Between the months of May and September, the coastal waters of the UK are visited by shoals of mackerel – a delight to those who prefer their food direct from source and without clingfilm. For years considered a second-rate eating fish, recently the mackerel has been re-considered by fishermen and cooks alike – and deservedly so. It is plentiful, nutritious (high in Omega oils), and – unfortunately for the fish – extremely easy to catch. The most important thing is that a fresh mackerel fillet, patted with flour, fried and served with a squeeze of lemon juice, a slice of bread and butter and a cold glass of beer – is one of the best suppers ever.
Being fortunate enough to live by the coast, and being part-owner of a second-hand river canoe, it’s possible on most summer evenings to paddle out into the harbour. After a work day, and when the sea is mirror-flat (the only time its safe – our canoe isn’t really designed for the sea) it’s a great pleasure to glide along until we’re about 50 metres out, and then tie up to a buoy. With the sun lowering but still warm, in the calm of the bay we’ll start to fish.
Countless words have been written about the restorative effects of being in, on, or near water – and they are all true. No matter how stressful or draining a day at work has been, within five minutes of being on the sea, there’s a wonderful sense of carelessness, not as strong as after a long run or good surf, but still very special. Especially as there’s hardly any exertion involved in this kind of fishing. The canoe bobs gently and we sit at either end, with handlines over the side – hoping to catch our dinner. Often we’ll fish until the light dies and it is rare to go home empty-handed.
Of course you don’t need a canoe to catch mackerel. Most seaside towns will advertise trips on boats where equipment is provided and you’ll be pretty much guaranteed to catch. But the simplest and least expensive way to have a go is the old-fashioned way. You’ll need a rod and reel borrowing is cheap), a weight, and a set of feathers – usually six hooks strung together with silver foil lures attached (for around £3 from a good tackle shop). If you’re unsure, ask someone else to set up the line for you.
Mackerel swim in to shore from deep seas to feed on the incoming tide. The best time to try and catch them is half-an-hour before high tide, and at this time in any coastal town worth its salt there will be fishermen ‘jigging’ for mackerel – whether for bait or plate. Cast from a safe place into calm water and then jig the line. This means pulling the line shorewards and then letting it drift out again repetitively and rhythmically. This constant motion will hopefully mimic the small fry the fish are looking for. Shaped like a torpedo, the mackerel is a voracious hunter, and has been clocked travelling 19ft per second after prey. If the conditions are right, then it shouldn’t be long before your line starts thrumming and you’ve made a catch. It’s not unusual to haul up five fish at once, but to take only what you need seems a good rule, and joeys (juvenile fish) should be put back until next year.
Another good rule is ‘an hour from hook to plate’ – mackerel, like most things, is at its most delicious when fresh, and part of its (unfairly) bad reputation comes from the fact that the flesh spoils quite quickly, so eat them as soon as you can. Cleaned whole fish or fillets can of course be frozen – but don’t keep them longer than a month.
The simplest method of cooking as mentioned earlier is by far the best – but being so versatile, there are many mackerel recipes, and many more you could invent yourself.
What’s in a loaf of bread? Flour, water, yeast, salt and maybe some seeds or flakes? Wrong. Take a look at the label of an ordinary sliced loaf and you’ll find some other ‘ingredients’. You may wonder what ‘flour treatment agent’ is and your tongue may get tied over ‘diacetylated tartaric esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids’. But allow me to let you into a secret: there’s something else in your bread – and it’s not declared on the label. The big ‘plant’ bakeries together with the instore supermarket bakeries account for about 95% of the bread eaten in the UK. And the vast majority of this is made using undeclared industrial enzymes. Amylase, xylanase, lipoxygenase, protease, hemicellulase and others, singly or in combination, often produced using GM technology, derived from cereal, fungal, bacterial or animal sources and added to bread in forms to which the human digestive system has never before been exposed – these are British bread’s tawdry little secret. Why aren’t they declared on bread labels? Because the law treats enzymes as ‘processing aids’ which, unlike ‘additives’, don’t need to be disclosed. They may be perfectly safe, of course. Trusting folk will, no doubt, be content with assurances to this effect from the regulators – the very same regulators who allowed other additives like potassium bromate to adulterate our bread for decades until they were suspected of causing cancer. The more curious may wonder why, if added enzymes are so safe, the big bakers want to keep the good news that they are in our daily bread from us. Could there be a connection, some may wonder, between the cocktails of enzymes designed to make bread stay squishy for weeks and the growing number of people complaining of ‘bloating’ and other digestive sensitivities? Research is needed into the effects of eating enzyme-laced bread. But people are unlikely to support calls for such research if they don’t know enzymes are in their bread in the first place. And anyway, isn’t it everyone’s right to know what they are eating?
