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Meet the supplier: Farm To Table Produce

Meet the supplier: Farm To Table Produce

At Pierreponts, we’re hugely proud of working with a range local food producers whose products inspire our menu. In the second of our Meet the Supplier series, we visit James King-Cooke of Farm To Table Produce.

Farm To Table Produce, perched high above the Thames close to Goring Heath, looks like a farm from a picture book with its neat rows of vegetables and salad growing in the most glorious setting. It’s not the easiest place to find – I managed to drive past the discreet lane and have to turn back – but it’s definitely a little piece of heaven in Oxfordshire.

From lawyer to farmer

James hails from Eugene, Oregon where he read law at university. His first experience of working the land was helping a farmer friend of his while he was studying. ‘It was fun,’ he smiles. ‘I never left. And I never became a lawyer!’

Some years later, James was travelling in Europe when he met Hatti who was to become his wife. They married and lived together in Italy, with James still farming and Hatti working as a riding instructor. Four children later, they decided to move to the UK and James started to work for Tolhust Organic on the Hardwick Estate.

It was a chance meeting in the pub several years later that led to Farm To Table Produce. James got talking to a man whose home had several acres of land to spare. The two got on well and James has been farming the land for four years now.

How does your garden grow?

The two-and-a-half-acre smallholding is meticulously organised by James. It would be easier to list the vegetables which he doesn’t grow than those that he does. What makes it special is that he tries to grown unusual varieties, distinguishing the produce from the usual supermarket staples. So there are red cos lettuces and pink-tinged celery, yellow courgettes and a whole range of tomatoes. In addition, there are espaliered fruit trees spread over the land as well as crops of herbs, garlic and chillies.

James is a big believer in succession planting, which ensures a continuous supply of vegetables rather than a huge glut over a short period of time. On the day I visit, for example, I see several crops of onions in different stages. With the exception of potatoes, he tries to avoid storing vegetables so that every item is as fresh as possible.

Farm To Table Produce is not certified organic but James does employ a lot of organic farming principles, including using primarily organic seed, and avoiding pesticides, fertilisers and GMO. He is a firm believer in organic farming but admits that the cost and logistics of being certified by the Soil Association are prohibitive.

Boxed in

As well as Pierreponts, James’s produce can be sampled at the Miller of Mansfield and the Crooked Billet at Stoke Row. You can buy it from the Goring Grocer and the True Food Co-Op in Emmer Green. Or if you prefer, you can sign up to the Farm To Table Produce box scheme and have a box of beautiful, seasonal, locally-grown fruit and vegetables delivered 25 weeks of the year for just £20 each week.

Sunshine after the rain

This has been a challenging year for James. The heavy rain we had in April delayed planting as it was simply too wet to sow crops. And the long hot summer we have been experiencing has meant a lot of watering and water conservation.

Yet James is relentlessly cheerful and optimistic. His passion for all he grows is clear, and he treats everything he grows with the utmost respect. ‘It’s really rewarding,’ he tells me. ‘It’s a great product. An honest product.’

To find out more about Farm To Table Produce and their box scheme, visit www.farmtotableproduce.co.uk

Introducing…Linda

Introducing…Linda

One of the many things that makes Pierreponts special is our fantastic team and we know that you like to get to know them a bit better. In this post we meet long-standing waitress Linda, who loves running, cheese straws and gin!

Where do you live and who do you live with?

I live in Goring with my 13-year-old daughter, Rosie.

How long have you worked at Pierreponts?

Eight years.

What’s the best thing about working at Pierreponts?

As I’ve worked there for so long it’s not like going to work – it feels like coming home.

And the worst?

Being too busy on a Saturday morning to answer the persistently ringing telephone.

What’s your favourite thing to eat and drink at Pierreponts?

The cheese straws.

And what would you have to drink with it?

Definitely a huge gin and tonic.

What’s your favourite cafe or restaurant (apart from Pierreponts, of course!)?

I love the Perch and Pike in South Stoke.

Whats’ the funniest thing that’s happened at work?

When Phillippa fell over putting out the awning. Although of course we didn’t laugh!

How do you relax after a hard day at work?

Either with a run, chilling out with Rosie or a nice glass of wine.

If you could have any TV box set, what would it be?

Supernatural.

