Monday, 20 October 2014

Christmas at Alder Carr Farm: Dates for your diary

There's a festive feel in the air at Alder Carr Farm. 

Christmas is a time where we have to plan ahead, anticipating what our customers want but also being on the pulse when it comes to knowing what great artisan products are a must-buy for our homes and kitchens.  Certainly, the months of November and December are amongst the busiest and most exciting we have and as you'll know, there's a fantastic atmosphere throughout the Farm, in the Shop, the Barn Cafe and the artisan craft shops on site.

The first date for your diary is the 'Turkey Taster' on Friday 14th and Saturday 15th November where you can get 10% off your bird if ordered on either day.  Once again, we're stocking 'Great Grove' woodland turkeys, a family -run farm where, after being delivered from the hatchery in May or June, birds are free to roam around 35 acres of wood and grassland. Using an aged old method of farming, Great Grove Farm allow the birds plenty of time to grow to maturity which gives a far superior quality bird with natural gamey flavours. 

This year and following popular demand, we've also brought back our Christmas shopping event, with craft stalls, Christmas goodies tastings and its rumoured Father Christmas will also be making an appearance. Do come along on Saturday 6th December if you can make it, to stock up on Christmas presents, (food, drink or craft) and 'try before you buy' biscuits, mini Christmas cakes and more.

 We're also going to be running a series of festive food tastings in the Farm Shop during December.  All the suppliers (including ourselves) are award-winning artisan producers. The schedule so far is:

29th November; Alder Tree Fruit ice-creams (Christmas and Top 50 UK Food, Gooseberry & Limoncello).
6th December: Farmhouse Cooking (mince-pies, mini Christmas cakes, biscuits) from Wickham Market and Cottage Delight (gourmet jams, chutneys, preserves and more) are coming all the way from Leek, Staffordshire;
12th December: Hellhound Brewery, the craft beer and cider makers from Hadleigh and Sloe Motion, Hedgerow Fruit Liqueurs including Sloe and Damson gin;
17th December:  Rowcliffe's artisan cheeses (some of the best suppliers in 'world cheeses') and;
20th December: Alder Tree ice-creams

If you're wondering what to stock up with this Christmas, these are a great way of trying before you buy, as well as finding out more about their provenance.

And, from the end of November, we'll be stocking locally-grown Christmas trees, both the 'traditional' Norway Spruce, famed for its aroma and shape and the Nordman Fir (see pic above), which holds its needles for a long time and is becoming an increasingly popular tree choice. Trees on offer will be both cut and potted.

We do hope you'll be able to make at least one of our events, we do try very hard to make Christmas extra special for all our much valued customers. On behalf of us all, Happy Christmas, and thanks for your wonderful support throughout the year.  We couldn't do it without you!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness

As sad as it is to see the passing of summer - and oh, what a summer it's been!, autumn is one of our favourite times on the farm.

After the buzz of pick your own, when the fields have been busy with people popping strawberries, raspberries, blackberries , tayberries and currants into their baskets, September and October are a time when we literally reap the fruits of our labour and harvest the crops that have been ripening in the long, summer sun.

We've more pumpkin and squash than ever before, not just in volume, but varieties, too. Starting in early September, with gem and onion squash, and appearing at various stages throughout the autumn weeks depending on ripening, you'll see a whole host of colours, from orange, green and blue) and pumpkin sizes (handful to armful ) both inside the shop and on the trailer display outside it. Turks Turban, Crown prince, Sunspot, Standard, Racer, Mars, Atlantic Giant and an really unusual one called 'Snowman' (no prizes for guessing the colour of that one). Gone are the days when pumpkins were just for Halloween carving; in the last few years, their popularity as a hearty, autumn dish, roasted, stuffed, mashed, souped, has soared.

