Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Phwar, check out the rack on that. Also, a change of name?


Here it is! I have been racking all day today and I'm brewing tomorrow so I just thought I would share a couple of pictures with you showing you the bits of brewing equipment that I use on a day to day basis. Here you are brewery fans:

The Copper (left) and Mash Tun (right)


Fermenting Vessels






Conditioning Tanks (these always put me in mind of old fashioned submarines somehow)




I have also been thinking recently that 'Pete's Food Blog' no longer really describes what I write about here anymore. What do you think I ought to do? The options are as follows:

1. Keep it the same, change nothing.

2. Keep this blog going and write about beer in a second new blog.

3. Just change the name of this blog, keeping the same url.

If you do have any suggestions, names for potential blogs would be good!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Curry and beer

I have been away, now I'm back with a vengance! I promise more updates and on a wider array of topics.

Firstly, my ultimate food and beer pairing:


Curry and beer. Simple, straightforward but impossible not to love. I normally make my own curry but was feeling very lazy and as you can see in the photo, ordered a takeaway. This in itself is a real treat, you see I always order from The Prince Of India in Faversham. These guys know their curry, I would go so far as to say that I have never had better. The curry in this picture is their chef's special; Bombay Flame made with Naga chillies, spicy stuff!

Now to the beer, without trying to sound too egotistical (I make the bloody stuff) Skrimshander IPA is one of my all-time favourites. Hops, biscuity malt, more hops then a really nice slow bitter finish that grows and grows on the tongue.

When put together magic happens, two things combine to create something greater than the sum of their two parts. The curry tingles and heats, savoury with a hint of sweet coconut. The beer washes in, cooling, sparkling, refreshing the palate, the bubbles intensifying the chili zing round the mouth. The sweetness mimicking the curry but opposing it with a massive bitter finish to leave your mouth craving for more heat, then more cool. A sensory smorgasbord.

After the curry is almost my favorite bit, the beer is a natural sedative, alcohol and hops slowing everything down, relaxing you. Capsaicinoids found in the chili increase heart rate, release endorphins and buzz you up. The 'up down' sensation from both is really pleasant, similar to what this beer tries to achieve.

So, I have shown you mine, now show me yours. What do you drink with curry? Lager? IPA? Perhaps something entirely different. Let me know.


Friday, 3 July 2009

Things have been quiet round these parts of late

For which I am sorry.

The reason for this is that I have been working really hard. As a consequence of this hard work I have got a job as an apprentice brewer for Hopdaemon brewery, based just outside Faversham.

Have a quick look at their beers here and here.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A beer and food night.


'Ahhh ambasador wiz zis two posts in two days you are spoiling us'

Righo, another evening with Mark from Pencil and Spoon and my friend Nathalie. Nathalie, like most girls doesn't drink beer, leaving all the more for us to work through!

The menu was as follows:

Starter

Spanish omelette with balsamic roast pepper salsa and wild rocket salad.

Main

Herby pork sausage stew with butterbeans, served with roasted garlics and fresh bread.

Desert

Rich, dark chocolate pots with sour cherries.

Cheese

Montgomery's Cheddar, Montenebro Goat, Dorset Blue Vinny.

The food went down really well, some really great pairings were discovered. The sausages were paired very well by Mark with Hopdaemon Leviathan, a 6% ruby coloured beer that fitted well with the earthy herbs and sweetness of the tomatoes.

BrewDog Paradox Longrow with the blue cheese worked beautifully, as did BrewDog's hardcore IPA with the super strong cheddar.

The real winning combo of the night however was the chocolate pud with cherry beer. At Mark's request, here is the recipe for the chocolate pudding.


To make 6-8 portions you will need:

300g of good quality plain chocolate (about 70% cocoa solids)
two egg yolks
A pint of double cream
25g salted butter
75g chopped unsweetened dried cherries

First, melt your chocolate in a bain marie (a bowl suspended over boiling water in a saucepan). When the chocolate has melted, add the cherries and butter and stir until the butter has then melted. Turn off the heat. Add your egg yolks and stir quickly, if you stir too slowly you will end up with chocolate scrambled eggs (that wouldn't be good would it now?). The egg yolks will thicken things up considerably, slowly stir in the cream until the mixture is shiny and unctuous. Put the mixture into espresso cups and chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.

Served with a sweeter cherry beer (proper lambic is just a bit too sour) makes for an amazing combination. I'm going to stick my neck out and say it is in the top three I have come across. It will be repeated soon!




Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The Best of the Best


On Thursday last week Mark from Pencil and Spoon met up and went to The Bull at Horton Kirby for a beer festival featuring some pretty exciting breweries. Among the featured were BrewDog, Dark Star and Ramsgate, three of my favourite brewers.


Garrett and Lynne the landlord and lady had pulled out all the stops with their choices, ‘Best of the Best’ doesn’t cut it. There were at least a dozen out of the thirty five or so beers that I would have had on my dream list for a beer festival. A full list of the beers available can be found here. They made both Mark and I feel very welcome, the barbie was top notch and the weather even held!


Right onto the serious stuff, what beer we drank. Well here goes.


We started with the BrewDog Edge, at a measly 2.7% I didn’t hold out much hope for a full, flavoursome beer. How wrong I was, as ever the boys at BrewDog have managed to shoehorn more flavour into a beer that most brewers can’t manage at double the strength. It is dark, malty, not as sweet as I thought it would be, dry, hoppy and all in all an amazing session beer. Next Mark and I went halves on half pints so as to retain some sort of level-headedness and ability to taste beers and make coherent notes (my notes from the end of the evening are less than coherent!). Amarillo gold was next up, a pale straw wheat beer showcasing a single variety of American hop. It was sweet, simple, citrussy and very refreshing. BrewDog 77 lager next, smooth, very hoppy for a pilsner, almost US style probably the best lager I have had this year.


Mark opened a cheeky surprise for us all to try round our table next, a sample bottle of the as yet unlabelled 8% Atlantic IPA. As a fan of almost all BrewDog have done it pains me to say it but, it was a disappointment. Over oxidised, sour, with the once bright hops mellowed to an earthiness that clashed with the whisky barrel aging. All in all, a bit disappointing. Sticking with BrewDog, a half of Dogma next, sweet, dark, with a rich mouthfeel, a boozy punch and a bitter hop kick left my tongue punished, but aching for more.


As Mark mentions in his review, all of the Thornbridge beers we tried over the course of the evening were disappointing, shadows of their normally bright and zingy selves. I feel it would be unfair to slate their beer as it might have been a problem outside of the brewery’s control. In the past however I have had amazing pints of both the Kipling and Jaipur that were on.