You would do anything to avoid…

Fish.

What do you drive and what do you listen to in the car?

I drive a red Fiat 500. I like to listen to Radio 2 but it’s the latest Now album when I’m with
Rosie.

What are your nicknames and why?

I don’t have one.

Which one website do you always check?

BBC Weather.

What’s your signature dish if cooking?

Loads of salads.

What are you currently reading?

Why Mummy Drinks by Gill Sims.

What’s your most annoying habit?

Apparently I’m quite sarcastic!

What hobbies do you have?

Shopping.

What’s your claim to fame?

I used to live in George Michael’s house before he did!

Tell us about your most embarassing situation:

I once apologised to a customer about a member of staff for being new and not really knowing what she was doing. It turned out she was her daughter!

 

Swanning about

Swanning about

 

If you happen to be at Goring Lock around 5pm on Thursday 19 July, you’ll be greeted with a unique and quintessentially English sight – the Royal Swan Uppers at work.

Swan upping dates back centuries to a time when swans were eaten at banquets and featss. It was a way of ensuring that there were plenty of cygnets on the river to continue breeding then taking the remainder away to fatten up for eating. But controlling the swan population in this way was very labour intensive and with the increasing availability of domestic poultry in the 19th century, swans became far less desirable on the dining table.

Today, swan upping plays in important role in the conservation of mute swans. During the third week of July each year, a team of swan uppers travels from Sunbury to Abingdon in six traditional rowing skiffs. The skiffs are decorated with the flags and pennants of not just the Crown but also the Vintners and the Dyers – the three bodies which collectively own the swans on the River Thames.

The swan uppers travel along the river and when they spot a colony of swans, they call out, ‘All-up!’. The boats then surround the swans and their cygnets and carefully lift the birds out of the water. They are then taken onshore for examining and marking.

The cygnets are weighed and measured, and checked for injuries. Most injuries can be dealt with in situ but some swans may require treatment at a rescue centre. Injuries are often caused by discarded fishing tackle as well as by attacks by predators, dogs and, sadly, humans. All the data is recorded by the Queen’s Swan Warden.

Cygnet numbers recorded in 2017 were significantly higher than the previous two years with 132 new cygnets recorded on the River Thames despite an outbreak of Avian Flu at the start of the year

Last year saw a significant improvement in cygnet numbers compared to the last two years, with a total of 132 new cygnets on the River Thames. This uplift was welcomed after an outbreak of Avian Influenza at the start of the year.

‘Throughout the year we have been delighted that members of the public have kept a watchful eye on so many of the nesting swans,’ David Barber, the Queen’s Swan Marker (pictured above), explains, ‘It is encouraging to see how important the welfare of swans and their young cygnets are to so many people.’

There was a massive decline in the swan population in the latter half of the 20th century. But when lead fishing weights were banned in the late 1980s, swan numbers started to increase steadily. There are, however, far fewer breeding pairs today than in the post-war years.

Swans today face many challenges. Injuries and vandalism aside, there is a lack of aquatic vegetation, and the increase in concrete embankments and moored boats make it difficult for swans to access grass riverbanks for feeding.

As well as monitoring the swan population, the Swan Uppers invite schools along to see them at work and to educate children in the importance of river ecology and the conservation of these unique and beautiful creatures.

The Royal Swan Uppers are scheduled to arrive at Goring Lock at 5pm on Thursday 19 July. They set off that morning from Sonning before stopping in Caversham and Mapledurham. After Goring, they will travel on to Moulsford with an expected arrival time of 6pm

Pierreponts at Home

Pierreponts at Home

As we hope you’re learning from reading our blog, Pierreponts is so much more than just a café. If you love our food and style of cooking, then you might like to know about about Pierreponts at Home. We describe it as stress-free entertaining, from our kitchen to yours. And that’s exactly what it is.

Party time

Whether it’s an intimate dinner party or a large event, we are able to provide delicious food so that you can concentrate on enjoying your guests’ company and not stressing in the kitchen.

Over the years we’ve provided food for a wide range of events, from corporate canapé receptions to sports day picnics. We’ve catered for christenings and funerals, as well as events including Henley Regatta.  Our largest booking to date is for a wedding this summer for 200 guests.