September also heralds the start of apple season. Why anyone would prefer to buy supermarket apples from New Zealand is beyond us. It's not just the food miles that are important - the nearer they are to point of sale, the better they'll be, but why wouldn't you support local, Suffolk growers? English apples are, like asparagus, what we do best. Crisp, delicious and coming in as many varieties as you can imagine, whether you prefer eaters or cookers, we've something to tempt. This year, we've six early varieties, many of which can keep for a couple of months providing they're well stored.  Elstar, James Grieve, Worcester Pearmain, Laxton's Fortune, Charles Ross and Early Windsor, all are grown just a few miles from the farm in Mid Suffolk. As the months progress, we'll have plenty more varieties to choose from, too.

You'll also notice as you enter the farm that the maize is growing by the second. Although we're already stocking home-grown sweetcorn cobs in the shop, the human-height maize you see will be one of attractions during our annual Pumpkin Patch event, held during October half term from Tuesday 28th October - Saturday 1st November. It's going to be our first Maize Maze, but depending on how popular it is, may well become an Alder Carr Farm autumn tradition.

So, as we say 'sayonara' to Summer and 'aloha' to Autumn, thanks to everyone who made Pick Your Own a huge success - your support, then and now, is always appreciated.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

It's a family affair: Alder Carr Farm's newest and 'Gold' award-winning entrepreneur

As you know, Alder Carr Farm is very much a family affair, having been founded by Joan and Nick Hardingham back in 1981. Since then, the farm and farm shop have gone from strength to strength, with Ellie Sheldrake, (Joan and Nick's daughter) now running the farm with her husband, Barry, whilst Stephany Hardingham (also Joan and Nick's daughter) has also won multiple awards for her Alder Tree ice-cream.

Read on to find out why Amy, Ellie and Stephany's sister, is the latest family entrepreneur winning national recognition. 

We're delighted to announce that Amy Hardingham has just scooped the 'Gold' award for her sustainable charcoal 'Barbecube' product at the Ixion Enterprise Awards 2014.

The annual awards celebrate the achievements of more than 5,000 businesses across East Anglia, Essex and South London.

Barbecube, a locally-grown instant lighting charcoal, was only launched in September last year but in just ten months has now been made available in over 140 stores across the UK including Alder Carr Farm and East of England Co-op stores throughout East Anglia.

On being presented the 'Enterpirse of the Year and Gold for Innovation' title  by Employment Minister,  Esther McVey at Central Hall Westminster, Amy, the brainchild behind the product said, "It's fantastic news and great to see people really getting behind the idea of using British charcoal.

"Up until now, if you wanted to have a barbecue your only option was to buy imported charcoal soaked in lighter fuel. These commonly contain material from rainforests and have been transported half way round the world, "said Amy. "I wanted to change this."

The Barbecube's innovative packaging serves as fuel for lighting the charcoal so there's no waste packing to throw away, whilst the charcoal contains no chemical additives and no material from rainforests. It's quick, too, with the charcoal being ready to cook on

after just fifteen minutes from lighting.

"People are used to thinking about where their food comes from but they don't extend this to the fuel they use for their barbecue. Charcoal production is a major global driver of deforestation. Buying British charcoal not only protects forests overseas but helps to support Britain's woodland economy and wildlife," says Amy.

The wood used for the Barbecube is grown on land at Alder Carr Farm.

Well done, Amy. We're so proud of you!!!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Strawberries behaving badly and why some things are worth the wait...

2014 has been a record breaking year. Our asparagus was ready earlier than ever before, as were our first crop of strawberries.  We're not complaining: after last year's washout spring, watching our veg and fruit ripen and be ready to harvest so early has been wonderful, allowing our customers to enjoy the 'fruits of our labour' for a longer period than ever.

However, like an athlete that's peaked too early,  this fabulous spring has meant that at a time when strawberries should be at their picking peak, a time when the main crop and later summer crop usually segue seamlessly into each other, there's now a breathing gap as we can only wait for our summer crop to ripen in the mid-summer sun. We admit, having a slight hiatus between our main crop of strawberries and the summer crop has never really happened before; late June is usually the time when you can't move for the juicy, plump berries, usually at their very best around the Strawberry Fayre.  Believe us when we say that it's as frustrating for us as for our customers, but as farmers we are always at the whim of the weather; if it's not too wet, then it's too dry, too cold or this year, too sunny. So, it's not really a case of strawberries behaving badly, rather weather behaving oddly.

