The Pheasant Philosophises: Part 3 Sunday Morning Musings: Seasonality

fullsizeoutput_1600So, this week saw the end of National Cake Week, the beginning of National Seafood Week and tomorrow we look forward to the start of British Egg Week. Whilst I enjoy these specialised food and drink weeks it does make me wonder how on earth the British food industry survived for all those years without national annual promotion. Whilst these ‘weeks’ generally fall into place at the peak or opening of the season, some items are in season continually (and in the case of Cake week, it was initially established to share and enjoy a cake together), I look back and try to understand where the British food industry went wrong with seasonality. One hundred years ago, you knew that if it was December there were no strawberries and if it was August, Mussels were generally off the menu.

The only area within which we can categorically state that there is definite seasonality in the UK is through the various Game seasons.

IMG_7075The nostalgia and traditions which surround Game have managed to survive, unchallenged into the twenty first century, and so, today, many people still ‘look forward’ to the first Pheasant, Partridge or Grouse (the glorious 12th a testimony to this). Another example is the relatively new (1951), seasonal arrival of  Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday in November, but the general non-foodie populous are not privy to such seasonal excitements.

Perhaps this is where National Food Weeks come in? When my Grandmother was born in 1911 and yes, she’s still with us today, the seasons were heralded by the changing foods available in markets and shops. People waited almost a whole year for the first Scottish Raspberries or English grown lettuces, hot houses did exist but mostly for the rich. There has been a distinct reversal in the ensuing years. Those with money can seek out the very best of seasonal produce whilst those on budgets can buy ‘year round’ mediocre quality items from the local supermarket.

As a budget conscious nation, we have been told to buy seasonally to save money, even I have advocated this, however on closer inspection perhaps my encouragement is mis-worded. What I should say is, “when buying at specialist food shops, farm shops, farmers markets or similar try to buy seasonally because it proves far better value and generally you reduce your purchases’ food miles”.  This is where the quality issue comes in. In my earlier piece about Organic food  #feedyourhappy I recommended seasonal buying and I do stick by this. IMG_0044

I do, however, think it’s sad that we’ve lost the excitement of seasonality, those of us who produce our own foods know all too well the “No….I can’t manage another strawberry” and the  “We’ll just make jam, now” scenarios after a glut of fruit. We have eaten our fill are are quite happy to wait, in the most, another year for more fresh, sweet, glistening berries. That’s why opening a jar of summer Strawberry Jam in the middle of Winter is so evocative. It is the very fact that it is the preservation of summer which makes it ‘special’ – but that aside, it is not fresh produce like the little trays of overpriced out of season strawberries we see on our supermarket shelves at Christmas. Jam is a shadow of the memory of Summer, preserving gluts of fruit has been a ritual in world kitchens for thousands of years, whether it be drying, potting, jam-making or, more recently freezing (although again, I’m not so keen as you end with a pale example of what first went in). You cannot compare a decent jam to a bowl fresh fruit and it would be wrong to do so.

Therefore, perhaps the Britain’s Food Weeks have a place, not so much in promoting awareness and purchase of produce, but in highlighting what shouldn’t be around….it is all extremely confusing…but Happy National Seafood Week anyway!!!

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The Pheasant Philosophises; part 2

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A couple of weeks ago I trawled my county (and adjacent ones) searching for the best produce I could find to fill my fridge and cupboard for the week ahead. Today I went to a supermarket and it was as though I saw it all with new eyes. I was disgusted by the rows of processed rubbish- filled refined carbohydrate based foods, pesticide covered veg and dubious meat. As I was with my son, who at 11 still has the odd craving for Doritos and Cereal (in between demands for goats cheese and olives), I decided to do a bit of a test. Telling a child that something is bad for them never seems to put them off, in my experience anyway, so I resolved to encourage a little bit of self-education. We put a pack of Doritos in the trolley and compared the ingredients to the most basic tortilla chips available in the shop, for price comparison it was £1.40 vs 45p. He read the ingredients with an ever changing expression of horror, by the time he got to MSG which he knows is not good he was thoroughly put off and returned the product to the shelf. He then took up the, unappealingly plain, packaged Tortilla Chips; ingredients Maize, Rapeseed Oil and salt. “It’s a no-brainer Mum” , he said as he put them back in the trolly.

Which got me thinking; why do people assume that the value brands are rubbish? In a society where there are people struggling to make ends meet, why do so many buy branded products. I have watched programs on the television about people learning to get by on benefits and often they fill their trolley with brands believing that you pay for quality – which you do, but really only when there is a greater divide; an organic chicken and a basic chicken for example. But when it comes to basics versus own brand I don’t see a big difference and often the basics ingredients list is far more transparent and uses far fewer (unnecessary) ingredients hidden behind their chemical names.

But, as a consumer, you must remember that shops always place their value ranges below eye level forcing you to look a bit harder. I fully believe that even those on a low budget should be able to feed their families well, and the very basics such as pasta, rice and flour are not expensive. Perhaps look towards vegetarian options or make use of sustainably sourced tinned fish; a little goes a long way! And finally do a bit of planning, if you know what you’re having on each day it’s much easier to stick to a budget.