Time for dinner

If it’s hot food that you’d like, then we offer a selection of mains including lamb tagine, fish pie and aubergine parmigana. All are served with seasonal vegetables or salad. We can also provide starters, including potted crab and soup with homemade bread. And if you’ve room for dessert after all that, we have a range of sweet tarts such as rich chocolate, glazed lemon and almond with seasonal fruit.

We provide a lot of food for dinner parties – perfect for when you want to entertain but don’t have the time or the inclination to spend hours in the kitchen. Some of our customers ask for the food to be put on their own dishes so that they can pass it off as their own! Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with us.

Salad selection
Eating al fresco

Being so close to the river, we are often asked to provide picnics during the summer months. Popular choices are our savoury tarts with a selection of tasty salads, followed by one of our famous cakes – and we have a dozen flavours from which to choose.

If you’re already thinking ahead to your school sports day, then we’d be happy to help provide a delicious picnic for you. We also give a 10% donation to your school association as a thank you for choosing us.

Afternoon tea

Our afternoon tea parties are very popular particularly for weddings and birthdays. We provide freshly-made sandwiches, homemade scones and our delicious cakes. We can also put you in touch with local companies who hire out vintage china if that’s the look you’re going for.

Delivery and other services

Like the café, our style is very casual and informal, so we don’t provide staff. Instead, we will deliver the food and set it up to your requirements. If you have ordered hot food, it will be delivered chilled and we provide clear instructions for how to reheat it. Delivery is free within a five-mile radius. Beyond that we are happy to deliver to any address in the area for a charge.

If you require additional crockery or cutlery then let us know and we can arrange hire at an additional cost. We can also provide special occasion cakes to give your event the wow factor.

For a large event, do get in touch sooner rather than later but for smaller gatherings of up to 20 people, we can normally provide food with just 48 hours’ notice.

The Pierreponts at Home menu can be found here. This is just a starting point though listing some of our most popular choices. So do get in touch with your ideas as we’re very happy to provide dishes that suit you and help you create the perfect party.

If you’d like more details or have a chat about how we can help then please call Steph or Linda on 01494 874464 or email steph@pierrepontsgoring.co.uk

Saturday Stalwarts

Saturday Stalwarts

If you’ve been to Pierreponts on a Saturday morning, chances are you’ll have spotted a stack of bikes outside and inside two tables full of chattering people with rosy cheeks – one lot top to toe in lycra, the other in muddy walking boots. They are the weekend walkers and cyclists, and they are just as much a part of Pierreponts as the cakes.

The cyclists

Goring residents Paul and Mark have been Pierreponts customers since the cafe opened back in 2008. Every Saturday morning, they meet their fellow cyclists in the Catherine Wheel car park at 8am then set off on a two-and-a-half-hour bike ride which always ends for them at Pierreponts.

‘It’s our spiritual home,’ Paul explains. The two men have cycled together for around 20 years, first on mountain bikes but now on road bikes. They enthuse about how wonderful the area is for cycling – quiet country lanes, some challenging hills and glorious views aplenty.

Over two decades, they have seen a huge increase in the number of cyclists on the roads in Oxfordshire. ‘We used to ride to Henley and not see another rider,’ Paul recalls. ‘Now we’ll see around a hundred or so.’

They describe their Saturday morning jaunt as a social ride, and it certainly is with around half a dozen of them usually ending up in Pierreponts for breakfast. And what’s their post-ride breakfast of choice? ‘Bacon sandwich,’ Paul responds in a heartbeat. ‘And coffee.’ For Mark it’s a bacon sandwich too. ‘And sometimes a doughnut,’ he smiles.

The walkers

As the cyclists are unclipping their pedals and taking off their helmets, another merry band is arriving to refuel – the walkers. I squeeze onto a table with Joëlle, John, Judy, Bernard, Ernst, Liz and Jo, who are all keen ramblers as well as friends for longer than any of them dares to remember.

The seven friends met through a shared love of exploring the countryside on foot. They get together every Saturday morning at 9am for a circular walk around Goring, starting and finishing at the Rectory Garden. Whatever the weather, they complete four-or-five-mile route (‘which always includes a hill,’ Joëlle adds) before descending on Pierreponts 90 minutes later for breakfast and a lot of chatter. This lot like to walk but they really like to talk!