We're consoling ourselves with the fact that unlike the England team's early departure in this year's World Cup, this isn't total knockout, more like waiting on the bench to re-group. And, when the strawberries ARE ready in mid July, they'll last throughout the summer holidays, good news for all those parents who've told us their kids love wandering through the aisles of fruit with their punnets.

With every cloud, though, there's silver lining.  Our tayberries are ready now, again, earlier than ever before and there are loads of them. If you've never tried them, they're a cross between blackberries and raspberries, deliciously plump and named after the river Tay, in Scotland (Scotland being the place where they were first developed in 1979).  They make wonderful jam, are a unusual and eye-catching topping when popped on a pavlova and our fave, tayberry fool!

The warm weather also means that our raspberry crop is starting now.

We'd like to thank ALL of you who have been so patient and given us your support. We couldn't do this without you! 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Gluten-free range is 'Glorious Fodder' at Alder Carr Farm

For most of us, the hardest food decision we have to make each day is deciding between whether we have pasta or pizza for dinner.  

For the one in every 100 people who suffer from Coeliac disease, however, food choices are a whole lot harder.

With wheat, barley, rye and, for about 5% of people, oats off the menu, following a gluten-free diet can be not just tough, but a potential menu minefield.

This week is Coeliac Awareness Week.  Coeliac disease is an auto-immune system reaction which means that if gluten is ingested, the lining of the small intestine is damaged.  Symptoms can range from bloating, diarrhoea, nausea - even vomiting - as well as anaemia, persistent tiredness and neurological problems.

The only treatment is following a gluten-free diet. It may sound easy in principle, but with many processed foods including at least one of the food no-no's, as a thickener or flavour carrier, being able to be truly gluten free can be difficult and frustrating in practice.

That's the bad news. The good news is, with increased awareness of the condition, there are more and more products available that are truly 'gluten free'.

We're delighted to say that, as of this week, we now have a 'Gluten Free' range of foods in the farm shop. What's even better news is that this range is Suffolk born and bred.

"Glorious Fodder' is the newly launched line by Ipswich-based husband and wife team, Dan and Claire Holland. Using locally-sourced, seasonal produce, everything they make is free from preservatives, artificial flavours and colours.

Come on in and try them for yourselves - rich chocolate brownie, anyone?

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Why Alder Carr Farm asparagus is breaking records this year

Ask a chef or foodie what their favourite vegetable is and you can almost guarantee the answer: asparagus.

" I look forward to asparagus like my kids look forward to Christmas," says Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; " I positively yearn for the first spears to charge up through to the soil...It's annual arrival is a treat,' comments Valentine Warner; '“One of those great British ingredients worth waiting for is English asparagus," agrees Mark Hix.

So revered is this quintessentially British ingredient that as a nation, we export none of it, keeping all the delicious, quivering spears for ourselves.  And who can blame us?

This year, we've got even more to be excited about. Traditionally, the British asparagus season runs from April 23rd to 21st June. However, although we usually harvest in late April, even early May following exceptionally cold winters, this year has been a record breaker with our first crop being picked on April 10th and being sold in the farm shop literally an hour or two afterwards. That's a fortnight earlier than usual!

Part of this 'asparagus adoration' is because of what it symbolises, for many, being the seasonal game changer, the first crop of spring vegetables heralding the arrival of warmer weather.  For others, it's because of its ephemeral nature; not only do first crops take three years of patience before they can be harvested (seed to serving), but the season is so short. Two months and it's all over. The message is: 'enjoy it while you can'.

There are also many, many health benefits associated with this verdant vegetable: packed with Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Folic acid, iron and rutin, it's disease busting, reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, boosting the immune system and, ahem, the libido.

For others - and as farmers we have to agree - it's the fact that the ingredient has to be so fresh to be appreciated, the quicker the time between harvest and hotplate the better. Former chef and considered by many to be the best cookery writers working today, Simon Hopkinson, puts it better than we could, saying, "I believe that English asparagus spears taste so good not simply because they are 'English, but because they are harvested and transported to the shops as quickly as possible...freshness is all."