Making food choices without all the necessary information leaves us confused and manipulated. It’s time to get real about bread. Enough of the additives (hidden or otherwise), the endless ‘healthy eating’ masquerade of charging more for sticking supplements into the same basic dough and the nostalgic marketing suggesting that bread is ‘as good for you now as it’s ever been’ when in fact modern hybrid wheats, bred for intensive farming, are less rich in micronutrients, when white flour is so depleted by milling that it has – by law – to be fortified with chalk, iron and two synthetic B vitamins, and when bread is mixed and baked so fast that there is no time for fermentation to make it more nutritious and digestible. We’re starting a Real Bread Campaign, to encourage more people to make, buy, share and enjoy proper bread. If it’s going to happen, we need to make everyone aware of the adulteration that’s going on. The labels on most loaves are deceptive and incomplete, so let’s stick one on ‘em! Real bread activists might arm themselves with little blocks of sticky labels, printed with the missing information about enzymes. On visits to the supermarket, they might spend a few moments peacefully making good the information deficit on those loaves with the hidden additives. And then we all might open our eyes and make a real choice.
Andrew Whitley Author of Bread Matters (Fourth Estate) and founder of the Real Bread Campaign.
The Slow Food international movement officially began when delegates from 15 countries endorsed this manifesto, written by founding member Folco Portinari, on 9 November 1989.
Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial civilization, first invented the machine and then took it as its life model. We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods.
To be worthy of the name, Homo Sapiens should rid himself of speed before it reduces him to a species in danger of extinction. A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life. May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency. Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavours and savours of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food. In the name of productivity, Fast Life has changed our way of being and threatens our environment and our landscapes. So Slow Food is now the only truly progressive answer. That is what real culture is all about: developing taste rather than demeaning it. And what better way to set about this than an international exchange of experiences, knowledge, projects? Slow Food guarantees a better future. Slow Food is an idea that needs plenty of qualified supporters who can help turn this (slow) motion into an international movement, with the little snail as its symbol.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Might be a bit tricky
Seeing as you’re a potato
But I still like you
In fact, it’s more than that
And you grew strong
Even though I neglected you
Not on purpose
I was just doing other things
(mowing the lawn, restraining the slugs)
But you were there, just growing
And when I came back to you
On that warm August day
Fork in hand
And lifted you from the earth
I gazed upon you lovingly
Fresh and perfectly formed
Nature’s knobbly bounty
Then I took you inside
And mashed you right up
With some butter
Sorry about that bit
Hope it didn’t hurt
But if it’s any consolation
You tasted real good
Words by Dan Germain
Bread has been a staple food for humans since 7000BC. The workers who built the Egyptian pyramids were paid in bread.
Wheat production is estimated at 350 million tonnes annually.
12 million loaves of bread are made every single day. We consume only 8 million of these, the rest goes to waste.
The average UK household buys around 86 loaves per year.
70% of the bread we eat is white.
The UK bakery market is worth almost £3 billion. However, of all bakeries, less than 5% of them are real craft bakers.
Bread tastes really nice when toasted with jam on top.
A stinging insect that evolved 35 million years ago collects nectar from plants. It converts this into honey and stores it so that it can survive the winter as a social unit. To protect this store of honey, each worker bee is armed with a sting which is capable of producing severe irritation, and, at worse death.
There is no substance in nature (unprocessed) that is sweeter than honey. In a world without sugar, bees’ nests were prized discoveries and great efforts were made to steal the honey. Some of the earliest cave paintings show men with ropes and ladders, and flaming brands, climbing up to bees’ nests to hack off some of the comb to get at what must have seemed like an impossibly sweet substance.
Now it all seems so much more civilised; bees are kept in wooden beehives, managed by beekeepers who have an intimate knowledge how the social organisation of the hive works, and are able to manipulate them to their own advantage, to produce colossal crops of honey and also to provide much needed pollination to the huge acreages of crops like almonds, oranges, apples, courgettes, tomatoes, etc.But in fact it only seems that way. Anyone who works with bees knows that you are really only a bystander. Bees still do what they want and their behaviour is ultimately determined by the weather. If you keep bees at the bottom of your garden, you are sharing your garden with a wild animal, which, like most wild animals, lives a precarious life at the margin of survival. It will swarm if it wants to and go to live elsewhere, and will only produce a honey surplus over and above its daily needs if the sun shines. And this is actually the point. Keeping bees gets you honey, but is also gets you a way into the way nature works. By understanding the way bees respond to all the different aspects of the natural world, the beekeeper is able to recover his own relationship to the natural world through bees.
Beekeepers are much more sensitive to things like the weather because they understand the importance of sunshine to the bees’ ability to gather nectar. You soon come to realise that you can only get what nature gives you.
- Posted by howies
- 6 November 2008
“Grow your own. Or eat less.”
That was the choice the people of Cuba had in the early 90’s.
The USSR collapsed in 1990/91 and as it fell, Cuba’s ability to feed itself collapsed with it. It relied on USSR for foreign exchange to allow it to buy imports such as food, fertilizer and importantly, oil Almost over night it had 80% less oil to play with.
Its 11 million people would have to look elsewhere for its food beyond importing it. And quick.
Cuba had to produce twice as much food, with less than half the chemical inputs. Over 1.3m tonnes of chemical fertilisers a year were lost.
What followed was two years of what they call the “Special Period" or periodo especial.
