Make it seasonal, take it slowly and keep it small!

© thenaturalweddingcompany.co.ukThese days many people’s only experience of British cut flowers is a bunch of spring daffodils grown in Cornwall. Just as I reported in my recent blogs about vegetable growing – subsidies and supermarkets have almost killed off yet another home-grown industry – the British flower producers.

It’s a difficult time for British flower farmers who are having the same problems as dairy farmers where cheap imports push down market prices so that production becomes unviable. It is estimated that 80% of our cut flower industry has gone in the last 30 years. What a horribly familiar story…

How has this come about? In the mid 20th century, huge subsidies were made available for research and development in the Netherlands and the booming Dutch flower industry was created. Improved transport links meant that these cheap flowers could quickly arrive in the UK and British florists were keen to get hold of these cheaper and more reliable flowers.

By the 1990s the UK supermarket chains dominated the cut flower market and their aggressive buying policies and huge purchasing power really made it impossible for British flower growers to compete.

Thankfully, our farmers and small-scale growers are resourceful types and have been able to see an opportunity in the market when customers start to want to know the provenance of their cut flowers as much as they do their food – it’s heritage veg time again! Thankfully, there is also a move back to more traditional weddings where brides and grooms want something a little different to big bunches of blowsy hot house grown and imported flowers.

Similar to the Slow Food movement there is now a band of Slow Flower producers and marketeers in the UK who see the internet, particularly social media, and attendance at special wedding and country fairs as their ©BareBloomsshop front rather than the established supermarket or garage forecourt. Brilliant!

Seasonality is so important in so many areas of life and I do wish we could all slow down and say ‘Hang on a minute! Do we have to have the brightest, the best and biggest of everything all the time?’ Let’s have a bit of subtly every now and then. One of the really rewarding challenges of using native grown flowers is that you have to work with the seasons. It might mean that couples can’t specify an exact shade of rose, but they will get exciting and fresh, and a palette to reflect the season. What could be better? And slowly, slowly… people are wanting this more. It is a similar trend to restaurants offering smaller menus with a greater emphasis on local and even foraged seasonal ingredients.

And of course as we know, a flower arrangement does not just have to be about cut blooms. Arrangements can be enhanced with greenery or branches, such as willow. An addition of some herbs, particularly rosemary, can produce wonderful aromas as well as structure.

Let’s hear it for our gorgeous native flower industry!

 

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More food fun…!

Top to bottom: Sally Lunn Bun, Cornish Hevva Cake, Bath Chaps and Spotted Dick.Following on from an earlier blog, here are some more foods with funny names… childish, me…?!

The Sally Lunn Bun
In the 17th century, the ‘Sally Lunn bun’ became synonymous with the fashionable city of Bath. ‘Sally’ is thought to have been a Frenchwoman named Solange Luyon but, thanks to her colleagues’ poor French, when the bun became a popular delicacy in Georgian times it was mispronounced and became known as the Sally Lunn bun. 

However, as is often the way… there is disagreement over the name’s origin. A similar French breakfast cake known as a ‘solei et lune’ (it being golden on top like the sun and pale on the bottom like the moon) gave rise to the suggestion that the baker could have been crying “Sol et lune! Solei lune!” in her French accent and passers-by misheard it as ‘Sally Lunn’. I quite like both of these explanations.

Cornish Hevva Cake
Cornish hevva cake, also known as heavy cake, is a simple cake associated with the pilchard fishing industry. It is said that when fisherman hauled aboard a pilchard shoal they would cry “hevva” to let their wives know to start baking the hevva cake. Its history is reflected in the diagonal lines scored across its top before it goes in the oven so it comes out looking like a fishing net. I can well imagine them all shouting ‘heave’ as they toiled away, but I guess the ‘hevva’ story is altogether more interesting!

Bath Chaps
Bath Chaps are the lower portion of a long-jawed pig’s cheeks and sometimes part of the tongue, pickled and boiled, skinned and rolled in breadcrumbs. The word ‘chap’ is a variant of ‘chop’ that, in the 16th century, meant an animal’s jaws and cheeks. They were very much a West Country delicacy and may well have been delicious, but are probably a little too graphic-sounding for many of us today!

Spotted Dick
Well, I suppose I had to finish off with this one! The ‘spotted’ part is due to the raisins or currants studded all over the pudding. The word ‘dick’ is said to have denoted a plain pudding and could be a shortening of pudding to ‘ding’, which then became ‘dick’. Amazing how words and phrases change over time!

 

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It’s all in the heritage…

I want to grow vegetables that are tasty and a little bit different. Supermarkets are full of mass produced ‘perfect’ red tomatoes and strawberries but sadly they are so very often lacking in taste. I have long been attracted to the vegetables that they used to grow in Victorian times with their unusual colourings, such as purple carrots, and interested in the whole ‘heritage vegetable’ idea. 

If you watch any of the many cookery programmes on TV you may well have heard the presenters talking about ‘heritage carrots’ and ‘heirloom tomatoes’ and the like. As so often happens, old-fashioned has become the new fashion! And thank goodness for that as many traditional types of fruit and vegetable have been all but lost in recent years, falling foul of EU rules and the rise of commercial agriculture. Now, the law and consumer attitudes are changing and ‘heritage’ or ‘heirloom’ crops, passed down through the generations, are making a comeback. 

