Feeding the 5000

by Penny Armstrong -

Between the second week of April and the end of October this year we will have hosted 26 WWOOFers (Willing Workers On Organic farms). Folk who come and work for us in return for board and lodgings. We also have a 16 strong team of local volunteers who come and work with us at various times. Some join in the volunteer days, a Saturday morning once or twice a month, others come along for the day each week to help us get those endless tasks completed. Last year voluntary time amounted to over 6000 hours, this year it will be much more.

We certainly couldn't achieve what we do without all those extra hands. The size of the plot we work and the quantity of vegetables we aim to produce couldn't be cared for by the two of us alone. This year I have been tied up with the Carbon Classroom, our Climate Challenge Funded project. We've been organising and running grow your own courses and raising awareness of the carbon emissions related to all things food. Most of my time has been spent in front of the computer or running courses and not out in the field.

To compensate I booked in plenty of WWOOfers and at one point in early July we had eleven folk trying to squeeze around the dining table in our 12ft X 12ft kitchen. People were sleeping in the two caravans, the sitting room and even, at one point, the back of our van. To be fair, the van was used as a stop-gap because the young folk left it too late at night to set up their tent. The van suited them fine.

Ten hungry volunteers require food to fill the equivalent of 20 average bellies and it has to be 3 meals a day. That's when domestic cooking becomes mass catering. For a physically active body working for up to 8 hours per day, there can be no skimping on food. We are lucky that we produce all the meat we eat and have a wide variety of vegetables at the height of the season. Other ingredients we buy in bulk from the wholesaler and it means we can provide larger quantities at a moments notice. We can, and do invite visitors to eat with us if they happen to drop by around mealtimes.

Cooking large quantities on the peat fueled Rayburn is an interesting exercise. One of our French WWOOFers commented in our visitors book : “cooking so amazing meals with a horrible kitchen, splendid!” We didn't know whether to take it as a compliment or an insult.

We love our Rayburn but feeding the 5000 with just the small hotplate takes some skill, planning, preparation and ingenuity. We manage it though. Frying and grilling are difficult. We don't have a grill and it can be difficult to get the stove hot enough to fry things cleanly and crisply. So when we sweep out the stove and it's windy we take the opportunity the resulting hot fire to fry. That's the time too to cook things we need a hot oven for. Last night we had pakora and tonight it's toad in the hole. We cook Chinese, Indian, Moroccan, Thai, Spanish, Greek, Turkish and much more; burgers, roasts, soups, stews, cakes, biscuits, bread. And bannocks of course.

Bannocks are a great filler for the hungry. Cooked on the Rayburn stove top, there is no other way for a real bannock (never in the oven), using a recipe adapted from one given to me by my sister in-law 15 or more years ago. We buy 16kg bags of flour, milk, buttermilk and butter direct from the dairy and we make 100's a year. Along with gallons of soup.

All the WWOOFers go away with the recipe and an addiction to bannocks. Unfortunately when I make them I don't measure anything. It's some of this and a bit of that, so converting it into pounds and ounces or grams has been a bit hit and miss. We provide lessons in how much to knead, how to know when they are cooked and how to clean your hands afterwards. The addicted frequently eat the bannocks for breakfast lunch and dinner, justifying the extra calories with all the manual work they have done that day. We have had reports of bannocks being cooked all over the world (but apparently they do not always taste the same).

By the end of October we heave a sigh of relief after the last guests leave. The house is ours again and we really appreciate it. When March comes round we often can't imagine taking in people to share our lives again. It's hard work and I'm not sure the visitors realise how much you have to compromise to take a stranger into your home. An 'uncan boady' (unfamiliar person) you have to get to know and make welcome whatever they're like. But by March the work is piling up outside and as soon as they arrive we automatically switch to WWOOF host mode, scale-up the cooking and make space at the table.

Turriefield Bannocks

Course: Main

Servings: 25 triangles

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 or until they're done

  • Plain flour - 750 grams (or self-raising)
  • Baking powder - 2 tsp (omit if using self-raising)
  • Bicarbonate of soda - 2 tsp
  • Salt - 1 tsp
  • Shetland butter - 50 grams
  • Shetland Dairies buttermilk - 550 ml (if you can't find buttermilk you can mix yogurt 50/50 with milk)
  1. Sieve dry ingredients together
  2. Rub in butter
  3. Mix in buttermilk, do not over-knead
  4. Flatten dough out on a board or kitchen surface to approx 1/2 inch/1cm thick
  5. Cut into preferred shapes: triangles, squares or circles (or something more fancy)
  6. Bake on a hot oiled stove top or frying pan, turn when golden brown.
  7. Cook until the sides spring back into shape when gently pressed.
  8. The dough can also be baked like a scones or cooked under a medium hot grill
  9. Wrap in a tea towel when cooling to keep soft.
  10. Eat! (with butter or other accompaniment)

It's okay, you can cook them in the oven if that's the easiest way for you. We won't tell anyone.

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