Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Trying to act seasonally

One of the difficulties I’ve found in moving from Australia to England is establishing my seasonal bearings. I'm unfamiliar with such extreme contrasts in weather from one season to the next, complicated by the fact that the seasons don't seem to follow any rules, changing back and forth in the space of a week.

When I was little the world was a smaller, less complicated place. There were essentially two seasons: summer and winter. Meat was bought from a butcher, fruit and vegetables from the greengrocer and everything else from the Ironside shop’s Cut Price Store; a 3 aisle Aladdin’s cave which contained everything from dog food to cupcake papers. I had no idea where the fresh food I ate was grown or reared but I assumed, probably correctly, that if I was eating it, it was in season and hadn’t traveled very far. I also always assumed that price was a good indicator of seasonality. Over summer, mangoes would go from being $2 each to a $2 a tray special in the space of weeks as they reached the peak of their season.

Now I walk into a supermarket on the other side of the world and am faced with rows and rows of choice; lots of little styrofoam cling-filmed trays filled with an endless variety of trimmed and ready to cook meat, fruit and vegetables that are available every month of the year. Often the cheapest produce has a little sticker of a plane showing that it has been flown from Thailand, Chilli, Morocco or some other far flung country where the sun is shining and the labour is cheap.

While I’m loathe to jump on what seems to have become the latest foodie bandwagon, I do care about food miles, although I admit, my motives are largely selfish. Food tastes better when it is in season and hasn’t had to travel long distances with lots of people handling it before I eat it.

So without price and availability or even weather to help me navigate the UK food seasons, I rely on the local Farmer’s market to educate me. There I've discovered why the English are so skilled at making preserves and chutney’s – they’ve had to survive a lot of long chilly months when there’s not much grown apart from root vegetables.

Last Saturday I picked up these slender little conference pears and poached them in a vanilla syrup (1 vanilla bean split open and a 1:4 ratio of sugar to water).

I ate them for breakfast the next morning as the snow gently fell from the sky. So does that make pears a winter or spring fruit?


nishat said...

I stumbled on your blog while trying to find decent coffee in London. Admittedly, I've often indulged in the fantasy of opening a good Aus/NZ-style cafe in the UK. It just seems like a cosy cafe with GREAT coffee and food would be just perfect. However, having NO business experience myself, I know that it is alas a mere fantasy. Anyway, just stopped by to wish you luck. Do put up the details of the cafe when it's up and going - I will eagerly await the event!

Shelagh Ryan said...

Hi Nishat, Thanks for the good wishes. Hopefully there are lots of people like you, eagerly awaiting our cafe opening. Until then (aiming for July), good luck on your search for good coffee and don't let the bastards grind you down.

Aveline said...

Well said.