Their enthusiasm for Pierreponts is huge, and they are all regulars – not just on Saturday mornings but throughout the week too. They particularly like coming for an early supper on a Friday evening before heading out to one of the Goring Jazz events.

The Saturday-morning walk is just one of nine which take place each week under the banner of Goring Gap Health Walks. There are walks to suit everyone, with different levels of difficulty and distance. The weekend walks tend to attract around 20 walkers but during the week there can be as many as 40.

The benefits of walking in a group are huge – it’s sociable, great for your physical and mental health, and it’s free too. Each walk is led by a trained leader so you can rest assured that you’re in safe hands.

Back at Pierreponts it’s time for breakfast, and the walkers feast on kippers, porridge, granola and French toast. ‘I was ill recently,’ Jo tells me, ‘and I had to miss the walks. But I really missed the breakfasts!’

For more information about the walking group, visit www.goringgapwalks.co.uk

 

Meet the supplier: Vicars Game

Meet the supplier: Vicars Game

In our first ‘Meet the supplier’ focus we’re talking with Vicars Game who supply all our meat. We love working with them because they are able to supply a broad range of wonderful fresh local meat produce, and our customers often comment on the quality.

The word Vicars is synonymous with good quality meat in Berkshire and the surrounding area. William Vicars and Son was established in Reading in 1886, and the butchers shop stayed in the family for three generations. It was bought by Alan Hayward, a pork butcher and pie maker by trade who trained at Griffins in Newbury, in 1973. Hayward has owned the business since then – Vicars Game, as it is now known.

A growing business

Over the past 45 years, Hayward has expanded the business from a single shop to a huge enterprise which has more than 50 employees and operates 24 hours a day, six and a half days a week. ‘We decided to go into catering,’ he explains, ‘and it grew, and grew, and grew.’

Today, Vicars supplies meat and game to butchers, catering companies, wholesalers and retailers, as well as around 150 pubs, hotels and restaurants, including Pierreponts. From Monday to Saturday, seven vans are sent out twice a day delivering produce in a 60-mile radius of Vicars’ base in Ashampstead, near Newbury.

Only the best

Daily deliveries ensure that the meats you are served at Pierreponts are super fresh. ‘It’s important that we talk to them about what’s on the menu and why so we can, for example, ensure the bacon is of the right thickness,’ says Hayward. ‘Our relationship is really important and we talk to them regularly.’

But however much the business may have expanded, quality is absolutely key, as Hayward explains. ‘We buy the best quality meats we can from three local suppliers – nothing second rate – so it just sells itself.’ For example, they only use female pigs as they are bigger than male and produce better bacon. All their beef is under 24 months old, and the vast majority of game they sell, including pheasant, partridge, rabbit and deer, come from the countryside surrounding Ashampstead.

The big three

Vicars’ three biggest products are venison, bacon and, the biggest of them all, sausages. Each day, around two tonnes of sausages in a range of 50 flavours are made on the premises. The company also makes black and white pudding to their own recipe. In fact sausages have been key to the Vicars’ most recent innovation – Casey Fields Farm Shop.

Shop talk

‘I never intended opening a shop but there was a demand for sausages,’ Hayward explains, ‘so I put in a counter in our office at Ashampstead. That got busy so I put in two counters. Then I converted one of the offices and put a shed out the front for veg.’ And so it continued, with the shop expanding more offices were built to create extra space and most recently a café has been added.

‘We want people to be able to get everything they need,’ he adds. And indeed you can – cheese, cooked meats, fish, eggs, fruit and vegetables are all for sale, as well as bakery products. Hayward now has plans to expand the café and put in a play area for children. ‘I’m going to get some meerkats too – I love them!’

Meat today

With a career spanning decades, Hayward has seen big changes in how people buy meat. ‘The main difference is people only buy portions now, not the big piece of beef that they roast on a Sunday, which lasts for three more days. And there’s very little demand for offal any more,’ he bemoans, but tastes are changing. ‘With all the cookery programmes on TV, cooking has become entertainment and people are becoming more adventurous. People are eating more venison, guinea fowl and corn-fed chickens than ever.’

www.vicarsgame.co.uk

Casey Fields Farm Shop is off Dog Lane in Ashampstead, RG8 8SJ