“The march of the seasons”

25 August 2017, 05:55 am
Fine Food by Charles Campion

I have a guilty secret: I cannot bring myself to throw anything away. I feel happiest in my office surrounded by cookery books; their mere presence is comforting and I tell myself that I can just reach out and pluck wisdom from the shelves. I also have an obsessive relationship with the weekend papers, clipping and filing anything to do with food, drink or restaurants. These cuttings make interesting reading and conclusively prove that there is nothing new under the sun

Let us take a dip into September 2010 and turn the clock back. It is interesting to see what were the hot topics. Tom Parker Bowles was writing about chillies – no surprises there then. Diana Henry was writing about autumn lamb and saying how much better it was than spring lamb. Allowing the little lambs to bulk up a bit helps the flavour. Angela Mason was enthusing about something very new – salt caramel. (Other discoveries include a new grain called quinoa and we all had to learn how to pronounce its name, a problem that haunts us to this day).

In The Independent there was a piece about cavolo nero, and in The Telegraph Xanthe Clay was writing about hazelnuts. Lucas Hollweg was writing about mushrooms in The Times and the humble mushroom was featured in half a dozen pieces – if there was a trend that autumn it was mushroom-shaped – one of Mark Hix’s main recipes was “gnocchi with wild mushrooms”, a dish that lingers in the memory. But the mushroom is infamous for its variable seasons, which are not good news when copy dates are considered.

Seven years ago the food pages were vibrant and informative as more and more menus started to value local, seasonal food. Antony Worrall Thompson spearheaded British Food Fortnight with braised oxtail in S Magazine. Mary Berry carried on baking. And at the well-respected Capital Hotel dining room, the kitchen turned towards “peasant food” with dishes like “lobster with truffles” – you have to be a pretty well-heeled peasant to lunch in SW3. The proverb has it that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” and this may well be the case with food and drink businesses. The fact is that when it comes to food, “seasonal” and “local” have been pivotal for some while and could be seen as a constraint or an opportunity.

By and large, most customers can be engaged with providing that the proposition retailers place before them doesn’t seem outlandish. Most of the weekend food columns from September 2010 stand up for themselves and do not seem impossibly dated; good food is still accessible. What is intriguing is the “story” behind each article. We all like a good read and only after we’ve tackled the story behind the dish do we go into the kitchen to cook.

Who knows, 2017 may be the year of a glut of wild mushrooms, or blackberries, or partridge. We may even find a way to pronounce quinoa without looking silly.

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