Trill Farm lies nestled in a sheltered valley, surrounded by rolling hills and woodlands just up the road from me in East Devon. It is a 300 acre mixed organic farm which the owner Romy Fraser runs as an education centre and hosts a community of small businesses complementing each other and making use of the amazing resources the land has to offer.
I’ve done a few courses here over the past few years and have always come away feeling both inspired and grateful. When the opportunity came to do a day course on preserves and fermenting with the new chef in residence Chris Onions I leapt at it.
After a brief introduction to the day ahead, we split into small groups and were given the tasks of making several of the recipes which would make up our lunch. I was very happy to make the beetroot soup with kvass and later the sauerkraut.
I was really impressed with Chris’s passion for cooking and foraging real food. Also his generosity with his knowledge and tips. He was excited to share and let us taste all his different bottles of ferments. At one point he brought out a jar of what looked like small olives macserating in herby olive oil and asked us to guess what they were. They did indeed taste like the most delicious fruity olives but turned out to be sloes. Sloes are a very small and hard berry found in the hedgerows of the English countryside. They are traditionally collected after the first Autumn frost, pricked with a nail and soaked in vodka or gin with sugar to make a syrupy alcoholic drink. This use of them was unlike anything I had ever tasted, it was truely original and inspiring. Another creation that I absolutely loved was his fermented honey vinegar. When we made the beetroot soup the addition of this vinegar lifted the soup to a different level. It was a kind of cooking frenzy but somehow it worked, with lots of chatting and chopping, and looking over other people’s shoulders to see what they were doing. Throughout the whole process Chris never tired of answering questions and sharing his enthusiasm. Lunch came together and was served on a long communal table, which was shared with the working community that makes up Trill. After lunch we made some plum jam, runner bean chutney and sauerkraut. It was very relaxing shredding the cabbage, grinding the spices and packing it into the large jars, talking and laughing and getting to know each other. I’ve since made the sauerkraut at home and it was delicious, the apple giving a hint of sweetness and juniper berries imparting a lovely earthy flavour. The day was finished with a tour of the farm and a much needed cup of tea, and the added bonus of taking home a few jars of the produce we had made.
Red cabbage and caraway sauerkraut
3kg red cabbage shredded
20 juniper berries, ground with a pestle and mortar
300g apples, cored and sliced
55g sea salt
Sterilise a 2 litre Kilner jar: wash the jar in soapy water and dry it. Pour boiling water into to jar, and empty it and place on a baking tray in a cold oven and bring the temperature up to 140c/gas mark 1, until it’s completely dry.
Put all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Using a rolling-pin or your hands, smash the cabbage with the other ingredients so it releases some of its natural juices. The salt helps this process as it naturally draws out the moisture of food.
When the mixture in bowl is covered with a small amount of liquidity is ready to be spooned into the sterilised jar.
Fill the jar, leaving a 3cm gap at the top. Use a plastic spatula to clean around the top of the jar. You can put a piece of cling film or a large cabbage leaf and place on top of the ferment then put a weight on top of this, ensuring that the mixture is submerged under the liquid. Leave at room temperature out of direct sunlight, check every few days until you are happy with the sourness, this will probably take about 10 days. When checking the mixture use a clean spoon to taste.