Tagged Shaking the Tree

Fabulously fruitful fine food fair

We are home again in Catalunya, tired but so pleased with the contacts made during our three days at the Speciality Fine Food Fair, Olympia, London.

More and more people are taking a fresh look at olive oil!With the help of Tina from Priorat Provenance in Yorkshire, and Tamsin and Andy from Offshoot in Cornwall, we built on our top 3 Gold Stars Great Taste Award by linking up with a host of leading delis and chefs from all over the United Kingdom who want bulk fresh olive oil.As the orders come in we will keep you posted on where you can buy our arbequina oil and we will continue to add to our list of top chefs for whom it is an essential ingredient.

Today we can announce our latest customer is Alex Rushmer, runner up in Masterchef 2010. His restaurant is the hugely popular Hole In The Wall at Little Wilbraham between Cambridge and Newmarket – see www.justcookit.co.uk.

Are you a chef or deli looking for something different, something wonderful for your customers? Just drop us a line and we will explain how you can get the very best for as little as £7 a litre.

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Beauty takes the sting out of summer

Our kitchen sink window frames a scene of distant England as June sunshine pours dreamy first light through the plum and hazel leaves.

A watering can stands unevenly in the rough grass between the rhubarb and the dome of lavender that marks the resting place of our Norfolk-born springer spaniels, who ended their days scenting a different land. Poppies run in a ragged, enchanting picture from my Holt Ridge childhood along the edge of our potato patch, from our plastic North Norfolk District Council compost bins to the ballooning walnut tree. The poppy petals are now losing their lustre with the onset of the wilting season, but the eye turns easily to the life in the runner bean blooms that spiral up two wigwams of cane, and to the immeasurable depth of the pink, cerise and maroon roses.

Runner beans in withering heat? Only copious amounts of water dawn and dusk, both to the roots and on the flowers, have brought us to this beauty. Only time will tell if the beans brought from my mother-in-law’s mid-Norfolk garden of plenty will defy the fiery odds.

And amid the green of the potato tops you might spy a spasmodic spray of dirt as our terriers dig for frogs.
While England gasped for spring rain we ran through countless storms and stood at the window and watched mountains vanish in the density of downpours. The reservoir is full and fresh enough for swimming because our spring is running at a rate we have not seen in years. So I have corrected a failing and watered for all my worth, hence the amphibian residents among the spuds and the disastrous consequence of the hounds burrowing in the worst possible place.
But for the irony of the water it could be Norfolk. Only this Mother’s Garden scene has the faintest cast of grey – the effect of the fine net stretched across the window that keeps at bay some less savoury aspects of this enchanting world.

A month ago I received an email from a disconsolate reader of my candid chronicle No Going Back – Journey To Mother’s Garden (which, staggeringly, is still in print after eight years, just). He said he was going to cancel his camping holiday in Catalonia on account of my blood-curdling encounters with creepy crawlies, reptiles and assorted rodents.

Hang on a minute, I countered, these are experiences spanning years and are all set in, I might add, a particularly wild and furry place. I don’t think I ever mentioned the black widow spider or the stinkbug beetle. “Just pack a non-toxic insect repellent, watch where you are walking and savour the wonders”.
I never heard from him again, and am beginning to worry I might be stifling the urge in some of you to get close to Iberian nature. I sincerely hope not.  We humans are invariably the problem, not the other residents. Which reminds me: Anyone remotely interested in life beyond the costas should check out one of my favourite websites, www.iberianature.com – rich in knowledge and guidance.

But, yes, the biters are out in the twilight, some even during the thumping heat of the day.