After a quick beer sponge burger came a very special brew indeed, Marble Brewery Pint. A heavily hopped, dry session bitter that was dangerously drinkable and probably my personal favourite of the festival. From there a brief flirt with Marble’s Ginger which was er, gingery but ace. Moving quickly on, Pitfield IPA which tasted ethanoly, harsh and a bit like paint stripper. Not nice. A half of BrewDog Trashy Blonde redeemed a couple of duff beers being fruity and another example of BrewDog hitting the nail on the head.


Nearing the end of the night and testing the limits of our alcoholic abilities, we rolled out the big guns. Pitfield’s Imperial stout weighing in at 9.3% and BrewDog’s Devine Rebel at 12.5%. I by this point wasn’t making very good notes, my brain was a little befuddled! Here is a transcript of the notes I made about each:


Devine Rebel – Oranges, molasses, treacle, spice, massive mouthfeel, boozy, Christmas cake.


Pitfield Imperial – Burnt toast, coffee, dark chocolate, raisins, soil.


Soil!? Really!? I’m sure it made sense at the time.

By this point Mark and I staggered back cross country to the station with the aid of Mark’s cunningly packed torch. I bet he was a boy scout and knows how to tie knots too.


Day two:


Having tried almost all the beer that was available day two was a much more relaxed affair. Phil from here and my brother David came along as well as Mark’s friend Matt.


I hit the ground running with a pint of Pint, this got me into the groove for a half of Dobber straight after. I stopped being so precious about making notes and had a Gadd’s No3, Thoroughly modern Mild and a Dr Sunshine’s Special Friendly, all of which were great. At this point I stopped taking notes, more beer flowed, the sun set and the charcoal smoke from the barbecue spiralled lazily up into the evening sky. Another drunken walk back to the station and a visit to the chip shop on the way home another day at the festival ended.


A great couple of days, with some fantastic beer.



Monday, 1 June 2009

Super special rare beer


A rare insight into my wine cellar reveals a super rare treat waiting to be opened!

This arrived a couple of days ago and i'm absolutely gagging to get it opened and try it. Roll on the beer tasting I will be blogging about in a couple of weeks! I'm putting together a beer and food menu as we speak!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Membrillo


The quince is an odd fruit. My fruit grower's handbook tells me that they are related to both the apple and pear family and originate in the middle East. It also says there is evidence that quince trees were cultivated long before either apples or pears.


I have a quince tree in my garden, however the fruit that come from it are pretty inedible and too few in numbers to do anything interesting with. The Spanish and Portugese however, make membrillo. A super sweet, fragant, floral smelling jelly that tastes fantastic with cheese. As we all know I love cheese.


Membrillo works really well with hard strong cheese, it is traditionally eaten with manchego in Spain, but is equally good with a strong cheddar. Ashmore, Godminster or Winterdale Shaw are the three I think it pairs best with, but it also goes well with soft tangy goat's cheese too.


So this is a quick recipe for you I have corrupted and bastardised form something I saw done by someone on the tv a few years back (I would credit them but I can't remember who it was).

Garlic and goats cheese toasts with crispy fried Parma ham and membrillo.

To serve two you will need:

A stale baguette, olive oil, a clove of garlic, 150g of french goat's cheese, 4 slices of Parma ham, 100g of membrillo, fresh thyme.

To make it:

Take the stale baguette and slice off four pieces of about 1.5cm thick. Brush them with olive oil and place them under a hot grill. Once toasted on both sides rub the clove of garlic roughly over both surfaces and leave them to one side.

Take your membrillo and slice it thinly into four equal sized pieces. Wrap them tightly in a sice of Parma ham and place them in a hot frying pan with a little oil until the parma ham starts to become brown and crispy. Towards the end of the cooking add a couple fo sprigs of thyme to the pan.

Crumble a fair amount of goat's cheese on the toasts and place them back under the grill for about 3-4 minutes so the cheese starts to bubble and brown. Lay the parma ham and membrillo on top, drizzle a little olive oil over and serve immediately with a fresh leaf salad.
As a little note, when considering what to drink with this, try Whitstable Brewery's Raspberry Wheat beer. The acid tang cuts through the goats cheese beautifully and the sweet fruitiness in the membrillo plays beautifully with the residual fruit from the raspberries in the beer. A fantastic combination.






Monday, 25 May 2009

Bank Holiday Barbecue Bonanza!

I'm sitting here typing this on Bank Holiday Monday. As with most Bank Holidays the weather today is awful, off and on rain all morning so far. With the weather forecast taken into account we decided to have a barbecue yesterday rather than today. Ahhh bank holiday barbecues, conjours images of sausages that are black on the outside, raw in the middle. Dad burning his eyebrows off after spraying too much lighter fluid on the coals to get them going. Some limp iceberg lettuce and a couple of insipid, watery, crunchy unripe tomatoes as a token salad that everyone leaves.

People, it doesn't have to be this way!


We are lucky enough to have one of these amazing barbecues at home, which was quite possibly the best investment ever. Although barbecue purists get all sniffy about gas cooking not tasting the same as charcoal, the results, in my opinion are much better. The fact that it is gas means that you are up to temperature in a few minutes and don't have to faff about lighting the charcoal 30-40 minutes before you start cooking. Gas also means the heat is very much more controlable, meaning that you can cook things a lot more precisely. As ours also has a hinged lid, it can be used to cook whole joints of beef, legs of lamb, pizza or even turned into a hot smoker.

Weber do a bit of kit called a chicken roaster for the barbecue as well. This is an adaptation of the old concept of beer can chicken. The chicken stands on a spike which has a reservoir in the centre for liquid to be poured into, we used white wine for this one. There is a plug that is placed in the chicken's neck cavity to stop all the wine that is evaporating from escaping and a drip tray to catch fat and the juices running out of the chicken. We also added a layer of parsley butter between the flesh and skin on the breast of this bird.





We had also par-boiled some new potatoes and mixed them with some fresh rosemary and whole cloves of garlic. These were placed in the drip tray of the chicken roaster to get all beautifully crispy and coated in the chicken juices. The garlic when roasted becomes sweet and sticky and beautiful to eat.


We also made a couple of easy salads, a green salad with rocket, peas, broad beans and fine beans and a coleslaw style salad with white cabbage, apple, rasins and pine nuts.


