1950s shoppers queueing, by Paul Townsend
My mum showed me this list last time I went to visit – she’d received it via email from a friend, and I don’t know where it originated, but it is certainly thought-provoking. While I was doing my Masters degree, I wrote an essay on the factors affecting the adoption of new crops. When he marked it, the lecturer made the following comment:
The scale and speed with which the nutrition transition is unfolding world-wide – a fact not mentioned in the essay – attests to that and contradicts the assertion that ‘Societies have tended to absorb new foods slowly.’
One of my frustrations of writing the academic essays needed for my degree was that you’re not allowed to say anything that you can’t support with a proper academic references. Given the limited time you have for research, this does occasionally put a crimp in what you’d like to say. That societies tend to absorb new foods slowly was someone else’s opinion; I probably hadn’t given it too much thought.
My mum, who lived through the 1950s, confirms a lot of what is written below, and has volunteered to add plenty more anecdotes besides. I think it’s helpful sometimes, when frustrated by what feels like a very slow rate of change, to ruminate on just how far we’ve come.
Eating in the 50’s
- Pasta had not been invented.
- Curry was a surname
- A takeaway was a mathematical problem.
- A Pizza was something to do with a leaning tower.
- Bananas and Oranges only appeared at Christmas time.
- All crisps were plain; the only choice we had was whether to put the salt on or not.
- A Chinese chippy was as foreign carpenter.
- Rice was a milk pudding, and never, ever part of our dinner.
- A big Mac was what we wore when it was raining.
- Brown bread was something only poor people ate.
- Oil was for lubricating, fat was for cooking.
- Tea was made in a teapot using tea leaves and never green.
- Coffee was Camp, and came in a bottle.
- Cubed sugar was regarded as posh.
- Only Heinz made beans.
- Fish didn’t have fingers.
- Eating raw fish was called poverty, not sushi.
- None of us had ever heard of Yoghurt.
- Healthy food consisted of anything edible.
- People who didn’t peel potatoes were regarded as lazy.
- Indian Restaurants were only found in India.
- Cooking outside was called camping.
- Seaweed was not recognised as food.
- “Kebab” was not even a word never mind a food.
- Sugar enjoyed a good press, and was regarded as being white gold.
- Prunes were medicinal.
- Surprisingly, muesli was readily available, it was called cattle feed.
- Pineapples came in chunks in a tin: we had only ever seen a picture of a real one.
- Water came out of the tap, if someone had suggested bottling it and charging more than petrol for it they would have become a laughing stock.
- The one thing that we never had on our table in the fifties…was elbows!
Posted in Blog on Jan 26, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Jan 25, 2014
Sybil Kapoor, author of The Great British Vegetable Cookbook, has impeccable foodie credentials. And this is a book from National Trust Books, so you know you’re getting a high quality product. Its premise is that “cooking with lots of seasonal vegetables has always represented an ideal way of life in Britain”, and that we should be making the effort to cook and eat British-grown vegetables whilst they are in season. This isn’t a gardeners’ cookbook, there are no growing instructions – it assumes you will be buying ingredients, not harvesting them.
That said, some of the vegetables included will be hard to find unless you grow your own, or are a member of a vegetable box scheme with a large palette of ingredients. As the book says, one of the goals of the National Trust is to “nurture forgotten plants, such as Clayworth Prize Pink celery at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, Cottager’s Kale at Knightshayes Court in Devon, and scorzonera in the seventeenth-century inspired kitchen bed at Ham House in Surrey.” The book isn’t prescriptive – you won’t find recipes calling for a particular heritage variety – but you will find nice photos of National Trust gardens, and vegetables harvested from them.
There’s also the occasional historical recipe, including one from Upton House for buttered and spiced beetroot that is believed to come from the 1920s, and may not be the kind of dish the modern palate is expecting.
Beyond the introduction there is a chart showing when the various vegetables are in season, and then the recipes themselves are divided – somewhat arbitrarily in some cases – into seasons.
So you have recipes to use purple sprouting broccoli, asparagus and radishes in spring, but you also have new potatoes. There are some unusual inclusions – nettles and sorrel don’t normally make it into mainstream British cookery books. For those of you looking for new ways to use your mustard seeds, there’s a tasty looking recipe for stir-fried spring greens.
