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I had been hoping for some follow-up from the ‘meeeja’ after The Independent wrote a very positive review of my little book ‘Crushed, My NHS Summer’.

The following simple email appeared in my inbox.

‘Dear Jan,
I wonder if you might consider doing an interview on ‘Saturday Live’, Radio 4’s weekly magazine programme broadcast on Saturday mornings,
kind regards,…’

I didn’t want to gush too much about how much I admired The Reverend Richard Coles for his gentle wit, Sian Williams for being, well, for being, both brilliant and gorgeous, there! I’ve said it… and Corrie Corfield for having one of the most sensuous voices on the planet, as well as being an accomplished Ipad daubette. J.P. Devlin’s voice carries the memories of my Irish influenced childhood. I first became hooked on Saturday Live in the days of Fi Glover, her unique quirkiness made me smile so much. Put simply, it is a truly great programme.

I was even more thrilled that my presence was actually required, live, in the studio. I have done a few radio interviews over the years, mainly BBC Radio Leicester with Ben Jackson, Tony Wadsworth, Jonathon Lampon, and Damien St John. I have done a fair bit of telly with my friend Clarissa Dickson Wright, Great British Food Revival on BBC2, and more recently Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner on BBC4. In 2001 I filmed a Foot & Mouth special with Tony Francis and before that had huge fun working with Aaron Patterson of Hambleton Hall on both series of Wild About Food. But, Radio 4 has a special place in my heart as it saved my business back in 1998 with its ‘On Your Farm’ broadcast with Oliver Walston. Six months or so after having started Northfield Farm Shop, following my redundancy from banking, and before the existence of the re-born Borough and Broadway Markets in London, the business was just not reaching enough customers. That Radio 4 broadcast, early one Sunday morning, had customers beating a path to our door within a couple of hours. Many of those customers are still with us today all these years later.

On the Saturday morning, December 2012, I walked the short distance from a nearby hotel to the bright new BBC Broadcasting House, and was redirected to the original building next door. Rookie error at the time. Already waiting in the reception area was Emma Kennedy, unknown to me then, but, I soon discovered, a superwoman for modern times. Emma writes, acts, amuses, entertains, tweets and is addicted to BBC 4’s ‘The Killing’. In fact, so addicted, that she has taken on the self-appointed role of official stalker to the series’ star character, Sarah Lund and written ‘The Killing Handbook’. As if that were not enough, she dropped into Masterchef in 2012, and won. Emma and I were quickly shown upstairs to meet Chris Wilson, the executive producer and shown into the studio where I was introduced to the two presenters. They, Richard and Sian, are really just as I had anticipated and have described above. The four of us sat in a slightly gloomy, but very atmospheric room, gathered around an octagonal desk kitted out with screens, microphones and headphones. My back was turned to a large plate glass window behind which the production team sat and weaved its magic. This was the BBC at its sparse best, think the retro newsroom feel of ‘The Hour’ , late and lamented, on BBC2, without the fishnet stockings, cigarettes or Single Malt. Some of the lights appeared to be held together with sticky tape and post it notes, definitely no over-spend here. The room exuded what the programme achieves namely, relaxed, refreshingly old-fashioned professionalism.

Listening again to the broadcast, I realise that I failed miserably at answering Sian William’s questions. I seem to be a master at answering part of the question and then rambling away in my own direction. I hope she forgave me.

It really was huge fun to have become even a tiny part of the history of this great show.

You can listen to it here about 18 minutes in: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p027s

You can buy the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1908684194/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

Available in Paperback or Ebook form

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Producer profiles

I wrote this article as pasrt of a series of producer profiles for Great Food Magazine. Photos are by its editor, Matt Wright

The story of Rutland’s famous miller

Published May 28, 2012

By Jan McCourt

Fifty years ago, a boy climbed onto the back of a pony in rural Leicestershire and rode out into the countryside. The little boy lived in the city of Leicester. Ponies are conducive to childrens’ dreams. This dreamer’s dream was quite unusual. On his regular route lay the Fenney Windmill at Shepshed. The mill towered above the little boy as his pony ambled by. From the first time he saw it from his pony, much as it would have been viewed more than a century earlier by any traveller on horse-back, Nigel Moon decided he would become a miller.

Childhood dreams come and go. Nigel’s dream was shared by his parents. As it became clear that young Nigel was very serious indeed, so his father, a fresh water biologist for whom the countryside was a passion, and his mother, started driving around the country with him, looking for mills in need of rescue.

Having tried to buy Whissendine mill in the early 1970s, the family bought derelict Soham mill, Cambridgeshire, in 1974, which they restored. Nigel’s mother ran a shop in a caravan selling flour and frozen ready-mixed dough. Their aim, was to encourage people to bake their own bread using real flour.

