You are currently browsing the daily archive for November 21, 2022.

A number of recent news items popped up over the past week covering a variety of interesting topics.

Food

Food is always a favourite topic, and those who read the British papers last week will not have been disappointed.

Egg substitutes

In my post from Friday, November 18, I suggested eating more eggs, the world’s most complete food.

On Wednesday, November 16, The Times helpfully brought to light several egg substitutes, relevant as the UK is apparently undergoing an egg shortage. I haven’t noticed it, so it could be another short chapter in the everlasting narrative, Project Fear.

The paper tells us that Delia Smith, the doyenne of British home cooks, uses condensed milk:

in her egg-free prune and date cake from Delia’s Cakes, which she says makes it “dark, sticky and moist”.

By now, most of us have heard of aquafaba, which literally means chickpea water. In an episode of the UK version of MasterChef : The Professionals last year or the year before, top chef Monica Galetti whipped it to make a meringue-like substance. It came as news to me.

The Times says that aquafaba is a versatile ingredient (emphases mine):

Cooks only realised its potential in 2014, when a French vegan started experimenting in his kitchen and published his innovative recipes for chocolate mousse, floating islands and meringues online. Now TikTok abounds with home chefs sharing their trials and errors with the egg substitute.

As a general rule, 30ml of aquafaba is equivalent to one medium egg white, and 45ml to a whole egg.

As well as meringues, aquafaba can be used to make macarons, ice cream, fudge and marshmallows, and even the foamy top on a whisky sour.

“It’s amazing for adding a fluffy texture to mousses and cakes once whipped,” says the plant-based chef Niki Webster, founder of RebelRecipes (rebelrecipes.com). “It’s also brilliant for making vegan mayonnaise as an emulsifier. Be patient. It works and tastes delicious.”

The best, and cheapest, way to get it is by simply draining the liquid from a can of chickpeas via a sieve and whisking it using a balloon or electric whisk. You can also use the water from white beans, kidney beans, black beans, lentils or peas, although the consistency may vary — so chickpeas are your best bet.

You can now also buy it alone, without the chickpeas: London-based OGGS sells 200ml and 1 litre cartons of aquafaba from £1 in Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Asda and the Co-op.

Interestingly, powdered ‘egg’, which harks back to rationing from the Second World War, has also made a comeback:

Longer-lasting than a box of eggs and made from a variety of veggie ingredients (such as potato flour, bean flour, pea fibre and tapioca), all you have to do is add water.

Whisk according to your recipe.

Be careful to check whether the powder mimics whole eggs or just egg whites.

Food additives

Every so often, we get another Project Fear article about food additives.

Those who make their meals and desserts from scratch don’t really have to worry about them. People who buy everything ready made off the supermarket shelf, however, probably do need to pay more attention.

On November 15, The Telegraph covered all the different types of food additives, from colourings to emulsifiers. Each one plays its own role in making food more appealing to the eye or better on the tongue.

Whilst not panicking over additives, I do wonder whether they are partly responsible for a rise in cancer rates over the past 50 years. The article does mention nitrates and nitrites in this regard, but that is old news.

The bigger issue is obesity, likely to be fuelled by ultra-processing. The gut has less to do and, consequently, we feel less full, therefore, we want more processed food.

The article concludes:

What should consumers do to avoid scary additives? These scientists were unanimous: avoid ultra-processed foods.

That means cooking from scratch, which brings me neatly on to the next article.

‘Soaring’ food prices

Food prices are always going up, and not just in the UK.

I remember going back to the US many years ago and was astounded to see that my favourite whole grain breakfast cereal had soared to $4.50 and was in a considerably smaller box.

In the UK today, Heinz tomato ketchup has gone up the most. In fact, my British readers will know that one of our supermarket chains temporarily took several Heinz products off its shelves in June. They are back now, but the supermarket wanted to send a message to Heinz that they were price gouging.

The Times reviewed a list of foods that have increased in price the most in 2022, according to consumer watchdog Which?’s analysis.