Historically, thousands of different fruit and vegetable varieties were grown on a small scale for people who lived off the land. Many varieties up until the 1920s, maybe later, were bred for gardeners rather than for mass production. But with the move towards intensive farming, the focus was on a small number of crop varieties. Rules introduced by the EU in the 1970s restricted the trade of seed that had not been through an expensive registration process. Sadly, the result was that thousands of heritage varieties became extinct while many others declined. However…

‘Black Russian’ tomato.Last year EU laws surrounding non-commercial seed were relaxed and there’s been a surge of renewed interest in old-fashioned seed varieties, not least because of the recent trend for sustainability and home-grown vegetables and no – surprise here – it is also because many of the crops just taste better!

There are lots of interesting things about heritage veg – for example, look at a tomato variety called the Black Russian. Mainstream varieties are bred with a thick skin to protect them in transit on their way to the supermarket, but this traditional variety has a very thin skin, from a time when crops were eaten straight from the garden. And it tastes like a proper tomato too! 

One of the fascinations with heritage crops is their individual histories. Take this lovely story: The Trail of Tears Bean, a small, rich-flavoured variety, got its name from Cherokee Indians, who took the bean with them when they were displaced by American settlers in 1838. The bean is now an heirloom passed down through the generations and safe-guarded by Garden Organic in the UK. How wonderful is that?

‘Trail of Tears’.But the most important thing about of these old varieties may be in the genetic variety they have to offer in the future. As farmers have concentrated on producing few select varieties, the gene pool has shrunk. Experts say it is essential that we preserve these different varieties because we may well need them if one of the big commercial varieties fails… Yet another example of when biggest is not always best. I shall now go and research the history of my vegetable seeds before I start planting!

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Diana’s simple, classic apple pie

My Mum was legendary within our family for her fabulous apple pies – indeed she won contests and appeared on Pebble Mill at One years ago. This picture shows an excerpt from the Best of British Cookbook that the BBC published with a very young and pretty Diana some 25 plus years ago…

To the side of the recipe, the cookbook includes this paragraph about Diana:

“Diana says her husband married her for her apple pie and, as they’ve been together for 26 years, it must be good! The secret is her melt–in–the­–mouth pastry, using a high proportion of vegetable fat to flour, which she prefers to the more biscuit crust produced with butter and the apples, cooked quickly to retain their flavour and colour with no spicy additions. A deliciously simple, classic apple pie.”

I can attest the fact that John never tired of her apple pie and she was still making it until very recently. I’ve reproduced her recipe here for you:

Ingredients

  • 3 large Bramley apples
  • 2–3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3–4 tablespoons water

Pastry

  • 12oz self-raising flour with a pinch of salt
  • 8oz soft lard or vegetable fat
  • 6 tablespoons cold water

Method

Peel, core and chop the apples into pieces, put into a large pan, add a little water and the sugar to taste. Cook at a very high temperature – stir occasionally – don’t leave it, it will burn easily. Just as the apples are ‘breaking down’ (about 4–5 minutes) tip the apples into a dish and leave to cool.

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl – add the fat and rub in lightly with your fingertips – now add the cold water – enough to make a soft dough. Roll out half the dough to fit the base of your flan dish – trim the edges – fill the pastry case with the cold cooked apple and brush the edges with a little cold water. Roll out the remaining pastry and lay it carefully over the apple and secure the edges – now trim and flute the edges to look attractive. Brush the surface with a little cold milk or use a little beaten egg brushed over to produce really golden pastry. Cook the apple pie for about 25 minutes in a pre–heated oven Gas 6 (200ºC/400ºF) – eat at once with a generous helping of cream!

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Lost and found…

I do like coming across quirky stories in the press. My eye was caught this week by a story that said more than 300,000 items of lost property were handed into Transport for London in 2015. “So what?”, you may think…

It was the next paragraph that made me laugh. Apart from the items you’d expect, like keys and umbrellas and wallets… lost items also included a prosthetic leg, a full drum kit and a large fitted carpet! I mean, how could you possibly forget or lose such things? I have left a carrier bag on a bus (many, many years ago!) and lost the odd key… but a fitted carpet? I think I’d notice that.

In another life, a job in a lost property office might be rather interesting, there would certainly be lots of material for a novel. The percentage of items restored to their rightful owners is only just over 20%, so that’s an awful lot of items that go unclaimed.

After three months, all the unclaimed items have any personal data removed before they are either donated to charities including The Salvation Army and the British Red Cross, or recycled, or sold at auction… and the income received from selling unclaimed property last year was a whopping £257,176.16!

I have visions of an enormous cupboard tucked away in some Dickensian back alley near one of the main train stations in London with shelf upon shelf stacked with weird and wonderful items. I don’t suppose it’s anything like that at all, but it sounds fascinating.

Tracking down something you have lost at an airport or on an aeroplane however is, by the sound of it, a much more hi-tech process. There is a website where passengers sadly parted from their goods and chattels can post the details, or ‘claim’ for the missing item. The list for just London Heathrow is extensive, as you can imagine, and ranges from some poor soul who has lost a Jo Malone candle, to a stuffed animal (not just a stuffed toy, which worried me a bit!) and loads and loads of mobiles, laptops and pieces of clothing.

The internet has also come into its own when it comes to lost pets. I see so many posts online (many of them heart-breaking) detailing where the family pet dog was last seen… Years ago, all you could do was put up ‘lost’ posters on lampposts and ask all your neighbours to keep their eyes peeled. Now, the chances of finding your beloved pet are much higher as you can so quickly pass on the details to so many people. I often follow posts through just to be see if there is a happy ending… and very often, there is.

I’m still worried about that person who got home and found they’d mislaid their lounge carpet though…

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