September 9th, 2022 Rooting for Real Farms

Rooting for Real Farms: Olia Hercules & Annie Landless (Hampton Gay Farm)

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Olia grew up in a large bustling household filled with her numerous extended family including most memorably Mamushka, her Siberian paternal grandmother who had lived for ten years in Uzbekistan and had brought kitchen and food-growing skills from a distant almost mythical country to their home in Southern Ukraine.

Her grandmother was the inspiration for Olia’s 2015 bestseller Mamushka, an extraordinary melting pot of food styles, ingredients and culture from the huge expanses of Siberia, Russia, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Moldova, where her mother’s family are from, and Ukraine where the family settled in Kakhovka near the border with Crimea. Mamushka picked up a Fortnum and Mason Food and Drink award and has sold 100,000 copies worldwide, rapidly making Olia an international celebrity.

At the age of 12 she moved to Cyprus then six years later to England to study international relations and Italian at Warwick University before getting a masters in Russian language and culture. She worked for a time as a film journalist, then as a food stylist before a course at Pru Leiths and a spell at Ottolenghi launched her stellar career as a world-renowned chef, journalist and storyteller-food writer.

Mamushka was followed by two more books, Kaukasis and Summer Kitchens, that brilliantly reflect her extraordinarily eclectic and historic knowledge of rural culture, food growing, preparation and fermentation, and a seemingly limitless number of recipes drawn from her family’s past.

Kaukasis, a story-telling journey through Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, weaves her search for traditional local dishes with the journey her aunt Nina made when the war in Nagorno-Karabach forced her and her family to flee their summer house there and relocate to Ukraine. One of her aunt’s favourites is a traditional Caucasian dish of cauliflower steaks, eggs and raclette cheese that can be made in a few minutes over an open fire.

Summer Kitchens brings us to the traditional outbuildings in rural Ukraine where young couples would live while they saved enough to build their own house. These buildings then became summer kitchens where families cook recipes from the vegetables that grow and the animals that graze just outside the door. The stoves give the dishes a marvellous flavour of wood smoke that infuses dishes such as yeasted buns with slow-cooked pork or soft rolls stuffed with pork belly, prunes and sauerkraut.

In Georgia she found that pigs are integrated into everyday life and it is usual to see them sleeping outside the door of a shop while their owner is inside, then following the family home, managing to keep up while rooting and grazing along the way. Some of the recipes from Kaukasis involve pig cuts that we don’t use and are even repelled by in the UK. Recently she posted pictures of pig’s ears and trotters on Instagram and found, to her amazement, that the images had been blurred and labelled ‘disturbing content’. It was a reminder of how removed we have become from the reality that meat comes from an animal. ‘I was attacked on Twitter for it as well. Why is showing a burger OK, and yet its horrendous to show ears and trotters that clearly have come from an animal?’

‘Pigs ears are delicious’, she says, ‘you poach them in water, mix them with garlic and chilli, slice them and eat them with bread and beer. People are removed from the idea that meat used to be an animal.’

Annie Landless, manager at Hampton Gay Organic Farm, was born nearby on a small mixed arable and livestock farm run by her Dad. At an early age she developed a fascination for soils and later in life came to realise that regenerative farming is essential to nurture soils, protect biodiversity and create resilience through reduced inputs like artificial fertilisers or chemicals, that undermine living, healthy soil’s ability to hold water in dry spells.

At Hampton Gay the pigs are fed bucket loads of ripe apples in the autumn and can forage outside all year on healthy, well-nourished soils.
‘We want what is best for our animals. Our pigs are fed the highest quality, organic feed and live outdoors, foraging, rooting and wallowing to their hearts’ content.’

After studying History of Art she worked for six years in communications spending time in Berlin as community manager for an online mentoring learning programme, then moved to London to work as network coordinator for The Food Assembly which links consumers with local producers so that produce doesn’t travel more than 60 kilometres from farm to fork.

‘I’ve started to truly understand what it means to support good farming, why farmers need to get paid fairly and how hard it can be to get products to market.

‘I’ve realised it’s a struggle, but there’s nothing more worthwhile than contributing to the kind of food system I want to see.’

As well as managing Hampton Gaye she does freelance communications for Vidacycle, Pasture for Life and Farmerama Radio. Vidacycle is based on a farm in Chile where they have developed an app that allows farmers to monitor soils, fruits and vines, and Farmerama Radio is an award-winning podcast that features stories from the regenerative farming movement worldwide.

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