Slow food and growing up in the Cambridge countryside

Blackberry
Photo by Fannyluvstrans

For my next trip to Boulder, I’m hoping to pay a visit to The Kitchen, since I’ve had it recommended by several friends. Whilst browsing the site, I discovered that one of the chefs, Hugo Matheson, was raised in a small village in the Cambridgeshire countryside, just like me. He’s been a big part of the Slow Food movement in Boulder, and that got me thinking about how my childhood affected my relationship with food.

The village I grew up in is confusingly called Over, from the Saxon word for riverbank. With 3000 inhabitants, it was always based on agriculture, and I grew up opposite a farm yard. Even the residents who weren’t directly involved often grew fruit and vegetables in their gardens or allotments. A lot of the food I ate growing up was grown in the village. There is a wonderful tradition of leaving bags of produce on an unattended wooden stall at the front of your house, with a sign announcing the price and a jar to leave your money in. Another great local source is "The Cooks", an unsigned market stall in a courtyard off the High Street. They’re a local farming family who sell a wonderful range of fresh food, my mother still buys most of her ingredients from them.

Much more exciting as a child were the opportunities for scrumping, a term that sadly has no equivalent over here. Surrounded by farmland and orchards, I spent many hours gathering blackberries from patches of wasteland, plums from hedgerows, fallen apples and even digging up potatoes they’d missed after the harvest! These would all either be eaten on the spot, or brought home for cooking. It always makes me a bit sad when I drive past the orange orchards here in California and see all the fallen fruit rotting on the ground.

I never set foot in a fast food restaurant until I was 14, since they were all 10 miles away in Cambridge. Once I tried my first McDonalds, it was like alcohol and the early Indians, the overwhelming amount of sugar, salt and fat got me totally hooked. Once I left Over for university, I couldn’t often afford to eat out but when I did, the trashier the better. Most of the time I was doing home-cooking though, for economy’s sake rather than as a preference, but I could never get produce that was quite as good as the fresh local ingredients I was used to. Now I’m here in California I just cook at home as a treat, one of the joys is the wonderful array of good restaurants to chose from that do use decent ingredients.

I still have trouble getting good produce though. I’m never free when farmer’s markets are running, and getting home late and working most weekends means I’m at the mercy of the supermarkets. Ironically I’ve found that the most upscale stores like Albertsons and Vons have the worst produce. I’ve found the best at Jons, a discount store. My theory is that customers like to see the fruit and vegetables on display at the upscale places, but they don’t buy them very often, so they sit around for a long time. I’ve certainly brought home a lot of vegetables from there that are already starting to go soft or mouldy. At Jons, most of the shoppers are poorer and I see a lot more of them buying raw ingredients to cook with, so they both care more about the quality and there’s a lot more turnover.

I’m interested by the Slow Food movement, and by what I’ll find at The Kitchen. I’m naturally sympathetic to their ideals, and love the fact they have recipes and suppliers up on the site. I’d love to hear ideas on how we could make good fresh produce available in a convenient way that’s affordable to people on a budget.

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