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Lets tap into our roots

Food is at the heart of the festive celebrations. We go to great lengths to ensure we not only have the finest, but that it is cooked properly, is indulgently rich and tastes wonderful.

Give the region’s rural economy a Christmas boost by buying your festive feast from local farmers and producers. As Jane Hall reveals, there’s plenty of choice.

FOOD is at the heart of the festive celebrations.

We go to great lengths to ensure we not only have the finest, but that it is cooked properly, is indulgently rich and tastes wonderful.

But as you sit down to your festive fare with all the trimmings, take a minute to examine what you’re eating. Where did the asparagus you had as a starter come from? Or the juicy french beans dripping in butter?

Chances are, most of the vegetables will be from Africa, the turkey from some unknown European location, the cranberry sauce from America, the pudding from a factory half-way across Britain and the wine from Australia. There will be enough air miles laid out on your table alongside the crackers to circumnavigate the world. Improved transport means we now reap the benefits of a seasonless global marketplace.

But nice as it may be to eat salad all year round, there can be few who aren’t aware of the detrimental effect flying food thousands of miles is having on the environment.

The answer is to regain sight of where our food comes from by getting in touch with local producers. Buying local is set to become more popular than ever this Christmas. While multiple retailers will capture most of the Christmas food shopping (77% against 79% in 2006), according to business advisor Deloitte, going local is gaining in popularity.

Some 29% of consumers say they will be heading to small, independent stores and local farmers’ markets for a proportion of their food shopping over the festive period – up 20% on this time last year.

Tarlok Teji, [OK] head of retail at Deloitte, says: “Total expenditure on food and drink is up 9% on 2006. This is partly driven by consumers trading up and indulging themselves with premium, provenance and fair trade products.

“The biggest challenge for retailers is to meet the growing demand for local products. To have a local offering, retailers need to have all their ducks in a row when it comes to sourcing and suppliers. Those that manage to make it work will be able to tap into a growing trend.”

A trend it may be, but it can only be to the good as more money stays in the local economy.

Ian and Victoria Byatt opened Moorhouse Farm Shop at Stannington Station in Northumberland four-and-a-half years ago. The family farm provides all the beef, pork and lamb sold through the shop. They also cure their own bacon and gammon and provide a much-needed retail outlet for other local producers.

A joint winner alongside nearby Blagdon Farm Shop of the recent national Best Farm Shop Butchery Award, Ian says he has seen a steady increase in customers buying and supporting local, especially at Christmas. “Obviously we have regular customers who are keen to support local, but we get a lot who come at Christmas.

“People make more of an effort at Christmas, although we would like to attract these customers all year. Having said that, local food is becoming noticeably more popular.

“As far as Christmas goes, we have everything you need, from free-range and barn-reared turkeys to goose, duck and pork, beef and lamb from our own farm. Our vegetables are from Tritlington, which is only five or six miles away, and the potatoes are from both Potts of Ponteland and Carroll’s Tiptoe Heritage from Cornhill.

“We have cakes and puddings from Heatherslaw up at Ford and Etal, Jenkins and Hustwit down in Bishop Auckland and Proof of the Pudding at Alnwick.

We’ve also got our own homemade Christmas cakes and pies. On top of that, we sell local cheeses from Doddington at Wooler and the Northumberland Cheese Company, which is only three miles away at Blagdon. You can’t get more local than that.”

Moorhouse isn’t the only place you can stock up on quality local produce. Go to page two to see where you can find a deliciously North-East Christmas dinner.

MEAT, POULTRY & GAME

Broom Mill Farm, West Auckland, County Durham, (01388) 834564, www.broommillfarm.co.uk

A family-run farm and shop. This will be the fourth year Broom Mill has sold its home reared turkeys. Birds are from 8lb-10lb in weight and must be pre-ordered by December 19. Other home produced meat products include beef, dry cured bacon and gammon, speciality pork sausages (plus gluten free) and ready-to-cook dishes as well as cakes, vegetables and relishes.

Brocksbushes, Brocksbushes Farm, Stocksfield, Northumberland, (01434) 633100, www.brocksbushes.co.uk

Fresh turkeys, ducks, geese and chickens alongside homemade mince pies, Christmas puddings and cakes are just some of the festive goodies on offer at this farm shop in the heart of the Tyne Valley.

Poultry must be pre-ordered by December 10 and includes white and bronze turkeys at £3.25/lb and £3.99/lb respectively, turkey crowns at £3.60/lb, geese at £4.65/lb, ducks at £2.70/lb, chickens at £2.70/lb and capons at £2.58/lb.

Vegetables are from either Tritlington or Nafferton near Stocksfield, which specialises in organic produce. Big sellers this year are expected to be sprouts still on their sticks. Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes are also on sale.

Blagdon Farm Shop, Milkhope Centre, Blagdon, Northumberland, (01670) 789924, www.theblagdonfarmshop.co.uk

Blagdon Farm Shop has grown rapidly since it opened in 2002, and last month added to its list of accolades by tying for top spot in the national Best Farm Shop Butchery Award alongside competitor Moorhouse Farm Shop, three miles away at Stannington Station.

Its motto is ‘low on mileage, high on taste,’ and Blagdon Home Farm specialises in maintaining traditional and rare breeds of beef and pork such as Belted Galloways and British Saddlebacks. The farm also raises the widest range of free-range poultry in the region including chickens, Blagdon Bronze and traditional white turkeys, geese, guinea fowl and ducks.

