food

Rhubarb rhythms

After eleven years of living in this beautiful corner of Sheffield, I have learnt the rhythm of spring in our woods. It goes like this: celandine, wild garlic, wood anemone, bluebell.

IMG_3099

Celandine

IMG_3174

Wood anemone

We’re into wood anemone time at the moment, and the wild garlic is also thick on the ground. Soon it will be time for a bit of foraging but first I need to pay homage to that other great harbinger of spring in Yorkshire: forced rhubarb.

rhubarb

I’ve written enthusiastically about this delicacy before, and a couple of years ago I posted this recipe for sharlotka, which I still rate highly. However, when we were in Edinburgh recently, some lovely friends produced a brilliantly simple rhubarb dessert that I just have to share here. Delicious results from very little time in the kitchen, and also including a hidden ginger nut – what could be better?

I’ve tweaked it a bit, drawing on a recipe for rhubarb syllabub from Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook, which is one of my go-to books when I’m trying to decide what to do with a vegbox, or a glut of vegetables from the garden. Highly recommended.

Sam and Claire’s rhubarb and ginger layer

To serve 6

  • grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 6 stems young pink rhubarb, about 500g
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 2 star anise
  • 6 gingernut biscuits
  • Greek yoghurt

You will also need six ramekin dishes

ingredients

stewing

Warm the orange juice and sugar in a pan until the sugar is dissolved. Cut the rhubarb into thumb-length segments and cook in the orange juice with the zest, cardamom and star anise for 8-10 minutes, then cool. Reduce the liquid by lifting out the rhubarb pieces and boiling the juice until it becomes syrupy.

Put a ginger biscuit in the bottom of each ramekin and spoon the rhubarb over the top. Finish with a dollop of Greek yoghurt and refrigerate before serving.

finished1

Tastes as though it took ages.

For my children: clementine cake

A long time ago I had an idea that when our children left home I would give them a recipe book with all their favourite meals in. Like many parenting resolutions, that one didn’t work out too well (I lost heart when the few I had written up fell victim to a computer that erased my hard drive.)

Still, better late than never but this time I’ll write them out here, away from bolshy hard drives and in a place where others might enjoy them too. It’ll be an occasional series of ‘inheritance recipes’, those meals that became a regular feature of our life together while we were all growing up and that perhaps they will want to pass on to their families in the future.

The first is the one that always says to me that Christmas has arrived in our home. The kitchen fills with warm, citrusy aromas that gradually waft up the stairs, heightening the sense of anticipation as the Big Day gets nearer.

It’s Nigella Lawson’s clementine cake and I’ve been making it every year for more than a decade. Like many of our family’s favourite recipes, it comes from her first cookbook How to Eat. Published before Lawson was regularly on television, the book is full of dishes that you want to make again and again, and that actually work in the context of your everyday life.

I regret the one-dimensional portrayal of Lawson that has developed since she became a TV star. I actually bought How to Eat all those years ago because I was intrigued to find out what kind of recipes a Booker prize judge would write (she was on the panel in 1998).

I wasn’t disappointed. I love the way this book is written. It’s intelligent but down to earth, competent but not threateningly so. The language is as enjoyable as the food. ‘Purple-sprouting broccoli is avoided by those who think that good food has to be fancy,’ she writes. ‘Clearly they don’t deserve it.’

Of a baked custard she says: ‘When you eat it, it should be just warm, soft and voluptuous, like an eighteenth-century courtesan’s inner thigh; you don’t want something bouncy and jellied.’ I do wonder whether this one sentence sowed the seeds for the way most people seem to think of her now, but in context it is a brilliant description that conveys exactly what the cook should be aiming for.

Like a lot of Lawson’s recipes, the clementine cake is expensive both in terms of the ingredients and the length of cooking time. Foodbanks and hunger have, rightly, been in the news almost daily for the past week and I hesitated before I cooked it this year.

But to my mind some occasional feasting is an important part of what it means to be human and in the end I decided that something that is so resonant for our family, not to mention delicious and easy, should continue to be part of the way we celebrate Christmas.

