Culinary Anthropologist


  1. The milk of human kindness

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    We are in the Rodopi Mountains in southern Bulgaria, pondering why it is people here are said to live longer than anywhere else.  The fresh air and clean spring water?  The famous yoghurt (or “sour milk”, as it is classified here)?  Or perhaps what must be Bulgaria’s national dish – fresh salad piled high with excellent tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers – consumed in vast quantities.

    Having driven to Sofia for Matt to attend a conference, we decided to hang around afterwards to explore the mountains south and east of the capital.  Our previous experience of this country was limited, to say the least, and this needed rectifying.  Surely not everyone subsisted on green salad, rakia and cigarettes?


  2. Hubbub

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    Hubbub logo.jpgHubbub is a fantastic idea.  As more people abandon their local shops in favour of the convenience of supermarkets, Hubbub has stepped in to fix the missing link.  The lovely Hubbub people go to all the best local shops near me in north London (butcher, fishmonger, cheesemonger, deli…) and bring their goodies to your door.  So shopping is kept convenient, while supporting independent shops and top quality food, most of which is sustainably grown/fished/produced. 

    Hubbub and I have teamed up to offer courses and workshops using their ingredients – open to everyone who loves good food!  Check my class list for dates.

  3. Riverford Cooks

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    smredrussiankale0002.JPGRiverford delivers delicious veg boxes from its network of sister organic farms across England.  I have been a customer for some time and greatly admire their business ethics and the high quality of their produce.  I wrote about them in my book Eat Slow Britain – see here for an excerpt. 

    Riverford Cooks is their initiative to get everyone cooking more vegetables.  As one of their network of Cooks, I give classes for customers and their friends, in homes, at my teaching kitchen and at Riverford HQ in Devon.  It’s all about getting excited about seasonal vegetables and learning new ways to cook them.  Some of my Riverford classes are open to non-customers too (although we hope to persuade you of the joys of a veg box!) – so look out for dates.  And check out the Riverford Cooks website for more events and my Cook’s profile

  4. Elan Valley Mutton

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    esb.jpgExcerpt from Eat Slow Britain by Alastair Sawday & Anna Colquhoun:

    If Tony Davies’ great-great-grandfather could see Henfron Farm now, he would hardly notice the difference. Here in the remote Elan Valley, in mid-Wales, seventeen-hundred acres of wind- and rain-swept moorland, peat bogs and heathered hillsides sustain the Davies’ resilient Welsh Mountain sheep, just as they have done for centuries …

    Tony checks his flocks on horseback. “Other farmers use quad-bikes, but our men love their horses, that keep them warm, know every crease of the hillside and offer a better vantage point. On a foggy afternoon they make it back in time for tea while the quad-bikers are still going in circles,” says Angela.

    Mutton was once one of Britain’s most loved meats. “Saddle of mutton … is a joint for an epicure,” wrote Dorothy Hartley, a food historian, in 1954. But around this time factors converged to start its decline: imported New Zealand lamb; working women with less time for slow-cooking; post-war affluence expanding the privilege of eating immature animals and expensive cuts.
    Recently, a niche market for the rich meat has appeared …

    Elan Valley Mutton, Powys, Wales

  5. Whitmuir Farm

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    esb.jpgExcerpt from Eat Slow Britain by Alastair Sawday & Anna Colquhoun:

    … At first cattle and lambs were trucked four-hundreds miles to a slaughter house in Devon, from where meat travelled to supermarkets across Britain. If supply outstripped demand, orders were reduced or delayed without notice. If animals grew too large, they were rejected as unsuitable for the mechanised processes. “For all we knew our meat ended up on shelves down the road, yet untraceable to Whitmuir. We wanted to take control and know our customers.”

    smwhitmuirfarm0001.JPGA gift of two Tamworth sows – Cinnamon and Nutmeg, thought to be sterile yet proving prolific – spurred the move to direct sales. A tiny shop was swapped for a bigger one and now they have a restaurant, too. “We invested everything and have more risk and direct accountability to consumers, but we wouldn’t go back to anonymous wholesale.”

    … Whitmuir’s Shorthorn cattle only eat grass. This gives their meat a healthier balance of Omega-6s to Omega-3s, and softer, yellower fat. Calves also wean naturally. An early attempt to hasten the process by luring cows away to a field of tasty kale resulted in disaster when they trashed three electric fences and a gate to reclaim their young …

    Whitmuir Farm, Scottish Borders, Scotland

  6. Dorset Oysters

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    esb.jpgExcerpt from Eat Slow Britain by Alastair Sawday & Anna Colquhoun:

    … The farming of oysters dates back to at least Roman or Greek times. For millennia people have believed in their health-giving properties: Parisians and Londoners used to buy oysters by the hundred, Cicero ate them to nourish his eloquence and Louis XI swallowed them by prescription. Oysters are now known to be rich in minerals, vitamins and cancer-fighting ceramides.

    smoysterswildgarlicbutter0003.jpgOyster farming has slowly increased in Britain, but we have never fully regained our love of the slippery bivalve; we export the majority, along with most native shellfish, and frozen prawns from Asia seem to have grabbed most of the market. Trawled wild tiger prawns have a MCS [Marine Conservation Society] score of 5 [the worst], not least because up to ten kilograms of by-catch is discarded for every kilogram of prawns landed.

