Tuesday, 28 May 2013

In the Pursuit of the Real Food of Yesteryear

I grew up in a typical suburban semi on the edge of town with a very long garden backing onto open fields with cows and horses and a large orchard.

My dad was a very keen gardener. He grew all his own flowering bedding plants, huge beautiful Dahlias (which, to her annoyance, he’d never let my mum cut to bring indoors) and all the traditional veg you can imagine: Broad beans, French beans, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, onions, beetroots, radishes, lettuce…..and more.
Fresh “local” food was an everyday occurrence for us, especially when we got our first freezer and it could be stored all year around. I can remember many sunny evenings sat with my dad and sister on the back step shelling peas and broad beans and trimming French beans for the pot or freezer.

The cows over the wall were a mixed herd of milking cows and young steers raised for the table. You could watch the matronly cows on silent cue shuffle off in gentle, unhurried order to the milking parlour and see the young cattle grow each day to be found missing several months later.

We were close to our food. We even had a local family run butcher deliver three times a week, a baker and milkman everyday: We knew their names and they knew ours and they would always have something good hearted and cheeky to say.

So what happened? For us it was Tesco’s opening a supermarket in a bigger town 12 miles away. It became a weekly ritual on a Thursday early evening: We would pick up the maternal grandparents and do a “weekly” shop. Back then petrol was “cheap” and it was a bit of an adventure; especially as there was a toy shop a few doors down and the grandparents were along! I can also remember the adults commenting on the wide variety of products available (they had all experienced wartime austerity) and how much the prices were so much lower than in the smaller specialist shops back home.

I guess we traded quality, food safety, and the value of those who brought produce to our table for convenience, saving a few quid and the dream of having the culinary world laid out at our feet.

Yes I do still shop in supermarkets; they are a hard habit to kick. However I’m thrilled at the rise and rise of the passionate food artisans that are now to be found increasingly holding weekly markets, helping to resurrect the high street and contribute positive pressure on the major retailers. I believe that a balance is to be found; a visit across the channel to any French provincial town will demonstrate this.

I’m not a food snob: I can be found eating a McDonald’s occasionally and I'm also able to appreciate the finest cuisine. I love food not pretence. However if I’m about to part with a large wedge of my hard earned for a top notch meal, I don’t want the Chef to rely on a supermarket or national catering company for his ingredients. I want him to also love food: To know the local producers, to support their enterprises, to work with them to improve quality, to know what is and what is not locally in season and to cook with subsequent authenticity.

The pictures in this blog come from the grounds at Fallowfields in Oxfordshire. The owner; Anthony Lloyd has been the instigator of producing very local food for the tables in Chef Matt Weedons restaurant. Matt is now the farm manager and he gets to be hands on throughout the whole process. The garden and animals also add interest for guests and you can clearly see how well cared for the animals are.

It’s interesting that as our children have grown up and flown the nest we too have found the time over the last three years to dig up part of the lawn and grow some of our own veg. I’m glad that we have. Shame we haven’t got enough room for a few pigs.

So take this as a call out to all of us who are genuinely passionate about food; grow and rear some of your own if you have the room, and if you don’t consider it an adventure to seek out quality local produce for your own table, or a restaurant with a passion for real food: Enjoy.

All images and text copyright Andrew Hill 2013

More and larger Images may be found on the Revealing Light website.

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