To make this feast for four you will need:


For the Chicken and Potatoes:
One meduim chicken
A 500g bag of new potatoes
A large bulb of garlic
About 5 tender stems of rosemary
Lots of chopped parsley
About 40g of butter

For the salads:
A white cabbage
Two apples
A handful of pine nuts
A handful of raisins
About 3 tbsp of mayo
A bag of rocket leaves
Half a mug of frozen peas (fresh are better)
Half a mug of frozen broad beans (fresh are better)
A handful of fine beans

Instructions

Mix your butter and parsley together and create a pocket between the skin and the flesh of the breast of your chicken with your fingers. Stuff the butter under the skin and spread it out evenly, making sure you don't break the skin. Preheat the barbecue to a meduim heat and place the chicken in on the stand filled with a glass of white wine. If you dont have a stand, use a small baking tray and an empty beer can half filled with wine.


While the chicken is cooking, par boil the potatoes for about 10-15 minutes so they still retain a bit of resistance when poked with a knife. Wrap them in tin foil with the rosemary and individual garlic cloves while steaming hot season generously with sea salt. This allows the potatoes to take on more of the flavours of garlic and rosemary. During this time use some of the boiling water left over from the potatoes to steam the beans and peas, once tender run them under the cold tap to stop them from over cooking. Shred half the cabbage finely and cube the apple into 1cm cubes, add the raisins, pine nuts and mayo. Mix well.

Once the chicken has been in the barbecue for about an hour, open the lid and place the potatoes in the drip tray round the bottom. Replace the lid and have a beer, your work is nearly done.

Once the chicken is cooked take it off the spike to rest for a few minutes before you carve it. Leave the potatoes in the tray in the barbecue fo that time for extra crispiness.

Take everything out of the barbecue, carve the chicken and serve!







Please, please, please note: Our chicken took about an hour and forty minutes, yours might take more or less time depending on its size and the heat of your barbie. I would strongly suggest investing in a meat thermometer so that you don't poison everyone and your chicken is cooked perfectly. They are only about a fiver in a decent cook's shop.

So here we are as ever, the great reveal!



The chicken was beautifully tender, falling off the bone when it was cooked, the potatoes were fantastic, all that concentrated, sticky chicken flavour works so well with the garlic and rosemary. I urge you to give this a go, lets make badly cooked barbecue food a thing of the past!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Steak Science


Steak cooked well is a beautiful thing, many of my mates say steak and chips is their favorite meal. My problem with steak is that unless I have cooked it, it generally is not done how I like it. If you are interested, show it the pan for about a minute on each side and i'm happy!

I'm going to list a few things here that are, in my opinion really important if you want to want to cook steak well. These are my opinions, from what I have learned and they are by no means a definitive guide!

Buying the steak:

1. Buy the best possible steak you can afford. Avoid supermarket meat, it is almost always disappointing. Instead, go to your local butchers and ask what they have available, this takes time but is well worth the extra effort.

2. When it comes to choosing a cut, people often opt for fillet as it is the most expensive and therefore the 'best', sadly this isn't true. I would much rather have a sirloin or a ribeye over fillet any day, this is all to do with fat content. Fat is where the flavour is, because fillet is so lean very little fat is present it can end up tasting a little bland.

3. Ask you butcher how long the meat has been 'hung' for. Hanging is the process of maturing beef in a carefully controlled way that allows a slight breakdown of the muscle fibres within the meat. Normally this is done for a period of ninteen to twenty eight days. At ninteen days the meat will still be pink or red but after longer periods will darken in colour becoming grey or brown. I like my beef to be hung for at least twenty one days.

4. Make sure when you get the steaks cut they are all of an equal size, uneven sizes mean uneven cooking times which makes life a lot harder when trying to organise everything later.

Preparing and cooking the steak:

1. Firstly don't think about grilling your steak. Frying is the only way to do it.

2. That out of the way, consider your pan carefully. The best possible pan for cooking steaks in is a cast iron ridged griddlepan. I am fortunate enough to have been bought a Le Creuset one a few years ago, but any heavy based ridged frying pan will do. Having a heavy base ensures that the pan doesn't loose too much heat when you add whatever you are cooking.

3. Always oil the meat not the pan you will be cooking in. You can use any oil really, I tend to use a little rapeseed oil beacuse it deals with high temperatures well and has a fairly neutral flavour.

4. Get the pan as hot as humanly possible. A dry frying pan should be just starting to smoke before you add the steaks.

5. Don't move the steaks around too much once they are in the pan, you should try to turn them only once. Never place a spatula or spoon on the steak and press down on the meat it when it is cooking.

Peter's Patented Poke Test:

Giving instructions for how long to cook steak for is tricky. So much rests on how hot the pan is, how thick the steak is and what cut it is. Rather than give timings try this method, follow the hand gestures below with the predominant hand you use (i'm right handed) and touch the index finger of the opposite hand into the fleshy part at the bottom of your gesturing hand. Touch the steak then touch your hand, this will tell you how cooked the steak is.

Blue


Rare


Medium


Well Done (heaven forbid you ever cook steak like this)


Before serving

1. Let it rest. Take the steak out of the pan and let it rest for alt least 4 to 7 minutes. When the meat is cooked all the muscle fibres contract making it tough an chewy. Give it a little time and the fibres will relax and the meat becomes much more tender.

The picture of the steaks I cooked last night are at the top of the page and in a great Blue Peter style, here is the final product.


Sirloin steak served with fried mushrooms, Lyonaisse potatoes, aspargus, grilled tomato and peas.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Pub Review: The Butcher's Arms, Herne


In the search for somewhere new and interesting to have a pint, I found a pub in Herne named The Butchers Arms. It won CAMRA's Kent pub of the year last year so at least I knew the beer would be well kept. Claiming to be Britain's smallest freehold pub, the Butcher's Arms is just that. Tiny. It has no bar and seating for 6 people.

The disused butchers shop, now decorated with a myriad of old beer towels, hop bines and butcher's equipment has an instant warm and welcoming atmosphere. I went on a Saturday night and it was packed, by which I mean there were about fifteen people in there. The beauty of a pub this small, it measures fifteen foot by eleven, is that there is no such thing as a private conversation. Instantly you are involved with what is going on between the people around you. Within half an hour you feel like you have been a regular there for years, chatting to everybody about just about anything. The only no go areas when it comes to conversation are lager and a large local brewery with the initials S.N.

