The Blog

In Times of Plenty

At this time of year, the woods are carpeted with seeds, millions of them. The seasons pass by so quickly and nature must sprint along to play catch up.

In times of plenty

At this time of year, the woods are carpeted with seeds, millions of them. The seasons pass by so quickly and nature must sprint along to play catch up. The barmy days of spring brought the pollinators out in droves resulting in an abundance of seeds now covering the ground thickly. Nature provides. Our eating habits evolved through an oversupply - in the summer months, excess fruit was turned into jam, the same for vegetables which were preserved. In France, stocks of confit de canard and paté are stored in cellars in anticipation of the winter months. In the autumn, wild mushrooms are strung over the fireplace to dry. "Make hay while the sun shines," means to get cracking with the harvest or it shall be lost- rain will cause a mature crop to rot unless gathered at the right time. In Bordeaux I recall accompanying a zealous cook to the market at the crack of dawn before the scorching summer sun could affect the produce on offer. Apricots had to be 'just so' before they were deemed suitable for jam making. Certain varieties of tomatoes at precisely the right ripeness were more suited to sauces than the thriftily-devised ratatouille. And so it went on. To this day in rural France where the pig is the most popular animal (by virtue of the fact that every last piece of the animal can be eaten), the villagers gather to prepare the various parts of the slaughtered pig for cooking or preserving. Once the hard graft of making rillettes, hams, patés and souses is completed, the tradition remains to slowly fry the skin until all of the fat has been rendered- this is then poured into jars to use to cook with or even slather on bread instead of butter- leaving behind a crunchy, crispy, delectable snack which when eaten means that the day's work has ended.

Rowan berries, Photo copyright S. van Dalen

I recently dug out an old cookbook published in the 1950s about the virtues of freezing food, even sandwiches! The idea being to prepare sandwiches, wrap them individually and take them out of the freezer every morning. The charming photographs of the elegant wife handing her husband his lunch box is surely an outdated image if ever there was one. Our supermarket culture means that anything we want at any time of the year is available to us. This capricious way of viewing food wasn't always so.

The precursor to our Western diet is Italian cookery later refined by the French. Once again trends developed based on availability: Northern Italians prefer rice to pasta which Southerners favour. Meat in the north, fish in the south. Polenta in the North eaten with rich sauces and game. Food-mad Italians have even added new meanings to words: prezzemolo (parsley) can mean "busy body". Why? Because parsley is everywhere in Italian cooking!

Did the Italians or Chinese invent pasta? Who even asks that question these days as they stop off for their ready-made ravioli in any supermarket. The evolution of cookery is the evolution of human beings. The fork became widely accepted in Western Europe by the 17th century as the French court sat down together at tables to eat. The social aspect of sharing meals meant that a more refined way of placing food in the mouth was adopted. Stand on any street corner today and observe how far removed we have become from the knife and fork. Sophia Loren famously said that she never eats with people she dislikes and always at a table. Eating is about love, strangely. By preparing food and serving those we care about we are expressing love. Who thinks this as they scoff their shop-bought sandwich practically swallowing it whole? The woods where I walk the hound daily are littered with bottles and crisp packets, the detritus of our eating habits. The last thing on my mind as I meditate in the cathedral of nature is swilling a cola and munching a packet of crisps. Who are these people who cannot be silent in their heads?

Acorns, Photo copyright S. van Dalen

The modern day rape of the landscape and abuse of animals in order that 'no one should go hungry' is also another food farce and huge con. If people weren't so greedy, nature would provide (as it already does) and just enough for us to survive. Each oak tree produces around 20,000 acorns which long ago were the food of European peasants. No one eats acorns these days. Neither do we make any use of them- where are the pigs to hoover them up as they do in Spain where the coveted Iberico ham comes from. And GM foods: the real winners in the chimeras science is producing are not the starving millions. Big business has a vested interest in GM crops just like pharmaceutical companies whose supposed devotion to rescuing humanity from sickness is not motivated by altruism at all.

Nietzsche foretold what we are seeing now when he declared: "God is dead." God has nothing to do with religion- it is about the heart and soul of the individual. Nothing demonstrates the absence of God more eloquently than a large supermarket where anything you want at any time is waiting to satisfy your whim.

Rosehip, Photo copyright S. van Dalen