So here goes, kids: inheritance recipe #1

Nigella Lawson’s Clementine Cake
From How To Eat (Chatto and Windus, 1999)

4-5 clementines (about 375g weight in total)
6 eggs
225g sugar
250g ground almonds
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

Boil the clementines in plenty of water for two hours. (Put the lid on the pan: the year that I didn’t, it boiled dry and I spent a couple of hours on Christmas Eve trying to remove caramelised clementine from the base of a very expensive pan your great-uncle Lyn gave us as a wedding present.)

Drain and, when cool, cut each clementine in half and remove the pips. Pulp the whole lot, including the skins and pith, in a food processor. (Apparently you can do this by hand but get a food processor if you can afford it: it’s the one kitchen gadget I wouldn’t be without.)

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/190 degrees C. Butter and line a 21cm Springform tin.

Beat the eggs, then add sugar, almonds and baking powder. Mix well, adding the pulped oranges. Here’s a good Nigella sentence: ‘I don’t like using the processor for this, and frankly, you can’t baulk at a little light stirring.’ Hear, hear.

Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake for an hour. A skewer should come out clean. After about 40 minutes, rest a piece of foil or greaseproof paper on the top of the tin or the cake may burn. Cool in the tin.

clementine cake

 

don’t bash Jack Monroe – just shop like her

Imagine what would happen to supermarkets if we all bought everything we needed from their most basic range, topped up with a few treats from the ‘about-to-go-out-of-date’ shelf and a little free range meat when we could afford it.

That pretty much describes the shopping habits of Jack Monroe, one of the most talked-about cooks in the country, whose meticulously costed recipes, developed when she had less than £10 a week to spend on food for herself and her son, have won her a book deal, a couple of Guardian columns and now, controversially, a role in a Sainsbury’s ad campaign in January.

There’s a wearying predictability about the vitriol that has been heaped on her, the accusations that she is ‘selling out’, the cries of ‘shame’.

Really these kneejerk reactions have completely missed the point.

I am no fan of the supermarket and in my dreams every suburb and housing estate has a regular market selling locally grown, seasonal food, alongside a few independent and ethical traders whose businesses contribute to a thriving local economy.

As I said: in my dreams.

Until that day we need to face the fact that our food system is very, very broken and make the best we can of what is on offer. And if we really care, we will also call out the multiple injustices inherent in the industry and support alternatives as they emerge.

I don’t know exactly why Sainsbury’s have asked Jack Monroe to front their campaign but I’m absolutely certain it’s not because they want people to shop as she does.

As I understand it, her role will be to demonstrate how to use the leftovers from a roast (free range) chicken.

Are Sainsbury’s really anticipating that the result will be a decline in chicken sales because people are suddenly making better use of the meat? That’s not how businesses work.

No, supermarkets just want to get us through their doors because they know that most of us, once we are there, do not stick rigidly to a Jack Monroe-style shopping list but are easily lured towards special offers, ready meals and bogofs that bring them the biggest profits and are the worst offenders in terms of promoting waste and perpetuating low wages for producers.

Fellow shoppers, it is up to us. We all have a choice. Even inside the supermarket we have a choice.

What Jack Monroe has shown us with her recipes and her campaigning is that even if you only have a tiny budget it is possible to take back some of the power that is concentrated in the hands of a very few retailers.

I think it would be hilarious if the result of the ad campaign was that we all started cooking our own food with ingredients from the supermarket basics range and making our own lasagne instead of buying the ready version.

Sainsbury’s will be banking on us not doing that. But in the end Sainsbury’s doesn’t control how we spend the money in our wallets – we do.

 

 

things that keep me awake

I don’t often write poems and I certainly wouldn’t expect to be inspired by a councillor in a suit reading statistics from a Powerpoint slide.

Although it wasn’t so much inspiration as just a gut-wrenching feeling that everything is so, so wrong and that everywhere we look in this country people’s lives are being ruined by deprivation that really doesn’t need to happen.

I went to a public meeting that Sheffield council called for people who were interested in talking about a food strategy for the city.

I heard these statistics. There were more too, but these were the really heart-stopping ones for me:

  • 30,000 people in Sheffield are malnourished.
  • 40,000 people live in food poverty.

Forty thousand people is more than the entire population of the town where my parents live.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept thinking of all the people so nearby who were feeling hungry. In this very rich country of ours.

So I ended up writing a poem. I know it’s nothing special but it’s all the words I’ve got for this at the moment.

