Great British Food: 1989 onwards

This is an unusual Tea Towel Blog in that it relates to six of my tea towels, all of which have different origins but with the same theme.  This Blog is also in two parts: the first part is generally about the issues raised by the title ‘Great British Food’.  The second half is a piece of writing that I found, when I was sorting through some cupboards, written in 2006, about local Leicestershire food, by a friend of mine.  I knew I was saving this for something!!  That moment has come.

Several of my Blogs have referred to the status of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) which the European Union awards to a traditional recipe, from a certain geographical area.  The Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status is for traditional recipes from a specific area, but may include ingredients from farther afield.  The Traditional Speciality Guarantee (TSG) safeguards the recipe but doesn’t specify where the product is made.  These awards were started in 1993.  It suddenly occurs to me, what will happen to those awards for British foods after Brexit takes place?   Will they still exist?  Will the foods still be able to use PGI or PDO status?  Will it affect their business?  Will future foods be able to apply for such awards, if we are not part of the EU?  “Being awarded PGI status is a fantastic coup as it secures a product’s identity, gives it a strong brand image and protects it from imitation”.   To date there are 84 such foods in Britain plus a number pending a decision: foods like Kentish Ale, Cornish Pasty, Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese, Gloucestershire Cider, Lough Neagh Eels, Arbroath Smokies, Fenland Celery, Melton Mowbray Pork Pie, Whitstable Oysters (all have PGI status) and Bonchester Cheese, Stilton Blue Cheese, Cornish Clotted Cream, Conwy Mussels, Lakeland Herdwick Meat, Orkney Beef, Shetland Lamb, Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb, Native Shetland Wool and Anglesey Sea Salt (all have PDO status).  The traditionally-farmed Gloucestershire Old Spot Pork has TSG status.

So here we have some strong speciality, and traditional, foods from Britain.  But I always ask myself is there a hierarchy of qualities that are attributed to good foods.  Is Fair Trade better than local?  Is organic better than seasonal?  Is vegetarianism better than animal welfare?  Is veganism better than reducing air miles?  Is cost more important than nutritional value and quality?  How do programmes like Masterchef and Great British Bake-Off fit alongside healthy eating?  What is the role of food magazines, and celebrity chefs, in relation to the way most of us live?

For me, my priority is about local, seasonal food and good animal welfare; it’s about reducing carbon footprints and air miles; it’s about seasonal produce.  It’s no good having huge solar farms and counteracting it by eating asparagus, strawberries and peas, out of season, that have travelled 3000 miles from Peru.  The term Fair Trade is used to make things sound virtuous yet to achieve Fair Trade status costs a lot of money, only to be afforded by the wealthy firms in poor countries.  There are many producers who cannot afford to pay the cost of registering to sell Fair Trade tea in Sri Lanka, as well as providing their work force with housing, medical care and education for their children.  There is no easy answer.  We all have to do what feels right for our conscience.

So where do these tea towels come from?  The British Food and Farming Year, designed by Pat Albeck, was sold at the Royal Show in 1989 when it was trying to promote British food and had a big British food marquee promoting everything thing from Water Buffalo burgers to oats, from smoked salmon to Gloucester Old Spot meats.  The second tea towel came from the Good Food Show in 1999, held at Olympia, every year, again promoting the use of good quality British food and cookery.  It was based on the BBC Magazine Good Food.  It was great fun and you certainly didn’t need to bring any food or have a meal afterwards because of the quantity of ‘freebies’.

My next two tea towels are part of a much wider range of tea towels in the same style but with different subject matter, all different foods from Great Britain, highlighting the various specialisms.  These two are Great British Teatime Treats and Great British Regional Food.  I would certainly like the rest of the set!!

The last two tea towels are about local areas priding themselves on the range of local food available.  I happen to have one from Northumberland, where I stayed in 2009 and, I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed all the food.  My final one is from Melton Mowbray.  I have already Blogged about this tea towel (Blog dated 2/3/2016) but I thought I would include it because of the following contribution which is about food from Leicestershire.

From Bison to Curry and Everything in Between

“I have always considered myself a ‘foodie’ and, wherever I travel, I like to sample and savour local specialities.  In Scotland, I enjoy fresh trout from the lochs; from Cumbria, the unbeatable Cumberland Sausage or teabreads with cheese; in Wales, Barra Brith and more magnificent cheese.  It can be easy, however, to forget your home county and all that it has to offer.

I live in Leicestershire, a diverse and interesting county, with Leicester’s bustling ethnic mix (yes, I know, technically, this is a separate unitary authority but I still see the Shire as a whole).  Parts of the City burst with sweet shops, not of the type where you can buy aniseed balls or mint humbugs but those selling the most delicious range of Asian delicacies.  Samosas further removed from the plastic supermarket variety than you could ever imagine, a feast of texture and taste; neat balls with garlic and pea; filo pastry wrapped paneer and spice – to say nothing of the colourful shapes and tastes of the sweeter offerings.  In supermarkets, not those out-of-every-town, hypermarket-style monstrosities, but small local stores where spices jostle for attention on shelves crammed with exotic delicacies, and fresh bunches of curry leaves or coriander can be bought to add that special final touch to home-made curries.

Not ten miles from where I live is the town of Melton Mowbray, famed for its real pork pies and Stilton cheese – a fiesta of tastes juggling for space.  A few more miles down the road, in the village of Nether Broughton, you may be surprised to spot huge, hump-backed bison roaming the fields with deer for company.  A Venison Burger or Bison Minute Steak is beyond compare.

Barkbythorpe houses an organic farm where Gloucester Old Spot pigs roam alongside free-range hens, to produce a breakfast of splendid sausages, proper bacon without the slimy white bits, and fresh eggs to boot.  Dexter beef, a descendant of the Aberdeen Angus, can create anything from a roast to a cottage pie, from a steak to a stew, with a flavour to be enjoyed thoroughly, and definitely not to be rushed.

Exotic mushrooms are produced and sold in nearby Packington, offering aroma and taste that I’ve never previously (or since) found from any supermarket – no matter the elaborate description on the packets.  The range of these mushrooms quietly growing in an English county is something to behold, with colours and shapes I had never seen before.  I now return to these time and again to enrich the simplest of meals. 

With this tapestry of places to visit, food shopping becomes leisure and the resultant cooking the greatest of pleasures.  The kitchen swells with the different scents; the anticipation of eating, growing pleasantly as you wait for the splendid moment, when the plate sits before ou on the table.

I hope I shall always be able to enjoy travelling Britain and trying new foods as I go but I trust I will never become complacent about the delights that Leicestershire has to offer.  My Leicestershire, from bison to curry and everything in between”

And that is why I love tea towels, to bring forth ideas and memories while I am doing the wiping up.  The problem is that I still don’t know the answer to the Brexit question.  What will happen to the PDO and PGI statuses?

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