All in Borough Market

To accompany my Armistice Day cooking demonstration at Borough Market. All about how World War I changed the way we eat at home (and out and about). Taking into account households having to cope with the domestic staff they were used to pre-War, food shortages, the challenges of rationing and - almost especially - how food writer Agnes Jekyll typified the food of the time.

A look into the glorious world of autumn and winter’s maincrop potatoes; and how to make the most of their glorious flavour, colour, texture and diversity. Britain’s proud potato-farming heritage has had a tough time and on the shop shelves it is hard to see much beyond the main crop Maris Piper… but there is so much more to the main crop if you can find them.

“The blousy beauty of spring’s cherry blossom lining the streets seemed even more of a surprise and treat than usual this year, at the end of our seemingly never-ending winter. The daffodils and the snowdrops can tease with a false-dawn prospect of spring. Only when the cherry blossom comes is it really spring and—best of all—we know actual cherries are around the corner for actual summer…”

“Many of us can be guilty of rose-tinted recollections of the long summers we had as kids. Idyllic times of never-ending sun (of course for the kids of summer 2018, that may actually be true…) and games in the garden. Possibly slightly oddly, my main memories of childhood summer days involve new potatoes….”

“Of all the landmarks of time that I look forward to through the course of each year—from getting the Christmas Radio Times, to our local tennis courts suddenly becoming packed during Wimbledon—none gets me quite so twitchy in the build-up to its arrival as the first of the British new potatoes. They are the most delicious of markers that balmy evenings and lazy summer days are certainly near, if not quite here.

The only problem is, those potatoes run to nature’s schedule and no-one else’s. A long, rainy winter like the one we have just had in Britain inevitably means the new potatoes (or ‘earlies’ as they are also called, for obvious reasons) are not going to be with us nearly as early as they could be this year. This year I fear I will have to be as patient as the farmers, who could not start planting their new potatoes until significantly later than usual because their land was just too wet…”

“The fridge. Can you imagine not just your kitchen but your life without one of those? I can’t. Yet that is something the ladies of 1918 would have had to take in their newly-trousered stride. Admittedly there were possibly bigger fish for them to fry than keeping food cool—what with winning the vote and all—but there is no denying that the past century has been one of massive change for the room in the home that for so many preceding centuries was considered the woman’s primary, or even only, domain.

You could say the kitchen had to keep up. It had to change because women were driving change. In 1919, domestic doyenne Christine Peel wrote in a national newspaper that the “era of the labour-saving house is dawning”. Too right. Many women who pre-World War I had been domestic servants but had stepped-up during the war to take on ‘men’s jobs’ had no intention of going back into service once the war was over…”

“Take a wander round Borough Market at the moment and you will quickly run out of fingers (maybe even toes, too) if you try to count the number of apple varieties available. Some of them are small, imperfectly round, ideally sized for a lunchbox and with skin flecked all the way from green to cheek-blushing pink. Some are larger, and truly ‘apple green’. Some give the most fabulous crisp crunch as you slice into them; others give their juice more freely. All have the vibrant flesh that tells you they are going to taste good…”