Sunday 10 August 2014

What Makes Flora?


A few weeks ago I was invited for a day in the Cambridgeshire countryside to attend the #WhatMakesFlora event over at College Farm, Duxford. I joined three other food-bloggers as well as representatives from Flora, LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) and the PR company Blue Rubicon for a day full of all things Flora!

rapeseed: the flowers with the seed pods (top) and the full blooming field (bottom)

We all care about the food we and our families eat, and want to know where it comes from, how it’s made, and that it is good for us. Thus, with the rapeseed harvest taking place right now, it was Flora’s chance to open up their supplier network to explain what goes into their products, how they are made, and how they can be used to make everyday food tasty, as well as steps they are taking to make it more sustainable.

There has been an ongoing debate within the media about the relative benefits of processed vs. natural foods, and the role that fats plan in a healthy diet. This was my chance to see for myself how Flora products are made. From a home-baker's point of view, I was excited to go 'behind the scenes' so to speak, of such a trusted brand.

College Farm grow and harvest rapeseed for Flora, which they then use to make their range of spreads. We got to spend the day firstly in the field exploring the farming methods, and the reality of life as a farmer, followed by a fun baking and food styling session (using Flora, of course!) with the wonderful Ed Kimber (The Boy Who Bakes) who won the first ever series of BBC's The Great British Bake Off.


Unilever, the company behind Flora, maintain a strong commitment to sustainability, and are regularly coming up with ways they can reduce their overall impact on the environment. One of the ways they have been able to do this is by working alongside LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) who are the leading organisation promoting sustainable food and farming - they work hard to ensure that their farms produce food you can trust by farmers who care for the environment.

It was highly evident on the day having met the head farmer, farm owner and representative from Unilever - that they all work hard to ensure that the end product (the Flora itself) is not only of the highest quality, but is also as kind on the environment as possible.

On the day we learnt that a LEAF Marque farmer cares for the environment by:

-Using crop rotations to keep the soil in good health

-Carefully managing their hedgerows to provide a variety of habitats and food sources for wildlife

-Using pesticides and fertilisers only when absolutely necessary

-Leaving a strip of land between hedgerows and crops to act as a habitat for wildlife

-Recycling on-farm waste and conserving energy

-Improving water efficiency and quality

-Assesing the environmental impact of their farming practices

-Continually improving their farming practices and environment


Farm Owner Andrew Nottage (left) and representative from Unilever David Pendlington giving us a warm welcome in the farm marquee (Bake Off stylie!)

After the initial intro we grabbed our wellies and waterproofs and headed out to the rapeseed field in the glorious British weather (pouring heavy rain & gale force winds!)

We were all giggling like crazy as we jumped aboard a trailer and was towed to the field by a massive tractor! 

on the trailer

it was a bit wet & windy! 

we got to taste fresh honey from the bee hives that surround the rapeseed field! yum yum! 

Andrew, in full swing - enthusiastically explaining the farms methods for growing rapeseed

here we are feeling the clay soil and finding out how they ensure their farm has soil perfect for helping the rapeseed to thrive

Andrew explaining the LEAF methodology

What I was most amazed at was that the rapeseed field we were in produces 80,000 litres of rapeseed oil in one harvest (which takes around a year to grow)... thats a lot of oil! The harvesting process is so precarious though, that the farmers have to pick exactly the right time to harvest by regularly testing the moisture level within the crop - if the heavens open when least expected (as they so regularly do in the UK) and the crop gets too wet, the whole of the rapeseed crop could be ruined before harvesting takes place! 

I cannot imagine how devastating that must be for a farmer who has cared for that crop for a whole year. 

The main thing I took away from being right there in the field with the farmers themselves was just how much of a 24/7 commitment farming is - they may need to harvest at 3am in the morning if a sudden rainfall is forecast! Wow, now thats commitment to the job in hand. 

The rapeseed in all its glory 

rapeseeds grow in small pods like this - they look much like poppy seeds

By lunch time we were pretty cold and wet, and needed to dry off and re-fuel before embarking on some afternoon baking with Edd. We were treated to an amazing lunch by the Flora team, and it was fab to sit with Edd and chat all about baking, our blogs, and most importantly about Edd's time in the Bake Off tent! For those of you who know me personally you will know that I was in absolute heaven.

our amazing lunch…be jealous…it was so tasty! 
(photo by Ellie Matthews from The Young Domestic Goddess)

Berry pavlova to die for…there's always room for dessert!

Once lunch was over we were taught how to make a Flora spread from scratch by a lovely Unilever chef. She explained the Flora process, gave us a demonstration and allowed us to taste the oils individually, as well as the finished article spread across lovely crusty fresh bread. Scrummy!

I can confirm that rapeseed oil tastes amazing (I prefer it to olive oil) and linseed oil by itself is DISGUSTING it is SO bitter! 

It was so interesting to watch the whole making process, I had no idea what a simple process it is, and how little goes into this "processed" product. 

