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After I’d come down off the high of our Michelin dinner I thought I’d just look into the humble pea and its origins.

As ever when I want to read about vegetables I tend to turn to Colin Spencer’s brilliant and humbly titled The Vegetable Book. It rates in my top 10 food books of all time, about which I will post one day. I say food books rather than cook books, because it is so much more than a recipe collection. It is, for me at least, the finest kind of food-related writing. A potted history, followed with descriptions of the various varieties of selected vegetables. Interspersed with advice on choosing, nutritional information and original ideas and recipes. It is a superb book.

In amongst the delightful writing Colin likes to drop in a few historical quotes. I particularly like this one is about peas.

According to Colin the French court Louis XIV was besotted by green peas, as Madame de Maintenon wrote in a letter dated 10th May 1696 :  “this subject of peas continues to absorb all others. The anxiety to eat them, the pleasure of having eaten them and the desire to eat them again, are three great matters which have been discussed by our princes for four days past. Some ladies, even after having supped at the Royal table and well supped too, returning to their own homes, at the risk of suffering indigestion will again eat peas before going to bed. It is both a fashion and a madness”

The history of food I think is a fascinating subject. In this day and age of any food, anytime, from anywhere in the world it gives us a glimpe of how things used to be. A time when we couldn’t have anything we wanted, whenever we wanted, and when foods that we take for granted now, like peas, were a novelty.

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There’s something in the air. I almost feel as though spring has passed & we’ve moved into summer with the weather we’ve been having.

We had the first bbq of the year last night, so maybe that’s what it is. I get very excited at the changing of the seasons, particularly when it comes to food. We’ve eaten so many roots, stews & winter greens, which I love, but I know spring is really springing & summer’s just around the corner when the wild garlic comes out. Lettuce, beans & tomatoes et al aren’t far behind.

We went to Devon 2 weekends ago, beautiful sunshine and magnolias in full bloom. This is the piece I wrote then.

27th March 2011 Devon.

I’m always filled with (probably a blind) romanticism when I come down here. So much so that I think the simplest meals become something special. Maybe it’s because so many meals in our lives are more that the sum of the ingredients. And by ingredients, I don’t just mean the food.

One of the most memorable meals of my life was in Morocco, sat beside the road with a stranger I’d hitched a ride with. We ate bread, meat, cheese, fruit, and drank some water sitting between the fields worked by local people. It was hot, dry and dusty, and we sat in the shade of the trees that lined the dirt track we’d turned on to, making broken conversation with my poor French & his poor English. We shared the food we’d bought at a local market. The food was good & quite ordinary really. The table, cutlery and plates were non-existent and the conversation hardly sparkling. So in many ways all the classic ingredients for a good meal weren’t in place. Yet I remember it so vividly as being a very special time, place and meal.

Last night’s dinner was very simple, but very delicious, and, it seemed to me, a bit special. The hedgerows here are alive with wild garlic.

I find it a bit like owning a red car. As soon as you see one, you see them everywhere. The same is true of the garlic. Masses and masses of it. Not just banks, but great swathes of it up and down the lanes.

Last year I started compiling a list of places around Bristol where you could find wild garlic. This year I wasn’t that bothered about cooking or using wild garlic until we drove home with some mussels from the shop and I spotted the garlic in the hedges.

This recipe is one of the best ways of using it I feel, almost like a green vegetable in its own right. The addition of greens like spinach or wild garlic make the mussel dish a little more substantial.

Be careful not to cook all the pungency out of it, it’s much milder than cultivated garlic bulbs anyway, but it’s nice to have a bit of zip to it.

Mussels with leeks, cream, white wine and wild garlic:

For 2 as a main course with bread.

2 kg of mussels, bearded & cleaned

1 small onion, finely diced

2 small leeks, thinly sliced & washed

1-2 glasses white wine

2 fresh bay leaves

125ml or so of single cream

As much wild garlic as you like, washed & thinly shredded, say 2 big fistfuls, washed carefully.

  • Use a pot with a lid, big enough to hold all the mussels as they open. They’ll take up more room as they cook.
  • Soften the onion in a little olive oil over a medium heat.
  • Add the leeks & continue to sauté until soft.
  • Chuck in the mussels, wine & bay leaves, turn up the heat, cover & simmer until the mussels open, stirring from time to time, about 3-5 minutes.
  • Add the wild garlic, stir, a lot, & cook for a further 3 minutes until the garlic has wilted.
  • Finish with the cream, allowing it to heat through but not boil.
  • Serve in bowls with bread to mop up the juices.
    So, a simple meal, in a special time & place, which, as I say seemed much more than the sum of the ingredients.

    When I wrote this there wasn’t much garlic around Bristol, but plenty in Devon. Now it’s all over the place! Get it while you can, but only take as much as you need & leave some for others, please.

    For any help you might need finding & identifying it have a look at the link here. Even if you don’t find any, you’ll have a nice walk in the woods!

