A Love of Food and Cooking for Fun.

May 30, 2013

Stroud 017

As someone with a love of food who enjoys cooking I have often been asked why I don’t write about it in my Blogs. After all I spend a lot of my free time at Food Festivals and find great joy in visiting local Farmer’s Markets and I love to support small independent home growers and producers whenever and wherever I find them. I make no secret of the fact that I am a dedicated ‘Foodie’ and I have a passion for good food made with fresh produce and know where it comes from.
I suppose I can count myself lucky that I started life in the days before supermarkets took over the world and changed the way we think and shop for food. The ever increasing speed of everyday life played its part too in the decline of real food in favour of instant this and frozen that, processed meals designed to go from freezer to microwave to table in minutes.

Along with dried and tinned produce these types of meals were originally developed as a quick alternative, mainly for military purposes. I don’t think the originators actually envisaged that the following generations would actually try to exist on this kind of meal alone shunning the fresh alternative as well as fresh fruit and vegetables along the way.

Take one example Corned Beef, in the UK this is usually reddish and comes in odd shaped sharp hard to open tins, mainly from Argentina and it is the ‘Bully Beef’ standby revered and hated in equal numbers by British Forces over the years. Supermarkets sell it still, either loose on the deli counter or in tins. it still comes mainly from Argentina and is a good standby for sandwiches or a quick salad, however it has little or no resemblance to REAL Corned Beef.

I remember telling someone that I made my own Corned Beef and was asked how long does that take ? I will leave to your imagination the expression on their face when I said ‘about a week.’ Even when I added that once you taste the real thing you will never go back to the tinned variety again their express didn’t change.

Of course another group of individuals who should stand up and take most of the blame for the decline in our overall view of food is the Advertising and Marketing people. I love the way they can make the simplest of food preparation jobs look as if it requires a degree in science. There is one advert for frozen ready fish meals that has what looks like a real chef sweating in a kitchen for hours trying to create the same masterpiece. Complete rubbish of course, what they were selling I could produce with all fresh produce in 10 – 15 minutes. True you would have to add to that cooking time in a real oven but there again you can amuse yourself by preparing and cooking the fresh vegetables to go with the fish dish.

What I find strangest of all is the sheer number of Cookery programmes on TV, we have created a new breed of Celebrity chefs who compete to knock up a meal in twenty minutes, Master chef competitions, Bake Offs and all the cheap spin off programmes. Cookery Books by these celebrities are the latest must haves to be seen on coffee tables around the country. God forbid that they are ever opened and the recipes tried.

Last weekend I was at a Foodie Festival in London and I kid you not there was a company there selling a machine whose only purpose was to poach eggs. …Walking around I saw a demonstration of a range of different shaped pans for frying dry… according to the salesman they were great for making Welsh cakes or dropped scones, in my day it was called a griddle and was made of cast iron and cost a hell of a lot less than the ones he was pushing.

The thing is most of us have forgotten how to cook, or never knew how in the first place. At many of the shows I attend I help out on some of the stands, I meet and chat to many of the chefs and go to and watch many of their demonstrations. However the great eye opener for me is that as a stall holder we are invisible to the people walking past who seem to think the counter between us is like a sound proof wall.

I listen with amusement to their varied comments and can tell merely by the expressions on their faces that most have no idea why they are there other than it’s a nice day out with lots of FREE Samples and a cheap way to feed the kids!

I feel sorry for many small time producers, some who work 12 – 14 hour days preparing for a 2- 3 day show and put out ‘Try Before You Buy’ samples just to watch the hordes descent and Hoover up everything and move on without comment.

I know farming families squeezed out of the local supply chain by greedy supermarket buyers who care more for the bottom line of their company than the welfare or well being of either their suppliers or customers.

Fortunately I also see the side where many of these farmers are fighting back and going direct to market with their produce. I see deals being struck between local suppliers in support of one another, producing during the week and selling at Farmers Markets at the weekend.

I hear the moaning of the ignorant and ill-informed as they shuffle past bitching about the higher than supermarket costs and I share a knowing nod or wink with the stall holder that silently says ‘They just don’t get it do they?’

How can you explain to someone about a ‘hand cheddard’ cheese that has matured for 12- 18 months and actually tastes of cheese that while it may cost half as much again as the waxy crap you get in a supermarket but at the same time you will use half the quantity to achieve a flavoursome sauce.

How do you educate people who have been sold the idea by supermarkets that corn fed beef and chicken is somehow better quality than Free Range. I have even seen the two expressions ‘Free Range and Corn Fed’ on the same label.

I don’t blame you if you don’t understand what I’m talking about here you may have fallen for the same false hype of the supermarket adverts, just as I had until a real farmer/butcher put me straight.

Here’s the truth of it ; Cattle and poultry do not eat corn unless it is force fed to them, and it is force fed to them purely so they gain weight quickly and therefore the time from birth to slaughter is minimised. Corn feed does nothing to enhance the quality of the meat or the flavour, in fact quite the opposite is true. The only thing enhanced is the profit margins.

Cattle and poultry eat grass, the greener and fresher the better and the longer the birds and cattle spend on real grass feed the sweeter the milk and the more flavoursome the meat. Of course such antiquated practices take longer for the birds and animals to mature and is obviously more labour intensive hence the increase in cost at the table.

Another tip, real producers DO NOT inject their product with water to artificially increase the weight of the meat. Ever wondered what that white shit that you see in the frying pan or grill when you cook shop bought bacon or gammon ? Or other things spit hot fat at you ? It’s water put there to increase product weight which of course you pay for !

Over the years we have grown ever more accustomed to walking into a supermarket and seeing the shelves stacked to the rafters with everything we need and want. Ever spare a thought as to where it actually comes from or if it is actually in season ? Ever take the time to taste a strawberry home grown at the peak of the season and compare it with the rock hard tasteless look alike force grown in a warmer country ?

Don’t get me wrong I love fresh exotic fruits and am as guilty as the next person eating and cooking with them out of season. As a kid I hated Grapefruit , I disliked the often sour and bitter after taste something that stayed with me until as a house guest and I ate one I picked myself from a tree in a Texas garden.
Perhaps that was the day a little light went on in my head, like most people who eat to live I never gave food a second thought now that I do I resent the times when I have to give in and buy from supermarkets.

I am fortunate in where I live high in the Cotswold Hills on the border of two great farming counties in easy driving distance of fresh local produce. Stroud a small market town in Goucestershire has one of the best Farmers markets, not only in the county but in my opinion the whole country. Recently I found a fabulous Farm shop near Chippenham in Wiltshire it literally has everything and is proud to tell you exactly where it all comes from.
The fight is on to win back the hearts and minds of the people to the benefits of real food and cooking, of course it is a fight we won’t win against all those who think Pot Noddle and other highly processed foods are real.

Who knows I might even post a few of my favourite recipes on here, if you have ingredients in mind and are looking for a way to impress the next time you entertain let me know…

It will be our little secret.

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