There are constant reasons to be in the great outdoors – noisy, jumbo, gentle carpenter bees working the flower spikes of bear’s breeches, a buzzard riding the sky, the glimpse of a yellow-beaked Alpine chough, hollyhocks trumpeting the summer – but June is alive with newly hatched winged critters that want blood, hence we regularly slap our bare legs like dancers in leather shorts from Bavaria.
Maybe it is all the garlic I consume, or the toughness of hide, but for some reason they tend to spare me the intolerable pain and swelling inflicted on others, although my ankles itch as I write. What is far worse is the heaviness of heart.
There has been great sadness in the wake of shock. Our young pony, La Remoli, who came to live with us when she was just a few days old, died the day before her fifth birthday. In the delicate days that followed (and roll on) we have asked ourselves all the obvious questions, and have been comforted by the vets who tended her. A week earlier she had somehow pulled a tendon in her knee, her first illness of any description. She rallied, then was lame again, but it was not deemed a life-threatening condition. Then she was gone.

All of which, beyond the emptiness, leaves us with the dilemma of La Petita, her mother.

She paced and called into the night, so we put the word out that we can offer a home to a pony in need of one. That was four weeks ago.
La Petita has settled remarkably quickly – she spent her young life alone in fairly grim circumstances – but she must be grieving. We spend as much time with her as we can, tethering her close when we are working on the land, grooming and talking to her, while the hunt for a companion goes on, with the support of knowledgeable friends and the vets.
Hand on heart I am loathed to rush into yet more responsibility, although there are two reasons why we probably will.  Horses and ponies are herd animals, social creatures, and La Petita should not be alone. Nor is parting with her an option. The old girl is weaved into the Mother’s Garden story and our hearts and lives, and as our equestrian contacts advise, she has been so happy here.   Some people have suggested that getting a goat or donkey might work, but the other matter we must balance is the yearning of our children. Joe Joe and Ella both want to ride, and already we know of heart-breaking rescue centres full of animals in need of freedom.
That would mean a horse rather a pony, so again I walk the land, gazing the earth, a muddle of ponderings and emotions. I promise to let you know what transpires.

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New book and fresh olive oil tour + video

In wishing you all a cuddly, cherry-topped Happy New Year we offer the following – a parcel of ribbon-tied happy thoughts that may help to keep us all afloat in this year to come.
And in case you think I’m a bit late, we always think the bleak end of January is a good time to send smiles.
We send too you a link to the You Tube video Ella made of our recent new book and new harvest olive oil tour – click here.
We wish for everyone the fully-inflated rubber ring of humour, and in doing so remind ourselves how vital it has been here on the farm with all its hues, heavy burdens and common aches that are the consequence of the tap-dance of modern life.
As with the magnificent mirth-inducing musical raspberries that my 90-year-old father blows at anyone who has had their ready smile wiped from their hard-drive (or has had a common courtesy bypass operation) we have ways to dissolve the accumulatively seriousness of existence into a fit of the giggles.
Check out the new pictures on our gallery. The following stars of 2010 feature.
Wandering minstrels Michael Hatherly and son Jacob (they had just wandered up the track from the holiday cottage) tweaked the cord of merriment back in August with a guitar, tiny drum and precious little. Michael is my oldest friend. Jacob is my delightful godson. Their friendship is something to behold, unbelievably precious to share.
Then there was the sensation when Elvis rolled up to join the olive harvest. Words fail me.
With us for some almond bagging frivolity were Sophie and Steve from Brisbane Down Under, stopping off at Mother’s Garden for five weeks at the end of their European tour.
They have been rays of light, and stayed with our friend Annie to hold the fort, feed the ponies and keep the home fires burning while we whizzed around England during the first two weeks of December. As we trundled down the track 6ft tall Steve skipped alongside us adorning the hire truck with flower petals.
Yes, we ventured north during the bitterly cold, snowy first two weeks of December. Brrrrr.
We clocked 4999 kilometres and 10 book and olive oil events in 12 days – meeting hundreds of lovely people who ventured out to see us despite the deep bleakness of early winter.
Despite the onset of foul colds, snow storms coming in horizontally off the sea in -17 Scarborough and ice on the inside of our otherwise reliable Fiat truck, despite pulling my back lugging olive oil boxes hither and thither, we got round, signing a very significant number of books, delivering new harvest olive oil and, generally, giving the tree of life a damned good shake.
Maybe you heard me making a fool of myself on Radio York and Radio Norfolk. (I was breaking some teeth in for a friend). They allowed me to rattle on for an inordinately long time as we talked about this life, my new book Shaking The Tree and why people might want to dwell on the thought of moving abroad.
We had taken Ella and Joe Joe out of school because we wouldn’t dream of leaving them behind and, well, the trip would be an education (in meteorology as it turned out).  They also got to see Windsor Castle, Delia Smith, Stephen Fry and Norwich City lose 0-2 to Portsmouth.
Delia’s Canary Catering chefs have been using our olive oil for years now, and she’d invited us to visit Carrow Road to watch a game. So there I and the children sat, not sure at first if singing and shouting was acceptable behaviour in the directors’ box. But I let rip anyway after a few minutes, genuinely oblivious to the fact that Stephen Fry, seated directly in front of me, was filming some sort of documentary.
Poor chap. I forced a copy of my English novel Moon Daisy on him. It had been 35 years since we’d last spoken (our paths crossed as teenagers) and he was utterly charming, but I’m not entirely convinced he remembered me.
We have, needless to say, returned with more than we left with, not least heads and hearts brimming with happy memories of eyes-closed bear embraces, beaming faces and the certainty that the vast majority of people are utterly gorgeous.
Keep warm, keep well.
Sending all good thoughts from Mother’s Garden for the year we will all share. Be happy. And a present of raspberries to those who refuse…

