Last week was rather a good week for the “Save Farm Terrace” campaign.
The campaign was set up to try to save an historic allotment site in Watford from the predatory clutches of the local borough council and housing developers. On Thursday, a judicial review – which had followed a High Court ruling last year – again overturned a decision by the UK government’s Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to allow Watford Borough Council to take over the 118 year old Farm Terrace allotment site and use it for housing and commercial development.
These are believed to be the first ever legal challenges against a decision by the Secretary of State to endorse the sale of an allotment site for development.
In his short time in office Mr Pickles has so far made 61 such decisions, 59 of which have approved the transfer of common land, in the form of allotment sites, to developers. As a consequence many other historic sites have already been lost. The Farm Terrace outcome is therefore a hugely significant victory for all those who believe in the sanctity of common land, and it will certainly give councils, Secretaries of State and housing developers plenty of future food for thought.
The Farm Terrace victory is all the more wonderful an achievement given that this group of allotment plot holders were up against the legal and financial might of Watford Borough Council and the government, whilst themselves being funded purely by modest donations from “ordinary” people, who recognised the importance of the Farm Terrace cause (and, who, like me, probably donated more in hope than expectation).
Back in mediaeval times Britain had vast tracts of common land, but it was gradually appropriated by wealthy landowners, using the notorious Enclosure Acts – essentially the legalised theft of common land from the poor by the rich. The allotment movement, fuelled by a combination of poverty, anger and desperation, waged a long and ultimately successful campaign throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century to wrest back a tiny fraction of land for common use. Each of us now privileged enough to lease an allotment plot is a mere tenant on this common land and will eventually hand the plot back to that common ownership, and on to a new tenant.
However, a number of cash-strapped local councils, with the support of Mr Pickles, have in recent years regarded allotment sites as easy targets for sale to private developers.
It is incumbent upon us all of us who care about the preservation of common land to be vigilant and to be prepared to challenge these modern-day attempts to “enclose” that land. The inspirational allotment holders at Farm Terrace have shown us all how this can be achieved, through a combination of courage, unity, energy and perseverance.
I’ve used sanguina beetroot and Pentland Brig kale from the plot to make these very tasty little tartlets. The inspiration for the beetroot-coloured pastry came from posts by two other food bloggers I follow, in which both used beetroot juice to clever effect, namely in this stunning beet crust pizza and this lovely beetroot tagliatelle.
The cheese I’ve used is a local Shropshire Blue, a lovely, creamy vegetarian blue cheese.
Depending on the size of tart mold you use, this recipe can make up to 20 bite-sized canapés, or you could use the same ingredients to make a larger tart as a colourful centrepiece for a main course (although the cooking time will need to be extended accordingly).
beetroot, kale and blue cheese tartlets
140 g kale
120 ml double cream
3 organic free range eggs
80 g Shropshire Blue or similar vegetarian Blue cheese
1/2 tsp dried thyme
for the pastry
200 g organic plain flour
100 g unsalted organic butter, chopped into cubes
1/2 tsp sea salt
70 ml organic beetroot juice (from about two average sized beetroot)
1. For the pastry, put the flour, salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor and mix at the lowest setting until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the beetroot juice and process until the mixture forms into a vibrant, pliable ball. The colour will fade a little during cooking, but should still come out of the oven a striking shade. Remove from the food processor bowl, flatten the ball slightly to a thick disc shape (this makes it easier to roll out later), wrap in clingfilm and put it the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. In the meantime, prepare the kale. Shred the kale leaves, removing any tough stalks. Steam the leaves for 3-4 minutes, or until they wilt. Drain and immediately refresh the leaves under cold water, then drain again on kitchen paper, chop finely and set to one side.
3. Pre heat the oven to 175˚C (350˚F, gas mark 4). Grease individual mini tart molds. Retrieve the pastry, roll out very thinly between two sheets of baking parchment (I used a pasta machine at setting 3 to achieve the desired thickness). Using baking parchment avoids having to roll the pastry on a floured surface, where the added flour would weaken the colour. Cut out individual circles of pastry and push these gently into each mold, leaving a slight overlap as the pastry will shrink in the oven. Prick the base and sides then gently line with parchment and baking stones or beans. Bake blind in the preheated oven for 7 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly and then remove the parchment and baking beans.
4. Whisk the eggs and double cream together. Carefully pour a small amount of this egg and cream mixture into each pastry shell, up to about a third of the way up. Next, sprinkle most of the crumbled blue cheese on top of the egg and cream mixture, leaving a little in reserve. Now distribute the kale leaves between the molds before topping up with more of the egg and cream, then the remaining blue cheese and finally a sprinkle of thyme
6. Place in the pre-heated oven for 18-20 minutes, or until set. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
Tags: land ownership