Speaking of lager, don't expect any. In fact dont expect anything other than fresh cask ale. No soft drinks, no spirits no alcopops. This is a beer drinker's pub which suits me down to the ground. As I mentioned previously there is no bar, ask Martin the landlord and owner and he will dissapear off down to the cellar where the beer is racked and he will bring you a jug of beer and an empty pint glass. No lines, no handpumps, a tap at the bottom of the barrel and a spile on top. There are always at least four beers on at all times, with a few remaining fairly constant, Hophead and Harveys being two for the almost constant presences. Every week Martyn updates the beers they have available on the website, this week being: Dark Star's Over the Moon and Hophead, Adanams Broadside, Thornbridge Jaipur and Harveys Best.

I had a pint of Harveys best when I went a couple of weeks ago which was lovely, fresh, well kept and as beer should be. Sadly I was driving so I didn't get to try anything else, i'll be back soon though that is for sure.

You can visit their website here for updates on their beers or find out how to get there. There is also a short video here about the pub winning the Kent pub of the year.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Guilty Pleasures

At the moment I'm trying to write a 10,000 word portfolio for Monday and revise for exams. This is leaving me very little time for cooking or eating. Toast and copious amounts of coffee are all that are keeping me going at the moment until I made this for lunch. Everyone has that old favorite they can fall back on when they need it, this is mine.

Mark at Pencil and Spoon posted a blog about sandwiches today, one of his favorite foodgroups. This can't really be included because it is only one sided but it is probably what I would choose if he had asked about snacks rather than sandwiches. This snack, invented by my friend Jon to accompany late night poker sessions while at uni are ace. Many times they have seen me through periods of extreme poverty, drunkenness and hunger. They are not highbrow, but just very tasty.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the (insert drumroll)..........................

Pizza Toast!



To make these you will need (per person)

Two slices of lightly toasted bread, two tablespoons of hot salsa, 3 or 4 thin slices of medium cheddar cheese, two or three thin slices of tomato.

Toast your bread either in the toaster or under the grill and leave for a minute or two to cool. Add one tablespoon of salsa per slice of bread and spread it thinly and evenly. Place the cheese on top of each slice, covering all the salsa and the edges of the bread. Add a couple of thin slices of tomato and place under the grill until the cheese is golden and bubbling. Scoff it all as quickly as possible.

Quick, super cheap and very tasty, I scoffed mine in about 2 minutes flat.


So, the question I ask of you. What are your guilty pleasures with regards to food? Slobby, easy, disgusting I don't care, I just want to know.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

A quick beer tasting - BrewDog Punk IPA


Just a quick one today. I bought a load of BrewDog Punk IPA at the beginning of last week as my local supermarket had it on special offer, 99p a bottle was a bargain! I thought I would do a little tasting for you, in case you haven't tried it yet.

Once lightly chilled, the beer pours a crystal clear straw colour, with a thin head that sticks and laces down the sides of the glass. The initial smell is floral and citrus.

Down the hatch!

This is where it gets interesting. Grapefruit, lemongrass, very little sweetness and a real bitter back of tongue aftertaste. There is also a piney, resiny taste, it doesn't taste as strong as the 6% abv that it is. It is really dry and fresh, an excellent summer drink, but at 6% it is not really sessionable!

I picked up a few more BrewDog beers on my jaunt up to Borough market last weekend, i'll hopefully get round to tasting them (and writing about them) soon.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Food Focus: Borough Market


I spent a very good day up in London on Saturday at the Camden Crawl Festival with Adam and Joe (from BBC 6 Music Radio). I took a couple of hours away from the music to visit my favorite food place in London, Borough Market.

Any foodie who is serious about their food and drink really should make an effort to go here, there is so much on offer with products sold direct from the producers or importers. The stall holders all have a real wealth of knowledge, they are always willing to share and will happily let you taste most of their products before you buy them.

There is documented evidence for a market in Borough since at least the year 1014, but it is likely there was a market located in Borough before then. The Market has moved locations several times in the past but moved to the current location under the railway arches in 1801 and has undergone many changes in what it has sold. In 1896 the market became a wholesale and retail venture, allowing the public in for the first time, it grew and grew until the 1980 's when stalls became empty and the market went into decline. The market dipped to a low point in 1995 and the board of trustees started a revival project promoting specialist and high quality foods at the site. From then on it has gone from strength to strength.

There is always a massive mixture of people at Borough market. Locals who have come to do some shopping, tourists armed with bum bags and cameras, chefs in whites who have run out of something mid service dashing about, foodies like myself milling about and trying everything on offer (it is quite feasible to mooch round and trying tasters and not need lunch afterwards!) finally city boys on their lunch break out to get a sandwich. It is a bit of a microcosm within London, things seem friendly and relaxed, people say sorry of they bump into you, start conversations in queues and actually smile. It is as if food is a great leveler that puts everyone on the same plane.

I'm going to focus on my five favorite places to visit at Borough but I must stress everything is worth looking at!

Utobeer



Utobeer is an awesome stall right at the centre of Borough Market that stocks over 600 different beers from around the world, from both major breweries and microbreweries alike. They have a good stock of U.K. beers as well as European and U.S. craft beers as well. They always have a good stock of the rarer BrewDog beers, Thornbridge beers, Stone Brewing Co beers as well as many of the rare trappist Belgian beers and fruit lambic style beers. They also supply wholesale, something I have been on to my boss at Macknade about for a while (expect a beer tasting event this summer sometime). As I mentioned earlier the stall owners are helpful and always willing to offer a reccomendation or a food match.

http://www.utobeer.co.uk/


The Ginger Pig





Quite simply the best pork butchers ever. You haven't lived until you have had some of their herby pork sausages, you will never want to buy sausages anywhere else, trust me, I bought a kilo of them for the freezer at the weekend! The Ginger Pig have a farm based up on the Yorkshire moors where all their meat is produced and several butchers shops and delis around London. All their meat is free range and is of amazing quality. Again, if there is something you are unsure of, just ask. The guys will be more than happy to butcher individual cuts however you like and will talk you through the process so in the future you can do it for yourself. In conjunction with this they also offer butchery courses.

www.thegingerpig.co.uk


KaseSwiss

I met Rachael Sills on Saturday and had along chat about cheese (one of my favorite subjects). KaseSwiss are a company who specialise in the import of high quality limited production Swiss mountain cheeses. The usual suspects such as Emmental and Gruyere are all present but there are some interesting cheeses such as Alp Raclette which is produced at over 2000 metres and has a beautiful rich, creamy, sweet paste. They also supply by post and wholesale.

http://www.kaseswiss.co.uk

The Rake



Owned by the same people as Utobeer, a really cool place to relax and put your feet up for an hour after muscling you way through the market! They have around 120 bottled beers available for sale and always have at least 5 beers on draught. When I went in on Saturday they had Stone Brewing Co Arrogant Bastard and Dark Star Hophead among others on. There is a a small decked area at the side of the pub for sitting out as it can get pretty cramped inside!