Summer begins with broad beans and spring onions and works its way through globe artichokes and tomatoes to aubergines and chillies – items not impossible to grow in a British summer, but easier commercially with a nice heated greenhouse.
Autumn follows on, with cauliflower and broccoli and a range of root crops, including salsify and scorzonera. Courgettes (and their flowers) are included here with squash and pumpkins, although Kapoor does have the decency to admit they should be in the summer section. You’ll also find recipes for lovage, fennel and celery, borlotti beans and mushrooms.
The list of seasonal vegetables is shorter for winter, as you would expect, visiting such winter favourites as Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale, chicory and endive, leeks, celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes.
The final section of the book, called “In a perfect kitchen” contains a selection of basic recipes for use if you have the time, space and inclination. It’s about making homemade stock, bread and pastry, and pasta. If you buy these in then none of the preceding recipes should take you too long; if you’ve got a free weekend and are in the mood to start from scratch, then you can do so.
All-in-all this is an attractive and reliable book that does explain how to make use of the seasonal bounty that Britain has to offer. It’s not all traditional recipes – it recognises that British tastes have changed over the last few decades, and there’s recipes for our favourite dishes from overseas.
The Great British Vegetable Cookbook
by Sybil Kapoor
Hardback, 320 pages, RRP
Publisher: National Trust Books
Disclosure: I was provided with a review ebook by the publisher, but my words are my own.
Posted in Blog on Jan 22, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Jan 19, 2014
Tags: books & food.
We know that mustard has been a common ingredient in European food since the late 14th century. Prior to that we know that it was used medicinally, with its benefits mentioned by both Pliny and Pythagoras, and we think the Romans are responsible for spreading white mustard throughout Europe. A ‘hot’ plant, it has also long been considered an aphrodisiac.
English mustard powder is a mixture of brown and white mustard seed, milled into flour, with sugar, spice, salt, and citric acid. The white mustard seed provides the initial kick; the brown mustard the longer-lasting pungency. English mustard was originally made with a mixture of white and black mustard seeds, but after the end of WW2 this was gradually replaced with brown mustard, which is more heat- and drought- tolerant, and easier to harvest mechanically, and hence more economical to grow.
I have just mentioned the three types of seed mustard. Black mustard is Brassica nigra, brown mustard is B. juncea, and white mustard is S. alba. The pungency they provide can also be found (in differing levels) in other brassicas – horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) and wasabi (Wasabia japonica) being two more examples of plants used to deliver some heat to meals.
Mustard seed in its natural state hardly smells and doesn’t make your eyes water. It contains chemicals called glucosinolates (which vary according to the species). To produce the pungent mustard we know and love, the glucosiolates have to be mixed with the enzyme myrosinase – which is held separately. The two chemical mix together when the seeds are ground, but the reaction also needs water.
A basic mustard condiment therefore involves mixing ground or crushed mustard seeds with water or vinegar. Cold water gives you the hottest result; rather paradoxically, heating mustard makes it lose its ‘heat’. Mustard made this way is best used fresh.
There are plenty of ways to jazz up your mustard with other flavours – for starters you could try these mustard recipes from Mother Earth News.
Mustard seeds are also used in pickles, and can be fried as the first stage of preparation of some Indian dishes (an eye-watering procedure, I have found). And you can sow them and use the resulting sprouts as spicy microgreens.
There’s also a fourth type of culinary mustard – the pungent, leafy greens. These are varieties of brown mustard, usually considered to be Oriental vegetables, although their consumption is widespread throughout Asia. Some of them grow into large plants, so check the variety, but many are useful as microgreens or cut-and-come-again salad and stir-fry leaves.
Elsewhere in the garden, quick-growing mustard plants are often used as cover crops and green manures (remember they’re brassicas, and fit them into your crop rotation accordingly). Mustard has also been developed into biofumigants – plant-based pesticides.
Which just goes to show, these versatile plants really do cut the mustard. Are you a mustard fan?
