Five go down to the farm shop

TWO large eggs for breakfast. For lunch, farmhouse ham and fresh tomatoes on sourdough bread…

If it’s starting to sound like the sort of food that the Famous Five would tuck into on one of their adventures, that’s not so far from the truth – but actually it’s just the day after a visit to Peterley Manor Farm Shop.

If Enid Blyton were alive today, the NFU would be signing her up to handle their publicity. No one ever spread so much goodwill about farm-fresh food than the prolific children’s author, whose 750 books are awash with imagery about ice-cold creamy milk, crusty loaves and hot scones.

But then dropping in to a modern farm shop is like stepping into the pages of one of Blyton’s books – everything from red radishes and new potatoes to huge eggs and home-cooked cakes smacks of Famous Five territory.

No one worries about calories or cholesterol in Blyton books: “A large ham sat on the table, and there were crusty loaves of new bread. Crisp lettuces, dewy and cool, and red radishes were side by side in a big glass dish. On the sideboard was an enormous cake, and beside it a dish of scones. Great slabs of butter and jugs of creamy milk were there, too, with honey and home-made jam.”

“Hot scones,” said George, lifting the lid off a dish. “I never thought I’d like hot scones on a summer’s day, but these look heavenly. Running with butter! Just how I like them!”

Millions of children around the world have sat enraptured listening to these feasts, from India to rural America, marvelling at the vivid descriptions of ripe plums and huge hams, cherry tart and fruit cake.

Blyton’s descriptions have spawned a number of recipe books too, but to children on the other side of the world there was something magical about these feasts, however bemusing the taste combinations, a mix of wartime food restrictions and almost glorious excess.

Diya Kohli recalls: “To a child growing up in Kolkata of the 1980s and 1990s, tongue sandwiches, potted meat, anchovy paste and kippers and clotted cream were all part of an alien food lexicon. All I knew was that they sounded wonderful.”

Coookery writer Jane Brocket included Famous Five picnics in her top ten evocative food moments from the past: “It’s amazing how she manages to make hard-boiled eggs sound ultra-exciting and appealing; maybe it’s the addition of the inevitable “screw of salt” which does it? Or maybe it’s something to do with fresh air, freedom and the adventures that invariably follow any Famous Five picnic?

“Tomato sandwiches, lemonade, tinned sardines, melt-in-the-mouth shortbread, lettuces, radishes, Nestlé milk, ginger beer, tins of pineapple chunks, squares of chocolate. The Famous Five set a standard in picnics that has never been equalled.”

More culinary meanderings can be found on the World Of Blyton blog for the author’s many enthusiasts, but back at Peterley Manor there may just be time for a bacon sandwich at the Strawberry Shack before a happy homecoming laden with fresh vegetables, crusty bread and other treats.

What’s for tea? We don’t know yet. But George, Anne, Julian, Dick and of course Timmy the dog would definitely approve.

True taste of the Chilterns

THE distinctive Chilterns landscape has been shaped by centuries of agriculture – and food and drink remain an essential feature of our local heritage.

From historic market towns to sleepy hamlets, this is a working countryside home to quintessentially English pubs, ancient woodlands and picturesque chalk streams, instantly recognisable as the backdrop to countless episodes of the Midsomer Murders TV series.

It many no longer boast “bodgers” in the woods, or as many watercress farms and cherry orchards as it once did, but the landscape known as London’s larder is still home to many artisan food and drink producers, as well as the historic coaching inns, upmarket restaurants, farmers’ markets and food festivals.

On the doorstep of the nation’s capital, an hour from central London, this is a haven for flourishing wildlife populations boasting a network of thousands of miles of footpaths stretching across the 320 square miles designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

From fine dining, famous chefs and Michelin stars in Bray, Chinnor, Cookham or Marlow to ancient inns like the Royal Standard of England in Forty Green, this is a world where you can take your pick from heartwarming soups to signature dishes.

Smart gastropubs jostle for your attention with sleepy village locals with carved beams, sunny beer gardens and 12th-century churches when you fully expect to bump into Inspector Barnaby.

This is a world of muddy boots and excited dogs, log fires and morris men, but without the tourist hordes of the Cotswolds or West Country.

Farm open days across the region allow visitors to come face to face with the local livestock, with cattle and sheep the most widespread and visible farm animal, with pigs and poultry also present in large numbers – not to mention goats and some more unusual livestock like red deer, alpacas and even European bison.

From Sandy Lane Farm near Thame to the Crazy Bear farm shop at Stadhampton, there may the chance to get close to some of the animals, especially during lambing season.

Many of the larger farm shops also have their own cafes or dining areas, offering everything from snacks to cream teas.

Why not explore the wood-lined dining area at the Crazy Bear (above) or the welcoming yurt at the Wild Strawberry Cafe at Peterlea Manor Farm (below).

Parts of the Chilterns have a long history of orchards particularly those growing cherries and during the 19th century parties of cherry pickers came out from Reading and London at harvest time. Take a look at one of the local tourism websites for more details about fruit farms offering pick-your-own opportunities.

The Romans were the first to grow vines on the thin chalky soils of the Chiltern slopes and vineyards and breweries still thrive here, now including a gin distillery, all producing a range of award-winning wines, liqueurs, gin and ales. Visitors can sample home-grown brews in local pubs and restaurants or try them and buy them on the spot.

Most local vineyards offer tours and tastings, often hosted by the winemaker, giving you the chance to share in their passion and knowledge of wine. Check out individual websites for more detail, like Daws Hill at Radnage, the Chiltern Valley Winery & Brewery near Henley-on-Thames, Brightwell Vineyard outside Wallingford, the Harrow and Hope Vineyard near Marlow and, for gin lovers, there’s the Puddingstone Distillery just outside Tring.

And if you enjoy a pint of craft beer brewed with passion and skill by real-ale enthusiasts rooted in their local communities, the Chilterns boasts 10 breweries listed in this online guide.

From the watercress beds of the Chess Valley to the footpaths around Buckmoorend Farm, part of the Chequers Estate, a 16th century Elizabethan country house and the official country residence of the serving Prime Minister, local food tastes at its best when bought direct from farmers markets or just at the farm gate.

There’s also a chance to meet many local food producers at the Love Food festivals in Great Missenden in April and August.

For more information about local food and drink, check out Visit Buckinghamshire and Choose the Chilterns. There’s even a video on Youtube you can watch. The fascinating story of the history of the Chilterns landscape can be found on the Chilterns AONB website and in a guide downloadable here.