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Monday 18 February 2013

A Writer's Lifeline - Abel and Cole

By Elina Mark

We live in a wood, in the middle of nowhere. This is great and I wouldn’t swap it for the world, but there’s a price to pay. There's only one bus to town per week, and the nearest stop is half a mile away.  Travelling ten miles each way to go shopping by car is a bit of a luxury once you’ve costed in writing time, hassle, petrol and parking costs.  This means Internet shopping has become a real lifeline for us, and city-living DD has recently put me on to a real gem.  She’s away at university, and like all students has to keep tabs on every penny. When she told me she'd signed up for the Abel and Cole box scheme I was amazed. I’d seen a van in their smart yellow-and-green livery parked up outside a posh local house that runs an even posher organic bed-and-breakfast scheme (Reiki and colonic irrigation, anyone?). That had made me think their goods must cost a fortune.
Not a bit of it! One visit to the Abel and Cole website convinced me I had to sign up - and fast. We usually grow most of our own fruit and veg, but a combination of urgent deadlines and the continuous rain last year means we’ve got nothing edible in the garden at the moment, except rhubarb. We’ve been forced to buy in, and choose organic goods whenever we can. Checking the prices we pay at the supermarket against the Abel and Cole lists, there was virtually no difference between them. Actually, items from the box scheme were sometimes cheaper! The minute I started looking through their online pages, I was hooked. There are recipes, offers and tons of interesting information. As an experiment I put in a “one-off” online order with them last week, instead of going to the supermarket. 
Right from the start, I was impressed. Their website is very easy to use. The delivery driver brought our order all the way up our steep drive, right to the back door. Our groceries were beautifully packed in returnable boxes and recyclable packaging with the milk, butter and meat kept cool using returnable icepacks and special insulating pads. Manufacturing these from wool adds value for sheep farmers, which is another advantage of using this service. 
As for our order itself, the fruit and vegetables were the equal of anything I could have got from Waitrose and they were all organic, too. I’ll definitely be putting in a regular weekly order with Abel and Cole from now on, as they also supply many of the things we can’t grow for ourselves, even in a good year (such as cleaning products!). 
Just in case this all sounds to good to be true, there is one thing my next order will address. The oranges which came in our box were delicious, but they were so small we’ll need to order a lot more next time, to equal the satisfaction value of the seedless monsters on offer at our local supermarket.
The driving force behind Laverstoke Park Farm, Jody Scheckter,  has been advising for years that we should “never eat anything made in a factory”. That’s a tall order, but with scandals about mass-produced food being adulterated with horse meat of dubious origin and other unsavoury things, cooking from scratch at least gives every one of us control over the ingredients in our food.  Using lovely, fresh organic fruit and vegetables like the ones from the Abel and Cole box scheme really tempts me to try out some new recipes. Even Son Number One has started taking an interest in food. He’s now making cheese toasties (grated cheese between two slices of toast, and microwaved for 30 seconds) which was a new one on me. It's a start, and they’re delicious - especially with some salad. 
What’s your favourite recipe to cook from scratch?


  1. Are you being paid by Abel & Cole? (Only joking) They sound a marvellous company - must check them out. Favourite recipe - one I used to do when my children were young. Boil some potatoes, mash them with a drop of milk, mix in some flour and form into small pancakes about half an inch thick, then fry in lard - or maybe something less calorific these days. I used to serve them with fried eggs and peas and they were delicious. It was actually my mother's recipe.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Margaret - it's lovely to hear from you. No, I'm not being paid by Abel and Cole, more's the pity! It's just that I had the wrong idea about organic box schemes like this until I tried it, and hoped to get others to give them a try. In these days of food insecurity, it's good to know there are alternatives even if you don't live close to the shops.
    Your potato cakes sound lovely - as my son is on half-term holiday this week, I'm going to get him to try them out today. And incidentally, I'm a secret lard user. I've always used half lard/half butter when I make pastry!