It’s quite hard to sleep
in a very rich country
when you have just found out
that tens of thousands
(yes tens of thousands)
of your neighbours
are going to bed hungry.

I grew up thinking
hungry people
came from other countries,
faraway places
where there are wars and famines
and other things we don’t have
in England
(like corruption).

Not in places where the supermarkets are rammed from floor to ceiling with food –

olives, chicken breasts, parsnips, Rioja,
onions, potatoes, nan bread, pesto,
aubergines, sausages, sugar snap peas,
white wine vinegar and sea salt crisps.

I can get all that at the end of the road
(they say a lot of it ends up in the bin).

Today a man with a red tie
said he was worried
about how it makes you feel
towards yourself
if you go to bed hungry;

about how it makes you feel
towards the place where you live
if you wake up hungry too.

The man with the red tie said:
there are sixteen food banks in this city
and we must never stop being angry.

savoy pesto

A spat blew up last week which encompassed the best and the worst of this country’s attitude to food. It particularly caught my eye because it involved kale, a vegetable that is on my mind at the moment.

Jack Monroe, the feisty and fabulous food writer and anti-poverty campaigner, snagged herself some bargain kale from the supermarket and had the frankly brilliant idea of whizzing it up into some pesto.

Jack, who knows a thing or two about living below the breadline, always costs her recipes meticulously. This one worked out at a princely 15p per portion.

She then published a slightly revised version of the recipe in her Guardian column: with spaghetti and a few embellishments, the whole meal still worked out at only 42p a head.

For reasons I still cannot fathom, this sparked a frothing fit of abuse from Daily Mail journalist Richard Littlejohn. You can read it in a screenshot on Jack’s blog here, and also her wonderful response.

I really do not understand why some people get so very, very angry at the suggestion that people on a low income might care about the food they eat. (I realise this is not all that contributed to Littlejohn’s apoplexy but it is a good part of it.)

As I witnessed in Bulgaria, this attitude seems to be a peculiarly British thing and is not, on the whole, the case in mainland Europe and beyond. Joanna Blythman describes it well in her excellent book Bad Food Britain:

In nearly every country in the world where the population is not on the brink of starvation, the selection and preparation of food is seen as a fundamental life-enhancing activity, a zone of existence where it is within every individual’s grasp to make each day that bit more pleasurable. Good food is seen as a democratic entitlement, so a labourer expects to sit down to much the same food as the business executive. The ingredients may vary in quality, but the menu structure and choice of dishes is essentially the same.

I’d been planning to go and buy some kale so that I could try Jack’s recipe, but then I saw in another interview that she had described it as ‘basically cabbage’ and I realised I could substitute some of the enormous Savoy cabbage that has been kicking around our fridge for a few days.

This is my version of Jack’s recipe. I added some flat leaf parsley because it was growing in the garden. It enhanced the taste and really rescued the appearance –  the Savoy looked rather anaemic once pestoed and definitely loses out to kale in the beauty stakes.

I used olive oil instead of sunflower because I prefer the taste but I realise that does make it quite a bit more expensive.

The chilli was a frozen one that I didn’t even bother to defrost – I only found out recently that they freeze well, which is useful as supermarkets often have quite large packs marked down on the nearly-past-the-sell-by-date shelves.

We had it on spaghetti and it was delicious. I would probably halve the amount of chilli if I was feeding this to children.

pesto

Savoy pesto

200g Savoy cabbage, sliced and washed
1 fat bunch of flat leaf parsley
1 chilli, sliced
100g strong Cheddar (any kind of flavoursome hard cheese would do), grated
150ml olive oil
juice of one lemon
100ml water

Pile everything into a food processor and whizz until almost smooth. Makes loads. Stir a generous tablespoon per person into hot pasta and eat, reflecting on the democratic right to pleasurable, life-enhancing food. Then go and try some more of Jack’s excellent recipes.

If you enjoy this blog, please do consider backing my Kickstarter campaign. We’re hoping to raise enough money to publish a book about Incredible Edible, a movement which is inspiring people all over the world to work with their communities to build a stronger, kinder, healthier future.

comfort by numbers

 There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –
Emily Dickinson

I am not good at winter afternoons, especially after the clocks have changed.