Posted in Blog on Jan 18, 2014 · ∞
Tags: food & spices.
When you step off the beaten garden path and into the realms of unusual edibles, you come across a lot that come from China, because parts of it have a temperate climate and the plants that grow well there can grow well here. And so it’s not surprising that I have a ‘professional’ interest in the plants and food of China. But in fact I have been a Sinophile from a young age – I love the art and embroidery, the lacquers and the calligraphy, the architecture and the food. However, I am not an expert, unlike Thomas Höllman, the author of The Land of the Five Flavors: A Cultural History of Chinese Cuisine, soon to be published by Columbia University Press.
This book is a very detailed and scholarly work. It begins, in chapter one (Rice Doesn’t Rain From Heaven) by looking at the historical and archaeological record, to show what we know of Chinese eating habits from ancient times onwards. There’s a careful sifting of the mix of myth, hyperbole, propaganda and truth, to examine the diets of everyone from peasants to royalty and the ethnic minorities.
It’s in chapter two (A Taste of Harmony) that we come to understand the title of the book: “Five basic flavors have been distinguished in China since ancient times: sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty”. It talks about agricultural crops, beginning, of course with rice. Although I knew that there are long grain and short grain types of rice, I didn’t know that there are ‘sticky’ (glutinous) varieties of both; the stickiness is due to higher levels of dextrin and amylopectin.
Hemp seeds were classed as a cereal crop in the traditional Chinese system, and as carrots arrived relatively late there, they are known as “barbarian radishes”. Which shows how well radishes became integrated, since they only arrived in China a few centuries earlier.
Chapter three (Fire, Ice and Flavor) mainly covers methods of food storage and preservation. Chapter four (A Culinary Cosmos) shows us the diversity of China. The temperate regions are only one of a number of different climate zones – the coastal zones are different from the continental interior, and China is home to the Gobi desert. it has tropical, subtropical and temperate zones, with a third of the country classified as hill ranges and another third as highlands.
Despite the diversity in the landscape, and the peoples, of China, there are some striking similarities with modern Western life. A book published in the 14th century detailed 414 edible plants that destitute people in the city of Kaifeng could eat – an urban foraging manual, complete with instructions on which parts of the part to consume. Chapter five (Heavenly Dew) begins with a discussion of drinking water, with a note that “people generally regarded a remote place of origin as proof of superior quality”. (Fiji water, anyone?) It then moves on, through tea to alcoholic beverages (and the dangers of drunkenness).
Chapter six (Regulations and Conventions) offers a glimpse of the nitty gritty of Chinese life, covering everything from the laws controlling (or not) the slaughter of animals, through the ideals of healthy eating to the social etiquette of relieving oneself. (The book doesn’t pull any punches on the less savory aspects of life in China; by the time you’ve got this far you will already have read about eating dogs and people.)
Chapter seven (The Tavern of Eternal Happiness) is all about social eating, from family meals and picnics right up to banquets, and table manners. Chapter eight is the Epilogue, discussing the Westernization of food in China, but also the rise of Chinese cuisine in other countries. Then there’s an appendix with tables of plants mentioned in the text, and an extensive bibliography of references and further reading.
There’s a lot of information in this book, and it will only really appeal to those with a keen interest in China, or in food (I haven’t, as yet, read every word). However, it’s not dry. It is illustrated throughout with images and quotes from historical volumes. It also includes some more modern propaganda posters. And, although it is not a cookbook, there are recipes that will appeal to Western tastes – I picked out glazed apples, lemon chicken, lamb skewers and sesame balls (amongst others). I also love the evocative names mentioned in the text. ‘Heavenly Dew’ is a variety (possibly a brand) of tea. If you enjoy reading a book with a good cup of tea, then I suggest brewing up a pot of Liquid Jade, Water Nymph, Fragrant Flake, Dragon Well, Lion’s Peak, Jewel Cloud, or Heavenly Pillar when you open this one :)
The Land of the Five Flavors: A Cultural History of Chinese Cuisine
by Thomas O. Höllman
Hardback, 304 pages, RRP
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Disclosure: I was provided with a digital preview copy by the publisher, but my words are my own.