Nigel restored the mill at Soham and rebuilt its sails, his first attempt at doing so. Paradoxically, Nigel, having adopted the most traditional of crafts, embraced the future. He decided to use a steel arm in the new sails as a stronger option instead of the traditional wood. When the sails were finally ready to turn in the wind, he let them gather speed. The great new sails came slowly to a halt as the wind died down. Nigel’s mother stood back to admire her son’s great achievement just as the weld on the new steel join cracked. The whole sail sheared off and, falling, impaled itself in the ground a few feet from where his mother was standing.

History does not record how Nigel’s mother reacted, but she is still to be found, now in her nineties, hard at work supporting her son in his lifelong endeavour. Nigel learnt his lesson from his flirtation with modernity. He went back to wood.

Although Nigel’s early attempts to buy Whissendine Windmill had been rebuffed, he maintained contact with the building by helping  in the restoration of its windows over several years.

The family’s quest remained beset by the curse of the drive to convert mills into houses as an alternative form of a rural-housing dream. This in itself was a threat to the remaining mills’ chances of ever regaining their original purpose.

Nigel still had his heart set on taking on the Whissendine mill and negotiated with its owner at the time for three years.

Between 1981 and 1986 Nigel was commissioned to rebuild Wymondham Mill. He managed to buy Whissendine Windmill in 1995. Too few of us ever really realise our dreams. Nigel was determined to be what he has since become: the proprietor of one of England’s few remaining fully operational nineteenth century windmills. For Nigel though, he had to be a very particular miller. Not for him the glistening steel of modern, sterile, equipment, or the link in the chain of creation of mass-produced bread.

Nigel’s views are clear. To preserve our mills, we must stop viewing them solely as objects to be preserved. They must earn their keep.

Outside Whissendine Windmill lies one of the many scale models of a mill that Nigel made as a boy. If you were to conjure up an image of a typical miller, your vision would be of Nigel. The miller, covered from head to toe in a light dusting of organic flour, his blue eyes dancing and shining brightly above a smile, surrounded by his thick beard.

More on Whissendine Windmill…
The 60-foot tower mill was built in 1810 and restored by Nigel in 1996, having stood idle for 74 years. The mill produces a variety of flours. Address: Melton Road, Whissendine, Rutland LE15 7EU, 01664 474172

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Sorry if this is a bit long, but I hope it puts the reader right into the straw with me & shares the gore & the glory of the experience.

 

I got back to the farm from a night away and went straight to check our first British Lop Sow Sally. She had seven piglets scrambling around her teats and her ‘lady bits’. Some were clean and bright while others still had a thick layer of mucus around most of their body. Thanks to their determination these had at least broken through sufficiently to breathe. I cleaned the piglets up with some clean straw and settled mother and little ones down. Then I watched quietly for about five minutes. The scene of quiet had me fairly convinced that there were no more piglets to come, so I headed into the house to catch up on a variety of issues that required my attention, waded through the carnage created by the young Labrador puppies overnight and headed upstairs to change into clothes more appropriate to porcine midwifery.  When I got back to the farrowing pen, barely ten minutes later, five more piglets were squirming about. As I set to cleaning these up, small shrivelled, black mummified Halloween, horror story of a creature slid out of her back end.  Sows quite often give birth to these distorted mini versions of themselves. They tend to have died at a much earlier stage of the pregnancy, and though often quite putrid, the sow seals the monstrosity in its bag so that it rarely affects the rest of the litter. I set the nasty mess immediately to one side just as more slithering hot baby pigs began to squirt out of the mother. They were now coming so quickly that I barely had time to assess each one as it landed onto the straw bedding. I quickly pulled each piglet, firmly but gently away from the mother so that the umbilical cord would shred in a natural way. Cut the cord and the piglet chances bleeding to death. Next I would clear the mucus from around the head and pass my finger through the mouth as far back as I could without choking off the air supply. Eight more slipped out like sausages out of a machine. Unfortunate imagery, I know, but accurate. Two came out and unlike the others were neither breathing nor wriggling. I took the first, went through the routine described above, rubbed its side roughly with clean straw, still no sign of life. I then held it upside down and patted its sides quite smartly while swing it gently but bringing it to a fairly sharp halt at the bottom of each swing. These actions combined seek to clear the airwaves and shock the pathetic little creature’s system back into life.  This all takes quite a few moments of concentrated activity during which it is just about possible to continue to go through the basic actions needed to process the other slithering lives as they pop out. An immediate decision needed to be made, however, as I certainly do not have the skill to do this to two unbreathing piglets simultaneously as well as tending to all the others. I put the second unbreathing piglet to one side. Fortunately after a few minutes of application the heart of the still corpse in my hands began to beat, although the lungs were not pumping and the eyes were still firmly closed. The gently beating heart encouraged me to continue until the eyes opened slowly and the little mite took its first breath. Now breathing, but with no strength or co-ordination in its body or legs, I inserted the good sized but paralysed piglet in among its siblings to keep it warm. I checked through the other piglets and attended to the last few newborns. Nineteen live in all. Putting the little near dead piglet in with its fellows also meant that it was jostled constantly by the general push and bustle for a limited number of teats. This often works as a way of massaging the life back into these borderline cases. I checked on this one regularly over the following hours or so and each time it was a little stronger until it was soon impossible to recognise it among it fellow guzzlers.

