M&S fruit farm visit.

I don’t think it’s just because I’m the wife of an arable farmer that I appreciate locally grown produce.

I basically just love good food!

And what could be MORE perfect than juicy, ripe seasonal berries??

I was asked by Marks & Spencer if we’d like to visit one of their suppliers’ farms to learn more about how Strawberries, Raspberries & Blueberries are grown. We eat A LOT of soft fruit in our family, so I jumped at the chance to learn more about them.

We popped down to Hall Hunter Partnership’s 500 acre fruit farm around an hour from us in Chichester on a sunny September Friday.

We were welcomed with a smile by Executive Assistant Anna Christian who introduced us to Harvest Manager Alana Deacon.

Both ladies were so friendly & eager to show us round. We set off for a tour of the farm, firstly stopping off at the vast strawberry tunnels. I’ve only ever been to pick your own strawberry farms, where fruit is grown on the ground surrounded by a ‘bed’ of straw, but this was completely different. The fruit was shoulder height(for easy picking) with a ‘fertigate’ tube system running the length of the tunnel in order to deliver the plants the perfect balance of nutrition or moisture as required.

When offered the opportunity to try a strawberry fresh from the plant(unwashed) I was surprised…but Alana reassured me that their fruit isn’t constantly sprayed with nasty chemicals(quite the opposite), & so I went ahead. Well, I can honestly say, it was the sweetest, tastiest strawberry I’ve ever eaten!!

The variety we sampled is grown especially for M&S, right here in England. As we walked along the rows & chatted, Annie was encouraged to pick her own strawberries, she soon got the knack of it & had a very pink face in no time!

Hall hunter partnership are able to grow soft fruit all year round. In the warm English summer months fruit is grown in polytunnels, where air can freely circulate. In winter, glasshouses ensure the crop is protected from frost & heavy rain. Alana told me that this summer, the UK’s record breaking temperatures have created the perfect growing conditions for the fruit, resulting in a bumper crop!

A dedicated team of ‘pickers’ work constantly throughout each day to harvest fruit, row by row, their speed was astounding! It takes some skill to pick efficiency without damaging the fruit, & the team had it down to a fine art. We watched them picking the best berries & leaving any which didn’t quite make the mark – on the plant – to me they all looked beautiful though!!

The fruit is then taken by trailer straight to a chiller to ensure optimum freshness, it’s then sealed in punnets, before it makes it way, within hours to the shelves of your local M&S food hall.

I asked Anna about how Blueberries are grown.

She told me ‘Blueberries differ from the other soft fruit that grows on our farms, because they grow on a bush that could live for up to 20 years’(who knew?!)

‘During the first year we don’t pick any berries, instead we pick all of the flowers off. We do this so that all of the energy that the sun gives the plants can go into the generation of a strong plant, with the specific structure we want.

Once the plants have grown to 50cm tall they are pruned back to 20cm to create a strong base for future years. In the second year, we allow some flowers to set and harvest about 800 grams of blueberries per plant. After fruiting, they are pruned again – whilst trying to maintain the shape of a wine glass.

Going forward, it is the same routine year after year, flowering, fruit, picking and pruning. As the plants get bigger and more mature, they produce larger, more flavourful berries’.

Our experience at the farm has definitely made me think more carefully about my choices in the future. I’d rather not be eating produce which has clocked up thousands of air miles & left a heavy carbon footprint. Whether it’s flowers from an honestly stand you’re buying, or veg from your local farmers market, we’re so lucky to have the best of every season here in the uk. And wonderful flavoursome produce to prove it!

Read on for recipe inspiration!

We were asked if we’d like to make a couple of recipes using M&S ingredients. I chose blueberry & lemon muffins, and a raspberry & white chocolate tart. The blueberries were incredible-I mean, I hate to admit it, but I’ve always thought blueberries were kind of a pointless fruit, they’ve never tasted of much?-but these were on another level. Firstly they were huge, like, bigger than my thumb nail, secondly they were full of flavour and not one of the ones I sampled was sour. I’m a blueberry convert!

{Blueberry & Lemon Curd muffins}

Ruby & Annie have always baked together, so I thought the muffins might be a great treat for them to work on. What I didn’t realise was just how simple the process would be!! A real ‘chuck it all in’ recipe, perfect for the novice baker, with a super tasty end result.

These delicious muffins are best served warm and fresh from the oven(ie I can’t wait for them to cool)…perfect for a breakfast or a teatime treat(or both!).

