When I heard that protesters from UK Uncut had occupied Fortnum and Mason’s store in London’s Piccadilly I had visions of jars of pickle being smashed all over the floor and loose tea floating like confetti down the spiral staircase. But I was mistaken. Despite some lazy press reports to the contrary Fortnum and Mason were subject to a peaceful protest against the owners’ alleged tax avoidance with minimal damage to the shop and it’s stock. The store claims it lost £80,000 of business (source: The Independent) because of the protest but I imagine that the free advertising the store has enjoyed since then from being mentioned in all the news stories would more than offset the cost of lost business.
I confess I enjoy shopping at Fortnum and Mason. Yes, I know it is a tourist trap; yes, I know they play on the royal connection; yes, their prices are sky high but you are invariably paying for high quality produce. The staff are knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. How many shops can you say that about? Despite Fortnum and Mason’s reputation as grocers to the rich I’ve never encountered a snobby attitude from the staff towards ordinary customers. The only elitism is in the prices.
There was a very witty Tweet from comedian @simonblackwell about the protest “according to police, £15,000 worth of damage inside Fortnum & Mason. Someone knocked over a jar of olives” Funny. To give you some idea of real prices I recently paid £4.75 for a jar of delicious plum chutney and £9.95 for a box of the best Florentines you can buy anywhere in the UK. So you wouldn’t want to do your regular shopping there (unless you’re an oligarch or a former member of the Bullingdon club). I visit the place about once a year to buy foodie presents and a few treats for myself. I always buy some of the Florentines and usually a couple jars from the huge and unusual range of chutneys, pickles and jams on sale. Sadly, my family have already scoffed all the Florentines but the plum chutney is still going. I may well have some with my lunch today.
An English cheese, Cornish Blue, has been declared World Champion Cheese 2010 at the World Cheese Awards. Congratulations to the Cornish Cheese Company who make the cheese. The judging for the World Cheese Awards took place at the BBC Good Food Show on 24 November 2010. There were 2629 cheeses from 29 different countries entered into the competition but Cornish Blue was voted the overall winner. There were numerous category winners as well and, not surprisingly, Cornish Blue also won the categories for Best English and Best British Cheese.
Cornish Blue (picture courtesy of © Cornish Cheese Co.)
So what is so special about Cornish Blue? It is not as strong as some blue cheeses and has a sweet, mild and creamy taste but with enough character to win over the judges of the Awards. Cornish Blue is made by Philip and Carol Stansfield at their farm near Liskeard in Cornwall. The Stansfield’s diversified into cheese making from dairy farming in 2001 in order to add value to the milk they were producing. Cornish Blue is meant to be eaten young so is not matured as long as, say, Stilton but only for 12 to 14 weeks, That is what gives the cheese its mild character. While maturing, each cheese is pierced weekly with stainless steel rods which allows naturally occurring mould to enter the cheese and create the blue veining. Cornish Blue is sold 1, 2 and 5 kilo truckles (rounds of cheese) or as cut pieces from delicatessens and some supermarkets. The Cornish Cheese Company also sell directly by mail order from their online shop and a 5kg truckle will cost you £75 if you fancy one for your Christmas table.
The annual “shopping basket” of consumer goods which are used to track inflation has just been updated by the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS). Every year the media make a big fuss about what’s “in” and what’s “out” as they try and interpret the basket as a barometer of social change. This year there’s not a great deal of change in the food items with the exception that poor old pitta bread has now been replaced by garlic bread.
Some commentators wrongly assume that the statisticians at the ONS make a subjective judgement on the make-up of the basket themselves and come up with lines like “whatever were they thinking putting garlic bread in the basket, it’s so last century”. In reality, the ONS tracks the sales of all categories of consumer spending and chart which items are declining in sales and which are increasing. Or in their words “the new product represents a greater or increasing proportion of the market compared with the product it replaces”. You only have to go into any British supermarket and you’ll see rows and rows of garlic bread waiting to be heated up in your oven when you get home. The ONS are not tracking the latest trends or foodie fashions but what people actually spend their money on. And, in the world of speciality bread, garlic bread is on the rise and pitta bread is on the wane
A survey by UKTV Food claims to have discovered the top 10 main course dishes the British can make without referring to a recipe. And they are:
Spaghetti Bolognese (65%)
Roast Dinner (54%)
Chilli Con Carne (42%)
Cottage or Shepherd’s Pie (38%)
Meat or fish Stir Fry (38%)
Beef Casserole (34%)
Macaroni Cheese (32%)
Toad in the Hole (30%)
Meat, fish or vegetable Curry (26%)
The percentages after each recipe are the proportion of people surveyed, out of a total of 3000, who said they could make that recipe by heart. The idea was that if you could make a recipe by heart you were making it quite often and so the survey would indicate the most popular dishes cooked at home from scratch. The recipes had to be for a main course dish having more than 4 ingredients so something like sausage and chips wouldn’t count (unless you make your own sausages that is).
It’s interesting to see that nearly half the folk in this country either can’t cook a traditional Roast Dinner without a recipe or simply never cook roast dinners any more. The Roast Beef of Old England has been usurped by Spaghetti Bolognese.
Out of the 10 only the Roast Dinner, Shepherd’s Pie, Beef Casserole and Toad-In-The-Hole could truly be considered to be traditional British dishes although I doubt many of the foreign dishes come out very much like their counterparts in their country of origin. I would bet too that a jar of curry sauce counts as one ingredient in the curries that are made without a recipe by 26% of the population.