When the nights start closing in early I need quick fixes that don’t demand a lot of energy or thought.

Enter my soup formula.

A bowl of home-made soup when I am in for lunch at this time of year has become almost essential. It’s a hug in a bowl, a practically instant comfort food with no guilt attached.

It’s much cheaper than the posh cartons you can get in the shops and much more delicious than the canned stuff.

It’s also incredibly simple – so much so that I’ve reduced it to a formula.

1 onion, sweated in a little oil + I kg vegetables + I litre liquid + seasoning

x 30-40 minutes on the boil

=

soup

I think it’s quite hard to get this wrong. I have made lots of concoctions from odd combinations of veg that just happened to be a bit past their best and rarely had one I didn’t like.

You can tart up this basic formula all sorts of ways, depending on what you have in the house and how creative you feel. A stick of celery, chopped and added at the onion stage always improves the flavour.

The liquid can simply be water. If I have it in the freezer, I use chicken stock; most often I use Marigold vegetable bouillon, dissolved in boiling water.

I prefer smooth, thick soups so I always liquidise the mixture. I use a stick blender for minimal washing up.

These are a few of my favourite mixtures, the ones I go to again and again to bolster me against a grey winter afternoon.

Pea
The easiest soup in the whole wide world is a bag of frozen peas boiled in an equal volume of water for about 15 minutes and then liquidised. You can even skip the onion stage of the formula as the peas work fine without it. With judicious amounts of salt and pepper, this actually gives you several bowls of proper, comforting soup.

You can make it a bit more interesting by adding a handful of chopped mint, a swirl of olive oil or – a tip I read in a Nigella Lawson book – by boiling it with a Parmesan rind for a subtle saline kick that gives an added depth of flavour.

Butternut squash and/or sweet potato
Some chopped ginger sweated with the onion gives this added layers of warmingness.

A big handful of chopped coriander leaves stirred in near the end is also delicious.

Some home made soup, especially the ‘what I had left in the fridge’ variety, can be a rather uninspiring shade of khaki. This one is the opposite – it’s the shockingly bright orange of autumn beech leaves that more or less dares you to go on feeling miserable when you are looking at it.

Today's formula: 1 onion + a few chilli flakes + 1kg chopped butternut squash + i litre veg stock = comfort in a bowl

Today’s formula for lunch: 1 onion + a few chilli flakes + 1kg chopped butternut squash + 1 litre veg stock = comfort in a bowl

Carrot
This is sweet and earthy. I think it works best if you include a medium-sized potato in the total weight of veg.

A fat pinch of dried sage goes well. You can also use orange juice for part of the liquid, although in that case I’d omit the sage and use fresh, chopped coriander instead.

For an even more nutritious soup you can add a handful of lentils to this: it’s what I always gave our children when they were run down and sniffly towards the end of a long school term. You’ll need to increase the amount of liquid as the lentils absorb a lot.

Celeriac and thyme
I wouldn’t do this on a completely miserable day  because the celeriac can be a bit awkward to peel and you have to remember not to let the flesh stay exposed to air for too long or it goes brown. But it really is worth the (slight) extra effort. The secret is to add absolutely masses of fresh thyme leaves near the end of cooking. I haven’t tried it with dried but I think that could work as well. As with the carrot, I think a potato is needed to give the finished product a really velvety texture.

Curried parsnip
An old favourite that my mum used to make when anything spicy was considered quite daring in England. I use a tablespoon of curry powder, stirred into the softened onion, and about equal quantities of parsnip and potato. No longer daring, just comforting.

I’m always looking for new combinations – leave me some suggestions in the comments if you like!

 

the power of free

I’m trying to read a news story about some people whose lives were so desperate that they climbed into a boat and attempted to escape to Italy. The boat capsized and most of them drowned.

All the time I’m reading, there’s a flickering on the side of the screen: it’s a moving advertisement from an online shop where I bought a dress almost a year ago.

I want to focus on the article, the picture of coffins in silent, accusing rows; the doctor describing the Mediterranean sea as a cemetery. But the dresses won’t stop tickling at the edge of my vision.

There’s a battle going on inside my head now: concern about the the vanished migrants is actually having to compete with a whole load of worry about whether I’ve got the right clothes to wear for an interview next week.