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Kingfishers and moon mysteries

December 23. Cotton wool clouds fill the valleys and we cannot see beyond the oaks to the east of the vineyard. This blanket has staved off the frost and weighed what leaves that linger with drops of water.

The promise is clear skies for Christmas Day, with high winds from the south west.
Mother’s Garden is sheltered by a limestone ridge and the conical mountain that is named La Miloquera after a long extinct bird and once dwelled upon it. You can see it in the picture above.
But when the wind comes from the south west it shakes everything, funnelled along the valley and east to Roman Tarragona and the ancient sea.
Recent wonders have been the iridescent feathers of a monarch and a great mystery of the moon.
First there came the kingfisher, sitting on a curled finger of the fig tree, just six feet from the study window and two feet above the old wash pool where up to twenty goldfish hide in the depths.  He or she cast that majestic colour twice in one day, and we wait for a further flash of blue and beauty in the corner of our eyes.
Then, late that evening, Maggie called us out into the full moon glow.  Look, she said, and I followed her gaze into the heavens. I didn’t notice at first, then my jaw dropped. Have you ever, on a clear full-moon night, seen a vast perfect ring of light fill half the sky, a celestial halo for earth’s satellite?
This, we discovered, is caused by moonlight being refracted by ice crystals in the upper atmosphere, and that folklore has it as a portent of bad weather.
Christmas Eve.  The temperature is dropping fast, encouraged by gales that have cleared much of the sky and polished the air.
The Spanish electricity board has sucked vital funds out of our account and so I have had to nip to town to catch the deputy bank manager’s eye.  Xavi is a good man who eased my money worries with tales of his childhood in the Terra Alta, the highlands to the south of us.
This morning the children have read to us from the Spanish novels that hold their eyes and minds, and this afternoon we will make mince pies to take as friendship gifts to our neighbours. With no television we will seek to contemplate, to share, to talk, to read and to celebrate family.
For all of you too far away we send love and peaceful thoughts for Christmas.
Hugs and good wishes to everyone who follows this blog, reads my books, buys our olive oil or has made their way to Mother’s Garden over the years.
Ella has just posted a little video of our book and olive oil tour to England. Enjoy.
Click here

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Bumper olive oil sales – and another top chef

These are hopeful times at Mother’s Garden, despite the bills and bite of winter.
We send Christmas greetings and happy blue sky thoughts to all our family, friends and customers for the year ahead.
When we decided to drive back to launch the new book about this life, Shaking The Tree, we decided to take about 30o litres of olive oil as a promotion and to widen the interest, hopefully.

