Monday, October 15, 2012

Food for Thought

Had an interesting day making samples of canape 'bases' to see how they would turn out.  Then tested a few with different toppings (not the party toppings, but things like scrambled eggs etc to see how long the bases would keep crisp).  As so often happens, I often forget the tiny details, and it's now becoming apparent that not all canapes can be made earlier in the day (but thankfully some can), as quite a few need assembling at the very last minute (or as near as).  This means I'll have to do a bit more thinking about how to present said canapes, and also get B to take the food in batches, rather than all at once, the last lot half an hour before the buffet commences. 

Anyway, plenty of time to sort that out, already have several ideas.  In fact, watching the repeat of Nigel Slater's new series, saw him slicing strips from a courgette using one of those 'Y' shaped veggie peelers, and it crossed my mind that I could do the same with baby courgette, cucumber, and also blanched strips of carrot, then fold each round to make straight-sided 'cup's to hold a filling,  if necessary skewing the lot together with a cocktail stick.  More thought (and trials) will be given to that this week.

Other than the forthcoming 'do', my main concern now has been caused by what I read in yesterday's Sunday Express.  A full page with the title: "You've never had it so good...but prepare for the return of rationing."  (this may be able to be read on the newspaper's website).

It began by talking about wartime rationing, and how - after that - food then become plentiful and cheap enough but now "experts say the era of cheap food is over, probably for good, and rising prices will have prolonged effect on health, particularly for those least well off.......The recent difficulties and soaring prices can largely be blamed on climate, with drought in the US and a heatwave in Russia combining with the wettest summer in Britain for 100 years to send cereal production plummeting".

When wheat prices go up so do all the other products that rely on these crops, not just flour based, but because cereals are now a major component of animal foodstuffs.   Also, with the world's population rising so fast - said to be 82 million more each year, population has almost doubled since 1960 'the golden age of food'.

We now come to today with the knowledge that "the lower a family's income, the more budget goes on wages have not risen with inflation.
Oxfam research from last year shows that food prices have been rising at more than twice the rate of the incomes of the poorest and....between 2007 and 2010, low income families bought 25% less fruit and 15% fewer vegetables.  They also cut back on bread, cereals, meat and biscuits."

Seven years ago the newspaper ran a survey and at that time the cost of a typical family shopping basket of basic foodstuffs was £25.09.  Similar items are now (in 2012) £46.42, up by more than 80%!!  and - according to analysts - the thinking is that we are now in a new world, not just bad weather this year, but a long term squeeze.

Now although the above make depressing reading, this next bit really makes me feel we could survive, if only....
"One irony is that during the Second World War, when food shortages were more acute than at any time in living memory, Britain was as healthy as it has ever been. 
Thrift, organisation and the ability and knowledge to use food well were invaluable skills which might need to be retaught.  The recent food glut has been accompanied by record rises in obesity and diet-related ailments.  Plentiful supply has damaged our relationship with food and our ability to craft healthy meals from basic ingredients.

Here come the most important bit...."The worry is that people will be unable to reclaim the knowledge which allowed our parents and grandparents to eat adequately in hard times.  There are more hard times ahead, and fears hat we are now incapable of meeting the demands they will place upon us."

All I can say is I never realised things were that bad when it came to 'cooking knowledge', and it just goes to show how those of my age (geriatric) take these 'skills' now for granted and assume that most people at least know how to make at least one nutritious meal.  Maybe most 'out there' still don't know.  My feeling is that it is now essential for schools to being begin teaching their pupils how to budget, shop sensibly and cook meals from scratch.  Surely that is far more important than some other subjects that are being taught.  Learning algebra isn't THAT essential, surely.  I've never needed to use it in my adult lifetime, whereas learning to cook was a NECESSITY when bringing up a family.  If they leave it to 'oldies/wrinklies' to pass on the skills to anyone prepared to listen, then within (let's say) 10 years, we'll all have died and there will be no-one left to demonstrate how to do it.