Neal's Yard




The Mother Of All Cheese Shops. Focusing on British cheeses, sourced either from their own dairy or straight from the producer. Highlights include Montgomery's Cheddar (killer with a nice hoppy beer), Waterloo, an English Brie style cheese and Berkswell, a sheep's milk cheese which is often called the 'English Manchego'.

www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk

I honestly think Borough is the food capitol of the U.K. and really should be visited. Details of how to get there are here: www.boroughmarket.org.uk



Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Sherberts



Seeing as we have had some glorious weather this week and the forecast is good for the next couple of days too I thought I would post this simple recipe up. Technically this recipe is not a sorbet, it is a sherbert, I will explain why in a second.

As you all probably know, ice cream is a desert based on a frozen custard flavoured with just about anything. Sorbet is a sugar syrup and water based frozen desert, usually flavoured with fruit. A sherbert is a halfway house between the two, it has predominantly a water and sugar syrup base but with a little cream added. The result of this is an awesome fizzy effect on the tounge, especially when the sherbert is flavoured with a really zingy fruit such as lemon, lime, pinapple or grapefruit.

For the uninitiated Zubrowka is a Polish vodka, flavoured with a grass found in Poland.It is a firm favorite of mine for making long drinks and can be found pretty easily these days. Larger ASDA shops stock it as do many off licences and specialist drinks shops. If you can get hold of it Polmos Białystok is my personal favorite. It is pronounced 'Juh-broov-ka' (so now you don't look like a tit when trying to grapple with the odd Polish pronunciation when asking for it!)

This recipe is very easy and is wonderfully refeshing on a hot day.

Lemon and Zubrowka Sherbert - Serves 6

You will need:

200g of sugar
200ml water
200ml fresh squeezed lemon juice
The zest of one unwaxed lemon
1 heaped tablespoon of mascarpone
50ml Zubrowka

Pre-freeze a bowl or dish that you want to serve your sherbert from, this really speeds up the freezing process.

Place the sugar and water in a pan and bring to the boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 5 minutes untill all the sugar has disolved. Allow the sugar syrup to cool to room temprature, add lemon juice and mascarpone and stir.

It is really important that you taste the sherbert at this point. Some lemons are sharper than others and may need more sugar added. If the mixture is too sweet add the juice of another lemon. Finally add the Zubrowka and stir again.

Place the sherbert in your pre-frozen container and put it in the freezer. After about an hour take a fork and give it a really good stir, this will break up the large ice crystals meaning you get a nice smooth consistency. Repeat the stirring every hour until the sherbert has set.

To serve, leave the sherbert out of the fridge for about 5 minutes beforehand, this means you will be able to scoop it out easily. If you are feeling extra naughty you can slosh a teaspoon of Zubrowka over the top of each sorbet just before serving for a special boozy treat!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

I know I have been neglecting my blog.....

But, I have nearly finished uni for the year, and I have several recipes and other bits and pieces planned for here.

Watch this space!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

An essay about hops

This term I have a course entitled 'Medicinal plants, drug discovery and traditional healing' this is an essay I wrote for it a couple of weeks ago.



What Do Historical Evidence and Modern Clinical Trials Tell Ethnopharmacologists About The Usefulness Of Hop Alpha and Beta Acids As A Tool In The Fight Against Antibiotic Immunity?

Hops have been cultivated and used from around the 10th century (Delyser,1994) and have been viewed as ‘a wicked weed that would spoil the taste of the drink (beer) and endanger the people’ in Henry VIII’s time (Hornsey, 2003) to being carefully ‘cultivated for the sole interest of the brewing industry’ (Alfa- Laval, 1983). They have also had a long association with having a medicinal effect, most interestingly their antibacterial and sedative properties have been noted as far back as 4000 years (Simpson et al, 1992). Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest problems facing the medical world with a massive increase in the past two decades of drug resistant strains bacteria such as MRSA. I will argue in this essay that, while not a hugely potent antibacterial agent, hop acids have a place in the fight against antibiotic resistance. I will do this by detailing the history of hop use focusing on brewing, evidence from other species, clinical research in humans and examining the causes of antibiotic immunity. I will focus other two main compounds active in hops that have an antibacterial effect, and a common isomer of one of them.


The hop is a genus of flowering bines, native to the temperate European and
American areas. Female flowers of the hop bine are called cones; it is in these cones that the hop oils containing the active ingredients are held. The hop is part of the family Cannabaceae, which also includes the genusCannabis (Greive, 1972). There is evidence of hops being used as a preservative in beer since the 1500’s (Hornsey, 2003) although it’s use was not universally approved of. Henry VIII famously claimed they were little more than a ‘weed’, which ‘spoiled the taste (of beer)’ (Hornsey, 2003) this statement is true to a certain extent. Due to their climbing nature and rhizomic spreading it is possible for hop bines to overrun a cultivated area, suffocating other plants

Traditionally many different herbs and plants were added as a flavouring to beer however, it was noticed that when hops were added to a beer it lasted longer (Behre, 1998). This was due to the fact that the α and β acids allowed the growth of yeast, but killed other bacteria by disintegrating phospholipid bilayer cell membranes (Teuber et al, 1972 and Teuber, 1970). Around the same period the rise of Britain as a seafaring nation required the storage of drinkable water for long periods at sea, which at the time was unfeasable. Beer kept for a much longer period of time and so was used as the main source of drinking water for sailors of the time. This weak, low gravity beer became known as ‘small beer’ (Behre, 1998). As the length of time at sea increased, so did the alcohol and hop content of beer. During the colonisation of India by the British India Pale Ale was born, this contained the highest levels of hops ever seen in a beer so it survived the long sea journey. It became so popular it was eventually only brewed for internal consumption (Spring et al, 1977).

As with all medicinal plants there are many chemicals that potentially have an effect on the body, including methylbutenol which induces a mild sedative effect, and a chemical; 8-Prenylnaringenin which mimics the action of oestrogen (Pratt et al, 2004, Takamura-Enya et al, 2003 and Beuchat et al 1989).

