When so much of our food and food influences have their origins in foreign fields, why should we shop local, buy local and eat local?
International travel, Commonwealth legacies and European freedom of movement have developed our taste for a diverse range of flavours. Everyday products such as tea, coffee and spices, which were once an expensive luxury, are now commonplace and regarded as British institutions! Supermarkets, despite looming delays forecast at our ports, provide a huge range of cosmopolitan food and drink options and any high street restaurants still open offer a diverse multi-national choice.
So, isn’t it ironic that we were fed the myth of an ‘oven ready’ Brexit deal last December and that so many people were prepared to swallow it and yet, there will still be copious amounts of ‘foreign’ turkey, potatoes and Brussels sprouts served over Christmas?
However, despite all the global delights on offer there are good reasons to shop and buy locally and embrace the produce on our doorstep. Less food miles and carbon footprint is certainly one consideration.
Sam Page and his wife Phillipa set up Coombe Hill Farm Shop near Tewkesbury in 2015 and commented:
‘We reduce the environmental impact of meat production through keeping the entire process in-county, hence minimising food miles. Lamb and Pork, produced on our farm, journey to an abattoir 12 miles away and a further three miles to the butcher and then back to the shop to sell. In addition, the pigs have consumed any waste fruit and veg from the shop.’
It seems to work. Their pork and lamb have the additional benefit of tasting delicious!
Jo Robson at Coombe Hill added:
‘A huge step towards reducing food miles would be for the food-buying public to buy as much ‘in season’ fruit and vegetable as possible and not expect all foods to be available all year around. Relishing seasonal produce; fresh, better tasting and locally produced, has the added benefit of a lower environmental impact.’
It’s not just a matter of protecting the environment but working constructively with it. Just outside Ledbury, Norman Stanier runs a small, traditional fruit farm and is involved in producing a range of cider and perry under the “Once upon a Tree” label. Norman is aware of the changes taking place around him and says:
‘Whilst the growing practices have remained much the same, the markets for the fruit have changed hugely due to the dominance of supermarkets and imported fruit from around the world.’
Norman and other small-scale producers have been impacted by this and Covid has caused further damage.
‘Many orchards are being ripped out which not only changes the look of the landscape but also harms the water tables and established ecosystems.’
Norman is now diversifying and offers glamping in his orchards while commenting:
‘One good way to support local food businesses and preserve the landscape is to drink locally made cider and perry.’
‘Sparkling Perry is a superb drink and a great substitute for fizzy wines!’
Local producers are also vital sources of local employment. Westons Cider is another family firm based in Herefordshire who work with the natural environment, while providing important local employment. Westons employ over two hundred people and work with over one hundred and fifty growers within a fifty-mile radius. In particular, they also produce perry, which helps maintain not only local traditions but also the trees and orchards that grow the pears. These trees are a significant feature of the local landscape and provide homes and food for multiple varieties of insects and birds. Westons not only create employment, it also injects millions of pounds into the local economy and their drinks have the additional benefit of tasting delicious!
The same could be said of many businesses, which are vital for the rural economy. At Herefordshire’s Chase Distillery they not only grow potatoes and apples, they also magically turn them into a range of spirits, including award winning gin and vodka! With around 250 potatoes being used in every bottle of their Original Potato Vodka they give the humble ‘spud’ a whole new purpose. Chase products are now sold worldwide and can be found in multiple outlets including airports where they make an ideal locally produced product to take as gifts when and if we are able to travel again.
Shops and restaurants can also do their part by stocking local food and we can help by making a conscious effort to buy it. Independent shops can thrive but also need our support to do so. For instance, Anthony Legge set up Legges of Bromyard in 2000 and the business has thrived by building up a reputation for providing the best local produce and his customers love it. Anthony pointed out:
‘We believe our local producers offer superb quality food and throughout the pandemic, because we use local suppliers, we were able to maintain a full supply while we also now offer the best of Herefordshire with an online service.’
At many Farmer’s Markets you can usually trade directly with the food producer. In pubs and restaurants it’s worth not only enjoying the considerable delights of international cuisine but also looking for pubs which offer and support local producers. Visiting the Three Horseshoes at Little Cowarne, just outside Bromyard, I heard another customer ask: ‘Where does your lamb actually come from?’. The landlord replied: ‘From our field just over there, sir.’
So, while much of our food is a marvellous melange of influence and flavours, it’s surely worth remembering that where we shop and what we buy can have a real financial and social impact. The debate over food standards will continue in these post Brexit days but one way we can directly influence food production is to shop local, buy local and eat local. It not only supports our local economies and reduces food miles it also tastes delicious.
Cider and Perry are great drinks but are also excellent for cooking with. It makes a wonderful base for gravy when roasting Pork and Chicken and sparkling Perry makes a lovely adult pudding. If you need cheering up try this recipe!
Sweet Perry Jelly
- 5 Gelatine leaves
- 500ml/18fl-oz Sparkling Perry (Or a local Gin and Tonic!)
- 75g/3oz caster sugar
- 250g/9oz Local fruit
- Immerse the gelatine leaves, one at a time in a shallow bowl of cold water and leave until soft.
- Bring 100ml of Perry to the boil, add the sugar until dissolved.
- Drain and squeeze the gelatine leaves, add to the hot Perry mixture and stir until dissolved.
- Remove from the heat, add the rest of the Perry and stir well. Allow to cool but not set.
- Put the fruit into a jelly mould (or moulds).
- Add the cooled Perry mixture and chill for an hour to set.
- Remove from the mould and serve with locally made Ice cream (Try the Damson and Sloe Gin version made by Just Rachel from near Ledbury).
- Enjoy alongside The Wonder Pear Dessert Wine from Once Upon a Tree.
Foreign Food at Christmas
In the 1500s, Spanish traders brought domesticated Turkey variety back from South America to Europe and Asia. The bird reportedly got its common name because it reached European tables through shipping routes that passed through Turkey. British pilgrims then took this domesticated Turkey, different to their wild version, back to North America.
The Inca Indians in Peru were the first to cultivate potatoes around 8000 BC. In 1536 Spanish Conquistadors conquered Peru, discovered the flavours of the potato, and carried them to Europe. Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland in 1589 on 40,000 acres of land near Cork. It took nearly four decades for the potato to spread to the rest of Europe.
They are known to have been cultivated near Brussels as early as 1200.
Ed: Martin Griffiths was previously the food and drink writer for Herefordshire Life Magazine
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