Note that most of them are ready made products:

The research found that Heinz tomato ketchup had the biggest average increase in price, going up by 53 per cent (91p) on average. The second biggest increase was for Dolmio lasagne sauce, which went up by 47 per cent (61p) on average. Batchelors Super Noodles, the student staple, went up by an average of 43 per cent to 82p.

Prices also went up on branded bread: a loaf of Hovis granary wholemeal increased by an average of 43 per cent to £1.97.

The increases compare with average food inflation of 14.6 per cent since this time last year, and 0.8 per cent during the preceding 12 months, suggesting that some manufacturers may have been taking the opportunity to increase profit margins. In June Tesco stopped stocking products from Heinz during a row about price rises that the US food maker was trying to impose.

The research found that branded butter had some of the biggest price increases in absolute terms. A 500g tub of Anchor Spreadable, for example, has gone up by £1.31 on average. The single biggest price rise was on a box of 100 Everyday tea bags by Twinings, which jumped by £2.33 at one supermarket.

Who buys Twinings for regular tea? I have it in my cupboard, but only when I fancy a cuppa, which isn’t that often. For everyday tea breaks, PG Tips and Yorkshire Tea are perfectly good and cost a lot less.

Heinz Classic Cream Of Chicken Soup is another items which has gone up considerably.

The message here is to start making your own tomato sauces and soups as well as preparing dried noodles from scratch. A tin of supermarket own brand tomatoes costs 50p. Dried noodles are pretty cheap, as are the vegetables to add to them. Chicken is still cheap. YouTube must be full of videos with instructions on how to make cream of chicken soup.

Making one’s own bread also saves a fortune. My brand of flour has not increased noticeably this year, so I would highly recommend tuning in to YouTube for tutorials.

Honestly, once you make your own meals, you’ll never buy another ready made product again.

British cheese popular in France

It’s been 30 years in the making, but British artisan cheese has finally found its place in France.

On November 15, The Telegraph reported:

Find yourself in a Parisian restaurant these days and chances are that alongside roquefort and comté you will see cheddar or stilton on the cheese board. In fact, having shaken off its reputation for wax-wrapped, mass-produced, tasteless blocks, British cheese is the hot new thing

Over the past decade, overall exports of British cheese have been growing. Wyke Farms, the large Somerset producer, now sends 6,000 tonnes of cheese per year to over 160 countries. According to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, in the second quarter of 2022, exports to Europe were up 22 per cent on the same period the year before (although 2021 was hampered by Brexit uncertainties). 

Our neighbour across the Channel is emerging as a key market. In 2014, the artisan cheesemonger Neal’s Yard Dairy exported €500,000 of British cheese to France; by 2021, the figure had jumped to €1 million, with France becoming the second-largest market after the United States

British cheese is en vogue. Artisan fromagerie Taka & Vermo, near the Gare du Nord in Paris, stocks cheddar and stilton. At restaurants like Frenchie and L’Entente, diners can end a meal with a British board featuring classics including stilton and cheddar and less well-known cheeses. Oliver Woodhead, the British owner of L’Entente, has even been on French TV to espouse British fromage. British cheese is no longer a joke. 

It comes as no surprise. There are around 150,000 French people in Britain, and many more in France who have lived here at some point and developed a taste for British food. As adventurous as anyone else, young French people are searching for new exciting foods to try. Most importantly, British cheese has improved dramatically over the past 40 years. Once the poor man of Europe, it’s now up there with the best

Neal’s Yard Dairy sales director Jason Hinds has done more than most to promote British cheese in France. When he started working for the London-based cheesemonger and wholesaler in the early 1990s, its exports to France totalled a big fat zero. “My goal was always to export the best British cheese to France,” Hinds explains. “The perception of British food generally in the early 1990s was that, in culinary terms, we were savages. But while it seemed like a fanciful idea to some at the time, the cheese was good so I knew it could be done.” 

Well done, everyone!

British cheese is every bit as good as French cheese, of which I eat a lot.

Champagne scion dies

While we’re on the subject of France, I have two more stories to cover which concern that lovely country and our own sceptred isle.

