Living off the land

Obviously this has become more of  challenge since the move and my current lack of a garden – I particularly resent having to buy herbs at high cost from the fringes of the Mediterranean which once grew like particularly invasive weeds in South Cambs.  As a result, I have had to extend my definition to take in local(ish) produce or at least stuff from these islands.  In this way, I can (mostly) fool myself that I am reducing food miles and supporting the local economy and farmers (though I’m never entirely convinced that either would support me back were our positions reversed).

Sourcing local (or even UK) food can be quite the challenge, as most of my food shopping had to use supermarkets (for want of anything better anywhere nearby).  Weirdly, it is vastly easier to find fruit and vegetables from Cambridgeshire in Southampton than it was in Cambridge – though correspondingly harder to find anything from Hampshire.  If anything is to act as the “poster child” for the failure of our soi-disant market economy I feel this should be it – clearly it does not cost enough to pointlessly move stuff around the country (or, indeed, world).  There is this idea in time management (a much duller topic than its name suggests with not a wormhole or vortex in sight) that you should “touch” anything only once – be it a piece of paper or an email.  Perhaps the same principle should be applied to the humble carrot or cabbage – if nothing else it should cut down on traffic.

The other issue with sourcing local produce is the fact that we seem to have broken the climate, leading to seriously unexpected seasonality of well-known staples and significant reductions in supply.  It has become almost impossible to source UK-sourced strong flour for my bread making – or find bread made by others using it either.  However, on my travels around this land I think wheat’s loss may be rice’s gain.  With most of England already resembling a patchwork of paddy-fields, I think it may be time for farmers to take the hint and move into rice cultivation.  I look forward to locally-made sake which will make for a delicious warming treat on a cold, wet summer’s day (which we can now enjoy at any time of the year!).  Talking of rice, I should give an honourable mention to Rice Up, a wholefood shop in Southampton which does regularly provide local veg (and sometimes even fruit – though not at this time of year for obvious reasons).  What it will have on offer is unpredictable, but has always been good and surprisingly reasonably priced: little, if any, more expensive than the supermarkets (and often cheaper, though I do tend use Waitrose as my metric)Its only significant downside is that it is a little too serious about the wholefood thing – so no local eggs or dairy-based goodies.

Last Saturday, I found the need to eat between theatrical experiences – and finding myself on the western-side of London with limited time sought out a new venue for dinner.  Through the miracle of the smart-phone and the fact that I was strolling from High Street Ken (where I now have to go to source my pearled spelt given its absence from the shelves of Southampton) to Notting Hall Gate at the time, I selected Shed for my evening’s nourishment.  Actually, it boasted one obvious advantage over its peers – it started serving dinner at 18:00 rather than 18:30 and was so much more useful to the theatre patron with no desire for speed-eating based indigestion.

The food and ambience at Shed are jolly good, their amuse bouche were particularly excellent.  The place is linked (via its owners) to a farm near Pulborough in West Sussex and much of the food is sourced from there as was the very decent white wine I had to accompany my dinner.  However, the most unexpected locally sourced item on the menu I had after my dessert: my closing cuppa used tea grown in Cornwall!  I would never have imagined that such a thing was possible, though perhaps I should have done given that British gardeners have been cultivating other members of the camellia family for quite a while now (tea being C. sinensis – admit it, you’ve missed my Linnaean fixation).  It was a very decent cup of tea, and the folks at Tregothnan are to be congratulated (actually, looking at their website I quite fancy a visit to deliver my congratulations in person): perhaps my idea for British rice is not so outré after all (according to the song, they laughed at Christopher Columbus, probably more than at this blog.  Perhaps its time for me to seek out a new continent).  It may be time to switch the suppliers of my tea at home from Assam to Cornwall.

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