The active compounds I wish to closer examine however, are the α acid humulone which has the chemical formula C12H30O5 and the β acid lupulone which has the chemical formula C26H35O4. Due to extensive research carried out by brewers we now know humulone is not a single chemical compound but rather a mixture of 3 closely related compounds called humulone, adhumulone and cohumulone (Alpha-Laval, 1983). When hops are boiled during the beermaking process the components of the humulone and lupulone are isomerised to create the complexes: isohumulone, isoadhumulone, isocohumulone, isolupulone, isoadlupulone and isocolupulone (Alfa-Laval, 1983) . It is these compunds that give beer it’s bitter flavour and the isohumulone that has an antibacterial effect (Delyser et al, 1994).

Many antibiotic compounds are used by doctors to aid the fight against unwanted bacteria in our bodies, due to abuse of these substances however bacteria are able to evolve immunity from them, rendering them useless. It is often described as a ‘medical arms race’ between bacteria and the developers of antibiotics (Burke, 1998). As successive generations of bacteria are generated, mutations within their DNA that favour resistance to certain antibiotics are selected for, ultimately rendering the antibiotic useless. This has a massive impact on the way in which doctors now prescribe antibiotics and the instructions given to patients on how they must finish the course (Cirz et al, 2005). The problem with people not finishing a course of antibiotics is that it causes a bottleneck in the population of the bacteria, allowing the more resistant genes to be passed on to future generations. If this happens several times it is possible within the scale of a few years to develop a resistance (Burke, 1998).

Penicillin resistance was first found in 1947 a mere four years after the drug was commercially introduced. Methicillin, a similar antibiotic to penicillin has developed a resistant form of Staphylococcus Aureus known as MRSA. The first note of this resistant strain in the U.K. was in 1961 (Maple et al, 1989) and is now ‘quite common’ in hospitals (Levy, 2000). According to Levy’s analysis ‘MRSA was responsible for 37% of fatal cases of blood poisoning in
the UK in 1999, up from 4% in 1991. Half of all S. aureus infections in the US are resistant to penicillin, methicillin, tetracycline and erythromycin’ (Levy, 2000).

A key problem within human antibiotic resistance is that due to the feeding of antibiotics to farm animals a constant low level of antibiotic is ingested . This base level aids the development of resistant strains of certain bacteria (Sapkota et al, 2007). The need to feed antibiotics to animals from birth is caused by the intensive farming methods used in many countries, examples of which include battery hens and caged pigs. In these cramped quarters it is easy for infection to spread quickly, potentially killing a large proportion of a farmer’s livestock (Castanon, 2007). For many hundreds of years livestock, especially pigs due to their omnivorous nature have been fed the spent hops and yeast from the brewing process (Brorson et al, 2002). It was noted these animals were generally in better health than those not fed brewing waste products (Delyser et al, 1994).

Due to this, there have been clinical trials run mainly on battery hens in which by adding spent hops to their diet show similar effects to antibiotic administration (Cornelison et al, 2006 and Pizarski, 2005). Further to this, more research on human subjects has been undertaken to discover how hop acids may help fight infection. Natarajan et al discuss a positive antibacterial co-action between hops and selected antibiotics when used to fight several different bacteria (Natrajan et al, 2007). Ohsugi et al also discuss that they were able to significantly reduce the levels of Helicobacter pylori, a stomach bacterium linked with chronic inflammation, ulceration and cancer (Ohsugi et al, 2007).

Despite this the there are no pharmaceutical companies working on hops as an antibacterial product, which in my opinion is an oversight based on the evidence that is present both clinically and historically. People may choose to self medicate with hops to fight minor infections but this is problematic in that there are other active chemicals as mentioned previously. Men may develop swelling of the breast tissue, reduced sperm count and emotional instability (Thuille et al, 2003).

This further adds weight to the argument that the acids themselves need to be isolated and used so as to reduce side effects. It is well noted that the old, ill and the young are particularly susceptible to infection form bacteria such as MRSA. Would it be possible to dose these
individuals with a base level of these acids to avoid infection as demonstrated in livestock? I feel more research is needed. In conclusion, both clinical trials and historical evidence show a strong case for the commercial development of α and β acids extracted from hops. History and clinical trials prove their ability as an antibacterial agent There are potentially many practical applications for their antibacterial effects including in animal feeds as a less aggressive form of disease control. There are also applications In humans to provide a baseline protection against antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. I however feel that much research is needed into these compounds before any sort of pharmaceutical product becomes available.


Bibliography

Alfa-Laval, 1983. A Brewery Handbook. Alfa-Laval Press. London.

Behre K E., 1999. The history of beer additives in Europe - a review. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 8, 35-48. Beuchat R., Golden D A., 1989. Antimicrobials Occurring Naturally in Foods. Food Technology, Institute of Food Technologists 43, 134-142.

Burke T., 1998. Antibiotic Resistance—Squeezing the Balloon? Journal of the American Medical Association 280, 1270-1271.

Brorsen W., Lehenbauer T., Ji D., Connor J., 2002. Economic Impacts of BanningSubtherapeutic Use of Antibiotics in Swine Production. Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics 34, 489-500.

Castanon J I., 2007. History of the use of antibiotic as growth promoters in European poultry feeds. Poultry Science 86, 2466–2471.

Cirz R T., Chin J K., Andes D R., de Crécy-Lagard V., Craig W A., Romesberg F E., 2005. Inhibition of mutation and combating the evolution of antibiotic resistance. Public Library of Science Biology 3, 176-179.

Cornelison J M., Yan F., Watkins S., Lloyd Rigby S., Segal J., Waldroup P., 2006. Evaluation of Hops (Humulus iupulus) as an Antimicrobial in Broiler Diets. International Journal of Poultry Science 5, 134-136.

Delyser D Y., Kasper W J., 1994. Hopped Beer: The Case for Cultivation. Economic Botany 48, 166-170.

Greive M., 1972. A Modern Herbal Vol. 1. Dover Publications. New York

Hornsey I., 2003. A History of Beer and Brewing. Royal Society of Chemistry. London.

Levy S B., 2000. Antibiotic and antiseptic resistance: impact on public health. The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal 34, 142-145.

Maple P., Hamilton-Miller J., Brumfitt W., 1989. World-wide antibiotic resistance in methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. The Lancet 111, 537-540.

Natarajan S., Katta I., Andrei V., Babu Rao Ambati M., Leonida G., 2007. Positive antibacterial co-action between hop (Humulus lupulus) constituents and selected antibiotics. Phytomedicine 15, 194-201.

Ohsugi M., Kadota S., Ishii E., Tamura T., Okamura Y., 2007. Antibacterial activity of traditional medicines and an active constituent lupulone from Humulus lupulus against Helicobacter pylori. Phytomedicine 15, 194-201.

Pisarski R K., Ziehook M., 2005. The influence of herbs on haematological indicators in broiler chickens. Animal Science Papers and Reports 12 234-239.