The first is about Christian de Billy, who oversaw the Pol Roger Champagne house for decades. He died at the age of 93 on August 26, 2022. The Telegraph brought his demise to our attention on November 18.

The Pol Roger family have been involved in civic life for over a century as well as producing one of the world’s finest Champagnes, which is one of my favourites:

Christian de Billy, who has died aged 93, was the great-grandson of Pol Roger, founder of the Champagne house which remains in independent family ownership to this day. Among the smaller of the great Champagne houses, Pol Roger is known for its wines of unimpeachable finesse, which have long attracted a following on this side of the Channel, where de Billy was a regular visitor and ebullient ambassador.

Christian de Billy devoted more than 70 years to the family business, joining in the company’s centenary year (1949) under the watch of his redoubtable grandfather Maurice Pol-Roger, who had been Mayor of Epernay in the First World War, narrowly escaping execution under the German occupation and renowned for fighting one of the last recorded duels in France with the Préfet de la Marne, whom he had accused of deserting his post.

From an early apprenticeship in the cellars and offices on the Avenue de Champagne (whose No 44 was to be described by Pol Roger’s most famous customer, Sir Winston Churchill, as “the world’s most drinkable address”) Christian de Billy rose to become Export Director in 1953 and President Directeur General in 1977, later forming a supervisory Conseil de Surveillance of which he remained President until his retirement in 2019, when he passed the reins to his daughter Véronique

Today, his daughters Laurence, Evelyne and Véronique, together with his son Hubert and grandson Bastien, are all closely involved in the direction of the company.

The article has more about the family’s friendship with Sir Winston Churchill and his descendants:

it was Christian de Billy who took on the legacy of his glamorous aunt Odette Pol-Roger, who had so captivated Sir Winston Churchill at their first meeting at the British Embassy in Paris in the closing days of the Second World War, both maintaining and strengthening the friendship with successive generations of the Churchill family

Together with Christian Pol-Roger, he created, and received the family’s blessing for, the Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, which was launched at Blenheim Palace in 1984 and is now in its 20th edition

It was also de Billy who oversaw the creation in 1990 of the British subsidiary, Pol Roger Ltd, which has become a successful presence on the company’s leading export market.

Come to think of it, the first time I tried Pol Roger was in the UK in the early 1990s.

The article includes this video of the history of Pol Roger:

Christian de Billy had a wide variety of outside interests:

Appointed to the Légion d’honneur, he was as comfortable in the company of presidents (including General de Gaulle) and prime ministers (including Jacques Chirac) as he was with the remueurs in the Pol Roger cellars. His smallness of stature belied the generosity of spirit within, combining an innate warmth with a mischievous sense of humour. A bon vivant, Christian was a keen follower of the pleasures of the table and a long-standing member of the Académie des Gastronomes.

De Billy, like his grandfather, was a keen sportsman, presiding over extensive shoots in the forests of Boursault and Milan, near Reims. His large collection of wild boar models, pictures and other memorabilia testified to his love of the sport: at his funeral, his coffin was driven off to a lively serenade of hunting horns. A skilled fly-fisherman, he had a cherished beat on the Andelle, one of Normandy’s finest chalk streams.

A life well lived. I’m delighted the family have maintained their business in Britain.

British veteran reunites with Frenchwoman

One week after Remembrance Day, The Telegraph related a moving Second World War story involving a young British Royal Engineer who shared his Army ration with a starving French girl.

By way of thanks, she wrote a note on the back of her First Communion photo and left it for him.

The two were reunited in 2022, 78 years later. Reg Pye is now 99 and Huguette is 92. They certainly don’t look that old.

The Telegraph reported the story, complete with photos, including the one from Huguette’s First Communion:

Reg Pye, from Burry Port, South Wales, served with the 224 Field Company, Royal Engineers, as a driver carrying sappers, mines and ammunitions, during the Battle of Normandy.

While moving through Normandy in June 1944, 14 days after D-Day, Mr Pye spotted a 14-year-old girl staring at him as he ate his evening meal – a slice of bread with jam and a tin of pilchards.