Posted in Blog on Nov 22, 2013 · ∞
Last modified on Nov 17, 2013
Tags: books & food.
When I went to the launch of James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution seed range last year, I was given a small sample of popcorn ‘Fiesta’ – a multicoloured popcorn to try. It’s taken a while, but we got round to popping it last night :)
Ryan is a popcorn veteran, and has a sure-fire technique for perfect popping. He puts a thin layer of vegetable oil in the bottom of a heavy pan (for which there is a well-fitting lid). He puts the pan over a high heat, with one or two popcorn kernels in the bottom. And the lid on. When the kernels pop, he takes it off the heat for 30 seconds – to allow the oil temperature to even out (he says). Then he throws in the rest of the kernels, puts the lid back on and whacks it back on the heat.
Popping commences. The pan is shaken, at intervals, to move all the unpopped kernels to the bottom. After several shakes, if there haven’t been any pops for a few seconds then it’s time to take it off the heat (not all of the kernels will pop) and let it cool down a bit before you take the lid off. It’s not that flying popcorn kernels will do much damage (although the unpopped ones can get very hot), but they do make a big mess.
You end up with this:
ready for eating au naturel, or slathering with some kind of unhealthy topping. What do you put on yours?
The verdict is that Fiesta makes very nice popcorn, so I will be trying to grow my own on the allotment next year. If you fancy a bit of multicoloured popping too, you can buy seeds online from Suttons, or look out for one of their Homegrown Revolution seed stands at your local garden centre. I’ve also always fancied trying Strawberry popcorn, so that’s still on the cards for the future. Victoriana Nursery Gardens have advice on their website on harvesting, drying and popping sweetcorn.
You may also enjoy:
Photos from James Wong’s garden
Book review: Homegrown Revolution
, on the Alternative Kitchen Garden Show.
Posted in Blog on Nov 14, 2013 · ∞
Last modified on Nov 14, 2013
Tags: food & veg.
When I agreed to review Grow Harvest Cook (by Meredith Kirton and Mandy Sinclair), I got more than I bargained for. I’m not sure it’s obvious from the photo above, so here’s a different perspective:
Yes, it’s as tall as a Lego Minifigure. And it’s not so much a hardback as a hardboardback. The cover is half a centimetre thick. It’s not the easiest book to hold up, let alone to hold open, so is it worth the weight?
Subtitled “280 recipes from the ground up”, Grow Harvest Cook calls itself “the essential companion for anyone wanting to grow, harvest, and cook their own produce – whether you have a tiny urban garden or a sprawling yard.” It works its way through an A to Z of homegrown produce, with instructions on how to grow it, how to harvest it and how to cook or preserve it.
So far… so familiar. But there’s a twist here – Grow Harvest Cook was written for the Australian market, so although it does cover the usual suspects (onions, carrots, potatoes, beans) there’s a lot more here than you’d find on a traditional allotment. It covers plants that we would have to grow indoors (including tea and coffee), and some we won’t be able to grow at all (sadly including avocados and macadamia nuts). Australia is a big place with a range of climates, and some are considerably more tropical than old Blighty’s.
In each case the growing instructions are brief. They’re not going to tell you everything you need to know to grow a plant, especially in the UK climate. The harvesting notes are perfectly adequate, combined with both storage advice and recipes for preserves. Some sections are longer than others, and there’s the odd double-page spread to illustrate particular favourites:
Sue Stubbs’ photography is good throughout, doing justice to both the plants and the dishes. And it’s in the recipes that the book comes into its own. You may have noticed, in the photos above, that I’ve marked one or two pages to come back to later. Shall we have a look at what caught my eye?
The A section starts in seductive fashion, with almonds, apples and apricots. You just know there are going to be desserts in there, and there are. But my first bookmark is in the avocado section. There’s no chance of me being able to grow my own (unless I win the lottery and buy a giant, heated greenhouse), but that’s no reason why I can’t enjoy creamy chocolate mousse. With no cream, and no eggs; nothing at all to make me feel poorly.