I  formed this article, in the main from an email I sent to “Hugh’s Fishfight”. A campaign started by the tv cook Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, if you don’t know about it there’s a link here. I strongly urge you to support it.

It gave us some shocking facts about fishing quotas & brilliantly raised public awareness in the way only a tv chef can. Friends & colleagues have all been talking about it and signing up which can only be a good thing. As climb on to my soapbox once again, I do believe the only real power we have as consumers in our lives is in our wallets, purses and pockets. And we need to carefully consider the choices we make if you care about the planet we live on. Right I’ll climb down now, rant over & stop getting all evangelical (mind you there’s more in the rest of this piece!)

Dear sir/madam,

I’m a big fan of the juicy oily-ness of the mackerel. I recently went to our local branch of Fishminster. Excitedly, I had noticed that they were on your map as offering mackerel on the menu. There’s a link on your website asking customers to report any shops wrongly listed as selling mackerel. So here I am! I know this shop fairly well and it’s (very sadly) the only wet fish shop for miles.

They have a very small but perfectly-formed wet fish slab opening out onto the street selling well-sourced fresh fish. Last year I was extremely excited to find wild sea trout on the slab & went next door to the fruit & veg shop for inspirational accompaniments. By golly it was good, not cheap, but worth every penny. A warm potato salad & salsa verde. I’ll post pictures and recipes at some point.

Last night fish & chips was what we wanted for our Saturday night tea & I quite fancied mackerel for a change & was becoming bored with Cod & Haddock on many menus.

When I arrived at Fishminster they had a delicious-sounding & looking homemade fishcakes, and an equally delicious-sounding spiced chickpea, spinach & beetroot burger. But no mackerel. They had Cod, Haddock, no Pollock (boo!), Hake, squid & some other assorted fishy items (home made fish fingers etc). But no mackerel, I did lookhave a conscience quite hard.

We had the Hake, but of course I had to check when I got home, to assuage my guilt. I thought the Spanish had eaten it all & I was reasonably sure the sustainability situation was dodgy. Fortunately for my guilt it’s on the “good” list of the MSC’s website due to it being fished in the Pacific & South Africa. This doesn’t help my support of British fishermen though does it?? And then horror as I discover Hugh’s book rates it as a 5! Do not eat!!  However Hugh’s ratings are for the European Hake. It was up on the menu, painted on the board, not in chalk, so it’s a pretty frequent menu item, clarification necessary, but do people care enough? I think in the main people don’t, if they did we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.

I understand also that the MSC isn’t infallible (the Cornish Monkfishing quotas are very restrictive & inaccurate if my colleague in fishmongery is to be listened to) and this is a complex issue. Not helped by consumers that don’t ask enough questions. But we don’t do we? We’re not like that as a nation. But if these situations are to change we need to be, and in this particular instance I’m as guilty as the next person.

In fairness this shop really is one of the better ones. (However, Mr Fryer, please don’t eat with your fingers where the customers can see you, whilst you’re cooking their food, it’s not attractive, or hygienic!) They probably have Mackerel on the menu frequently & Saturday night comes after a traditionally-busy Fryday night (see what I did there?).  I also understand that the Fishfight website needs much frequent updating & checking to remain accurate. So this isn’t so much a complaint as a slightly disappointed observation. I was really looking forward to a Mackerel bap with its punchy tartare, and as delicious as the Hake was it didn’t leave as juicy as taste as I was looking for.

For further information & the latest fishy news check the MSC website here.

Update 10.4.11. It’s a miracle I manage to eat anything sometimes! Oh the guilt, the shame, don’t eat this, do eat that. For crying out loud can I not just eat a bag of fish & chips & enjoy it?? Er no, I seem to live my life like this. Although I am getting better and finding some balance in my life, otherwise where does it end? Also, this was an email to HF-W’s gang, so I think I got a bit carried away. Anyway, aside from that I think I do need to get out more!

 Also I’ve been back since & still no mackerel :(



If you don’t know Jamie, where have you been? If you’re from the UK he’s quite difficult to avoid.

He has his critics out there (as anyone famous does) and he has his fans, I fall into the latter category.

He’s had a lot of stick over the years, partly I think it comes from this peculiar British behaviour that, because he’s doing well we cannot celebrate him, just berate him.  He does a lot to promote good food, good practice and his work with Fifteen I think is great. Aside from his campaign with Sainsbury’s which has set him up for life (and who can say they wouldn’t do the same?) he’s had a productive and creative career thus far. If you put aside his on-screen personality for a while (which some people can’t stand) and look at his other more charitable work there seems to be a man with a genuine love, and wish to improve the lives of  his fellow man.

He started a campaign in the UK not so long ago to raise the standard of food in schools in this country. I personally couldn’t applaud it enough. Raising standards of food quality goes hand in hand with increasing health at every level for children, as well as the crucial aspect of education which means they can carry it through to later life & pass it on. It also means job satisfaction for the people cooking, serving it, and for that matter the suppliers producing it (although some would argue many don’t care). It has a myriad of benefits.

