Category Archives: farming

Little White Dish

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In the summer, the Cockneys used to travel from the East End of London to Kent, “the Garden of England”, to pick hops for the brewing industry. This was their summer holiday, in the days before disposable income and cheap flights. My father recalled serving them beer out of a trough, mug after mug after mug in quick succession. He grew up in rural Kent, surrounded by fields and allotments. People grew, picked, pickled, bottled, stored, and could only have been spurred on in this by World War 2 and the food rationing that followed, lasting years after the War itself had ended. When my paternal grandmother died, a comfortably well-off upper working-class woman at that point, with a well-maintained terraced house and a smart new car, the walk-in larder of the house was full of tins, most of them out-of-date. Even with the post-war plenty she kept a surplus safely on-hand, until it became beyond her ability to manage the stored supplies.

I have bits and pieces of her kitchen still, inherited after she died. I was going to university, having not lived independently before, and so it seemed a shame to get rid of the spare plates and pans, when I could get good use out of them. Twenty years later some of them have survived; two good metal saucepans, apparently indestructible despite my slow learning-curve as a cook. Some items of cutlery. Some plates and bowls with a sailing yacht motif (my grandfather was in the Navy and loved to sail). And a small white china dish, which my parents suggested I take as it “would be good to cook one-person dishes in”.

Two bleedin’ decades I have lugged this bloody dish around the country, and I finally cooked something today for which it was perfect, because I have limited fridge/freezer space so didn’t want to cook more than I could eat tonight, and as I wasn’t sure I could get the dish right (aubergines!!), I didn’t want to cook excess food that I might just end up filing directly into the bin.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Melanzane Alla Parmigiana, for One

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The cost of living

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….due to the appalling summer, it looks like food prices here in the UK will rise.  As mentioned earlier, amateur gardeners are suffering; can only imagine how much grief professional farmers are experiencing from too much rain, plus additional rain, plus extra rain, plus a summer where even a few consecutive hours of decent sunlight, let alone a few days, or weeks, was a cause for national celebration, carnival and quite possibly ritual human sacrifice.  My father proudly displayed the two, (count ’em!), two handfuls of green grapes he’s managed to bully out of the vines in the back garden.  The rest he has consigned “to the blackbirds”, and it’s a truth that, given the summer, they may well desperately need that boost of fruit sugar to help survive the winter.

Despite this, we continue to be a nation that loves all kinds of international delicacies, even if some of us *cough* may occasionally use them to liven up a chip butty. I dropped into my local Big Business Supermarket this afternoon to arrange an anti-influenza immunisation with the pharmacy, and a gentle post-injection stroll around the aisles took me past such delights as red Camargue rice, black spiced rice vinegar, and glass jars of white truffles in porcini mushroom sauce. The last took a serious amount of self-control to walk past – I’ve never had truffles before but as I have a greedy love of mushrooms that wouldn’t disgrace a hobbit, I suspect I could cultivate a very expensive habit very quickly indeed.  I hurried away and settled instead for a butternut squash and some Hershey’s peanut butter cups; another non-native species to the UK, but one laced with enough sugar and saturated fats to keep the blackbirds and Anxiousbirds of Tangleton warm from here to Spring….