There are two little bay trees waiting for me in Malvern, which I grew from seed (Esther’s baycorns), and their new mission in life is to grow big and strong so that I can make bay-infused vodka. Broccoli hummus might come first, as I have PSB planted on the allotment.
Chilli salt. Choc-coated roasted coffee beans (although I think it will be a while before the little coffee plants on my desk at work produce any). Dill and parmesan-crusted fish fingers. Kiwi choc pops. And this is where they really had me – mango ice cream.
Those were just the ones that instantly gripped me, there are plenty more that look and sound delicious. Even so, the book isn’t perfect. The section on grapes and vine leaves offers instructions on harvesting vine leaves, and preserving vine leaves, but no recipes for eating vines leaves. It seems like an odd omission, but even in a book this size there’s never enough space to include everything.
It doesn’t matter that there are plants in here I’ll never be able to grow, because I can buy them and Grow Harvest Cook works perfectly well as a cook book. The recipes reflect the multicultural nature of Australia, and there are interesting snippets about what (and how) people grow on the other side of the world. There are even sections on keeping chickens and bees.
And the A to Z layout means you can easily find a recipe for what you have to hand, which is always useful in the midst of a glut. It also leads to a serendipitous juxtaposition: tea is next to thyme :)
Grow Harvest Cook
by Meredith Kirton and Mandy Sinclair
Hardback, 400 pages, RRP
Publisher: Hardie Grant Books
Disclosure: I was provided with a review copy by the publisher, but my words are my own.
Posted in Blog on Nov 12, 2013 · ∞
Tags: books & food.
The ice cream experiments continue, with a spate of frozen yoghurt trials. I have never been a big fan of chocolate ice cream, but something I read online (and a half-empty jar of Nutella) prompted me to give Nutella frozen yoghurt a go!
As you can see, the base for this one was a sheep’s milk yoghurt. I’ve had it many times, simply served with maple syrup stirred through it. It has a distinctly different mouth feel to cow (or goat) yoghurt, which I enjoy, and it’s nice to be able to have a cow-free dessert now and then.
And so the yoghurt went in to the bowl with 3 dessert spoons of Nutella and 3 of caster sugar, and I blended the whole lot together. Sheep’s milk yoghurt is quite firm when it comes out of the package, but after blending turns pretty runny. After tasting the mixture, I added the rest of the Nutella, which was only about another dessertspoonful. The nice thing about making your own ice cream is that you can make it to your taste, you just have to remember that the mixture needs to be slightly too sweet for you before it gets frozen, as the cold makes it less sugary.
Here it is, all mixed up and ready to go in the ice cream machine. It came out slightly soft (as usual), but nice enough to eat there and then. Once the leftovers have been frozen they set very firm and you have to leave them to warm up for a few minutes to be able to get a scoop into them.
This recipe has an unexpected tang to it, which I’m guessing comes from the sheep’s yoghurt rather than the Nutella. Some people might find it unpleasant, but I didn’t. And that lovely sheep’s milk mouth feel translates very well into ice cream.
I might make this one again, if there was Nutella kicking around, but it’s not something I normally buy and so the experiments will move on to the next flavour. I need to recreate the best one I’ve found so far, which is absolutely divine and the closest I’ve come to ‘real’ ice cream – I forgot to take any photos! Still, I like to leave you guessing :)
Posted in Blog on Jul 12, 2013 · ∞
Tags: food & meh!.
I was out in the garden on Friday with mum, relaxing on my new arbor before pulling some weeds in the herb bed. The golden sage is looking lovely again this year. It was one of the stars of Project: Nosh last year, and one of the plants I will be sad to leave behind. Luckily I think that at least one of my sage cuttings has taken, and there will be a new plant to take down to the allotment later in the year.
In the meantime, I can use a few of its leaves recreating this recipe from Dick Strawbridge and Rayburn:
They’re billing it as a spring recipe, but now that we’re a bit further through the year, there’s the prospect of bean and tomato harvests from your veg patch or allotment, so you might be able to rustle up a more homegrown version!
The video shows you very clearly how to make this dish (it looks very quick and easy), but if you prefer a recipe you can print out and take into the kitchen, it’s written out for you on the Rayburn website.
