According to Joanne Blythman’s book “Bad Food Britain”, which I have just finished reading, something dramatic has been happening to our collective cooking knowledge and skills over the course of a couple of generations.
Fifty years ago the average British family meal took 1 hour and 20 minutes to prepare and cook.
By 1980 that figure had dropped to an hour.
Now it takes on average just 13 minutes to prepare and cook the average family meal.
For someone, like me, who delights in the process of cooking and creating a meal these figures are truly disconcerting. However, even I can understand how, as our lives have become more busy, time has increasingly become a precious commodity. As a result, it seems, we are reaching more and more for products that help us produce meals quickly and easily. These range from the takeaway, through the microwaved ready meal, to the jars of cook-in sauces, powdered gravy granules, ready cooked Yorkshire puddings and so on. Over time, we have become more and more dependent on these short-cut sources for our daily meals.
Apart from the fact that many of these takeaway meals, cook-chill meals and processed foods contain possibly harmful ingredients, such as the pervasive high fructose corn syrup, most of them are also produced and controlled by unaccountable, powerful global food corporations, whose profits are being bolstered by our culinary indifference. Just as worrying, I believe, is the fact that our reliance on these products will only further diminish our collective cooking skills and knowledge over the long term.
And those children whose parents don’t or won’t cook will very likely grow up never questioning where their food comes from and unable to cook for themselves, perpetuating this sorry decline.
Sorry, that was a bit miserable, even for me.
Let’s lighten the mood with a recipe.
For this one I am using some locally foraged wild garlic. You will usually find wild garlic growing in damp and shady areas, particularly woodland. It is prolific although its season is relatively short, and it is at its best right now.
If you do go foraging for wild garlic, please only collect what you need and pick just the leaves, don’t uproot the plants.
wild garlic tartlets
250 g organic plain flour
125g unsalted organic butter, chopped into cubes
2 tbsp cold water
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp caster sugar
80 g wild garlic leaves, washed and thinly sliced
250 ml double cream
4 organic free range eggs
pinch sea salt
80 g strong vegetarian Cheddar cheese grated
1. First, make the pastry. Put the flour, salt, caster sugar and butter in the bowl of a food processor and mix at the lowest setting until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and the water. The mixture should form into a pliable ball. If necessary add a very small amount more water, a little at a time. Remove from the food processor bowl, flatten the ball slightly to a thick disc shape (this makes it easier to roll out later), wrap in clingfilm and put it the fridge for 30 minutes.
2.Pre heat the oven to 175˚C (350˚F, gas mark 4). Grease four individual tart dishes. Retrieve the pastry, divide into four and roll out each piece thinly, placing it carefully over a flan tin and gently pressing into place. Trim the pastry so that there is a slight overhang of about 1 cm. Prick the base and sides of the each flan pastry base with a fork and line it with parchment and baking stones or beans. Bake blind in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly and then remove the parchment and baking beans. The edges of the flans will have shrunk slightly, but now you can trim them neatly to the height of the flan dish with a sharp knife.
4. Whisk the eggs with the sea salt and cream until smooth and creamy.
5. Pour a thin layer of the cream and egg mix into the base of each tartlet. On top of this evenly sprinkle a thin layer of the grated cheese, followed by a layer of the chopped garlic leaves. Repeat this process once more to bring the egg and cream mixture to just below the height of the tartlet pastry shell (the wild garlic is quite springy and will stand proud before it goes in the oven, but don’t worry), ending up with a thin drizzle of the egg and cream mixture.
7. Place in the pre-heated oven for around 20 minutes until set and golden. Leave to cool slightly. Serve while still warm with a simple salad.