Makes: approx 10

Prep time: 15 minutes Cooking time: 20 minutes

What you will need:

100g butter

200g blueberries

250g self rasing flour

1 tbp bicarbonate of soda

100g caster sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

2 free range eggs

150 ml semi skimmed milk

10 tsp lemon curd

6 tsps Demerara sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 220c/200c fan/gas 6. 2. Line a deep muffin tin with paper cases.

3. Place the butter in a small pan and melt, allow to cool for a few minutes.

4. Wash the blueberries and pat dry, toss in a little flour.

5. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. Stir in the caster sugar, blueberries and lemon zest.

6. Beat the eggs, add the milk and melted butter, mix together and pour into the flour mixture. Mix together quickly and lightly, the mixture should still look a bit lumpy.

7. Divide between the muffin cases, make a little indent and place a teaspoon of lemon curd on the top of each one, sprinkle with the demerara sugar.

Bake for approx 20 mins until risen and golden. Cool for at least a few minutes before enjoying.

{Raspberry & White chocolate tart }

If you fancy a dessert which looks a million dollars but is quick and actually really easy, this ones for you…

White chocolate lends itself perfectly to raspberries, and the M&S Swiss white chocolate had a caramel like quality to it, which tasted so luxurious, one slice was definitely not enough-it was so moorish!

Serves: 6-8

Prep time: 20 minutes (plus 30 minutes resting time for the pastry and 1 hour for dessert to set in the fridge)

Cooking time: 20 minutes

What you will need For the pastry:

110g plain flour

55g unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes

For the filling:

400g white chocolate

200ml double cream

50g unsalted butter

1⁄2 tsp vanilla extract

400g raspberries.

1. Make the pastry by whizzing the flour and butter in a food processor to form fine crumbs. Add just enough cold water to bring it together, just two or three tablespoons should do it. Wrap in cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas 5.

3. Lightly grease a 23cm tart tin and roll the pastry into a circle big enough to line it. Don’t worry if it cracks a little, just patch it up in the tin using a little water if you need to stick it together. Prick the base all over with a fork, line with baking paper and baking beans and bake blind in the oven for 20 minutes until crisp. Remove the pastry case from the oven, take out the baking beans and allow to cool completely while you make the filling.

4. Make the filling by breaking up 350g of the white chocolate and adding to a heatproof bowl, along with the double cream, butter and vanilla. Set the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and allow the chocolate and butter to melt, stirring frequently until you have a thick shiny sauce. Pour into the baked and cooled pastry case and put in the fridge to set firm, about an hour.

5. Once set, remove from the fridge and decorate the surface of the tart with the fresh raspberries, either in a pretty pattern or randomly, as you like. Melt the remaining white chocolate in a small heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Using a teaspoon drizzle the melted chocolate over the raspberries.

Serving suggestion: a best friend & a fork each.

I hope you enjoyed this post, thank you for reading.

I love to read your comments so please do feel free to chat, either here or on instagram!

Love Kirsty xxx

*this post is sponsored by Marks & Spencer but all words and opinions are my own.

Got my shit together!

As the last couple of days of the summer holidays rumble along, I wanted to address something which people regularly comment on with regards to my family. And that is that I always have my shit together. I can promise you that however it my look from the pretty squares in my grid, 99% of the time, i most certainly do not!

I work, I also do all of the housework, childcare, cooking, banking, etc etc and the most I can hope for is a loose sense of capability that everyone has been fed, arrived at school on time, and is clean. This is not always the case, we’re definitely late sometimes, clothes are plucked from the dirty laundry basket & reworn, and many a slice of toast has been consumed on the five minute drive to school. I think it’s a case of figuring out your priorities, and doing first what’s at the top of the list-what’s most important to you and your way of life. For me, I wouldn’t go out without make-up on, or making my bed. Other things lower down the list are making the kids beds, & picking up toys-i do of course pick up toys, but if Annie is really into Barbies & has ten of them strewn across the floor, i’ll pick them up so that i can hoover(hooving is at the top of my ‘must do’ list) but i’ll leave them for her to resume dressing them in their teeny tiny shoes as & when she wants to.

Living in a farmhouse isn’t like living in a ‘normal’ house-I won’t bore you with the details as i’ve mentioned it lots of times before, but it does mean that i’m at home a lot. Everything takes longer, and is messier, and dirtier. During the holidays we haven’t been on picnics, or made trips to the park or cinema daily, because everything would, quite literally turn to shit within days. I can’t just pop as wash load on now and again, the baskets are full daily, clean clothes need to be put away daily, and let’s not talk about how often the fridge needs topping up.

But i don’t think the kids suffer for it. We’re lucky enough to have a big garden, the dogs can be walked at home, we have a trampoline, toys, cousins next door, and every gadget imaginable.

