This week… wellies, weather and wild food

This week I pulled on a sweater and my wellies and headed out into the Hampshire countryside around Winchester. Despite muddy ground underfoot the ethereal autumn sunlight danced on the surface of the River Itchen. I never tire of exploring this ancient countryside in the footsteps of Iron Age and Roman peoples. The city was subsequently the medieval capital of England and is surely a candidate for nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Amongst this green and pleasant land I can breathe deeply and it literally goes to my head, as surely as a glass of vintage champagne.

More on walking in Hampshire later. In the meantime, I could tell you about the new hotels opening, the big exhibitions planned for autumn and chef-y menus at restaurants hoping to entice diners. Instead, this week I’m focusing on a Zoom-trip to an independent plantation in the Andes by way of marking International Coffee Week.

La Union Coffee Farm in the Andes

The lush coffee growing region of Colombia and a bee foraging on the coffee flowers which are used to make a tisane. Photos La Union Coffee Farm.

While I have read about growing coffee, it was fascinating to see and hear live a first-hand account of how coffee cherries are grown and processed. Clearly, there are both challenges and rewards of living the good life in this awe-inspiring mountainous landscape.

Coffee chapola or two-leaf seedlings and coffee beans drying on trays in the sun. Photo La Union Coffee Farm.

Several years ago, Arvey (an accountant and professional tourist guide) and Elizabeth Sepulveda (an electrical engineer) took a leap of faith and moved to the countryside to grow their own food, and lead a more peaceful life surrounded by nature. At their home, a farm established in 1954 and located in the Risalda region in the Andes Colombian mountain range, they have over 3,000 Castillo (Arabica origin) coffee trees in different stages of growth, to ensure ongoing harvests.

Avery and Elizabeth are third generation Colombian specialty coffee producers. Photo La Union Coffee Farm.

A coffee tree will produce 40,000 coffee beans during its 20 year lifespan. New growth is encouraged through repeated ‘soca’ or strategic cuts in the tree. The cherries are picked entirely by hand in two harvests, the main one in August to October when it takes three people per day, three days a week, to harvest over a two month period. A smaller harvest takes place from March to May. Inside each ripe, red cherry are two sweet-smelling, pale coffee beans (a rare occurrence is a single bean called Caracoli or Pearl). Arvey and Elizabeth use biological control of pests, especially the broca or coffee borer beetle. The discarded coffee skins are composted into an organic fertiliser used to enrich the soil.

The coffee beans are washed, with any poor quality beans that float to the surface removed, before fermentation to improve the coffee quality. One of the reasons Colombian coffee has such a good reputation is because, by law, growers are not permitted to include ‘bad’ beans in their exports. Buying single-origin coffee with full traceability is another way to avoid poor quality coffee.

Coffee plants, cherries and beans. Photo La Union Coffee Farm.

Fermentation is a complex procedure that helps to refine the sweetness, acidity and body of coffee, as well as producing unique sensorial notes (fruit, chocolate and so on). The beans are then dried on trays laid out in the hot sun for around twelve days for a soft, sweet coffee. From a kilo of raw coffee beans, Avery anticipates being left with around twenty per cent, 200 grams, of roasted coffee. You can begin to see why coffee is an expensive commodity and the importance of choosing the coffee for your daily cup with careful consideration.

Traditional foods produced with care for the environment are becoming mainstream once more.

Green Gastronomy: Traditional Food in Slovenia

“There are no seasons in Colombia,” says Avery. “We have the perfect terroir with both sun and shade to produce sweetness in the coffee beans”. Coffee is a year-round crop and the farm operates on a permaculture basis. Additional crops include passion fruit, sweet peppers, cacao, papaya, guava, mango, banana, guanabana (or custard apple), avocado, two varieties of lemon, orange and tangerine to help maintain the soil quality. There are around 92 species of birds around the farm which provides a perfect larder for wildlife. A recent addition to the farm are chickens for fresh eggs.


The farmhouse at La Union Coffee Farm.

The Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia is a UNESCO World Heritage site. While we wait to travel freely you can take an online tour of the coffee farm, or enjoy the ‘awakening of the birds’ experience live. Book online.

La Union Coffee Farm has three private rooms available within the main house. A double room, including breakfast and dinner (and unlimited coffee!), private bathroom and WiFi, price $90 USD, $20 USD for a child sharing. Book direct via the phone/WhatsApp number available on the webpage, or via a local travel agency.

Thank you to ProColombia for arranging the visit and the sample of coffee that arrived this week. I’m looking forward to brewing up.

Back home

Closer to home, in a week of cool temperatures and pouring rain, my son and I made the most of the one sunny day for a hike.

The Hospital of St. Cross and an avenue of fine mature trees.

There are so many unique heritage buildings in Winchester city centre from the magnificent medieval cathedral to the ruins of Wolvesey Castle and the Great Hall, the latter commissioned by Henry III. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to visit The Hospital of St. Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty. Having walked for miles around the hills, we stumbled into the hospital grounds by the back door, so to speak. The land offers public access and in better times most of the buildings are open at certain times. The River Itchen meanders through this ancient land which is populated by fine-looking mature trees. Cows graze and the sheep don’t look up from their determined grazing on the lush pasture.

The Hospital of St. Cross and Almshouses, Winchester.

Currently, for obvious reasons, the inner residential site is closed. It’s still possible though to admire the remarkable buildings and inner courtyard through the wrought iron gates. The medieval almshouse has been described as the ‘most perfect’ of English almshouses. The Grade I Listed building is remarkable with its tall chimneys.

In my (mail)box

The next focus feature will be with James Wood, forager and founder of Totally Wild so keep an eye out in your inbox or sign up below to receive the latest news direct. James very kindly sent me a box of wild foods and I’ve been trying out some simple recipes.

A breakfast smoothie with wild Sea Beet and mushroom soup made with foraged Girolles.

A rich mushroom soup was enhanced by the wild Girolles, garnished with a few sautéd in butter, and combined with some chestnut mushrooms from the fridge. The intensity of flavour was pure autumn; loamy, slightly nutty and very creamy, with hints of additional fresh parsley.

I’m trying to up my daily intake of nutritious greens with a couple of smoothies made with the NutriBullet I recently added to my kitchen worktop. Each one is an experiment of flavours. Wild Sea Beet leaves are similar to spinach and combined well with half a raw beetroot, a seasonal pear, avocado, a spoonful of raw almond butter, and a few additional superfoods. A sprinkling of unsweetened coconut on top provided texture. The colour was so pretty and it had a naturally sweet taste, intense with autumn flavours.

That’s been my week. I hope you have a good week ahead planned and look forward to catching up. Please share your favourite places to visit, virtual events and more in the comments.

As always please check the Foreign travel advice web site for the latest on international travel guidelines.

Unless otherwise stated, I have no affiliation with the brands mentioned but simply aim to share places and products that have caught my eye. I will always state if a post is sponsored or gifted.

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