, but is is right?

medalThe manufacture of some British medals is to be off-shored to France according to reports this morning. This will be the first time that any top British honour has been manufactured abroad and the news has apparently provoked anger.

It is understood that the CBE medal, the Distinguished Service Order, The Order of the Bath, the Order of St Michael and The Order of St George are amongst those to now be made in France. Arthus-Bertrand, the company set to make the awards, was founded in Paris in 1803, 12 years before Napoleons defeat at Waterloo, and even supplied medals for campaigns against Britain. Arthus-Bertrand has been named on a shortlist with seven British businesses following a tendering process by the Crown Commercial Service. British medal makers criticised the move, blaming the European Union and its tendering rules.

Both the Telegraph and the Daily Mail have focused, this morning, on the uproar from our own military veterans, the later quoting one saying “Can you imagine the French allowing the Légion d’honneur to be made in Germany? When this country awards medals to its soldiers, sailors, airmen and citizens they should be made in the UK.”

It certainly is hard to conceive of a point in time where the French, regardless of EU tending rules, would consider the manufacture of their top honours abroad, but does it really matter?

What do you think about this news? Are the papers this morning making a big fuss about nothing? Does it really matter where a bit of metal is made, surely it is more about recognising the acts of the recipient?

Use our poll and comment below.

Do you think that it is fine for British medals to be made overseas?

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Recipe: Slow Roasted Goat

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I have eaten goat before but only as part of a highly spiced curried  Jamaican style dish. I have certainly never cooked with it. So when Emily, fresh from a trip to our local butcher (Chartfarm, Kent), bought some English reared goat I decided to try something a little different.

She came back with a whole shoulder, which looks a little bit like lamb but somewhat darker and ‘gamier’. I thought that I would slow cook it in a similar way to a lamb we had some weeks earlier. Before I go into the specifics of the recipe it have to admit that it was not totally successful. Despite cooking the goat for over 8 hours it was still a lot tougher than the previous lamb version, which literally fell off the bone, and was still overly fatty. It also has to be said that, for me personally, I was not that impressed with the flavour of the meat itself. It might sound a little obvious but the meat smells and tastes distinctly ‘goaty’, despite all of the spices used. Really, the take home message here is – you can buy British reared goat meat, and that’s great, but you might be advised not to.

So ultimately, this is a recipe in that I am going to suggest you do not try but if anyone does have a great goat dish that they think will change our opinion of this meat we will gladly give goat another go (comment below).

Ingredience

  • 1.5 kg goat shoulder
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 whole chopped preserved lemon
  • 2 tbsp baharat (Lebanese seven spice)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) butter
  • 1 tbs Black peppercorns
  • 5 Cardamom seeds
  • 5 Cloves
  • 1tbs Coriander seeds
  • 1tbs Cumin seeds
  • 1tbs smoked paprika
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 red chili
  • 2 handfuls of mixed fruit
  • 200ml veg stock

Method

Mix the garlic, spices and salt in a pestle and mortar along with the butter to make a thick paste. Then rub the resultant mixture on the goat after scoring the surface of the meat with a sharp knife. Leave the goat for at least 3 hours in the fridge or, ideally, overnight.

Preheat the oven to 160°C or 14°C in a fan assisted oven. Prepare a foil parcel large enough to accept the meat. Chop the veg and place half in the bottom of your foil parcel. Put the goat on top and then throw the remaining veg and mixed fruit over the top of the meat. Place the goat in a deep roasting pan, pour stock into the pan and roast for 8 hours or until the meat falls off the bone easily.

Serve with couscous.

– James

Factory Tour: Stevenson Brothers – The Finest Rocking Horses in the World

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Earlier this week I had the pleasure of visiting the workshop of Stevenson Brothers, the makers of, what are widely regarded as, the best rocking horses in the world. I also had an opportunity to meet the charismatic owner and founder of this creative business, Marc Stevenson himself.