Sometimes the endless battering from the god of consumerism just wears you down.

I’m reading about people who literally had nothing and now they don’t even have their lives, but I’m still managing to feel anxious about whether I’ve got enough clothes.

Last time I wrote about how growing food has helped me face down the god of consumerism and remove some of the anxiety that prevails in our society today, the anxiety of not having enough or even of not being enough: personally I’m quite vulnerable to a suggestion that new clothes will make me more acceptable.

Sometimes though I think we need to join with others to take a stand against these kind of lies.

And one thing that seems to work really well is when people get together to give out free food.

Last week, for example, the anti-food waste campaign Feeding the Five Thousand organised a free banquet in the centre of Edinburgh.

5kEdinburgh

Volunteers cooked 7,000 meals entirely from food that would otherwise have been thrown away. It was a powerful, prophetic stand against the mentality of scarcity. Apart from anything else it was a reminder of the excruciating irony that a system which is fuelled by convincing people they do not have enough, simultaneously creates the conditions for mountains of food to be thrown away.

On a smaller scale, there’s an organisation called – appropriately enough – Abundance, which started in my home town of Sheffield.

Every autumn, Abundance volunteers go out around our lovely city, harvesting fruit that would otherwise rot. There is literally tons of it.

Then they give it away – to people on the margins who find it hard to access fresh food, and to organisations that benefit the whole community, like libraries. Places that exist for the common good.

I went on my first Abundance harvest the other week. An elderly couple who no longer have the physical agility to cope with their enormous damson tree called us in. Younger, braver volunteers than me shinned up the tree and shook the branches and hundreds of damsons thudded onto an outstretched tarpaulin below.

tree climb

After we had given the couple who own the tree enough fruit for a few crumbles, we shared the softest among ourselves for turning into jam that night and sent the rest back to the Abundance offices to be distributed later.

damsons

The whole experience was fun, it built connections, it was nourishing in every sense of the word.

In his book Journey to the Common Good, the theologian Walter Brueggemann writes brilliantly about how the mentality of scarcity, a mentality that operates through anxiety and fear, militates against the practice of neighbourliness. It makes us defensive rather than generous and leaves us exhausted and cynical with nothing left over to contribute to our communities.

Brueggemann maintains that we have to make repeated, deliberate departures from the forces that want to trap us into this culture of not-enough.

Joining with others to give away food is, I think, one way of making that kind of departure.

Of course I’m not arguing that food should always be free, or that people shouldn’t be paid for their skills in food production. But there’s something about giving it away from time to time that releases us, if only temporarily, from the anxiety of not-enough and frees our imaginations to embrace the possibility that there might be a better way of doing things.

garden rage

When I pledged to take our garden more seriously this year, I didn’t expect that I would end up full of anger.

We have had a proper old-fashioned summer here in Sheffield: long days of balmy sunshine and the odd torrential downpour have brought the best growing season for years.

And mostly I have succeeded in my goal of taking good care of our plot. The courgettes have flourished, the rainbow chard has been an endless parade of luminous, candy-shop brightness and for the first time ever we had enough raspberries for a proper pudding.

chard stalks ready for chopping

But when I decided to take more care over the garden it wasn’t just because I wanted us to have more food to eat, although that has been great. It was because I wanted to understand the land better. I was responding in part to the theologian Norman Wirzba, who wrote in his brilliant book Food and Faith:

Gardening work creates in us an indispensable ‘imaginary’ that enables us to think, feel, and act in the world with greater awareness for life’s complexity and depth. Gardens are the concentrated and focused places where people discover and learn about life’s creativity and interdependence.

lettuce

salad leaves in our garden

And this is the first lesson I learned: life is abundant. Nature’s default position seems to be excess.

Two packets of mixed salad seeds, for example, produced more than our family of five could cope with. For a few weeks in midsummer I took bags of lettuce everywhere I went, to give to anyone who would take them.

Meanwhile, down on the new allotment, our neighbour had us in stitches describing how she has battled to cope with the courgette glut: lasagne, cake, pickles – her family has forbidden her to have more than four plants next year.

