The temperature outside is still under three degrees. It’s sleeting, and I’ve forgotten what sunshine looks like, but as I sit in the warmth of Penny Turnbull’s kitchen, I am discovering that the poor weather of the last year or so has had at least some positive effects.
The delicious vinegars made by Penny of the Little Herb Farm, she tells me, were an accidental sideline of her herb nursery business, introduced last year because of the impact of the poor weather on plant sales. But they were a sideline that took off in a big way, and Little Herb Farm vinegars are now being sold through Ardross and Balgove farm shops, First Fruits in Crail and at the Cocoa Tree in Pittenweem, as well as at farmers markets, galas and events throughout the region. They are also available online via the Little Herb Farm website.
After scaling back a successful professional career to start the Little Herb Farm, the first two years were not without their challenges, hit by a lack of sunshine, low temperatures and rain. “The poor weather meant that events like farmers markets and galas were poorly attended,” Penny says, “Car parks were full of mud and gardening was the last thing on peoples’ minds.” Not the best time to start a gardening business while continuing to juggle family and business commitments.
But Penny’s commitment to the quality of her products has paid off. What makes the Little Herb Farm’s vinegars different from other commercial vinegars is their high fruit content. “They are made by hand in small batches,” she says, “and with 46 per cent fruit content in the final products, a little goes a long way.”
Varieties range from Raspberry and Rosemary to Blackcurrant and Thyme, Tayberry and Sage, and the deliciously Christmassy Mulled Bramble. In our house they have become a storecupboard staple. A popular winter starter was goats cheese glazed with Mulled Bramble vinegar, and my 10 year old will no longer eat a salad without a small bottle of Little Herb Farm vinegar on the side. The combination of the best quality soft fruit from Fife, along with the variety of herb combinations makes them not only delicious but also more versatile in their uses. They can be added to sparkling water or wine as a cordial, to gravy to sweeten in the same way as redcurrant jelly, to meringues, to stewed fruit, and to cocktails. They can even be drunk straight as a tonic, which Penny does herself (this was a popular Victorian remedy to maintain good health).
But of course there is another side to the Little Herb Farm, the herbs themselves, and the Herb Farm grows many varieties not easily available elsewhere, such as salad burnet, sorrel, sweet mace, and summery savory. Ornamental and medicinal herbs are grown alongside the culinary varieties, and brushing past the pots of lemon and rose scented geranium set out in the warmth of the polytunnel is a sensuous experience in itself.
Penny sells different types of herbs with different requirements, and can advise on the right type of herb for certain conditions. If they don’t have a dedicated vegetable patch and want to grow herbs amongst their flowers, she can advise on more ornamental versions. “Our herbs are born and raised in Pittenweem and grown without artificial heat,” she says, “so that they are more likely to survive than plants raised in artificial environments.” The garden is peat free and Penny uses organic gardening methods.
In future Penny hopes to expand the range of vinegars on offer, and plans more open days in her own garden. She is creating new herb beds and borders so people can see what their chosen plant will look like once it has grown up in its natural environment. With plans for herb flavoured salts, edible flowers and her ever popular Turkish delight, there is plenty to look forward to from the Little Herb Farm in coming months. And with all this talk of scented herbs, and temperature having risen to the lofty heights of eight degrees, I can almost taste the sunshine.
The Hungry Cygnet Tomato Salad
Two time winner of the Chef of the Future competition, my “hungry cygnet” likes her food. This is her perfect tomato salad recipe, which she says can’t be made without the Little Herb Farm’s raspberry and rosemary vinegar.
Tomatoes (we use a combination of big plum ones and cherry ones, the plumpest and freshest we can get, and home grown when we have them.)
Little Herb Farm Raspberry and Rosemary vinegar (or Tayberry and Sage)
Basil (sometimes parsley or mint)
Extra virgin olive oil
Slice the tomatoes, place in a sieve and salt. Leave for 20 minutes. This is very important. Leave out this stage and it just isn’t the same.
Place tomatoes and basil leaves on large plate. Mix two parts Little Herb Farm Vinegar with one part balsamic vinegar. Then add an equal quantity of olive oil and beat with a fork. Drizzle over tomatoes. Add black pepper to taste. Leave at room temperature for a further 20 minutes.
Taste and if necessary drizzle over either more vinegar or more oil to taste (the hungry cygnet likes hers pretty vinegary, and sometimes she has an extra bowl of vinegar on the side for dipping!)
There are more recipes and serving suggestions on the Little Herb Farm website.
Find out more:
Facebook page: The Little Herb Farm
Twitter page: @littleherbfarm
This article has been submitted to Crail Food Festival by Kirsten McKenzie. You can read more by visiting www.kirstenmckenzie.co.uk or www.pittenweemplot.wordpress.com, or join me on Facebook – Kirsten McKenzie or send me a Tweet @kirstenmckenzie