It is nearing mid night. I have sat with Sally and her 19 survivors since around 4 O’clock. I am writing during one of the many lulls in activity. A very jolly Spanish themed Chieftains tune is playing via Itunes on my laptop. At this moment a cockerel across roosting with his girlfriend on the side of another farrowing pen decides that he really want to join in with the jolly tune and starts crowing very loudly indeed. Sally has decide to dig around to find the somewhat well-trodden placentas which she has firmly ejected over the last few hours and have a goulish but very important midnight feast. I have made a cordon of packed straw and half pushed, half thrown, gently of course, all nineteen piglets into the corner under the low heat lamp, and managed to persuade them that this is the safest place for them until their mother settles down again. Her snack completed, Sally tries to impress upon me that she really should be allowed to squeeze in with and on top of her babies, which of course would mean that I might as well be in bed and just let nature take its course. Trouble is that nature in this instance would probably see no more than one third of her babies survive. Of course, even with all my efforts, this may be still what happens.  Persuading a very large and determined sow that she should not lie down on top of her offspring under a very inviting heat lamp, is none too easy, but eventually we compromise and I allow Sally to lie with her head next to the pile of wriggling, but content piglets.

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I wrote this in early 2009. I was driving over London Bridge on my way to Borough Market. The financial world was dancing on its head. The Borough Market management seemed to be living on a different planet from normal mortals and the future looked very uncertain indeed.

The sun was shining brightly and as my car crawled through the traffic I saw a group of striking women standing on the edge of the bridge holding and waving enormous flags on great high poles. I can’t remember what they were promoting, but it made a stunning spectacle.

White flags flutter on London Bridge

Leaden-footed folk glumly walk,

run or drag themselves from train to work.

Familiar faces from another time

now bent and creased with lines.

And the girls are still smoking

——————————-

Trapped prisoners in an open jail

so many doomed to fail.

Can’t understand where it all went wrong,

stuck on tracks that come and go,

fighting on, fast and slow.

And the girls are still smoking

———————————-

Dreams taunt lost hopes,

crushed by pride and greed.

Trust is in short supply,

ruined lives asking why?

Blame, excuses, lies.

And the girls are still smoking

————————————-

Cameras film our every move

as money rolls by on frozen wheels.

Cash falls in showers but never lands,

billions in empty boxes on display.

Cars stand silent, unwanted badges of today’s history.

And still the girls are smoking

———————————–

Why do the white flags fly?

Held aloft by smiling beauties

they fly for victory.

They fly for you and me

they fly for surrender

And still the girls are smoking

Jan McCourt Northfield March 2009

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I wrote this two years ago as the realisation of a real modern recession began to set in. It is a measure of something that little has changed.

The Posh, well reared birds still seem to selling, so not too much has changed there, but the economy seems to be as uncertain as ever.

 

The official mad time of year is now here and in the press, food writers, cooks, chefs and critics are fighting amongst each other to gain the greatest prominence. Wherever you look you will see reports analysing the best birds, cakes, tracklements (accompaniments to food), not to mention little black dresses, handbags, knickers and bangles.

One eye-catching headline last Saturday in the Times Weekend supplement shouted the question: “Are Posh Birds Worth It?” Having once been married to one and knowing quite a few others, my first thought was “yes, they probably are”.

Then I realised the question was being asked about Free Range Turkeys!

Within its pages, I found two references. The first from Tom Parker Bowles, who should know better, wrote, “So this year, stuff the turkey and celebrate Christmas with a proper British Feast. One of the birds he was recommending to replace it was a pheasant. Mercifully he did also recommend a really good Chicken, Pork belly or a rib of beef.

I am sorry Tom, great supporter of Northfield and others like us though you have been, a pheasant is not a replacement for a turkey. Besides, cooking a pheasant remains far more demanding than cooking a turkey.

