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On October 28, 2022, the Times featured an article on food prices from that day in 1922: ‘Weekend food: a glut of turbot’.

I would love to experience a glut of turbot, the king of fish — and my favourite.

I was amazed to read that, already, the UK was importing food from other countries and continents. Even then they had Danish bacon. I wonder if it was as watery then as it is now.

Note that French poultry had returned for the first time since the First World War (emphases mine):

Perhaps the principal points of interest in the food market this weekend are the glut of turbot, which is selling at 9d a lb for the whole fish, and the arrival of the first French poulardes to reach these shores since 1914. West End chefs welcome the poularde’s arrival on account of the bird’s delicacy and tenderness. The price, however, is high, 2s 6d to 2s 8d a lb, and the birds weigh about 4lb each.

I will get to poulardes below.

Moving on to cheap Danish bacon:

Bacon may presently rise a little, as the stocks of cheap Danish bacon are expected to be exhausted in a week or two.

We discover more about the provenance of some butter and eggs, which is rather surprising:

Butter is cheap, and there is a certain amount of Australian butter selling at 1s 10d a lb. Eggs are going to be dearer, and the fivepenny and sixpenny egg may be expected at about Christmas. At present there is a large quantity of eggs coming from South Africa, but the “day old” new laid egg is almost impossible to obtain.

I remember my late grandmother asking our butcher in the United States for day old eggs.

I can’t imagine shipping butter from Australia to the United Kingdom. One wonders how often the ice blocks would have to be replaced on the ship. It would not have been possible to fly long distances at that time. Air cargo didn’t really take off, so to speak, until after the Second World War.

In 1922, Britain was already importing fruit from the United States:

Californian apples are also on sale at 8d a lb, or 2s, 2s 6d, and 3s a dozen.

As for domestic meats, we discover that chicken was half the price of its French counterpart. I was surprised to read that turkey was already available, which isn’t the case now when whole birds go on sale from mid-November, if not the beginning of December. Also, beef was pricey that year; times have not changed. By contrast, lamb was a bargain:

The price of the ordinary English chicken is still about 1s 5d a lb. Rabbits were selling rapidly all the week at 1s 8d each. Pheasants are still dear from 7s 6d to 8s 6d, but should be cheaper soon. Turkeys, at 2s a lb, have been in good demand.

English and Scotch meat remains high in price, principally because there is not a great quantity on the market. As feeding stuffs are more plentiful, not so many animals are being killed. Chilled beef is cheaper; 10 1/2d a lb is being asked for sirloins and wing ribs. Canterbury lamb is 1s 5d a lb for legs and 1s 4d for shoulders.

Now on to poularde, which comes from Bresse and is expensive, even in France.

Today, poultry from Bresse has a protected food name specific to that area, with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).

In France, poultry from Bresse originally had an AOC, Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée, now replaced by the EU’s PDO.

La Radio du Goût (Taste Radio) tells us that, in 1957, President René Coty personally conferred the AOC on Bresse poultry.

Breeding of these birds began in the 17th century. Although their meat is unsurpassed, their colour has also held a special place in France’s heart: red comb, white plumage and blue feet.

The reason they received an AOC and, later, a PDO is because of the unique way they are reared in their specific location.

The AOC definition reads as follows:

The specificity of an AOC product is determined by the combination of a physical and biological environment with established production techniques transmitted within a human community that, together, give the product its distinctive qualities. These crucial technical and geographic factors are set forth in standards for each product, including wines, cheeses and meats. Other countries and the European Union have similar labeling systems. The European Union‘s protected designation of origin (PDO) system has now largely replaced France’s AOC designations for all products except wine

Can anyone say terroir?

The AOP certification of authenticity is granted to certain geographical indications for wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products by the Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité (INAO). The certification system is designed to protect distinctive and traditional regional products, based on the upon the concept of terroir. Terroir refers to a given geographical area having specific environmental and human features that affect an agricultural product’s key characteristics. These factors are meant to capture unique environmental features (e.g. type of soil, topology of the production environment, local climate) and farming and processing practices (e.g. the steps taken and inputs used in producing a specific type of cheese). Thus, it includes the traditional savoir-faire that goes into the production of AOC products. Taken together, these give the product its distinctive qualities.[1]

La Radio du Goût says that, although Bresse is a small area in eastern France, it has three borders: Burgundy, Franche-Comté and Rhône-Alpes.

The poultry there are free to roam, feeding not only on earthworms, insects and larvae but also on wheat and corn specific to that area.

In the weeks approaching their going to market, the Bresse chickens and capons are put in roomy, airy wooden cages where they are pampered to the point where they look forward to food and water as there is nothing else to do. Although the birds are not force fed, the more frequent feeds produce a tender and succulent meat. The finished chickens weigh around 5 lb.

The cooking method is a gentle one. La Radio du Goût says that birds from Bresse are best done in a Le Creuset pot (enameled) over very low heat with no additional butter or fat. They will render enough fat and juices as they gently brown. They require frequent turning over in the initial stage. Season with salt and pepper. The total cooking time is three hours. Although the article doesn’t say, presumably one puts a lid on the pot after the meat is golden brown, checking on it every so often to turn it over.

When the meat is done and resting, one can sauté potatoes in the fatty juices. The recipe recommends a sauce of creamed mushrooms — morels, if one can find them — to accompany the poultry.

Another recipe comes from the legendary Bresse cook Elisa Blanc — la Mère Blanc — who was probably the first woman to obtain two Michelin stars in the 20th century.

Her grandson Georges, now an older man, took over her inn in Vonnas — L’Auberge de Vonnas — itself in the Bresse area, and owns most of that village complete with shops and a spa, if I’m not mistaken. He is richer than Croesus.

He also earned a third Michelin star.

Her recipe is for Bresse chicken in cream sauce.

She jointed her chicken into eight pieces and cooked it in a large, shallow pan with Bresse butter. She browned the pieces first in butter, then added a bit more butter, an onion studded with cloves, one garlic clove, a bay leaf, thyme sprigs and a small amount of water before putting a lid on the pan. She cooked the chicken over medium heat for 30 minutes, checking on it from time to time.

While the meat rested, she took a pot of Bresse cream, poured it into a bowl and whisked two egg yolks into it to make an emulsion. She poured the cream-egg combination into the pan in which she cooked the chicken and stirred the sauce over low heat until the eggs were emulsified. The sauce would have been glossy and unctuous, with body. She then strained it to remove any little egg lumps (ideally, there would have been very few), then poured it over the chicken to serve.

Many French families treat themselves to Bresse poultry before Christmas. La Radio du Goût suggests singing Christmas carols while the bird is cooking.

The festival called Les Glorieuses de Bresse runs for five days in mid-December in Bourg-en Bresse, Montrevel-en-Bresse, Louhans, et Pont-de-Vaux.

I do wonder if I could tell the difference between a Bresse chicken and the Tesco Finest from Northern Ireland that I buy. Hmm.

Nonetheless, the recipes should work for any kind of poultry, although some fat would need to be added for browning.

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