WE PUBLICISED the community-spirited Red Lion gastropub in Milfield when it turned takeaway meal provider after the lockdown forced it to close its doors
WE HIGHLIGHTED the Heatherslaw Light Railway’s battle to survive the sudden death of the tourist industry that is its lifeblood.
TODAY THE CLARION turns its spotlight on a nationally-known Northumberland farm which has supplied restaurants local and national, including the Michelin stars of fine dining, but which is refocusing its business to sell to YOU at the farm gate
LUCY CARROLL WANTS THE WORLD to know just how tasty are the heritage potatoes her husband Anthony grows – “Like potatoes used to taste, she enthuses. And she particularly wants her neighbours in the Borders to know that the heritage potatoes they sell to Michelin-starred celebrity chefs like Tom Kerridge and world-renowned restaurants such as Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford can be ordered by phone or email and collected from the farm gate at Tiptoe, near Cornhill-on-Tweed.
“Our 14 or so varieties offer great and different textures, colours, shapes and sizes and they all bring a taste of history to the table,” said Lucy. “Shetland Black, for instance, so very healthy with its unmissable anti-oxidant blue ring, bred in the Isles. Or the attractively knobbly Pink Fir Apple, which is very waxy.
“Local people might be interested to try ‘Mr Little’s Yetholm Gypsy (1899)’ which was developed in Yetholm, the so-called ‘gypsy capital’ where Mr Little lived; a floury variety, and very tasty. And they’re red white and blue, so good for VE Day!”
Lucy’s public relations push is timely: she and Anthony aren’t complaining at this extraordinary and frightening time through which Britain is living. Nothing as awful as death has knocked at their door. But it must be galling when a nationally-renowned supplier of heritage potatoes to Michelin-starred restaurants sees the coronavirus pandemic put the brake on its hard-won hospitality market overnight.
So the Carrolls are facing the challenge by adopting the same strategy as their neighbours at Heatherslaw Railway and the Milfield pub: adapt or die.
They are refocusing their business by dramatically increasing retail sales and website home delivery, supplying regional and national ‘veg box’ schemes and dealing direct with the more pioneering chefs who have set up ‘lockdown-friendly’ takeaway schemes.
“People should know they can order our heritage varieties by phone (01890 883060) or email (<email@example.com>) and collect their orders direct from us at the farm gate,” said Lucy. “They are available in 1.5kg, 2.5kg or 12.5 kg bags.”
There is a history to the Carrolls’ success story. Disillusioned with the modern varieties they were producing in the 1990s – emphasis on volume, appearance, easy-peel rather than flavour or cooking qualities –they planted a single acre of historic varieties in 2000 – Arran Victory (1916), Pink Fir Apple (1850), Red Duke of York (1942) and Red King Edward (1916) – and sold them at Berwick upon Tweed Farmers Market, with great success. A new business was born.
Lucy worked from the kitchen table to market the small amounts while Anthony focused on the agriculture. Demand was so good that each year they expanded the acreage “as well as our loyal customer base and the number of employees!” laughs Lucy.
A mail order service now distributes varieties direct to customers’ homes across Britain, to chefs and restaurants and small retail outlets while a small amount is exported.
The Carrolls, while supplying two-Michelin-starred restaurants like Simon Rogan’s L’enclume in Cumbria, have always reserved supplies for local chefs such as those at Audela, the Potted Lobster and the Black Bull at Etal.
“Like so many businesses we had to adapt to the sadly changed circumstances,” says Lucy. “Little did we ever envisage all our customers disappearing overnight, and for such a long spell! The hospitality industry has been hit so hard, and there are a lot of casualties along the way. A great sadness, and so devastating to people’s lives.”