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A new Note From the Edge (of the Forest of Dean)

Food Miles - Going Too Far

Nick’s café was doing a roaring trade. I got the bus into Stroud and went there for breakfast. Handmade croissant and a Charlie Latte--yes I’ve got a drink named after me. A Charlie Latte is the same as any other latte except that it has a double shot of his excellent coffee. I like the toast, too. You can’t beat the Star Anise Café for a bit of the old Holy Ghost. Nick makes his own spelt bread. It’s spelt B-R-E-A-D.

I had some friends coming round for dinner on Sunday and it was time for some serious food shopping. What was I going to feed my chums? I decided on the usual. Four courses: Fish, Meat, Pudding and Cheese. The twist would be that everything would be grown or produced in Gloucestershire.

Stroud has an award-winning Farmers Market. It is lively and colourful and the produce is top-notch. The problem is that everything (apart from the pies on the Women’s Institute stall) is far too expensive if you are living on State Benefits. But I needed a couple of ingredients and this was the place to get them.

The Farmers Market has a trout stall. Trout and watercress, both produced at the same place. There may be hundreds of trout ponds in the county and quite a few commercial fisheries. Organic, local and very good quality. I bought a fish and a half a bag of watercress. The last of the big spenders.

I had a wander around the market. The meat, poultry and game looked superb but there were no cheaper cuts. The cheese looked impressive, but I already knew where I could get a better deal. I toyed with the idea of buying a liter of cider and cooking some pork in it. The same stuff could be purchased in the local Waitrose, cheaper. If it is cheaper in Waitrose, you really are being ripped off.

I stopped at the wine stall. They grow grapes and make wine in Gloucestershire. I wish they’d stick to cheese. The proprietor invited me to try a very small sample and invited my opinion. The word coming out of my mouth said “interesting”, the thought going through my brain said “cats piddle”. For the same money I could buy two bottles of something decent. I’m all in favour of buying local and reducing food miles, but lines have to be drawn somewhere.

Next stop, Tony’s The Butchers. Three staff were busy serving the orderly queue and the butcher was happily chopping a cow to bits at the back of the shop. “Did that cow have a tail?” I asked the assistant. He’d served me before and knew what I was going on about. I was rewarded with a couple of pounds of cow-tail. They call it oxtail, but this would have been the furthest reaches of a maiden heifer. I saw the abattoir certificate on the wall and went away in the secure knowledge that, a couple of days previously, tomorrow’s dinner had been swishing flies away in a Gloucestershire field.

On to Miserable Malcolm and Kenny the Cheese. In addition to the Farmers Market, Stroud has a street market. Only a few stalls, but the fishmonger, greengrocer and cheesemonger are real stars.

Miserable Malcolm does decent fruit and veg for the right money. A lot of it is grown either up the road in the Vale of Evesham or on the various farms in Gloucestershire. The bananas come from a wholesaler in Bristol.

I was getting a bit obsessive about local provenance and Malcolm found me inspecting a sack of spuds. “They are potatoes” he said with only a hint of sarcasm. On the side of the sack was the imprint of a local farm. Better still, there were some cooking apples in a crate which declared itself the property of another local grower. The apples may have come from China, but the crate definitely had a local farm’s name on it. I bought some of each along with a winter cabbage, also locally grown.

On to Kenny the Cheese. Kenny has this massive great refrigerated all-singing, all-dancing cheese-mobile. He is rightly very proud of it and once gave me a guided tour. We both agreed that the quasi art-deco sign-writing was something special. Kenny knows his cheese.

I bought some Single and Double Gloucester and a piece of South Cerney soft cheese, a large carton of double cream, some butter and some eggs. Everything was made in Gloucestershire.

With two bags of shopping and a blown food budget, I made my way to the bus stop and home.

Dinner Party for Three:

Baked Trout with a Watercress Dressing
Braised Oxtail,
Sautéed Potatoes, Glazed Carrots & Buttered Cabbage with Caraway Seed
Apple Pie and Custard

I pointed out to my guests that, with the exception of an Oxo cube and a few herbs and spices, everything had been produced locally. Even the flour in the pastry was from Shipton Mill, down by the river Severn.

a sugar refinery

“What about the sugar?” said Kim, one of my guests. “Tate and Lyles finest” I replied. “You’ve got me on that one, it probably comes from the West Indies, but over the road there is a field of sugar beet--you can see it from here--it can be done!” Kim pointed out that it was very dark outside, but admitted that the fields went for miles and miles and, conceivably, there could be a field of beet somewhere out there. We both agreed that building a sugar refinery in the back garden would be a very odd thing for a diabetic to do. Even a bipolar one.

Pomme, my other guest, complemented me on the custard. Pre-empting what I knew was coming next, I said: “Real vanilla--you’ve got me on that one, too. I suppose a vanilla pod air-freighted all the way from Madagascar neutralises all of those food miles”.

Pomme came to my rescue. “I’ve seen vanilla orchids in Kew Gardens”, she said. “You can grow them in a greenhouse in this country--you can build one in the back garden, next to the sugar refinery”.

I said that you could go too far with this food-miles malarkey and opened another bottle of South African Shiraz.


© Charlie Burling 2010.