Pratt S., Matthews K., 2004. SuperFoods. HarperCollins Books, New York.

Sapkota A R., Lefferts L Y., McKenzie S., Walker P., 2007. What do we feed to food-production animals? A review of animal feed ingredients and their potential impacts on human health. Environmental Health Perspectives 115, 663–670.

Simpson W J., Smith A R., 1992. Factors affecting antibacterial activity of hop compounds and their derivatives. Journal of Applied Bacteriology 72, 327-334.

Spring J., Buss D., 1977. Three centuries of alcohol in the British diet. Nature 270, 567-572.

Takamura-Enya J., Ishihara S., Tahara S., Goto Y., Totsuka T., Sugimura K., Wakabayashi 2003. Analysis of estrogenic activity of foodstuffs and cigarette smoke condensates using a yeast estrogen screening method. Food and Chemical Toxicology 41, 543-550.

Teuber M., Schmalreck A F., 1973. Membrane leakage in Bacillus subtilis 168 induced by the hop constituents lupulone, humulone, isohumulone and humulinic acid. Archives of Microbiology 94, 159-171.

Teuber M., 1970. Low Antibiotic Potency of Isohumulone. Applied Environmental Microbiology 19, 871.

Thuille N., Fille M., Nagl M., 2003. Bactericidal activity of herbal extracts. International Journal of Hygene and Environmental Health 206, 217–221.




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Monday, 16 March 2009

Cassoulet

I love cassoulet, it is easy to make and, as with many good recipes it has many local variations. It is a real French one pot peasant meal, which means that depending on how flush you are feeling it can be either a cheap dinner that is bulked out with lots of beans or an opulent feast full of duck!

This recipe as with all recipes, is not a definative version, play around with it until it is to your liking. I'm a sucker for lots of garlic and smoky Toulouse sausage in mine, but it is just a case of personal taste. This recipe is a more everyday version without the duck in but, for 4 people half the amount pork and add one cooked duck leg per person.

This recipe is ideally cooked in an ovenproof casserole such as a Le Creuset but can be cooked on the top at a pinch.


Prep time: About 20 minutes
Cooking time: About 2 hours


For 4 people you will need:


One large onion, chopped roughly

4 large cloves of garlic, chopped roughly

2 bay leaves

4 Toulouse sausages, sliced into chunks about 1cm thick (www.wealdsmokery.co.uk do ace ones, but most supermarkets sell some sort of smoked garlic sausage which will work)

2 cans of haricot beans, drained and rinsed in fresh water

About 400g of pork fillet roughly diced

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

A splash of white wine

Half a tube of concentrated tomato paste


Method

1. Fry the chopped onion in a little olive oil until soft and slightly browned.

2. Add the garlic and fry until cooked.

3. Remove the onion and garlic and add a little more oil to the pan. Turn up the heat

4. Add the diced pork and seal the pork all over giving it a little colour.

5. Place the onions and garlic back in the pan and deglaze it with a good slug of white wine.

6. Add the Toulouse sausage, beans, tomatoes, tomato concentrate and bay leaves.

7. Get the mixture up to the boil and place in an oven at 180degC for about 2 hours.

8. Check it and give it a stir every half hour or so, if it looks a little dry add a splash more white wine.


This needs nothing more to be served with than a good bit of crusty French bread and a glass of white wine or your favorite beer (something like Budvar or any other Czech style lager is an awesome combo with pork cooked like this).

Friday, 27 February 2009

Good News for Kentish Food

Seems like i'm living in a good area for food!

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/foodandwineholidays/4539236/Restaurants-Culinary-paradise-found...in-East-Kent.html

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Beer Tasting

I am a keen real ale drinker not to worry though, although I have a beard I don't have beige cords, or an wool Arran jumper. I think it important that more young people start drinking real ale rather than the chemically, cold, mass produced fizzy shite on offer most places. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing more satifying than cracking open an ice cold lager beaded with condensation on a hot summer day, I just prefer ale.

Reading Mark Dredge's Pencil&Spoon beer blog has kicked my arse into action to do some beer tasting. I haven't done a tasting for you yet so I went out to the supermarket and got a nice selection of beers, along with a couple I had in my cupboard already. I tried to buy mainstream beers easily available to all with a slight bias to those brewed in the South East. Each beer is reated out of 5 stars

Hopefully it will give you an introduction to some beers you might like to try.


Sharps Doom Bar

Brewed in Cornwall, Doom bar pours with an amber colour and has an creamy coloured head that does not last long. In the glass it has a strong caramel/toffee smell with a fresh hoppy/grassy smell. It is creamy in the mouth with more toffee which is cut through by a punch of bitter hop which lingers in the mouth. At 4% it makes for a beer you could happily drink all night. ****


Hog's Back T.E.A. (Traditional English Ale)

Brewed on the South Downs in Surrey this beer has quite a dark colour for a T.E.A., it has a large creamy head that lasts. In the glass it is a little underwhelming, with hints of the hops and a slight burnt toasty smell. It is similar in the mouth, not much malt is present but there are plenty of hops present. A decent enough beer, just a little dull. ***


Shepherd Neame Spitfire

Brewed in Faversham in Kent, this beer pours a barely-sugar colour with an off-white head. In the glass it has strong vanilla and toffee malt notes and spice. it is quite big feeling in the mouth, but is slightly over carbonated in the bottle. It has fruit and a slight toasty note. A good beer better enjoyed on draught. ****

Goachers Shipwrecked

Brewed in Maidstone and only available on draught at the Shipwright's Arms at Hollow Shore (Speak nicely to Derek the landlord and he will let you take a 4 pint container home). The beer pours with a dark tan colour and has a thin white head. In the glass it is hoppy with a biscuity note. In the mouth it feels thin but smooth and refreshing, very little malt is present but there are plenty of dry hops making it my session beer of choice. *****

Innis and Gunn Oak Aged beer

Brewed in Edinborough and aged in oak barrels, this beer is a dark golden colour with a creamy white head. In the glass it has masses of different aromas: vanilla, toffee, and grassy hops. In the mouth this is even more obvious, a lovely buttery mouthfeel with huge punches of vanilla, toffee with plenty of sweetness cut through by the hops. A lovely innovative beer but at 6.6% you wouldn't want to drink much of it! ****

Otter Brewey Bright

Brewed in Devon, Otter Bright is a pale beer, with a golden colour and a very thin white head. In the glass there are floral notes along with with a hint of pear drops. In the mouth it is medium-bodied, very clean and smooth. It has crisp apple and sweet pear tastes and a gentle hoppiness with a slight citrussy finish. A nice light summery beer. ****

Have a go at a tasting yourself, why not get a few mates round with half a dozen beers and see what you all think. When it comes to deciding on what flavours are present I find this diagram really helpful:



Have some fun!

