Helen Peacocke explores the origins of a fabulous farm shop

I’d been told that visiting Jed and Emma Darke’s Blue Tin Produce Farm Shop in South Oxfordshire would be rather like walking onto a film set for The Darling Buds of May. Even the 300-year-old half-timbered red brick farm house would make a splen-did backdrop for the popular TV series. Actually, I found it so atmospheric I half-expected David Jason to saunter into the shop at any moment and declare everything “perfick”.

Despite the mud that seems to accumulate in rural sites at this time of the year, it is indeed a magic little place. All the meat on sale here has been bred on the farm now known for its Dexter cattle which provides the shop with the most succulent beef. Dexters are considered a rare breed and are the smallest of the European cattle breeds, being half the size of a traditional Hereford and a third of the size of a Friesian. Although they originated in Ireland, arriving in the UK in 1882, they have virtually vanished from the Irish farms, yet are now beginning to gain popularity over here. Apparently they are a joy to breed as the Dexter cows make exceptionally good mothers.

When it comes to their cooking and flavour qualities, Dexter meat is denser than normal beef and obviously the cuts are smaller but, as we know, sometimes good things come in small parcels. Taste Dexter beef once and you will want to try it again and again –— it is that good.

Jed and Emma, who run the farm and the farm shop together, also rear lamb and mutton, along with Gloucester Old Spot and Wessex Saddleback pork, two breeds chosen because they are particularly suited to being reared slowly and natur-ally in the open air. There are geese on the farm too, and while goose tastes great, their main job is to act as an alarm if anyone dares to intrude their territory. Naturally there are also hens on the farm too and, therefore, free-range eggs.

I t was a box of their eggs that motivated Jed and Emma to open a farm shop. Having a few eggs over on one particularly good laying day, they packed a dozen into an egg box and it on a little table outside the farm gate with a sign saying they were £1. They then went out for a quick drink at their local pub, finding the box gone on their return, with the £1 left on the table.

“That’s it,” said Jed, “we will open a farm shop”, which is exactly what they did. That was 12 years ago, and much water has travelled under the bridge since then but they have never looked back.

During the summer most of the vegetables come from their own vegetable patch in front of the shop and when Emma has time she stocks the shelves with pickles and chutneys that she has made from their own produce. A local photographer provides some superb country cards and other craftspeople living nearby fill the shop with local crafts and gifts. A blackboard of product information is proudly hanging in the shop, boasting that everything they sell is local and detailing the number of miles each item has travelled to get to Blue Tin Produce Farm Shop.

And why Blue Tin? Even Emma admits that it is an unusually name and one that bears no real link to the produce they sell. Yet it wasn’t a name they pulled out of a hat, there was a reason for choosing it. Jed and Emma were hitchhiking around Australia and their travels took them into the outback where most of the homesteads and houses were roofed in corrugated iron that turned red with rust. It was the homestead with a blue corrugated roof that took their breath away. They both stood and stared, hardly believing what they were seeing. They had never seen a blue roof before.

“We vowed there and then that regardless of how our future panned out, we would call our business or enterprise after the homestead with the blue tin roof,” said Emma.

She admits that some of their friends were unsure about the name but, remembering how happy they were that day during their Australian holiday and how beautiful the homestead looked with its roof that matched the sky, they took no notice. And why should they — it’s a great name.

The shop only opens on Wednesdays from 9am to 1pm, Fridays 9am to 5pm and Saturdays from 9am to 3pm, but those who live reasonably close — for example in Henley, Benson, Warborough and Caversham — can order a meat box which will be delivered free of charge during the weekends.

This delightful little shop is just off the A4074 near Ipsden, but is not easy to find. Those proposing to visit should first look up directions on the website www.bluetinproduce.co.uk