My concern though, is what if a seriously large number of folks were to take him seriously and boycott proper British Reared Free Range Turkeys? The effect on those specialising in these birds could be far more catastrophic that the threat a couple of years ago of Bird Flu. Like everything we do, from scrapping cars to building houses, we have to consider the ripple effect of our actions.

Tom PB is absolutely right in saying that there are many great alternatives to a turkey, just don’t damn the wonderful British Farmers who are the masters at producing these birds.

Northfield Farm’s Free Range Turkeys and Geese are produced by local specialists, who do only that:  produce great ‘Posh’ birds. By all means ditch the imported or intensively reared birds of all kinds that are available in the supermarkets. Follow the rule of least remove and buy your bird or other meat from someone you know. If you don’t know that someone well, get to know us at Northfield Farm.

Further on in the section Tom Norrington-Davies (this year it seems ‘Posh’ Birds, need posh-sounding critics to write about them) answers the original question with a resounding ‘yes’

“First off, the bad news: anyone hoping to pass off a mass-produced bird as a superior hand-reared one will be disappointed. We tasted the supermarket turkeys against a benchmark of three birds from specialist producers and price would always out.”

Sadly he did not taste a Northfield Farm bird, but the principle holds good. The bird he referred to closest to ours in quality and provenance cost more than £4-00 per kilo than an equivalent Northfield Farm bird.

In some 12 years of feeding our customers at Christmas, the only complaint about turkeys I can remember was one who phoned up on Christmas Day as he was carving his bird. A good friend as well as a long time faithful customer, he was spitting with rage, complaining at how bony the Northfield Farm turkey was.  A few moments later his wife called to apologise, and explain that she had decided to cook the bird up side down that year, and her husband, taking the bird from the oven to the carving board had failed to notice and was therefore trying to carve the bird bottom up, so to speak.

Cooking your turkey upside down can help keep it moist, just don’t forget to turn it back over for carving.

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My previous ramblings and the feature on Great British Food Revival on BBC2 brought many of you to our Farm Shop and new Gastro Tea Room. Despite tough economic times, it seems clear that people still have an appetite for great food and especially the great value on offer in our Gastro Tea Room.

Local business, Hedgerow Spirits, maker of Melton Mowbray Sloe Gin, Whisky and Wild Damson and Vodka and Blackberry has moved to a new production unit at Northfield Farm. As well as being available in many local and national outlets, these great products are, of course, for sale in our Farm Shop. We are working on a new range of cocktails using these as a base and of course sloe picking in our hedges this autumn will take on a whole new purpose.

The Northfield Classics Menu is now available to complement our existing menu in our Gastro Tea Room. Remember that although already frequently described as doing ‘The Best Sunday Lunch Ever’ (see impending review in Great Food Magazine), we are open throughout the week in day-time for great value and great tasting meals. My current favourite is our Gammon & Chips. From mid-June our Gastro Tea Room will also open on Friday and Saturday evenings between 18-00 and 23-00hrs. We are fully licensed and hope to welcome you whether you are looking for a quiet drink or a full scale slap up meal. To launch our new evening openings we will be having two Gourmet evenings with Clarissa Dickson Wright themed on Pork & Beef on June 10th & 11th, admission by ticket only costing £50-00 per person this will include membership of our new Northfield Gourmet Club.

Sunday 14th June is Open Farm Sunday, with Pie & Sausage making demos, Guided Farm Tours and much more, so that weekend in June can be entirely spent at Northfield for Food & Countryside Lovers.

We are planning a Vintage Car Rally & Run in early July to raise money for the Help for Heroes Charity. There will be a great meal for those joining in the Rally & lots of other great food available as always.

Lastly, I am close to finalising a series of day courses for the rest of 2011 which will cover a range of Food and Farming activities. These will vary from a one day ‘General Course’ to bespoke courses concentrating on single issues such as Butchery, Bakery, Pig Keeping and Pie Making. Numbers for each session will be strictly limited and one on one sessions are available.

By the way, my Twitter Followers now stand at nearly 300, that is 100 more people than last month! Join in: @northfieldfarm

Jan McCourt

Jan@northfieldfarm.com

http://www.northfieldfarm.com

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Took a little time to review a handful of seemingly intereted and complimentary comments on my blog. Thought it would be interesting to see who was writing such nice things.

Found most of them to be SPAM, mainly from the US. Brickmakers, Life Coaches, Purveyors of Pornography, Basketball and other salespeople all wrote positive things, but were presumably just seeking to optimise their own websites.

How sad, never mind, I’ll keep plugging on!!

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