Basically, they had less to eat while they were working on their plan B. (During the this time calorie intake plunged from 2,600 a head in to between 1,000 and 1,500 by 1993.)
The leader of this revolution was necessity. They had no choice but to grow their own. They had no choice but to go organic. It wasn’t a lifestyle choice. Land was switched from export crops to food production, and tractors were mothballed. They got some new tractors called oxen. (in the late 80’s there were just 1,000 pairs of oxen. There are now over 300,000 pairs)
People were encouraged to move from the city to the land and organic farming methods were introduced.
They learnt how to be good farmers again. They learnt traditional farming methods: Integrated pest management, crop rotation, composting and soil conservation were all implemented.” The country had to become expert in techniques like worm composting and biopesticides. (Worm farm technology is now a Cuban export.)
The biggest change could be seen from within the city of Havana: Vacant lots, old parking lots, abandoned building sites, spaces between roads, any available site (even rooftops and balconies) were taken over by thousands of new urban farmers trying to feed themselves and make some money.
In Havana alone 30,000 residents tend 8,000 community gardens and small farms producing vegetables, fruit, eggs, medicinal plants, honey, and such livestock as rabbits and poultry. These urban farmers produce 30%-505 of the city’s vegetables and perishable food. And all this produce is organic because chemical pesticides for agriculture are not allowed within the city limits.
These small organic farms and gardens located in urban areas became known as Organiponicos.
As a result of having to go without came a need to find news of doing things and mostly rediscovering old ways that had been forgotten. Cuba now leads the developing world in small-scale composting, organic soil reclamation, irrigation and crop rotation research, animal powered traction (oxen) and other innovative practices.
This same lack of resources meant that Cuba leads the world in sustainability of their urban agriculture system really is. The Cubans can’t "cheat". They can’t use fertilizers. They have no choice but to depend on the fundamental organic principles of using resources that were locally-available and renewable.
For example, cut banana stems baited with honey are used to attract ants that are then placed in sweet potato fields and have led to control of sweet potato weevil. There are 173 established ‘vermicompost’ centres across Cuba, which produce 93,000 tons of natural compost a year. Schools eat the food that they grow in their own grounds.
Of course, Cuba is still reliant on imports for rice, meat and milk. Its sugar cane crop is very reliant on chemical fertilizers, it has problems with (saliantation) of its soil, but this forced experiment has worked.
Now, gardens for food take up 3.4% of urban land countrywide, and 8% of land in Havana. Cuba produced 3.2m tonnes of organic food in urban farms in 2002 and, UNFAO says, food intake is back at 2,600 calories a day, while UNFAO estimates that the percentage of the population considered undernourished fell from 8 per cent in 1990-2 to about 3 per cent in 2000-2. Cuba's infant mortality rate is lower than that of the US, while at 77 years life expectancy is the same.
How would we cope if almost overnight our oil got shut off?
Nature is my passion – it’s been my obsession for as long as I can remember.
When I left the academic world to become a pig farmer a couple of years ago I was determined to get back to a more simplistic, natural way of life. My plan was to live and work on my own farm, raising free range animals and growing food as nature intended. I wanted to get back to basics. The idea was to put into practice some of the more traditional British farming methods. I wanted top quality, seasonal, fresh produce so I set about creating an environment and infrastructure on the farm to support this.
The type of farming that we practise here on the farm was commonplace before the Second World War; free range, low intensity – oh yes, that good old-fashioned farming. Five years on and I am proud to say that our farm produces rare-breed pork of the highest quality from slow-grown pigs that lead a completely free range life, roaming over pasture and woodland where they are able to root for wild garlic, chestnuts, acorns, tubers and grubs.
The variety and quality of food harvested from our nation’s countryside is one of our greatest assets. We have a wealth of farmers and small producers who grow or raise some of the best meats, fruit, vegetables and cheeses in Europe. The heartening thing is that there is much more interest now in where our food is coming from, how and where it is produced and who has produced it, not to mention the plethora of manuals and cookbooks out there telling you how to cook it! The growing interest ?in the provenance of food, environment and healthy diet means that people are more aware of what they are buying, cooking and eating.
It is cheering also to see that in many parts of Britain we have viable, lively local food economies, which bring together the farmers and consumers via small convenience shops, butchers and farmers’ markets. It is a growing trend – farmers’ markets are starting up all over the place, food festivals and shows draw larger and larger audiences and, at last, we seem to be waking up to the fact that it is not particularly difficult or expensive to eat real food. It occasionally takes a little bit of effort to seek out and maybe a little thought and time to prepare.
So, once home with a bag full of these wonderfully fresh, seasonal ingredients, what to do with them? I like to do as little as possible – one of my favourite dishes has to be slow roasted belly pork. A superb piece of free range pork, skin scored and sprinkled with sea salt to produce crunchy crackling, slow roasted for a couple of hours produces one of the richest, most comforting meals you can think of. Served with steamed vegetables, a dollop of creamy mash and the juices from the pan, this is a simple, traditional and wholesome supper. Fabulous!