But for most, it's quite simply the sheer nutty deliciousness of a tender, lightly cooked stem. Roasted, steamed, pan-fried, it doesn't matter, but who can resist the draw of a spear dripping with butter, or a softly boiled egg - hollandaise, if you're really pushing the boat out. One of our favourites, though, is pan-fried in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and draped in parmesan shavings.

If you want to experience (record-breaking) asparagus at its freshest, farm -picked best, visit the farm shop now, but hurry. There's just over a month left before all we can do is wait for another ten months for the cycle to start all over again.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Spring has sprung: a marvellous March at Alder Carr Farm

What a difference a year makes!

The blossom is coming out, the daffodils are in full bloom and for the most part, it's been a gorgeous March!  Hard to believe that about this time last year, we were ankle deep in snow and that the month was the second coldest for over a century.

As farmers, we are very much at the whim of the weather but already, forecasters are predicting another record - this time, for the hottest summer ever. Our gut instinct (and who can blame us?) is, 'we'll believe it when we see it!', but the signs are that we're already on track for a bumper year.  Our strawberries have been planted and not only are we anticipating the earliest harvest ever, but also the biggest, having planted double the amount of crops this year. And, if the sunny weather we're currently experiencing continues, our asparagus crop may be ready even before the end of April.

One of the loveliest aspects to this time of the year is 'anticipation'; putting the hard work in now to enjoy the fruits of labour in the coming months. With that in mind, we're expanding our gardening range in the Farm Shop to include Fothergill's vegetable seeds and plant and flower seeds from expert horticulturalist, (not to mention author and presenter) Sarah Raven.  She, too, is a big fan of this time of year, saying, "at last, you can get going on your veg - begin sowing your fruiting half-hardy veg under cover, as well as perennials and potatoes." For flowers, she also recommends starting sowing half-hardy annuals now, one the threat of frost has disappeared.

You'll also have noticed that we've expanded our range of potted plants, cut flowers and, in time for Mother's Day, flower baskets.

In the week of the vernal equinox and with the clocks to go forward this coming weekend, Spring has most definitely sprung!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Calling all crafters! Halfpenny Home opens at Alder Carr Farm

Visitors to the farm shop will have noticed a new addition to the Alder Carr Farm 'family'.

 Since opening in early February, Nicola Gouldsmith, author, master -crafter and new occupant of the Dovecote barn, now 'Halfpenny Home' , has transformed the black barn into what must be one of the most gorgeous and atmospheric boutique haberdashery's in the county. Seriously, it's lovely!

Step inside (the shop is open between Tuesdays and Sundays, 10 am - 4pm)  and it's bursting with colour: ribbons, wools and twine, fleece, buttons and more. Even if you don't have a crafty bone in your body (although with the popularity of programmes like the Great British Sewing Bee, now in its second series,  it seems that craft is having 'a moment'), you can't fail to be inspired.

Nicola describes moving to the Farm as, 'a dream come true' and has already built up a loyal following of customers, not just because of the gorgeous things she sells, but also because of the workshops she runs.

Held between 11 am and 3pm most weekends, the workshops take place in the upstairs of her shop focussing on everything from crochet, needle felting, soap making, wet and dry felting and more. All weekend workshops cost £35 per person  and bookings are essential, call (01449) 721123 to reserve your place.

There's also a regular slot  on the first Friday of every month for the wonderfully titled, 'Jenny's Needle Felting Ninja's', held by Jenny Tidman. The sessions cost £10, and are held between 10am - 4pm, but booking is 'strongly recommended'. Tea, coffee and cake are provided, along with a whole heap of encouragement.

For more information, Nicola also has an equally delightful and inspirational website and blog. Visit

On behalf of all of us at Alder Carr Farm, welcome, Nicola. We hope that you and your business will continue to thrive.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Winter on the farm

Winter on the farm is typically the quietest time of year and traditionally it is used as a time to take stock of the year and to undertake many of the maintenance jobs which have been building up over the summer. With all the livestock on the farm we have a lot of fences which need attention so and the tractors need some TLC too. We are fattening up the last of 2013's lambs, having brought them inside to keep them warm.