In the last few weeks, my family has been traveling. We packed one backpack each, left our little home in the mountains, and headed off on a 6-week tour on the trail of real food – stopping first at a dairy farm nestled against the rolling green hills of Devon in England before moving on, briefly, to London, then to Paris and next to Provence, Tuscany for this getaway, and wherever else the road takes us before we return home.
We drove through the impossibly narrow, hedge-fledged roads through the English country-side before finding the dairy where we camped for three nights at the Aller Family Farm. We roamed the hills, foraged for wild foods, played and cooked on the cabin’s wood-fired stove as well as an open pit outside the cabin. Chaffin Family Orchard out of northern California offers a similar camping arrangement where my family stayed last November.
Farmhouse and Wood-fired Cooking
While at the Allers’ farm, we enjoyed the fresh real food of Devon – sharp cheddar, fresh raw milk, herbs, spring root vegetables, good beef and seafood from the coast. We also settled in for some foods direct from the farm, pots of ingredients delivered to our cabin, including beef and English bacon for a simple Farmhouse Beef and Bacon Stew.
Unlike my stews like Bison Stew with Red Wine, which rely on cubed meat, Emma’s stew pot contained whole cuts of meat, with a note that it’s best not to cube the meat, but to cook it whole and let it fall apart on its own. The longer you cook the stew, the better it becomes, and while we cooked ours on a wood stove, carefully minding the wood and coals to achieve variations in temperature, it is equally well-suited if not better suited to a slowcooker.
We use grass-fed beef exclusively in my kitchen, and as much as possible while on the road. Grass-fed beef enjoys a rich and complex flavor profile met by a leanness unparalleled in conventional, grain-fed beef; yet, for this reason, it tends toward toughness if you’re not accustomed to cooking it. Long, very slow cooking can bring out not only the beef’s flavor, but its tenderness too. You can often find grass-fed beef at farmers markets and from local ranchers; however, you can also purchase it online if none is available to you locally.
This Farmhouse Beef and Bacon Stew uses English bacon – a much leaner bacon with a much less pronounced flavor than American bacon. You can find it in a good butcher shop or online; however, Canadian bacon is a good substitute.
- 1½ pounds beef chuck roast, trimmed of excess fat and sinew (get it here)
- 1 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 8 ounces English-style (find it here) or Canadian Bacon, chopped
- 4 medium carrots, scraped and chopped into ½-inch thick rounds
- 4 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
- 1 cup pearl onions
- 1 quart homemade beef stock
- 1½ cups red wine
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper.
- Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed stock pot, and toss in the bacon. Allow it to render its fat and brown a bit in the butter, then toss in the beef and brown on each side about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the vegetables, stock and wine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 4 to 5 hours until the meat is tender.
- Remove the meat from the pot and shred it with a knife and fork. Return the shredded meat to the pot and increase the temperature to medium-high. Remove the pot's cover, and allow it to simmer until the liquid is reduced by ⅓. Sprinkle with fresh thyme, and serve.