The then 21-year-old immediately gave the girl his bread with jam and she ran away to eat it.

When he woke the next morning, he found that she had half-filled his mess tin with milk and left a picture of herself with a written message on the back, which he kept in his wallet.

In November this year, the girl was identified as Huguette, now 92, and was reunited with Mr Pye in France where he showed her the picture he had held for 78 years, and gave her another jam sandwich.

When meeting Huguette, Mr Pye said: “Nice to see you again after such a long time. We got older but we’re still the same.”

One wonders if they drank Pol Roger:

They drank champagne with their extended families and a translator.

Incredibly, Reg Pye spent years trying to find Huguette:

Mr Pye said: “The memory of my very brief encounter with this young girl will stay with me forever.

“In the bleakest of times, this bit of human interaction made a huge mark on my life. I have carried her picture in my wallet for 78 years always hoping we might meet again.

Mr Pye went back to Normandy 20 years ago to try to find Huguette but was unsuccessful.

Taxi drivers helped the veteran find his erstwhile friend:

After hearing the story, volunteer Paul Cook, from the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, an organisation run by London black taxi drivers which arranges free trips for veterans to the Netherlands, Belgium and France, started a social media campaign which eventually reunited the pair.

Mr Pye added: “I cannot believe that she has finally been found and I wish to thank everyone, including our friend Emma, our cab driver Paul and the Taxi Charity’s French adviser Nathalie Varniere, who have helped to make my dream come true.”

Mr Cook said: “There are no words to describe how elated I am that Reg has found Huguette, this is like a Hollywood blockbuster and I wouldn’t be surprised if this beautiful story was made into a film.”

I hope it is made into a film. It’s a beautiful story.

Perseverance is always rewarded. Never give up on a dream.

Good taste ‘nothing to do with money or class’

On November 15, The Telegraph‘s Melissa Twigg interviewed socialite India Hicks, who has featured in Tatler over the decades.

I was surprised to find that she is now 55. She still looks like a twenty-something.

Hicks has a proper pedigree. Some might have seen her mother, Lady Pamela Hicks, in television documentaries about the Royal Family.

Twigg tells us that India is:

the third child of Lady Pamela Hicks (whose parents were the Earl and Countess Mountbatten of Burma) and the late interior designer David Hicks. She is also the second cousin and goddaughter of King Charles – like him, she spent her teenage years in the no-nonsense Scottish boarding school of Gordonstoun. Her glamorous life is put somewhat in perspective when you realise that, aged 11, she was on holiday with her family in Ireland when her grandfather’s fishing boat was blown up by the IRA. He died, as did her 14-year-old cousin, Nicholas, and this frightening period of British history was memorably dramatised in the fourth series of The Crown, with Mountbatten played by Charles Dance. I ask if she has seen it and she quickly says no. “We don’t really get Netflix out here.” 

I have no doubt that Hicks could watch the show if she wanted to – but I also understand why she doesn’t want to discuss it. She has built a successful career in Britain and America from being stylish, beautiful and royal-adjacent; distant enough from the family to freely write books and launch clothing and interiors collections, but close enough to attend the funeral of Elizabeth II and be a patron of the Prince’s Trust

“It was extraordinary being there for [Elizabeth II’s] funeral,” she says. “I was very relieved to find myself in England with my mother during that period. The Queen’s death was a chapter closing for all of us, but for my mother [who was a bridesmaid and lady-in-waiting to the Queen] it was grief on a more personal level. I often wondered how she was and she kept using the word ‘acceptance’.” 

Here’s the high point — on good taste:

… when I ask if her aristocratic roots have influenced her taste, she pauses. “I definitely shy away from the word ‘class’,” she says. Good taste is everything, but in the end it has nothing to do with class. My father came from an ordinary background but he was anything but ordinary. He was a difficult father but a brilliant designer and made me realise good taste and design are by no means dependent on money.” 

True!

Furthermore, this is my own observation: good taste offends no one and pleases nearly everyone.

I have a few more news stories to share on Thursday. I think you will like them.

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