Monday, 2 February 2009

A recipe for you all!

Having stumbled on Pete Brown's Beer blog (http://petebrown.blogspot.com) It has stirred me into publishing a recipe in which beer is the key ingredient! So here we are:

Pete's Guinness Carbonade of Beef - Serves 4

Ingredients:

450g Braising Steak
Two large chopped onions
Two chopped cloves of garlic
250ml of Guinness
A beef stock cube
A Tablespoon of plain flour
A little olive oil

Method:

1. Chop the onions in half then chop into half ring shapes (it is important to get them all to roughly the same thickness so that they cook evenly). Add the onins to an ovenproof casserole and fry in a little olive oil until soft.

2. Remove the onions and turn up the heat. When the casserole is really hot, seal the cubed braising steak until the meat is brown all over. Don't worry if the pan catches a little on the bottom, this will all add to the flavour!

3. Return the onions to the casserole and add the garlic. Continue to fry for a couple of minutes. Be careful not to burn the garlic as it will turn bitter. Add the flour and stir thoroughly to break up any big lumps.

4. Boil a little water in the kettle and dissolve the stock cube. Add the stock and the Guinness to the casserole dish and bring to the boil.

5. When boiling put the lid on the casserole and place in a preheated oven at 170C for about 2 hours.

6. Check every half hour while cooking that there is enough liquid in the casserole. If not add a little more Guinness.

7. Serve with mashed potatoes, leeks and carrots.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Why organic food can’t feed the World

Recent studies have re-visited the idea that organic methods of agriculture would be sufficient to feed the world – but they are flawed because of their naïve views about agriculture in developing nations

A recent study, published in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems provides new data that suggests it can. However, I have some grave reservations about this. The authors of this study assume the major stumbling blocks to organic farming feeding the world are low crop yields and insufficient quantities of approved organic fertilisers. There are however, in my opinion other other hurdles that need to be dealt with first.


Green Revolution


Bangladesh is the size of England and Wales together, but with a of about 140 million people. It has achieved remarkable progress in its food productivity, even achieving self-sufficiency in flood-free years. The basis of the Green Revolution that saved South Asia was not organics, but the use of a dwarfing gene to stop rice and wheat collapsing when they flourished, coupled with chemical fertilisers and irrigation systems.

Despite the burgeoning population, the Green Revolution of the 1960s is continuing today in South Asia with an increase in the use of hybrid rice and maize, conservation agriculture, deep placement of nitrogen in rice paddies, and many other exciting, new technologies.


Heavy burden


So, why won't the use of pure organics work in developing countries like Bangladesh?

Most supporters of the idea that organic farming can feed the world, assume that organic manures are cheap and available to all – even the poor. But this isn't often the case. Cow dung in Bangladesh and almost all of South Asia is a valuable commodity. It is collected largely by women and children and used as fuel. It's found in nearly every house, dried and formed into patties, to be sold or burned for cooking.

Straw is another organic source of nutrients, but that's not always available either. Rice and wheat straw is collected from the fields, and used for cattle feed or thatching for roofs. Even the stubble is used, which the poorest use for fuel.

The authors of the study mentioned above, led by researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, have rightly assumed that organics can supply sufficient nutrients for plant growth. However, the quantities of organics required to sustain such productive growth makes it very difficult for the poor to handle. Organics whether farmyard manure, compost, or cow dung, contain moisture and are heavy and difficult to carry from the homestead to the fields by the growers.

For example, to produce a six-tonne rice crop in the peak season requires 100 kg of nitrogen. Because of monsoons and the fact that several metres of rainfall drains through the soil every three months, the amount of nitrogen it carries is low. Assuming good quality manure was used, there would be about 0.6 per cent nitrogen in the material; thus, requiring 17 tonnes per hectare to produce a six-tonne rice yield.

Can you imagine carrying 17 tonnes of manure, in repeated 50 kilogram loads, in a basket on your head? The lack of machinery to carry that material and the labour required to apply it, compounds the challenge.Plus, there just simply isn't enough manure, or even plant biomass, available to apply 17 tonnes per hectare, for even a single annual rice crop across the whole of Bangladesh. That's enough of a problem, but when you consider there are actually two rice crops a year, the full scale of the problem becomes apparent!


Green manure


In answer to some of these problems, the new study proposes the use of a leguminous 'green manure' crop. These pulse crops fix nitrogen into the soil from the air through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in their roots. They provide enough nitrogen for their own growth and more, and when ploughed under provide nitrogen for a subsequent crop too.

However for such a crop to be used in Bangladesh, it would have to take the place of a food crop, effectively halving the amount of food the land can provide. The cropping intensity in many developed countries is well over two crops per year, as many as four to five crops per year in places that are elevated and flood-free are feasible.

Besides substituting for a food crop, green manure crops would also require cutting and ploughing under the soil. While ploughing technology has increased dramatically in the last decade in many developed countries, it is mostly the two-wheel tractors or roto-tiller types; thus making it a significant challenge to plough down any high-biomass green manure or crop residues into the soil.

Some propose a greater use of leguminous food crops to supply nitrogen for the proceeding cereal crop and where possible, growers would love to expand pulses. However, in South Asia, while the national pulse yields appear stable, switching to more of these crops is quite risky for individual farmers due to unseasonable rainfall, diseases, and poor growing environments.


Faced with a choice


So, to make compost effectively, one has to have surplus plant biomass and cow dung. For the poor who have limited land and animals, this is quite difficult.

Surveys conducted in Bangladesh clearly show that growers that do have the ability to add organics to their land are those who are richer, have larger land holdings and own animals. The poor have to rely on purchased fertilisers, whether organic or chemical. When faced with a choice based on labour and expense, the poor choose the non-organic fertilisers.

Another recent study, published in Nature, revealed clearly what plant scientists have known for years — that plants take up some 20+ elements from the soil — whether it is from decomposing organics or chemical fertilisers. That study showed there was absolutely no difference in the biochemical make up of the plants grown in pure organics compared to fertilisers.

Can organic agriculture feed the world? No, but most growers understand that it benefits the soil, and as such its use is is advocated as much as is possible. Unfortunately, for Bangladesh, and many developing countries, those possibilities are diminishing yearly as organics become less and less available and affordable.