Jamie recently won the TED prize. This was no small deal. In fact a  big deal. A very, very big deal.  This prize is awarded to people with a wish, and desire to change the world, for the better (“One wish big enough to change the world” is the strapline). This award has previously been given to physicists, medical professionals, scientists and other important academics.

This year it’s being awarded to a chef from Essex??? Just fantastic news, I can only wish him well and all the luck in world.

A link to his acceptance speech here from his site. Definitely worth watching. Yes it’s playing to the American audience a bit and it’s quite polished and set up, but I was surprised at how good and engaging a public speaker he is.

Sadly, like him I’m an idealist, maybe that’s why I like him and what he’s trying to do.

As if the world wasn’t mad enough. I spotted this water in a Madrid supermarket. (see below, and check out the price, in Euros)

It bothers me for 2 reasons;

It’s imported water.

It costs a small fortune, for something which is a basic human need, and our society has turned it into a luxury item.

In this country (UK) we’re lucky to have enough water, so why on earth do we have to keep importing (& stealing) water from other countries? Essentially, and in the long run, creating drought in other countries. To be fair to the water company, it’s American “spring water”, purified by various means, and not imported. Although for me that makes it all the more ridiculous. This water is a fashion accessory,created by a Hollywood producer, nothing more, nothing less.  It attempts to do some ecological point scoring by making the bottle glass, recyclable & refillable. (If anyone knows how to recycle Swarowski crystals, could they let me know). All of this does help me make some interesting points about water in general.

I think a lot of us import water unwittingly sometimes. There’s a lot of “hidden” water in imported foods, rice, vegetables, meat especially. It’s not so much the obvious amount of water that’s contained in food (cucumbers & tomatoes being obviously very wet), it’s the amount it takes to produce it. Which for countries that have very little, it just seems wrong to take it from them.

You know it makes sense!

To create the following amounts of food items, here’s a few facts for you:

Water-

1 gram of lettuce = 130ml

1 gram of rice = 3.4 litres

1 gram of lamb = 15 litres!

Maybe veggies have got a point!

Oil-

100 grams of pork = 70 ml

100 grams of cheese = 130ml

1 tomato (from a greenhouse) = 320ml

(source: Future of food- George Alagiyah, broadcast 17th August 2009 BBC1)

Maybe the veggies haven’t got a point! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Scary figures though aren’t they?

Having got right on my soapbox and said all that, I love this water for another reason. It made me laugh! Undoubtedly the most expensive water I have ever seen. It never ceases to amaze me, that humanity is so utterly ridiculous and well, sometimes frankly brilliant. I love that the people who worship “bling” are being sold something we ridicule. Adorned with Swarowski crystals if you please! It’s genius, I’m in the wrong job! Although I don’t think I could live with myself if that was my job.

On the eve of one of the most important elections in my lifetime this seems all the more fitting.

I have an enormous list of books I want to read. I’m currently reading Matthew Fort’s excellent “Eating up Italy”, in which he rides from the south end of Italy, to the north on a Vespa scooter. Quite mad and brilliant, and yes you guessed it, he spent his time eating. (The clue’s in the name folks)

Very well written, with some excellent recipes. His clearly decent command of the Italian language allowed him to get under the surface of Italy and talk to chefs, restaurateurs and food producers. Giving a fascinating, often unreported, and therefore unrivalled view of, what I believe to be, one of the food capitals of the world. We’re fed a steady diet of information and recipes about Italy through various media means. It’s always romantic, wonderful and foodie, but rarely the truth of multinationals, farming & the state of the economy. So I found it eye-opening and refreshing to read.

My rant today though, is the point he makes about Italian shops. They open to suit their customers, not the other way around. Opening early (you mean BEFORE we go to work?) They close in the afternoon from 1 to about 4 or 5 (while we’re STILL at work), and then they close fairly late at 7 or 8pm (on our way home from work). How very sensible. And he makes the point that, it’s no wonder the supermarkets have such an easy time of it in this country. Now admittedly one of the reasons for these hours is due to the climate and the heat in the middle of the day. Nevertheless it does make perfect sense.

It’s not rocket science is it? But then we’re not a nation known for our love of food and things are changing to be fair. But, why go home & cook ,when we can sit in front of the television, and laugh at our fellow man making fools of themselves, in the ridiculous numbers of “reality” shows we seem to have rammed down our throats? Eating some poor excuse for food out of the microwave, made with no love or respect for producers, food or the staff making it, or the staff selling it. Heaven forbid we should sit around a table and interact with each other.

I don’t live in an idealistic bubble (or at least I don’t think I do). And I’m guilty of watching some rubbish on telly too. As the election approaches, is it any wonder that we live in “broken Britain”?

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