Autumn food and drink available in Hampshire

Robert and Augusta Raimes amid their vines (Photo by Joe Low)

Robert and Augusta Raimes amid their vines (Photo by Joe Low) - Credit: Archant

The harvest is almost at an end and in Hampshire that means an abundance of food and drink to enjoy from local producers. Claire Pitcher meets a few of them

Mrs B’s is buzzing

Debbie Burton was running the training apiary at her local beekeeping association when she met Chris, who wanted to take up beekeeping. Both saw an opportunity to run a business producing honey and beeswax products and Mrs B’s Bees was founded. It grew from 40 hives in five apiaries to 100-plus hives in apiaries across the county. “By harvesting honey from each apiary and labelling it with the location, people can see the variety of honeys that come in as different flowers, trees and seasons reflect the colour and flavour,” says Debbie. “We only ever take surplus honey from the hives, always leaving sufficient for the bees regardless the time of year. It is their food and we see ourselves as beekeepers first.”

She also creates honey products from some special New Forest hives: “We obtain a permit to take hives to the Forest when the heather is out to collect heather honey. Last year we won first prize with our New Forest Heather Honey at the National Honey Show.”

By autumn, Debbie and Chris have removed the hives from the heather and they are home, wintering down. As well as jarred honey they produce honeycomb honey, pre-beeswax candles, beeswax polish, honey lip balms and anything they can make from beeswax and honey.

Mrs B’s Bees is at farmers’ markets in Winchester (second and last Sundays) and Petersfield (first Sunday). Call 01420 541512.

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Good game

“The game season has started again,” says Janet Sole of Blackmoor Game in Alresford. “Partridge, duck and pigeon are being processed on the farm. Wild venison is also in abundance with Hampshire being the heart of the Roe deer species of venison. We rear over 50,000 pheasants and partridge in the summer months and sell them to local estates and during the shooting season, we purchase the birds back from the estates and process them ready for the food chain. We are proud of our low carbon footprint as the birds reared on the farm travel less than 20 miles from field to fork.”

During the game season, September to February, Blackmoor has a stall at local farmers’ markets: “Although we don’t have a shop at the farm, many people call to collect game directly from us and we also supply our product through many local butchers.”

For the autumn, Blackmoor are launching new stuffed boneless partridge and pheasant crown products. “Busy people want something that is quick and easy to cook. These beautiful one-portion products just need roasting for 20 to 25 minutes.”

Raise a glass

Augusta and Robert Raimes are the fifth generation of their family to farm the fields now flourishing with vines. Together with land farmed on the historic Tichborne Estate, the farm stretches from the water meadows of the River Itchen, to the rolling hills of the South Downs near Winchester.

Grape harvest takes place around mid October. “We take samples of grapes to the lab for testing several weeks in the run up to harvest to monitor ripening progress. The analysis gives us a progressing picture of the sugars and acidity. When we reach optimum ripeness we harvest,” says Augusta.

This year’s crop will be lighter in yield due to a severe spring frost. Happily, the heatwave in June/July helped the replacement secondary buds to catch up.

Their vineyards lie on south facing slopes - essentially the same chalk which runs from the soils of Champagne. This, and Hampshire’s climate provide the perfect terroir for growing grapes for sparkling wine with excellent minerality, balance, good acidity and complexity.

During the autumn harvest, the day starts early: “We’ll be picking by 8am. We pick alongside the pickers and collect up the baskets of grapes distributed along the vines, which we check over.”

Augusta is effusive about the latest release: “It’s a Blanc de Noirs, a white fizz made from the red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The 2014 Blanc de Noirs is made from our grapes harvested by hand in October 2014 and bottle fermented in the traditional method, spending 24 months on the lees which lends the wine more depth and complexity,” says Augusta. “It’s the perfect aperitif or ideal paired with local produce such as cheese, trout and watercress”.

Perfect pumpkins

Secretts in Farnham was started by Frederick Augustus Secrett in 1908. Grandson Charles now heads the operation while his son Greg manages the farm. Nicola Secrett (Charles’s wife) looks after farm sales and farm labour. Secretts has a thriving farm shop and supplies restaurants in London and the south east. In the autumn, the family turns its attention to one of their most popular products – pumpkins. “The PYO will only be open for pumpkins but in our farm shop we will have homegrown leeks, sweetcorn, parsnips, savoy cabbage, kale, carrots, beetroot, lettuce and Cavola Nero,” says Nicola.

The family began growing pumpkins for a food retailer for Halloween at the same time as growing squash for eating. “While pumpkins look fabulous the squash family, such as butternut is more delicious to cook.”

You can start to grow pumpkins in the ground or under glass. “We start ours in late April early May from seed under glass. Seeds are planted in separate pots in really fertile soil. They are planted out into the fields in June then it’s a matter of patience, watering (in dry spells) and checking for weeds and pests. We plan to have ours ready by mid October to pick and lay out in our pumpkin patch.”

The Halloween vegetable is now only grown to supply the farm shop and their stall at Hampshire Farmers’ Markets. “Seven years ago the main retailer we were growing for cancelled their order so we were left with fields of pumpkins,” explains Nicola. “Greg came up with the idea of taking kids out on tractors to pick pumpkins and ‘Pumpkin Week’ was born.”


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