Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Allendale Courgette and Cheese Soup – a game of Farmers’ Market Roulette

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Some years ago, while hiking in Snowdonia in Wales, I shared a hostel kitchen with three girl guides as they prepared lunch for their troop. 
I speak Geordie... This is A bool a kyle ... apparently
The first girl guide slathered margarine on the bread...
the second girl guide filled the sandwiches with square ham and plastic cheese...
the third girl guide painstakingly nibbled away any filling that peeped over the edge of the crust, before wrapping the completed sandwiches... Bleaugh!
That memory popped into my head because my beloved was recently reunited with his scout troop - the 4th Ilford - after more years than they care to remember.  These former boy scouts assured me that their food prep was much more conscientious.

Our visit to Allendale, near Newcastle in Northumberland, coincided with the Allen Mill Farmers’ Market, run by our delightful hosts, Anne and Chris Bacon at Allen Mill.

Farmers' Market Roulette - some of the contributors

There, David Harris (aka The Cookery Coach and self-confessed “Diet Satan”) was conducting a demonstration of “Farmers’ Market Roulette”.  Farmers’ Market Roulette is when David arrives more or less empty-handed and charms the stall holders into swapping some of their produce for publicity. He then conjures a dish from the ingredients collected.
On the menu was a courgette soup with a mellow cheddar-style cheese from Birdoswald Organic Cheese. Birdoswald cheese has quite a pedigree - the recipe originally coming from Ireland in 1688.  

David Harris converting local produce into a feast!

The courgettes were grown by Bluebell Organics, who produce organic vegetables, fruit juices and chutneys.
David served the soup with a hunk of Sunday Bread from Allendale Bakery and Cafe

Also featuring in David’s food roulette were pork escallopes from Hallsford Farm – a rare-breeds farm producing Llanwenog Lamb (and Mutton in season), Shorthorn Beef and Saddleback Pig. The sauce for the pork contained mustard from Marilyn Avens and Geoff Cole at Cumberland Honey Mustard. I tasted the Seville – tangy with a hint of orange - and the wonderfully nutty Original Honey Mustard. Marilyn and Geoff also produce a range of relishes, vinegars and vinaigrettes, pickled fruits, and jams.

Cumberland Honey Mustard - it's hot stuff!
This is the soup David made from his Farmers’ Market bounty. (I've reduced the quantities to suit a family-sized pot)
For 3 - 4 servings you will need...
2 shallots (or 1 onion) roughly chopped
1 fat clove garlic, roughly chopped
50g streaky bacon, cut into small pieces (a kitchen scissors is great for this job)
500g courgettes, cut into large cubes
1 litre good chicken (or vegetable stock)
100g Birdoswald Organic Cheese (or any good cheddar-style cheese)
Salt and pepper to taste

1          Heat a tablespoon of oil (light olive oil or sunflower etc) in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the shallots, garlic and bacon. Fry gently for about 2 minutes until the bacon is cooked, then add the courgettes. Cook for a further 5 minutes or so, giving the courgettes time to absorb the flavours from the other ingredients.
2          Add the stock to the saucepan. When it has come to the boil, lower the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the grated cheese. Blend to a smooth liquid – a stick blender is the perfect tool for this. Taste and add salt and pepper only if necessary.

A landscape made famous by Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Take a Farmers' Market picnic to this famous spot on nearby Hadrian's Wall

Allen Mill Farmers’ Market and Car Boot Sale runs on the 3rd Sunday of the Month, July – December, 10.30am to 3pm. Aside from the market, Allen Mill is open all week and offers a range of local North Pennines crafts and produce, micro brewery, art centre and printmaking studio with antique presses. The mill is in an area of outstanding natural beauty and archaeological importance. It is within striking distance of Hadrian’s Wall, and the medieval market town of Hexham.
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