Well, four weeks after we set off we can report that such have been the orders that we have now shipped and sold 900 litres – a Mother’s Garden record. There lies the hope, along with the fact that more and more people now understand and appreciate the difference of fresh premium arbequina olive oil.
We will take a break for a few days now, walk the land and try and rest. Meanwhile our thoughts drift ahead to January and the need to bottle and ship more new harvest olive oil, for the orders are already coming in. Please email us or get in touch via the website if you would like to try some fresh Mother’s Garden premium cold pressed olive oil or need a top up after the festivities.

And we can tell you today that , along with Delia Smith‘s Canary Catering, and the leading East Anglian chefs Shaun Creasey (Butlers of Holt), Vanessa Scott (Strattons Hotel, Swaffham), Ali Yetman (Wiveton Hall Cafe), Marguerite Akister (Virgin Money restaurant) and Sophie Dorber (The Anchor, Walberswick),  we are equally proud to announce Mother’s Garden olive oil is now used by master chef Chris Coubrough, of the Flying Kiwi Inns (The King’s Head, Letheringsett; The Crown Inn, East Rudham; The Ship Hotel, Brancaster; The Crown Hotel, Wells-next-the-sea; The White Hart Hotel, Hingham). Here are the links.


Customers can also buy our olive oil in draft now from the following outlets – Jarrolds Deli, Norwich; Back To The Garden, Letheringsett, near Holt, Norfolk; The Park Cafe, Bawdeswell, just off the A1067, Norfolk; Dolly’s Country Larder, Cottingham, near Beverley, Yorkshire.
500ml bottles are also available from Groveland Farm Shop, Roughton, Norfolk; Picnic Fayre at Cley, Norfolk; The Green Parrot, Swaffham, Norfolk; Bean Bag Natural Health, Witney, Oxfordshire.

Why not join our “hub” cooperative, where ore and more people are sharing deliveries  – click here – saving on price, cutting transport impact and knowing the oil is coming direct from the mill to their kitchens as fresh as you will ever taste.

This, of course, is in addition to our online shop, where you can buy smaller quantities individually, direct from us.  By all means keep in touch, book your oil for January, and tell us what you think of the new book.

PS And if you know a quality chef in the UK or Europe who might like to sample our olive oil, please let us know.

Home again after 4999km

Mother’s Garden is strangely peaceful. Devoid of breeze and cloud, our first day home glides, no drifts, like a hot air balloon buoyed by relief that we achieved all that we set ourselves, safely and with such encouragement.
I am floating above tiredness. The night frosts coat the ground with sweet silver and I keep standing and staring.
Being motionless is a novelty.
In a tail-chasing fortnight from 10am, Wednesday December 1, we clocked 4999 kilometres, presented Shaking The Tree and fresh olive oil to hundreds of lovely people and endured a lesson in meteorology.
How naive of me to assume that early December would be placid. How nuts of me to set such a punishing agenda that would see us plough through the snow from Kent to Oxfordshire, north to Scarborough and York, then down to Norfolk, before trundling once again on to a Dover ferry.
The enormity of France is well-documented and it shouldn’t be rushed. Yet I keep doing it.
I will not bore you with the teeth-chattering consequences, but just want to thank all those who ventured into the ice air to see us. It was so humbling, and despite the inevitable impact of such an early onset of winter, we feel the trip was of immeasurable worth and an unforgettable pleasure.
Almost every drop of fresh olive oil has been sold – so already we are looking to January. If you would like to order oil in advance (perhaps with a copy of the book and/or an embroidered apron), please get in touch.
I will post photographs too, if I can find my camera …..
Keep well and warm.