Tuesday 16 February 2010

What’s in my basket?

At the TN café get-together last night, we were discussing whether limited food choice was a good thing from the cook's point of view. In particular, we were talking about eating only local vegetables in season. Elena said: “Won’t it be boring? I do like to go to the greengrocers and decide there and then what to buy.” Kerry and I said that on the contrary, it’s actually a lot of fun. With limited choice, you’ve got the scope to be much more creative. More on that discussion later…

Tonight’s supper with friends is soup, bread and cheese – and pancakes, because it’s Shrove Tuesday. So, in the basket there’s ingredients for a veggie soup. It’s going to be minestrone, with a red onion, carrots, celery… maybe leeks, maybe a little bit of garlic; so far, so good, all produced within five miles of the city. (By the way, has anyone seen ‘dirty’ white Fenland celery lately? I haven’t been able to track any down this season.) Borlotti beans – also okay, because I did manage to grow some on the allotment. Tomatoes – well, this time round they will have to be tinned, but next season I hope to learn how to bottle my allotment crop or even sun-dry them. Parmesan cheese – I lose valuable Transition points here unless I substitute local cheese.

Bread: the Norwich loaf, made with a mix of Wakelyn’s flour and spelt. I might cook a flatbread too, but that won’t pass the local test: white flour (probably from grain grown in Canada, though I do have French flour in the cupboard); Maldon salt from nearby Essex; olive oil – definitely not from Essex!

Cheese: White Lady sheep’s cheese from Norfolk. Bought from the Cheeseman in the market, where I buy all my cheese; plus a good English Cheddar, Quicke’s. Unfortunately, Norfolk is not a great dairy county.

Meat: none today. I don’t eat much meat and it has to be organic; only from named farms in Norfolk, after enquiring about exactly how they have been produced. Is this a topic for our blog debate – whether to eat meat at all?

Fish: none today. Last summer I bought fish straight off the boat at Aldeburgh. There wasn’t much choice but it was so sparkling fresh. I don’t know where to get more locally caught fish – Lowestoft? I’d love to find out.

Pud: pancakes. Fails part of the local test. Eggs: local organic; milk: ditto. Flour: organic Italian Tipo 00, as it happens, because that’s what I always use. Lemons: Spanish.

What about the bottom line? Surprisingly, eating this way is much cheaper than the supermarket, as the City Farm Shop’s noticeboard shows. The supermarkets love to compare prices between themselves, but they are a lot more expensive than little independent shops and producers. Even the meat (from the best butcher in the city) was much cheaper than supermarkets. And eggs! £2.50 a dozen (organic, local) from the butcher; nearly twice the price (and half the size) in Waitrose.

Books: first, Thirty Miles: A Local Journey in Food in which Ian Walker meets producers, helps to pick fruit from cliff-tops and gives us lots of recipes all with food from his local area. He's told that he'll struggle to find good food; instead, he proves that cooking locally has lots going for it. "It offers both hope and a blueprint for the future of food in our country."

And Wild Cooking, a new book by Richard Mabey, author of Food for Free and now living in the Waveney Valley. The Times says in its review: “There’s nothing about making do [in the kitchen] that he doesn’t know – the book’s a delight.”

Pix: much-loved shopping basket with seasonal veg; blackboard outside City Farm Shop at Nottcutts

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