Thursday, September 11, 2008

Liberate the Land

Forget your Waitroses, your Tescos and your Sainsburys, your Asdas, your Morrisons and your Lidls. There's an even cheaper source of food - it's free - and I have seen it with my own eyes. It is unlikely to sustain even the most minor human though. Yes it definitely will not sustain you, unless you are a fruitatarian.

Blackberries are ready and waiting to be picked in a piece of countryside near you. Nature's wonderful bounty - packaged in fruit form and accessible to those who ramble through the brambles.

It is a wonder of Britain - the fact that there is land in private ownership ("common land") over which we, the masses have certain rights. Whether those rights extend from the grazing of cattle, something I don't have much call for, to the picking of fruit and fungi seems to be in dispute. However, the general consensus seems to be that if you are picking them for your own use, then you are on safe ground.

When we went picking last weekend the dismal weather seemed to have produced a crop of small and incredibly soft fruit, but with a small team of highly trained pickers we managed to snaffle up a couple of pounds of purple berries in just over an hour.

The unseasonal downpours had turned the byways to small inland waterways, so care was required not to get bogged down or to fall unceremoniously into a deep puddle whilst straining off balance to reach the most inaccessible ones.

Quite why they are called blackberries is a mystery, since after our stint in countryside crop collection, my hands were stained purple with flecks of red, ravaged with cuts from the vicious thorns. I must make a note to tell whoever is in charge of these things that they are definitely wrong on this one.

So, the food to feed your family is out there. Forget the credit crunch and go get 'em people.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Right time, right plaice

It was a cataclysmically damp day and the lights of my destination shone out like a beacon from the gathering early evening gloom. The gleaming white surfaces of the interior and the shiny steel of the mainstay of the operation oozed with consumer confidence, attracting the occasional visitor and regular alike. The staff in this place of off-site catering know their business and do their utmost to ensure that you leave as soon as possible, laden down with the fruits of their labours.

Which is odd really, since the one thing you won't find in The Avon Fish Bar, in Newbury is fruit, or vegetables for that matter. Never mind though - taking a break from healthy eating for a night will not hurt anyone - please consult your GP if you are unsure. What you will find is fish - the clue's in the name of the place and very good it is too.

Now Newbury is not renowned for being near the sea or anything like that so we are not talking "just landed" cod or "off the dock" plaice, but sheer honest to goodness catches that have been whisked down to the mean streets of this market town, lovingly coated in golden batter and thrown into that fiery steel fryer, nanoseconds before you enter. The result is pure white moist flakes enveloped with a crisp textured jacket and accompanied with plump fluffy potato chips, fried to the perfect state of bite.

For the sea averse diner, as per the younger members of the party, you can always salivate over the obligatory deep fried jumbo sausage, or if an actual fried fish is too simple in concept you can always opt for the fishcake. As with all good restaurants, the choice is strictly limited, but what they do serve they do well and you cannot say fairer than that.

Up and down the country this scene is being played out, the humble emporium serving its local community with its national dish. There are so many reasons not to cook: poor weather, end of the week, nothing in, stressful meeting. These saviours of the day are there to rescue us all. Purveyors of the fish supper, we salute you.

This is not just food, this is solid British food. It's not fancy, but it's fine.