I also think it’s worth mentioning that if you stay at home with your baby or toddler a few days a week, you won’t necessarily be climbing the walls in desperation for adult company. In my experience kids get a better quality of sleep in their own beds. They also enjoy rediscovering their old toys-i like to put a few away and rotate them, or use pinterest for inspirational activities i can set up in minutes.

And Teenagers NEED more sleep than the rest of us, it’s a fact, So maybe during the holidays, don’t drag them out for that leisurely 9am dog walk, leave them to snooze till lunchtime & perhaps they’ll be less grouchy/argumentative/vile?! They’ll tell you I’m ‘stressed’ all the time, & shout a lot. But if they did what I asked the first time, I probably wouldn’t need to shout, or get stressed. I’m only human, and some days, my patience is a lot thinner than on others!

Having said that, the older kids are expected to help out, whether that’s keeping Annie entertained whilst i cook tea, walking the dogs, or just changing the loo roll when they notice its empty(still working on that one!) every little thing helps, its one less job I need to add to my day. I try to make their lives a little easier in return ,we have separate washing baskets for whites & darks, they have sky tv in their room so they can escape the madness if needs be. We’re a pretty average houseful I think?

So how do I limit the craziness a little? I try to implement small things which add up to less stressful situations occurring. I like to have spares, extras of important things. Like loo rolls, or bread, and milk, plus ready meals in the freezer- for those days when we have been out for the day and got a mcDonalds on the way home. That way my farmer still gets a decent meal at the end of the day & I don’t have to cook late at night. Dishwasher tablets, washing detergent, dog food & bin liners are all really good things to have extra of, who wants to go out to the local shop for them and end up paying twice the price?! School clothes are another think I like to have spares of, the amount of times Will comes out of school minus his jumper/lunch box/a shoe(yep!) are too frequent to recall! I also make sure that every evening, I get him to leave a pile of clean uniform next to his bed, so he doesn’t have to scramble around in the morning looking for the heap he stepped out of the night before!

This might all seem like really obvious life ‘hacks’ but maybe they’re not, so i’m just going to share what i do, & if anything is useful for you, then great!

Other things i try to be strict about include meal planning-nothing extreme, just knowing i’m making a meal out of chicken on a monday, mincemeat on a tuesday, something quick for swimming on a weds etc, makes me feel a bit more in control. I’ll sit down on a sunday evening and loosely plan what we want to eat that week. Monday is usually my ‘get the house straight after the weekend’ day, so we’ll have freezer tapas that evening, then I do a food shop on a tuesday & we eat like kings that night, literally gorging ourselves on our newly stocked fridge full of treat food!

I hate being the parent who forgot it was ‘superhero/bring a bottle/wear stripes’ day at school, there seems to be so many things happening every week that once you have multiple children(or even if you have one!) it can be hard to keep up with it all! My system is that anything which immediately needs to be actioned-gets put on the fridge. So letters for trips and that sort of thing. Anything which is just for info, dates, times etc, I write in my diary straight away, it’s always nearby in the kitchen, so between emptying the lunchboxes and chopping carrots i’ll scribble things down, then throw the letter away if i don’t need to look at it again, or I file it. I have a lever arch file, with a section with plastic wallets for each child, so i can quickly locate that leaflet about the daylight robbery school library visit i’ll need to remember to take my purse to!

This year i’m definitely feeling the ‘less is more’ mantra creeping further & further into my daily life, so if i get five minutes to empty a drawer, I do it. If im looking for something and can’t find it straight it away i make a conscious effort to group those kinds of things together to save time in the future-batteries & permanent pens seem to be the current things on my hit list!

I wanted some really low hooks in the entrance porch, so that in September, Annie & Will can return from nursery & hang up their own bags & coats.

It’s too easy to spend ten, twenty minutes scrolling instagram when you could be replying to an important email or paying a bill online. I’d love to be one of those super organised people who gets things done instantly but i’m definitely not and I love my sleep, so getting up earlier to get more done is just NOT and option for me, but I do need to work on my time management, and often use the timer on my phone to set myself mini time challenges!!(I mean like, really mini, to put away a drawerful of washing, or to empty my car of rubbish whilst I wait at the petrol pump!)

I hope that this post has given you a better understanding of how we do things in our house. A lot of the time it’s not tidy, but i like to think its clean at least. Maybe you’re running yourself ragged because you’re just trying to do it ALL…try prioritising and see if it gives you a bit of breathing space at the end of a busy day/week/month??

Much love,

Kirsty xxx