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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Funny food!

Top to bottom: Fidget Pie, Toad in the Hole, Singin’ Hinnies and Dead Man’s Arm… sorry, that should be Jam Roly Poly!Coming across things with funny names always makes me chuckle and I think some of the old-fashioned names we have for particular recipes are a hoot! Of course, working out their original meaning is often guesswork, but there are some very interesting ones out there. Here are a few you might enjoy…

Fidget Pie
Fidget pie is a traditional English dish made from a small pastry case filled with gammon, onion, potatoes, cider and apple and topped with cheese and a pastry lid. Some believe the name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘fitched’, meaning five-sided. The Oxford English Dictionary says the word appeared in the late 18th century as fitchet-pie, perhaps from fitchet, a dialect word for ‘polecat’, because of the strong, unpleasant odour of the pie during cooking. Really?!

Toad in the Hole
Some say this quintessentially British dish got its name because the sausages in batter look like little amphibians peeking out of a hole. But there’s also the possibility it could be linked to a pub game known as ‘toad in the hole’ in which players try to throw a heavy disc – the toad – through a hole in a lead-topped table. Could there have been some resemblance between the two when they were put on the table? I think I prefer the first option.

Singin’ Hinnies
While they may sound like a 1980s pop group, Singin’ hinnies are actually flat, scone-like cakes from the Northumberland area, originally made from a large piece of dough that was cooked on a griddle over the home fire before being split into segments. Singin’ hinnies take their name from the sizzling sounds they make as they cook. They are said to sing because butter and milk or cream would drip and sizzle merrily in the scolding pan. The term ‘hinnie’ is another way of saying ‘honey’ and is used as a term of endearment, often to describe children.

Dead Man’s Arm
Another name for the jam roly poly is the ‘dead man’s arm’, not just because it looks like one when the jam spurts out, but because it was often wrapped in an old shirt sleeve to be steamed. I think I will stick to calling it jam roly poly, thank you, slightly more appetising!

I have a few more up my sleeve (pun intended!) so will share those with you in a later blog. But meanwhile, do share any interestingly named dishes that you know of. There are lots of regional variations I am sure!

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‘Vegging out’ is good for you!

It’s been a very mild, wet winter here in Devon and I haven’t been able to get out in the garden much at all as the ground has been so saturated. My lovely raised beds that Richard constructed for me last Autumn are sitting empty and calling to me to be planted. So far, I have had to keep my green fingers occupied by leafing through seed catalogues and Googling different varieties of veggies… but very soon it will be time for me to make a start!

I find Sutton Seeds (coincidentally, Suttons are based just down the road from me near Paignton) Facebook page and blogs very useful for ideas and for advising when to get on and do things. I was interested to see that they have designed a special range of vegetable and flower seeds with 25p from the sale of each promotional pack going to Cancer Research UK. Not only is this a vary commendable idea, it also links in to the fact that the actual act of gardening is good for us – in so many ways.

Here are some interesting facts from the Cancer Research UK website:

  • Around 3,400 cases of cancer in the UK each year could be prevented by keeping active.
  • Heavy gardening counts as moderate activity
  • Healthier diets could help prevent 1 in 10 cancers.
  • Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and can affect the risk of some cancer types, like mouth and throat cancers.
  • Choose fruit and vegetables with a variety of colours to help you include a broad range of vitamins and minerals in your diet. The chemicals that give these foods their colour are often the same ones that are good for you.

So gardening and growing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables can play their part in keeping us healthy. And let’s face it, being outside in the fresh air is always an uplifting experience. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere with plenty of wild birds, they can really enhance your gardening experience too!

Sigh… no, not my veg beds, but the most perfect veg garden ever at RHS Rosemoor in North Devon. They even have Peter Rabbit!A total of 15 different packets make up Sutton’s special range. Each packet contains 2 varieties. This helps to broaden the range of vitamins and minerals and also the range of colours. For example, the Mangetout Pea packet contains both Shiraz and Oregon varieties and so will produce both deep purple and vibrant green pods. Attractive, tasty and healthy!

I really enjoy my veg, so being able to grow my own will be thrilling and the flavours really are so much more intense than shop bought examples. I don’t have a great deal of space, so I will think carefully about what I grow and there’s lots of excellent advice online. If you don’t have a garden, or only a very small one, you can still grow all sorts of vegetables in tubs and window boxes.

To view the Cancer Research UK Vegetable Seed Range in full, please click here.

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