    Pete is exasperated by this madness. “Supermarket fish counters are generally poor, stocking fish flown in from around the world. In the Poole area they prefer to stock Scottish or Irish oysters when they have some of the best oysters in the country caught here.” …

    Dorset Oysters, Dorset, England and Storm Fish Restaurant, Poole

  7. Riverford Organic Vegetables

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    esb.jpgExcerpt from Eat Slow Britain by Alastair Sawday & Anna Colquhoun:

    … [Guy Watson] has seen a massive change in people’s aspirations.  “The time of greed, excess and Thatcher’s children seems to have ended,” he says.  “Once again people are seeing virtue in thrift.”  Citing the number of people taking up allotments and ‘home restaurants’ popping up in cities, Guy suspects our food values are shifting too. “People don’t want to be passive consumers in a greedy society; they want to take control of their lives. It’s hugely encouraging.” …

    Guy hates the way many restaurants trumpet their use of ‘local food’. “It’s often a marketing gimmick, with many lies hiding in the fridge. For example, there’ll be a huge focus on English cherries in June, but they’re such a tiny part of our diet.” Guy believes these ‘smokescreens’ detract attention from questions around the bulk of our consumption.  Indeed, he says, many shoppers will enjoy the warm glow of buying Kent apples over South African, then pop a pineapple in their basket. 

    Guy bases his environment decisions on two years’ research with Exeter University. “What counts is how things are grown and transported. Take tomatoes: those grown in the natural heat of Spain have a far lesser environmental impact than British ones in heated greenhouses.” The research also revealed that vegetables shipped from western France create a fifth of the emissions of those trucked from Spain. So Guy acquired a farm in the Vendée within striking distance of a port, where the sunny climate nurtures a good range of vegetables over a long growing season, filling Britain’s ‘hungry gap’ in April and May …

    Riverford Organic Vegetables, Devon, England

  8. Stichelton Dairy

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    Excerpt from Eat Slow Britain by Alastair Sawday and Anna Colquhoun:

    stichelton1.jpgBritain was once teeming with cheesemakers: in the 1930s over sixteen-hundred farms were making it. By the early nineties that number had dwindled to one-hundred, due to post-war industrialisation of cheesemaking, supermarkets driving demand for mass-produced cheese and food safety concerns. The number is creeping up again, though, and Joe Schneider – “an American who started out making Greek cheese for a Turk in Holland” – is part of the renaissance.

    Over a pint in a London pub in 2004 Randolph Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy planted the idea in Joe’s mind of recreating raw milk Stilton, which had disappeared in 1989 due to unproven health scares …

    The alchemy of turning mild white milk into such complexity of flavour, texture and colour has fascinated us for millennia. To create Stichelton, tiny amounts of rennet set the curds, as they would in a calf’s stomach, the starter weaves its bacterial magic, and penicillium roqueforti blooms into blue-green veins. Until the Stichelton is pierced, it is dry, crumbly and acidic; activated by air, the mould interacts with proteins and fats creating that buttery texture. Over three months a rind forms, and cheesemaker, then affineur, watches like a hawk and manipulates time, temperature and humidity. As one noted Edwardian Stilton-maker remarked, “stiltons … are more trouble than babies.”

    Stichelton Dairy, Nottinghamshire, England

  9. Growing Communities

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    Excerpt from Eat Slow Britain by Alastair Sawday & Anna Colquhoun:

    Hidden from the road behind townhouses and tucked into the corner of an East London park is a secret oasis where cheery volunteers tend a cornucopia of fruits, herbs, flowers and salad leaves, destined for a ground-breaking box scheme.

    “We don’t just want to supply beautiful organic fruit and vegetables, we want to reclaim control of food production and trade from agribusiness and supermarkets. We want to put the power back where it should be – with farmers and communities,” says Julie Brown, the pioneering founder of Growing Communities, a social enterprise in northeast London …

    Brightening each salad bag is a single edible flower – perhaps an orange marigold or violet pansy – the input of head grower Ru Litherland, self-confessed “vegetable nerd”. Adapting permaculture principles, Ru has created lush urban gardens by planting the useful and the beautiful: banks of flowers delight volunteers and visitors and useful insects; certain flowers cleverly fix nitrogen in the soil; mustard, salsola, purslane, red orache, escarole and sorrel leaves add an extra peppery note to the mixed salads …

    Growing Communities, London, England

  10. Argan oil

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    smarganland0001.jpgArgan oil is only produced in Morocco, the only country in which the ancient argan tree grows. 

    The region from Essaouira to Agadir and inland, particularly the Souss Valley, is full of scrawny, wild, drought resistant argan trees. 

    Families have collected, cracked and ground argan nuts for their own homemade oil for centuries.