Avlaki Olive Oil
Avlaki Olive Oil

I admit that I love olive oil. I am no expert and my knowledge is minimal, but as a grower of fine italian tomatoes, that time in late summer when I can sit on the patio, slice the richest red orb into delicate slices and splash them with golden-green oil, cornish sea salt and fresh ground pepper, is a priceless moment.

I was overjoyed to discover, therefore, that an old radio pal got herself into the oil business some years ago without me even noticing!

Dear Natalie
Dear Natalie

Natalie Wheen is one of those priceless people that if you don’t enjoy the experience, it is your fault for sitting in the wrong room. I worked with her on an arts review program played out on Concorde, loosely based on a radio 4 format. It was a delicate collection of personalities; the dulcet tones of Paul Vaughan held the program together, the truly wonderful Sheridan Morely trod the boards and dear Natalie massacred any classical performance that was not up to the mark. It was the highlight of my month, to be honest all those years ago, and I miss it to this day.

Well, about 15 or so years ago, she and a friend acquired a greek property complete with olive groves and over the years they have built a flourishing olive oil business, organic, award winning and I am completely jealous.  They now have two groves and Natalie is more likely to be seen entertaining the delighted crowds at a food festival than heard beating up some poor, overworked quartet.

This cannot be a review as I have not yet tasted the output from their groves on Lesvos, but I surely hope to and when I do, I will report back – promise!

In the meantime, Avlaki Oil is available at Amazon and more exclusive retailers.

Cows and farmers are undevalued
Cows in the Tamar Valley © Joss Sanglier

Dairy Farming in the United Kingdom is in trouble as farmers face a reduction in the price of milk.

The food supply chain in much of the world is one of the few industries that uses a completely bottom up approach. The price of most goods in the world is dictated by how much it cost to manufacture or how much the core ingredient cost to produce. Each company down the line from the initial producer then puts their own markup on the price until it reaches the retailer who charges the consumer to cover everything that happened before, plus their own profit.

With food, and especially core products like milk, the end supplier dictates the price they want to charge the consumer and then everyone who comes before takes their profit from that price until it reaches the producer who gets what is left.  This happens when the largest retailer of a product becomes far more powerful than the producer and effectively can blackmail the entire supply chain – pay this price or be without any market for your product.

The argument by the huge retailers in the UK is that this is good for the consumer. But is it? Continue reading

Close up of multicoloured glass ballThe one issue about Christmas every year is how will I make it different to any other Christmas? To a certain extent I have sympathy with those who want to keep Christmas exactly the same every year – it is like a well worn pair of slippers, I was once told, however tatty they are, they have have become a loved addition to your feet and why would you want to have to start running in a new pair?

I do like turkey, but I prefer goose. I am aware, however, that those assembled are not so keen so I will probably stick with the normal bird. Maybe a Norfolk Black or something this year. I will probably vary the way I cook it. Continue reading

Apple harvest at my mothers houseMy mother has just the two small apple trees in her good sized garden; this is a bit of a come down from the garden of my youth where we had three huge apple trees, one small one, two huge pears and a plucky little Victoria plumb, but these two small apple trees are enthusiastic all the same.

This year more than most. Last year I pruned quite a lot off the older of the two trees so wasn’t sure what sort of harvest we would get. In the end it was about enough to fill two huge trays to double depth, fill a trug for my mother’s church and for us to take 5 very large bags with us to distribute.

dog and appleOh, and what wonderful apples they are! Crispy, juicy, sweet and sharp – everything you want from a good English apple tree. I love harvest season.

Too much for the dog, however.

Rick Stein eating Carinineros
Rick Steins Spain - BBC

I have been catching up (via BBC iPlayer) with the short series on the BBC following Rick Stein through Spain. His Producer,David Pritchard has posted a short Blog about the trip, listing his favourite foods (Damn it David – come and produce me so I can eat everywhere!).

He wanders temptingly through Carabineros (huge, fleshy sweet prawns), Fabada, a been and sausage stew, more prawns, lamb cutlets, and more.

I have always been a lover of Spanish food, but outside of some pretty tacky tapas bars, finding the genuine article is hard work – round here in Milton Keynes, more or less impossible. Oh, we get the odd market with a piella stand, and some Iberico ham of sorts in supermarkets, but little else.

Olivar Market Majorca
A thousand foods under one market roof in Palma

Many years ago, I stayed with friends in Majorca. I cooked several meals for them and was able to enjoy the huge indoor market in Palma.  The Spanish love their markets, it is the soul of their food industry, and it shows in the huge range or foods and the high quality of the produce.

You would have thought that with the British Love of southern Spain in particular that our country would be stuffed full of Spanish food, but it isn’t. Some of the problem is that so many Britons go to Spain to some purpose built resort like Magaluf – a culturally baron town where the burger and the chip is king. But that does not explain everything.

One Welshman in Seville explained that there were 3000 Tapas bars there, some specialising in Fish, others in vegetables, others in the wonderful ham made from black pig. A good Saturday night would be spent crawling from one bar to another, taking in the wine and the beer, but also the amazing dishes each serve.

We have NOTHING like that here and we are missing out. Italian and Indian food have done well here (though many Indian restaurants are boring and the Italian and Pizza Chains are truly dreadful) So why not Spanish?

Seems like we are long overdue some great Spanish bars and restaurants.

A Broad BeanAs a child I could not abide the humble broad bean. They were chewy, dry, had an odd taste and really had nothing to recommend them at all. I could not for the life of me work out why someone would want to wade through this heap of stuff that was like chomping on an old pillow. (Strangely, I still have similar misgivings about runner beans, but that is another story.)

It was only some years later when visiting Italy that I discovered what the broad bean could be capable of. There, in salads, tossed with pasta or as a simple vegetable on its own, I was introduced to this sweet, delicate little bean so far removed from the chewy monster I had discovered lurking on my plate as a child. So what had changed? Did the Italians grow a different Broad Bean to those I had in Britain? Was there some sort of culinary trick known only to the higher echelon of Italian chef?

In fact, the answer was far simpler and owed more to understanding the bean than in any great or clever technique. It was all down to the skin.

Continue reading