|THE TASTE OF BRITAIN
The following article by Alistair McConnachie was published in the December 2006 issue of Sovereignty.
Remarkably, this book had its genesis in 1994 when the two authors, Laura Mason and Catherine Brown, were commissioned by the European Commission, of all things, to "locate, define and list as many British foods with regional affiliations as they could find."
This was defined as "produced in one town or region for three or more generations." (Source: Terry Kirby, "Made in Britain", The Independent, Home sec., 3-10-06, pp.10-11.)
Interesting that the EU Commission should apparently define "regional" in this generational way!
At the time, the Commission launched a similar scheme in 7 other European countries, and the aim was to link these food products with their terroir -- their soil.
The writers completed and submitted their work to the EU at the end of 1996 and hoped that it would be published by the then Ministry of Agriculture.
Needless to say, it wasn't -- while the equivalent publications in the other 7 countries went on to become best sellers!
Thankfully, it eventually saw the light of day when it was published as Traditional Foods of Britain, by a small publishing house, Prospect Books, in 1999.
However, this new edition owes its existence to the fact that the first one was spotted on his mother's shelf, last year, by Paul Baggaley, head of Harper Perennial paperbacks.
It follows on the success of the BBC TV show Great British Menu, earlier this year, where top chefs competed for the chance to cook for the Queen's 80th birthday bash, and the growing number of cookery books which are now appearing with a distinctly British theme.
The contents are divided into 14 areas of Britain, which unfortunately does not include Northern Ireland, for an unexplained reason. Each entry describes the product, where it can be found, its history and its uses. A directory at the back lists suppliers.
The brilliant Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall writes the foreword and points out:
Not a single one of them goes to work in the morning in order to make lots of money -- you certainly don't choose to devote your life to bannock-making in the hope it will furnish you with a swimming pool and a Ferrari. They do it because they believe in it and, ultimately, feel it is worthwhile. In their own quiet and industrious way, they understand just how much is at stake. The future of civilized, communal, respectful life on our islands? It is not preposterous to suggest it. Use your regular custom and generously expressed enthusiasm to support this modest army of dedicated souls, working away in their kitchens, gardens, orchards, breweries and smokehouses all over Britain, and you do a great deal more than simply save a cheese, or a beer, for posterity. You help save the next generation from the tyranny of industrial mediocrity.
As Mason and Brown state: "Shops and markets bursting with colourful and varied local produce are one of the great pleasures of shopping for food on the continent. They exist because national policies and local custom support them. They should not be impossible in Britain. This book is not an end, but a beginning."