Photograph by Zoe Warde-Aldam

Gilchesters Organics is a farm and flourmill headed by Andrew & Sybille Wilkinson within the far horizons of Northumberland. Andrew is an organic cereal specialist, who has over thirty years of experience in farming heritage grains. Gilchesters Organics are renowned for their organic flours, from ancient Einkorn and Emmer to their Unbleached White and Wholemeal Spelt. Read the following article, where Angus D. Birditt interviews Andrew Wilkinson, plus enjoy a simple noodle recipe using Gilchesters Organics ‘Unbleached White’ flour.

Photograph by Halen Môn

How was Gilchesters Organics established?

AW: Two reasons, really. To understand the first, you have to go back to the agriculture crisis in the late 90s, when British farmers were forced to adapt or diversify their farms in order to stay afloat. I saw that time as a golden opportunity to covert Gilchesters farm to organic, and in doing so, becoming the first organic farm in the North East. As with any area of land switching to organic, it has to go through a two-year conversion period for the soil to adjust. It was also during that time that I was doing a PhD at Newcastle University in organic plant production. Fortunately enough for me – and this is the second reason – I was studying at the time when new breakthroughs in plant research were happening and new science was being applied in organic farming. Further down the line, equipped with a 10-year research project and business plan drawn up, we built the flourmill in 2006 and started milling high quality grains.

Photograph by Zoe Warde-Aldam

"It is a virtuous cycle of soil that is absolutely, intrinsically bound to our health. Soil is everything; soil health is human health."

What are heritage grains?

AW: Heritage grains are fraught with multiple interpretations. The simple explanation is that the word ‘heritage’ in cereal farming determines the breeding line; cereals that have an unbroken lineage, which can be traced back and verified. After plenty of research – looking at what they were doing in places like Norway, Sweden and Switzerland – I found a better way of doing things, growing ‘heritage’ or ‘heirloom’ grains, such as, Einkorn and Emmer. Although they take more time to grow, these cereals are higher in quality and more robust in the milling process.

 

What is the importance of being organic, and significance of being in the North East? 

 

AW: Organic farming is all about maintaining healthy systems to preserve the land. It is a virtuous cycle of soil that is absolutely, intrinsically bound to our health. Soil is everything; soil health is human health. Many told us we wouldn’t be able to grow organic cereals large enough to mill in the North East, due to its colder temperatures than that of the south. However, I learnt that if you get the right plants, the climate becomes irrelevant. You simply just have to go back to using the same plant genetics that were being used hundred years ago, and that means using heritage grains, which are robust and resilient to our adverse weather conditions. 

Photograph by Zoe Warde-Aldam

"I just really hope that the understanding is there; to see that it’s the small-scale producers, who work tirelessly to preserve the land for the community, which need the most support."

What are your thoughts on what’s happened over the last couple of months? 

AW: Mad, absolutely mad! We are right in the thick of the industry’s efforts to fulfil a nation’s flour need. We have our stone mills flat out 8-hours a day. We’re producing as much as we can to satisfy the bakers we work with, wholesalers (now the new local superstores), family grocers, and our massive, massive online customer base. Each Tuesday at 9am, we sell our flours on our website and the entire stock of small to medium flour bags sell out in under 12 minutes. It is incredibly tiring work, but what keeps us going is the heartfelt emails thanking us for our efforts and lovely letters from those offering to bake us cakes with the flour they have just bought! 

 

Do you see any positives coming from the lockdown? 

AW: Yes, I do. It’s brilliant to see customers supporting local food-producers that are making efforts to create a local food-based economy. I can certainly see local food becoming more prevalent on people’s shopping lists. I just really hope that the understanding is there; to see that it’s the small-scale producers, who work tirelessly to preserve the land for the community, which need the most support. It’s a plea! For us, I would like to think perhaps 10% of our new online customers would stay and regularly buy our flour. It would be great to see that all the efforts we’ve done over the last couple of months have been worth it. 

Photograph by Angus D. Birditt

How do you see the food industry going from here?

AW: It is a worrying thing to read the statements coming out of the government. There was no mention – until very recently – that discussed the Agricultural Bill, highlighting how we need to manage the land in order to be as sustainable as we can. The rural scope is where a very small number of people are producing an enormous vital resource, food. I believe there are two things that are essential, food and friendship. I’m hoping that there will be a change implemented to raise the awareness and value of those rural producers – they are key workers as much as any other, feeding a nation. I’d like to see the local grain economy picking up in the next couple of years, where more and more small mills will be popping up, creating a better, shorter food chain. 

 

Any last thoughts, Andrew?

AW:Well, perhaps the thought to raise the awareness of eating wholemeal. As a nation, I feel the big mission is to eat more wholemeal, currently the industry is throwing away 20-30% of cereals to produce white flour, that is a lot of wastage that can be saved and eaten. 

Photographs by Angus D. Birditt

‘How to Make Noodles’ with Gilchesters Organics‘Unbleached White’ Flour

Serves 4

380g Gilchesters ‘Unbleached White’ flour

180ml water 

Pinch of sea salt

 

  1. Take 380g Gilchesters ‘Unbleached White’ flour and place it in a large bowl with a good pinch of fine ground sea salt. 

  2. Next, and very gently, start pouring 180ml water onto the flour, whilst stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula. 

  3. As it comes to the point when the flour has mixed completely into the water, stop pouring and start kneading for around 12 minutes or thereabouts, until the dough has an even consistency and is tight. 

  4. Leave the dough in the bowl covered with a damp towel for a good 40 minutes to proof. 

  5. Once the dough has proofed, keep your surface well floured and roll the dough out to around 4-6mm thickness – this will depend on how thick you want your noodles. 

  6. Once the dough is flattened evenly, lightly flour the surface of the dough and then fold it over onto itself – the fold should be about the width of 4 fingers from the edge of the dough. Flour the fold.

  7. Keep folding a few more times – lightly flouring each fold – until the dough is a long, flat rolled piece. 

  8. Using a sharp and lightly floured knife, cut the rolled dough into thin lengths, lightly flouring the cut noodles as you go. Alternatively, if you have a pasta machine, cut the dough into lengths that are around 6cm wide and pass through a thin cutter to create your thin noodles. 

  9. Using floured fingers, unravel the cut noodles and store in a watertight bag in the fridge for a few days. 

  10. If cooking straight away, place the noodles into boiling water and cook for no more than 1 minute or until they are al dente. 

 

 

Recipe: Baked Trout Fillet with Noodles

 

En papillote ingredients:

4 x trout fillet, 3 x garlic cloves, 2 x spring onion, 2 x red or green chilli, 50g fresh ginger, (all finely chopped), 2 tbsp. olive oil, 2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar, pinch of sea salt

Glaze:

2 tbsp. honey, 5 tbsp. sesame oil, 40ml soy sauce

Garnish:

Sesame seeds, black or white toasted, half cucumber, ribbon and pickle, seasonal edible petals, marigold or chive flowers in season

 

  1. Equally distribute the trout and en papillote ingredients into four separate baking parchment parcels. Tightly wrap the parcels and bake for 20 minutes at 200C. 

  2. For the glaze, heat gently the soy sauce, sesame oil and honey till sticky. 

  3. Cut cucumber in ribbons, and pickle in 1:1 ratio of water and vinegar. Add a pinch of sea salt. 

  4. Place parcel contents on the noodles, top with glaze, toasted sesame seeds, pickled cucumber and edible petals. 

Photograph by Angus D. Birditt

Q&A: Gilchesters Organics

Article by Angus D. Birditt | @ourisles

Photographs by Angus D. Birditt &  Zoe Warde-Aldam

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