True there are older books that can teach everyone 'how to', but they have old weights and measures and those used to the metrics would not understand the recipes.  Hopefully, now there will be plenty of cookery programmes that will cover budget cookery, but even then what we see now on this subject is not what I call 'cost-cutting'. 

Readers of this blog I know have the necessary 'skills' and so do hope in some way they can pass these one, maybe joining with those like-minded.  We could form communal groups (family, friends, neighbours) and buy certain foods in bulk to share (everyone then paying a lower price by weight).

We are not supposed to be able to sell food cooked in our own kitchens ('elf and safety), and when B told me something he read last week (I didn't see the article), and Gill confirmed it yesterday, now have to believe that the EU (or whoever makes these rules) have said we now cannot use old jars to pot up our home-make preserves (presumably to sell?) because of possible contamination.
How daft is that?  Everyone who makes jam KNOWS that used jars have to be washed and then sterilised before being used again.  Brand new (unused) jars normally also have to be sterilised (heated) before being filled.  Possibly it is wise to use new lids, which I do when people want to buy my marmalade/jams, but for my own use normally boil the lids in water for several minutes before drying.  Even then put a waxed disc over the preserve before placing on the lid, and if at all unsure as to what the lid covered before (some get tainted with vinegar) would then put on a clear plastic 'jam-pot cover' over before popping on the lid.  

Personally, I'm thoroughly sick of all these EU (?) rules and regs.  All now seem to prevent us from saving by our own efforts, and when it comes to small family-run (for centuries) companies who make certain food products (pork pies, cheeses etc), knowing they have now to conform to these regs, means thousands of ££££s have to be spent to replace perfectly satisfactory equipment just to meet the EU standards.  Very few (if any) can afford to do this, and some wonderful and traditional food products loved by our parents and grandparents have now disappeared purely because the firms have had to close.
Oddly though, the French being a rule to themselves, certainly away from the big cities, it does seem that they still cook how they wish and sell what they cook.  How very brave.  Just wish we had the sort of government who would cock a snook at the EU rules in the same way.  Perhaps time we left the Common Market and went it alone. 

It would be good to have a 'reader discussion' on all the above and share our thoughts, for it could be I'm just now too old to see things as they really are, and maybe wearing rose-tinted spectacles with a view to the future we could have - if we really try.

Regarding a recent comment by Les.  As British Gas et al have made literally millions of pounds profit in one year, sure SOME of this (not all as Les thought I meant) could go towards freezing prices for at least one year.  This would leave some profits for necessary wholesale price increases, and repairs.  :Being a public company, there will be many shareholders who also ought to take a drop in 'profits',  but then it's each to his own these days, with no care or thought for the good of the whole.

For a bit of light relief after reading about tightening our belts, here is a recipe that might add a few inches to our waistline.   It's the English version of 'Red Velvet Cake' that seems very popular in the United States.  If you don't want to add red food colouring, just use beetroot juice.
Red Velvet Cake: serves 12 - 16
8 oz (225g) unsalted butter, softened
12 oz (350g) plain flour
3 tblsp boiling water
1 tsp red gel/paste food colouring
2 oz (50g) cocoa powder
9 fl oz (250ml) buttermilk
1 tsp bicarb. soda
pinch salt
12 oz (250g) caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tblsp white vinegar
Mix together the boiling water, food colouring, cocoa powder and buttermilk, and when fully combined, set aside.
Sift together the flour, bicarb of soda, and salt into a bowl.  Take a larger bowl and beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (takes about 4 - 5 minutes using an electric mixer), then beat in the eggs, a little at a time, and then the vanilla.  Turn the mixer to low and add a third of the flour, then half of the buttermilk, and repeat, finally adding the last third of flour and the vinegar.
Divide equally between 3 x 8" (20cm) greased and base-lined sandwich tins, and bake for 25 - 30 minutes or until cooked through.  Cool in tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
This cake is good filled and frosted with a cream cheese mixture.

Have to go now, visitor arrived, B wants to use the comp....TTFN.