Flora products are so much more natural than I had previously perceived. By knowing that they use only British rapeseed oil, some of which came from the farm I was standing in made the demonstration even more meaningful for me. I try so often to "buy British" and support local food producers, it is an important part of the way I shop and cook, and for me has made Flora a product I will definitely pick up above all other spread/margarine brands now that I know that their products contain only:

-a mix of seed and plant oils (rapeseed oil, linseed oil, olive oil)
-emulsifiers (lecithin taken from sunflowers)
-preservatives (to keep the spread fresh and to stop mould and germs)
-Beta-carotene (to give the golden colour, found naturally in carrots and pumpkins)
-vitamins (to ensure we get the nutrients we need for a healthy, balanced diet)
-salt (just a pinch, for flavour)

The lovely chef from Unilever also explained to us the difference between a 'spread' and 'margarine'. Spreads are like margarine, but with less fat. To be classified margarine, fat content must be 80% or more, similar to butter. Because people want to live healthier lives, Flora has worked hard to reduce the amount of fat in their products. I bet you didn't know all that did you?

BAKING WITH EDD KIMBER (*excited squeal*)

My most favourite part of the day was baking alongside the marvellous Mr Edd Kimber! I've been a huge fan of his since he first appeared on our TV screens in the first ever series of The Great British Bake Off. Since then, I've been following his fab baking blog, and using his cookery books - so I was so excited to spend the day with him and see him in action in the kitchen. 

There was something very Bake Off-esque about the set up that afternoon - we all watched Edd demonstrate making bacon, cheese and spring onion scones, and then while his baked in the oven we all set to work making our own batches of the scone mixture at our own baking stations. We were in a beautiful marquee, and it was pouring down outside…all we needed was Mel & Sue coming round to steal taste our ingredients and I would have genuinely believed we were on the Bake Off set! :-)

Edd about to get baking! 

Edd made his scones using a Flora baking block which is the perfect substitute for real butter- as well as flour, baking powder, cooked crispy bacon pieces, grated cheddar cheese, finely chopped spring onions, milk, and one egg. He sprinkled Has El Hanout (a middle eastern spice blend) on the top just before baking which added a beautiful seasoning to the scones crust. 

smelling the Ras El Hanout (spice blend) that Edd used to top his delicious scones

It was so fun getting to work at our baking stations, and it actually felt really weird to bake somewhere other than my own kitchen. I felt strangely nervous baking in front of Edd, although he soon put me at ease, and gave me some great tips for making super light scones. 

busy measuring out my ingredients

mixing my scone dough

Edd with his scones fresh from the oven

Now tell me you don't want to dive head first into one of these scones! 

If you'd like to have a go at baking these scones yourself you can find the full recipe originally from Edd Kimber over on fabulous Ellie Matthews' blog (The Young Domestic Goddess) here. Ellie joined me on the day, and cleverly remembered to keep note of the recipe as Edd demonstrated his bake (I however was too busy being over excited!)


Once we had finished baking we took part in a food-styling session, which I just totally adored!

I love photography, and know how important it is to take great pictures of the food I make. I always try to take the best pictures I can manage, and I'm lucky that I have lots of pretty things around my home that I can use to dress my shots and ensure they look great. However, there is always always room for improvement, and I just love to be taught by experts and gain extra knowledge and tips. I'm a naturally artistic person, so when we could have a play with lots of fun props and the yummy scones, I was in my element. 

I learnt lots from the session, and Edd gave me lots of practical tips, advice and inspiration. 

So….here are my final shots (using just my iPhone camera) from our food styling session...

Lucy's Food Styling #1

Lucy's Food Styling #2

Lucy's Food Styling #3

What do you think? Do you like artistic food shots? Or do you prefer a more natural and rustic food photograph? I loved playing around with angles, light, props, backgrounds and textures. I think this session combined with the food styling session I attended at this years BritMums has helped to greatly improve my food photography skills, so watch this space for some very pretty food shots in future posts. 

After the food styling session we all scoffed the scones (they were delicious), boxed up our own scone doughs ready to bake at home and had some final photographs and interviews before heading home with very full heads and tummies! 

Myself, Edd and the other bloggers on the day! 

I'll leave you with this picture of me and one of my baking heroes - Mr Kimber! 

As soon as I got home I baked my own scone mixture, my husband couldn't wait to tuck into them - they literally lasted five minutes…

my warm bacon, cheddar and spring onion scones, waiting to be scoffed by Mr Bishop

So, do you worry about where your food comes from? 

Do you 'buy British' as much as possible?

Do you use Flora products, or will you, now that you know more about how they are made?

I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Tweet me @lucybishop2012 with the hashtag #whatmakesflora with any of your comments or questions.

Bye for now...

Mrs B 


Disclaimer: All opinions and words in this post are my own, I was not paid or endorsed in any way to write this post, and simply enjoyed a day out courtesy of Flora/Unilever to learn more about their products and processes. 
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