It might sound as though my conclusion that nature tends to be abundant is based rather solipsistically on one good growing season. Not so: Enough Food If, a campaign supported by more than 200 organisations in the UK, is based entirely on the premise that if we can tackle the unjust structures that dominate our food system, then there is no need for anyone to go hungry. Anywhere.

Growing my own vegetables has brought the issue of food justice more sharply into focus than anything I have ever read or watched on the television.

Harvesting bowl after bowl of raspberries from just a few canes in the back garden has made me both more grateful for the food that I have and more angry about the fact that so many are not able to do even this very little thing.

Giving away lettuce to anyone who would take it and still feeling that we would never get to the end of it exposed for me like nothing else the lies that dominate our consumer culture and fuel a system where around 4 million people in one of the richest nations in the world do not have access to a healthy diet.

The lies are perpetuated by the god of consumerism, a god that needs us to be fearful of not having enough, because otherwise we might stop buying things.

This god works tirelessly to make us feel anxious, distorting language to encourage more and more purchasing. Can we really not live without double cream? Because that is what is implied when it comes packaged with the word ‘essential’.

cream

The offer of ‘buy one get one free’ that we see in so many shops is not generosity: it’s yet another way of tapping into an anxiety that says you’d better take a bit more than you need just in case there isn’t enough tomorrow.

When our whole experience of food is mediated through large corporations and industrial agriculture, it is almost impossible to stand up against these messages about scarcity.

On the other hand, reconnecting with growing and harvesting food can help us recognise them for the lies that they are – lies that, once perceived, can be beyond ridiculous.

I have four kilos of blackberries in the freezer, all gathered for free from some wild brambles. That same quantity would cost me FORTY POUNDS to buy in Tesco today. Someone’s having a laugh and it’s presumably not the people who are buying them.

blackberries

When we move from scarcity thinking to an awareness that abundance is possible, all kinds of things can happen. Like sharing. Like finding that our minds are calm enough to recognise the lies of a consumerist culture for what they are.

It’s a simple thing to grow a few vegetables in a bed or a pot. But it seems it has the power to give us a whole new way of engaging with the world.

 

knot your regular apple crumble

Knotweed stemsTwo words to strike fear into the heart of any gardener: Japanese knotweed. This is a plant unparalleled in its thuggishness, more invasive than the Romans and so difficult to eradicate that it is actually illegal to put it in your dustbin.

Fallopia Japonica was brought to the UK by the Victorians who liked its ornamental appearance but did not realise that their descendants would forever curse them for introducing a plant that can grow a metre in a month and has the power to displace tarmac and even force its way through brickwork.

Huge sums of money are spent by local councils attempting to kill off this brute but it takes a place like Incredible Edible Todmorden to find a way of putting it to good use. Up at Incredible Farm, a brilliant social enterprise that is, among other things, training young people to become market gardeners, they’re harvesting the knotweed shoots and cooking them up for a new kind of gastro experience.

Helena Cook, herbalist extraordinaire and the brains behind Todmorden’s fabulous apothecary garden, goes so far as to call Japanese knotweed ‘the new superfood’. According to her, it has been used for centuries in eastern medicines to treat a range of ailments from heart problems to liver disease. Pharmaceutical companies use it to produce resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant that can slow the ageing process and reduce age-related illnesses.

New shoots of Japanese knotweed look a little like a pink version of asparagus but the taste is similar to rhubarb. I’ve tried them lightly fried in olive oil, which was OK, but tonight I thought I’d try one of Helena’s suggestions: a fruit crumble.

colander

I had a cooking apple that needed using up, so I mixed that with some freshly picked Japanese knotweed shoots and Demerara sugar, scattered a crumble top over and baked it for about half an hour. It was absolutely delicious.

This is the recipe as best as I can remember it. The crumble top is in ounces because it’s my mum’s formula that she’s been using for more than half a century and to convert it into grams would seem a bit sacrilegious somehow.

Japanese knotweed and apple crumble

 Base
About 250 grams Japanese knotweed shoots
One medium cooking apple
About two heaped tablespoons of sugar, preferably Demerara for the crunch

Topping
5 ounces plain flour
2 1/2 ounces butter
2 ounces soft brown sugar

::Cut the knotweed into pieces about 4 cm long. Peel, core and slice the apple, mix with the knotweed and sugar and place in an ovenproof dish.
::Whizz the flour and butter in a food processor and mix in the sugar. Scatter on top of the fruit and bake in a medium oven for about 30 minutes.
::Serve warm, preferably with custard. Crème fraiche is good too but lacks the comfort factor.

