There’s a lot to consider when planning a school day trip or residential stay; the accommodation, the activities, the syllabus... so it’s easy to see why the food might slip down the list. We think that would be a real pity - because at Magdalen the food we provide is an important part of the learning experience and leaves a lasting impression. We even have parents call us afterwards - because their children want our recipes!
Great feedback on our food is more than just satisfying - it shows that providing food that’s almost always sourced right here on the farm is appreciated by our students, an audience that any teacher will know can be hard to please.
So, what goes into the food we provide at Magdalen? We asked the people who’s passion for healthy food brings a smile to everyone who eats here - our cooks, Mary and Ed.
Mary has been with Magdalen since 2009 and has been involved in cooking all her working life and also worked in the care sector. Ed joined us in 2016, following a career as a private chef in London. He wanted to get more involved in the organic farming side of food production which was part of the attraction of cooking at Magdalen.
Both Mary and Ed agree that it’s all about using as much as possible from what we grow here on the farm. As Ed explains, “Not only are we keeping our food miles as low as possible - it means we are directly responsible for those animals throughout their lives - and this means we appreciate cooking that food more. All the meat comes from the farm - we don’t buy any meat now.”
Like Ed, Mary is also keen to emphasise Magdalen’s ethical credentials. “The fact that we do it ourselves means we can be 100% positive that the meat has been reared and fed properly and the animal itself has also been respected. The milk we use comes from local dairies and anything that we do need to buy in, dry ingredients like spices for example, are always fair trade.”
Mary and Ed are helped by Magdalen’s very own chickens who live in the farmyard in the luxury of their hen house, ’Cluckingham Palace’. They produce all the eggs we need, around 35 a day and it’s been more than two years since we’ve had to buy eggs in.
As Magdalen is a working organic farm, it won’t come as a surprise that our food is influenced by the seasons, as Mary explains. “We tend to have seasonal menus and we are really doing what we did in the 1950s and 60s - we cook what’s available here on the farm to make a nutritional meal. It’s pure food. If some produce isn’t available we’ll adjust the menu but there’s always something home grown. Whatever the season, everyone will be given three hearty meals a day with healthy snacks and access to the fruit bowl.”
Of course, successful catering for children requires food they’ll want to eat - so we do buy in certain foods out of season to keep the menu appetising. Ed is keen to reassure… “It’ll always be enjoyable. We won’t only serve up marrows just because we have them - or put cabbage in their sandwiches!”
Flexibility is important too and Mary and Ed can cater for any special dietary requirements. We get enquiries from schools about specific diets and, with notice, can accommodate vegetarians, vegans, those with allergies, faith related requirements such as pork free diets, and those requiring wheat or dairy free diets. We can weigh food for people with diabetes.
With parents calling in to request our recipes, the answer has to be yes, but can Mary and Ed share any secrets?
“Flapjacks, breadcrumb cookies and our lentil loaf are always popular” says Mary, while Ed is particularly proud of his home made chicken nuggets… “they are good - and I don’t know of anywhere else that makes their own from scratch. But, as they are only made using our own farm reared chicken they do go off the menu from time to time, that’s all part of only using what we produce.”
You can have a go at making your own breadcrumb cookies with Magdalen’s own recipe (see below).
Mary enjoys seeing the students get involved with the food before it reaches the kitchen. “I think it’s very important to show them where their food comes from and how it should be reared. They get to see the animal, the source. And the same happens when they go out and pick their veg. They take it from the field and put it on the plate - and they go and collect their eggs too. It’s really nice to see how children’s thinking about food changes - because you do see it after 2-3 days.”
Preheat the oven to 180C or gas mark 4. Cream the butter, sugar and golde syrup in a bowl andthen add the breadcrumbs, flour and ginger. Combine with small amount of milk to make a stiff dough. Roll walnut sized pieces of dough and flatten with the hand on a baking tray and cook for 15 minutes.
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