Greetings from the Yorkshire Dales. The game season is underway;
the first sign of approaching autumn. With the lush green of the
landscape on the brink of giving way to greys and browns, it's the
right time to discuss a topic which we should hear more about:
Last week, a friend bought me some supermarket cherries. We
debated whether they could be British, and I was amazed when my
friend couldn't tell me when cherries are in season.
As a child, I vividly remember picking and eating cherries. In
July 1980, I travelled behind the Iron Curtain to visit my father's
family in Hungary. At that time of year, the rich farmland of the
Hungarian plain is hazy, with summer storms crashing in after long,
hot days. There is a glut of cherry on the rich Hungarian menu, and
the farmers' stalls groan under fresh produce.
Today, many children don't get to enjoy the simple pleasure of
picking and eating fruit. There is a fundamental lack of connection
to our food. When I read reports of children in our cities not
knowing where butter comes from, or never having even seen farmyard
animals, I can well believe it. We have grown accustomed to
supermarkets stocking fruit and vegetables flown and shipped in
from across the globe, all year round. This unprecedented
convenience has eroded the concept of the seasons.
James Rebanks, in his book "English Pastoral" describes how the
American landscape is created in the supermarket, with the
unsustainability hidden from consumers. A fantasy is imagined as to
where food comes from, and what healthy food looks like. The
winners are the retailers and wholesalers; the losers are squeezed
farmers, consumers, and the environment.
It shouldn't be like this. In the UK we are blessed with growing
seasons. This is nature's guide of what to eat and when. When grown
with the seasons in the UK, our food is spending more time in the
soil, soaking up essential nutrients, and less time degrading on a
plane, boat, and lorry, racking up an enormous carbon footprint.
All this leads to better tasting, high quality food, bursting with
Alongside eating only ethically-produced British meat, I believe
that food seasonality should be front and centre of the National
Food Strategy, Henry Dimbleby's recent report into the future of
food. My reasoning is that seasonality is a simple principle that
has cut-through for consumers and policy makers alike: just like
eating less meat but eating better.
Encouraging people to consider seasonality as they prepare their
meals would promote respect and appreciation of food. I'm not
saying we should be subsisting on turnips and sprouts in the winter
months, but it should be common knowledge which produce is in
season and how to get the very best out of it in the kitchen. In
Hungary, and in the great food nations of Italy, France, Spain,
restaurant menus in the same town are often very similar as they
rely on local food coming into season. Flavours are appreciated at
the right time of year; the sensation of food is tangibly linked to
the seasons, and the menu is intricate and interesting.
In this country, a great example for me is English strawberries.
There's nothing tastier when enjoyed at the right time of year, and
there's nothing worse than a brittle strawberry eaten out of
season, brought in from who knows where. Similarly, eating cherries
in winter should be unthinkable, as should be selling them out of
season while making claims of sustainability and health.
Meat, like fruit and vegetables, is seasonal. The most obvious
change is in cooking styles. You barbecue in summer and serve meat
with seasonal summer vegetables for lighter meals. In winter, slow
cooking breaks down the meat for warming eating alongside root
vegetables (which are easily stored in the cooler months). Jeff
Baker's recipes which can be found on our website change with the
seasons, showing how to get the very best out of our meat in tandem
with seasonal vegetables. Do take a look; Jeff's slow cooking
recipes in particular are superb.