Stefano Cuomo, Macknade: “The taste of nostalgia”

12 September 2022, 08:13 AM
  • Stefano Cuomo, CEO of Macknade Food Hall, shares his thoughts on storytelling, stewardship and cherishing the past when it comes to food retail
Stefano Cuomo, Macknade: “The taste of nostalgia”

I am no fan of ‘tub thumping’ nostalgia, the patronising ‘I remember when’s’ of folk too scared to solve what is in front of us.

I do believe in shared storytelling, stewardship, cherishing the past to learn and, best of all, simply wallowing in the glory of shared fun and our human experience… relishing what I call ‘fireside feeling’ – that pit of the stomach warmth that nourishes the soul when all is right with the world… recognising the very best of being human.

This is lovely and fluffy but where is the relevance?

Well, with soft fruit season now fully upon us it reminds me of Macknade’s heritage and my family’s story here at Macknade and, as with so many of us in this sector, we don’t just sell stuff!

We have back stories, influences, narrations to be shared, that help our customers connect with our wonderful produce and in turn themselves, their communities, and set the forward path for us all.

Our family of farmers came to Macknade yes to sell produce, but critically to engage with the land and work with it to produce the best of British bounties.

By early summer we are well set in with Kentish strawberries, the global byword for Wimbledon and tennis (shout out to the scientists and engineers buried in their NIAB labs, in the heart of Kent, coming up with the perfect strawberry, year after year, and too often overlooked by the general public!), other soft fruits follow. Even the odd logan berry… commercially unwanted, but the elegant length and textured mouthfeel pulls me straight back to shaded corridors of berries, and happy PYO days (one for the scales and two for me).

But, as a son of Kentish farmers and a child of Kent there can be no other true champion than the cherry!

The first picnics of the year would be held under heaving boughs of cherry blossom, in the aptly named Paradise Orchard, an easy basket stroll from home. Criss-crossing the farm, we would see the fruit starting to take shape and then the great prize as, finally, the heat of summer ripened the cherished cherry itself.

The highlight for the farming community was the great show in July – the National Cherry & Soft Fruit Show. Teams were sent out to pick the very best fruit from the trees, in the early morning light, to polish and position in punnets, to then be presented in the marquee to the master judge and their coterie, with the winning punnet sent to the Queen, no less!

As kids we were in awe of this spectacle, normally grubby farmers dressed in their ties and jackets debating the size, colour and eating quality and texture of this deeply Kentish fruit. A whole wonderful world of its own!

This story comes to mind because my uncle, over lunch, dropped off a trophy Macknade had consistently won for our cherries during the last century, and it coincided with Macknade hosting the latest National Cherry & Soft Fruit Show.

The crisp white marquee was placed in our car park, filled with the very best fruit in the country, an altar to the quality of our farmers, the proof of their labours, and most of all a clear symbol of the sheer joy of sharing fruit and the very best produce. Produce that in one bite shoots us back to the joys of the past… that nostalgia again!

What of course this marquee really represents is how Macknade as a community, and just one example of the incredible SMEs feeding our nation, isn’t just sinking into past farming glories but taking that historical joy and supporting the next generation to understand the value of this seasonal bounty and all it represents, economically, culturally and experientially.

Through that bite of the cherry, we relish our past, but it is through sharing it and the stories in which it’s wrapped that we understand what makes us human and it helps us shape the future we want.

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