A Pinch of Pierreponts

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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

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

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.’


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

Sustainability – it’s at the heart of everything we do

Sustainability – it’s at the heart of everything we do

At Pierreponts we feel very passionately about the environment and we are constantly working to make the café as sustainable as we possibly can. We strongly believe it’s our responsibility to protect the environment, both locally and on a global scale.

Here are some of the ways in which we’re working towards being the most sustainable business we can:

1. Keeping it local

We are very proud to work with a huge number of local food suppliers. Not only does this reduce the food miles it means we’re supporting local, independent businesses. And who wouldn’t want to do that? Our meat, bread, eggs, vegetables, dairy and wine come from local producers, and all our cakes are made in our own kitchen. Plus we grow our own herbs – now we’re talking food metres, not miles!

2. Reusable cups rule

If you bring a reusable cup for your takeaway tea or coffee, we’ll give you a 20p discount on every drink. We also sell a range of cups in the most beautiful colours.

Reusable cups

There is much talk of cafes using recyclable or compostable take away cups. The truth is , however, that unless you live in one of two specific areas in the country your cup cannot be recycled. Compostable cups do not compost in landfill – the conditions aren’t right for it – so we believe the best answer currently is to stop using disposable cups as much as possible. Please don’t ask us for a take away cup for your coffee if you are staying in the café.

3. No more plastic straws

Plastic straws are only ever used once yet they take centuries to decompose. So back in November we replaced plastic straws with biodegradable paper straws.

4. Recycling is king

All our waste is sorted and we recycle as much of it as we possibly can. Anything that can’t be recycled is incinerated and the energy produced feeds into the national grid.

5. Stick with the seasons

We try as much as we can to use seasonal produce in our dishes. The fewer miles your food has travelled, the better it is for the environment. Plus it will have retained more nutrients in the short time between being harvested and served on your plate.

6. Cutlery counts

We don’t provide plastic cutlery with our takeaway food. Instead we provide rather lovely biodegradable knives, forks and spoons. And of course in the café we only use metal cutlery.

7. Vegetarian options

We are consciously increasing the number of vegetarian and vegan dishes on our menu, and offer a range of non-dairy milks for hot drinks. Many people are now including less meat and dairy in their diets. and so we are happy to help. We are careful to ensure that the meat and dairy which we use comes from farms using responsible and sustainable farming methods.

8. Bag-free tea

We are proud of our huge range of teas, from English breakfast to Lapsang Souchong and everything in between. All of our blends are loose leaf as we believe they taste superior to teabags. Plus you might not have realised that many teabags contain plastic – polypropylene, to be precise – which is used to heat seal them during manufacture to make sure they don’t open in the box or your cup. All our tea is supplied by the Wallingford Tea Company – another great local small business

9. Plastic is not fantastic

We don’t supply any drinks in plastic bottles, only glass. Nor do we use plastic carrier bags.

10. This is just the start

We’re proud of the changes we’re making but we’re very aware that there’s still more we can do to reduce our impact on the environment. One of our current challenges is finding boxes for our takeaway salads which don’t contain plastic but which don’t leak. Although compostable boxes are available, these only break down if they are put on an actual compost heap.

We would love to hear any ideas you have which could help us further.

And if anyone has a use for used coffee grounds please do let us know and we will collect them for you –they are great on compost heaps, deter ants, slugs and snails, and make a great fertiliser.

A Pinch of Pierreponts

A Pinch of Pierreponts

Welcome to ‘A Pinch of Pierreponts’, our brand new blog with the latest news and updates from us. We hope it’s going to be a great way to keep in touch with you and let you know all about what’s happening in and around Pierreponts.

This is a place where you’ll be able to get to know more about what we love: great seasonal food from local suppliers; our friendly staff; and some of your fellow customers too.

We also want to tell you about some of what we believe in, including our responsibility to the environment we live in and our links to the local community.

When you’ve been in, you may have seen some of the books and crafts from local artists – we’ll be sharing more of their stories.

There’ll be updates on the latest happenings in and around Goring and Streatley, and we’ll be telling you about special events and evenings we’ll be hosting too.

We think Pierreponts is a special place, whether you come here for breakfast, brunch, lunch afternoon tea or supper on a Friday night and we hope you do too. That’s why we love it when you share the news about what a great time you’ve had. From coffee with a friend to do the day someone proposed in the café – it all happens here!

We’re really looking forward to sharing the occasional favourite recipe with you so that you can recreate the Pierreponts experience at home.

If you want to stay in touch then do subscribe to our news feed, which you can do by simply filling in your details in the box below. And please let us know about anything you’d like us to cover in future posts.

Happy reading!

Steph, Phil & the team

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