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.
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
50 g wild garlic leaves, washed, drained and roughly chopped
250 ml double cream
4 organic free range eggs
60 g strong vegetarian Cheddar cheese grated
½ tsp sea salt
1 tbsp chives, finely chopped
for the pastry
250 g organic plain flour
125g unsalted organic butter, chopped into cubes
1 free range organic egg
2 tbsp cold water
½ tsp sea salt
1. First, make the pastry. Put the flour, salt 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 and continue to mix. The mixture should quickly form into a pliable ball. 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 150°C (300°F gas mark 2). 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 each flan pastry base with a fork and line it with parchment or kitchen foil and baking stones or beans. Bake blind in the preheated oven for 15 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.
3. Place the eggs, wild garlic leaves, Cheddar, cream and sea salt in a food processor and blend until smooth.
4. Pour the wild garlic and cheese mixture into the base of each tartlet. Sprinkle some chopped chives over the top of each tartlet. Place in the pre-heated oven for around 15 minutes until set and starting to colour. Leave to cool for a few minutes. Serve while still warm with a simple salad.