Magazine article The Spectator

The Urban Peasant Diet

Magazine article The Spectator

The Urban Peasant Diet

Article excerpt

You know that something's afoot when Lakeland says so. Lakeland is the kitchenware company which has more of a finger on the pulse of Middle England than most MPs. So when the company declared that it can barely keep pace with demand for home mincers it's a sign of the times. It attributes the home-made everything trend to the horsemeat scandal and a food supply chain that looks like the Tudor family tree. Its line of cheesemaking products and sausage casing is doing well.

The surge in the number of DIY/artisan cookbooks is telling too. The title of one of them sums up the mood: The Modern Peasant by Jojo Tulloh (Chatto & Windus, £16.99). She observes that city-dwellers are cut off from the countryside and the chain of production that served our ancestors so well. In the past, we grew, reared and caught our food or procured it from producers we knew and trusted. Now supermarkets bring the world to our door, in one long monotonous season.

The DIY/artisan cookbooks talk you through making your own bread and cheese, yoghurt and faggots and foraging your own nettles (I draw the line, myself, at home-made kimchi). Very different, then, from the cooking in popular food magazines, in which, one writer mournfully told me, you're not allowed to give recipes for anything that takes over 30 minutes.

The individual at whom all this is aimed is what you might call the Urban Peasant, or UP - the city dweller cut off from things being grown and creatures reared. These books are about more than recipes; more a yearning for a way of life recoverable by making chutney. Think Country Living magazine in cookbook format. That urge to pull up wild garlic and make cream cheese may be a spiritual one. But it's definitely a geist of the zeit, even if there remains a great mass of Brits who can barely turn on their ovens.

Some of the best of the UP cookbooks are, as you'd expect, farmhouse ones.

There's a very good one from Yeo Valley, the milk and yoghurt people: The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook (Quadrille, £20). That has a section on dairy DIY - yoghurt, ricotta, cream cheese. There's also a hedgerow and game section - things you can make with elderflowers, wild garlic or game. But even if you stick to Waitrose rather than scouting for wild damsons, this is an excellent family cookbook.

As regards nettles, it didn't take farmers' markets long to catch on. …

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