Turkeys are likely to range in weight from 8lb-22lb and in price from £34-£75. Geese will be from 9lb-13lb and £40-£58. Both must be pre-ordered by December 15.

Blagdon has also started selling venison, mallard and pheasant from Northumberland, alongside its beef and pork, and customers will also find cakes, relishes, vegetables, local cheeses, quality ready-made meals and homemade pates.

Moorhouse Farm Shop, Station Road, Stannington, Northumberland, (01670) 789016 or 07751 588 915, www.moorhousefarmshop.co.uk

The joint winner of the recent national Best Farm Shop Butchery Award, Moorhouse sells pork, beef and lamb reared on the family farm, but adds turkeys and geese in December. Two types of free range (bronze and white) turkeys will be available starting from 8lb-10lb. Prices will be £3.80/lb for bronze and £3.52/lb for white. Turkey crowns will also be on sale. The free range geese at £4.13 per lb come from a farmer in County Durham. Pre-orders must be made by December 16. Other Christmas offerings include cakes, pies and puddings, seasonal vegetables, bread and milk.

VEGETABLES

Tritlington Fresh Produce, Tritlington Hall, Morpeth, Northumberland, (01670) 790223 or (01670) 786160

Tritlington has become a well-known quality supplier to restaurants and farm shops of everything from raspberries and strawberries to winter vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, cabbages, asparagus and leeks. Retail outlets include Blagdon Farm Shop, Moorhouse Farm Shop at Stannington Station, Wallington Farm Shop and Farm to Freeze at Wooler.

Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes, Tiptoe Farm, Cornhill-on-Tweed, Northumberland, (01890) 883060 or (01890) 883833, www.heritage-potatoes.co.uk

Run by husband and wife team Anthony and Lucy Carroll, the business keeps once popular potato varieties in the public eye. From an initial six varieties grown on a five-acre plot in 2002, Carroll’s now grow more than 20, including Pink Fir Apple (1850), Mr Little's Yetholm Gypsy (1899) and Sharpe’s Express (1900) and supply to farmers’ markets, farm shops and leading restaurants and grocery stores across the UK such as Fenwick in Newcastle.

North Country Organics, Unit 14D, Airport Industrial Estate, Kenton, Newcastle, (0191) 214-5900, www.northcountryorganics.co.uk

Producers of organic fruit and vegetable boxes, this family-run business has just taken over a Victorian walled garden which will enable them to provide home-grown produce from less than 10 miles away. Boxes start from £13 and can be taken weekly, fortnightly or just once.

As an example, the organic Taste of the North box at £39 includes in-season fruit and vegetables, eggs, milk, bread, sausages, burgers or bacon and a joint of choice or a free range chicken.

Boxes will be delivered as normal week beginning December 17, but then there will be a two-week break. Anyone wanting to order a Christmas box should let the firm know as soon as possible.

Butterby, Croxdale, County Durham, (0191) 378-9193, www.butterby.co.uk

Delivering in the City of Durham and its outlying villages, during the growing season most of the contents of Butterby’s boxes comes from local growers and from the Georgian walled garden at Croxdale Hall which has full organic status. Butterby also has a further 28 acres of land which has just completed its first year of conversion.

A large vegetable box costs £14 and a small £11. The large box currently contains eggs, own potatoes, carrots, own onions, turnips, broccoli, own mushrooms, beetroot, own peppers, own leeks and oranges from South Africa.

CAKES, PUDDINGS & PIES

Jenkins & Hustwit, 3b Laurel Way, Bishop Auckland, County Durham, (01388) 605005, www.jenkinsandhustwit.com

Set-up in 1990, Jenkins & Hustwit has won many national awards for its traditionally baked luxury fruit cakes and puddings based on family recipes. They produce three varieties of rich fruitcakes as well as teatime favourites and seasonal specialities like their Victorian Christmas Pudding. The firm also makes a specialist range for customers who are health conscious or have special dietary needs, including a Christmas pudding.

Jenkins & Hustwit products are available from farm shops, delicatessens and independent grocers.

Proof of the Pudding, Heckley High House, Alnwick, Northumberland, (01665) 602505, www.proofofthepudding.co.uk

Home-made cakes for tea-time treats and sticky puddings are available from the kitchen of Susan Green. Now she has moved into the Christmas pudding market with her Alnwick Rum-laced recipe which also uses apples from the garden at Heckley High House, carrots, fresh oranges, lemons and plump vine fruits. Susan did a successful trial run of the Christmas pudding based on her mother’s family recipe last year, and has now rolled it out to even more retailers.

Priced at £14.50/kilo, £8.50/450g and £5.45/225g, the pudding is available from many local outlets, including Grannies in Alnwick, Heighley Gate at Morpeth, Blagdon Farm Shop, George Payne in Gosforth, North Acomb Farm Shop, Fenwick, Newcastle, and Lowfields Farm Shop in Willington, County Durham.

Heatherslaw Bakery, Cornhill-on-Tweed, Northumberland, (01890) 820208

Situated close to Heatherslaw Mill, the bakery uses local ingredients – including flour from the mill – and traditional recipes to make their cakes and biscuits. The Christmas range includes both iced and plain fruit cakes, mince pies “by the million” and stollen, a rich, fruity yeast bread filled with marzipan and topped with a light glacé icing that is traditionally eaten in Austria during the festive season.

Retail outlets include Tully’s of Rothbury, Moorhouse Farm Shop at Stannington Station, Blagdon Farm Shop, Darras Deli in Darras Hall, Corbridge Larder and Dobbies garden centres across the region.

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