It was a pretty rotten summer, wasn’t it? But, judging by the chirpy looking veg in the polytunnels, fields and shop of Church Farm in Ardeley, in Hertfordshire (http://www.churchfarmardeley.co.uk/) none of them seem to have minded the cool and wet.
So, for Food Club, earlier this Autumn, instead of doing Alice B. Toklas’s ludicrous shoulder of mutton recipe (because where would I get either the mutton or the necessary surgical syringe to inject it with cognac?) I turned to Alice Waters for inspiration.
Founder of the Slow Food Movement with her restaurant, Chez Panisse in San Francisco, Alice Waters’ influence in the States is similar to Elizabeth David’s here. Her watchwords are local, seasonal and sustainable. The latest writer in the Great Food series, she probably has most in common with the earliest, Gervase Markham for whom food in 1615 was local and seasonal from necessity (and fresh would have been a bonus). Alice Waters doesn’t feel that revolutionary to me, though as my mum still grows, makes and bakes much of her own food and buys her meat from a local farmer she knows. But it must have felt radical in 1980s America and, as with so many things Californian, we welcomed it too; it’s just that my Mum – like so many mums – got there first.
I came away from the Church Farm shop with an enormous, emerald lettuce; tomatoes in an extended family of shapes, colours and sizes; a hilariously knobbly cucumber plus two round ones (which Margaret was convinced were squash until we cut into it and saw the seeds), earth-covered spring onions. Two days and two unrefridgerated car-journeys later, the tomatoes were squishy, the lettuce was leathery and half the leaves had black patches and the cucumber was getting bendy with exhaustion.
In Tristram Stuart’s important book on waste in the food industry (called, pithily, WASTE) he tells you simply how to prolong the life of what William Verral calls “garden things”; put herbs in a glass of water in the fridge, for example, and they’ll keep fresh for days. We have lost a lot in the past four hundred years – flower salads, salmagundi, candied rose petals – but occasionally it’s good for an old die-hard like me to look at the fridge and remember what we’ve gained too.