 

crumble

Incredible Farm’s apprentice Jed wrote a nice blog about Japanese knotweed here. I’m looking forward to hearing what ingenious recipes Helena comes up with for Jed’s harvest.

Rules for disposing of Japanese knotweed can be found here.

And as Jed says: ‘The same caution should be exercised consuming Fallopia japonica as to other plants that contain oxalic acid.’ See www.netplaces.com/foraging-guide/becoming-plant-wise/allergies.htm

identity crises

When our oldest daughter was about five, she brought a pile of pictures home from school that she had to sort into ‘living’ and ‘non-living’ things. At first I thought it was a bit basic – surely every five-year-old knows that a cat and a car are fundamentally different, that one is alive and the other is not.

Then I remembered how my daughter would have long conversations with her toy trains, and how upset my friend had been when her young son pushed their cat down the stairs.

Perhaps the boundaries aren’t that obvious after all, at least not when you’re five.

For adults, though, it should be different, shouldn’t it? We would look away embarrassed if we saw a grown woman chatting to a toy, and we would be scandalised to learn of a man throwing a cat down the stairs.

And yet there have been some food-related stories recently that have made me wonder whether as adults we aren’t becoming increasingly confused about the fundamental difference between things that are alive and things that are not.

Exmoor ponies

Exmoor ponies*

The uproar when it was disclosed thatsome burgers sold as ‘beef’ actually contained up to 29% horse was, for sure, partly about the fact that somewhere along the line the product had been dishonestly labelled. But there was something more visceral about it too. Because horse is not habitually eaten in the UK I think some of the shock and outrage had to do with the fact that people had to face the fact that burgers contain, um, dead animals.

We have largely managed to hide the connection between eating and death from ourselves. Especially in a supermarket, meat products are sanitised, neatly arranged on plastic trays and covered with cling film.

When I stopped buying supermarket meat and began to get it from the butcher instead, I was at first slightly revolted by the smell of raw meat and the fact that some of the butcher’s knives had blood on them.

Goodness knows how I would have reacted if I had seen a pig being slaughtered to provide me with bacon.

Actually I’m glad I don’t have to be present when animals are killed but I am increasingly worried about the profound effect on our lives that is the result of being so disconnected from the realities of food production.

Food is very big business indeed and it benefits the global corporations to foster this disconnect, to hypnotise adult consumers so that they become like kindergarten pupils, unsure whether what they eat belongs in the ‘living’ or ‘non-living’ pile.

Because if we remembered that food is life, we might get a bit uneasy about it being treated as a commodity.

We might think it was a bit weird to treat something that once had life in it – a hen or a tomato, say – as though it were just another widget on an assembly line.

The week before the burger scandal, people were shocked by a report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which highlighted the incredible waste in our modern food system. There was, rightly, a particular outrage over the fact that in the UK up to 30 per cent of vegetables are thrown away because they don’t meet supermarkets’ strict standards on physical appearance.

But this kind of waste is inevitable if we buy into the deception that apples are just another consumer product akin to shoes or cars, rather than something that has to die in order for us to carry on living.

The shiny, uniform displays in the supermarket give the strong impression that apples emerge ready-made from a factory. They encourage us to forget that apples are alive, that they once grew in an orchard, that they have been wonderfully transformed from seed to flower to fruit as a result of complex interactions between soil and insects and weather, combined with the expertise of farmers and growers.

apple blossom

Future apples **

If we think of food production as something linear, like a manufacturing process, then we start to lose touch with the reality that living things – including ourselves – are part of a complex web in which all the parts depend on one another to function properly.

This lack of connection impoverishes our lives in all kinds of ways and has alarming implications for the way we live together in the world.

The food giants like to lull us into a kind of dozy inattentiveness that stops us from asking too many questions about what we are eating. If anything good can come out of these recent scandals, it might be that they jolt us back to reality and encourage us to think more carefully about how our meals end up on our plates.

Picture by David Masters. Used under Creative Commons licence; ** Picture by Richard Wood. Used under Creative Commons Licence