I don’t currently have a Rayburn, or anywhere I could put one, but I’ll be giving this one a go when I get my hands on some monkfish :)
Sharing video content on the blog in this way is a new thing that I’m trying, so if you have any strong views about it you can leave me a comment or drop me an email
Posted in Blog on Jul 9, 2013 · ∞
When I was at the Eden Project with my classmates in December, I splashed out and bought a few things in the shop. One was a big block of drinking chocolate, 100% cacao with nothing else added. It’s a solid lump of 250g of Columbian chocolate. You know, the good stuff. You have to try these things when you’re an ethnobotanist, it’s compulsory ;)
(That photo is borrowed from the Eden Project shop; I took one, but it disappeared in the hard drive crash. I am working my way through the recovered files gradually….)
The block breaks up into chunks that make one cup of hot chocolate each. You melt it down in your milk, or chosen milk substitute, and add whatever you want. I am still trying to find the perfect recipe. You do need a whisk or a blender – the chocolate melts into small pieces, but they don’t blend into the milk nicely without some help.
I had some Oatly oat milk leftover from the strawberry ice cream experiment, and so I thought I would give Oatly hot chocolate a go. In the end I added some cinnamon, to give it a bit of spice. The recipe I used was:
1 cup* of Oatly
1 chunk of Eden chocolate
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp sugar
*I measured it in the mug I was going to drink from. You need to use slightly less liquid than fills the mug, because you get a lot of froth if you use a blender.
I didn’t want to overheat the milk, but by the time I’d done blending, my hot chocolate wasn’t quite as steaming hot as I like it. And it was pleasant, but I wouldn’t say it was the perfect recipe. I’m still working on that. I have tried it with goat milk, but when you heat goat milk its ‘goatiness’ becomes much more pronounced, and the chocolate doesn’t entirely hide it. I have a litre of hazelnut soy milk that’s lined up for the next experiment….
What’s your idea of the perfect cup of hot chocolate?
Posted in Blog on Jul 2, 2013 · ∞
Tags: food & meh!.
Desserts are a problem when you can’t digest (or don’t eat) cow’s milk. Restaurants and ready-made versions are all but impossible, and a certain amount of creativity is needed to make them at home. A lot of the time, I don’t bother – I don’t have that much of a sweet tooth.
Ice cream, by its very nature, is a tricky one. I’ve had goat’s milk ice cream, which is only available in vanilla. I don’t like the soy milk versions, and am wary to try any of the other vegan versions as they are expensive and if I don’t like them…. Earlier this year I was thrilled to find a stall selling buffalo milk ice cream at the Edible Garden Show – it was the first ice cream I’d had in over a year.
Recently I have had access to an ice cream maker, and so I have been experimenting with making my own, cow-free ice cream. My first attempt was based on a recipe from the Oatly website, for easy strawberry ice cream. What you end up with is more like a sorbet than a true ice cream, but it’s delicious!
This recipe only has 3 ingredients – 400g strawberries, 1/2 cup sugar (about 100g) and 266 ml Oatly. If the quantities look odd, it’s because the Oatly recipe called for 300g strawberries, and my carton was bigger. It would be even nicer made fresh with homegrown strawberries from the allotment. Maybe next year!
I washed the strawberries, cut the stalks off and then everything gets blended together…
Once it has been through the ice cream maker, it looks like this:
It really smells – and tastes – like strawberries, it’s heavenly. A nice treat for Wimbledon week – a little lighter then strawberries and cream! When it was first made, I found it a little on the soft side, but if you have the time you can pop it in the freezer for a little while to harden up. I’m still getting the hang of the ice cream maker, so that might make a difference. If you freeze it overnight, it sets solid – you’ll need to give it a few minutes to warm up before it’s scoopable again. I suspect it would make nice ice lollies though :)
If you’re reading this post via Google Reader, then you need to find a new way of doing so before the end of the month – Google Reader is being retired on 1st July 2013. I have swapped over to Feedly
, but if you’d like a run-down of more options, Veg Plotting
has a good post on this topic.
Posted in Blog on Jun 26, 2013 · ∞
Tags: food & meh!.