My invitation to the factory was arranged by Family Business Place, an organisation committed to helping British family businesses. I must firstly thank them for this rare opportunity.

Stevenson Brothers, as the name suggests, was started by two siblings with an ambition to create the world’s finest rocking horses. 30 years later it is clear that Marc and Tony Stevenson’s vision is now a reality. Their client list reads more or less like a copy of Who’s Who, and even Her Majesty herself can boast of owning no less than five Stevenson horses.

You would be wrong in assuming these luxury items are just for kids. The vast majority of their sales are for a more grown-up audience. Marc himself describes them as being more akin to pieces of sculpture than toys, and it is easy to see why. The attention to detail is outstanding, especially if you have the financial means to commission a rocking version of your own real horse. In these instances the colouring is meticulously matched and every equine marking is beautifully captured in wood and paint.

Everything about these horses is hand crafted –  from the carving to the painting and even all of the leatherwork. In fact the attention to detail is so great that the saddles are basically real saddles, but in miniature.

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Each horse is hand painted. Here the stippling is being added to a beautiful gray mimicking the pattern on a real horse.

However, these wonderful horses are made to be ridden. In fact Marc claims to ride a rocking horse everyday – at which point he duly demonstrated this fact by jumping on one and slowly rocking back and forth. Once the surreal image of a middle aged man astride a rocking horse has been given time to become reality in your mind, it appears to be a lot of fun… and I can confirm it is! I have to admit to having a little go myself. Mark made some excuse that riding a rocking horse each day was somehow beneficial to his back problems. I am tempted to believe that this is a bit of an excuse. I think if I owned one I might be tempted to have a canter each morning too.

Stevenson Brothers remain in their original workshop in Bethersden in Kent where it was founded some 30 years earlier with a £1000 loan and a lot of bravado. It was a real privilege to get to see behind the scenes of this fantastically fun British manufacturer but they also have a showroom/museum displaying some of their finest creations. So, if you ever find yourself in the wildes of Kent and fancy a ride, drop into Stevenson Brothers and gallop away on a wooden horse.

– James

If you can get over the annoying voice-over here is an American episode of ‘How it’s made’ athe the workshop:

 

 

 

 

Hornby on brink of collapse – A warning to other manufacturers

hornby-ENDOFTHELINE

Following a 3rd profit warning in just 5 months Hornby’s chief executive, Richard Ames, has quit the ailing British firm. Is this the end for one of Britain’s best loved manufacturers and can anything be learnt from their current situation?

Hornby, which also makes Airfix kits, Corgi cars and Scalextric, have produced children’s toys since the early part of the 20th century. Until the 1999 they produced most of their product lines in the UK but subsequently moved all of their manufacturing to China. It would seem that, despite desperate attempts to move some production back in 2012, it is the unreliability of their Chinese manufactures that is set to toll the death knell for Hornby. The irony of this will be in the event that Hornby does go under, I would be willing to bet that it will be the Chinese that buy it!

Hornby have struggled to consistently get its products out of China and into European stores for the last few years, despite going to the length of changing Chinese factories in 2014. These stories of businesses struggling to get stock out of China are not new to us. We have heard from business owners of, start-ups specifically, that were lured to China by the promise of low unit prices only to be hit by low quality or delayed stock. Such delays can have devastating effects for fledgling businesses and, as we can see in the case of Hornby, more established companies too.

Another downfall to Chinese manufacturing, particularly, is the potential threats against  intellectual property. Again, we have heard first-hand from businesses that have produced in China only to find knock-off’s being produced in the very same factory utilising their innovations. What is more, there is very little you can do about it.

We are not saying that anything produced in China is bad. In fact, it can, and does work very well for some businesses. But, if you are thinking about producing abroad, don’t say that you have not been warned of the dangers and made effort to protect yourself.

As for Hornby, James May, the Top Gear presenter, has recently attempted to encourage his followers to buy a Hornby train set to save the company. We would say that you perhaps opt for one of their Quickbuild kits made at the Plastech factory in Sussex instead.

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